Apple-Goat Cheese Quickbread

27 10 2011

A play in one act

Scene 1: Sunday evening, 5:00 pm.  Nick and Camille return home after a much-longer-than-anticipated outing.  Nick is carrying a baguette.

Snoopy: Mew!

Nick: Hey, Snoopy. (Goes to the kitchen to set down the bread and pour glasses of water.)

Camille: Hi kitty! Did you miss us?

Snoopy: Mew!  (Runs away to the living room, where she lies down on the floor.)

Camille: Oh, you need to be petted. (Kneels down and pets the cat.)

Nick: Did you have a hard day, Snoopy?

Camille (Looking at clock): Holy crap, is it five already?  How long was that bike ride?  Three hours?

Nick:  I guess so.

Camille: Damn!  I know I planned on writing a blog post, but now I don’t feel like writing anything.  I want to bake a cake!  And make chicken stock.  That just feels more important right now.

Nick: Go for it.  Do what makes you happy.  I’m not going to complain about any of that.

Camille: I saw this recipe for apple-cream cheese bread on emiglia’s blog.  And we need to use up some of these apples.

Nick: Who?

Camille: You know, we went on the hike and picnic?  And it rained?

Nick: Right.

Camille: Anyway, we don’t have any cream cheese, so I’m going to use the rest of that goat cheese in the fridge.

Nick: Fine, and if you want to write about it…

Camille: I’m not going to write about it, I’m just making her recipe with one little change.

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Maman’s Homesick Pie

24 10 2011

One of the perks of writing a blog is that occasionally, you get offers to receive review copies of books.  Generally these books have topics related to those of the blog, and writing a review is optional, but considering that a) free book! and b) free post topic!, it’s really a win-win situation.

Out this month, Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen, is a delightful read.  The author, Donia Bijan, was chef at Palo Alto’s L’Amie Donia for ten years.  Before that, she studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (under the same directrice as Julia Child!), gaining an internship at Fauchon and stagiare work at several of France’s starred restaurants.

Maman's Homesick Pie

The book outlines her journey from childhood in pre-revolutionary Iran to exile in the United States to France and finally making a home in the Bay Area.  Bijan’s mother, who sounds like an incredible woman, supports her daughter through the trials and tribulations of leaving loved ones, moving to new countries, and learning to cook.  The storytelling is warm and sympathetic.  Best of all, the recipes sprinkled throughout – two per chapter – are mouthwatering and make sense in the context of the story.  One of my pet peeves with these food memoirs that seem to be popping up everywhere these days is that the recipes feel like they’re just plopped in there with no rhyme or reason.  That is not the case with Maman’s Homesick Pie.  Each one belongs, from the simple childhood memories of Cardamom Tea, Pomegranate Granita, and Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken and eggplant to dutifully practiced French classics such as Duck à l’Orange, Ratatouille, and Rabbit with Mustard.

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On Spice Blends

16 10 2011

Spice blends.  Simply put, I don’t use them.  I much prefer to make my own combinations instead of relying on commercial blends for chili, curry, pie, and so on.

My spice rack

Here are my spice racks.  They hold, in theory, the spices I use most often.  I also have two 2-liter size plastic bins in my pantry, both of them stuffed with esoteric spices.  And then there’s half a shelf of jars, too, filled with spices bought in bulk at Asian, Indian, and Latin shops.  I’m not saying you need to devote as much of your precious kitchen space to spice storage as I do – for one thing, if I had a spice grinder I could stop keeping stuff like cinnamon and coriander in both whole and powdered form – but it’s worth stocking a few basic spices, which can then be combined in any number of ways.

This post is inspired by a good friend of mine who recently spent the better part of the day scouring American stores in Paris in hopes of finding a jar of McCormick’s chili powder.  (They do make chili powder in France, but too often it inexplicably contains curry spices, which is just plain weird.)  I tried to convince her that spicing chili was not all that complicated given ground chilis, cumin, and some fresh garlic, but she remained unsure.  It got me to thinking that I really don’t buy pre-blended spices at all  (I make an exception for garam masala, though when my current stash runs out, I probably won’t buy more, instead mixing up my own), and haven’t for quite some time.

I’ve always been fascinated with spices.  As a child, I used to peruse the row of Spice Islands jars my parents kept lined up on the kitchen counter, imagining the myriad of magical flavor combinations within.  When I started cooking a little for myself (mostly eggs and ramen, often together) I would pick and choose my favorites to add to my concoctions, in hopes that I might discover some heretofore unknown deliciousness.  Doubtless I killed more than one plate of scrambled eggs with one too many dashes of Old Hickory Smoked Salt, but I did learn that thyme and eggs were wonderful together.  That seasoning the ramen broth myself with soy sauce and garlic powder was way better than that mystery spice packet.  That if you’re cooking taco meat, and you’re out of taco seasoning, you can read the ingredients on the burrito seasoning (which you obviously can’t use directly, because it was for burritos) and approximate what might be in that taco seasoning.

My comfort level with individual spices, then, has been a long process.  I don’t expect everyone to be able to do it overnight, so here are a few guidelines for some common spice blends.  I’ll list the ingredients from most to least prominent, and leave it up to you to determine which ratios work best for you.  I also recommend, instead of mixing the spices first and adding them all at once, to add each spice to the dish individually and taste as you go.  If you’re the meticulous type, you can keep detailed notes of what you’ve added, or take the more organic route, winging it as you go.  And don’t forget the salt.

Chili Powder: ground chilis (I tend to keep several varieties around, and use them in combination), fresh chilis, fresh garlic or garlic powder, ground cumin, dried oregano or thyme.  Optional: cinnamon, epazote, cloves, cocoa powder.

Curry Powder: (the big ones): ground turmeric, black and white pepper, cardamom, cumin, coriander seed, cinnamon, ground or fresh ginger; (use in lesser quantities): cloves, cayenne, mace or nutmeg, fennel seed, bay leaf, fenugreek, mustard seeds, asafoetida.

Apple Pie Spice: ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cloves, maybe allspice.

Pumpkin Pie Spice: ground cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, ground cloves.  Optional: allspice, black pepper.

Pickling Spice: (use whole) mustard seed, coriander seed, chili flake, fresh garlic, bay leaf, fresh dill or parsley.

Mulling Spices: (for cider or wine, use whole) cinnamon, cloves, allspice, star anise, orange peel, black peppercorns.

Old Bay Seasoning: celery seed, paprika, black pepper, cayenne, bay leaf, mustard powder, ground allspice, ground mace.

Seasoned Salt: (in addition to the salt) fresh garlic or garlic powder, celery seed, onion powder (or just put onions in whatever you’re cooking), paprika, white pepper, turmeric.

Lemon Pepper: (this one should be obvious) lemon zest, black pepper.

Whole spices, toasted and then ground, will offer the biggest flavor, but pre-ground are fine, too (except for nutmeg, which you should always grate fresh).

If I’ve left out your favorite spice blend, let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help you out.

On this day in 2010: Worthwhile French Beers: Val’Aisne Blonde

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Burger Bar – A Book and an Announcement

11 10 2011

First, the announcement.

A week ago today, I gave my notice at work.  (You may already have seen this if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, or if you read Lindsey’s blog, Lost in Cheeseland, where I’m the subject of her Franco File Friday interview this week.  And if you’re new here from Lindsey’s place, welcome!  Make yourself comfortable.)

You may remember, back in June, I mentioned a career dilemma I was having.  It was mostly resolved by July, which was a relief, but it’s been hard keeping it under my hat this long.  I’m so excited that I can finally tell you all what I’ve been up to.

Starting in November, I will be the executive pastry chef for a  brand new gourmet hamburger restaurant called Blend.  We’re hoping to open in late November or early December, so I get to spend most of the month of November working on getting the place up and running, testing recipes, and finalizing the menu.  I don’t think I need to tell you how awesome that is.  You can keep up to date on our progress by liking Blend’s Facebook page, if you’re so inclined.

“Why does a hamburger restaurant need a pastry chef, anyway?” you may be wondering.   Well, I’ll be keeping busy baking handmade buns and signature desserts, as well as developing new recipes for weekly specials that highlight seasonal changes.  Any extra time and energy I have will be funneled into salads, condiments, and best of all, developing the beer list!  The way I see it, this job is nothing short of defending the best parts of the American culinary tradition in France.  I can’t wait to get started.

And now, the book.  Lent to me by my soon-to-be boss, Burger Bar is something of a mirror image of what we’re doing.  Hubert Keller, a French chef, opened a now-iconic burger restaurant in Las Vegas, and the book shares some of his best recipes, from burgers to shakes.

There’s a very clever dessert burger, with a doughnut bun, strawberry tomatoes, kiwi lettuce, and so on.  I’ll probably never make it, but it delights me that it exists.  What I will be making are the condiments (piquillo pepper ketchup?  don’t mind if I do.) and the deceptively simple sides.  I can’t wait to try the panisse recipe – they’re a specialty of Southeastern France, like fried polenta sticks, only made with chickpea flour.  And I can tell you from experience that the oven fries, featuring unpeeled red potatoes and duck fat, are as delicious as they are easy to make.

before

after

All that, and then there’s the burgers themselves.  The flavor combinations range from classic to eclectic, with influences from cuisines all over the globe.  There’s even a little section about beverage pairings, and the photos are gorgeous, too.  My only complaint is that there aren’t any recipes for buns.  (Hey, a girl’s gotta do her research, you know?)

On this day in 2010: Luxury Leftovers – includes a recipe for Smoky Herbed Bread Pudding, which you should definitely try.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Around Paris: 14th: La Cantine du Troquet

1 10 2011

La Cantine du Troquet

Christian Etchebest is one of Paris’ most beloved bistrotiers (is that a word?  Like a restaurateur, but for a bistro?).  His original Troquet is much-loved, though rumor has it he’s sold the mothership in order to focus on a new project.  In the meantime, though, he’s still running the convivial, no-reservations offshoot, La Cantine du Troquet.

Nick and I met some food-loving friends there a couple of Thursdays ago.  We had misread their opening hours (they open at 7pm, not 8 as we had thought) and as a result, had to wait out on the sidewalk for a table to open up.  It was a balmy evening, though, and was not at all an unpleasant wait, with a platter of Basque chorizo balanced on the wine barrel out front for all to share, and ordering bottles or carafes of wine to drink while standing on the corner is not only sanctioned, but encouraged.

Over our wine (poured from a liter carafe of totally drinkable – and totally affordable at 18 euros – Bandol red), we studied the chalkboard menu posted outside, our mouths watering over the beef cheeks and the lomo dish.  Of course, by the time we got seated, both had been stricken from the real-time-updated indoor chalkboard.  Not to be deterred that easily, I asked the waitress about the beef cheeks.  She said they were out, but they had a pork cheek dish to replace it.  I, and two of my three companions, said “yes, please.”

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