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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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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A Jerk or a Chicken?

6 05 2012

Between getting an iPad for Christmas and a smartphone for my birthday, somehow I feel less connected than ever.  (Oh, yeah, and I opened a restaurant, too.  It’s going well, which means it’s been keeping me very busy.  I’ll link to a few of my favorite reviews at the end of this post.) Seriously, though, does anyone else have this problem?  I almost never even turn on my computer anymore, to the point that I nearly forgot my password just now – fortunately, my fingers remembered where to go before I consciously knew what I was typing.  I mean, my phone notifies me immediately if I have an email, and if it’s something I want to respond to in any kind of depth, I leave it unread until I can get to the computer, because I hate typing on either of the aforementioned devices*. The vicious cycle continues until I have twenty-some messages that need attention and I feel so stressed about it that I just try to ignore all incoming email. First world problems, I know.  Speaking of, my wine glass is empty.  If you’ll pardon me while I go get a refill of La Beille’s delightful Macabeu

Like how I did that? Just started up again as though it hasn’t been almost 4 1/2 months since I so much as laid a keystroke on this blog of mine?  I’ve missed it.  I wanted to write something about our New Year’s menu, but I was on vacation, soaking up the moments with family and friends in anticipation of a very busy year to come.  And then I came back and the Busy happened.  More than I ever expected.  I worked 12-14 hour days for what seemed like forever, though it was probably only three weeks or so.  Then I got an assistant, which helped reduce my hours per day to a more reasonable 9-10.  But I was still working seven days a week.  I kept telling myself that as soon as I got a day off, I would write something for the blog.  I literally had one full day off between January 6 and March 24.  Blogging didn’t happen. Since then, I’ve gotten another part-time assistant, and I now have Sundays off.  They are usually spent going to the market, a museum or movie, cleaning the apartment, cooking something nice to eat, and winding down with a book, magazine, or maybe an episode or two of Boardwalk Empire (how nice that Steve Buscemi gets to be the badass for once).

Today, for example, I baked some apple muffins for breakfast, cooked up some spicy Spanish mussels – I couldn’t help but to punch it up with a little smoked paprika, which was great because the mussels themselves could have been better- for lunch, and am planning a homey meatloaf for dinner.  But few pictures get taken, even if I am taking note of the recipes.  Last week, however, I whipped up a jerk chicken recipe that I just had to document.  The sauce/marinade was so easy, and the dinner in general so effortless and mostly pantry-based, I needed to share it with the world.

I hope you like it as much as we did, and that it helps you through your own busy days.

Jerk Chicken

Fast, easy, and spicy, this recipe reminds me of the week I spent in Jamaica many years ago. And who couldn’t use a little island getaway every now and then?

3 hot peppers (ideally Scotch bonnet, but I used some skinny ones from North Africa, and they were good too)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large shallot or ½ a small red onion
2 large spring onions or 4-6 green onions, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. allspice berries, crushed
2” / 5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 tsp. coarse salt
juice of ½ an orange

2 chicken leg quarters, or 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

1. Purée the peppers, garlic, shallot, spring onions, thyme, allspice, ginger, salt, and orange juice to a paste. I used my immersion blender, as I always do, but you could also use a food processor or a regular blender.

2. Score the skin of the chicken with a sharp knife and slather on the jerk sauce, reserving some for dipping later, if desired. Rub the sauce all over the chicken and leave to marinate in the fridge 1-24 hours (I did this around noon for dinner at eightish).

3. Heat your broiler to 395 F / 200 C. When it’s nice and hot, place the chicken on a rack over a sheet pan or roasting pan (line the pan with foil first to reduce messy clean-up) and broil 12-15 minutes, flipping the chicken over about halfway through the cooking time, until the skin is browned and crisp, the marinade is fragrant, and a thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads 165 F / 74 C.

4. Serve immediately with lime-cilantro quinoa (recipe follows).

Serves 2.

Lime-Cilantro Quinoa

This recipe spawned in my brain as a rice dish. It turned out I had no “regular” rice in the cupboard (I did have Thai, Basmati, Korean, and wild rices, but none of them seemed right), but I did have a box of quinoa. The flavors harmonized beautifully. Pardon the volume-only measures in this recipe – it’s still the way I cook grains.

2/3 cup quinoa
splash of neutral cooking oil (e.g. sunflower, grapeseed…)
1½ cups water
big pinch of coarse sea salt
1 clove garlic, minced
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
zest and juice of 1 lime
pinch of sugar (optional)
freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring, until the grains are coated with oil and just starting to get toasty.

2. Pour in the water, add the salt and garlic, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, until the quinoa has absorbed the liquid, about 15 minutes.

3. Fluff with a fork, and mix in the cilantro and lime zest and juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary with sugar, salt, and pepper.

Serves 2.

* * * * *

And now for the Blend reviews, if you’re interested.

In English: Alec Lobrano, Lindsey from Lost in Cheeseland (a burger hound if ever I knew one), Barbra Austin for Girls’ Guide to Paris, and Ann Mah.

In French: Le Fooding (as far as I know, my first mention by name in French food press – I was very, VERY excited to read this one), My Little Paris (names us Best Burger in Paris, resulting in our being completely slammed for weeks afterwards), Pascale from C’est moi qui l’ai fait!, and GQ France.

In print: An article by Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini in the March 2012 issue of Metropolitan (the Eurostar magazine), and a blurb by Adrian Moore for the May 2012 Monocle.

*And yet, I have become pathetically dependent on auto-correct to put spaces between words for me. I know I can’t be the only one… right?

p.s. What’s that post title about, anyway? Well, after such a long absence from blogging, I feel like a jerk for neglecting this space for so long, even if I do have some very valid excuses, and I’m also afraid I’ll have no readers left, which makes me a chicken.  And less inclined to write.  Yet another vicious cycle.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





We Did It!

21 12 2011

First service!

Keep up with Blend Hamburgers on Facebook.

Grand opening coming up in January 2012.  Hope to see you there!

Now, happy Solstice to all, and to all a good night.

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.





The One Where I Get Podcasted

30 05 2011

Just a quick update, because this week is pure insanity, but I got to spend Saturday with the lovely Katia and Kyliemac, of K&K Podcast fame.  We took a field trip to the pâtisserie where I work, picked up some tasty treats to sample, and went back to the studio to record a couple of shows.  The first one, episode 441, is already up, and the second one should be posted midweek.  I hope you’ll listen!

In fact, I think you should be listening to Katia and Kyliemac anyway.  I dare you to read one of their show titles and not want to listen.  They are a dynamic duo, whether they’re interviewing “interesting people doing interesting things” or just chatting about the expat life or current issues in Paris.  It’s easy to spend the whole afternoon listening, and I expect you’ll soon consider them friends, as I do.

UPDATE: Episode 442 is now up, in which we talk about some of the secrets of the pastry shop and the life of a pastry chef!

On this day in 2008: Calzone at Home

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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