Monday, May 28, 2007

A Weekend of Good (Comfort) Food

I wanted to write a little about the foods I enjoyed, not this past weekend -- at least, not yet -- but some wonderful bits and bobs that I savored about two months ago, just before my boy ended up in the hospital (long story, for another time) and things went a little topsy-turvy in my life. (This post has found itself in rough versions several times and I thought I would never finish it!) I'm actually nibbling on one of my terrible péchés mignons right now, something I tend to crave from time to time, and a treat that I never seem to be able to stop myself from indulging in: saucisson sec. So as I sit here guiltily chomping down on my saucisson and salted butter on toast, I thought I would share some wonderful comfort foods I prepared a few months back, foods that cheered me up on a lousy, cold, grey weekend -- and how à propos that today, in late May, it is once again cold and grey -- and rainy! Ah, Paris...

Of course, as we all know, "comfort food" comes in all shapes and forms, and I don't even know how exactly you can define it, but apparently someone has on Wikipedia:

Comfort food
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"The term comfort food refers to any food or drink to which one habitually turns for temporary respite, security, or special reward. The reasons that something becomes a comfort food are diverse but include the food's familiarity, simplicity, and/or pleasant associations. Small children often seem to latch on to a specific food or drink (in a way similar to a security blanket) and will repeatedly request it in high stress situations. Adults, however, are certainly not exempt.
A substantial majority of comfort foods are composed largely of simple or complex carbohydrate, such as sugar, rice, refined wheat, and so on. It has been postulated that such foods induce an opiate-like effect in the brain, which may account for their soothing nature."

I guess this is not so much a definition of what comfort food is exactly but what the expression refers to, and how certain foods with assocations become a form of comfort to us. What comes to mind for me is my mom's macaroni and cheese, how it's perfect every time and just somehow so reassuring, no matter what time of year it is (God, I miss that stuff!). More recently, comfort foods have taken on a whole new meaning to me, especially since I started cooking. I don't know what I would have done without this cookbook over the past two winters in France; it has become my kitchen bible, and I guess it helps that I'm a big fan of soups, both hot and cold. And what's more comforting than soup? I'm always curious to try new combinations and experiment with different ingredients, probably also due to the fact that I used to buy a lot of my lunchtime homemade soups at a little sandwicherie at métro stop 4 septembre in Paris, a place called Stanie's run by a young couple who used to work in advertising and decided to start a business of their own (I no longer work in their neighborhood, so I don't get to eat there as often, and I sure miss it...). I could never get enough of Rebecca's homemade soups, whether it was lentil with coconut in the dead of winter or cold, rich avocado soup with a splash of lemon juice in the summer (that stuff was to die for, trust me, and I've never been able to replicate it, to this day; I seriously licked the bowl...). I don't tend to experiment much in the kitchen at all, as I'm not yet confident enough to do so. But I do like to add in a bit more of this or that when I'm making a new soup. I'm a big fan of carrot soup with coconut milk and fresh cilantro (pretty Thai-inspired, I guess), and just two weeks ago I made a variation of the cold avocado soup with cucumber and tomato juice ice cubes (it was quite intriguing, I promise...) based on a recipe in this magazine. But the book Soupes du jour is SO easy to follow, it's a no-brainer; you simply can't screw any of these recipes up!

This late March afternoon found me preparing a batch of rich, heavy lentil soup (page 26). In my mind there is nothing quite so nourishing, or comforting, as lentil soup, especially paired with some refreshing cilantro leaves. Since I discovered it, as soon as the weather turns grey and cold outside I throw some together to keep me warm on the inside. The fresh green cilantro brightens up what might not look so appetizing at first, but once you spoon some of this into your mouth, you won't regret it! And it's the simplest thing to make; you just have to be patient enough to allow the green lentils to simmer away for about an hour. I do tend to use the lentilles vertes du Puy, even though they are a bit more expensive, if only because the flavor seems to be richer and the lentils themselves seem to hold up better over time.
That same weekend I also made one of my best apple crumbles in a while. Ironically enough, when I was growing up I wasn't a big fan of anything apple-based, especially baked apples, apple pie, or anything of the like. I can't quite explain why; it just didn't do anything for me... But you know how our tastes change with time (as Aussie Lass has also recently reminded us over in her digs)! I wish I had a nickel (or a Euro for that matter) for every time I've realized that I actually like something I used to insist I didn't like in the past... The list could go on forever -- and I'd be pretty rich!

I used my favorite salted butter (I'm partial to Grand Fermage's Butter with sea salt from Noirmoutier) and added in a pinch of cinnamon and ginger. This baby didn't last long at all! Talk about warm comfort... Add some crème anglaise or vanilla ice cream, and we have a winner.
In between my own time spent in the kitchen, my boy and I also went back to one of my very favorite neighborhood haunts in the 18th arrondissement, a tiny family-run restaurant that became my cantine for almost two years. I even celebrated my 30th birthday there: it's called Le Potager. I don't often get the opportunity to go back these days, now that I'm out in the 'burbs, but anytime I'm craving a nice, reasonably-priced meal, I make a reservation. And anytime I have friends coming into town, I always recommend a stop there. As a matter of fact, when Emily was in town about two weeks ago with her friend Dawn, we met up at métro Abbesses and enjoyed a nice, filling dinner. Every time I go, I absolutely cannot pass up their oeuf cocotte au foie gras; it's to die for! One of my all-time favorite entrées...
I can't get enough of it, and I find myself scraping out the bottom of that ramequin to make the pleasure last. I imagine it must be easy to prepare at home, and it's certainly not made with the finest of foie gras, but the combination of flavors is deliciously rich -- and comforting! There's hardly enough room for a main dish after that, but you're talking to a real gourmande here, so there's no way I'm going to pass up more food! I also highly recommend their magret de canard, served with either a honey, blackberry or fig (my fave) sauce. And they have these wonderful main dishes that consist of various tartine combinations, including a melted goat cheese with cumin. The names of these tartines are all a play on words, like "la Mère Veille" or "la Mère Cedes".

For such a tiny establishment, they have a real following, and it's almost impossible to get a table à l'improviste. That's why I try to reserve either the day before or the same day, earlier in the evening. But if you're going to be passing through Montmartre in the near future, give it a try! I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed...

* Comfort Foods image courtesy of smileandactnice.com.

14 comments:

avec amy said...

Perhaps you should open up your own soup shop!?! It looks like you have a real talent. I'm feeling ashamed of myself having just eaten store bought hummus. I was thinking as I was eating it that it can't be that hard to make and a recipe is probably in one of the many cookbooks I own, but don't use! Thanks for the resto recommendation too. I'm always eager to try a new place.

Linda said...

I love soups too. I have a vegetable garden and in the summer I have a huge abundance of tomatoes and make tomato soup at least once a week. My diet has changed tremendously in France but every once in a while I just need one of those comfort foods that I ate in the States. And, by the way, can you believe how cold it is? I heard it even snowed in the Alps. It should be hot before long, surely.

ColourMeCrazy said...

Oooo, I know Le Potager. I'm salivating just from the thought of it!

jchevais said...

YUM.

Emily said...

Great resto. I loved everything we ate and hope to go back there during my next trip to Paris. Hopefully, you can join us again?!

The Late Bloomer said...

Amy, that's a really nice thing to say, but I'm a COMPLETE novice in the kitchen, trust me, and far from experienced enough to serve any of my cooking to the paying public! I'm lucky that my boyfriend trusts me enough to be my guinea pig when I'm trying new recipes...

I wish I had a few more cookbooks of my own, but as I've just started getting into cooking over the past 2 years, I've only accrued a fair amount of French cooking magazines so far. And I certainly don't feel like cooking every night! You have no idea how often I'm simply NOT in the mood to cook, and then I break out the frozen pizza or we order Chinese...

I actually tend to spend more time in the kitchen on the weekends, when I have the whole day ahead of me, and not just a couple hours in the evening after work. But there are some exceptions too, such as when we have a few friends coming over. I'm gradually getting into cooking for others...

Linda, I'm so frustrated by this chilly weather! You know, we got spoiled in April and now we're being punished by the weather gods.

CMC, that's cool that you've been there, too. I guess if you've spent any time in the 18th, it's hard to miss, with it being on such a popular street. And Emily, I'm always up for an opportunity to go back, no worries!

ParisBreakfasts said...

Eating soup and chilly weather in France!? Whoa!
Well I look forward to going to your fav restaurant next visit-sounds fun
merci

Julia said...

Have you been to Le Bar a Soupes near the Bastille? http://www.lebarasoupes.com/ I went there last year and it was quite nice - soup together with a glass of wine is an interesting concept!

But that crumble looks amazing and when I get back from my trip it will be comfort food season so will be saving this post for inspiration!

Julia said...

Oh, and I'm sorry, but oeuf cocotte au fois gras - that sounds like my idea of heaven!

The Late Bloomer said...

Thanks for stopping by, Carol! Have admired your blog and your inspirational watercolors for some time now... And in all fairness, I did prepare this lentil soup back in March; I just got around to posting about it now! It has been chilly, c'est vrai, but perhaps not THAT chilly! (I do wish these late-afternoon storms would settle down though...)

Julia, Le Potager is a very rustic, tiny place, but the food and the "bon rapport qualité-prix" really make it worth a stop there. And I still haven't tried Le Bar à soupes -- I've definitely heard of it, and I need to get down to Bastille to give it a try! I don't go to that neighborhood often enough these days.

Mil said...

I've just discovered your blog by complete accident and there is so much I relate to. Being a female expat, cooking, the books & music, having a swirling maelstrom of thoughts in my head that sometimes just need to come out. Plus you live in France which I long ago decided is my spiritual home. I currently live on Grand Cayman and my husband & I are plotting how we can get to live in France one day.
I started a blog when I moved here but stopped as I found the pressure of trying to be funny and entertaining just too much. Not that much happens to me but maybe I should start again for the same reasons you did.

Mil said...

After all that, I forgot to mention the point I was going to make which is that you should check out the Guardian (English newspaper) food blog which has a great thread at the moment on comfort food.
I could do with some comfort food right now!

The Late Bloomer said...

Hey Mil, thanks for your comments. You know, I started this blog on the encouragement of some blogger friends, some great gals that I'm getting to know little by little, and to be honest with you there are certainly plenty of times where I feel like I'm not really writing anything exciting or funny! And I sometimes get that feeling of pressure, like I need to write a post, but I prefer not to post anything until I somehow feel inspired or have something in particular I want to share. Then again, every once in a while there are things you want to get out -- but one can't be "eloquent" in their writing all the time, right? ;)

Right now I actually have a bunch of thoughts floating around in my head, and there are several things I want to write about, but I don't even know where to begin!

In any case, I hope you'll stop by again sometime.

ColourMeCrazy said...

Hiya, still on the subject of food - I've just tagged you (check out my blog). Feel free to share your favourite foods!