Mashed Potatoes, and a Confession

12 02 2010

It occurred to me when I picked up this week’s CSA panier that in nearly two years of writing a food blog, I have never written about one of my favorite – and most frequently made – dishes: mashed potatoes.  I plan to rectify the situation today, but first I’ve got to get something off my chest.

A confession, if you will.  (My Catholic conscience is hoping this will help.)  The chef was on a bread training course this week, which means I was running the show from Monday to Thursday.  We had a stage this week, which, as usual, nobody bothered to tell me about in advance.  By stage I mean a junior high student who is spending a week in the pâtisserie to see what it’s like, and if he (it’s almost always a he) is interested in doing an apprentissage there later.  Well, this week’s kid was lacking in the common sense department.  On the first day I asked him to find the pastry cream in the walk-in (success), grab the small mixer bowl (success), and put the pastry cream in the mixer bowl (failure).  He put the ENTIRE bowl right into the mixer bowl.  I couldn’t help but laugh, and then wonder how I was going to get it out of there, which luckily didn’t turn out to be too much of a problem.  It was a real lesson in giving VERY specific instructions.  Which can be trying on the patience of someone who is just trying to get some work done.  Generally the mishaps were along these lines, though – not a big deal, but enough that I had to drop what I was doing to solve problems. 

There was one incident that really pissed me off, though, and that was when I sent the kid downstairs to take the sheets of biscuit over to the oven (don’t get me started on the impracticalities of my workplace layout).  I figured it would take him a while, guessing that he would carry the sheet pans over one at a time instead of two, but by the time I had scaled and spread out nearly six more sheets of biscuit and he had neither returned nor sent up the dumbwaiter so I could refill it, I got irritated.  I went downstairs and found him sitting down next to the empty dumbwaiter, eating a warm pain aux raisins, and chatting with one of the salesgirls.  Grr.  I shot him a nasty look, slammed the dumbwaiter closed, and stomped back upstairs, grumbling about how I hadn’t had my breakfast yet, either.  And I was hard on him for the rest of the week.  That’s what I feel bad about.  I mean, he’s just a kid.  He’s not being paid.  He’s there to learn, true, but maybe I should have been nicer.

What do you know?  I think that worked.

So, mashed potatoes.  I’ve got these down to a science.  I’m sure that there are loads of people who will disagree with me, but this is how I make them, and they always taste good.  Whether or not I’m peeling them, I always cut my potatoes into small pieces.  This is mainly a time thing – diced potatoes cook so much faster than whole ones.  Then I simmer them in copiously salted water until very tender.

drying the boiled potatoes

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Around Paris: 12th: Blé Sucré

5 02 2010

Artsy B&W photo of the sign

The name means “sweet wheat.”  (Hey, it rhymes in French AND in English!  Neat.)  And Blé Sucré is sweet indeed.  Having had the place recommended several times by one Mr. David Lebovitz,  I knew the quick jaunt down to the charming Square Trousseau near the Place de la Bastille would be more than worth it.

Beautiful, shiny gâteaux at Blé Sucré

On my first visit, I sampled one of their incredibly flaky croissants and a dense, rich rectangle composed of chocolate and peanut butter (a daring combination in Paris).  And on my second visit…

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A Triumph

21 10 2009

It’s actually been pretty fun at work this week.  I haven’t said that in a year and a half, and I was afraid I never would.  We’ve been trying out new recipes for the bûches de Noël for this holiday season.  Not only do I like experimenting in the kitchen for the way it breaks up the general work routine, but this year I have been included in the proceedings.  As in, asked for my opinions and for any ideas I might have in the way of new bûche flavor combinations.

I really wanted to do a chocolate/banana/peanut butter thing, but I know better than to get too wacky (i.e. American) with this crowd.  So I Frenchified the idea, swapping in praliné mousse for the peanut one.  I ordered some bananas and when they were good and ripe I sliced up a couple and sautéed them with butter, raw sugar, and rum.  The chef found an intriguing recipe for a banana biscuit, so we tried it, and it’s delicious.  I put a sample of the cake together today, and when we tasted it, we knew we had a winner on our hands.  So just like that, my creation is going to be produced and sold this Christmas and New Year’s.  If you live in Paris, I highly recommend you come pick one up when the time rolls around.  (Or better yet, reserve one in advance.  I’ll let you know the details at a later date.)

Oh, and a quick reminder to click over to Foodie Fights and vote for me in Battle Cumin and Pecan!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

C’est Moi Le Chef!

5 08 2009

Or is it la Cheffe?  No, chef is one of those sexist French words that has no feminine form.  At any rate, the chef is on vacation this month and he left me in charge.  In addition to my usual pastry and chocolate production duties, I am now responsible for planning and overseeing what gets done each day, defrosting the freezers at the appropriate time, and all of the ordering… which has yet to go entirely smoothly. 

Following a very difficult conversation yesterday with the secretary of the produce company, I consider it a triumph that the only thing wrong with this morning’s order was that the grapes were green instead of purple.  (I was informed by a colleague after getting off the phone that their secretary is notoriously terrible – I’m glad it’s not just me and my French skills, or lack thereof.)  Today I was anxiously awaiting the call from another purveyor.  I had the order prepared as soon as I finished the morning pastries, but by the time I had finished for the day and was ready to go home, they still hadn’t called.  I eventually had to track down their number and wait on hold for what felt like hours, although it was probably more like ten minutes.  At least once I got through the lady on the other end of the line seemed to understand what I was saying.  I feel pretty confident that tomorrow morning the right quantities of the correct items will be waiting for me.

Being in charge, so far, is great.  I get to choose the music; my lunch “hour” has been reduced to 30 minutes, because I like going home early; and I don’t have to wonder what’s on today’s prep list.  It’s also much more tiring than I expected.  Upon arriving home yesterday I fell straight asleep – something I very rarely do.  Today, though, I got home and wanted to cook.  I finally made the tzatziki I’ve been promising myself for weeks, using the now-sad-looking cucumber that I got a couple of CSA paniers ago.  It is waiting patiently in the fridge, the flavors slowly melding, for the apérothat usually accompanies Nick’s return home.  But I’m not done.  Hopie has gone and written about butterscotch pudding, so now I have to make it.  Unless I decide to make chocolate pudding.  Or both.  In a pie crust.  That’s probably not going to happen.  Today.  If there are any leftovers this weekend, though…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

French Easter Chocolates

10 04 2009

While American children content themselves with hunting for dyed eggs and chocolate Easter Bunnies, French children (and probably some adults) have their choice of a myriad of elaborate chocolate sculptures. 

Oeuf Dentelle - Lace Egg

All the chocolateries in town are decked out for the holiday, with  many dozens of chocolate eggs, fish (?), chickens, and whatever other chocolate shapes struck the chocolatier‘s fancy.

Mr. Egg Head here looks a little worried about his future.

At work, we’ve had the chocolate melters (like industrial-strength chafing dishes) going nonstop for weeks now.  The new chocolate walk-in has been loaded up with half-eggs, bird parts, and other bits and pieces to be glued together with more chocolate to produce montage after edible montage.

Yes, those are bunny heads sticking out of phallic carrot cars.

So here are some pictures of the fruits of my labor over the last month or so.  This week has been long, putting the finishing touches on the chocolate sculptures in time for Easter.  (This is the part where I apologize for the crappy pictures – they were taken in haste, at work, while trying not to get too much chocolate on my camera.)  When I was making the Bunny-in-Car pieces, I was roundly criticized for putting the names of cities like Boston and Sydney on the road signs, because you can’t drive to those places.

Remember Les Schtroumpfs?  Here’s what became of them:

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Everybody’s Working For The Weekend

10 03 2009

In a cruel twist of fate (or lack of planning somewhere closer to home) the passion fruit purée did not get delivered to work today.  So instead of spending my post-lunch torpor making the passion fruit mousse as planned, I cut larger cakes into smaller ones all afternoon.  (Not a good way to work through the postprandial dip.)  The worst part about this is that cutting the cakes is my usual Friday afternoon activity.  But we are far from Friday.  My last task of the day was to put the dusty plastic Smurf figurines in a bath of hot water, soap, and two drops of bleach.  *Bashing head against wall.*  Although I must admit I have always loved the French (read: true) name for the Smurfs: Les Schtroumpfs.  It’s an 11-letter word with two vowels!

Anyway, the cold, dreary, rainyness of today has not made me feel inspired to write the post I had originally planned for today.  (I guess it’s just that kind of day around here.)  Somehow, I have gotten a hankering for some spaghetti bolognaise.  Off in search of ground meat I go.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


17 11 2008

Whenever I travel somewhere new, the first question I ask before going is, “What are the local food specialties?”  I guess that makes me some kind of culinary tourist.  In preparing for our recent trip to Lille, I searched three or four different libraries for guidebooks to Lille or at least the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.  No dice.  So apart from a few recommendations from a friend, Nick and I were pretty much flying blind.  Which turned out to be cool.  We found a great restaurant in the paper, we had Google Maps running constantly on our phones (what an age we live in!), and we chatted with the very friendly locals.  In one café, the owner found out that I was a pâtissier, and said that I should really pay a visit to Meert.  He explained that it was one of the oldest pâtisseries in France, and that they were the official pastry suppliers for the royal family of Belgium.

Meert's grandiose storefront

Situated on a very posh street (the smallest bill dispensed by the nearby ATM was a 50!) just off the Place du Général de Gaulle (which everyone insists on calling the Grand Place, just to confuse you), Meert’s gorgeous storefront invites you in to ogle the tempting treats.  The shop is split into three parts: on the left is the pastry boutique, the right side houses the chocolate shop, and a salon de thé sits cozily tucked away in the back.

We arrived late in the afternoon on a Sunday, and the pastry selection was dwindling.  We chose a beautiful tarte au chocolat, and then went next door to pick out some chocolates.  (Since I’ve started learning the art of chocolaterie, I have become much more interested in the chocolate selections at the pâtisseries I visit.)

A very sexy chocolate tart

That piece of crisp nougatine on top of the chocolate tart was the reason I had to try it.  Crushed hazelnuts and cacao nibs were bound by a thin layer of crunchy caramel.  But that may have been the best part.  The chocolate tart shell was tasty, but too thick.  It left very little room for the smooth dark chocolate ganache filling, which was a shame.  More filling and less crust would have let the chocolate flavor shine.  Still, I appreciate that Meert uses chocolate disks to display their logo, as opposed to cardboard tags.

I failed to get any photos of the chocolates, but let me assure you that they were beautiful.  The raspberry ganache had bits of fresh raspberry mixed in, which was a nice touch.  My favorite was probably the semi-liquid passionfruit gelée enrobed in dark chocolate, but I was impressed by how incredibly smooth their ganaches and pralinés were.

We retuned to the same café later that evening for an apéritif, and the owner was pleased to see we had a Meert bag in tow.  I thanked him for the suggestion and then Nick and I settled in with pints of Affligem Noël – an absolutely delicious winter beer scented with cinnamon and other spices.  With all the beer and chocolate (not to mention the mussels and gaufres) Lille feels a lot more like Belgium than France.  Which is great, because after only an hour on the train from Paris, it really felt like we’d gone somewhere.  And that’s the whole point of a weekend getaway, is it not?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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