2013: The Highs Get Higher, The Lows Get Lower

1 01 2014

The second half of 2013 went by in a flash. It was a real rollercoaster. Nick quipped sometime in the early fall that it seemed as we get older, our highs were getting higher, and the lows lower. It’s kind of become our motto for the past several months.

So beautiful and delicious!

The highlights of the year:

  • More traveling. In May we went to Corsica for a long weekend before jetting off to the US for a couple of weeks to visit family and friends. In August we went to London, where I fell in love with Ottolenghi (see the picture above for one reason why) and continued my infatuation with St. John Bread & Wine. And just last week e spent Christmas in Rome. It was beautiful, delicious, moving and maddening as only Italy can be.
  • I got a new job that I love. The work at Frenchie To Go continues to be challenging and interesting, but maybe more importantly, my colleagues have become my friends. It’s been a very long time since I got to work with a group of people I like this much, and that makes me feel so fortunate. The very talented Mickaël Bandassak recently spent a week photographing us at work, and the resulting pictures are a great little peek into what our working days are like. You can find them all at his tumblr, Behind the Food.
  • Media attention is usually pretty validating, but never more than when it comes from people whose work you respect and admire. In addition to a fun interview about classic American bakery treats I did with the charming Caroline Mignot for Cuisine Actuelle Pâtisserie, she also wrote about my sticky bun on her blog, Table à Découvert. Speaking of my sticky bun,  over at Chocolate and Zucchini, Clotilde has posted a perfect photo of it as her desktop calendar for January 2014! And I got a shout-out from David Lebovitz in his post about the Rue du Nil, the food-lover’s paradise where I now get to go to work every day. Last but not least, I was delighted to find my name in the acknowledgements of Ann Mah‘s lovely memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, and I couldn’t stop smiling reading the story of how we met from her perspective.
  • And I realize I should probably have posted this before today, but I was invited by Qooq.com to film a New Year’s celebration menu. I spent a very fun day at their studio, cooking and baking up a storm. My buffet menu includes Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon, Spinach Dip with Bleu d’Auvergne, Crab Bisque, Savory Cake with Chicken, Caramelized Onion, and Pink Peppercorns, and a Chocolate-Hazelnut Tart. You can watch it here.

New Year's Buffet

But there were lowlights, too. We lost our apartment, yet a-freaking-gain. (For those of you just joining us here, Nick and I have lived in no fewer than five apartments since moving to Paris a little less than six years ago.) The last apartment hunt was so frustrating, discouraging, and time-consuming, that this time Nick and I just took the easiest apartment available, a former neighbor’s, which we like, but since the place is furnished, we had to get rid of all our furniture which makes it a little harder to feel like the place is really ours.

We’ve both had some troubles on the professional front, too. I can’t say much more about those, in the interest of maintaining Nick’s privacy and my own legal rights.

Looking spry

But the big downer, and it’s really really big, is that we lost our dear cat Snoopy to kidney failure in November. She was young, but we just didn’t catch the disease in time. I’ve been wanting to write a whole post for her, but every time I start looking through pictures of her I just want to curl up into a ball and cry. She didn’t have a big presence on this blog, but that little cat was a huge part of my life. It’s been about six weeks, and I think I’m only just now coming to terms with the fact that she’s not coming back, that I’m going to miss her every day for the rest of my life. On Christmas Day, I lit a candle for her in the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione in Rome. When we left the church, a cat walked right up to me and Nick, let us scratch its head, and continued on its way. I like to think it was Snoopy’s spirit, coming to let us know she’s ok.

So as not to end on such a sad note, and to offer some cheer and hope for the new year, I want to share with you a very simple, very wonderful cheese recipe I got from my good friend Jennifer of Chez Loulou.

Oh, yeah.

It is so easy and so fabulous, it’s sure to become a staple of our fall and winter repertoire. Here’s what you do: Take a wheel of Camembert and slice it in half so you have two circles of cheese. Place each cheese half, rind-side down, into a half of the box it came in (or, if you’re lucky like me to have found the perfect camembert-sized ceramic dish, by all means use that). Slice up a shallot or two and start sautéeing in a tablespoon or so of butter. Meanwhile, slice a large apple (or two smaller ones) into thin wedges. When the shallots are starting to brown, add the apples and sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of sugar. Season with salt and crushed szechuan peppercorns. Cook until the apples are softened and starting to brown. Finish with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Spoon this mixture on top of the cheese and bake 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and just a little bubbly. Serve warm with slices of baguette or other crusty bread. Nick and I find that one half serves the two of us perfectly as a starter or snack, and the other half will keep, unbaked, until the next time we need it, though I admit we’ve never been able to wait more than a day for a repeat performance.

Here’s to 2014, may it be long on joyous occasions!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Fun with Breakfast Cereal, Take 2

15 07 2013

Once again, I am way overdue for an update around here. I can explain. About three weeks ago, my life turned upside-down. In a good way. On a very rainy Monday morning, I was fortunate enough to join my friend Meg for a Paris by Mouth pastry tour. After the tour, Meg and I had lunch on the now-sunny terrace of a nondescript café. We talked about how my book was going, and the possibility of me leading some tours, and at some point I think I mentioned that I was starting to miss working in a professional kitchen. (Apparently, six months is about how long I am able to be unemployed before I get antsy.) The rest of the week was fairly uneventful, until Friday morning, when our dear friend Barbra emailed me that Frenchie was hiring a pastry chef for their new To Go restaurant. After checking out their menu, I thought that it could actually be a really good fit: the American-style breakfast pastries and other treats are the kind of thing I probably have the most experience making, and  it’s clearly an enterprise which places high value on food quality and seasonality, two things that are very important to me, too.

So I applied. A few clicks and my resumé zipped into the hands of chef Greg Marchand, who called me that very afternoon to set up an interview for the next day. Tuesday morning at 6:30 am, I was at work. And so far, it’s been great. The team is enthusiastic and professional, the chef is knowledgeable and passionate, and for the first time since I started working in Paris five years and two kitchens ago, I feel like I belong.

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Fun with Breakfast Cereal, Take 1

18 06 2013

I got into a couple of interesting discussions on Facebook last week, specifically about an article entitled You Are What You Eat: A Food Blogger’s Dilemma, in which the author, Jamie Schler, laments the increasing presence of  processed foods and craft projects masquerading as recipes on many food blogs. She asks if food bloggers should be responsible for promoting healthy, home-cooked food, or is the genre devolving into a get-rich-or-at-least-lots-of-attention-quick scheme. I, for one, am completely on board with her point (in case you couldn’t tell from my paraphrasing back there). There are SO many food blogs out there these days, and all are in a very real way in competition. And when you spend time and energy trying to come up with creative recipes using real food, writing something intelligible about it, and posting it, it’s downright frustrating to see newer, flashier blogs getting more attention for making Oreos look like mice or whatever. It’s also a surprising trend given how much we hear and read these days about eating more local and organic foods, which I do think is happening. Even in standard grocery stores in the United States, you’ll now see “Locally Grown!” signs, and farmer’s markets are getting bigger and busier. It just doesn’t make sense to me, in a time when better food is becoming more available, why anyone would want to load up on food dyes and chemical preservatives.

hypocrisy never tasted so good

All that said, I have a Rice Krispie treat recipe for you today. It basically flies in the face of everything I just wrote, but sometimes life is like that. So let’s just agree that it’s important to recognize that some things are occasional treats. Like processed cereal (although really, Rice Krispies aren’t so terrible in the scheme of things – at least they don’t have a ton of added sugar) and marshmallows (which I really do love, and if I had a stand mixer I would totally make them myself, thus making them ok).

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Eleven Things, Eleven Questions

8 05 2013

My dear – and now many-miles-distant – friend Melissa has tagged me with the Liebster Award, a fun, navel-gazing meme that’s been going around.

LiebsterAward

To start, I’m supposed to share 11 things about myself. I thought it would be interesting to think of eleven ways my life has changed since moving to Paris, so here we go:

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Chocolate Mousse: Chapon

24 04 2013

rows of boxes

I knew I couldn’t do chocolate mousse month without a visit to Patrice Chapon‘s shop on the rue du Bac, because the single-origin mousse bar is pretty much the best thing to happen to chocolate mousse since, well, ever.

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Beer Brioche

12 04 2013

Which came first, the bread or the beer? And what happens if you use beer as the liquid in bread? I can’t answer that first question with any certainty, but I can tell you that the second is a worthy experiment.

shapingbrioche

Curious about the flavor that a beer might impart to bread – whether the hops would be discernible, what the yeast would think of the alcohol, how gluten development would be affected, etc., yes, I’m kind of science-nerdy sometimes – I went about adapting a brioche recipe because I had a hankering for fresh hamburger buns and also because I like the way it sounds: beer brioche. It’s just as nice in French: brioche à la bière.

after proofing, round 2

My first attempt was not a success. I waited and waited, but the dough simply refused to rise. I worried that I may have killed the yeast with the alcohol in the beer, but then I told myself that beer doesn’t usually reach the alcohol concentrations required to kill yeast. So it probably wasn’t that. But it was definitely something. The yeast were there, they were moving, but so slowly that even after four hours in a warm, humid space created just for their liking in my oven, my rolls had barely puffed at all. I went ahead and baked them, and ate them, but they were heavy and dense and nearly cakelike. I considered that too much butter may have been the culprit – brioche is notorious for making life difficult for yeast with all that added fat requiring heavy lifting – and made a mental note to adjust the amount.

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One Last Wintry Soup

21 03 2013

Lately, I’ve been working on clearing out the stockpile of root vegetables from the CSA in my refrigerator.  I turned a backlog of potatoes, turnips, black radishes, parsnips, and leeks into a lovely vegetarian tartiflette (or veggiflette, as it was dubbed around here).  I’ve got plans for the approximately five kilos of carrots – I’m going to make this lentil hummus and serve it with a mountain of carrot sticks for a party this weekend.  I’d been meaning to make this Jerusalem artichoke soup for a while – I remembered that I had once made one with a little miso and that it was delightful – and then I got a box of shiitake mushrooms and their fate was sealed with the topinambours.

I glanced at Robuchon’s recipe for topinambour soup, and he suggested caramelizing a bit of honey with them before adding the liquid.  I thought a touch of sweetness sounded right, but I only have really strong, unique-flavored honeys at the moment, and I didn’t want to muddle the flavor too much.  A flash of inspiration hit me, surely by way of my dear friend Hannah: maple syrup!  I think it hit just the right note.

topinambour-shiitakesoup

It is probably one of the healthiest things I’ve made all winter – with so much flavor from the topinambours and the shiitakes, and a velvety texture from the potatoes (yeah, I snuck some potatoes in there, too… and some leeks) it didn’t even need a drop of cream to finish it off, just a sprinkling of wonderful meaty mushrooms.

In slightly related news, I am pleased as punch to announce my participation in Ann Mah’s fun and helpful Tuesday Dinner series on her blog.  I shared one of my favorite clean-out-the-vegetable-drawer recipes, a mouthwatering spicy Indian dal.

Now here’s to warmer days and spring vegetables!

Sunchoke Soup with Miso and Shiitake

Earthy, hearty, and oh-so-healthy, this soup warms chilly nights. If you wanted to serve it with poached eggs or grilled tofu to up the protein content, well, I think that would be a lovely idea. Jerusalem artichokes are also known as sunchokes or, in France, topinambours.

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced
1½ lbs. / 700 g Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean and cut into chunks
3 small potatoes, scrubbed and roughly diced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. miso
2 tsp. maple syrup
1½ quarts / 1½ liters water

1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
9 oz. / 250 g shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
splash of sherry
splash of soy sauce

  1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until softened. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes, season again, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to brown. Add the miso and maple syrup and stir to coat the vegetables evenly. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms release their water, the water evaporates, and the mushrooms begin to brown. Deglaze the pan with a splash each of sherry and soy sauce, and continue cooking until the liquid has once more evaporated. Scrape half the mushrooms into the soup pot and save the rest for garnish. For the most mushroom flavor, pour about ½ cup / 120 ml water into the skillet and scrape up all the brown fond from the bottom of the pan. Tip this into the soup pot as well.
  3. When the vegetables are soft, purée the soup, either in batches in a traditional blender or directly in the pot with an immersion blender. (You know which way I go.) If it’s thicker than you want, thin it out with a little water. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve piping hot with a few of the reserved mushrooms spooned on top.

Serves 4-6.

On this day in 2008: Baking Extravaganza, Act III (in which I make molten chocolate cakes in a toaster oven)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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