Public transport and Oeuf Cocotte

Oeuf cocotte

My daily commute has become twice as long since changing jobs earlier this year, thus, exponentially  increasing the chances of unwelcomed encounters, such as seeing the nether regions of a drunkard naked from the waste down and passed out on a metro bench first thing after getting off the metro in the morning. Today, the ride got a little too raw and up close for my comfort. Being crammed in the métro is nothing new during rush hour. But, with the warmer temperatures from this Indian summer we’ve been having, being packed like sardines among folks who have not quite caught onto the practice of using deodorant, especially on warmer days like today, is an excruciating assault on the senses. Having my personal space violated many times over in a box full of warm, sticky, smelly bodies was torture enough, but at the stop after I had gotten on, a horde of folks boarded the train, one of them being an awkwardly rotund teen, sweat dripping from his nose and upper lip and whose backside was covered in what looked like dandruff, further pronounced by his black t-shirt. I just hoped with all of my might that the train would not brake suddenly, because my face would end up splat in that pile of dry, white head excrement. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the trained stalled a couple of times, making the ride even longer than necessary.

And, to end today’s horrors of public transport, I saw something that I wish my eyes could unsee. After an exhausting ride on the train, I wasn’t in the mood to walk home, even though it’s only roughly an 8 minute walk back to my apartment. With my clothes glued to me like paper maché, I wasn’t about to risk exerting any more energy and consequently, adding to the grime I had just accumulated from the train ride home. So, I waited for the bus. The dude who was also waiting there did what I would never dare to do in public…well, something I just wouldn’t do anywhere to be quite honest, not even in the privacy of my own home. He started fidgeting with his rearend, so initially, I thought perhaps he was having a wardrobe malfunction and needed to undo a wedgie. But no, that was not the case. He stuck his hand far up his ass and proceeded to scratch it as though he were digging for gold, full on dug his fist up there with no inkling of shame nor discretion. I was standing not even half a meter away and he did not seem to care that I clearly saw what he just did. Thank goodness there was a barrier of jeans between his hand and his bare ass. Otherwise, getting on that bus with him would have been a serious hepatitis A risk.

Fortunately, I don’t have any pictures to share of these unpleasantries. Instead, I’ll share a recipe for eggs cocotte, or baked eggs. The first time I tasted this dish was at the brunch at Château Mont-Royal that my husband and I went to several months ago. Though their rendition was a bit simple, it was good nonetheless, because afterall, how could you possibly go wrong with eggs baked in cream? My version is also pretty basic, but a notch up from their plain cream and eggs. I added some bacon, feta cheese and green scallions as well as a dash of Tapatio hot sauce before serving to give it a bit more depth. This dish is incredibly versatile and you can add just about anything you want. It’s also a cinch to throw together and a perfect appetizer that even the finickiest of kids will love!


Oeuf Cocotte
4 servings

4 eggs // 4 slices of bacon // heavy cream // dab of butter
feta cheese // chopped green scallions //salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Fry up the bacon and once crispy, place on a plate covered with a couple of paper towels to soak up any excess grease. Once cool, chop into bacon bits.
  3. Butter 4 ramekins and layer the bottom with the bacon bits.
  4. Pour heavy cream into each of the ramkins until they are about half full. Then, add some crumbles of feta cheese and green scallions.
  5. Carefully crack an egg into each of the ramekins. Season with pepper and a dash of salt, but go easy on the salt since the feta is already salty.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 8 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the egg though, so keep an eye on them while their in the oven.
  7. Once out of the oven, top with a squirt of Tapatio hot sauce and enjoy while still hot. Best served with a warm baguette.

Bon appétit!

Sadaharu Aoki Pâtisserie

Bamboo gâteau

Each year, I wait with giddy anticipation for the summer months to arrive, during which time we can finally forgo the obscene number of layers of clothes and parkas for dainty sundresses and sandals. But this year, summer never came to Paris. With the exception of a few sunny yet cool days here and there, the weather has been rather dreary with unsually low temperatures. So, you can imagine how excited I was when the sun came out for a few hours and bathed us in a little bit of heat last Saturday. As I mentioned last week, we strolled aimlessly along the streets of Paris, wandering from the left bank, across to the right bank. Our first stop was at Sadaharu Aoki’s pâtisserie in the 6th arrondissement, which is only about a block or two away from the Luxembourg Garden.

bamboo gâteau
Though Aoki has been in Paris since the early 90s and is well-known in Japan, he has not yet gained the celebrity that certain French pastry chefs have achieved, such as Pierre Hermé or Cyril Lignac. While in culinary school in Japan, he found his calling after discovering French pastries through a book. He is credited as being the first in France to use Japanese ingredients, such as matcha green tea, adzuki beans, and yuzu, and successfully incorporating them into French pastries. Obsessively dedicated to his craft, he spent countless hours perfecting his hybrid concoctions, which attracted the attention from the likes of the major fashion houses, such as Chanel, Dior and Kenzo. Before opening his first boutique in Paris, he catered events and parties thrown by these fashion big wigs. After successfully establishing himself in the realm of French pâtisseries, he took on the fabrication of chocolates and was named as one of the top 10 chocolate makers in France a couple of years ago.

bamboo gâteau

I must have passed by Aoki’s mini boutique at the Lafayette Gourmet location at least a dozen times, each time intrigued by his exquisite creations that reinterpret traditional French pastries by infusing Japanese flavors. Last weekend, however, was the first time that I actually tasted one of his pastries. His pâtisserie in the 6th is small and unassuming, but is the perfect canvas for displaying his impeccably made pastries and chocolates. I was immediately seduced by the vibrant colors and foreign flavor combinations. After chatting a bit with the salesgirl, I finally decided to get the bamboo gâteau, which is his signature masterpiece, and the mister a croissant au thé matcha.

Aesthetically, Aoki has already elevated la pâtisserie française to another level, as you can see in the photos. With the bamboo gâteau, he took the traditional french opéra cake and flawlessly married its flavors with matcha tea, complementing the dark chocolate and coffee flavors of the ganache and joconde cake layers, without being too pronounced. He tempered the seaweed aftertaste from the matcha by adding an Alsacian kirsch, creating a more balanced flavor.

sadaharu aoki

I was equally impressed by the matcha croissant as well. As with the opéra, he took something that is a quintessential French breakfast food and made it his own by infusing matcha into the pâte feuilletée (puff pastry), giving the interior a stunningly bright green color and a subtle aftertaste. Yet, he was able to preserve the essence of the croissant-its flakiness and pronounced buttery taste-the very things that make eating croissants so delectable!

croissant au thé matcha

If you ever find yourself in the 6th arrondissement, stopping by Sadaharu Aoki’s pâtisserie is an absolute must. Though a bit on the pricey side (€5.80 for the bamboo gâteau), it’s well worth it!

35, rue de Vaugirard
75006 Paris

Paris through a Pentax 67 viewfinder

Paris Through Pentax from Maison Carnot on Vimeo.

I have a tendancy to focus on the hairy aspects of living in France, and it’s rather easy to forget how magnificent this city can be when we get sucked into the daily doldrums of life. This video, however, flawlessly captures quotidian scenes of life here in Paris, which can be breathtakingly beautiful at times, even in her simplest moments. What a great reminder of how lucky I am to get to live this everyday!

Soaking up the last rays of summer

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IMG_8104 luxembourg gardens

The weather that we saw this Saturday is what Parisian dreams are made of – clear, blue skies with a healthy dose of sunshine. And when the weather is this great, Parisians flock in droves to the many parks that are peppered throughout the city. We, too, took advantage of this glorious weather to replenish our vitamin D reserves. After a leisurely breakfast, we grabbed our sunglasses and headed into the city.

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IMG_8105We spent the day wandering through the city and soaking in the scenery, starting with a stop at Sadaharu Aoki in the 6th arrondissement for some French Japanese fusion pastries (more on that later!). With snack in hand, we strolled to the nearby Luxembourg Garden, which is the scene of our first outing in Paris, back when the mister and I were still mere acquaintances. So, this park always invokes a bit of nostalgia in me, bringing me back to a time when I was still charmed by the city’s beauty and my experience hadn’t yet been colored by its unpleasantries and less glamorous side. No matter how many times I’ve come here though, it never fails to amaze me.

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We were lucky enough to snag a couple of the coveted reclined park chairs. After savoring our pastries and reveling in the intensity of the green color imparted by the matcha green tea, we basked in the sun for awhile and got some much needed color. As the garden started to fill up after the lunch hour, we headed  north towards the river and walked along the left bank of the Seine.

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Many of the Parisians still hadn’t yet returned from their month long vacations, so the city wasn’t as overcrowded despite the many visiting tourists. We cut through the Île Saint Louis, which is a tiny island in the middle of the city and only a stone’s throw from the island where Notre Dame is situated (see last photo).

les gourmands de notre dame
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Our little excursion ended at Place de la Bastille, where I picked up a few accessories at the nearby Paul Beuscher store for my new hobby, the guitar. Just as we descended into the métro, we started to feel a few raindrops. The sunshine was rather shortlived, and the pouring rain returned later that evening. And, it looks like it’s here to stay, with rain forecasted through next Sunday and tempertures as low as 14°C.

Notre dame

view of l’île de la cité and notre dame from le pont de la tournelle

Vietnamese bitter melon soup

kho qua

I didn’t have any luck recovering the notebook that I had left behind at the grocery a couple of weeks ago. I called them twice last week to see if anyone was kind enough to turn it in, but after checking the objets perdus (lost and found), nothing turned up. Both gals whom I spoke to said someone probably took it or trashed it and since a week has passed since I lost it, they said that it isn’t likely that it will turn up. Ugh, I knew the chances were slim, but my heart sank after calling them. Nearly a decade of home recipes gone, the most precious ones being those from my grandma and mother.

filling for canh kho qua
Bittermelon soup

This loss is just too painful, I don’t even want to think about it anymore. So, I’m going to share with you my recipe for making stuffed bittermelon soup. Brace yourselves though because y’all are about to see the ugliest there is in food photography. You see, I usually don’t have time to snap decent photos when what I’m making is our lunch or dinner, because the mister gets impatient and wants to just eat before the food gets cold. This was one of those times. I brought the soup to the dinner table first and while the mister was still doing other things in the kitchen, I quickly snuck in a couple photos right before we started to eat. I tried to edit the photo a bit, but not really knowing how to use those programs, that’s about as good as it’ll get. Though the photo looks pretty unappetizing, I swear it tastes much much better than it looks!

kho qua

As with the dish that I had shared last week, it takes a few tries to really appreciate bitter melon because of its bitterness. Definitely give it a try though, because like me, you may even grow to like it! Usually, at each meal, we have a little bowl of fish sauce mixed with a few squeezes of lime juice and some fresh chilis as a condiment for our veggie or meat dish. This is not to be confused with nước mắm chấm, which is also a dipping sauce, but mixed with sugar, water, nước mắm, garlic, and lime juice or vinegar.  For instance, we usually eat nước mắm chấm with things like eggrolls. I usually like to dip a little bit of the bitter melon into our little mix. Again, as I mentioned in my last post, dishes like these are not meant to be standalone dishes, rather they are eaten as part of a family style meal.

Canh Khổ Qua
bitter melon soup

2 bitter melons
100 g ground pork
1 small onion, diced
3 tbspns finely chopped wood ear mushrooms
3 tbspns chopped bean thread noodles
1 tspn salt
1/2 tspn ground pepper
1 tspn sugar
1/2 tspn nước mắm

1. Wash and dry the bitter melon. Cut them in half widthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Once the insides are clean, cut the halves in half widthwise and set aside.

2. Soak the wood ear mushrooms in warm water. Once they have softened, drain and rinse again with some water. After squeezing out the excess liquid, chop them into small pieces.

3. Similarly, soak the bean thread noodles in warm water, and once they have softened, drain and roughly chop them with some scissors.

4. In a bowl, thoroughly mix the ground pork with the onions, wood ear mushrooms and bean thread noodles. Season with the salt, sugar, pepper and nước mắm. The quantities for the seasonings are just approximate, so season according to your taste. I usually microwave about 1/2 tspn of the filling so I can taste if it has been adequately seasoned or not. If not, add more salt and sugar accordingly.

5. Fill each quarter of bitter melon with the filling. If there is any filling left over, roll them into little meatballs.

6. Boil some water in an electric or regular kettle. Place the stuffed bitter melon and meatballs into a saucepan large enough to accomodate them. Pour enough hot water into the saucepan to cover the bitter melon by about 5-8 centimeters. Allow to simmer over medium low heat for about 10-15. Season with additional salt, sugar and nước mắm if necessary. Once cooked, serve in a bowl and garnish with chopped cilantro and green onions.

Sauteed Bitter melon with Eggs

Sauteed Bittermelon

I suffered a major setback in my cooking journey today. I realized, to my horror, that I had left my notebook of recipes that I have been recording notes and recipes in for the last 7 or 8 year at the grocery store yesterday! I remember leaving it in the shopping cart and I had made a mental note not to forget to take it out before returning the cart. But of course, having the memory of a fruit fly these days, I left it behind, and being in France, the chances of recovering this precious notebook of mine is next to zilch! After realizing that the notebook was nowhere to be found in the house, I started bawling like I had just received news that my dog Elroy had just crossed the rainbow bridge. The thing is, this notebook is that precious to me. I’ve recorded recipes that my grandma had taught me before passing away, those that my mother taught me, those that I have learned since becoming a wife, recipes that I had been developing. Having already had a really emotionally tough week, this immense loss was just too much to handle this morning and I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to recover from this. Though I can now make some of those dishes in my sleep, there are many that I was still learning how to perfect.

Chopped bittermelon

Since there is nothing that I can do but wait until Monday to call to see if anyone was kind enough to have turned in my notebook because practically nothing is open in France on Sundays, I cooked to assuage my panic. I made bittermelon soup as well as sautéed bittermelon with egg because these dishes remind me of my mom and because my husband happened to pick up three really fresh ones at the market the other day.

Sauteed bittermelon

I used to hate bitter melon when I was younger. Trying to get me and my brother to eat it, my mother would tell us that it was good for us and that she too didn’t like it as a kid. But, neither I nor my brother were able to get past the extreme bitter taste when we were kids, no matter how it was prepared. But, over the years, I did somehow get over that bitterness and have actually grown to like it. I only know how to prepare two dishes with this vegetable though- sautéed with eggs and soup. Generally, these dishes are eaten during family style meals served with at least one veggie dish, one soup dish, and a meat dish. In this post, I will share with you how to make the sautéed dish and the recipe for the bitter melon soup will follow in a different post. These pair really well with dishes, such as this, this, or even this.

Do y’all have any other dish suggestions for preparing bitter melon?

Khổ Qua Xào Trứng
sautéed bitter melon w/egg

2 bittermelons
1 onion, sliced
2 eggs
3/4 tspn nước mắm
salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro

After washing and drying the bitter melons, trim then ends and then cut them in half widthwise, then in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and the inside. Then thinly slice the halves.

In a small bowl, using a fork or chopsticks, beat the eggs with some pepper and the nước mắm. Set aside.

Heat some oil over medium-high heat in a sautée pan. Add the onions and once fragrant, add the bitter melon. Season with some salt and pepper and continue stirring until they are cooked. You can tell they are cooked by the color-they begin to take on a brighter green color and become slightly translucent. Note: I speed up the cooking process by adding about half to one teaspoon of water to create some steam.

Once the bitter melon is cooked, add the egg and stir so that it becomes scrambled and is evenly distributed. Garnish with some chopped cilantro.

Best served with steamed rice, a meat dish, and a soup.

Ginger Infused Carrot Cake

Carrot cake

Yet another food magazine hit the newsstands in France last year, this one being dedicated entirely to baking and sweets. Fou de Pâtisserie is different in that top pastry chefs as well as up-and-comers in France and from around the world generously share some of their recipes. This is a fantastic magazine for those who would like to know any and all things about the world of French pastries. Not only does it showcase the artistry of French pastries and their historical origins, but each issue also offers readers a glimpse into the careers of the masterminds behind the gorgeous creations through interviews that reveal how they got their start, what motivates them, their style, etc. The magazine also comes chock full of tutorials of basic techniques.  Though recipes of the hautes pâtisseries featured can be daunting, simpler recipes for classics, such as eclairs and muffins, are also included for amateurs with limited skills like myself.

IMG_7915 fou de pâtisserie

I’ve collected every single issue of Fou de Pâtisserie published, but I had yet to attempt any of their recipes until recently. I was craving carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, but having never made one before, I went on the search for a recipe. Though a very American treat, I skipped over the recipes from the states, because, as I had mentioned before, they are often based on an imprecise measuring system. I also don’t really like the French interpretation of certain American desserts, particularly those for cookies. The ratio of the ingredients are usually somehow off, so cookies end up being a bit dense and dry. And their version of cupcakes just don’t quite whet my appetite like those back home do. Being a bit finnicky, I was not left with many options to choose from. Luckily, the very first issue of Fou de Pâtisserie that I had picked up last year had a carrot cake recipe, which was actually neither French nor American. It was actually from the famous British-run Rose Bakery in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.

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Though the recipe looked pretty good, I changed it up a bit to suit my own tastes and to give it more pep. I reduced the amount of sugar and added some grated ginger as well as raisins. I also changed some of the steps to ensure a more uniform batter. Rather than sifting the dry ingredients together, her instructions say to just dump the flour and dry ingredients into the wet batter and mix. As for the frosting, I increased the cream cheese to butter ratio from 2:1 to 3:1, added grated ginger, and topped it with some crushed walnuts. I really liked the ginger, because it gave it some spice. Otherwise, I think it would have been a little too bland.

Initially, I was somewhat skeptical about how the cake would taste, given it uses oil rather than butter. Having only made cakes with butter, I was afraid that it would taste as though it was missing something. However, with the cinnamon and ginger, the cake had a nice harmony of flavors. Being oil-based, it was also less prone to drying out. Though, that was not much of a worry, since it disappeared pretty quickly. My co-workers gobbld up one whole loaf, and I split the second one with the retired couple that lives across the hall from us. The lady of the house loved the cake, and gave us a jar of her homemade apricot jam, which I have yet to try.

carrot cake

Carrot Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting
makes 2 loaves or 2 dozen muffins

200 g sugar
4 eggs
350 ml vegetable oil
300 g flour
1 tspn ground cinnamon
125 g finely chopped walnuts
baking powder
baking soda
1/4 tspn salt
4-5 carrots, grated
3 tspns finely minced ginger
75 g raisins

Frosting
300 g cream cheese
100 g butter
75 g powdered sugar (add more or less depending on taste)
0.5 tspn vanilla extract
1.5 tspn finely minced ginger
a couple tbspns of crushed walnuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C
  2. In bowl, sift together the flour cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and chopped walnuts. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar with the eggs until it reaches a mousse-like consistency, but before it starts to form stiff peaks.
  4. Pour in the oil and continue to beat the mixture for a couple more minutes. Then add the flour/walnut mixture and stir until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Fold in the carrots, ginger and raisins.  Once thoroughly mixed, pour the mixture into two buttered loaf pans and bake for 40-45 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a knife into the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes in the pan. Then carefully remove them from the pans and allow them to cool further on a rack.

Frosting
Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer for about a minute, until it is uniform and kind of fluffy. Then, add the butter and beat into well incorporated. Add the sugar, vanilla extract and minced ginger and continue beating until smooth. Once the cakes are completely cool, cover the surface uniformly with the frosting and sprinkle with some crushed walnuts.

Best enjoyed in the morning with your morning beverage of choice or after a light meal.