Friday, March 21, 2014

The Green Goose: Bouffe to Soothe IKEA Blues

Louis and I discovered (the hard way) yesterday that when you order a bed from IKEA, the bed slats are not included. So, after spending most of the morning assembling our new purchase, we were more than a little dismayed to watch our fresh, pristine mattress sink through the gleaming white frame onto the floor. We were even more dismayed when we realized that instead of luxuriating on our grown-up acquisition of a new bed, we would be sleeping on the floor, like incompetent losers. The nearest IKEA is 40 minutes by car (we don't have a car.)

This morning I was able to find a friend willing to drive and help carry everything (thank you Jenny!!) and set off into the Paris suburbs to face the bright blue monstrosity/Hell-on-Earth/IKEA Paris-Nord.

We made it.

We bought the bed slats.
(And a rug. And a sheepskin throw. And a potato masher. Don't tell Louis.)

We arrived back in Paris, unloaded the car, and quickly hopped onto the metro and into the 11th arrondissement, for lunch at a new pub that I am very excited about. The Green Goose is a "non-traditonal" (no Guinness to be found here!) Irish gastropub near Nation, and it is fabulous. I have eagerly awaited the pub's opening - both the owner, Kieran Loughney, and chef, Jim Robson, are friends of ours, and Louis designed and illustrated the bar's logo, menus, and four framed watercolors for the interior.

Lunch started with a plate of duck rillettes and piccalilli. I need a jar of this piccalilli in my kitchen - it was extraordinary. Because we are both greedy and indecisive, Jenny and I ordered the pulled pork sandwich with fennel and the chicken club with avocado and bacon, which we shared. The sandwiches come served with enormous, perfectly-crispy-yet-fluffy potato wedges, which we did not share. Obviously.

While I looked on jealously, Jenny washed her lunch down with a bottle of Galway Hooker, one of the incredible artisanal beers The Green Goose has on offer. In lieu of beer, however, I enjoyed a bottle of "Pomme Tentation" apple juice by Atelier Patrick Font - which was so delicious I was momentarily unfazed by the fact I am limited to alcohol-free beverages at the moment. (Miraculous, seeing as we had just spent four freaking hours at IKEA.)

We would have loved to have stayed longer and sampled more of the menu, but the afternoon sun was waning and I had kiddies to collect at school. The next time we are in, I am looking forward to tasting the homemade scotch eggs, marinated lamb steaks with salsa verde and spring veg, and the selection of Irish cheeses. They serve homemade desserts too (including my own chocolate, stout, and marshmallow cake!)

The lads have been open for less than a week and are already churning out some serious culinary goodness and awesome beverages; I have an inkling The Green Goose is going to be a massive success. It almost makes me willing to go to IKEA every week, if it means I can convalesce here afterwards. Almost. 

 Louis Scott

The Green Goose
19, rue des Boulets
75011, Paris

+33 9 82 37 73 41

Monday, March 17, 2014

Paddy's Day Green Ombre Cupcakes

My youngest son was born in Dublin, where we lived for over 8 years. So, as the only Irish kid in his French school, we thought it would be fun to explain a bit about St. Patrick's Day to his classmates...and the American in me couldn't resist the opportunity to bake green-hued goodies.

I found a great recipe for vanilla cupcakes here, and created a gradation going from lime to grass green with food coloring to get the ombre effect (after separating the batter into three bowls.) We topped the cakes with a basic vanilla buttercream frosting, golden nonpareils, and fondant shamrocks.

After a busy Sunday afternoon (our Paris-sized oven fits 6 cupcakes at a time; there are 30 students in his class), he trotted off to school this morning - balancing boxes of cake and prepared to discuss the fate of snakes in Ireland, amongst other things. Lá féile Pádraig sona daoibh!


1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered (icing) sugar
½ vanilla pod
1 tsp. salt
Milk (approx 3 tbsp)

1. Chop the butter into cubes and quickly mix until smooth. I make my frosting in a food processor but you can also use a mixer or do it by hand, although that takes a bit more elbow grease.
2. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt, and mix briefly.
3. Add the milk and keep adding and mixing until the frosting is the proper consistency - you want it firm enough to pipe, but soft enough that it spreads easily.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Banana, Date, and Walnut Bread

We are in the process of preparing our 39 square metre abode for a fifth occupant (yes, you read that correctly) and yesterday, faced with the rather tedious prospect of another afternoon spent reorganizing our living room, I did the sensible, adult thing: I ignored the housework, and baked banana bread instead.

In my defense, two black bananas, squished into the side of our kitchen's produce basket, have been crying out for use since last week. They are the remnants of fried banana French toast, and although I intended to do something virtuous with them - say, slice them and eat them over oatmeal - the days inevitably passed, and the bananas, untouched, grew menacingly darker, until eventually I started averting my eyes when entering the kitchen.

Yesterday, however, spurred by near-desperate procrastination, I finally put those mushy fruits to the best use possible: banana bread. Donna Hay's recipe helpfully includes few other pantry items you may need to use up  - in my case, a bag of dates  -  and her addition of a maple frosting eradicated any conflicting notions I may have had regarding my afternoon's time management.

I made a few slight adjustments to the original recipe - namely, the addition of toasted walnuts, and the omission of an extra ¾ cup of flour. I will admit the flour was an accident (pregnancy brainlessness) and that I initially panicked when I realized my mistake. The resulting loaf, however, is perfectly moist and dense (the extra flour would produce a more "cakey" bread, I imagine) and when making this again, I'll stick with the reduced amount. Due to the bread's satisfying stodginess, however, I changed the cream cheese frosting to a lighter glaze. You could also forgo a topping altogether.

(slightly adapted from Donna Hay's recipe)

125g butter, softened
1 cup (175g) brown sugar

2 eggs
2 cups mashed banana
1 cup (140g) chopped dates
1 cup walnuts, chopped & toasted
1 cup (150g) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
1½ teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
⅓ cup (80ml) maple syrup

maple glaze:
250g mascarpone cheese, softened
½ cup (125ml) maple syrup
¼ tsp salt

1. Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition.
2. Add the banana, dates, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
3. Add the maple syrup - stir well to combine and pour the mixture into a lightly greased & lined loaf tin.
4. Bake at 160 (325) degrees for about an hour and 10 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
5. Leave to cool.

In the meantime, mix the marscapone, maple syrup, and salt together with an electric mixture. When cake has cooled, remove from tin and pour the glaze over top.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Paris on Foot: Chinatown to Pigalle

Springtime in Paris: it is not without reason that sunny weather in the French capital inspires songs  about meandering through the cobblestoned streets and losing yourself in love (or, in my case, edible treats.) This Saturday we awoke to ultramarine skies and soaring temperatures, and embarked on an impromptu tour of the city - piloted only by our culinary whimsies and a lust for sunlight. Excluding the metro trip to our initial destination, the entire day was spent on foot, and would make for a varied and delectable trek through the city should you wish to follow suit.

Beginning at Place d'Italie in the 13th, we wandered down avenue de Choisy to the neon-lit facade of Pho Banh Cuon 14. This Vietnamese institution is fiercely popular, and our day of indulgence began auspiciously with immediate seating. By the time we left, around 1 pm, a queue was snaking around the corner (but I am told that the line moves quickly, and should you arrive to such a scene, don't fret.) We had two huge bowls of steaming soup (chicken for me, beef for the mister) and a side order of deep-fried chicken nems - all served atop paper tablecloths by the ever-bustling waitstaff.

Bellies full, we headed down boulevard de l'Hopital, toward Gare d'Austerlitz, before detouring to the left and into the 5th arrondissement. We passed Les Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Gardens), and as the minaret of La Grande Mosquée de Paris (The Grand Mosque of Paris) materialized Louis suggested a break for mint tea. After settling in the blue and white tiled courtyard, I ordered two small glasses of the sugary drink, which we sipped while sparrows flitted between the tables of the tearoom, hoping for a morsel of the traditional pastries also on offer.

I decided early on that our itinerary was to include a compulsory visit to Berthillon, so, refreshed and rested, we crossed the Seine onto Ile St. Louis. I savoured my scoops of rose & raspberry (my favourite) and salted caramel for as long as possible, and snuck bites of Louis' pear and chocolate when I could while, cones in hand, we walked along the riverbank toward Les Halles.

Our excursion concluded with a slow stroll up the rather unremarkable rue Faubourg-Montmartre (I would suggest a trip across rue Montorgueil for out-of-towners, but Faubourg-Montmarte is a more direct route to Pigalle and my momentum was on the wane at this stage.) Now back in familiar territory, we began our routine ascent of rue des Martyrs - an uphill stretch at the base of my neighborhood, lined with alluring pâtisseries, fromageries, and butcher shops. Much to my delight (and Louis' dismay, knowing my propensity for impulse bric-a-brac buys) the street was hosting a brocante, or flea market - which provided enough visual motivation ("Look, Lou, a vintage egg beater!" "Chinese soup spoons!") to reach the summit.

We finished our day with two expertly prepared flat whites and a thick slice of banana bread ("healthy" so I'm nourishing the baby, obviously) at KB Cafeshop, a charming Aussie-inspired cafe and near-daily destination for Louis and I.

Pho Banh Cuon 14
129 Avenue de Choisy, 75013 Paris

Les Jardin des Plantes 
57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris

La Grande Mosquée de Paris
2bis Place du Puits de l'Ermite, 75005 Paris

KB Cafeshop
53 Avenue Trudaine, 75009 Paris

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Chocolat Chaud

It is official: I am now sleeping on the couch. Every night, around 2 am, I lug myself from the tortuous confines of our non-padded, "back-friendly" futon, and curl up on the dog-eared 4 foot long IKEA sofa in our living room. It is neither spacious nor glamourous - worsened by the fact I must leave the duvet in bed with my husband, so I am couch-bound with my son's old "CARS" velour blanket as bedding. Anyone wandering into our apartment in the middle of the night would be excused for wondering how a drunken frat boy came to lose consciousness in a Parisian flat - my body contorted into one of those poses only yogis or the heavily intoxicated can attain, the pattern on my husband's accidentally-purchased y-fronts (the only comfortable sleepwear these days) rising and falling in unison with every breath.

I am, however, much more rested since I made the move, which leaves time for me to accomplish things during the day other than grumpy nap-attempts. Hot chocolate excursions, for example, have become a favorite way to pass the time.

The first time I took my son for a proper cup of hot chocolate, he was four and we were having a drink at the Ritz's Hemingway Bar in Paris. We lived in Dublin then, and were visiting friends for Easter weekend. After his first sip, he wrinkled up his nose and informed me he preferred the powdered version his grandmother offered. At 14 euro a cup, I
told him he better learn to love it sighed and hoped his little Irish palette would improve with age.

We now live in Paris and although we no longer frequent the Ritz (it is currently closed for renovations, dammit), I am happy to report that he is a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to the dark stuff. Due to last week's combination of a school holiday and rainy February weather, we set out to sample some of the cocoa the City of Light has on offer.

I read about the hot chocolate bar at Jean-Paul Hevin on The Hip Paris Blog and was keen to test it out. Located on rue Saint-Honoré, you pass through a modern ground-floor chocolate boutique (and very friendly shop assistants) and head up the flight of stairs to reach "heaven" (sorry.) I have been twice, which I blame entirely on pregnancy hormones and certainly not on conventional greediness. The first time, I tried a pear and vanilla flavored hot chocolate, which was stunningly presented with a fruity spiral coiled through the top of the liquid. I was instructed by the woman who served it to me that stirring is strictement interdit and not wanting to offend, I obliged. The hot chocolate was rich and delicious, but it was frustratingly difficult to detect the flavors of pear and vanilla. Husband had a ginger and orange blend and encountered the same problem.

The second time we went, we all opted for a traditional "chocolat chaud viennois" - the classic drink of melted chocolate and heated cream, topped with whipped chantilly. This, it was unanimously agreed, is the way to go. The artisanal hot chocolate menu is enchanting, but when push comes to shove, it is hard to beat the classics.

Feeling inspired, a few days later we trekked to the heart of hot chocolate houses - Angelina on rue de Rivoli. This is a true grande dame of Parisian decadence - the hustle and bustle of waiters in black bow ties and waitresses in white pinafores, the gilded ceiling, the coiffed bouffants of the ladies-of-a-certain-age, and of course, the famous brew. The pastries here are pretty (and pretty good) but without question, one comes for their timeless chocolat à l'Africain. We (foolishly) wandered down on a Saturday afternoon and spent 30 minutes queuing outside, like tourists, but once our pots of whipped cream and pitchers of chocolat chaud landed on the marble tabletop, all was forgiven, forgotten.

With the kids back in school, it is more difficult to justify tankards of afternoon hot chocolate (but certainly not impossible.) In the meantime, below is the recipe for an at-home version if you fancy a simple know, if you find yourself en route to the sofa at 2 am and in need of little comfort.

(serves 2)

1/2 liter whole milk
250 g good quality dark chocolate, chopped

optional: orange zest, cinnamon, ginger, whipped cream

1. Gently heat the milk and chocolate, stirring often, until the chocolate is melted
2. Add cinnamon, orange zest, etc as wanted/needed/to taste
3. Serve warm with whipped cream on top

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Fried Banana French Toast

Our industrious neighbors usually start pottering around their kitchen at 6:30 in the morning. At nearly eight months pregnant, I spend most nights tossing my unevenly-shaped body around the bed, and the sight of my habitually shirtless neighbor preparing his coffee signals to me that I can begin to do the same. (Paris' close quarters turn even the most uninquisitive into curtain-twitchers.)

I am enjoying this newfound status of "early riser" - a rather unexpected bonus of my otherwise maddening sleep deprivation. I have also enthusiastically adopted the notion of family breakfast. The four of us sitting together à table for a morning meal greatly appeals to me - the two boys are currently reveling in the freedom of (another) French school holiday, and my heavy belly cries out for carbohydrates. Husband is not as easily roused from the sheets but can be summoned with the promise of coffee and butter-laden breakfast offerings.

This morning, I lurched into the kitchen and eyed the ingredients available to me: slightly browning bananas, a packet of organic supermarket brioche, and 2 half-full bottles of Vermont maple syrup, amongst other things. Despite my threats of date porridge (another day, children, another day,) I decided to embrace indulgence and rustle up some fried banana French toast.

There is a tendency to always think of The King when conjuring up fried bananas (bacon - always optional, often encouraged) - I, however, am usually transported back to my days as the pastry chef in a popular little Dublin eatery. We served a version of this dish, invented by the South African chef, and it sold out every day we offered it. It is no different at my morning breakfast table, although I wager the wait staff in Dublin had less maple syrup to mop up in its aftermath. 

This recipe lends itself well to fruit substitutions and additions - I often like to sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the top before serving. The tart seeds offer a cleansing pop through the richness of banana, egg, and butter - and the end result is visually rather lovely.

(serves 4)

4 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

8 slices of slightly stale brioche
4 bananas, sliced lengthwise

1. Whisk together the eggs, milk, cinnamon, salt, and sugar in a shallow casserole dish.
2. Melt a bit of butter in a frying pan and fry both sides of banana. Set aside.
2. Dip the bread slices in the egg mixture, lightly coating both sides. (Don't let the bread soak up too much of the mixture or your french toast will be soggy.)
3. Fry the bread, turning when each side is golden brown.
4. Top with fried banana, maple syrup, and pomegranate seeds.