The Great Cupcake Extravaganza, part Wedding

26 08 2010

When we last left off, I was pondering the potential difficulties of baking nine dozen wedding cupcakes in a borrowed home kitchen in August.

Lemon and strawberry filled cupcakes, before icing.

It got more complicated before the job was done.  Instead of a kitchen 10 minutes’ walk from my hotel, I was booked in a different home kitchen, 15 minutes’ drive across town.  So I had to rely on family and friends of the happy couple to get me to and from my workspace.

Piping away

And then the caterer wanted the cupcakes early, to have them set up at the beginning of the reception.  This caused a small amount of stress when I didn’t know the weather forecast, but Mother Nature smiled on us and gave us a lovely day in the mid-70s – cool enough that I didn’t have to worry about the buttercream melting in the sun.

still piping...

While I did remember to pack my silicone molds for the fillings, and to bring over French cocoa powder and Turkish hazelnuts, somehow I forgot to bring along a piping bag and my trusty star tip.  Fortunately, one of the guests was able to bring in a set of tips from Boston; unfortunately, they were a bit too small for what I had in mind.  I am blessed with a very resourceful husband who managed to doctor one of the tips to make it closer to the one I had left behind.  Another crisis averted!

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Lunching in Dublin

20 08 2010

What do you do when you have a transatlantic flight and you are pretty sure you don’t want to eat the airplane food?  If you’re me, you bake two batches of cookies in anticipation of mid-flight snackiness.  If you’re Nick, you book your flight such that you have a three-hour layover in Dublin where you can fuel up with some (hopefully) authentic pub grub and a pint or two of Guinness.  Luckily for both of us, we travel together.


Naturally, our plane from Paris to Dublin arrived late, and with all the customs and security holdups, we ended up having much less time than we had hoped for lunch.  Add to that the time spent wandering around the airport looking for something that wasn’t just fast food, and the fact that the only real restaurant we could find refused to take food orders until 12 noon, and it was nearly a stressful experience.  Thank goodness for Guinness.

A pleasant surprise

I was heartened by this note on the menu as well – just because you’re in an airport doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a good meal.

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Around Paris: 13th: Le Bambou

17 08 2010

Since moving to France, Nick and I have been having lots of fun with language.  We blatantly use and abuse franglais, translating and mistranslating with abandon.  One such misuse, which gets more play than one might expect, is bambooing.  (You see, because the French word for shampoo is shampooing, any word that ends in -oo now gets an -ooing.  It’s fun!  Ok, we’re huge dorks.  I don’t even know why I’m explaining this.  Now I’ve gone and started off with a huge digression.  It’s probably only going downhill from here.)

Le Bambou(ing) at night

So we headed down to the 13th for some Asian grub last weekend.  We really wanted to try Sukhothai, but alas, it was closed for congé annuel.  Fortunately, I had a backup, which I had telephoned in advance: Le Bambou.  Or as it immediately became known to Nick and me, Le Bambooing.  It’s a well-known and well-reviewed spot for casual Vietnamese cuisine.  When we arrived (following a rain-soaked Vélib’ ride from the Place d’Italie), there appeared to be a line out the door, but poking my head in the door and inquiring whether they had room for two proved to be beneficial – we were seated right away.

Of course, moments later we were unceremoniously asked to move, in order to make room for a four-top.  The French woman seated next to me asked if it was our first time there.  When I replied in the affirmative, she told me with a smile, “On vient pour ça, aussi.” (You come here for that, too.)  Which is to say, at Le Bambou, you are treated like family, in the most casual sense.  They don’t hesitate to make you switch seats or hustle you off your table to make room for more customers.  Elegant and refined it is not.  What it is, though, is speedy and tasty.

Plateau frit at Le Bambou

We started off with the fried assortment: four nems, four fried shrimp, and four wonton-like objects.  It was probably too much for two, but we were hungry, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  My favorite were the fried shrimp, which will come as no surprise to my parents, who eventually had to stop ordering them when we went for Chinese food when I was a kid so I would eat something else.  Nick thought the nems were something special, and I agree that they were quite good, though I’m not sure they’re any better than those at Dong Huong, over in our neck of the woods.

Bo Bun at Le Bambou

Despite the rainy, pho-appropriate weather, I had to try the bo bun.  The classic Vietnamese dish of saucy beef with crunchy peanuts and vegetables over thin rice noodles has become one of my favorite foods.  And Le Bambou’s version was excellent.  The beef was bite-sized and tender, the noodles were abundant, and the vinegary sauce brought it all together beautifully.  Nearly every bite had a different taste sensation, depending on which elements made it into my chopsticks.  It was so flavorful that I wished I hadn’t made such a pig of myself on the appetizers, because in the end I couldn’t finish it.  (Luckily, the quick service has no qualms about taking food away.)

Beef and brisket pho at Le Bambou

Nick chose a bowl of pho with well-done beef and brisket (it was the brisket that got him) from the long list of soup options.  The broth was delicious, but the meat left something to be desired.  The pieces of beef and brisket were indistinguishable from each other (if , in fact, there were even two different cuts), and many had large, unappetizing hunks of fat attached.  Some people dig that, but I’m not one of them.

We had some trouble with the wine, as well.  We ordered a bottle of rosé along with our meal, but when our appetizer plate was half-eaten and we still hadn’t received it, we got worried.  We managed to flag down a waiter and reminded him about the wine.  Still nothing.  Thirsty, and concerned that we would be forced to chug the last of our wine if we finished eating before the bottle was done, we were trying to cancel it and ask for some water when yet another waiter insisted he would bring it.  They did apologize for the confusion, which frankly, surprised me a little.  But the good news was that the restaurant seemed to be clearing out, the door no longer filled with hungry potential diners eyeing tables.  So we got to linger over the last of our wine.

While I definitely enjoyed my meal at Le Bambou (Bambooing! Bambooing!), I am unconvinced that it was worth traveling all the way across town.  If you’re on the Left Bank and looking for Vietnamese, by all means go there, but if you’re closer to Belleville, don’t fret.  The Vietnamese up there is just as good.

 On this day in 2009: Tea for Two Tarts, the Second (one of the more stunning desserts I’ve made at home)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Lavender’s Blue…

12 08 2010

Can't you just smell it?

Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, mint is so green
Together they, dilly dilly, make good ice cream.

What of chocolate, dilly dilly, is there no place?
Swirled through in chips, dilly dilly, get in my face.

Looks can be deceiving

I’ve been wanting to make this ice cream for over a year.  I wish I could say I came up with it while I was frolicking in a field of lavender in Provence, but the truth is much more banal.  My post-shower routine, especially in the summer, involves a cooling lavender-scented foot cream, which is lovely after a long, hot day on my feet.  Combine that with the minty-fresh post-toothbrushing-session breath, and it occurred to me one day how not-unlike each other lavender and mint really are.  I thought about different dessert applications for this revelation, and naturally, ice cream sprang to mind. 

At the time, I had neither an ice cream maker nor a good source of lavender flowers.  But times have changed.  I found some fragrant organic lavender in the Indian spice shop across the street, and almost immediately upon returning home whipped up a batch of my new favorite summer ice cream.  Mint chip has always been a favorite flavor of mine, but the subtle hint of lavender turns a childhood favorite into something far more sophisticated, and possibly even more delicious.

It almost feels like I’ve been doing you a disservice by keeping this one under my hat for so long.  So here you go:

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Worthwhile French Beers: Le P’tit Klintz

9 08 2010

Despite the long interval since my last Worthwhile French Beer post, I seem to have found the most similar possible beer to write about this time. 

Le P'tit Klintz - Alsatian honey beer

As you can see, this one is also organic, also from Brasserie Uberach, and also has “Klintz” in the name.  But if La Klintz blonde is the mama bear, and Le Klintz brune is the papa bear, then this little honeyed number is the baby bear of the family.

The bottle had been sitting in our fridge for quite a while, and a noticeable layer of sediment had accrued at the bottom.  When Nick opened the beer, it foamed vigorously and for some time, even though it was cold and relatively undisturbed.  Strange.

It poured out cloudy and yellow – definitely an unfiltered beer – and the bubbles kept coming, forming a thin, patchy white head.  My nose sensed an herbal quality, woodsy and rosemary-like, perhaps even pine-y.  Aromas of fresh bread wafted up as well.

On the palate, the continued effervescence gave it a very light feeling, and the bright citrus notes make this a very drinkable beer.  As I got deeper into the glass I noticed some hints of spice coming through, particularly coriander and clove, while Nick observed a presence of banana esters.

Overall, Le P’tit Klintz is a refreshing beer, one I wouldn’t hesitate to drink again.  It makes me happy to know that breweries like Uberach exist in France, making an effort to produce quality, organic beer in a country whose first love will always be wine.

More Worthwhile French Beers:
Ninkasi IPA
Kohler Rehm
Thomas Beckett Bière de Noël
La Mandubienne Blonde
Page 24
3 Monts
Étoile du Nord
Les 3 Brasseurs
Moulins d’Ascq

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Raja Green Beans

6 08 2010

Rajas are a Mexican dish, generally consisting of grilled, roasted, or otherwise charred peppers and onions in a creamy sauce made from, well, cream.  Or crema, which is more like crème fraîche.  I saw a lot of them on menus while living in Los Angeles and Dallas, but seem to have forgotten about them entirely until this week.

That charring is intentional.

Which is a shame, because all the ingredients are readily available in Paris, it’s a snap to prepare, and it scratches that Mexican food itch in a major way.  Rajas are a versatile beast, used as both a sauce for meats and as a stand-alone side dish.  Faced with a green bell pepper challenge from the CSA panier, I thought that rajas might be a hitherto unexplored green bell pepper-hiding device.

Green beans & rajas

I mean, it fits my criteria: a) charred beyond recognition, and b) combined with lots of other tasty things (in this case, poblano-like red corne peppers, red onions, and crème fraîche).  Using the raja mixture as a sauce for the green beans languishing in the crisper seemed like the right thing to do – I thought about adding some corn as well, but decided it would be overkill.  Plus, corn just isn’t the right shape.

Green beans in a spicy, creamy sauce with charred peppers and onions

I had planned to serve these over rice, with slices of seared flank steak on the side.  As it happened, a last-minute movie date with Meg and Barbra caused the dinner to morph into a picnic-able rice bowl (Mexican bento?), which I topped with sliced tomatoes.  The green beans didn’t seem at all out of place dressed in the smoky, creamy sauce, and were delicious with the spicy meat and juicy tomatoes.  Having given it a little more thought, I think these would be excellent topped with crumbled goat cheese, at which point they could nearly qualify as a main dish.

Read on for the (simple, and easily adaptable) recipe.

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Shilling French Toast

2 08 2010

I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to realized that picnic leftovers make excellent breakfasts.  First there was the enchistrata, and now, upon Nick’s insistence, the pile of mini pains perdus.

Mise en place for French toast

He’s asked for this before, but today finally managed to convince me to do it.  And it turns out he was right.  Half a day-old baguette makes the perfect amount of little French toasts for breakfast for two.  I started out calling them “silver dollar French toast,” but it just didn’t feel right.  Who knows what a silver dollar is over here?


“Two-euro toast” didn’t sound quite right either.  But yesterday, while picnicking outside the Château de Versailles, Nick found a shilling coin in the grass.  From 1922.  It got me wondering how long it had been lying there, what it was worth when it was dropped…

But most of all, it seemed like a fitting name for the breakfast made of the leftover baguette from said picnic.


I don’t know the amounts I used, but if I were to venture a guess, it would go something like this: 1 egg, a third to a half a cup of milk, a couple tablespoons of cream, a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt, and in a last-minute flash of inspiration, a splash of plum eau-de-vie.

I served the toasts with wedges of plum, not purchased for the picnic but could well have been, and slices of crisp oven bacon – having tried it once, I am a firm convert.

Shilling French Toast with Plums

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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