A Hen Party for Twenty Friends of a Certain Age

A
Boulangerie, Patisserie, Epicerie, Viennoiserie, Brasserie, Trattoria – cobbled streets near Gare St Lazare – how divine is Paris. Its years since I’ve been here. The sun is shining, everyone seems to be in high spirits, Parisians dressed to impress, sitting at the pavement cafes drinking tea or sipping beer or a glass of wine. I’m over here for the weekend for my first ever ‘hen party’, twenty friends of a ‘certain age’ have converged excitedly on Paris to launch our friend on her very first venture up the aisle. She looks wonderful, absolutely radiant. We meet at sunset to toast her with lots of delicious fizz. Everyone comes bearing silly presies – a little veil, a tiara, lots of teeny frilly bits, each of which causes great hilarity when the parcels are opened.

Later we repair to La Closerie des Lilas for a delicious dinner. Grilled fat shrimps with risotto, Sea Bass with Anise Hollandaise with a tian of vegetables and a delicious charlotte of seasonal fruit for pudding.

For the rest of the weekend we drift in and out of groups, each following their own passion, some shopping, others seeking out museums or galleries. I caught the last day of the Bonnard Exhibition at the Musée d’Arte Moderne. Even by 9am on Saturday morning there was a considerable queue, but the bonus was the Farmers Market all along the Avenue Pierre de Serbie. Maybe 35 or 40 stalls brimming with vegetables and lots of food ready to eat, steaming soups, fat sandwiches, and some delicious Lebanese food. For breakfast I ordered several Lamajun, one with minced lamb, and another with sesame seeds, olive oil, pepper and thyme. They were cooked on a stove called a Sag, it looked like an upturned wok over a gas jet. Each had a topping of hummus and tabouleh – wish we could get more Lebanese food over here – so good. These can be made easily at home and are brilliant for an interactive kitchen supper.

I revisited some of my old haunts – I adore Café Flore – a Parisian institution, a great spot for people watching, I ordered a Croque Monsieur and watched the Parisians promenading with their little ‘chien’ on a lead. Deux Magots around the corner is also a favourite and overlooks the ancient church of St Germain de Prés. Across the road is Brasserie Lipp where I tucked into Choux Croute garni and Andouillettes for lunch. My friends wanted to know what the andouillettes were made from? I told them they didn’t need to know what they are made from, also difficult to describe the flavour - they taste like a barnyard smells! I so love all those delicious offaly bits that one can still get in France because the French really appreciate the flavour.

At the organic market on Rue Raspail on Sunday morning, the longest queues were at the stall selling unpasteurised milk and cream and yoghurt. Later in the day I visited Artisan baker Poilane in Rue Cherche Midi where I bought a huge sour dough loaf with the traditional P inscribed on the crust. They also sell the best bread knives in the world and melt in the mouth sablés and flaky apple tartlets. Round the corner is the legendary Maison du Chocolat, I don’t each much chocolate, but when I find exquisite temptations like these I can’t resist.

Two other highlights not to be missed on a weekend in Paris are Berthillon on Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile and Angelina on Rue de Rivoli. Long established Berthillon still does the best ice-cream in Paris, they offer about 30 flavours a week which they change with the seasons. You can enjoy your favourite flavour in a little wafer basket or a cone, but try to make time to sit in the ice-cream parlour with its dark paneled walls and mirrors, and green mottled marble tables. My ice came piled high in a scalloped silver coupe, raspberry sorbet, vanilla bean ice-cream, fresh raspberries, fresh raspberry sauce and chopped pistachios. The bells of Notre Dame chimed in the background – bliss. My final treat was a hot chocolate at Angelina’s. At this celebrated Salon de Thé on Rue de Rivoli, they melt real chocolate to make the most sublime hot chocolate I have ever tasted. A few blissful minutes on the lips and surely a month on the hips, but worth every mouthful. You might also want to taste their Mont Blanc – a chestnut purée and meringue confection for which they are justly famous. Time to head for the airport – amazing how much one can fit into a weekend in Paris. Zagat’s restaurant guide is a must, to discover the best places for food-lovers to explore.

Closerie des Lilas, 171 Blvd du Montparnasse, 6e Tel 01 40 51 3450
Café les Deux Magots, 6 Place St Germain des Prés, 6e 01 45 48 55 25
Café de Flore, 172 Blvd. St Germain, 6e. Tel. 01 45 48 55 26
Brasserie Lipp, 151 Blvd. St Germain, 6e, Tel 01 45 48 5391

Lemon Tart with Candied Julienne of Lemon Peel – Tarte au Citron

Serves 8
Shortcrust Pastry (enough for two tarts)
11 ozs (310g) plain flour
6 ozs (170g) butter
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar
1 oz (30g) icing sugar
1 free range egg

Filling
3 eggs and 1 egg yolk
zest of 2 lemons (washed well)
juice of 3 lemons (200ml/7fl oz) and juice of 1 orange (150mls/¼ pint)
3 pint (150ml) generous ½ cup double cream
52 ozs (155g) sugar
Candied Julienne of Lemon Peel
2 lemons 
stock syrup made with 6 ozs (170g) sugar and 6 fl ozs (175ml) water, cooked together for 2 minutes.

1 x 8 inch (20.5cm) tin

First, make the pastry. This pastry can be made by various methods. Number 1 is our preferred method.

Make in a food processor. Stop as soon as the pastry starts to come together. Flatten, wrap and chill overnight if possible. 
or
Make by pâté brisée method. Flatten, wrap and chill overnight if possible. 
or
Make by the rubbing-in method. Flatten, wrap and chill for several hours if possible. 
If the pastry is needed urgently, divide into 2-3 equal parts. Flatten and chill for minimum 30 minutes, better still an hour.

Preheat the oven to 1801C/3501F regulo 4. 

Line the 8 inch (20.5cm) tin with pastry and bake it blind for 20-25 minutes until it is golden and fully cooked. Remove the beans, paint the base with a little egg white and replace in the oven for 2-3 minutes. When it is cooked, let it cool while the filling is prepared. Lower the oven temperatures to 160C/325F/regulo 3.

Grate the zest finely, (careful not to get any pith).

Whisk all the ingredients for the tart filling together - the eggs, orange and lemon juice, lemon zest, cream and sugar. When the mixture is nice and frothy, pour most of it into the tart shell. The mixture needs to come right to the top, but to avoid spilling it, put the partly filled tart into the oven (with the temperature now reduced) and finish filling it with a spoon.

Bake the tart until the filling has become firm. This should take about 35 minutes. Check by giving the tin a little shake. Take the tart out of the tin when it is lukewarm and leave it on a 

wire rack to cool. Decorate it crystallized lemon rind and tiny mint or lemon balm leaves. Best eaten on day it is made.

Candied Julienne of Lemon Peel

Peel 2 lemons very thinly with a swivel top peeler, be careful not to include the white pith, cut the strips into a fine julienne. Put in a saucepan with 2 cups of cold water and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the pot, refresh in cold water and repeat the process again. Put the julienne in a saucepan with the syrup and cook gently until the lemon julienne looks translucent or opaque. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow to cool on bakewell paper or a cake rack. When cold sprinkle with castor sugar.*
* Can be stored in a jar or airtight tin for weeks or sometimes months.

Tarte Tatin

The ultimate french apple tart. The Tatin sisters ran a restaurant at Lamotte-Beuvron in Sologne at the beginning of the century. They created this tart, some say accidentally, but however it came about it is a triumph - soft, buttery caramelised apples (or indeed you can also use pears) with crusty golden pastry underneath. It is unquestionably my favourite French tart! One can buy a special copper tatin especially for this tart.
Serves 6-8

1.24kg (2¾lb) approx. Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Bramley Seedling cooking apples
170g (6oz) puff pastry or rich sweet shortcrust pastry 
110g (4oz)) unsalted butter
225g (8oz) castor sugar

a heavy 20.5cm (8inch) tatin mould or copper or stainless steel sautepan with low sides

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/regulo 7 for puff pastry. For shortcrust -180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4.

First, roll out the pastry into a round slightly larger than the saucepan. Prick it all over with a fork and chill until needed.

Peel, halve and core the apples. Melt the butter in the saucepan, add the sugar and cook over a medium heat until it turns golden – fudge colour. Put the apple halves in upright, packing them in very tightly side by side. Replace the pan on a low heat and cook until the sugar and juice are a dark caramel colour. Hold your nerve otherwise it will be too pale. Put into a hot oven for approx. 15 minutes.

Cover the apples with the pastry and tuck in the edges. Put the saucepan into the fully preheated oven until the pastry is cooked and the apples are soft-25-30 minutes approx. For puff pastry reduce the temperature to 200C/400F/gas 6 after 10 minutes.

Take out of the oven and rest for 5-10 minutes or longer if you like. Put a plate over the top of the saucepan and flip the tart on to a serving plate. (Watch out - this is a rather tricky operation because the hot caramel and juice can ooze out). Reshape the tart if necessary and serve warm with softly whipped cream.

French Onion Soup with Gruyere Toasts

French onion soup is probably the best known and loved of all French soups. It was a favourite for breakfast in the cafes beside the old markets at Les Halles in Paris and is still a favourite on bistro menus at Rungis market. In France this soup is served in special white porcelain tureens.
Serve with a glass of gutsy French vin de table.
Serves 6

1.35kg (3 lb) onions
55g (2oz) butter
1.7Litre (3 pints) good homemade beef or chicken stock or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
To Finish
6 slices of baguette (French bread), 2 inch (1cm) thick toasted
85g (3oz) grated Gruyére cheese

Peel the onions and slice thinly. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the onion and cook on a low heat for about 40-60 minutes with the lid off, stirring frequently - the onions should be dark and well caramelised but not burnt.

Add the stock, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, bring to the boil and cook for a further 10 minutes. Ladle into deep soup bowls, put a piece of toasted baguette covered with grated cheese on top of each one. Pop under the grill until the cheese melts and turns golden. Serve immediately but beware - it will be very hot. Bon appetit!

Useful tip: Hold your nerve: - The onions must be very well caramelized otherwise the soup will be too weak and sweet. 

Choucroute, Sausages and Bacon

Serves 8-10
3lb (1.3kg) sauerkraut
3 tablesp pork, lard, duck, goose or chicken fat, alternatively use olive oil
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
16 fl.oz (450ml) German Riesling white wine
8fl.oz (250ml) chicken stock or water
2lb (900g) thick pork shoulder chops
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves
8 juniper berries
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
4 cloves garlic
6 knackwurst
6 fresh German frankfurters
1lb (450g) smoked pork sausage, eg Polish Kielbasa
2 lb (900g) potatoes
1lb (450g) streaky bacon, cut into large chunks

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C/gas 5)

Rinse the sauerkraut in a colander under cold running water. If it is very acidic or very salty, you many need to repeat several times. Drain well.

Melt the fat in a large casserole over a low heat, add the chopped onions. Saute until the onions are wilted, then add the wine and chicken stock or water. Add the pork chops. Cover with the sauerkraut. Add the pepper, cloves, juniper berries, bay leaves, and garlic. Cover and cook in the oven for 1-1½ hours. 

Meanwhile, cook the streaky bacon in lots of water until tender – 30 minutes approx.

Just before the sauerkraut is cooked, cook each variety of sausage in a separate saucepan in gently simmering water for 15-20 minutes. Be careful not to allow the water to boil or the sausages will burst. Drain all the sausages, slice the Polish kielbasa, and keep everything warm until serving time.

Meanwhile, boil or steam the potatoes. Peel and keep warm. 

To serve, drain the sauerkraut (removing the herbs and spices) and mound it in the centre of a large, heated serving platter. Surround the sauerkraut with the pork chops, the sausages, including the sliced kielbasa, the potatoes and the bacon. Serve with Dijon and grainy mustard and plenty of chilled white Riesling wine.

Lamajun with Sesame and Thyme Leaves

I first tasted this version of Lebanese flat bread Lamajun in the market on Rue Pierre de Serbie, close to the Museum d’Arte Moderne in Paris.
They are cooked on a concave stove called a sag which looked like an upturned wok. The beaming cook who turned these Lamajun and other toppings out like hot cakes, had a little roller which he dipped in the sesame and thyme mixture and used to cover the base evenly at the speed of light. 

Dough
10oz (275g) plain flour
8fl oz (225ml) natural yoghurt

Topping 
5 fl oz (150 ml) olive oil
2 tablespoons dried thyme
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
½ - 1 teaspoon sea salt

Hummus – optional
Tabouleh – optional

Heavy iron frying pan.
Mix all the ingredients for the topping in a bowl. 
Mix the flour with the yoghurt to form a soft dough. Heat the frying pan and preheat the grill.

Spread the topping evenly over the dough, a brush works well. Slap onto the hot pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes and flash under the grill. 
Serve alone or with Hummus and Tabbouleh.

Foolproof Food

Sablés

Makes 25
6 ozs (170g) white flour 
4 ozs (110g) unsalted butter
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar

Put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to ¼ inch (7mm) thick. Cut into rounds with a 2½ inch (6cm) cutter or into heart shapes. Bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 to pale brown, 8-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the biscuits. Remove and cool on a rack.
Serve with fruit fools, compotes and ice creams.

Note: Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven. Because of the high sugar content they burn easily. They should be a pale golden colour - darker will be more bitter.

Hot Tips

The Skelligs Chocolate Company
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Fundraiser for HIV Clinic for children in Kampala in Africa
On Friday 16th June at John M Keatings, (formerly the church opposite the AXA Office) Mary St, Dublin at 8pm , entry €10 – West African Percussion Band, auction of terrific prizes and a DJ to finish off the night – further details from sarahtaaffe@eircom.net  

Taste of Dublin 2006
Dublin’s first outdoor gourmet food and drink festival will take place in the historic gardens of Dublin Castle, from Thursday 22nd June to Sunday June 25th 2006. 

Taste of Dublin, sponsored by Oceanico Developments, will present 15 of Dublin’s finest restaurants, each cooking up their signature dishes. In addition, there will be tutored wine and spirit tastings, artisan food stalls, a large Chefs’ Demonstration Theatre, themed bars and lots more entertainment for foodies and wine lovers alike.

Participating restaurants in Taste of Dublin 2006 include Bang Café, Chapter One, Diep Le Shaker, Jaipur, King Sitric, La Stampa, L’Ecrivain, Peploes Wine Bistro, Roly’s Bistro, Silk Road Café, The Cellar Restaurant at The Merrion, Town Bar & Grill, Unicorn, Yo’Thai & Chai-Yo.

Feeling the heat in the Chef’s Theatre will be a constellation of star names including Anthony Worrall Thompson, Derry Clarke, Darina Allen, Kevin Dundon, Rachel Allen, Richard Corrigan and Ross Lewis. www.tasteofdublin06.ie 

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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