Wednesday, June 30, 2010

3 down, 97 to go

In the July 2010 issue of Our State magazine, food writer David Bailey's article "100 foods you must eat in 100 counties" really piqued my interest.  I am a native North Carolinian.  In fact, the only other place I've lived is France.  At one point in time, we interviewed for jobs as far away as New Mexico and Washington state, but we decided to stay put.  And I was secretly relieved.  I love my state.  In the western part of the state, we have the Appalachian Mountains, where I was born and lived for 22 years.  Our eastern border is the Atlantic Ocean.  And the Piedmont is in between the two.  That's where I have lived for the past 30 years.  I guess I don't move around much, do I?
Anyway, I reached back into the past to my 7th grade North Carolina history class at Deyton Middle School in Spruce Pine with Mrs. Felts and started a mental journey through the 100 counties that make up my state.  Luckily for me, though, Our State included a little North Carolina map before each entry, with the county colored in.  I discovered that I have already been to the Durham choice (Magnolia Grill) and the Wake one (Angus Barn).   I just crossed another one off the list this week.  The Ex-Ex and I decided to drive down to Washington, NC to visit his parents, my beaux-parents (the French are so nice on this one-- literally my beautiful/handsome parents and I am indeed very lucky- they are the best!).  So, magazine in hand, we drove into downtown Washington (Beaufort county) to get lunch at Bill's Hot Dog Stand.  This is a no-frills pick'em-up-and-take'em-with-you joint.  The three ladies behind the counter could fix these dogs with their eyes closed.  The dogs are fried and come with white chili, onions and mustard.

They are served on white Merita buns, wrapped in white paper and stashed in a brown paper bag to go.  You can grab a bag of chips, a Twinkie and a Coke or Dr. Pepper, if you wish.
Now, when you tell some people that you love hot dogs, they scrunch up their noses, make a face and demand to know if you actually know what is in one of those things.  I just shrug and tell them that I don't care.  And I really don't.  No lie.  These dogs are injected with something spicy, too.  A nice touch, I think. 
And here's something you don't see very often anymore--
Yes, each dog is 98 cents and they do not accept anything except cash.  We ordered 9 of them, paid $9.50 and went home to eat them for lunch.  My mother-in-law, my belle-mère, said that someone she used to work with in Aurora, about 25 miles from Washington, had a standing order for 10 of Bill's hot dogs if anyone from their office was headed that way. 
My only suggestion-- these ladies need to put a tip jar on the counter, right next to the cash register.  Seriously.  They deserve it.
Only 97 more places to check out on our travels across the state...

Bon appétit, Bill's Hot Dogs and Beaufort County!

A novice

Okay, so here I am in 2008 all aproned up in the kitchen in Arles.  The photo was taken by a B&B client while I was preparing the breakfast crêpes.  Happy?  Ah, oui... Also thinking I knew a few things about cooking and speaking French.  But I am really just a novice to this whole food thing.  Every single day I discover new books, new chefs, new websites, new blogs and new recipes.  It can be a bit overwhelming.  I realize that I know very little and then I get frustrated with myself and start wondering why I didn't start this culinary journey years ago.  But that's when I click on this photo of myself because I look at this woman (who hates to have her photo taken) and think of what she's done and I am very proud.  And I just pray for many more years to learn more and more and more!
I discovered Dorie Greenspan today thanks to Carol at Paris Breakfasts.  Dorie is the real deal.  Patricia Wells, also the real deal, leaves comments on her blog.  Dorie's biography on her webpage begins with "Although I burned down my parents' kitchen when I was 13, didn't bake so much as a chocolate-chip cookie until I was married..."  Now she has a kitchen in Paris, as well as two in the US.  (Insert a huge sigh here)  Maybe I can come back as her in my next life. 

Bon appétit, Dorie!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lavender scones

Thanks to Girl In An Apron I have a new lavender recipe!  It would not be possible to have too many, mes amis.  The oven had hardly cooled from baking cupcakes when I decided to give her recipe a try.  College-age son's girlfriend was visiting earlier in the week and she read the newspaper article I wrote about lavender.  She didn't know that it is edible (I am quite certain I didn't even know that lavender was anything other than a color at her age...) and said she would like to taste something made with it.  Son is heading to see her in just a little while so I pulled out the lavender florets, flour, baking pan and parchment paper and got busy.
Girl In An Apron's recipe doesn't call for sugar, but I added some anyway.  I drizzled my finished scone, still warm from the oven, with Arles Sophie's miel de lavande, lavender honey, that I brought back from my March trip to the Saturday marché.  I can't hoard it forever, I guess...  After all, I plan to go back next year and I can replenish my supply then.  My kitchen now smells like lavender cream and warm scones.  Heaven on earth...

Check out her photos.  They are incredibly beautiful.

Girl In An Apron's Lavender Scones
(makes 6-8 depending on the size)

1/2 c. milk (I used 1/4 c. milk and 1/4 c. half and half)
3/4 tsp. lavender florets (more to taste)
1 c. organic whole wheat flour
1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar, optional (or even less to taste)
2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch sea salt
4 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 425F.
Pour milk into small saucepan and place over medium low heat.  Stir in lavender florets.  Heat gently, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.  Press down on the florets while stirring to extract the maximum flavor.  Remove from heat, strain and allow to cool.
Mix flours, baking powder, salt and sugar, if adding, in a medium bowl.  Blend in butter with a pastry blender or with your fingers until you have crumbs.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing in each with a fork.  Slowly pour in cooled milk, adding enough to make a soft dough.
Turn dough onto a floured work surface.  Gently and briefly knead dough.  Form into a disk and roll out to 1-inch thick circle.  Using a sharp, floured knife, cut into triangles.  Transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Press a few lavender florets into the top of each one, if desired.
Bake for 10 minutes until golden.

Bon appétit, Girl In An Apron!

Cook's Illustrated and cupcakes

As an end-of-the-year gift, one of my advisees gave me a subscription to Cook's Illustrated magazine.  We were all envious of this young man's lunches, leftovers from dinner the night before.  (At my school we do not have a cafeteria.  I eat in my classroom everyday with my 12 seventh grade advisees.  Imagine the shocked look I got from a group of Arlésiens when I shared that fact one day over a 2 hour lunch...)  Anyway, the mom of this jeune homme loves to cook and attended my Sabbatical Chef Academy Nights Provence cooking class last winter.  I received two issues of the magazine yesterday and am already in love with it.  It goes into great, but understandable, detail about the recipes and why they work the way they do.  No glossy photos.  Black and white illustrations.  The May/June issue features Notes from Readers (example- What is Italian-style flour and how should I use it?), Quick Tips (safely storing knives in drawers by making holders out of wine corks, how to grate ginger), recipes for almost hands-free risotto, grill-roasted beef, sautéed pork cutlets, grilled tuna steaks, empanadas, braised chicken, grilled asparagus, buttermilk waffles, and chocolate cupcakes (more on this later!), a guide to garlic, reviews of supermarket vanilla ice cream and plastic storage containers, Kitchen Notes (decorating cupcakes, mapping your broiler, the perfect hard-boiled egg) and finally Equipment Corner (flour dough whisk, wine chillers).  The magazine is only 32 pages, but full of great information for even a novice like me.  The back covers are frame-worthy prints, in my opinion.
I admit to being somewhat of a magazine junkie.  I try to limit myself, with only subscriptions to Newsweek (a thank you gift for a donation to WUNC radio), Our State (the totally gorgeous magazine about North Carolina-- the July issue features "100 foods you must eat in North Carolina's 100 counties" -- Magnolia Grill won for Durham county) and now Cook's Illustrated.  The Ex-Ex's parents gave him a subscription to Nebraskaland magazine for Christmas (they moved to NC from the Cornhusker State in 1970).  (We gave them one to Our State...)  I treat myself to other magazines before car or plane trips.
Today I will make the "Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes."  Yvonne Ruperti went to great lengths to perfect her recipe, making over 800 of the little devils before coming up with the proper combination of ingredients.  I've been making cupcakes for as long as I can remember, but they have become very chic in the past few years, showing up at weddings, in French bakery windows (as photographed by Carol, Paris Breakfasts blogger) and, evidently, on Sex and the City, a show/movie I haven't ever watched.

The next day...
I had fun with these cupcakes.  I made some with the ganache filling, some without.  The ganache-filled ones sunk in the middle when they came out of the oven.  A nice little hole for more icing, in my opinion!  The regular ones baked up beautifully.

I made the peanut butter frosting first.

Then I mixed the leftover peanut butter with the leftover ganache to come up with a chocolate-peanut butter frosting.

And I made vanilla frosting.

The vanilla frosting was a bit tricky.  When I finished whipping it up with Mildred, my Kitchen-Aid mixer, it was too runny to use as frosting.  So, in desperation, I got out a whisk and just started playing with it while whining about what to do.  Lo and behold, in no time at all it firmed up quickly and turned out perfect.  As you can see, it is not a mile-high fluffy frosting, but it tastes divine.  Very smooth (melting the sugar with the egg whites is the key), not too sweet, creamy.
Aren't they pretty?

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Filling
(makes 12 cupcakes)

The cupcakes can be made without the filling, if you wish, for a more traditional cupcake.  I tried them both ways.

Ganache filling
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar

Chocolate Cupcakes
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/3 c. Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 c. hot coffee
3/4 c. bread flour
1/2 tsp.  table salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 recipe Frosting

1.  For Ganache filling:  Place chocolate, cream and confectioners' sugar in medium microwave-safe bowl.  Heat in microwave on high until mixture is warm to touch, 20-30 seconds.  Whisk until smooth; transfer bowl to refrigerator and let stand until just chilled, no longer than 30 minutes.
2.  For Cupcakes:  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F.  Line standard-size muffin pan (cups have 1/2-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners.  Place chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl.  Pour hot coffee over mixture and whisk until smooth.  Set in refrigerator to cool completely, about 20 minutes.  Whisk flour, sugar, salt and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.  Whisk oil, eggs, vinegar and vanilla into cooled chocolate-cocoa mixture until smooth.  Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.  Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups.  Place one slightly rounded teaspoon ganache filling on top of each cupcake.  Bake until cupcakes are set and just firm to touch, 17-19 minutes.  Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes.  Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack.  Cool to room temperature before frosting, about 1 hour.
3.  To Frost:  Mound 2-3 tablespoons frosting on center of each cupcake.  Using small icing spatula or butter knife, spread frosting to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.  Cupcakes could then be rolled in topping.  Place topping (such as chopped nuts) on a plate.  Holding the cupcake at its base, gently roll the outer edges of the frosting in the topping.  Or frosting can be piped, using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip.  Starting at the outside edge and working inward, pipe the frosting into a spiral.  Sprinkle lightly with a topping, if desired.

Creamy Chocolate Frosting
(makes about 2-1/4 cups)

Note:  Cool the chocolate to between 85 and 100 degrees before adding it to the frosting.  If the frosting seems too soft after adding the chocolate, chill it briefly in the refrigerator and then re-whip it until creamy.  The frosting can be made up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.  When ready to frost, place frosting in a microwave-safe container and warm briefly on high power until just slightly softened, 5-10 seconds.  Once warmed, stir until creamy.

1/3 c. (2-1/3 oz.) granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
Pinch table salt
12 Tbsp. (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-Tbsp. pieces
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1.  Combine sugar, egg whites and salt in bowl of stand mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water.  Whisking gently but constantly, heat mixture until slightly thickened, foamy, and registers 150 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 2-3 minutes.
2.  Place bowl in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment.  Beat mixture on medium speed until consistency of shaving cream and slightly cooled, 1-2 minutes.  Add butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy.  (Frosting may look curdled after half of butter has been added; it will smooth with additional butter.)  Once all butter is added, add cooled melted chocolate and vanilla; mix until combined.  Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds, scraping beater and side of bowl with rubber spatula as necessary.

Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting
Follow recipe for Creamy Chocolate Frosting, omitting bittersweet chocolate, increasing sugar to 1/2 cup, and increasing salt to 1/8 teaspoon.  Add 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter to frosting with vanilla extract in step 2.  Garnish cupcakes with 1/2 cup chopped peanuts, if desired.

Creamy Vanilla Frosting
Follow recipe for Creamy Chocolate Frosting, omitting bittersweet chocolate and increasing sugar to 1/2 cup.  (If final frosting seems too thick, warm mixer bowl briefly over pan of simmering water.  Place bowl back on mixer stand and beat on medium-high speed until creamy.  Mine seemed too thin so I whisked it and it firmed up.)

Bon appétit, Cook's Illustrated and merci to the Maxfield family!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Oui, another new food website!  My new friend says "Petitchef is a french based Cooking recipes Portal."  And "Les recettes pour grands et petits."  Recipes for big and small, old and young.  I love all those words and have checked out the site.  There is just no such thing as too many recipes or too many food lovers sharing their goodies with the rest of us.

Check it out at:

Bon appétit, Ptit Chef!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A new cracker-chip

I know that I should never go to the grocery store when I am hungry.  That is embedded in my brain.  But sometimes what else can you do?  You have to pick up a couple of things  (for me it was thick cut bacon and heavy cream to make those brownies) and everything in the store looks good.  It causes me to have flashbacks to grocery shopping with my dad when I was a kid.  My mom was a no nonsense, budget shopper.  Not my dad.  He brought home what his four little "crumb crushers" considered the good stuff.  Chips, cookies, ice cream, candy.
Anyway, there I was starving in Harris Teeter.  So, I saw a display containing riceworks gourmet brown rice crisps flavored with sea salt.  That sealed the deal.  I love sea salt.  Maybe as much as chocolate these days.  I got them home without opening the bag (I live close to the store, I must confess).  Then I dove in.  I was suspicious.  I just hoped they wouldn't taste like cardboard or, if they did, the sea salt would help.  But they were really good.  Much tastier than I had expected or even hoped.  Really good crunch and salty but not too much.  And I think they are better for me than Doritos...

Bon appétit, sea salt!

Foodie BlogRoll

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, then you have (hopefully!) noticed a change.  I've been approved by Foodie BlogRoll.  I applied for membership a few weeks ago and then had to wait while a real person read some of my posts to make sure they are indeed about food.  I will play around with it over the next few days and see what it's all about.  I do know that it will make thousands of food blogs available to us.  More recipes!  More food pictures!  It just has to be a good thing!

Bon appétit, Foodie BlogRoll!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pigs and chocolate

This is one of the pigs at Fickle Creek Farm.  I stayed there last summer with Dorette and the Carolina on My Plate teen chefs from C'est si Bon! cooking school.  They are very interesting animals.  The ones at Fickle Creek are very social.  They have a pretty good life.  (It should be obvious that I am not a vegetarian...)
This is a bar of really, really, I mean seriously, good chocolate.
This is a book recently given to me by one of my girlies.  I didn't know I was being photographed for the cover or I would've put on pink lipstick.
So, what happens when you combine that piggy and the chocolate bar (and a few other ingredients, of course)?  Bacon Caramel Brownies.  Yes, that's right.  And a pan of them just came out of my oven.  I stumbled upon the recipe last week as I was just cruising around food blogs and websites.  I emailed it to Salamanzar because I know how he feels about bacon and his wife, Cupcake, made them.  I tasted hers today.  Really good- nice and soft just as a brownie should be.  They tweaked the recipe just a bit (basically adding more bacon!) and I decided to give it a try.  I already had a jar of caramel in the refrigerator from my salted butter caramel macaron filling from a couple of days ago.
Here's the brownie layer--
Here's the bacon-caramel sauce--

And here are the two combined, ready to head into the preheated oven--

Bacon Salted Caramel Brownies
(adapted from David Lebovitz and Savour Fare, with tweaking by Cupcake and me)

For the Bacon Caramel:

3-4 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut in half
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. sugar
6 Tbsp. salted butter

In a small saucepan, fry the bacon until crisp.  (Watch nearby friends or family members because if you turn your back, the bacon will disappear-- trust me on this one!)  Remove, bacon, set aside, reserving half of the bacon grease in the pan.  Add cream to hot pan, scrape up the bits of bacon stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Let cool.  When bacon is cool, crumble or chop finely.
In a larger pan, heat the sugar over high heat until the mixture is liquid and a deep amber color.  Stir to heat evenly and prevent burning.  Add the butter and the cooled bacon cream all at once and stir until the butter is melted.  Add the chopped bacon and let the mixture cool throughly.

For the Brownies:

8 Tbsp. salted butter, cut in pieces
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 c. unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Line an 8-inch square pan with two sheets of aluminum foil that covers the bottom and sides of the pan.  Grease the foil with butter. 
In a large microwaveable bowl, melt the butter and the chocolate together in the microwave (start with 30 seconds, and stir thoroughly, then microwave for 10 seconds at a time, stirring well between each round, until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the butter-- you can also melt them together over the stove).  Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth.  Add the eggs, one at a time, the sugar and the vanilla, mixing well after each addition.  Finally, add the flour and stir only until combined.
Spread half of the batter into the pan.  Then drop about 1/3 of the bacon caramel, evenly spaced, over the brownie batter in the pan.  It doesn't have to cover the whole batter but should be in splotches.  Spread the remaining brownie batter over the top, then drop spoonfuls of the remaining caramel sauce over the top of the brownies and swirl.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, but err on the side of underbaking.  Remove from the oven and cool completely.  The caramel will still be pretty gooey, so you might want to wait to cut them until just prior to serving and / or store in the refrigerator.
Cut into small pieces (they are very rich!) and enjoy the salted caramel bacon goodness.
(I cut this one before it was completely cool-- I just couldn't wait.

Bon appétit, pig and chocolate lovers!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

US News and World Report

About a month ago, I was contacted by Emily Brandon of US News and World Report.  She was writing an article about sabbaticals and found me.  Isn't Google wonderful?  She called me and we chatted for a while.  I didn't hear back from her and just kind of forgot.  Until I googled Sabbatical Chef and her article popped up!!  How cool is that?

Click here for the article.

Bon appétit, Emily! 

Pure summer

What do you get when you combine...
a tomato from the farmers' market and
fresh mozzarella cheese from Chapel Hill Creamery and
basil leaves from the pot on the deck and
sea salt from France and
olive oil from Mas des Barres in Les Baux, France?
You get the taste of summer!

I didn't eat all of it in one sitting... only half!
Bon appétit, summer!

Macarons and messes

Summer vacation is here-- we are already at the end of week 2, but who's counting, right?  I've done some cleaning, read a couple of books, visited my family up in the mountains, roamed around downtown Durham, and tried out some new recipes.  Yesterday, in order to stave off boredom and make good on a personal promise, I decided to tackle macaron-making for the second time.  My first ones were a flop, but I've learned a couple of things since then.  Use a coffee grinder to grind the almonds (no, these are not the coconut cookies that some Americans think of-- these are made with almonds) and let them rest on the baking sheets for 45-60 minutes before baking them.  (Chef Érick was making them when I popped into his kitchen one afternoon last March and offered up advice.)

That's the secret to the "feet" that you see in the first photo.
I made a caramel-salted butter filling for mine,

but that didn't go too well.  It tastes heavenly, but the macaron kept sliding off.  Not sure what went wrong, but the Ex-Ex loves the sauce.  It will be really good on vanilla ice cream.
So I went back to the filling drawing board, found a recipe for chocolate ganache filling and stirred that up.

And I gently filled the rest of the macarons (the cookies crush easily!)  After I had finished and used up all the macarons, the Ex-Ex made an excellent suggestion (but too late, unfortunately)-- a thin layer of chocolate on the bottom cookie, then a thin layer of caramel, then another thin layer of chocolate and then the top cookie. 

I have to admit that the whole time I was making them, I felt The Kings of Pastry, Chefs Jacqui and Sébastien, M.O.F., looking over my shoulder.  I tried making Chef Jacqui's funny noises as I piped the macaron batter onto the parchment paper.  (It didn't work out as well for me as it does for him-- guess I need more practice...)  Then, as I finished and looked at my countertops and the mess of confectioner's sugar, ground almonds, and egg shells, I could hear Chef Sébastien's (said with a French accent) Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness... to the guy whose work station and piping bag were a mess.  (I was attempting to pipe with a ziploc bag... I do not own very many kitchen do-dads or trucs so I attempt to make do with what I have.)
In my high school Home Ec classes (now called Family and Consumer Sciences) my grade always suffered because I made messes.  But I do clean up after myself.  Some French Guy wasn't much help.
I am pretty proud of my results this time.  The cookies are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Miam, miam to quote Carol of Paris Breakfasts!

Basic Macarons
(makes 30-40 cookies)

90 g egg whites (about 3 large), ideally placed in a bowl in the refrigerator for  2-3 days to liquify or age (they do not spoil the way the yolks do)
30 g granulated sugar
200 g powdered sugar
110 g almond flour or almond meal

Combine almonds and powdered sugar in the food processor and pulse until finely ground and no lumps remain in the powdered sugar.  (I ground the almonds myself, first in the food processor and then in a coffee grinder, then I combined the two in the food processor.  I didn't toast the almonds first, but if I do this again, I will just to change the flavor a bit and make the almonds easier to work with.)
With an electric mixer, beat the eggs whites until soft peaks form.  Gradually add granulated sugar and beat until meringue is really stiff.
With a rubber spatula, fold in 1/3 of the almond-sugar mixture, using quick, firm strokes.  You want to break up the meringue in this step.  Add remaining almond mixture, 1/3 at a time, using gentle stokes to fold until all almonds are incorporated and no lumps of meringue remain.  The batter will be thick and when you drop a teaspoonful of the mixture on top of the rest of the batter it should take 30-60 seconds to disappear and be reincorporated.
Using a pastry bag or ziploc bag with the corner cut off, pipe the meringues into 1-inch circles on parchment paper.  You can trace circles on the paper if you want or just guess, but try to make them uniform sizes since you will match them up later to make sandwich cookies.
Let air dry or rest for 45-60 minutes.  Preheat oven to 300F.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Let cool on baking sheet and then carefully transfer to wire racks.

Salted Butter Caramel Filling
1 c. sugar
3 oz (6 Tbsp) salted butter
Additional pinch of salt
1/2 c. heavy cream, at room temperature

Melt the sugar over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Whisk the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly.  When the sugar is a dark copper color and you can smell that it has caramelized, turn off the heat, add the butter all at once and stir it in.  Then add the cream and stir to incorporate.  Store in glass jars in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Ganache Filling
2 oz. heavy cream
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

Combine cream and chocolate in a small bowl.  Heat in microwave in 30 second increments, stirring between intervals, until chocolate is melted.  Cool to room temperature.  Put in a pastry bag and pipe onto macaron.

Merci to a couple of blogs whose recipes helped me out-- Savour Fare  and Honey and Butter.

Bon appétit, les macarons!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A ranting waiter

Have you ever been sucked into a book?  It is so well-written that you actually think you are living it?  Oh, I know that writing styles and subject material are a matter of personal taste.  I've had my choice of favorite books shot down more than once by a colleague or friend.  But it really doesn't bother me.  I know what I like.  And I loved this book by Steve Dublanica.  The Ex-Ex just happened across it the last time we were in Barnes and Noble snooping around.  He took one look at it and knew it would be a good fit for me.
I cannot identify too closely with The Waiter's job, although I did several stints as a waitress (he doesn't use this term in the book-- even the women are waiters) while in high school and college (a hometown restaurant, a golf resort, a mall restaurant, and a steak house) in order to pay the college expenses not covered by scholarships and to pay my way to France for the first time.  But I never did it as a real, pay-the-rent-type of job in a place where $700 bottles of wine sit in the cellar waiting to be ordered and uncorked.  The Waiter never meant to become a waiter, but he ended up as one after losing more than one job.
He began an anonymous blog called Waiter Rant to tell stories of life at the restaurant where he worked.  (Actor Russell Crowe was the only client to ever ask him if he was The Waiter.) The blog became so popular that he was contacted by a literary agent who suggested he turn it into a book.  Waiter Rant was published in 2008.  According to the blog, his next book, Keep The Change will come out in November of 2010.  
Perhaps the most touching part of the book is when The Waiter comes to grip with his fear of failure.   He confesses that he never felt quite good enough or that he measured up.  This stopped him from putting himself on the line and pursuing what he really wanted, whether in his relationships, his work or writing his book.  I wonder how many of us live with this fear to some degree?  What would we accomplish if the fear of being told Thanks, but no thanks wasn't so great? 

Bon appétit, The Waiter!  Great book!

An American Bakery in Paris

I used to have this fantasy that I would move to Paris and open a bakery.  An American Bakery in Paris.  Ah oui, in the land of croissants, baguettes, pains au chocolat, 

millefeuilles, macarons, éclairs, pains aux raisins, etc. I was going to bake muffins, brownies, pound cake, chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, peanut butter pies (I would be the one to finally make the French embrace peanut butter!), lemon bars, scones, sugar cookies-- all the wonderful things I've been baking for as long as I can remember.  I still think the idea has merit even though I have recently seen muffins, chocolate chip cookies and brownies for sale at open air markets and in certain coffee shops in France.  I'll bet they are not as good as mine.  Well, actually, there is (was?) a guy selling brownies at the Saturday market in Arles and I tried one one day and struck up a conversation with him.  I will hand it to him, his brownie was good.  And, as it turns out, he has a friend who is a chef in Asheville, NC who gave him the recipe.  Small world, n'est-ce pas?  He even had little American flags decorating his pushcart.
Hmmm... back to the fantasy.  Now, I wonder, would I open up in Paris or would I head south to Provence?  A little shop on a crowded street, perhaps?  A nice window where I would display all my treats.  A few tables so that customers could sit and enjoy a muffin with a cup of coffee or tea.  I would add lavender lemon butter cookies to the menu, using Provence lavender florets.  Lavender truffles?  Lavender citron pressé for hot days.  For those who don't really care for sweets, I suppose I could offer my caramelized onion and goat cheese tart or tomato tart.  I make a really good onion quiche, too.  Sure, I would attract the homesick Americans who really just want to find someone who speaks their language.  But that would be okay.  I could offer them information in English about the area, maybe help them find interesting things to do and see.  Rick Steves might even mention me in his guide books.  Maybe I would attract a loyal local following, too.  My mission would be to prove to the French that we Americans can hold our own over a hot oven.  Mildred the Mixer would come with me, of course.  The Ex-Ex could be the business man (he is way more practical than me).  We could live in a little, cozy apartment over the bakery because we would want to be able to walk practically everywhere we would need to go.  I would decorate the shop with lovely scenes of North Carolina (it really is the most beautiful state in the whole United States). Of course, the town we would live in would have a train station nearby so that we could take trips. 
A very nice fantasy for a hot June day, non?

These muffins would be good with just about any kind of berry.  The little cherries from my sister's cherry tree would be perfect... I wish I'd brought some home with me!

Berry Muffins
(makes 12)

1-3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large beaten egg
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. cooking oil
1 cup blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, etc.
1 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel, optional

Grease twelve muffin cups or line with paper baking cups.
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Make a well in the center; set aside.
In another bowl, combine egg, milk and oil.
Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture.  Stir just until moistened.  Batter should be lumpy.
Carefully fold in fruit and lemon peel, if desired.
Spoon batter evenly into the muffin cups.  If desired, sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden and a wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean.
Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Remove from muffin cups.
Serve warm.  Garnish with additional fruit, if desired.

Bon appétit, summer berries!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Green stuff

According to today's horoscope, some great opportunity is supposed to jump into my lap today.  It seems that I may be nervous about it, but that I should just leap anyway.  As long as I am not leaping into this icky green pond at Duke Gardens, I am game.  Bring it on!
I noticed that quite a few of my photos lately have green in them.  Some French Guy's sleeping pouch for instance-
The grass at the Durham Bulls' Athletic Park-
The jar of pistou vert from the Arles market  (I ate some on pasta with a little Parmesan sprinkled on top-  trop bon!)--
The muscadine grapevine that my sister Moo has planted in her yard--
The jalapeño peppers I removed from my pizza at Mellow Mushroom-
The tomato growing on my deck-
The choux de Bruxelles for sale at the market in Arles-
The mint icing on the Mad Hatter's Bake Shop cake that high school-age son's girlfriend shared with us--
And, finally, the spinach I used to make Julia Child's Épinards à la Crème.
I finally got up the nerve to dive in and try her recipe.  I love creamed spinach and have searched for the right recipe for a few years.  This one turned out beautifully!

First, the spinach must be blanched:

Épinards blanchis
for 3 cups of blanched, chopped spinach

3 lbs. fresh spinach
A large kettle containing at least 7-8 quarts of rapidly boiling water
1-1/2 tsp. salt per quart of water
A large colander
A stainless steel chopping knife

Wash the spinach thoroughly.  A handful at a time, drop the spinach into the boiling salted water.  Bring back to the boil as rapidly as possible and boil slowly, uncovered, for about 2 minutes.  Test it by eating a piece.
At once, set the colander, curved side down, into the kettle.  Protecting your hands with a towel, hold the colander firmly clamped to the sides of the kettle as you tilt the kettle and pour out the water.  Still with the colander in place, run cold water into the kettle for several minutes to refresh the spinach.  This will preserve it's color and texture.  Remove colander and lift the spinach out of the water into the colander.
A small amount at a time, squeeze the spinach in your hands to extract as much water as possible.
Chop the spinach with a big knife on a chopping board.  The spinach is now ready for further cooking and flavoring.  (This may be done several hours or a day in advance.  Cover and refrigerate for later use.)
Warning from Julia (and it is so true):  Spinach quickly picks up an astringent and metallic taste if its final cooking is in iron or aluminum.  For the following step, use a stainless steel or enameled saucepan and serve the spinach in enamel or porcelain, not silver.

Purée d'épinards simple

2 Tbsp. butter
A heavy bottomed saucepan (enamel or stainless steel)
3 c. blanched spinach, chopped or puréed
Salt and pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

When the butter is bubbling in the saucepan over moderately high heat, stir in the spinach.  Continue stirring for 2-3 minutes until all the moisture from the spinach has boiled off-- the spinach will begin to adhere to the bottom of the pan.  Season to taste and spinach is ready to use.

Épinards à la crème

3 c. cooked chopped spinach
1-1/2 Tbsp. flour, sifted to remove any lumps
1 c. brown stock, canned beef bouillon or whipping cream
Salt and pepper
1-2 Tbsp. softened butter
A hot porcelain serving dish
Optional:  1 or 2 sieved or sliced hard-boiled eggs

After you have stirred the spinach over moderately high heat with butter and seasonings to evaporate its humidity, as directed above, lower heat to moderate.  Sprinkle on the flour and stir for 2 minutes more to cook the flour.
Remove from heat and stir in two thirds of the stock, bouillon or cream by the spoonfuls.  Bring to the simmer, cover and cook very slowly for about 15 minutes.  Stir frequently to prevent spinach from sticking to bottom of pan, and add more liquid by spoonfuls if spinach become too dry.  Correct seasoning.
Remove spinach from heat, fold in the butter and turn into a serving dish.  Decorate with optional egg.
I used the whipping cream and I did not garnish with eggs.  It was delicious.  I made grilled salmon fillets to go with it.
Julia's recipes may look daunting, but she takes you through each step carefully.  I have learned to read the recipe at least twice before starting.

Bon appétit, all things green!