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.





Pantry Cake, with a Beautiful Ratio

12 03 2013

Who among us has opted not to cook or bake something because the ingredients aren’t at hand?  I am especially guilty of this, mainly because I wait until I want to eat something before I decide to cook.  Leave the apartment?  Go shopping?*  No, I want something to eat NOW.  On the up side, this forces me to be creative, and tests my understanding of the way ingredients work (science!) on a pretty regular basis.  Here’s an example from yesterday. I was catching up on my blog reading, and found this delightful post about olive oil cake from The Hungry Dog.

Olive oil cake is one of those things I’ve always wanted to try, and this recipe sounded pretty great.  Until I started looking at the ingredients, and making mental substitutions: “Let’s see, I don’t have blood oranges, but I do have a jar of sour cherries I should use, maybe I could substitute those. Oh, wait, you need the juice, too, and I think the syrup the cherries are in will be too sweet. It would be easy to go get some oranges, but wait, it’s Monday and the fruit stand on the corner is closed. Besides, it’s sleeting…”

So I started casting around for another olive oil cake recipe. My cookbook collection was surprisingly silent on the subject.  I found a couple more recipes online, but they wanted me to separate the eggs and whip the whites and fold them in and it all sounded like kind of a hassle. But it occurred to me at some point that the olive oil is simply playing the role of the fat in a regular cake recipe. And I started to wonder if I could make an olive oil pound cake (quatre quarts in French) with a straight up 1:1:1:1 ratio of eggs, sugar, oil, and flour.  So I preheated my oven to 180C, weighed my eggs and got to it.**

My three eggs weighed in at 200 grams, so I scaled out 200 grams each of granulated sugar, cake flour, and extra virgin olive oil (pretty good stuff, but not the very best) in separate containers, and I drained that jar of sour cherries, which gave me about 2 cups of fruit, weighing about 350 grams.  I wanted some insurance that the cake would rise, so I added a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour, along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Eyeballing the ingredients on the counter, I guessed that this cake was going to fit best in my 10″ tube pan, so I oiled it and dusted it with flour.

Mise en place done, I started whipping the eggs in my second biggest bowl with my new hand mixer (I didn’t want to buy it, but now that I have it, I’m really glad I did), adding the sugar as I whipped.  I kept whipping the eggs and sugar until they lightened in color and  got thick and creamy looking.  (In some circles, we call this the “ribbon stage”, where drizzling the whipped eggs over themselves results in a thick ribbon that remains distinct for at least three seconds before melting back into the whole.) Whipping the whole time, I slowly drizzled in the olive oil and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  I thought it looked like airy mayonnaise, which it basically was, and all of a sudden those cakes made with mayonnaise made more sense and sounded less disgusting.  Finally, I sifted the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together over the batter and folded them in with a rubber spatula until the batter was smooth.

I spread about half of this in the tube pan, sprinkled about two-thirds of the cherries over it, and topped with the remaining half of the batter and the rest of the cherries.  At this point, I thought it might be nice to put some pistachios on top for crunch and because they’re so good with cherries.  So I grabbed a handful of shelled pistachios and scattered them over the cake.  And a sprinkling of cassonade for added sparkle.  After 45 minutes in the oven, the cake was a lovely golden brown, springy to the touch, and a toothpick stuck in the center came out clean.  I let it cool a bit and dug in.

a sunny cake on a snowy day

The cherries had sunk to the bottom, as I feared they might, but the cake is still marvelous.  The crumb is velvety-fine and tender, with just a hint of crunch on top from the pistachios and cassonade.  The olive oil lends a subtle, earthy fruitiness, and the sour cherries offer bright bursts of juicy flavor.  It was as great for dessert as it was for breakfast, and makes a fine snack as well.  Interestingly, the flavors seemed to solidify overnight, so the olive oil notes are more pronounced the next day.

I’m kind of in love with this cake.  Only problem is, now I’m out of olive oil and sour cherries.  I suppose a trip to the store will be in order soon…

*In Paris, this can be a serious time commitment.  It’s rarely the case that you can just pop out really quick and grab that one ingredient you’re missing, because even though the shop downstairs always has the kind of flour you’re looking for, the one time you really need it fast, they’re out. So you walk to the next store, probably a few blocks away.  They don’t even carry what you need.  And it goes on like that, until you finally find the flour, but in the meantime you’ve thought of a bunch of other things you need, and then you call home to make sure you’re not forgetting anything, load up your shopping bag and lug it home.  By then any energy you had for cooking is sapped, so you scrap the whole idea and decide to try again tomorrow.

**I weighed the eggs first because they are the least flexible of the ingredients – I can weigh out any amount of flour, sugar, or olive oil I wish, but if I arbitrarily decide I want to use, say 150 grams of each, and then my eggs weigh 60 grams each, well, it’s not going to work so well.  Weighing the eggs first means I can just scale everything else to match their weight.

On this day in 2010: Wadja (A cool little bistro.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Easy Cheesy

27 02 2013

Like we did last year, Nick and I have again given up cooking meat at home for Lent.  Since all Catholics know that fish isn’t meat, our omega-3 levels are rising as we incorporate more fish into our diet.  But what is a meatless couple supposed to do with a jar of homemade olive salad, leftover from a Mardi Gras party?  In a flash of brilliance it hit me.

before the oozing mess

Olive salad tuna melts!  I ran to the shop downstairs for supplies, picking up cans of tuna, two kinds of cheese (emmenthal and mozzarella) and Poilâne bread.  The beauty of using olive salad in your tuna is that you don’t even need to chop an onion, and you can use a lot less mayonnaise than usual.  I made these twice last week, and I expect to see them on the regular weeknight rotation for a while.  But truly, I would eat this no matter the dietary restriction, because a hot, crunchy, melty sandwich with tangy, savory bits of olive inside appeals year-round.

On this day in 2008: Fauchon, or, I May Have a Problem

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Two Birthdays In One

18 02 2013

As you may or may not remember, this blog was essentially on hiatus for most of 2012.  It made me sad to miss celebrating the fourth birthday of Croque-Camille, but work came first.  Now I have a little more time again, so I’m here to right old wrongs and have a proper fourth birthday party!  And fifth.  Because here we are, five years after I started writing here, five years and a few weeks after I moved to Paris, five years and a few days after my own thirtieth birthday, three apartments and two jobs later, and I still love it.  So here goes: a month-by-month recap of the last two years.  When we last left off, it was…

February 2011: There was plenty of exploring, both in town and in the country, and I also started my gig at Girls’ Guide to Paris, where I wrote the recipe of the month for a little over a year.

March 2011: The trip to Budapest was great, and the opening of Candelaria changed the face of Mexican food in Paris, but most of my time was spent looking for yet another new apartment.

April 2011: We did eventually find that apartment (the one we’re in now, and so happy we didn’t have to move last year) and moved in.  I also managed to draw up a post outlining what I think makes a successful fruit salad.  I need to make that kiwi salad again – I have a lot of kiwis right now.

May 2011: I bid farewell to my old neighborhood, still a lively and bustling street that seems to be sprouting new trendy restaurants every week these days.  I also got to spend the day with Katia and Kyliemac, chatting and eating pastries for their podcast.

June 2011: I puzzled over potential career moves (and despite how it all turned out, I don’t think I made the wrong decision) and took a break in St. Malo, eating cheese and kouign amann.

July 2011: Indian cooking, a newfound obsession with vegetable and grain salads, a glorious trip to the Languedoc, and chocolate and candies from Fouquet.

August 2011: The month started with a tour of my new/current kitchen and ended with a delightful meal at Au Passage. (Incidentally, we ate at chef James Henry’s new restaurant, Bones, for my birthday, and loved it.) In between there was Chinese, Mexican, Indian, and Italian eating, and the Four Pounds of Cheese project, where I tried to reduce food waste, and mostly succeeded.

September 2011: In which I try to pretend summer isn’t over yet with a delicious watermelon-basil sorbet.

October 2011: I gave notice at work and announced my new (now former) job as executive pastry chef at Blend.  Speaking of blends, I wrote what I like to think is a helpful post about making your own spice blends.

November 2011: Won a book, made ice cream, ate cheese, started the new (now former) job, and still squeezed in a quick getaway to eat sausage and drink beer in Köln.

December 2011: Opened a restaurant.  Thought I’d share some of my hard-earned knowledge about working with yeast and natural starter.

January-April 2012: Worked pretty much every day.

May 2012: I optimistically thought I would be able to start blogging regularly again.  I made it to one post, a quick, easy recipe for jerk chicken (and some quinoa to go with it) (this was before quinoa was evil).

June-October 2012: Increasingly miserable at work, much-needed vacation, arrange to leave work.

November 2012: Catching up with the blog, defining my life via baking - muffins, wedding cakes, Twinkies.

December 2012: I put the smack down on the “macaron”, and develop some recipes for the McCormick Flavor Forecast.  My friends are still talking about these caramel sage bars.

January 2013: And I started the Paris Pastry Crawl (which I realize I haven’t touched yet for February, but there’s still time). I didn’t mean to rag on Laurent Duchêne quite so much, but I thought it was a valuable lesson, and helpful to show you, my dear readers, what can go wrong when making an éclair.

A huge thank you to all of my readers, past and present, who have kept me going for five (!!!) years.  I might babble into the ether regardless, but it’s so much more rewarding when I know people are out there, reading and commenting and sharing and just generally being interesting people who I love to interact with, whether in cyberspace or real life.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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