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An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

Lawndale, California
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An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

Hello all. I've got a weird request -- I'll be staying in an apartment in the Marais in November. My first morning, I'll be going to the market at the Bastille. I want to get ingredients there to cook a French meal for myself at the apartment, but I'm not sure what to cook. I'm a decent cook with a recipe, but not good at elaborate items. I do want to get the full cutting-chopping-multi-ingredient experience, though. Any suggestions? Merci!

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Victoria, Canada
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1. Re: An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

Truly good french cusine always features what is in season.

Go to market and see what looks good.

Also, I always think good ingredients , simply but well prepared are very typical of the average french persons cusine( that they do themselves at home) I only base this on my relatives and friends, perhaps they are freaks though,, LOL

A nice rosemary roasted chicken with some roasted winter veggies, a few nice cheeses , good bread ( of course) .. poke around and see whats out.

PS.. I like to start to eat oysters again in the late fall, they are best between Nov and late March,, in my opinion only,,

Another fave of mine is the tiny haricot verts( really thin tiny green beans) that we don't seem to get here, they are lovely with a bit of butter and garlic..

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Paris, France
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2. Re: An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

If you speak enough French why not go and see what looks good and then ask the person selling it how they suggest you cook it?

Often when buying at markets or small shops throughout France we were given suggestions on how we should cook our purchases - this was accompanied by instructions to go to several other stalls to purchase the necessary ingredients. Other times we were asked what our plans were - that felt a bit like an exam and we hoped our ideas were good enough!

This mainly happened in smaller places not so much in Paris but as long as they aren't too busy I'm sure you will be given lots of advice if you ask for it.

the big blue marble
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3. Re: An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

Pot au Feu... it will be Nov. Great season for it and it is so simple to prepare, but have the butcher give you the right cuts of meat then throw it in a pot of water with bouquet garni, carrots, potatoe, turnip and onion. Let simmer as you send the day sightseeing.

Serve with a country bread, Pickles, mustard and course salt. YUM!

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4. Re: An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

How about ratatouille? You could certainly purchase all the necessary ingredients and you'd have to chop them all up. A little olive oil and fresh thyme and there you go. Maybe roast a chicken to go with it.

One thing to consider. My experience is that the knives in vacation rental apartments aren't all that sharp. In fact, most of them are as dull as stones. You might want to check that out before you need the knife. Have fun!

Loire Valley
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5. Re: An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

ratatouille isnt a November dish, so the ingredients will be eitehr rubbish because they have been instorage a long time, or imported, and therefore no different to what you could do at home

I would go for Petit Sale - impossible to mess up, typically French, very simple.

If youre looking for more complicated, maybe a cassoulet.

Bedoin, France
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6. Re: An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

Even though Ratatouille may be trationally made towards the end of summer, beginning of Fall, you will still find all the ingredients to make the dish. I just made a big pot of it yesterday.

Here's one of dozens of recipes. Many people add their own little touches to make the recipe their own style.


Makes 6 servings

There are many ways to make a ratatouille, the Provençal vegetable ragout with eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions and tomatoes. In Provence, we just cooked everything together in the pan. But in this lighter version you can use less olive oil, because you roast the eggplant before cooking it with the rest of the vegetables. Ratatouille really benefits from being made the day before you wish to serve it.

2 pounds -- 2 large or 4 smallish -- eggplant

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, thinly sliced

6 large garlic cloves, 4 sliced or minced, 2 put through a press or pureed

1 large red bell pepper, cut into slices about 3/4 inch wide by 1-1/ 2 inches long

1 large green bell pepper, cut into slices about 3/4 inch wide by 1-1/2 inches long

salt to taste

1 1/2 pounds (about 3 medium) zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced about 1/2 inch thick (if the zucchini is very large, quarter it lengthwise before slicing)

4 large or 6 medium-size tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon crushed dried

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon crushed dried

freshly ground pepper to taste

2 to 4 tablespoons slivered fresh basil, to taste


1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, and score down the middle, making sure not to cut through the skin. Place on an oiled baking sheet (or baking sheets if one isn’t big enough), cut side down. Place in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the skins begin to shrivel and the edges against the pan are browning. Remove from the heat, transfer the eggplants to a colander, cut side down so they can drain, and allow to cool in the sink, where they will release some of their juice (meanwhile you can prepare the rest of the vegetables). When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut the halves in half lengthwise along the score line. Peel away the skin if you wish, and cut into 3/4-inch dice. Set aside.Turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Oil a large heavy lidded casserole, preferably earthenware, with olive oil.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring, until they have softened. This should take about 5 minutes. They will be translucent and the slices will be flexible. Add half the sliced or minced garlic and cook, stirring, for another 3 to 4 minutes, until the onions have just begun to color. Remove from the heat and transfer to the casserole.

3. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium heat and add the peppers. Stir for a couple of minutes and add about 1/4 teaspoon salt, or 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the peppers begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and the remaining sliced or minced garlic. Continue to cook, stirring, for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the zucchni looks translucent. Transfer to the casserole with the onions. Add the diced eggplant, half the tomatoes, and the tomato paste to the casserole. Stir in the bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and about a teaspoon of coarse sea salt, or 3/4 teaspoon fine salt. Stir everything together, cover and place in the oven. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes.

4. Stir in the remaining tomatoes and garlic. Taste and adjust the salt. Add freshly ground pepper and return to the oven for another 30 minutes. Stir in the basil, cover, and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight if possible. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve hot cold, or room temperature.

Lawndale, California
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7. Re: An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

Thanks, everyone! I think I'll make ratatouille and a roasted chicken with rosemary. Thanks for the tips! Can't wait -- even though it's still nine months away! LOL

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Paris, France
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8. Re: An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

A traditional autumn meal in Paris?

Perhaps a warm goat's cheese salad with walnuts (salade au chèvre chaud) followed by duck breast with wild mushrooms (magret de canard forestière) served with sautéed potatoes and a Tarte Tatin to finish.

Parfait! Paris in autumn on a plate!

Bon appétit!

Paris, France
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9. Re: An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?


Merci beaucoup for that wonderful ratatouille recipe! It sounds so delicious, I may have to make it next weekend!


New Hampshire
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10. Re: An unusual request for advice -- what to cook?

I don't want to discourage you...but here goes:

Be SURE to survey the kitchen before you head for the market. No matter how well equipped the kitchen may seem, you'll likely be missing some essential items for what you plan to prepare. Pans and other cooking vessels tend to be adequate but not of the best quality and are often well worn.

Some kitchens have only burners and no oven. Instead, there is usually a convection/microwave that may or may not be difficult to figure out how to operate - even with instructions.

Gathering ingredients is not as easy as you would think. And, you may not be able to find everything at one market. (I once had to go to four places before finding fresh chives.)

It could be very expensive to collect ingredients, especially if you need only a little (such as olive oil). Sometimes they will split a (usually enormous) bunch of herbs, but often not. So, if you need several - that's quite the investment.

The first time we stayed in an apartment, I was shocked at the prices for things like dried herbs, really good olive oil, white peppercorns, etc. Next trip I packed my favorite dried herbs in those tiny zip-locks for pills.

If you do go to one of the outdoor markets, walk along one side and back the other to ensure everything you need is available and note the prices. Once you get started, you're invested and have to buy the rest! And, you may be running all over for one or two items difficult to find, or not available that day.

Keep in mind that you have to haul it all back to your apartment. Where we stay, a shopping cart with wheels is provided - very handy!

I've found it best to prepare simple things that require only a few ingredients. I love the scallops, shrimp, assortment of fresh fish, etc. And, the butter in France is incredible. Many fish mongers also sell small packets of authentic sauces (Bearnaise, Hollandaise, even Beurre Blanc). That, with steamed potatoes and fresh vegetables or a simple salad makes a very nice meal.

Nearly every market has a rotisserie chicken stand, often with amazing roasted potatoes (cooked in the bottom of the rotisserie, so basted with the juices!). I cannot imagine spending the time to roast a chicken myself in the apartment. Many neighborhood chicken rotisseries also have prepared "sides" which are wonderful and I would never attempt to try to duplicate (potato gratin, vegetables, Ratatouille, etc.). Prices for all are quite reasonable compared to assembling all the ingredients.

When we stay in an apartment, I generally keep meal preparation to breakfast and late supper. My husband goes out for fresh croissants, pastries, etc. Sometimes I make eggs or omelets. I shop ahead for supper items (except the bread) so we don't have to return to the apartment every day after shopping. For supper, we love tartines (open faced broiled sandwiches - charcuterie, ham, fresh veggies, tomatoes, those fabulous French cheeses! Or a mixed salad, especially with different types of warmed chevre and toasted nuts. (Although, last time there was a shop right across the street with salads, all sorts of sandwiches, pastries, etc., to take away, open late, at very good prices.)

We often make lunch our main meal of the day, reserving as late as possible (as we don't usually eat breakfast at home). Then, we have a simple supper late in the apartment.

Again, I don't want to discourage you...but, I'm an excellent cook, though used to my gas stove with huge appreciation for all the great cookware, utensils, and gadgets I've collected over the years. So, while I looked forward to shopping the markets and preparing meals in our apartment, and even contacted the owner in advance to ensure a decent saute pan, that endeavor was much more daunting than I anticipated.

You will think this is totally nuts, but find the nearest Picard - a frozen food emporium, but NOT what you'd presume! The quality is exceptional and the prices reasonable. They carry everything imaginable. Even those addictive "pommes puree" and the aforementioned authentic sauces. No chopping or recipes required, but a very good French meal can be easily assembled and quickly prepared (especially if you are limited to electric burners, no oven, but have a microwave/convection oven). And, you can purchase small portions. Directions are easy to follow (diagrams). The vegetables rival fresh. And, most Picards are open every day, most days late (8PM).