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6 May 2011

The simple French pleasures: Autour du Pho Part II


Often simple pleasures are those that can reach deeper into our hearts. May it be the right piece of music at the right moment, that subtle breeze that caresses our cheeks in a sunny spring day, the smell of somebody's home-cooking while coming back home from work; these light feathers of emotions are able to make our day.
As a foodie I tend to gravitate toward food in one form or another, to support me, to beat the time of my day and relieve me from the sudden dips and trenches were my energy could have fallen.

We all have a nest, a place where we can recharge our batteries, where to let our thoughts go wild or simply shut them off tout-court. From some of my past writings you might have guessed that Paris is able to work this magic on me and my chaotic brain activity.
After almost two years I finally managed to get back to my little paradise of streets, corner, trees and beautiful people.

Few weeks ago, after an almost sleepless night, I set myself on the move toward Cologne to fetch the burgundy train to the city of lights. The trip was smooth and uneventful, just what I needed to start resting my brain and switch my language selector into French.

Gare du Nord

Once arrived at the Gare du Nord, I just had to rent a locker for my suitcase (and answer the suspicious security officer about the knives I was carrying with me) before hitting the town with that placid and kind of idiotic smile that says "I am finally alright". You have to know that Paris isn't just Bistros, Restaurants, Parks and benches for me; totally the opposite actually. For as much as I love Parisian gardens, with their true atmosphere and the small number of tourists that, rushing through their scheduled "must-see", take a moment to enjoy such beauties; I do prefer to walk and walk and walk through cities streets. I guess you can call it an aerobic-vacation.
Paris is quite a welcoming city, inviting its guests to enjoy each other companies free of worries and plans. To get lost is quite a difficult task but it is also something to look forward to. Like a treasure hunt you will find daisies to add to you crown, precious sea-shells for your collections, pearls to admire and diamonds to revere in the most unexpected places.

Around de Gare

The Gare du Nord is quite north respect to the geographical center of the city and in my case I had actually to cross it to go south to meet my host for few nights and on the way I had to fetch my friend Yolanda after her photography class in the Ile St. Louis. I had all the time to stroll around, without much thinking just trying to go south.
In this random wondering I also rediscovered places lost in my memories (and in the meanders of Parisians streets); the Picasso Museum was one of them.
Once I had the luck to be in Paris during the first Sunday of the month, day in which I discovered that most of the museums offer free admittance. It was also my last day in the city and while strolling around before getting on my train, I run into this museum located somewhere in the Marais area and so decided to give it a try. It is indeed worth visiting if you are around.

Brasserie at les Halles

Another pro of this museum is that it is placed quite close by Place des Vosges; another iconic place of the old Paris with its wonderful and ample arcades punctuated with bistros and art galleries. Do not let you be deceived by its name though, despite the fact of being actually square, this square is almost an enclosure delimited by austere red-bricked buildings (among which it is also Victor Hugo's house).

Parisian gardens

The square has three access points: two at the opposite ends of one street marking one of its sides and a small alley developing opposite to this street at the middle point of the building blocks. You miss these entrances and you will be wondering around the whole area looking for this lovely green patch of peace and serenity.
The centre of this square holds another of the preciouses Parisians gardens where you will be most likely to find students arranged on the green grass carpet (pelouse in French) as sun-drying sardines catching the first glimpses of the spring sun.

Parisian gardens

With my camera on handy, I sat down to catch some due rest and to try my luck. Luck at what you might say, at spotting Italian tourists. Not just because I was homesick but mostly because each time I went and sit down in one of the benches in Place des Vosges, Italian tourists came to sit around me somewhere. This time instead, two young ladies came to sit behind me and they were actually German; whatever...
I know, I know, that was quite a silly thing to do but I was with just two hours of sleep behind me and my brain was in Paris mode.

The walk brought me finally to the little Ile St Louis (the island mostly known for its ice cream parlors) and for the first time I spotted the actual church of St. Louis (Louis the 9th king of France). While I was waiting for Yolanda to come out of one of the doors in the same street, I enjoyed a quiet visit in this surprising church illuminated by the sun piercing through its stained glasses.
A fresh, calm and colorful breeze of emotions that caught me by surprise even more when I realized the unique way in which the church's oldest pieces of art were displayed: encased in the wood panels covering its walls.
This island was once the heart of medieval Paris, it was actually part of the first settlement in the area and Louis the IXth was king of France around the year 1200 (the one who lost the head was Louis the XVIth, so you make the math). In those years, the beatification process was fast and furious and so the apparent young age of the church might take by surprise but only till when you remember that during the French Revolution most places of cult were devastated. To wrap this little digression up, in the lovely church of St. Louis you will find work of art dating as back as the XIIIth century: Gothic golden-sky paintings, terra cottas from Limoges or the Rhine area and other little gems that make this church a museum in a museum; definitely worth a visit (after or before taking an ice-cream at Berthillon).

When Yolanda came out of her class, we headed back to the Marais for a dish of falafels and a nice chat. On the way I had the unfortunate opportunity to be reminded of the bitter truth of nowadays economy when I saw that one of the iconic bars of the area, the Amnesia, had closed with all its wooden facade and green ivy. Oh well, life goes by....

More about my Parisian visit in future posts in the meantime I propose you a simple classic that will surely bring happiness in your tummy.
Chicken Mousse MiseEnPlace

Chicken mousse with ginger

  • 500g chicken wings, skinned
  • 1/2cup white wine
  • 1inch ginger, peeled and chopped coarsely
  • 1tsp black peppercorns
  • 120g celeriac, peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 parsley branches

For the Glace de Volaille:
  • 2tbsp celeriac, fine diced
  • 1tbsp ginger, fine diced
  • 1/2 sheet gelatine, soaked in cold water and squeezed
To finish:
  • 20g fresh butter
  • 1-2tsp ginger in brunoise (very fine dices)
  • Salt and Pepper

In a wide enough pot, place the chicken wings without their skin followed by all the vegetables and aromatics; add the wine and enough cold water to cover. Season with a scant pinch of salt and bring to a simmer. Cook the chicken wings at a slow simmer until falling off the bone (I used my loyal pressure cooker for this and 15-20 minutes of cooking time were just right) and let them come to room temperature in the stock.
When the chicken wings will be cold enough to not fall apart when picked up, transfer them into the cutting board and remove the flesh from the bones and cartilages.
Strain the chicken stock through a fine cheesecloth squeezing all the flavorful liquid from the vegetables. On a low to medium fire, reduce this stock to roughly 1 tablespoon worth of liquid adding to it the fine diced celeriac and ginger midway of the process. Once reduced, you should obtain a flavorful, sticky, gelatinous glace de volaille (chicken in this case); strain and reserve.
Chop the chicken flesh with your knife and transfer it into the bowl of a small mixer; pulse it until you obtain a fine purée, you might have to scrape the bowl using a spoon a few time.
Warm up the by-now congealed chicken glace with the extra half sheet of gelatine so to just melt them.
Mix the cold butter into the pureed chicken and add the liquefied lukewarm glace de volaille.
Transfer the mousse into a bowl, mix in the brunoise of ginger and season with salt and pepper. Cover with some plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Enjoy the mousse over some nice toasted bread or crusty baguette with a glass of well chilled red wine and a fiery sunset.
Ginger chicken mousse

To make the mousse a little more special, along with the brunoise of ginger you may add to it some chopped tarragon. In this case I would suggest a romantic candle light dinner as the perfect background for this little life's pleasure.

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