Caramelized Pineapple

Caramelized Pineapple

One fruit that’s always in season is pineapple, and the spiky beauties really help to brighten up winter, especially when you’ve had your fill of apples and pears. I like eating fresh pineapple after a meal because not only is it refreshing, but it has a pleasant acidity that tends to make me feel good about eating it. Although not local (we wish! because that would mean a tropical beach nearby…), pineapples are always available at the markets in Paris. You can get regular pineapples, sometimes called “Red Spanish” or “Cayenne” pineapples in the world of pineapples (although I think that second variety might give spice-averse locals pause), and there are also slender, smaller Victoria pineapples, that are much sweeter, although yield less edible flesh. (In the United States, there are Tahitian pineapples, which have similar characteristics.

I was reading Baking Chez Moi, Dorie Greenspan’s comprehensive, and deliciously readable book, about French home baking, and she notes that Parisians don’t bake the way Americans do. Americans bake to relax or as a hobby – in France, it’s something you do because, well…you need a dessert. They don’t make a big fuss about it or are all that concerned about appearances. I think people know they can’t compete with the professional pastry shop on the corner, so they’re just content to make what they feel will be fine for their guests. And in my experience, French people are always appreciative of homemade desserts, since so many people do go to the corner pâtisserie.

Bonne maman orange marmalade

No one expects to go to a dinner party and find a spectacular cake for dessert, unless it was picked up at the local pastry shop. And there’s certainly no shame in that. People often ask me about how Parisians make macarons or baguettes or croissants, and I answer that no one makes those in Paris since you can buy them, good-quality ones, almost anywhere. Like charcuterie, they leave it up to the experts. French home bakers also tend to rely on reliable, tried-and-true desserts, always having a few in their repertoire, often passed down from their mothers – or in the case of chocolate mousse, the most famous recipe in France is on the back of the Nestlé chocolate baking bar package, sold in le supermarché.

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Pistachio Aillade

aillade with pork chop recipe

When I lived in San Francisco, we used to joke (lovingly) that whenever we went to Zuni Café, that there would be at least three things on the menu that you had to ask the server what they were. On the other hand, I think if you asked ten people in Paris what aillade is, ten out of ten wouldn’t know either. Unless they were from the Languedoc, where aillade is from.

Pistachio Aillade

I had made plans to cook up a simple pot of beans when I noticed a few knobby jarrets de porc demi-sel, salted-cured pork knuckles, at the charcuterie stand at the market, so I picked up a trio to make pork and beans. I’ll get to that recipe in a few days or so, but for now, I want to share this lovely aillade before another minute passes, which has a distinctive nuttiness of pistachios with a persuasive hit of garlic, suspended in a generous pool of good olive oil.

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Cornbread with Harissa Butter

Cornbread recipe with harissa butter

One of my friends who also has a food blog told me that she likes the posts where I cobble together ingredients in Paris to make something American. After spending countless hours roaming the city in search of this and that, it’s something that is actually fun for me to do, too. I like nothing better than prowling around and discovering ethnic épiceries (often around Belleville and the Marché d’Aligre), where I always come home with a variety of curiosities, in addition to what I was originally looking for. Some are still in the back of my cabinets, like still-sealed coconut concentrate from Vietnam (which looks similar to molasses, and probably tastes amazing), and the bag of Fritos, which an American friend who was staying in my apartment spied, and threatened to open – and eat. But didn’t

Four years later – yup, the coconut concentrate is still in my baking cabinet, and the Fritos are still uneaten, along with a bag mahlab, the fragrant kernels of Mediterranean cherry pits, a dried-out stalk of candied angelica, which I had to buy since I searched far and wide for fresh angelica in France (even in the region where candied angelica is made) and no one knew where – or what – fresh angelica was (thus ending my ability to spin a story, and a recipe, out of that one). I have a tin sack of سبع بهارات, a Lebanese blend of seven spices that has no occidental equivalent that I can think of. There is a small box of handmade chocolate from Oaxaca that has been calling my name ever since the start of hot chocolate season. And just added to my roster are six juicy, plump Meyer lemons that were hand-delivered, and are begging to be made into something that exploits their unique, sweet-citrusy character.

bacon

While I love to play around with these things in baking, it’s hard to share any recipes because not everything is available everywhere. And while the internet fills a lot of gaps in global availability, there are no substitutes for a number of things. Fortunately cornmeal is something that is readily available not just in America, but is used in the cuisines of India, Sri Lanka, and Italy, as well as Central and South America. And a few months back, I was happy to find a bag of cornmeal in a shop VT Cash & Carry, up in the lively Indian quartier of Paris.

The French have a different relationship to corn than Americans. It’s native to us so we use it often, in a variety of guises – mostly fresh, but also dried and ground. But other cultures have cornmeal-based specialties. Lest you think the French don’t ever use cornmeal, think again, mes amis.

Cornbread recipe

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Holiday Gift Guide for 2014

Hey — it’s December, and the holidays are once again upon us. While I used to reflect on all the cookbooks that crossed my desk, and kitchen counter, over the past year, I’ve lost track of what I’ve made from which book, and when. (One year I got wise, and started the list on January 1st, and continued adding to it as I went. And come December, it was all set to go.) Well, I’m not so organized anymore, a combination of not enough time, doing a number of other things, and bobbing up and down in the flow of life happening around me. So I decided to feature some things that really caught my interest this year – a kitchen tool that I found particularly useful, my favorite travel accessory, a book that may change my life (hope springs eternal…), and a few edibles.


Zoku ice cream maker

Zoku Single-Serve Ice Cream Maker

If you have friends or family who want to churn up just one batch of ice cream, all for themselves, the Zoku Ice Cream Maker Bowl promises to “churn” up a single serving of ice cream in just 10 minutes. This pint-sized gift (actually, it makes 6 ounces), can be used to “churn” up ice cream, sorbet, sherbet, or gelato whenever the needs arises. Another gift for them? They won’t have to share.


getdynamicimage

Tempur-pedic Sleep Mask

Know a light sleeper? (In addition to me…) Get them a Tempur-pedic sleep mask. I’ve lost sleep counting the number of eye masks I’ve tried that suck. Most let in light, which is the reason you buy an eye mask in the first place – or are uncomfortable to wear. This one blocks out 100% of light and after wearing it for a few minutes, the memory foam conforms to your face and it feels like you’re wearing nothing. I take mine everywhere I go when I want to block out light and get a good night’s sleep, such as when staying at hotels (what’s with all those appliance power lights that illuminate the room when you’re trying to sleep?) or on airplanes. Or even just at my place, during the months when the sun wakes up before I want to). This is my favorite travel object and I don’t go anywhere without mine. (I actually have two, because I am terrified that I’m going to lose one.) A great gift for any traveler.


marie kondo life changing magic of tidying up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

One day, a little packet arrived in my mailbox. My publisher had sent me a copy of this book with a note tucked inside the cover, saying that it created a sensation in their office, so they wanted me to have a copy. Thumbing through The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I could see why they found it so inspirational. (And with over 2 million copies sold, we’re apparently not the only ones.) Just after I started reading it, I spent a few days going through all of my clothes and shoes, and cleared out half of the drawers in my bedroom, seeing something called “empty space” for the first time in years. It was, indeed, life-changing. And kind of “magic” that I got off my duff and did it.

Next up? Getting around to the rest of Marie Kondo’s suggestions. This pocket-sized book is great motivation not just for cleaning out closets, but for making space in your life, and moving forward on a number of things. It was a great gift to me, and worth passing along to friends as well.


chocolates gift

Nunu Chocolate, Woodblock Chocolate, and Dandelion Chocolates

Who doesn’t love chocolate? In the last decade or so, there’s been an explosion of wonderful chocolate makers and chocolatiers in America. As someone described it to me, it’s a true American revolution. A few favorites that have been part of the revolution are Dandelion Chocolates and Nunu Chocolates, both owned by people who I first met in Paris – of all places.

Dandelion changes their bars depending on whatever beans they can get their hands on, and they’re roasted and ground in their tiny factory in San Francisco. They offer a wrapped gift set, which are three bars and a letterpress tasting guide, as well as sets of three bars. Due to high demand, availability may be limited. (Disclosure: I am a small shareholder in the company.) The folks at Nunu chocolates offer various chocolate assortments, including a Beer Box, blended with craft beers in Brooklyn, the Booze Box with mezcal, rye, and absinthe, as well as a Caramel Blend, melded with various nuts and salt. Bonus: Both companies will deliver gifts for you.

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Les Sources de Caudalie

les Sources de Caudalie

I went to les Sources de Caudalie over a decade ago with the intention of bringing a group of guests there. While it was, indeed, a lovely place, it wasn’t really near anything, so folks wouldn’t be able to go out explore on their own unless they had a car. However, it is smack-dab in the middle of Bordeaux wine country, on the Château Smith Haut Lafitte estate, which is an 143 second walk from the hotel and spa. So maybe I didn’t make the right decision after all. I mean – a winery, a spa, and three very good restaurants? — why go anywhere else?

les Sources de Caudalie

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Cranberry Raisin Pie

Cranberry Raisin Pie recipe

At first, I thought that I was a little late to the party, posting a cranberry recipe after Thanksgiving had passed. Then I realized that now may be the actual best time to post a cranberry recipe since after Thanksgiving there is usually a glut of cranberries on the market, and prices drop after the Thanksgiving. Well, at least in America.

Cranberry Raisin Pie

I was fortunate because although you can find fresh cranberries in Paris around Thanksgiving (for les Américains, and with a little searching), they’re very costly. And even after the fête, they don’t discount them since the sellers don’t quite realize that the stress of having to find fresh cranberries is not longer an issue once Thanksgiving has passed. And most of us tend to forget about them. However I love cranberries and hoard them whenever I find them at a reasonable price.

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Salty, Deep-Dark Chocolate Brownies

Deep Dark Salted Chocolate Brownie Recipe-14

When I was in Brooklyn a few months back doing a booksigning with the lovely folks from The Brooklyn Kitchen, a friendly woman came up to me bearing a box of treats from her bakery. I don’t like to eat in front of people, because, frankly, no one wants to meet up with an author while he is shoving pastries in his mouth. And in this day and age of people wanting pictures, I’ve learned that absolutely no one looks good when they’ve got a mouth full of food. And I have a hunch that there are a bunch of photos tagged with my name on them, around the internet, that will prove that.

Salty, Deep-Dark Chocolate Brownies

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How to Line a Baking Pan with Aluminum Foil

Salty, Deep-Dark Chocolate Brownies

One of the best ways to ensure that baked goods will come out of a pan, especially sweet treats that tend to have sticky edges, it to line a baking pan with aluminum foil. Bar cookies and brownies are very good candidates for baking in foil-lined pans. I recommend using the heaviest aluminum foil you can find as the flimsy stuff tears easily. Here’s how I do it:

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