The Last Six Months, in Three Baking Projects

27 11 2012

It has been over a month since I have updated my blog. I am seized with an urge to apologize. But to whom, and to what end? If one truly creates for one’s self, why then am I so disturbed to find that my unique visitors have dwindled away practically to nothing, with a bounce rate approaching ninety-five per cent? These twin impulses—toward reckless self-regard and the approbation of others—neatly negate one another. This is the essential paradox of our time.

- From the genius New Yorker piece Le Blog de Jean-Paul Sartre, by Bill Barol

Well. I think Sartre said it better than I ever could, so I’ll leave it at that.  Existential crises notwithstanding, it’s been an interesting year.  When we last left off, I was working six days a week as the Executive Pastry Chef for Blend, one of Paris’ most highly regarded burger joints.  As of this month, I am no longer there, and next month I will be officially unemployed.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t be keeping myself busy.  I’m in the process just beginning to write a book – so far I’ve got an outline and a couple of recipes – and I’m also thinking about staging (i.e. working for free for a few weeks) in some of the best chocolateries, bakeries, and pastry shops this city has to offer.  Oh, yeah, and I’m blogging again, too.

A few things I’ve baked in the interim:

Last Spring I made these apple doughnut muffins, inspired by The Hungry Dog.  I meant to post the recipe, and then it wasn’t apple season anymore, and now I’ve decided I want to keep it for the book.  But I will share this photo.

Image

Over the summer, I once again had the good fortune to bake the wedding cake for two dear friends. Once again, I made cupcakes, but this time I added a small “topper” cake for the cake-cutting.  I spent three days in Celine and Jesse’s kitchen, and naturally there were a few stressful moments the day of the wedding, but in the end I was very pleased with the final cakes.  And the bride and groom seemed pretty happy, too.

Image

 

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Valençay

1 11 2011

Valençay

Valençay is one of my favorite goat cheeses.  I picked up a gorgeous one at the market last weekend, and when Nick decided to take some lovely photos of it, I realized it was high time I gave this flat-topped pyramid a moment in the spotlight.

This cheese, which is named for the Loire Valley town in which it is produced, earned AOC status in 1998, making Valençay the first place in France to have AOCs for both their wine and their cheese.  Legend has it that Napoleon, upon returning from a particularly unsuccessful business trip to Egypt, stopped at the château in Valençay and flew into a rage upon seeing the local cheese in the shape of a pyramid.  He lopped off the top with his sword, thus giving the cheese its current signature shape.

Stories aside, Valençay is made using only raw goat’s milk.  It’s rubbed with salted ashes and left to mature for about 3 weeks, during which time a thin, bloomy gray rind develops.  Just underneath the mellow, earthy rind lies the firm yet creamy interior.  It has a pleasant citrusy tang, and is only mildly goaty.  Even though it may look intimidating to cheese newbies (I myself used to shy away from ashed or ashy-looking cheeses), Valençay is not at all challenging.  Which is not to say that die-hard cheese lovers don’t appreciate it.  On the contrary, I think this is one that just about anyone can enjoy.

I bought this particular cheese from the very friendly proprietor of La Ferme de la Prairie (known in some circles as the UCG – Ultimate Cheese Guy), who sells only goat cheeses, and for very reasonable prices.  While a typical Valençay might cost 7 or 8 euros, his comes in at 5 and change.  He also provides samples of several of his cheeses, with a liberal tasting policy – knives and cheeses are placed on top of the counter, it’s up to you to cut your own tastes.  He’ll ask how aged or fresh you’d like your cheese, and if you’re not sure, he’s happy to give his opinion.  A visit to his stand is a must if I’m at the Grenelle market on Sunday morning.

On this day in 2010: Chartres

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





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.





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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Around Paris: 7th: Coutume

11 09 2011

Coutume from the street

Though it’s only a couple of blocks from the much-lauded Grande Epicerie, Coutume‘s location on a nondescript portion of the rue de Babylone makes it feel further off the beaten path than it actually is.  Combine that with the mostly Anglophone staff and the artfully unfinished, postmodern-meets-neoclassical décor, and you’ve got a Parisian coffee shop that would be equally at home in New York or London, if not more so.

Coutume interior

I, for one, am glad that it’s here in Paris.  It’s pretty well documented that I am a tea-drinker, and the selection of organic teas here make me very happy.  They also take great care, serving each tea in its own individual teapot, with instructions about how long to let it steep for optimum flavor.  But I can appreciate a well-made cup of coffee, too, and Coutume has those in spades.

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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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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.





Le Pacifique

13 08 2011

I’ve always been intrigued by this place on an uphill corner not far from the Belleville Métro stop.  Something about the design of the place has always made me think of Chinese restaurants in L.A. in the forties – or at least the way they’re portrayed in film noir.  The fact that they’re open until 1:30 am only reinforces this perception.

Le Pacifique, Belleville

The effect is certainly more pronounced late at night, when the neon trim is lit up and you can just imagine the Private Eyes rendez-vous-ing inside.  I know this because I’ve walked past here dozens of times, en route to and from Restaurant Raviolis.  I admit that’s where we were headed last Saturday for lunch before doing some banana leaf hunting at Paris Store.  This being August, though, our regular haunt was closed for vacation, and so, on the strength of a recommendation from Sophie, we found ourselves perusing the dim sum menu at Le Pacifique.

You can learn a lot about an unfamiliar restaurant by observing the other diners.  I don’t mean you should be staring, but do check out what’s on their plates, discreetly.  I learned this way that Le Pacifique serves pitchers! of iced! tea!  Of course it was printed on the menu as well, but now I knew to look for it.  And at 4 euros a pitcher, it’s a hell of a bargain, especially when compared to the price of a single glass of iced tea at, say, Le Loir Dans La Théière.  Iced tea seems to be something of a rarity outside the United States, but it’s something I like very much, so it’s always exciting to see it outside my apartment.

Iced tea at Le Pacifique

And it was good, too – not skunky at all, the way iced tea can get when it’s been sitting around too long – flavorful but not overbrewed, nicely chilled and not watered down by the ice.

Enough about the tea, though.  What of the food?

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Yet Another Parisian Kitchen

2 08 2011

Remember back in March, when I was on the hunt for an apartment with a reasonable kitchen?  Well, I did find one, thanks to this very blog, and am now happily living and cooking in Paris’ biggest arrondissement – the 15th.  It’s high time I took you on a tour of this new kitchen of mine, don’t you think?

When we first rented the place, the kitchen was as yet unfinished, but it already had lots of potential.

window and sink before travaux

It had a big sink, natural light, tiled backsplash, a few cupboards…

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