I am back!!

I am back!!

I haven’t posted in almost a year; after all this time, I feel I should be telling you the highlights of last year, since a lot has changed.

First of all, I got married and moved to a new house, with a bigger and better equipped kitchen. I am still not used to it, and I am sometimes doing some real mess in there.

The first month was not easy at all. I wonder why no one tells you how hard can the first month be.

dsc_1327.jpg

I wanted to be the super-wife: the one who can handle everything at home, the one who cooks starting day one, the one who can throw many dinner parties every week, and even the one who can host both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve at her place on the first year of marriage. So I did all this, and it was really tiring. I finally decided to slow down the pace.

***

Before getting married, I did some medical exams. The results were not enchanting; cholesterol and triglyceride levels are both high, which means I should be on diet. I ate healthy food for 2 months before the wedding and lost some weight.

I also started yoga and it was making me feel great.

But then we got married, started with the dinner parties and Christmas, and that’s how we ruined everything. For the coming month, trying to eat healthy should be one of my priorities. And getting back to sports as well.

***

During the last year, I traveled 4 times: France in July, Oman and Dubai in September, Cyprus in December (for the wedding) and Dubai again in January.

France

In July, I was back to Paris, with my boyfriend – now my hubby – this time, to attend his friend’s wedding in Evreux in Normandy. In addition to Paris, we spent a few days in both Normandy and Brittany.

dsc_0701

Philippe Conticini’s little pieces of paradise

As expected, both Normandy and Brittany were beautiful, and our experience there was a lot more relaxing than in Paris. We visited Honfleur, Deauville, Mont Saint Michel, Dinan, Saint Malo and Rennes, and all were amazing.

galettes de Sarrasin picture

The galettes de Sarrasin

This trip was more interesting than the first one on the culinary level. I had done a better research, so I had a lot of addresses for the best bakeries and pastry shops in Paris, in addition to some excellent restaurants in Normandy and Brittany, and the local specialties that I need to try.

Yves Bordier butter tasting

Butter tasting

As usual, some of the experiences were great: butter tasting in Bistro Autour du beurre in Saint Malo, trying Brittany’s galettes au sarrasin, visiting Pierre Hermé for a tiny Ispahan macaron, trying the fairy desserts of Philippe Conticini’s “patisserie des rêves”, discovering one of the best bakeries around the corner where I was staying, Maison Landemaine…

Maison Landemaine pain chocolat amandes

The best pain aux amandes ever!

But the highlight of the trip was definitely the “Kouign-amann”, a Breton cake that I had never heard of, and that was one of the best desserts I ever had in my life: a round crusty cake made of layers of puff dough stuffed with lots of butter and sugar. We tried it in a restaurant in Rennes, “Léon le cochon”, served with Caramel au beurre Salé ice cream. Wow!

Kouign Aman picture

A Breton cake


Oman

I spent three days there, at a friend’s. Despite September’s 45 degrees, Muscat was still an enjoyable city. The Omani experience is very different from the experience in Dubai.

People are more chill, more relaxed. You see Omanis everywhere; they have all sorts of jobs. You see Omanis drinking alcohol in pubs in their traditional clothes – no Omani women there though.

When it comes to food, I tried two traditional dishes: the famous Omani Shuwa, a delicacy that’s usually prepared only on very special occasions, by marinating meat in spices – to each family its special blend – and then wrapping it in sacks made of dry banana or palm leaves.

Omani Shuwwa picture

Omani Shuwwa

The sacks are then thrown into an underground sand oven that is sealed so that no smoke escapes. After 24 or 48 hours of cooking, it becomes extremely tender and is then served over basmati rice.

The second dish consisted of stewed lamb’s feet. I loved them both, but they’re really heavy that I could barely sleep.

dsc_1053.jpg

The lamb feet stew

And of course, if you’re planning to visit Oman, you should not miss the fish and seafood there, as it’s delicious.

Dubai

The Dubai experience in January was different; for the first time, it was 25 degrees only, and I was traveling with a colleague, which made the whole stay more interesting.

I fell in love with Thai cuisine after a dinner at Pad Thai– I brought back with me all the spices I need to prepare Thai food at home. I also had the best meat I had in my life, at The Meat Co.

The most disappointing desserts ever? I had them at Lafayette Gourmet. They looked so perfect, but lacked taste.

I’ll be going there at the end of this month for Dubai food festival. I can’t wait honestly.

Until then, I’ll try to get back to posting regularly. Ciao!

Chez Yvonne: Another Fine Dining Experience in Strasbourg  

Back to Strasbourg, that French city – that does not look so French – to tell you about another fine dining experience.

After an unforgettable dinner at Gurtlerhoft on the night before, we decided it was worth it going for a new experience, especially that the Christmas markets closed at 8 pm and we had nothing else to do for the rest of the night.

This time, we chose Chez Yvonne, a place that looked nice, but a bit more expensive than the Gurtlerhoft. You can check their website and menu here!

The restaurant was nice, cozy and warm. We waited for around 5 minutes before we got our table. If you are in Strasbourg for Christmas, don’t forget to reserve your restaurants in advance, otherwise, you’re in trouble! All good restaurants are always fully booked!

We were served by a woman, probably Yvonne, according to the many reviews I read about the restaurant. Very helpful, she suggested a good wine for every dish we had.

The starters:

Goose foie gras picture

The homemade goose liver

For appetizers, we wanted to have more foie gras, so we opted for the homemade goose liver for 22 euros. The presentation of the dish was exceptional. The foie gras was excellent, but not as good as the one we had in the Gurtlerhoft.

Salty Crème Brûlée picture

Salty Crème Brûlée made with fattened goose served with fig and nut bread

We also had the Salty Crème Brûlée made with fattened goose (foie gras) served with fig and nut bread. It wasn’t that salty honestly, and I could not really feel the foie gras, even though my sister insisted on the fact that she could taste it and that she loved it. Or maybe was it because I already had the foie gras on its own first?

Anyway, I am not saying that this appetizer was not worth the 12,80 euros we paid for it, but it’s not comparable to the foie gras. That’s all.

The platters:

Chiken with Riesling picture

Chiken with Riesling wine sauce

My sister ordered the Chicken with Riesling wine sauce and Alsatian pasta for 17.2 Euros. My sister doesn’t usually eat chicken unless chicken breasts, so I was very surprised that she would go for this choice, but she seemed convinced that chicken in France was different than the chicken we have in Lebanon. I hated to admit it, but she was right.

Alsatian pasta picture

Alsatian pasta: not my favorites

We had chicken that tasted really different from the chicken that we are used to. The sauce was creamy, and the Riesling taste was yummy. I hated the pasta. But the portion is so big that you will get full before even thinking of digging into that pasta portion. I would order this platter again if I ever visit Chez Yvonne in the future.

steak

Paris disappointed me many times with the steak-frites, so I decided on my last night in France to order a Filet of beef with sautéed potatoes (26.9 euros). I loved everything about this dish. Once again, the way the dish was composed was amazing. I loved the contrast between the round and sharp shapes in the plate.

Sauteed potatoes image

Deliciously sauteed potatoes

The meat was deliciously tender, the sauce mouthwatering and the accompanying veggies interesting. As for the potatoes, they were great as well.

The desserts:

Well, we didn’t have any, because we were already very full. What a shame, no?

Gurtlerhoft Strasbourg: Discovering the Alsatian Cuisine

We got to Strasbourg in the late afternoon, so we couldn’t enjoy the Christmas markets much – they close at 8!

We’ve read before that we needed to book a table in any restaurant we wanted to visit in Strasbourg, to be able to enjoy the Alsatian cuisine, so we picked what looked like a nice address: Gurtlerhoft. The reviews were mostly good, so we decided to trust them and go for it.

In this restaurant, we discovered a new cuisine, partly unknown, less marketed compared to the cuisines of the other French regions, but much better, I think. If you’re not a meat lover, don’t go to Strasbourg please.

Anyway, I’ll be telling you about my Alsatian discoveries in later posts, but let’s focus now on that restaurant where I had one of my best dining experiences ever.

I was with my sister. We had to wait for around 10 minutes for our table to be ready. The restaurant is big, a bit noisy, and looks more like a family restaurant. The waiters were friendly, and they can help you with your choice of wine.

We ordered two set menus, with a pitcher of wine, and shared everything.

Starters:

foie gras picture

The best foie gras ever!

Foie gras de canard maison:

This dish was the star of the night, and of our entire trip, if I may say. One generous piece of homemade warm foie gras, served on a bed of shredded red cabbage, some pain au lait, a delicious gelée and a sundried tomato. After I tried this dish, I understood why the foie gras is that famous, and most importantly, I understood what is orgasmic food! I will go back to Strasbourg one day for this dish!

Mushrooms feuillete picture

The best mushrooms feuilleté I ever had

Feuilleté aux champignons frais à la crème

A squarish piece of puff pastry, baked until golden and crispy, then stuffed with fresh mushrooms, cooked with cream. This was the best pie I ever had, the seasoning used for the creamy mushroom mixture is just amazing, and the puff pastry is baked to perfection: not too crispy, not chewy at all, with a strong butter flavor that will certainly make you want more!

Main Courses:

Choucroute picture

The Choucroute aux 5 garnitures

Choucroute Gurtlerhoft:

A very generous portion of choucroute – sauerkraut, garnished with 5 big pieces of pork! The two sausages have some very interesting seasonings, and the meat is really delicious. For those who don’t know what is choucroute, it is a typical Alsatian dish consisting of shredded cabbage that has been fermented to become sour and that is usually served with meat or fish.

Served with two and a half potatoes, I admit that I skipped these to be able to try the next dish!

baekoffe

Baeckoffe au Riesling:

This is the ultimate dish for meat lovers! Beackoffe means “baker’s oven”, and it is a traditional Alsatian dish consisting of lamb, beef and pork cubes, in addition to onions and potatoes, all marinated overnight in Riesling and slow cooked in ceramic dishes. This is one heavy meal! But, with the cold outside, you can try it, it tastes heavenly. We could not finish the whole thing, but their portions are really huge!

Desserts:

kouglof glacé picture

Revisiting the classical Kouglof

Kouglof glacé au coulis de fruits:

What is a Kouglof? It is an Alsatian traditional big cake, ring-shaped, containing raisins, almonds, and Kirschwasser cherry brandy. It can also contain candied fruits and nuts, depending on the region, and it is baked in a special circular pan with a central tube, originally made of enameled pottery.

The Gurtlerhoft has revisited this traditional dessert, and offers a glacé version that preserved its shape, the brandy in it, the nuts as well as the raisins. But, instead of the traditional cake, this dessert is prepared with ice cream. This dessert is interesting without being really exceptional or among my favorite desserts.

Chocolate mousse picture

Chocolate mousse

Mousse au chocolat:

Simply delicious! Not too sweet (like most of the chocolate mousses I had before) and not too bitter. You can’t smell the eggs –a lot of chocolate mousses suffer from this, and this is just great. (For those who don’t know, chocolate mousse is prepared with raw eggs.) I only had two bites because I was already full, but this dessert should be tried,

For 32,80 Euros, you get the starter, the main course and the dessert, and this is a very reasonable price. You can check the whole menu here.  As for the wine, the restaurant has an interesting variety, with a fair price range.

Ronde des Pains: A Bakery You Should Visit in Paris

Breakfast picture

First Breakfast

I have to admit, Paris deceived the foodie in me a bit. Aside from my experience with “Les portes” restaurant that I already wrote about, and that I thought was going to be the start of an excellent culinary journey, I think that the small details made my stay pleasant while the big meals were very disappointing.

Surprised? Well, I was too. I’ve always heard that you can eat anywhere in Paris and it’ll be good. Before I went there, I had a list of all the restaurants I wanted to try. Well, it was not possible, because we always ended up eating in the streets where we were, at noon or in the evenings. So, aside from “L’atelier de l’eclair”, I didn’t make it to any of those restaurants.

I had some disappointing experiences. Yes, French can go wrong with food, even with steak frites! Who would have thought, huh? In this post, I will start telling you about those little details that made the difference, and some of the less satisfying ones!

We were staying at Rue Beaurepaire next to Place de la République, and we spotted a lot of interesting bakeries nearby on our first day, so we could not wait for the second day to start trying them. Staying in an apartment is much more interesting than staying in a hotel, since you can do your own shopping and prepare your own breakfast. Our first stop was Ronde des Pains.

Seeing dozens of people queuing in order to get a loaf of bread in a country filled with bakeries should definitely mean something. This traditional bakery was really good, and we came back again and again for more!

The bread:

French baguette picture

The best baguette ever

Ronde des Pains has without any doubts the best baguette I ever tried. Delicious, with a perfect crispiness, I never thought I could fell in love with a simple baguette… Yes! This baguette is something you have to try if you’re visiting Paris.

Pointe Paysanne picture

Campaillette Pointe Paysanne with a sausage

I also tried the “Pointe Paysanne” of the Campaillette range: excellent bread that can’t be compared to any of the bread we have in Lebanon. It was even better than the baguette, even though the comparison between 2 different items is not fair. I had came back for it again!

The viennoiseries:

almond croissant picture

Pain aux amandes: the almond croissant

For the viennoiseries, if you ever pass by, try the pain aux amandes (almond croissant): not too crunchy, not too soggy, the dough is just perfect, just like the filling that is sweet just like it should be.

Chocolate croissant picture

Pain au chocolat

The pain au chocolat was surprisingly average: the dough is good, but it is very poorly filled with chocolate, so you might think that you’re having a butter croissant!

Chocolate chips drops picture

Drops aux pépites de chocolat

The drops aux pépites de chocolat is a must-try as well: thin crispy layers of puff, baked with chocolate chips and sprinkled with powdered sugar. With a cup of coffee, this sweet creation will certainly make your day!

The desserts:

We did try 4 desserts there!

Cannele picture

Cannelé

I never tried a “cannelé” before, and it was probably my last. This is not my kind of desserts.

Raspberries tart picture

Raspberries tart

The raspberries tart was good. Not the best tart I ever had, but it’s worth giving it a try, especially to try some raspberries that are much better than the ones we eat in Lebanon.

French tart picture

The tartelette Grand-mère

The must-tries are the Paris-Brest and the Tartelette Grand-mère. A Paris-Brest is a choux pastry filled with a praline cream. It was delicious, but I can’t compare it to any other since it was my first and – hopefully not – my last. As for the tart, I couldn’t tell what’s in there, but it was really yummy.

Address : 75 avenue de la Republique à  La Cote Saint Andre 38260, Paris

More about Paris soon! Keep tuned!

When a francophone visits “Fransa” for the first time

Christmas Markets in Strasbourg pic

Festive Christmas Markets in Strasbourg

It’s been a while…I was on vacation with my sister last week, and we visited Paris (my first time there) and passed by Strasbourg to see the famous Christmas Markets or “Christkindelsmärik”.

I loved Paris of course… like any francophone would do I guess. Wherever you go, there’s place you’ve heard of, some history you’ve studied, a breathtaking monument that will make you understand why all the BIG revolutions you’ve read about have started… You will always see a painting that was in one of your many French reading books, you will meet at least one child singing one of your favorite childhood songs…

Everything in Paris is big, everything is history, and everything is culture.

All these childhood concepts

Going to France is like finding the missing part of your childhood. Let me explain. At school, we studied a lot of things and concepts that remained, well, concepts. It is strange how your memory works in France.

The forest is one of these concepts. Sitting next to the river or the pond is another one. Saying goodbye to a lover or your family on the train station is a third concept we never get to try. The TGV itself… and the list goes on and on.

Long live the queen

The Versailles Castle picture

The Versailles Castle

Remember how many times you were the king or the queen while playing? And how many times you dreamt of marrying the prince and living in a big castle? You visit the Louvres and Versailles, and everything is clearer in your head. Now these games make sense, now you understand a big part of your fantasies.

When I grow up, I’ll marry the prince of France, and live in the Château de Versailles

Hop! A cheval!

And the “manège”! It was supposed to be everywhere, the books said: in the market, in the fairs… we waited a lot to ride our first horses in Lebanon. Even the fair… we’ve had some experience with local fairs, but it never explained the excitement that the children in our books had for the “foire”… until I visited the “feria de Malaga” last summer,  and the Christmas markets two days ago. A paradise for any child. Literally.

Food & memories

All this might also explain why I thought Strasbourg was more interesting than Paris. All my favorite childhood books were about adventurous children living in some villages. This is how you get all these concepts fixed in your memories.

Pain d'épice and chocolate and bredle picture

Pain d’épice, chocolate, bredle and more

And the food… my favorite part! The “madeleines”, those of Proust of course… but of  Pierre and Jeanette’s mother as well, Pierre and Jeannette being 2 of the seven detectives of the “Clan des sept” books that were my favorite when I was a child. They always arrived home and it smelt great, to discover that their mom had prepared their favorite madeleines so they can share them with their friends during their reunions! Some other sweets you’ve heard of in your books and that you get to see and try: the berlingots, the calissons, the real “pain d’épice”, the “biscuits de Noel”, called “bredle” in Strasbourg, and that do not look at all like the Christmas cookies we started to see in our country few years ago…

The Alsatian surprise

And what about all these canned foods we’ve been having without ever trying the authentic dishes? Getting to try two of my favorites since I was a child, the Cassoulet and the Choucroute, means a lot to me. And hell they were good!

Alsatian delicacies picture

Alsatian delicacies

If you’re a foodie like me, the Christmas market of Strasbourg is a must. Don’t be fooled by Paris’ reviews, the Alsatian cuisine is the must-try there. Less-marketed maybe, but it is just WOW. I thought the gastronomical part of my visit to Paris will be unforgettable, but it turned out that Strasbourg had many surprises, and a much more interesting cuisine to discover.

Many foodie posts will be coming soon. Stay tuned!