The Grapes of Math

Kim Beaujolais 2As marketing campaigns go, France is the king. This is the country in which a dreadlocked man (former tennis and music star Yannick Noah) is chosen to promote personal grooming products (it later turned out to be mostly shower gels, but gee, I was confused there for a while). Last year market leader Sushi Shop released a box of Kate Moss-inspired rolls. Presumably they wanted to give the impression they’d infused their raw fish with Champagne effervescence and a nicotine aftertaste.

But mismatched celebrity/product pairings aside, one of the major triumphs has to be the cult of wonder that shines out of the mist every November surrounding the release of Beaujolais nouveau. You take one of France’s shoddiest wines, create a festival around it, and every fool dashes out to taste the stuff as if it were the last drop of Dom Perignon in the world. As marketing strategies go, it’s quite frankly genius. Promoting a mediocre wine to the dizzy heights of fame (and increasing profits a million-fold in the process) is no mean feat. Pretty impressive if you think about it.

Kim Beaujolais 1At this time of year you can’t pass a café window without seeing the excited scrawl upon it ‘Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!’ Beaujolais nouveau has arrived! In a nutshell, the tradition is this – a vineyard mouse’s whisker after the grape harvest (in wine terms at least), the bounty is speedily pressed, bottled and distributed to eager, salivating punters.

And it’s not just France either. Bottles are shipped all around the world every year, released at 12.01am on the dot on the third Thursday in November (so tomorrow the 20th) where they are met with welcoming arms by a global audience who afford it an almost cult-like status. The idea is to chug back on a glass and toast the wine gods (and producers of course), for letting us have another year’s worth of delicious produce to drink. What’s not to celebrate?

Well, the festival abstainers don’t see an awful lot of point in indulging in a drop that is considered by most to wildly inferior to the rest of the country’s offerings, dismissing it as a sneaky marketing ploy (which in truth it is). And they’d be partly right. Made from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais nouveau is the lightest red money can by, and the speed at which it hits the shelves means the finished product is juvenile and simplistic, hardly worth the glass it’s contained in.

Kim Beaujolais 3Sure it’s nowhere near a Grand Cru, but if you’re that picky, you’ve got the rest of the year to drink Margaux if you want. Beaujolais nouveau was always meant to be drunk young and drunk fast, and if you prefer a more aged version, you can wait for the later-released Beaujolais (that drops the ‘nouveau’), boasting a deeper complexity.

Personally, it’s one of my favourite French festivals, and I’ll be raising a glass in its honour. Not for the ‘delicious’ taste, but it marks the beginning of a new year of vintages, and it’s a chance to celebrate French wine on a more general level in absence of any other festivals championing any other type of wine the country could muster (get on to that please Monsieur Hollande). If it really is the sneaky marketing aspect that persuades many a nay-sayer to give it a wide berth, I’d say Christmas could be a pretty quiet one this year…

101 ways with a baguette #6: The Morning Glory

So you’ve followed my advice and thrown yourself a killer dinner party chez toi, reaped the appropriate glory and even tackled the washing up (ok, let’s not go too far). You wake up the next morning, still glowing from your culinary success, but that sad, leftover crustificating baguette sitting on top of the freezer somehow puts a downer on things. It just didn’t get to fulfil its breadly purpose, poor lamb.

You pick up the rigid has-been and gallop around your minuscule kitchen for a while sword fighting with the apron hanging on the back of the door, before your inner adult gets the better of you and you come over all frugal-like. It’s not a weapon. I am not a jousting knight from the Middle Ages. There’s a meal to be had here if I’m just bold enough to take the chance. And a damn fine one at that.

Porridge is all saintly and minimalist as breakfasts go, but nothing says decadence like French toast in the morning. Here it’s done pretty sweetly and simply in the classic dish pain perdu, literally translating as ‘lost bread’. It’s a recipe akin to food alchemy as you take an otherwise wasted castaway from an imminent mouldy demise and transform it into fluffy, sugary magnificence with just a few added ingredients.

If breakfast to you spells as much coffee as your veins can handle before a mad dash to the bus, you needn’t let the delicious second-chance magic of it all pass you by. Though in many parts of the world French toast is considered an a.m. delight, here in France it’s quite allowed to tuck in for afternoon tea or dessert instead. Though if you take a look at the ingredient list below you’ll see how much of your svelteness might be lost if you sample all three (click here for a guide to losing the kilos for free in Paris).

IMG_2127

Chillin’ in the custard stage

Pain perdu

Makes enough for one very hungry camper, or two people with more dietary restraint than me

4 slices of stale baguette (or 6 if it’s a skinny one)
1 egg
15g vanilla sugar
grating of fresh nutmeg
50ml milk
dash of cream
knob of butter

Put everything except bread and butter into a shallow bowl and beat together to make a custard. Soak bread slices for ten minutes, making sure they’re covered on both sides. Melt butter in a pan and fry for about three minutes on each side. Serve with a dusting of icing sugar, fresh berries or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. And a jog afterwards, obviously.

High on a hill stood a lonely vineyard

kim vineyard 1Paris might be the bitchy queen bee of its country, pulling in the tourists like bears to honey with its luxurious superiority over its smaller French cousins, but there’s one notable chink in her armour. Exquisite architecture, yes, galleries galore, of course, and style in spades that looks down on almost everywhere else in the world – France’s capital seemingly has everything you could need for living the high life.

Well, almost everything. There’s an important trump card in the hands of many of the other regions in the country that Paris just can’t compete with. Oh, and it’s a big ‘un alright. Wine. Grape wizardry is what the ruddy-faced country folk lay claim to. But like a cunning madam with a trick up her sleeve, there is a oenophilic heritage to be found in the city, if you keep your nose close to the ground and look hard enough for it.

Way, way up in the winding heights of the 18th, happily not far from Granny Flat HQ, is Clos Montmartre, a tiny vineyard that produces the only wine Paris can muster. Bordeaux it certainly isn’t given that fact that grape growing conditions in the inner city are hardly ideal, but it’s more of a gesture to the wine gods anyway, rather than a serious attempt to compete with the vinicultural juggernaughts in the rest of France.

CIMG7304In a nod to the wine-making past of Montmartre, where the industry flourished from the Roman era until the early 20th century when urbanisation and phylloxera soon stomped all over the practice, the vineyard was revived in 1933 by a group of locals led by artist Francis Poulbot, who wanted to preserve the viticultural heritage. Today it still stands, a minuscule parcel of vines of 1,556 sq m, tucked away in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it corner between Rue des Saules and Rue Saint Vincent.

You can only visit by appointment in groups of over 12, but the view from the road is good enough to be able to spy on the progress of the grapes. But who need a private tour anyway when for the next five days the vineyard comes into its own with the Fête des Vendanges, a celebration of the yearly harvest and a new Paris vintage (though the crappy summer weather has probably dampened the chances of it being a decent one).

The fête officially kicks off today (Wed 8th) and continues until Sunday, though pretty much all of the good stuff takes place at the weekend. There are masses of stalls selling wine and produce from all over France, so you’d be well advised to forgo meals in preparation from, well, now, to make sure you take full advantage. Sadly you can’t get your hands on the Paris vintage though, that’s only available via auction (with all of the proceeds going to charity), and anyway with the price tag punching far above its weight, you’re better off spending your hard-earned on Champagne and saucisson in the assembled tents.

Aside from fireworks on Saturday night, the highlight of the festivities is a parade through the streets of the 18th from the mairie at Jules Joffrin (where the grapes are eventually pressed) to the foot of Sacré Coeur on Sunday (3pm start), where producers from around the country don their jauntiest traditional garb and celebrate the joy of growing the good stuff. For once in a city where image is everything, it’s life’s most humble offerings that are the kings. And you can’t say more delightfully simple than that.

101 ways with a baguette #5: The Italian Job

Sometimes there are just perfectly coordinated moments. When you hit your breakfast cup of tea like it’s your birthday the minute it reaches core temperature. Arriving at the bakery just as the baguettes come out of the oven. Getting a seat on a crowded metro in rush hour (and not ending up sitting next to someone with flailing elbows and a personal hygiene problem).

I feel like this is one of those moments. Summer has come back for a welcome September encore, which means it’s salad time once again just as the food-o-meter was swinging towards soups and stews. We’ve got the last of the tomatoes to dive into before they disappear until next year (because winter tomatoes are about as worth it as vegan cheese). And I’ve got a freezer full of dog ends of baguettes not eaten because we were having too much fun at the dinner parties I’ve thrown recently. That could only mean one thing. Panzanella salad.

IMG_1669As lovely as baguettes are – hell, it’s practically a French religion – the crusty darlings do have a major flaw in that they are at optimum tastiness for all of ten seconds before becoming a hardened bread stick baseball bat. Rather than mourning the loss of that tiny gnome-sized window of deliciousness, embrace the stale remnants as the inspiration for this easy-as-pie Italian salad.

Like many of the world’s best dishes, there isn’t a definitive recipe per se (every Italian reader is probably hitting the screen in violent disagreement with said rock-hard baguette right at this very moment), but there are must-have inclusions. Proper ripe tomatoes, and if you can find the coloured ones even better. Stale baguette (or ciabatta if you like) chopped into decent chunks. Olive oil, salt and pepper, red wine vinegar and basil. That’s the classic foundation, but there are plenty of different recipes that add other delights like capers, anchovies, peppers and cucumber, even olives. It’s really up to you.

The important thing is to get all of the flavours to make friends with each other before you serve it up. So get chopping and let everything mingle for a bit (half and hour to an hour should do it, just don’t let the bread get soggy). Great on its own if you’re eating light, or you can serve it with a nice piece of fish or steak, however the mood takes you. The picture up above is my attempt, see if you can’t raise the bar a bit higher. Game on (cooking, not baseball – haven’t you been listening?).

Pick me, pick me!

Kim farm3I’ve always been a bit picky. And by that I mean being good at picking things, and not displaying frequent outbursts of fussy diva behaviour, à la Mariah Carey. I’m great at picking wine. And restaurants. I even spent four months voluntarily being paid peanuts to pick fruit and potatoes in the Australian hinterland. And I picked Paris (well technically it kind of chose me too, but that’s a story that needs an expertly selected bottle of wine handy for the telling).

So it was with a big Kim smile and an eager rub together of the magic picking hands when my friend Corinne told me she was taking me to Les Fermes de Gally just outside of Paris where I could pick my own vegetables and get to take them home afterwards. For a gal raised in the country who needs a good dose of proper fresh air every now and again or I go a little bit crazy, it was on par with telling a Frenchman he had just qualified for a free cheese allowance for life.

Kim farm 2Luckily Corinne was equipped with a car, so we hopped in, strapped her adorable toddler daughter in for the ride, and headed off with glee at the prospect of getting good ol’ real dirt (as opposed to gross metro slime) under our fingernails. Thank God we took the car though and didn’t rely on my flea-bitten donkey, given that it’s a bit of a drive out of Paris in the commune of Bailly, a good 15k past the périphérique at the western edge of Paris.

But make the effort of crossing the force field (i.e. the ring road), and the ride is more than worth it. Well, obviously only if picking your own produce direct from the farm appeals to you, if not then stick to Carrefour with its natty tweeting birds soundtrack in the veg aisle. ForKim farm 5 those die-hard supermarketeers who haven’t ever seen a tomato in the wild, the gnarly misshapen versions hanging off the gigantic plants might scare you. But this is nature my friends, in all of its imperfect, back-to-basics glory. Real tomatoes are not the same size. And they are not born in cellophane.

Not so much an option for the weekly shop as it’s a bit of a hike, and you won’t find bushes necessarily blooming uncontrollably with produce given that everyone else has had the same idea. But if you like good honest food, enjoy the thrill of the harvest and a bit of dirt on your potatoes, then you can’t go far wrong. For those not keen on getting soil on their chinos, there’s also a café and shop where you can buy the farm’s own produce (soups, cider and the like), and a teaching farm for the smaller folk.

Kim farm 4Without a doubt the shortest route from field to plate you’ll find in Paris (unless you grow kale in window boxes like me where I can harvest and cook at the same time), it hardly needs saying that everything is seasonal and grown in the most planet-friendly way possible. Sadly you’re not supposed to eat stuff on the way round (utter torture, really), and it’s a good idea to take plastic bags with you to carry your spoils home in. Those old style welly boots with goggle frog eyes on the toes, entirely optional. Open April to November.

 

 

The perfect Parisian dinner party – Kim style

Kim dinner partyNow that we’re great virtual mates and all that, it’s high time I invited you over for dinner. But, stone the crows would you look at that, I don’t have enough room, given that I live in an apartment so small it’s practically rodent real estate (though thankfully free of actual rats). So we’ll have to do that virtually too. Sorry.

But it’s a good job I’ve had lots of dinner-party-hosting practice in my first year at Granny flat HQ, who provides excellent entertainment herself what with the roll-out bidet, 1950s carpet cleaner and all (refer to March’s archives for a nosy around my tiny palace to see it in all its glory), so I’m well educated in the subtle art of throwing the perfect dinner party.

Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking; there are plenty of amazing places to eat in Paris where some other poor chump gets to wash your dirty dishes for you. But personally I’m a bit sick of the Parisian version of customer service that involves eye-rolling, impatient sighing or complete unashamed ignorance, green beans from a tin served with everything, and quite frankly lazy menu choices. An evening spent dining at Casa Kim means you’ll avoid all of that merde, and you don’t even get a bill at the end of it (though wine is always appreciated*).

It’s a pleasure to say that finding willing diners is not the challenge. The real trick lies in preparing a four course meal in a teeny tiny kitchen, where even cooking for one is a complicated culinary juggling act. But readers, I’m proud to say, I’ve totally nailed it (even if I do say so myself). Here’s how to make sure guests’ bellies will be bulging in pure delight (and not just limited to Parisian kitchens mind, if you own a big one wherever in the world you are, you’re laughing).

Apero – Because ceremony outweighs everything in this charming French early evening tradition, your work is already done. A few bowls of olives, cherry tomatoes and saucisson and you’re all set (Granny, bless her heart, thoughtfully left me some vintage bowls for exactly this), though for Pete’s sake make sure you’ve got the beers/wine/mineral water chilling waaayyy ahead of time. A rookie mistake waiting to happen.

oeufs en cocotteStarter – From here on in, it’s essential to keep things nice and simple – you didn’t invite your friends round to spend all of the evening talking to the cooker in another room did you? Make ahead dishes are the key; soups are always super easy to heat up, oeufs en cocotte take minutes to assemble and fling in the oven, and things prepared ahead and kept in the fridge only to be whipped out just before serving are dinner party gold. Think pâté, simple salads, and my personal favourite, leeks vinaigrette (see February 6th post for recipe).

Mains – You are not, and never will be Jamie Oliver. Only the very skilled can pull of fancy pants creations whilst still taking the time to amuse their guests. It’s better to create something that entertains itself in the oven or on the hob while you’re entertaining your guests with your witty banter, impressive encyclopedia of jokes, and hilarious animal impressions. IMG_1669I usually go with something like a lasagne, chilli, curry or a simple roast. Fish en papillote is super easy but looks and tastes a whole lot more complicated. Last week’s dinner party saw me roll out a panzanella salad made with tomatoes and day-old baguette happily marinated for hours before my chums arrived (google it).

Dessert – You lose 1000 hosting points if you don’t prepare this in advance. The options are endless. Cheesecake, French favourite chocolate mousse, pavlova, crumble, or my current favourite, macerated strawberries with balsamic vinegar, can all be whipped up during the day, or even the night before.

Cheese – Go for a soft, a blue and a harder one to make a nice balance, and take them out of the fridge a few hours before serving. Only serve The Laughing Cow triangles if you have actually invited the laughing cow to dinner and you want to make her feel at home. Otherwise, er, no.

So there you have it! Don’t forget to buy a couple of baguettes, download the latest Michael Bolton album, and a good time will be had by all. To try and keep things seasonal, here’s a list of things good to eat now: apple, apricot, aubergine, beetroot, broccoli, carrots, cherry, courgette, fennel, french beans, nectarine, peach, pepper, radish, raspberry, rocket, spinach, strawberry, tomato, watercress.

* Read ‘absolutely mandatory, otherwise you eat in the hall’. My British politeness filter doesn’t allow me to say what I actually mean.

In season: July

tomato kimAh July. Halfway through the year when New Year’s resolutions are a mere distant memory, but the sun shines bright to make us all happy despite our failings (well, in theory). The World Cup, the Tour de France, Bastille Day just around the corner… but way better than that, it’s finally tomato o’clock. Finally.

Forget the insipid offerings that insult the market stalls and supermarket shelves for the early months of the year, now the real red darlings have arrived. You can smell the greenhouse goodness just by smelling them, and the taste just has ‘garden’ striped through it like a stick of round, juicy rock. Seriously, I’m that excited. In fact, I probably won’t eat anything else for the next few months.

Only kidding, I’d be an utter fool to go that far given the vast array of wonderful seasonal produce on offer this month, with the fruit contingent really beginning to muscle in for once. Here’s a list of what’s good to stuff your kitchen with at the moment. Spoiled for choice? Oh aye (nod to Yorkshire there, given the le Tour and all). Never did a month spell ‘picnic’ like ‘July’ (if you tweak the letters a bit, obviously).

Apricot – abricot
Artichoke – artichaut
Aubergine
Beetroot – betterave
Broccoli
Cherry – cerise
Chicory – endive
Courgette
Cucumber – concombre
Fennel – fenouil
Green beans – haricots verts
Greengages – reine claude
Lettuce – laitue
Nectarine
Peach – pêche
Radish – radis
Raspberries – framboises
Rocket – roquette
Spinach – epinard
Strawberries – fraises
Swiss Chard – bette
Tomato – tomate
Watercress – cresson

And what’s the best thing to do with the pick of the mix, the humble tomato? The opportunities are endless, but sliced up, drizzled with olive oil and scattered with salt, pepper and basil is the greatest hommage you could give. Enjoy! (I’ll expect my picnic invitation in the post toute suite….)

The market hall of fame: Barbès Rochechouart

Market barbes2Whenever a person thinks of France, and I’m really sticking my (frog’s) leg out here and generalising, I can be almost certain that the flashing procession of images contains a market in there somewhere. The place is fabled for them, making sure our happy bellies are full of technicolour produce, to-salivate-for meat and without a doubt the smelliest cheeses in the world.

Having lived in Paris for over five years (so I can safely consider myself somewhat of an expert), I’m well used to the gulf between the glittering tourist clichés and the more mundane and unspectacular reality of what the city is actually like. But these bustling markets, filled with a plethora of goodies and traders trying to push juicy figs into your mouth as you idle past, straddle the both ideas, being both the romantic cliché, and the happy reality.Market barbes1

Just as the 20 arrondisements are a patchwork of different cultures and salary brackets, so is the catalogue of the city’s produce markets. Ranging from the organic wonderland of the Boulevard Raspail where the prices can leave you saucer-eyed and open-mouthed, to the lower end of the scale where you can fill two carrier bags full of fruit and veg for 5 euros (and I’ve done it), there are different markets to see you through every day of the week.

Given the premise of this blog though, it’s only fair that I point you towards the cheapest. After extensive research (I still have the fig moustache), I can confirm that if it’s veggie bargains you want, then it’s to Barbès Rochechouart you need to head. The market takes place every wednesday (8am-1pm) and saturday (7am-3pm), extending along Boulevard de la Chapelle, under the metro line (so you’ll be nice and dry if it rains).

Market barbes3Along with the odd hardware and clothes stall, there’s are plenty of the usual suspects selling fruit and veg, cheese, fish and meat, and a handful of specialists selling delights such as olives and spices. You’ll also have to make sure you look out for the herb guys who plonk themselves right in the middle of the pedestrian traffic – if not for their fragrant green bunches, at least to save your shins.

It’s a busy ol’ affair, so if you’re not keen on elbowing through the crowds, competing with the masses to get served, or losing your heels via a fellow shopper’s loaded trolley being pulled with reckless abandon, then you’ll have to get there early. Given the rock-bottom prices, you won’t find a whole host of organic or local produce being sold by ruddy-cheeked farmers, and none of that ‘posh’ veg (watercress, asparagus, kale), though the quality is reasonable and the sales patter always lively. Who needs bananas exactly the same size and length anyway??

For more information on this market and others near you, check out http://meslieux.paris.fr/marches

In season: June

How good is summer?! All that heat, sunshine, and… oh.IMG_1389

But at least the food is good. The good ship asparagus is soon to be sailing off (and I for one will probably shed a tear), but there’s plenty of welcome fruit and vegetable friends in town to huddle under it’s crown. I say plenty, and darn well mean it – June is the first month of the year when all of the more colourful, and well, frankly more exotic varieties (sorry root veg) pop their heads out to say hello. And are promptly eaten.

Here’s a list of some of the best stuff to be eating now. Time to take the wheelbarrow to the market methinks…

Apricot – abricot
Artichoke – artichaut
Asparagus – asperge
Aubergine
Beetroot – betterave
Broad beans – fève
Carrot – carotte
Cherry – cerise
Chicory – endive
Courgette
French beans – haricot vert
Lettuce – laitue
Mangetout – pois gourmand (didn’t expect a translation of that one, did you?)
Peas – petit pois
Potatoes – pomme de terre
Radish – radis
Raspberry – framboise
Rocket – roquette
Spinach – épinard
Strawberry – fraise
Tomatoes – tomate
Turnip – navet
Watercress – cresson

Spoiled we are, frankly spoiled. Enjoy!

101 ways with a baguette #4: The Jambon Beurre

??????????????????????????????? Now the French like to pour scorn on British food at every opportunity, turning their noses up at suggestions that it is actually quite good I think you’ll find, whilst extolling the virtues and sheer superiority of their home country’s equivalent. Yes yes, we know that French gastronomy takes some beating and that its worldwide reputation is as easy to bring down as it is the National Front party (ooh, political).

But you can forget your elaborate sauces and posh peasant food that takes blinking ages on the stove to get right (beef boring-yawn anyone?), there’s little the French enjoy more than a moment of sheer simplicity. The English might revel in a pair of teeth sunk enthusiastically in a cheese and pickle sandwich, but over here where it’s a case of ‘between two slices of bread’, only ham and butter will do.

You could be forgiven for thinking that to enjoy good food in Paris, you need to spend a fortune in an independent traiteur or delicatessen. Sure, you can pick up a nice basket-full of foie gras, caviar, vinegars that cost more per bottle than Chanel perfume, and bread with an eye-watering price tag. But one of the things I love about being in France is the unapologetic worship of the simplest foods on the pile.

The humble jambon beurre is nothing short of a national institution, revered almost as much as the baguette itself. It’s apparently eight times more popular than the hamburger, and those who have dined out in brasseries lately know just how ubiquitous those foreign imports are on every menu in town. And the growing national trend of the forsaking the traditional two-hour wine-lubricated lunch break in favour of desk-based dining, means that the sandwich is now the go-to midday choice, with the plain old ‘ham butter’ being the most popular choice.

But this isn’t a case of slapping the first piece of water-injected value brand ham into the margarine coated slot of a day old baguette. Even the simplest ingredients demand a connoisseur’s nose and to experience the humble dish at its very best some of that fancy AOC butter with salt in it goes down especially well, topped off with a slice of farmer’s market ham and a carefully chosen bio baguette.

And ta-da! A lunchtime luxury for a few euros that could knock a plate of foie gras right out of the park (baguettes as weapons and sports equipment coming up in a future 100 ways with a baguette post, I promise).