Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Cultural Day in Paris

No day in Paris is complete without just a little culture. Being a Wednesday, with free entrance to the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, we headed to see the Annie Leibovitz exhibit, A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005. Nothing compares to being able to see the real thing up close and personal. The museum was a little crowded and warm, as we all cozied in to see the portraits of inner selves exposed in black and white. After about an hour or so of looking and stair climbing, our appetites started calling our name. A favorite restaurant l'Epouvantail, was next on the agenda. Fortunately it was close by in the Marais area of Paris, as visions of four course meals danced in our heads. The new owner, Dominick, couldn't be more gracious as he explains the menu. An Amuse Bouche of squash soup arrived immediately as we pondered the wine list and reflected on the powerful photography of Annie Leibovitz. My appetizer salad of haricots verte and snow peas crowned by fresh goat cheese quickly arrived. Next I chose the duck breast resting in a perfectly sweetened sauce accompanied by Potato Dauphinois and salad greens. As conversation flowed we looked out the window and saw the fire breather performing on the square. At that time, I knew I must have the molten chocolate cake. It was served with crème anglaise and French (what else?) vanilla ice cream. It had it's own kind of fire. We must have made the dishwasher happy that evening as all of our plates were returned clean and empty.
The following recipes of Potato Dauphinois and Molten Chocolate cake come from sources used when one needs "just a little bit of Paris" in life back on the other side of the pond.

Joel Robuchon's Gratin Daphinois
adapted from Patricia Wells At Home In Provence, by Patricia Wells

2 cups (50cl) whole milk
1 cup (25cl) heavy cream
4 oz. (125 g) freshly grated Swiss Gruyere cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1 large garlic clove , peeled and halved
2 lbs. (1kg) firm fleshed potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
3 TBSP (1 1/2 oz or 45 g) butter
Prepare a shallow 2 quart (2-liter) gratin dish, by thoroughly rubbing with the garlic halves. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (190 c).
In a large saucepan, bring the milk to boil over medium heat. Add the cream and 3/4 of the cheese, stirring to blend. Season with salt, pepper and a grating of the nutmeg. Add the potatoes and mix well with a wooden spoon. Cook over low heat, stirring often until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
Transfer the potatoes and their liquid to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and butter.
Place in the center of the oven and bake until the potatoes are cooked through and the top is crisp and golden, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
Four to six servings

Chocolate Molten Baby Cakes
adapted from How to Be A Domestic Goddess, by Nigella Lawson

1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus more for buttering cups
12 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup all purpose flour
8 4 ounce (or 6, 6 ounce) custard cups, buttered
baking parchment paper
You can make these a few hours in advance. Be sure to refrigerate them until you are ready to bake and serve. Bake them only when you are ready to eat them. Don't overcook as you will lose the pudding in the center.
1. Put a baking sheet in the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Fold a piece of parchment paper 4 times. Set a custard cup on it and trace the bottom. Cut out the 8 circles and butter them. Place them in the bottom of the cups.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter and let cool a bit. Add the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir to combine and add the flour. Blend ino a smooth batter.
4. Divide batter evenly between the cups and quickly place on the hot baking sheet in the oven.. Bake for 10 minutes (12 minutes if the batter is cold). After baking take out of oven, and if needed, run a knife around the edge to loosen. Tip them out onto individual serving plates. Top with lightly whipped cream and berries.
The traditional French way of serving is surrounded by creme anglaise.

Creme Anglaise
adapted from The French Chef Cookbook, by Julia Child

3 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups hot milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Optional: 1 TBSP rum
1 TBSP butter
In a 1 1/2 quart stainless steel saucepan, whisk egg yolks until thick, about 1 minute. Gradually beat in the sugar, then beat in the milk by droplets. Stir over moderately low heat with a wooden spoon until sauce thickens enough to coat the spoon. Do not let sauce come near the simmer or the egg yolks will curdle. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and then the optional rum and butter, if desired. Serve warm or cool.
Makes 1 1/2 cups

Written and photographed by Diane

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