January 2006 archives

Cocoa Nib and Spiced Lamb Sausage Pizza Recipe

On a recent radio interview that I did, the producer wrote immediately afterward that they were inundated with requests for my recipe for Cocoa Nib Sausage, which I use to top my Chocolate Pizza Dough from The Great Book of Chocolate.


I get a lot of quizzical looks from people when they hear the words ‘chocolate’ and ‘pizza’ in the same breath, but adding sugar to chocolate is a relatively new idea in the grand history of the bar. (Most of us remember how our grandmothers only kept unsweetened chocolate in the house.) And there’s many cultures that use chocolate in savory dishes whose origins go back hundreds and in some cases, thousands of years, including Mole. And here in France, it’s not uncommon for many cooks to sneak a bit of grated a chocolate into their Coq au Vin.


Roasted Cocoa Beans Before They’re Broken Into Nibs

Many years ago, I became good friends with Joanne Weir, when we were young cooks starting out and before we knew any better. Now she’s famous with a television career and many terrific books to her name, and we try to see each other when we passes through each other’s town.

My favorite recollection of her is when she came to my house in San Francisco to make pizza. Mostly I remember that there were a lot of empty bottles of Barolo the next day, and a copy of this recipe on my counter that was splattered with garlic oil and a few flecks of parsley. (And my oven was a mess too.) So when I was looking for the perfect topping for my chocolate pizza dough, I adapted her sausage recipe, adding crunchy and unsweetened cocoa nibs which gave it a nice savory crunch, as well as a bit of chocolate flavor.

Cocoa Nib and Spiced Lamb Sausage Pizza

Enough for two 9-inch pizzas, or 1 rectangular baking sheet pizza (approximately 11″ by 17″)

You can use this sausage to top any recipe for your favorite pizza dough if you’d like.

1 recipe for Chocolate Pizza Dough, rolled out onto baking sheets

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • ½ pound ground lamb
  • ½ cup peeled, seeded, and chopped canned plum tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste or harissa
  • ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • large pinch (each) cinnamon, allspice and cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoons red pepper or chili flakes
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup roasted cocoa nibs
  • 4 ounces fontina cheese, grated
  • 2 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated

1. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons olive oil and the minced garlic. Set aside.

2. Heat remaining olive oil in a skillet and cook the onions until soft and translucent. Add the lamb, tomatoes, tomato paste (or harissa), parsley, pine nuts, spices, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook slowly for 10 minutes (uncovered).

3. Remove from heat and add a squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice and let cool to room temperature.

4. Once cooled, stir in the cocoa nibs.

To make the pizzas: Brush top of pizza dough with garlic-infused olive oil. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the dough then spread the sausage over the cheeses. Finally top with the remaining cheese and bake the pizza in a very hot oven until the cheese is bubbling and deep-golden brown.

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Sui Mai: Chinese dumpling recipe

Sometimes I find food shopping in Paris like trying to catch a feather: the harder and more urgent you reach for something, the harder it seems to grasp.

And with the recent tanker spill of 800,000 pounds of cocoa beans, it seems like chocolate’s going to be in short supply, so I’d better find another medium to work with. So how about pork?


So off I went to Tang Freres in Paris and found everything I needed for the Chinese dumplings known as Sui Mai. I found just about everything…except for The Most Common of All Of All Asian Ingredients Known To Mankind: cilantro, or coriandre.

Not a bunch in the bin, and I (along with 15 or so Chinese dames) mulled around in a daze, unbelievable that the largest Asian market in one of the largest cities in the world could possibly be out of cilantro. *sigh*

Few people know this but I’m a pretty decent Chinese cook. I owe that to Bruce Cost, who’s the best and most gifted chef I’ve ever worked with. Dressed in khakis and a slightly-rumpled Oxford shirt, he’d hulk over the giant wok.

His hands would drop some raw vegetables and chiles into the wok. Then casually he’d add some shrimp or strips of beef. It would sizzle and he’d stir. He’d add a few more things; maybe some strange, unknown vegetables, some sauce, and perhaps some rock sugar or vinegar Then he’d crank the heat to ultra-high, the flames would blaze up around the wok, and in spite of the drama of the roaring fire and the wok, he would just stand there, calmly stirring.
Then he’d simply slide the food on a plate and we’d all be dazzled.

Making the authentic food from many cuisines isn’t all the difficult (unless you’re making Chinese food and can’t find cilantro…) It just requires you to have on hand a few essentials. Few cities I know of lack a Chinese grocer (and most do have huge bunches of cilantro), and in my experience, most well-stocked supermarkets have a decent selection of Asian products (unless you live in…oh, never mind…)

Some notes on a few Chinese ingredients:

  • Sesame Oil
    The best sesame oil is made only from roasted sesame seeds and nothing else. Check the ingredients, as some brands mix sesame oil with vegetable oil.

  • Fish Sauce
    It smells vile, but tastes remarkable when mixed as a sauce or seasoning. I use the Squid Brand fish sauce from Thailand. In spite of the menacing-looking cephalopoda on the label, fish sauce is made from salted and fermented anchovies.

  • Fresh Ginger
    Fresh ginger should always be rock-hard with no signs of mold or soft spots. You can peel ginger with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, but scraping it with a soup spoon works well to get around the nooks-and-crannies.

  • Water Chestnuts
    Fresh chestnuts are quite expensive in Paris, where they’re called chataigne d’eau. The only ones available were cryovac’d. When I got home, I tasted a few and they were so fermented that I had to toss them out. Luckily I bought some canned ones for insurance (proof that as you get older you get smarter), and used those. But the fresh are much better, and they’re easily available and inexpensive in Asian markets in the United States. If using canned water chestnuts, double the amount called for.

  • Shrimp
    Fresh shrimp is expensive and I’ve found that good-quality peeled raw shrimp is fine to use for dumplings.


Sui Mai
About 60 Dumplings
Adapted from the repertoire of Bruce Cost

This is a lot of pork to chop.
Yes, it took me about an hour and it’s quite a good workout, but I didn’t feel the need to go to yoga today…although chopping all that meat may be
bad karma
, so perhaps I should go tomorrow for redemption. (Can you ‘bank’ karma?)

But the dumplings have a much better texture if you han-chop the pork and shrimp, although you could use a food processor, or buy pre-ground pork.

  • 2½ pounds (1 kilo) pork shoulder (palette de porc)
  • 1 pound (450 gr) shelled raw shrimp
  • 1 bunch scallions, well-chopped (use as much of the green part that's edible)
  • ½ bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoon salt
  • 2½ tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ tablespoons roasted sesame oil
  • 6 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely-minced fresh ginger (peel before chopping)
  • Round won ton wrappers (or square ones...if the largest Asian market in your city doesn't carry round ones)

1. Using a large kitchen cleaver, cut the pork into slices, then finely chop all the pork up. Put into a bowl.

2. Chop up the shrimp into small pieces and add to the bowl.

3. Use your hands to mix in the scallions, cilantro, fish sauce, salt, corn starch, egg, sesame oil, water chestnuts, and fresh ginger.

Yummy looking? Well, not yet…

4. Form the meat mixture into balls about 1-inch (3 cm) and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Ok, much better…

5. Take a won ton wrapper and place a meatball in the center. Gather the edges up and press the wrapper against the meat making a little cylinder.

Repeat with remaining meatballs.

6. To steam the dumplings, line a bamboo steamer with banana leaves and oil them lightly. Turn on the heat, and once the steamer is hot, steam the dumplings until hot all the way through, which will take about 5 minutes. (You can also use a steamer basket lined with cheesecloth, or lightly oiled.)

If you wish, the meatballs sans the won-ton wrappers can be gently dropped into simmering water and cooked for about 5 minutes, until cooked through, then served with the dipping sauce, or floating in soup.

Once steamed and cooled, the dumplings can be frozen in freezer-bags.

Dipping sauce

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger (peeled)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons white Chinese vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon white pepper
3-4 teaspoons roasted sesame oil
1-2 teaspoons chili oil

Mix all the ingredients together. Serve with the hot, steamed dumplings.

The Soon-To-Be-Extinct Meme

Kevin at Seriously Good tagged me with this, The 2006 Food Challenge of This Year I Dare! You’re supposed to talk about things you’re going to do different in the kitchen this year.
Here’s a few…

Garbage Bags
I’m only going to buy premium, top-quality garbage bags this year. No more el-cheapo, whisper-thin bags that you could read Le Monde through.
I generate mounds of fruit peelings, coffee grounds, egg shells, and all sorts of other icky stuff that doesn’t exactly get any better if it sits around for a few days or so. The last thing I want on my trip to the garbage room in my building is another accident in the elevator. Trust me. Having your garbage spill in an enclosed space crammed full of your fancy Parisian neighbors, where your every single move is scrutized, really sucks.
Like cheap toilet paper, that’s not one of the places you want to skimp on quality.

I’m going to master le Madeleine. And I promise not to mention ‘Proust’ in the same paragraph as the word ‘madeleine’…ever.


Yes, we all know he wrote extensively about eating one. But was he kind enough to include a recipe?

What a jerk.

Vanilla Extract
I made the sorry error of buying cheap vanilla extract when I was in the US. Pure vanilla extract made from vanilla beans and alcohol is unavailable here. (Yes I do know, I’ve searched exhaustively. Please don’t leave comments that I don’t know where to look. The American-stores don’t count; I’m not paying those prices for tiny bottles of vanilla, the way I go through it. Read the ingredients. They all contain sugar, or no alcohol, and area labeled arôme, which ain’t pure extract.)

I was mesmorized by everything that’s available at Trader Joe’s on a recent visit to San Francisco.
People brag to me all the time, “I buy vanilla extract at Trader Joe’s! It’s so cheap! It’s only $4.99 per bottle! What a bargain!”, they go on and on and on and on…


So I arrive back in Paris, twist off the top, and take a sniff. Phew!, this stuff smells like pure alcohol with maybe the idea of vanilla somewhere vaguely in the background.
Trader Joe’s has a lot of very good things, but their vanilla isn’t one of them. Nor is it a bargain. Cheap food that doesn’t taste good is no bargain.
And you may quote me on that. Or have it tatooed on your chest.
Or wherever you want.


Then I checked at Vanillaqueen.com and their Bourbon vanilla is the same price when you buy a quart. And believe me, it’s amazing. And a quart lasts me about a month. Especially when I’m making all these madeleines.

(Yes, there is shipping, but since if you live somewhere that you don’t get charged 10.21€ for calling customer service, you can afford to spring for it…)

I promised not to tag anyone for a meme anymore. It’s like getting a chain letter. You feel guilty for not answering it, and you feel like an idiot if you do. So I’m not going to tag anyone.

Ok…on second thought, I’m going to tag Michele and Cindy, just to be a brat.

Is that bad?

Holy Merde!

When my internet service went down a few months ago, I telephoned the company to arrange an appointment for the repair. After three long weeks, service was restored.

Then this came with my phone bill:


In France you get charged to speak to someone in ‘customer service’, at 35 centimes per minute.
Let’s say you’re on hold for 30 minutes. You get a bill for 10.21€, about $12.50.

So next time, I should…

Ode To a Powerball


    Ode To A Powerball™

    By David Lebovitz

    I think that I shall never see,
    A Powerball™ as lovely as ici.

    The rosy ball ensures success
    Against my dishes, which entered a mess.

    Inside the dishwasher, so full it is scary,
    But I just press the button! Could I be more merry?

    A sudsy froth, I’m sure it will yield,
    Behind the closed door, its fate has been sealed.

    An unequaled tablet, whose gift is released,
    Round and round goes each cycle, until all has ceased.

    Without it I know that my life would be worse,
    Washing dishes by hand is indeed quite a curse.

    A mess is made daily by fools just like me,
    So I give thanks to Calgon, for they make what you see.

    (…with apologies to Joyce Kilmer, 1886-1918)


To see something very sad, click here.

Yes. It finally happened.

(As seen in The Food Section)

Weekend Epiphany

I had an Epiphany this weekend…

140, rue de Belleville
M: Jourdain


Today was the final day of the exhibition simply titled Dada at the Centre Pompidou. Paris is a city that doesn’t really embrace modern art. I mean, when your history is thousands of years old, the last 100 years are nothing but a ripple.
But the Pompidou Center proudly holds it’s place in the center of the spiral of Paris, the famous inside-out building which caused such a ruckus during the groundbreaking that women from Parisian society were reported to have thrown themselves in front of the bulldozers in protest.

Although it’s not a far walk from anywhere no matter where you are in Paris, I rarely go to the Pompidou since the lines always seem formidable. But today something in me prompted me to brave the lengthy queue which (as you can perhaps surmise) began a bit too early for me this morning…


I had an unconventional and artistic upbringing.
My mother was a weaver and a spinner. She went to art school with Andy Warhol and Barbara Feldon (best known for her role as Agent 99 on the television series Get Smart.) However, much to my star-struck chagrin, my mother never kept in touch with either. But she was really something. Even in our trappings of upper middle-class suburbia, I would stare wide-eyed as my mother would load up the Mercedes, don her Frye boots, toss her Louis Vuitton handbag in the passenger seat, and speed up to Vermont to spend the weekend on a farm with bearded hippies and shearing sheep with them, afterwards dying and weaving the soft, oily wool into beautiful fabrics.
She’d sometimes bring big, fluffy sacks of wool home and we’d sit on the front porch in the heat of summer (her wearing just a bra and shorts, drinking Miller beer from the bottle), scraping the wool between two wire-bristled brushes to remove any impurities (ie: thistles and sheep poop). Our hands were always dewy soft and fragrant from the lanolin and the lush softness lasted for days and days.

Luckily for me, I was exposed to a lot of art and creative expression, as well as a certain amount of kookiness during my life. How I ended up living in a little rooftop apartment in Paris, writing about baking cookies and cakes for a living is beyond me. I guess I wasn’t destined to work at IBM or perform brain surgery, although I know deep-down that having a son who was a doctor would have made her very, very happy and kept her in far more Emilio Pucci than she could have imagined.

At the Pompidou, the show was astounding and really knocked me for a loop. It led me to think and reflect about so many things while I wandered through the galleries, transfixed by films of illuminated squares and rectangles, and floating mobiles made simply of wooden hangars, the creator managing to find beauty and simplicity in everyday objects we normally take for granted.

Dadaism was a movement, or counter-movement, against the art “establishment”. It’s similar to how the blog was, or is, a reaction against the established ‘media’, where a free-flow of ideas isn’t restricted by economics or politics. It’s where anyone can say and do whatever they please. The other parallel is that Dada was a reaction to the coming technological age and they were rebelling at values they felt were destructive to society and humanity.

There are many political blogs that confront many of the problems in media and politics that traditional sources of information often avoid.
Unfortunately, I don’t read many of them. But I get a fair amount of other vital information from some of the others. For example, I am still trying to find deeper meaning in the break-up of Nick and Jessica. Or when Katie’s gonna pop and Tom and her are actually going to get married.

At the beginning of the Dada movement, many of the artists refused to sign their works. They felt that art should not be about the artist, but about the art itself and the message. Indeed many of the works were collaborations, much like some of the fine collaborative web sites that have sprung up that aren’t about the writer or the originator of the site, but about creating a discussion board and medium for a free-flow of ideas.

As I wandered through the exhibition, I noticed that many of the French artists, such as Duchamp and Picabia, were the most playful of the bunch and would use a urinal, a comb, or combine scraps of newspaper and typography into works of art. Artists from more disciplined cultures, like Switzerland and Germany, were more apt to play with industrial or mechanical themes. And American artists like Man Ray (who lived in Paris) used everyday objects like eyeglasses and cheese graters to make his ‘rayographs’ on photographic paper, combining both the industrial with the ordinary. He saw both in an entirely new way.

In their short time, the Dadaists knocked the establishment on its ear and I left the exhibition both stunned by their message and the magnitude of what they had accomplished. They were rebelling against everything people thought about art and the bourgeois values of their time. And now, even though their art is on display in a museum, valued at millions, it’s still able to convey anger and a contempt for the stratification of the world of art and the greater society.

It’s hard for us today to think that a major scandal could be caused by mounting a bicycle wheel on a stool and calling it ‘art’, or that a urinal simply signed by the artist would still cause rage in 2006. But it does. A man attacked the work of art with a hammer last week. He was the same one who attacked the work about 12 years ago. The piece, unfortunately, is no longer on display.

Once back home, I got to thinking more about why we do what we do. For example, here I use this website to communicate with readers impressions of my life in Paris and sometimes beyond. Wherever I travel and find something to savor and eat, I share it. It’s fun, and I enjoy getting feedback from those of you who choose to leave comments. Some of you comment frequently, and others will pop me a message once in a while. And I read them all with great curiosity and interest.

I enjoy the spirited camaraderie of other people I’ve met who have blogs. I’ve had the good fortune to devour Pierre Herm&eacute’s desserts and tipple a glass of cool Sancerre with a few here in Paris. I got to star in a video, roaming the city streets in pursuit of fine chocolate with a very nice Jewish boy from New York (who, alas, is not a doctor either…sorry mom.) And I’ve swapped chocolate tips while oogling the most luscious photographs from fellow expats in Germany.
I’ve learned about well-aged, syrupy balsamic vinegar by lapping it up with fragrant wild strawberries in Florence. I tasted waffles and ice cream for breakfast along with bottomless cups of good ol’ American coffee in Chicago. And I had a fireside lesson in the art of making confit de canard in Gascony, fueled by a glass, or two, of fine, locally-produced Armagnac.

On the internet there’s few boundries. Want to write about gluten-free pizza? Go ahead! Did you find a magnificent ham at the market that you just had to photograph? Shoot it, and let’s take a look. Was dinner last night amazing? Show us. Had a culinary catastrophe that’s too funny to keep to yourself? Share the joke.

The internet allows us to keep in touch, bound by our love of good food, often accented by our appreciation of other cultures. You may be tethered to your desk at work or stuck in your apartment, but you can take a break and learn about a luscious sweet confection in Lyon, be intrigued enough to try a new recipe for Guacamole, drool as steaming noodles get ladled into bowls at an exotic outdoor market in Vietnam, and explore the vivid spices piled high in the markets of India and Africa.

I just don’t want to get wacked by any hammers along the way.

The exhibition will be at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC from February 19th-May 14th, 2006. And at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from June 16-September 11th, 2006. Don’t miss it.

(Oh, and by the way, thanks mom…wherever you are…)