Thursday, April 30, 2009


My search for a "fond de commerce" started just a few blocks away from where we live. The second place I ever looked at continues to be of interest for various reasons that I'll explain later.

The owner's name is Colette. A name more french than that is not possible! She's an interesting character. She used to work in the Marketing Department of a high tech company, but her job was eliminated when she was in her early 50s. "Instead of collecting unemployment" she said "I decided to look for a business to buy and run". And that's exactly what she's been doing ever since.

She picked this location because it has tourists, students, and business people in the neighborhood. She decided to sell low cost sandwiches, salads, paninis, and plats du jour (daily specials) because she saw this as a good niche to fill. Her street sign gives a first clue about what she sells: it has a knife, fork & toque. She posts her daily specials on an outdoor chalkboard. She uses every other free space on her outside storefront area to describe her sandwiches & their "formules" (formula, or lunch meal specials). Finally, she has written in big bold letters on her window "English spoken here. Se habla espagnol." She also speaks German and Russian. Pretty amazing.

Being so close to our apartment, I've walked by there several times. I've gone in several times and we've had several sit down discussions. I've observed how she interacts with customers. She is friendly. She greets them with a smile, and sometimes offers a handshake. I don't want to say that this is not typically french, but I'd say she stands out from the crowd! I think it helps explain how she has grown her business so nicely over the past years.

So why sell? Because her son, who works at a reputable restaurant on the Champs-Elysée, is going to open a gastronomic restaurant. She wants to work with him on the project, as does her husband, a butcher by trade.

Colette's place has its pros and its cons. It has a very small seating area. During the day it seats up to 16 people sur place (dine in area). That's 16 people Paris-style (as in side-by-side, squeeze in to sit down & eat with your neighbor). I'd say it's really 12 people, seated comfortably. The kitchen needs a full upgrade (ie replacement), but its size is adequate . There is a basement, even bigger in surface area than the main floor, but it needs some serious electrical work, given its wires dangling absolutely everywhere. A "little" problem to fix...

Those obviously are some cons. On the positive side, her business is running well, as far as small businesses go. It's well organized & it's ready for taking over. It has potential to develop into something more my style.

I wish the store itself was proportion to its asking price. We shall see. One thing is sure, however, at this point in time: low-priced, comfort food is selling well in today's turbulent economy.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pierre Hermé's "World Peace Cookies"

Today I joined the bandwagon - the WPC bandwagon. World Peace Cookies, that is.

So the story goes, Pierre Hermé created this recipe when he worked at a restaurant called Korova. It was Dorrie Greenspan, however, who published the recipe in her book Baking: From my Home to Yours. The story further goes that it was Dorrie's neighbor who, after tasting her cookie, said something like "these are so our house we call them world peace cookies because we're convinced that if everyone ate these, world peace would ensue"....or something to this affect. From that point on, a new name was born.

What these cookies are in fact is a sablé chocolat (a choclate shortbread). The dough is very dry, as you can see from the photo. They contain not a single egg. The chocolate content is higher than the butter content. Not too bad for the diet, in my opinion, as far as cookies go. And very chocolaty! It has one secret ingredient, fleur de sel, which give them that little je ne sais quoi (I don't know what). Special. Chocolate & salt go very, very well together...

I highly recommend making these. I am apparently lucky because I read a few posts on the internet and some have had extremely crumbly dough (difficult to work with) or flat cookies. I'll take luck anyday! By the way, this is a roll into a log, refrigerate & slice-before-baking kind of cookie. I threw the logs into the freezer that last 20 minutes before slicing (out of a 3-hour total rest period in the fridge). And I cooked them in a convection oven (165°C) for 13 minutes instead of 12. Seemed to work well this time. I'm not sure if those are clues into anything valuable, but I thought I'd share that anyway.

Here's a link to the recipe by Dorrie Greenspan. World Peace Cookies. (Actually, it's a link to someone's blog that Dorrie herself refers everyone to.)

It's definitely worth sharing some of this peace in the world.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Fava Bean, Spring Peas & Capellini - A Fast, Delicious Dinner

No matter what industry you're in, you might agree that simplicity can lead to greatness. Unfortunately, sometimes to create something simple involves a lot of behind-the-scenes work. (And perhaps only the creator would know how much work it took to make it look that "simple".) Last night, however, I made something that was actually very simple and it didn't take a lot of's that for great?!

This dish was put together in about 30 minutes or less, with about 6 key ingredients. And I must say that it was satisfying beyond description. It's loaded with spring freshness, if only because of the fava beans and peas. These little guys count for everything in this dish! A twist of lemon adds a nice zing. Freshly chopped tarragon and cilantro add another dimension of zing. The "sauce" is made with a splash of chicken or vegetable stock, a pat of salted butter, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and a pinch of piment d'espelette (red pepper from the southwest of France/northwest of Spain). C'est tout! (That's it!) What a way to highlight the freshness of fava beans & peas.

Ingredients (6 people)
capellini pasta for 6
fava beans, 2 kg (~ 4.5 lbs), unshelled
green peas, 1.4 kg (~ 3 lbs), unshelled shell, or a couple of cups of frozen peas
tarragon, fresh - 1 bunch
cilantro, fresh - 1 bunch
juice from 1 lemon
chicken stock (or water)
salted butter (or regular butter)
walnut oil, or high quality olive oil (optional)
piment d'espelette or sweet/spicy paprika (to your taste)

1) Prepare the vegetables. Shell the fava beens, blanch them in boiling, salted water ~1 min. Drain, plunge into ice water to stop the cooking, and drain. Peel off the rough skin from each fava bean & set aside. Shuck the peas. Cook al dente in salted boiling water a few minutes. Drain & cold shock them (cold water) & set aside.

2) Bring water to boil. Chop herbs. Juice a lemon. Shave the parmesan cheese (if needed). Cook & drain pasta.

3) Into a saucepan, heat some stock (or use some water from the pasta cooking if you have no stock). Add some salted butter until melted. Add the cooked, hot pasta into this pan & swirl until every noodle is coated. Add the fava beans & peas. Add the lemon juice, herbs, parmesan cheese & seasonings. Swirl. Throw in some extra fresh almonds, if you have them! Add more stock or butter/water if necessary. Pour a light sprinkle of oil around. Serve immediately.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Les Amandes Fraîches - Fresh Almonds

Today I was out & about, hitting the pavement, checking out parts of the 15th arrondissement (district) as a potential location for setting up shop. Along the way I came across a little store, an "Epicerie Libanaise" (Lebanese grocery store). It was an inviting store front that lured me in to see what new items it might have to discover. Many of its products I could not understand because of packaging written in arabic. Then there was a display case of prepared foods that I could understand, with my eyes at least, but it was much too early for lunch.

As I was leaving, however, I noticed a box just sitting there. A small crate actually. I asked the shop owner, "How much are those fresh almonds?" I wasn't sure if they were actually for sale, or just part of the store's inventory. He was really pleased with my question, which surprised me. He started talking about how these were the very first almonds of the season. I asked where they were from. He said "Lebanon", and then he continued talking about how fresh these were. (Having walked into a Lebanese grocery store, I kind of assumed they were from Lebanon....and I was hoping for a more specific answer....!) However, he was so caught up in talking about these almonds that I eventually dropped my intended follow-up question, "but where?"!

He quickly explained that these are at the highest price point they will ever be because, simply, they are at their freshest. They were 8€/kg, in case you're wondering (~$5.50/lb). After this, the almonds are less good because they are less fresh, and the price will go down, he explained.

Then, he asked me, "do you know how to eat these?" I said no. I've already worked with fresh almonds in the past, but I wasn't sure where he was going with this. Then he simply took a bite of one, green skin (or should I say fur), and all! It sounded all crispy- crunchy. My knee-jerk reaction was "pas possible!" (no way, I can't believe it!). It really did take me by surprise. He said, "si, si" (yes, yes). And he added, "What's really good is to eat these with a cold beer. But only when they're this fresh. Otherwise, you have to get the nut out." And with that, he ran away & quickly returned, putting me a handful of whole almonds (peeled) in my palm. "Here, take this. You seem to like almonds!"

There was a girl in the middle of paying for something while all this transpired, and without blinking, she reached into the crate, grabbed one & popped it into her mouth. I was a little shocked by her brashness, but I curiously watched her reaction at the same time. She said with a smile, "a little bitter....but yes, a beer would be great with these". And out the door she went.

It was my turn to try one, at the shop owner's insistance. It was surprisingly fresh tasting. Not as "almondy" as I was expecting. Definitely "wet" & moist & slightly bitter. I still couldn't get over eating that green casing. In fact, it's a strange concept to not only eat the green casing, but also, the shell itself. Today, it's all moist, but this is the same shell that eventually dries out & becomes light golden brown, as I had been accustomed to seeing back in the states.

I bought a small sac full to bring home. I wanted to share this almond taste test with Eric. We tried them, as recommended, with a beer. But not just any beer. It was a Belgian specialty brought from Brussels last week by some dear friends..... It was unanimous. Fresh almonds are a unique treat and they make for a very unique aperitif (before-dinner drink and appetizer). We couldn't eat them every day, but we're still glad to have made this discovery.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Langoustines Epicées , Mousseline de Carottes, Sauce Coriandre

Spiced Langoustines, Carrot Mousse & Cilantro Sauce.
It's been a while since I've posted anything food-related. The search for a restaurant around town has taken up lots of my time. That's not to say I haven't been in the kitchen lately. Au contraire! I've also been cooking up a storm over the past few feeks. And I simply have to post this. It's one very, very deliciously exceptionally good dish. It's a take off of something I learned a couple of years ago while working at Hélène Darroze (2-michelin star restaurant in the 6ème) . When I was at the restaurant, I always prepared the langoustines (Norwegian lobsters), cooked them & made the sauce. Somebody else on the vegetable station always prepared the carrots. And yet somebody else put all the pieces together on the plate (usually the Second, 2nd in charge). All of that was before the server could rush it out to the customer while still piping hot. Wonder no more why such restaurants can cost an arm & a's all that attention to detail & perfection...!

The languostines taste just like lobster, maybe better, if that's even possible. (When they are as fresh as the ones we had, as in still hyper-actively moving around when we bought them at the outdoor fish market, then I guess it's possible! Being that exceptionally fresh & alive did, however, make it really, really difficult to deal with back at home. I'll spare you the details. Let's just say that Eric had to leave the kitchen.)

Chef Héléne Darroze has posted this recipe in several public, free magazines & you can find it on line if you're looking for the authentic deal, including exact proportions. Here, below, is my adaptation. In english, but without any specific quantities! (Only because I didn't keep track of them.)

Ingredients (for 8) - Inspired by Hélène Darroze; adapted recipe

Langoustines ~3-5 per person depending on size
carrots 1 - 1.5 kgs
navel orange ~1 piece
butter/cream (but not if you're watching your cholesterol...humm...)
cilantro 1/2 bunch
spring onions - a couple
demi-glace (veal or chicken)
white wine
favorite spice blend, cajun spice blend, etc.


1.) This is my version for preparing the carrots & I like how it worked. Steam carrots & section the orange. Purée the cooked carrots in a food processor. Add the orange sections to processor one at at time until you get the flavor just right. Same with the juice. Add until you end up with a nice, fluffy consistency. Not watery from too much orange juice! Season well. Passer au chinois. (Pass through a fine sieve filter.) Can be done ahead & re-heated at low temp in the oven, or used right away while still hot.

2.) Remove shells from langoustines, but leave the tail end for decoration. You could easily use shrimp in place of langoustines. Before pan-frying, dip the langoustines in your favorite spice blend. I used something from Morocco called ras-el-hanoute, a ground spice blend of over 35 spices typically used to make tagines.

3) Sauté the langoustines in duck fat, olive oil, butter, or your preferred fat. To test for doneness, touch the langoustine. (Yes, touching food for doneness happens all the time at restaurants...but don't worry, my finger is clean. ;). They should be firm to touch, but not hard (ie, overcooked). Removed from pan when cooked.

4.) For the sauce, this has been adapted for the home kitchen. The results are just as satisfying. De-glaze the pan with some white wine. Reduce. Add demi-glace (you can buy this at Williams Sonoma's in the states, or G. Detou in Paris, etc). Add chopped spring onions & chopped cilantro. Monter au beurre. (Add a few knobs of cold butter to sauce pan, off the heat, and swirl until melted. This will add a richness to the flavor, give it a nice sheen, & get it to a nice consistency. A real french cooking technique for any sauce! Or skip this step if you are watching your cholesterol....uuurrrghhh....)

5) Assemble: Put a few spoonfuls of carrot purée on your plate. Top with langoustine or shrimp. Spoon some sauce all around. Don't forget to season with salt & pepper.

Voilà. Fine dining at home.....let me know if anyone tries this out. If not, just call me & I'd be happy to private chef it for you in Paris! Or, for the real deal, head straight to Restaurant Hélène Darroze. I highly recommend it. And believe me, I can't say that about every place I've worked at!

Restaurant Hélène Darroze
4, rue D'Assas
75006 Paris


Friday, April 3, 2009


Sofia is an energetic, very attractive, middle-aged women. She speaks with an accent that I later understand is Greek. She is the current owner of a traiteur/restaurant (catering company & restaurant) that she is selling because her husband wants her back, as she explained to Eric. Unfortunately, on my first visit there, she had told me she is selling because of stomach cancer. Yikes. I'm hearing all sorts of personal stories on this search. I can see why her husband is anxious for her to sell.

Her store is located on one of the city's most active, or should I say vocal, markets. It is abuzz with activity six days out of seven. Vendors are assertively trying to out-shout each other with the day's bon marché (deals). People from the neighborhood are buying their daily needs. Tourists can be spotted in the crowd, taking in the scene and trying to stay oriented. It's all hustle-bustle.

Sofia has been in business the past twenty years. She looked me straight in the eye and said, "you know when I arrived here, I could speak not one word of french. Not one word." And yet it appears that she has done very well for herself. Her storefront is small - it has a refrigerated counter that displays what she sells: hummus, olives, feta spreads, tarama, tabouli and other such greek/mediterranean/middle eastern "comfort foods". There are several tables in the room, also, that can seat up to 20 people. I see potential for private dining or private events at night, something she doesn't do at the moment. Her preference is definitely the catering side. The decor is pure greek: typical blue and white everywhere. (Another yikes.)

When I saw the kitchen for the first time, I thought I was going to die. Of excitement that is. The kitchen is bigger than the storefront!! It's big. Really big. AND, it has a cold room in the basement. What a dream. Except, the closer I look, the more I realize that it, too, has lots of "potential" and would need a lot of upgrading. However, letting the creative thoughts flow, I can envision running cooking classes here, and having the dégustation either in the dining room or even in the kitchen. I can also see using all that glorious professional cooking space for some serious production -- it's the most spacious and adequate kitchen I have seen yet (in proportion to the size of the business I'm searching for). Most kitchens in Paris are very small, miniscule even, and I can hardly understand how centuries of cooks have tolerated it! But somehow they have. This is one incredible kitchen, even in its current state.

Sofia wants to show us the wine shop a few doors down - to let us see how the owner has remodeled his space, and to give us an idea or two if we want. She knows everyone there - rounds of kisses to everyone. Even walking the short distance from her place to his, she's talking with everyone. She's like a magnet - everybody wants to talk with Sofia. Her smile is warm and wide, but even more so, it is sincere and amazingly light-hearted.

After the tour, including a visit upstairs to a small two bedroom apartment included in the monthly rent, we sit outside to soak in the atmosphere. The market is still abuzz. The early spring sunshine is a welcome relief and warms us up. She drops a plate off at the table, a sampling of what she makes and she insists we try. Very delicious! She wispered to me, "I'll show you how to do it all, but if you buy this place, you have to promise me you'll keep selling some of these things. My customers would never forgive me otherwise!" With a wink, she disappears. She's not really serious, but I can tell, she's hoping to find the right buyer as well.

This was quite unexpected - to find this spot I mean. It has great potential, great space, and I love the thought of having fresh produce at my fingertips absolutely every day!! It needs a lot of work to turn it into something "mine". Hummm...need to make a few more visits to figure out if it's right. Not sure if I see myself working directly on a market, and the store is located behind a stall of a market vendor...but who knows....will keep an open mind. It has potential.