Nectarine Crumble

30 06 2008

One of my absolute favorite fruits

This one was a no-brainer.  I found some sweet-smelling nectarines on sale the other day, and immediately remembered that I had a plastic baggie of crumble topping in the fridge, just waiting for a surplus of fruit to appear in the kitchen.  The topping was left over from the Rhubarb-Apricot crumble of a few weeks ago, when I accidentally made twice as much as I needed.  The good news is that crumble topping will keep for quite a while in an airtight container in the fridge.

I also found this cool sugar on the same shopping trip.

Less refined means healthier, right?

It’s the texture of granulated sugar, but has a very light brown color.  I mainly bought it because I prefer to use cane sugar when I bake – the flavor is superior and it takes less processing to get sugar from cane than to get it from a beet, which is where most of the white sugar in Europe comes from.  (Of course, when you factor in the distance the sugar has to travel to get here, I’m sure it increases my personal carbon footprint.)  Environmental issues aside, this sugar has a fuller flavor than regular white sugar, but not so much that it can’t be substituted freely.

For my crumble filling, I took 7 or 8 nectarines, pitted and sliced them, and tossed them with about 1/3 cup sugar and 2 Tablespoons of flour, which turned out to be just a little too much.  A teaspoon or two less would have been ideal.  Still, the finished crumble was rather tasty, if I do say so myself.  (Like I can take credit for the nectarines.)

Nectarine Crumble

We ate it topped with hazelnut ice cream for dessert, and with scoops of plain yogurt for breakfast.  (In case you can’t tell, I have a habit of finishing off fruit desserts the next morning – gotta love dishes that pull double duty!)

You may be wondering why on Earth I feel compelled to bake dessert after working in a pâtisserie all day.  Here’s the thing: I don’t actually do any baking there.  I whip up pastry cream or anglaise on the stove, fold meringues into mousses, pipe out pâte à choux, and build entremets, but the actual baking happens downstairs and across the courtyard from where I am.  As it turns out, the things I’m making at work are things I probably wouldn’t make at home anyway.  So I can keep making crumbles and galettes chez moi, and leave the fancy stuff to the professionals (me included).


The Best Bread Knife Ever

27 06 2008

Oh, bread knife, how I\'ve missed you!

Just a few words about the tool I have probably missed the most since arriving in France: my offset bread knife.  (I optimistically starred a bunch of items in my Batterie de Cuisine a couple of months ago.  The truth is, I just got my favorite cooking utensils in my hot little hands this week.)

This is the greatest bread knife anywhere.  Here’s why: the offset handle means you can cut through the bottom crust of a loaf of bread without scraping your knuckles on the counter.  It’s super sharp and works beautifully on both soft brioche and crusty artisan breads.  And, perhaps most importantly, unlike the tiny serrated paring knife we’ve been using to cut bread for the last 5 months, it’s long enough to cut cleanly through breads of all shapes and sizes.  (We’ve pretty much been confined to baguette-shaped breads, not that this is exactly horrible.)

So today, in order to celebrate, I went to Au Levain du Marais and picked out a round loaf, just because I could.  Let me tell you, that Boule de Campagne tastes great.  And it’s so easy to cut.  Bliss.

Some Thoughts…

26 06 2008

* I miss my old job a little.  I miss knowing where and what everything is.  I miss being the go-to person.

* I think speaking French all day is wearing me out more than usual.  But is that making my feet and knees hurt?  Have I gotten soft?

*Music snippets: “Take me on a trip I want to go somewhere, take me to New York I’d love to see L.A.” “J’ai tant besoin de toi” “You put on quite a show, really had me go-ing”  God, I hate R&B!

* I’m feeling better about this than I was yesterday.  That’s a good sign.

* Why are my hands melting the chocolate?  I’m cold-hands girl!  I’ve forgotten how hot a kitchen can get.  Thankful I’m not working in the room with the ovens.

* Seriously, a whole hour for lunch?  What am I supposed to do with all this time?  I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I think I’d rather skip it and go home at 2:00.  Most people, it seems, wolf down some Macdo and then take a nap.  Wouldn’t you rather nap on your own couch or bed instead of a table at work?

* Le Patron thinks it’s bizarre that my French social security number begins with an 8.  He explains that there are two numbers he has seen, one for men and one for women.  He concludes that I must be an extraterrestrial.  Personally, I think it makes perfect sense: if you’re not French, you may as well be an extraterrestrial as far as the sécu is concerned.

* Feeling proud of myself after lifting huge pot filled with 10-liter batch of pastry cream and pouring it out without either spilling OR burning myself!

* I need to start bringing a notebook and pen to work.

* (Stopping at the grocery store on the way home) Oooooh!  Nectarines are on sale, and they smell great!

* Remember last week, when I was blogging from the park?  That was lovely.

The REAL Food Adventure Begins

24 06 2008

I went to work today!  For the first time in 6 months, I dragged myself out of bed at 5 am, put on my scrubs (half the price of ChefWear and at least as durable) and chef’s jacket, wrangled my hair into pigtails and tied on my bandanna.  I ate some cereal, got on the métro, and arrived, ready to work, just before 6:30 am.

I didn’t sleep very well last night – the cocktail of nerves and excitement with a twist of Velib-induced stress and a splash of muggy summer night really hit me hard.

But this morning I managed to channel that nervous energy and was feeling chipper.  I met with Le Patron (the owner/boss), and his 2nd in command.  After fumbling my way through a couple batches of biscuit, I started to get my sea legs back (or in this case, I guess my pastry hands).  Second and I started making mousses and assembling entremets.

At 12:30, everyone stops for lunch.  We are told to be back at 1:30.  A full hour for lunch!  This is unheard of in the food industry in the States.  Gotta love the all-important French lunch hour.  On my way downstairs (yes, the kitchen I’m working in is upstairs, unlike the ovens), I run into Le Patron, who tells me I can choose anything I want from the case for lunch and the girls at the counter will even heat it up for me.  Excellent.  I choose a slice of tomato quiche and it hits the spot.  I get to chatting with some of my new co-workers, who can’t get over how young I look.  (They themselves range in age from 17 to 23, I imagine, so it’s pretty flattering.)

When lunch break is over, my first task is to write “Joyeux Anniversaire” on a cake, using melted chocolate.  I run into Le Patron again on the stairs, and he asks if I was the one who wrote that, and says that it looks really good.  Hooray!  I spend the next hour or so piping mousse into rings, and then it’s time to clean up and go home for the day.

So here I am, tired but feeling good.  I had almost forgotten how great that shower feels after a day in the pâtisserie.  Now I’m on the couch with my feet up, and it’s about time for a hard-earned apéritif.


Les Cookies

23 06 2008

Even though Hopie’s Kitchen beat me to it, I can’t help but to write about my first attempt at making The.  World’s.  Best.  Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Ever.  I am referring, of course, to the top-secret Doughmonkey chocolate chip cookie recipe.  (Sorry, I’m not giving away the secret – and anyway, they didn’t come out perfectly in my Parisian kitchen, so I may have some tweaking to do.)

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Let me back up.  Our apartment complex (it seems weird to call it that, considering it’s nothing at all like an American apartment complex, but seeing as it is a collection of buildings, containing apartments and offices, sharing a gate, that’s the best phrase to describe it, I guess) had a party yesterday for all the residents.  It was a potluck-type deal, and I decided as soon as the signs were posted that I would be bringing chocolate chip cookies.  If there’s one thing I’ve made more than anything else in the last few years my life, it’s them.  Even after we closed the retail shop in favor of wholesale desserts, I was still going through around 500 of these puppies a week.  People can’t get enough of them.

I froze the cookie dough before baking - this helps prevent spreading.

Gathering the ingredients wasn’t hard – except that chocolate chips don’t seem to exist here.  I chopped a bar of 64% chocolate and used that instead, but this mid-quality French chocolate lacks a certain trait that makes Hershey’s chips so good for cookies.  Namely, chopped chocolate melts in the oven.  Hershey’s chips don’t.  I don’t know why, and I don’t particularly like to think about it, but it sure makes the cookies come out pretty.

Can\'t you just smell them?

Not that a gooey, melty chocolate chip cookie is a bad thing.  At the party yesterday, neighbors would come up and introduce themselves, and ask if I was the one who had made “les cookies.”  I was glad they were such a hit, despite not coming out exactly as I had expected.  (I think my scale has some accuracy issues.)  All four dozen cookies (minus the couple that I had to eat for quality control purposes) disappeared in the space of about two hours.  I was pleased and surprised, considering there were about three different kinds of brownies on the table as well.  But then, just because they looked a little flat doesn’t mean they didn’t taste great, and I knew it. 

The plate of cookies before being devoured by my neighbors

I got into a conversation with the artist who lives downstairs about how cookies are the one pastry that Americans have got over France.  He reluctantly agreed, and when I explained that it was a common activity for children to bake cookies with their mothers (at least it was in my house) he conceded that it was something to be proud of.

Looking at these pictures again, I’m wishing I had hoarded some, because now I’m out of sugar.

Apricots and Ginger and Butter, Oh My!

20 06 2008

I know I just posted about clafoutis on Monday, but, as Loulou recently pointed out, it’s clafoutis season!  So maybe I’ve got clafoutis on the brain, but when I saw this month’s Royal Foodie Joust ingredients – apricots, ginger, butter – I knew that this would be the perfect vehicle to showcase them!  (This is a monthly contest hosted by Jen (aka The Leftover Queen), and it’s my first time entering, so if you are a food blogger and want to vote for me, head over to the forum and sign up.

That’s a lot of links for one paragraph!  Still here?  So apricots in clafoutis are almost a given, but what is the best way to incorporate the ginger?  I decided that adding fresh grated ginger to the batter would give the most vibrant ginger flavor. 

Grating fresh ginger

In order to enhance the flavor of the butter I went ahead and browned it.  Because who doesn’t love the nutty richness of brown butter?

Mmmm... brown butter

I also roasted the flour before incorporating it into the batter, adding to the fullness of flavor imparted by the brown butter.  I first read about this technique on Chocolate and Zucchini a couple of months ago, and have been intrigued ever since.  (Note: I did attempt the Squeeze Cookies, and they were tasty but ugly, which is why you never saw them here.)  The batter made, I set about arranging the apricots in an attractive manner in the baking dish.  They were not exactly ideal specimens, a little worse for wear after the manhandling they received at the hands of the guy selling them.  But I did my best to make them look cute for the camera.

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19 06 2008

The extra B is for Bbleu d’Auvergne.

I came to the realization the other day that for once, the stars had aligned properly and I had all the components of a BLT sandwich in the kitchen at one time (well, except the bread, which takes all of 3 minutes to run down to the corner and buy).  Nick’s been hankering for a BLT for a while, so when he called to let me know he was on his way home, I fired up the stove and started cooking bacon.

While I was getting the bacon out of the fridge, I noticed a hunk of Bleu d’Auvergne that had somehow escaped my notice for the last couple of days and was therefore untouched.  Bacon and bleu cheese being a natural pairing in my book, I grabbed the cheese as well.

There were also a couple of artichokes lying around in there, and I thought they would make a good side dish, so I got a big pot of water boiling.  Then Nick arrived home and announced that since it was such a nice day we should take our dinner to the park.  I agreed, and then I remembered the artichokes, which are not exactly the world’s most picnic-friendly food.  We decided to stick them in our biggest tupperware and bring along a small one of melted butter.  Problem solved!

For the sandwiches, I split lengths of baguette and spread one half of each with butter.  The other half I smeared with Bleu d’Auvergne before stuffing the sandwiches with 4-5 slices of bacon each, and the requisite lettuce and tomatoes.

His and Hers BBLTs

We packed up our picnic and headed up the canal to a nearby park.  We had just enough time to find a spot, open our wine, and take a few bites of sandwich before we heard the telltale whistles of the park police.  This meant that it was coming up on 9:30, closing time.  Which seemed very odd, considering that the park was full of families playing and large groups having picnics in the early evening sun.

Yes, sun.  The sun officially sets just before 10 pm, but these days, it seems to stay light until nearly 11 o’clock.  Here’s a picture from after we had relocated to a spot beside the canal, set up, and eaten our way through the better part of our sandwiches and one of the artichokes.  (It had to be at least quarter past 10.)

Now I understand why the French eat dinner so late...

The artichokes actually caused quite a stir among the group next to us – one guy couldn’t help but gape and exclaim gleefully to his friends that we had brought artichokes on our picnic.  The friends apologized and explained that he was absolutely crazy for artichokes.  Then we lent them our corkscrew and were deemed “des touristes très sympas” (very nice tourists).  I jumped to correct the error.  “Nous ne sommes pas des touristes, nous habitons ici.”  It still feels awesome to say that.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches! (And Another Salad)

18 06 2008

Last Saturday, while we were trying to come up with something to have for dinner, Nick hit on an old favorite of ours: Monte Cristos!  I probably haven’t had one since college, which is… a while.  For the uninitiated, a Monte Cristo is a deep fried double-decker ham and cheese sandwich (sometimes there’s turkey in there, too) which is deep fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Yum!  Not being lucky enough to own a deep-fryer (yet), I remembered making them in college with slices of French toast.  And we were off to the grocery store to get sandwich fixings.

On the way there, (before biking through the protest) we tried to think of an appropriate side dish.  Coleslaw sounded good, but our favorite coleslaw recipe contains buttermilk, an ingredient I have as yet been unable to find.  I decided that plain yogurt might make an acceptable substitute.  For some reason, regular white and red cabbages are horrendously expensive here (we’re talking two to three euros a head!) so we ended up taking home the cheaper French green cabbage.  How different can it be?

 What I refer to as French green cabbage

<Bleep> this <bleep> piece of <bleep> website!  <Bleep> thing just erased half my <bleep> post!  To sum up the rest of my heartbreakingly eloquent prose, French cabbage + carrots + yogurt + tarragon vinegar + celery salt = damn fine (albeit French-y) coleslaw.

 I think it's the tarragon that makes it so undeniably French

Sandwiches?  Brioche French toast + Jambon de Paris + Emmenthal = gooey sweet and salty deliciousness. 

Lightly sweetened French toast (so we could skip the powdered sugar)

French toast Monte Cristo Sandwich

Want to try this at home?  Here’s my recipe for the coleslaw (I think you can figure out the sandwiches on your own):

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Simple Summer Salad

17 06 2008

I’m sitting in the park at the Place des Vosges right now, taking advantage of the beautiful late spring day.  Most of the parks in Paris have free wifi access, and while it may seem kind of lame to bring your computer to the park, it seems even lamer to sit inside in front of a perfectly portable laptop while the sun is shining.  In the distance I can hear the chanting from a manif (demonstration/protest).  I think this one is about keeping the 35 hour workweek.  Anyway, apart from all the cigarette butts littering the grass, the Place des Vosges is lovely today.  The fountain is running and people are milling about, playing cards, sunbathing, and the like.

A glance through my pictures reminds me of a nice little salad I made last week.  Inspired by a charentais melon that needed to be used and the memory of a fresh, summery salad I had at a restaurant last year, I got out the melon and started slicing.

 Charentais melon

I nestled the thin slices of melon among leaves of baby spinach and drizzled the salads with sherry vinaigrette.  The inspiration salad had a garnish of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (not to mention watermelon instead of charentais), but since we were already having cheese on our pissaladière, I decided to skip it.  Some bacon would have made a nice addition, but then, what salad isn’t improved by a little bacon?

 Spinach and Melon Salad

I was pleased with the results, even without the bacon.  (Or serrano ham.  That would have been good too.)  The sweetness of the melon paired well with the spinach, and the sherry vinaigrette gave just the right amount of tang.  Plus I felt good eating it, knowing that the combination of spinach and vitamin C (from the fruit) is a nutritional powerhouse.

Clafoutis aux Cerises

16 06 2008

Hooray!  It\'s cherry season!

You may be wondering what I did with the rest of the cherries after only using a quarter pound in last week’s stone fruit tart.  Well, obviously some went to the noble cause of snacking (fruits are free snacks, as Nick is prone to saying).  But when I noticed that they were starting to go South I decided to make a cherry clafoutis.  This classic French dessert is often described as a thick, eggy pancake, but I’ve always considered it more of a custard.  The beauty of it, though, is in the simplicity.

Clafoutis batter

A batter of eggs, milk, sugar, flour, and almond meal is poured over fruit and baked.  Traditionally, the cherries aren’t even pitted, but seeing as I don’t care to break my teeth on my dessert, I chose to pit the cherries for my clafoutis, despite the fact that I don’t own a cherry pitter.  Let me tell you, halving and pitting 400 grams of cherries by hand is a messy undertaking.

Cherries for clafoutis

But that was the hardest part.

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