Super Natural Every Day

15 11 2011

…Or most of them, anyway.

I was delighted to receive the news, several weeks ago, that I had won a copy of Super Natural Every Day from The Kitchen Illiterate.  Since receiving the book, I’ve been cooking from it quite a bit, as well as finding myself inspired by it while doing my food shopping.  (“Yellow split peas?  I think there are a couple of recipes for those in that new book!” “I should probably be keeping quinoa and bulghur on hand…” “How could we possibly be out of miso?  To the Japanese store, posthaste!” Sometimes I talk to myself in an old-timey fashion.)

I’ve made mention of the book a few times on Seasonal Market Menus, my other blog devoted to CSA eating and menu planning, because the recipes are great for using whatever vegetables you happen to have around, given a few pantry staples.  I certainly haven’t followed any of the recipes to the letter, but that doesn’t stop them from being a fantastic source of inspiration.  Like this soda bread:

soda bread from Super Natural Every Day

I’d never really considered soda bread as a legitimate thing before, but Heidi’s photos convinced me to give it a try.  I substituted leftover pickle brine for half of the buttermilk in the recipe, to no ill effect.  The dough was delightfully springy, and any rye bread that doesn’t insist on caraway is a good thing in my book.  It baked up nice and crusty, with a slightly biscuity or scone-like texture in the crumb.  The bread resisted staling longer than a yeast bread would, which is good because the loaf was huge.  We ate it for almost a week, and then I took the remaining half and turned it into some of the crunchiest croutons I’ve ever made.

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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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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.





Encyclopédie du Chocolat

18 04 2011

Way back at the beginning of the year, upon learning of it on Fiona’s blog, I signed myself up for the Foodie’s Reading Challenge.  I have since posted about zero (0) books.  It’s downright shameful.  I mean, reading and cooking are two of my very favorite pastimes.  So here goes nothing.

Foodie's Reading Challenge

My very thoughtful husband bought me this absolutely fantastic book for Christmas, and I’ve been wanting to write a little bit about it but haven’t really known where to start.  It is, after all, an encyclopedia.  An Encyclopedia of Chocolate, to be more precise, edited by Frédéric Bau, the director of the chocolate school for Valrhona.

Encyclopédie du Chocolat

It is a sumptuously photographed book, which make it a delight to flip through, licking my lips at the mouthwatering pictures.  But it’s full of useful information, too.  The first part of the book is dedicated to techniques and basic recipes.  As a professional, this is probably my favorite part, because if I’m wondering, for example, why my praliné isn’t setting up properly at work, I can find the answer here.  (the mixture is probably too warm, in case you’re wondering.)  Or how to substitute dark chocolate for milk chocolate, and vice versa – the cacao percentage in a chocolate can have drastic effects on a recipe if you’re not careful.  Or say I just want to make Nutella from scratch.

I also love having such a great set of base recipes such as ganaches, pâte à choux, cream fillings, mousses, and caramels.  That way I can play around with the individual components and let my creativity run free.  Knowing that I have a good recipe as a jumping-off point is always a good start.

There’s an excellent illustrated section towards the back which shows the equipment used in professional pastry and chocolate shops.  Since it’s in French, this section is invaluable for my working  vocabulary.

In the middle are the recipes, grouped by category (Grands Classiques, tartes, and so on) with one recipe per chapter presented by a French celebrity chef.  Gilles Marchal of La Maison du Chocolat, Jean-Paul Hévin of best chocolat chaud in Paris fame, and Cyril Lignac of just about everything are among the participants.

Encyclopédie du Chocolat even won the award for best chocolate cookbook at this year’s cookbook festival in Paris.

When I finally decided to see what this book could do, I looked to the classic ganache tart.

note the lovely book in the background...

Of course, it came out beautifully.  For a photo of the finished product, as well as the resulting recipe, click on over to the Recipe of the Month at Girls’ Guide to Paris.

If you’re interested in buying the book yourself, and you can read French (the English version is due in October of this year), I’ve assembled a few links that might help you do so.  It’s up to you to figure out which one is geographically appropriate for you.

Encyclopédie du Chocolat at Valrhona Chocolate (US)

Encyclopédie du Chocolat at Amazon (Canada)

Encyclopédie du Chocolat at Amazon (France)

On this day in 2009: Kicking it Old School

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Moonlight in Odessa – Cultural Surprises and a Giveaway

29 10 2010

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Janet Skeslien Charles, a native of Montana who now makes her home in Paris, and who has written an engaging first novel called Moonlight in Odessa.

Moonlight in Odessa

Faced with graduating college with a minor in Russian and lacking any practical experience with the language, Janet got a fellowship to move to Odessa, in Ukraine,  for two years to teach English.  I think it was a daring thing to do, but then, I can barely read Russian.  While there she learned a lot about Odessan culture, and gained an appreciation for the hearty, comforting food.  Later, her experiences there inspired her to write this novel, with a bright, determined, young Odessan woman named Daria as its heroine.

When the story opens, Daria is working as a secretary for a shipping company.  She has a tense relationship with her boss, who drops not-so-subtle hints that sexual favors are part of the job.  After a particularly awkward encounter, Daria begins to worry about her job security and begins moonlighting at a “dating” service designed to fix up Ukranian women with American or European men.  In the course of translating letters and emails for the mail-order brides, she starts corresponding with a couple of the men herself.  One ends up proposing, offering her a new life in America, the Land of Opportunity, which leads to a series of difficult decisions for Daria.  What is most important?  Family?  Love?  Security?  Happiness?

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Just Call Me Little Miss Masala

25 06 2010

Much like the bread-baking question, one might wonder why, living within walking distance of Paris’ most Indian-centric neighborhood, I would feel compelled to cook up an Indian feast of my own.  Well, one reason is that the more esoteric ingredients are much easier to come by.  Another is that you can’t go out every night, and besides, isn’t it nice to have a fridge full of amazing, somehow still-improving leftovers?

The internet seems to be full of little synchronicities.  In this case, my friend Ann also got the craving for home-cooked Indian food, and wrote up her adventures in spice hunting.  Fueling the fire, she also happened to have a giveaway for a new book called Miss Masala: Real Indian Cooking for Busy Living by Mallika Basu. 

Real Indian Cooking for Busy Living

Basu also writes a blog, called Quick Indian Cooking, which I am looking forward to exploring in depth.  The book is thoroughly enjoyable, and after I won Ann’s giveaway, I felt even more inspired to go on my own spice-shopping spree and get cooking.

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Kitchen Chinese

9 02 2010

A novel about food, family, and finding yourself

I miss Isabelle. 

Let me back up a little.  One of my fellow American expat food bloggers in Paris, Ann Mah, has written a novel.  It’s called Kitchen Chinese, and it’s loosely based on some of her experiences as a Chinese-American woman navigating the quarterlife in Beijing.  And it’s a delight.  From the intriguing and informative quotes on classic Chinese food that begin each chapter, to the mouthwatering descriptions of traditional (and not-so-traditional) Chinese meals, to the immediately lovable characters, the book is both fun and thought-provoking.

Aside from her knowledge about and skill in describing food, Ann’s greatest strength is creating characters.  The protagonist, Isabelle Lee, feels like a friend after only a few pages, which make her disappointments all the more crushing and her triumphs all the more cheer-inspiring for the reader.  Isabelle’s relationships with her family, friends, and coworkers ring true, and the changes those relationships go through feel natural and real, never forced for the sake of plot advancement.

I know I’m not the first, nor will I be the last person to read this book and wind up craving Chinese food.  I tried not to dwell too long on the part about that elusive specialty of Shanghai, xiaolongbao, because my Parisian hunt for them has so far turned up fruitless.  But the moon festival party scene, with its piles of steaming dumplings, sent me almost immediately up the street to the Restaurant Raviolis.

It's not soup dumplings, but it'll do

Where I proceeded to gorge myself, as per usual, with dumplings.  Dumplings floating in flavorful broth, and dumplings pan-fried to a crisp golden brown and dunked in soy sauce and black vinegar.

One of the best dumplings in town.

I am also now in search of a restaurant in Paris that serves Yunnan cuisine, which I never knew about before, but having learned of it, must taste.  Chinese cheese?  Sign me up!

I could definitely relate to Isabelle’s struggles as she finds her way in a new culture – while China and France are obviously very different places, there are certain elements of the expat experience that are universal.  And connecting to a culture by way of its food is one of them.  Dining being the convivial experience that it is, it is one of the best ways to build friendships, which is hugely important when you’ve transplanted yourself thousands of miles from home.  A country’s cuisine can also tell stories about its values and showcase its aesthetics.  Isabelle has the good fortune to get hired as the dining editor for an English-language magazine, which immediately plunges her into the world of Chinese cuisine, from Beijing’s street carts to Hong Kong’s dim sum.  As a result, she is forced to improve her language skills from the titular “kitchen Chinese,” as well as figure out how she fits into a country where she doesn’t look foreign, but feels it.

I feel lucky to have been asked to receive an advance review copy of Kitchen Chinese, but having finished the book, I miss my friend Isabelle.

You can get your own copy through my Amazon store, Ann’s blog, or at one of her upcoming book events.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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