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.





Frozen Summer

22 09 2011

Unlike North America, here in France we had the coldest July in a decade.  We got our summer in fits and starts – I can’t recall any significant periods of wishing for a fan or not wearing a sweatshirt or jacket on my morning commute.  Bu we did have some nice days, here and there.  On one of these, Nick brought home a watermelon on a whim.  It seemed like such a good idea to keep it in the fridge, and have slices of cold, juicy melon serve as a light dessert on warm evenings.

But do you know what seemed like an even better idea?  Freezing it.  Seasoning it with a little basil, grown in our very own windowbox (thanks to Katia for the seedling!), and ensuring that even on cloudy days in September, we could still have a taste of the fleeting sunshine.

Sweet summer in a glass!

This sorbet recipe could very easily be prepared as a granita instead, by following the instructions here.  No ice cream maker required!  Should you be looking for something to do with the watermelon rind that inevitably gets tossed, might I suggest pickling?  (And may I ask for your suggestions on ways to serve said pickles?)  Lastly, if you’re still working on a mountain of zucchini from an overproductive garden, and want something new to do with them, try my recipe for vol-au-vents with Provençal zucchini over at Girls’ Guide to Paris.  It might be something you haven’t made before.

Watermelon-Basil Sorbet

Tastes like pure summer.

1 lb. 10 oz. / 750g watermelon, cut into chunks (weigh after cutting off the rind)
pinch sea salt
1 cup / 225ml basil syrup (recipe below)
½ lime or lemon, juice (optional)

1. Combine the watermelon with the salt and syrup. Liquefy in a food processor, blender, or in a bowl with a hand blender. Taste. If it’s too sweet, brighten the flavor with a squeeze of citrus juice. Chill thoroughly.
2. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
3. Serve in chilled glasses with sprigs of basil for garnish. For a more elaborate presentation, top with dollops of lightly sweetened whipped cream, a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkling of black pepper.

* * *

Basil Syrup

A great way to add some herbal nuance to cocktails, too!

3 stems fresh sweet basil, with leaves
1 cup / 225ml water
8 oz. / 225g sugar

1. Put everything in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and steep 15-30 minutes. Strain and chill completely before using.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Patra ni Macchi

2 09 2011

It’s the first Friday of the month, and that means it’s time for another Currypalooza!  This time, I got to choose the recipe, and I picked Patra ni Macchi, a dish traditionally served for Parsi weddings.  It’s a flavorful dish featuring cod marinated in a spicy, aromatic paste of coconut, chilies, and herbs.  The fish is then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.  It’s healthy, it’s quick, it’s easy, and best of all, it’s impressive.  Of course it comes from my favorite Indian cookbook, Miss Masala.  I wrote to Mallika Basu, the author, to ask her permission to reprint the recipe from her book, and she graciously gave it.

When I cooked this, I halved the recipe, since there were only three of us, and I substituted dried coconut (shredded, unsweetened) for the fresh.  It needed a little extra water, but no big deal.  I served it with a dish of my own invention – potatoes boiled with hot peppers, mashed, seasoned with turmeric and garam masala, mixed with some peas, then shaped into little patties and pan-fried.  The photo, I admit, is not great, due in part to the green-on-green nature of the dish, and in part to the extra long apéro hour before dinner.  But the gin and tonics were so refreshing, and, well, by the time we sat down to eat everyone was sufficiently… refreshed.

Patra ni Macchi

For dessert we had bowls of fresh mango sprinkled with vanilla salt and dolloped with yogurt.  It was a great summer meal that definitely transported us out of France for the evening.

Patra ni Macchi (Marinated cod steamed in banana-leaf parcels)
Reprinted with permission from Miss Masala by Mallika Basu

Feeds 6

6 cod fillets, skinned and all bones removed
6 large banana leaves
3 garlic cloves
6 fresh green finger chillies
6 Tbsp. fresh or frozen grated coconut
50g (2oz) fresh coriander leaves
25g (1oz) fresh mint leaves
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt

  1. Wash each cod fillet well under cold running water, dabbing dry on kitchen paper.  Wash the banana leaves, taking care not to split the delicate fibres.
  2. Peel the garlic and, using a blender or food processor, purée into a paste with the remaining ingredients, adding salt to taste.  The marinade should be strong and punchy in every way.
  3. Place each fish fillet on a banana leaf and smother with the marinade.  Then wrap it as neatly as you can and set aside.  You don’t need to tie it with thread because the steaming process will seal the parcel shut.
  4. When you’re ready to eat, steam each banana leaf parcel for 7-10 minutes, open side facing down, using a steamer, or a colander covered with a pan lid and placed over a large pan of boiling water.  The fish should be moist but cooked through. (Open just one parcel first to check if cooked.)
  5. This is a wonderful way to impress guests and can be eaten alongside Parsi Brown Rice.  Or serve with Khichdi for a super-healthy meal.

Check out the other Currypalooza posts for this month:

More Please by Margie
Sage Trifle
Ann Mah

* * * * *

More bits and bobs from around the web for your weekend reading enjoyment:

Remember back in May, when I was on the Katia and Kyliemac podcast?  Well, we recorded a third episode, which is now up for your listening pleasure.

Last weekend Nick and I joined Emiglia of Tomato Kumato on a hike and a picnic to mark the end of summer.  Though to tell the truth, it’s been downright summery the last few days, and I am not complaining.

I have a new recipe up on Girls’ Guide to Paris, this time for Apricot Swirl Ice Cream.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a happy hour to get to.  Happy Friday!

On this day in 2010: Cactus L.A. (In which I eat Mexican food three times in one day.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Au Passage

29 08 2011

Reservation

I’m a latecomer to the wine bar bandwagon.  I admit that for a long time I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about.  The idea of having to plan ahead and make reservations just to have a few drinks and nibbles with friends put me off.  I mean, such a meal would seem to be inherently spontaneous – reserving just feels contrary to the whole aesthetic.  And yet, Au Passage may have changed my mind.

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Diet Food, My Way

25 08 2011

This week has not gone as planned on the blogging front.  I have a bunch of posts just dying to have their chance in the spotlight, one I even had to stop working to jot down this morning.  But of course I left that notebook at work.  Fortunately, I’ve got one of these “One Meal, One Photo, One Sentence” pictures up my sleeve.

Roasty-roasty

Roasted salmon, risotto made with shrimp stock and roasted zucchini.  This is what I make when I’m trying to eat lighter.  Really.

On this day in 2009: The Land of Chocolate (includes my recipe for premium chocolate ice cream)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





My 7 Links

21 08 2011

This 7 Links meme has been making its way around the internet, and it’s a fun one.  Jennifer of Chez Loulou tagged me for it, and I’ve been having fun going back through the archives – 410 posts in three and a half years! – to find posts that fit the criteria.

1. Most Beautiful

beautifully patterned tiles

The colorful tiled houses and intricate monastery architecture make my first post about our trip to Lisbon last winter an easy choice.

2. Most Popular

Airy Interior

Hands down, my most popular post by far is the one I wrote about gougères, entitled Cheesy Poofs Kick Ass!  This one post actually represents 1% of the total page views on my blog, ever, and it has more than six times the number of views of the next most popular post.  Was it the title?  The step-by-step photos?  I have other posts with clever titles, and good photos, but for some reason this one really caught on.  Maybe I should quote South Park more often.

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El Guacamole

17 08 2011

Mexican food is becoming downright trendy here in the City of Lights.

hours and phone

And I, for one, am thrilled.  Quelling that Mexican craving no longer requires lengthy and expensive ingredient hunts followed by all-day cooking sessions.

Menu

Nope, nowadays all I have to do to get my fix is head to one of a growing number of taquerias.  Parisian Mexican stalwart Anahuacalli, widely regarded as one of the best in the city, has now entered the fray with their own taqueria in the hip Canal St. Martin neighborhood, called El Guacamole.  At three and a half euros per taco, prices are a touch more expensive than Candelaria, but on par with Itacate (whose tortas, it must be said, are something of a disappointment).

Pollo pibil, puerco salsa verde

However, they’re generously filled, traditionally garnished (buenos dias, marinated red onions), and served on good – but not handmade – corn tortillas.  Having stumbled across their website on Monday night, I found myself at El Guacamole for a late lunch on Tuesday.  It was sunny out, for once, and I decided to hop on a Velib’ and head down the canal after work, just to check the place out.  But I could hardly check it out without eating, could I?

I’m pleased to report that the puerco cooked in salsa verde was very good.  The pollo pibil had kind of a funny taste to my palate – maybe too much annatto? – but I loved the onions on top and the tender, long-cooked texture.  The “salsa piquante” brought to the table along with the tacos was not in the least picante, but the gentlemen running the place were very friendly.  I’ll be back, for sure.  I mean, I have to give the other menu items a try before passing judgment.

El Guacamole

They’ve only been open a week, but another thing I’m sure of is that the long, narrow restaurant with the bright green facade will have long lines at mealtimes, especially while the weather is nice enough to take your tacos to go for a canalside picnic.  Two more pieces of good news about El Guacamole: it’s mere steps from Du Pain et Des Idées, and the next time I want a taco before a show at the Alhambra, I don’t have to walk all the way across République to get to Candelaria (which, by the way, still has my heart, but I’m always glad to have options).

On this day on 2010: Le Bambou (more ethnic-eating-in-August adventures)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Four Pounds of Cheese Project

7 08 2011

The Four Pounds of Cheese Project

This week I’ve been participating in a food waste awareness event started by Jenni Field, also known as The Balanced Pastry Chef.  It’s called The Four Pounds of Cheese Project, and she came up with the idea after reading a National Geographic article about how much food Americans throw away every year.  In order to raise awareness about the vital issue of food waste, everyone participating has been photographing the food they throw away for a whole week.

I think it’s an important issue on many levels.  On a social level, it is egregious that some of us have so much excess food that it goes to waste, while others are starving.  On an economic level, with the uncertain state of things in many major world economies, it seems prudent to practice spending less money on food, especially that which we don’t need or will end up going to waste.  On an environmental level, you have agribusiness continually trying to increase production by means of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics, and other environmentally harmful practices.  If we realize that we can’t eat five pounds of tomatoes before they go bad, for example, then we won’t buy the bulk-size bag, and if demand for massive amounts of harmfully-produced food decreases, then hopefully so will the use of environmentally damaging chemicals.  Not to mention the landfill space issue with throwing away foods that cannot be (or aren’t) composted.

So without further ado, here’s what I wasted this week:

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