September 2006 archives

Pierre Marcolini’s Chocolate-Covered Marshmallows

The hardest of all foods to photograph, I’ve learned, are chocolate-covered marshmallows.

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The bright, fluffy, vanilla-flecked cubes of sweet, airy marshmallow in contrast to the thin, intensely-flavored coating of bittersweet chocolate certainly presents a challenge.

I futzed around a bit, trying to figure out how to show the lofty-white cubes in juxtaposition to the coating of pure, dark chocolate. They’re such diverse colors and textures that I tried several variations and lighting situations, until I decided that they’d looked best with a piece broked off.

So I took a bite out of one.

Then I took another bite.

And then, I stopped shooting…

…and ate the whole pack.

Sorry.

Pierre Marcolini
89 Rue de Seine
Paris
Tél: 01 44 07 39 07


French Chocolate Indulgence On Rue Tatin

I’ll soon be joining my friend Susan Loomis in her spectacular kitchen in Normandy, one hour from Paris, for a series of cooking classes November 5th-8th, from her home, On Rue Tatin

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We’ll learn cooking tips and techniques from Susan in our hands-on classes and I’ll be leading seminars focusing on all aspects of chocolate during special tastings and hands-on demonstrations: you’ll learn everything from candymaking to making breakfast treats, and other ways to bake with chocolate in every way imaginable!

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Susan is the author of On Rue Tatin, which chronicled her life moving to a village in France, restoring an ancient convent to become her cozy family home. Her other books include The French Farmhouse Cookbook (one of my French cooking bibles), and her latest, Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin.

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You’ll learn the secrets and techniques of French country cooking in Susan’s stunning, professionally-equipped kitchen. Afterwards, we’ll gather to dine by the fireplace with wines chosen from Susan’s antique cave, and have a chance to savor a selection of Normandy cheeses, considered the finest in the world.

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One evening our special guest will be Hervé Lestage, of Feuille de Vigne in Honfleur, who will lead us through a wine tasting, teaching you a new way to taste wine. My first tasting with Hervé changed everything I knew or thought about wine. Hervé is one of the most intriguing people I’ve met in France and we’ll taste amazing wines from his cave which he’ll specially select just for us.

As a grand finale to this culinary adventure, you’ll have the option to spend a day and me and Susan exploring the gastronomic delights of Paris. We’ll begin at an outdoor market, where you’ll find an outstanding selection of Provencal olives, hearth-baked breads, artisan salt, raw-milk cheeses, luscious fruits, and sparkling-fresh seafood.
We’ll dine in one of our most beloved Parisian bistros…but be sure to save room for all the chocolates we’ll sample when we visit my favorite chocolate shops, bakeries and pastry shops in Paris afterwards!

Special Note: For this extra day on November 8th, we’ve made available 3 spaces available for people who aren’t on our tour to join us, so if you live in Paris, or plan to be visiting then, you’re welcome to come along! The price for the full-day gastronomic adventure, including lunch with wine, is just 225€. Contact me to reserve a space, using the email link on left.

You can read more about this Three-Day Chocolate Indulgence and at Susan’s site, On Rue Tatin.


The Final Cut

I’m in the midst of the insanity that every cookbook, author dreads: reviewing the copyedited manuscript of my upcoming book. Writing a cookbook, especially one that needs to be precise like a baking book, is really a task. I started working on this book well over a year ago and it grew and grew to hundreds of recipes before I reined myself it. I just got so excited and I couldn’t stop.

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So this week I’ve locked myself in my apartment, taken the phone off the hook, and quit drinking wine. (Well, two outta three ain’t bad.) One of the hardest parts was getting it actually delivered to me in the first place. It was sent overnight via Fed Ex.

Normally that means ‘overnight’.

In France, it means ‘soon’.

So I patiently waited and waited, until it eventually showed up.

Being a tad insane, but globally conscience, I’ve decided to write the recipes in both cups-and-tablespoons as well as in metrics, which was like writing two books at the same time. So for all you people who complain about American cookbooks not being in metrics, or by weight, if you don’t buy this book, I going to come over, tie you up, and leave an endless loop video of back-to-back episodes of Rachael Ray shows on your television and force you to watch them over and over and over and over and…

So I’ve been working with my editor on-and-off for the past few months and it’s finally down to the wire. I’ve never worked with her before but she’s great and has worked with some of the best cookbook authors out there. We seem to agree on most things, and unlike most author/editor relationships, she listens to me and I listen to her. Rather strange I know, but so far so good and everything has been going along fine.

Well, that was until the frantic 67 emails I sent her yesterday.
(Since then, I haven’t heard anything.)

In these final stages of writing a cookbook, both the editor and a copy editor goes over the book with a fine-toothed comb, looking for errors and making sure things jibe. (I should’ve hired some of my readers, come to think of it.) This is the stage that I generally refer to as ‘hell’. You pore over each and every word and scan every recipe, jumping up to remeasure something in the kitchen, scrolling through the manuscript countless times making sure things are consistent, eat chocolate-coverd marshmallows from Pierre Marcolini, email all your old friends from college that you haven’t seen in twenty-five years that you’ve been meaning to write to but haven’t, checking to see if anyone’s commented on your blog, and finding silly projects around the house to avoid the inevidable final edit on the manuscript…all in a concerted effort to procrastinate further.

But at least I finally got around to digging out an old toothbrush and cleaning all the grimy stuff that’s collected around the buttons on my kitchen scale. I feel much better now.

Ok, so back editing.
Editors help rein-in authors like me, that sometimes have a tendancy to get inspiration from the most unusual places. Beauty pageants, childhood traumas, and naked men hurling coconuts on the sidewalk all made it’s way into this book. As you can imagine, I really have a dislike for boring, dull headnotes, those comments authors make at the beginning of recipes to introduce them.

There’s nothing worse than a headnote that reads like….”These cookies go well with tea in the afternoozzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Who has tea in the afternoon? I think I have, like, maybe once. And I was probably in bed with the flu. I usually eat cookies while waiting for my coffee to brew first thing in the morning. Or I leave cakes on the counter and hack away at them all day with a knife. Or rip pieces off with my hands and lick the icing off with my fingers.
With tea in the afternoon? I am so sure.

And it’s hard writing a single-subject book as I’m doing, without using some of the same words again. For example, everything I put in my books are my favorite recipes. How many times am I allowed to say, “This is one of my favorite recipe for….”?
As mentioned, I generally reach into the deep, dark recesses of my mind to grasp something to write about that’s curious and funny. But sometimes other people think they’re odd or weird.

For example, in a recipe for something with bananas, there was a note from my editor…

“Replace this headnote….Too many bugs, not enough yum.”

Frankly I’m so bleary from editing that last night I wrapped up a roast chicken carcass, which I ate like a crazed savage, to bring down to the trash room before racing out the door to meet Joy (who does not, by the way, have a potty-mouth in real life) for a late night rendez-vous over a bottle of wine in the Bastille. But when I woke up this morning, I realized I forgot to take the wrapped carcass downstairs and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I’ve looked everywhere; the refrigerator, the freezer, in kitchen cabinets, my clothes closet, in the bathroom and the shower. I know I will find it someday. I just hope I do before it ends up looking like one of my fruitcakes.

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As I was racing to meet up, I learned something that I thought I’d share before I get back to work: No matter how pressed you are for time, don’t try to iron a shirt while you’re still wearing it.

Although on second thought, perhaps that will make an interesting headnote…

Better get back to work.

La Brocante

In my previous post, a reader commented on the picture of a restaurant that I used, which obviously wasn’t the restaurant that I visited (which would be both cool, but very Twilight Zone.) Still, you can’t argue with a depiction of a restaurant where every table has a bottle of red wine on it and the parents are blowing cigarette smoke in their kids faces. The picture is called a carte scolaire and they’re used in French classrooms to teach les enfants about life in France. The red wine I guess is there to get ‘em started early and the kids seem oblivious to their parents puffing away.

How could I resist.

When I was on vacation in August, the weather was decidedly not too fabulous. You know that expression, “Everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it.”…well, we all complained about the heat wave, so something was done about it–August was cold and wet. And to top it off, I was on vacation along with the rest of Paris. So what do you do when the weather stinks and you’re out in the countryside?

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You visit the flea markets.
There’s lots of brocantes in France, but the best bargains are when you find a vide grenier, which literally means ‘empty attic’, and that’s what people do. While they hold them in Paris, the ones in the distant countryside, far from the scavenging Parisian antiquaires, are where you can get some good finds.

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I like the pick through boxes of things, since they can yield unexpected treasures like old gratin dishes and terrines, but unfortunately, I’ve yet to come across any old Charo or Barry Manilow records. Have these people no taste?

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Fotunately there are reassuring signs of the invasion of American pop culture, and this home-version of The Price Is Right caught my eye, but I eventually passed since “David Lebovitz…Come on down!” somehow sounds more fun than “Allez-y, Monsieur Lebovitz!”

Les brocanteurs (and brocanteuses?) here drive a very hard bargain and it’s tough negotiating…especially when they get a whiff of my American accent. So I try to be discreet and just hold up an object nonchalantly, trying not to smile. My rack of gleaming-white American teeth and upbeat enthusiasm are always a dead give-away. Sometimes I try to get my French dude to ask the price, but he always winds up talking to the seller for 20 minutes, and I just want to cut my losses and run, thinking I’m missing out on the elusive Saarinen table basse at the next stand that I’ve been searching for, or some really cool antique chocolate molds that I’ll buy in anticipation of using, but which will eventually get rusty sitting on the shelf, and I’ll eventually sell myself at a future vide grenier.

Curiously if you decide you don’t want something, each and every time you put it back down, the vendor will respond 100% of the time with, “C’est pas cher!”, or “It’s not expensive!” For some reason, it’s difficult for them to fathom the connection between the fact you’re not buying it with the fact that, yes, it is indeed trop cher.

Whenever I vacation in Brittany, I always end up eating way too many buckwheat galettes and crêpes, drinking too many bowls of cider, and eating way, way too many of those buttery Breton pastries (which I plan a round-up of in the near future.) Luckily there was only one sunny day that I had to don the ‘ol Speed-o (thank God…) for a dip in the Atlantic, but I did find a diet book to help me shed those unwanted kilos.

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Aside from all the plastic children’s toys (a hazard of any vide grenier or tag sale), the most appealing things I found were these cartes scolaires, with depictions of of everyday scenarios in French life…

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Here you can see the salt marshes where fleur de sel is harvested from the nearby Guérande…

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.

..while this one shows the cooking tools used in the French kitchen…
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…and if you need to know what a beauty salon is like…
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…or a public pool.

You can find a comprehesive list of all brocantes across France in the monthly magazine Aladin, available at well-stocked newstands across France. The best way to find out when vide greniersand braderies are is to ask the locals or check for signs, which tend to get plastered everywhere about a week before.
And If you see a Knoll coffee table, or say, a Barry Manilow record, would you mind leaving them for me?

Especially if they’re “pas trop cher”.

Le Severo

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There’s lots of good food in Paris, but sometimes you have to travel to the outer neighborhoods to find the gems. And while the 14th arrondissement isn’t all that far, it’s worth the trek for the excellent meal at Le Severo with some other friends at a little petit coin of a restaurant, a schlep from wherever you are in Paris. There’s only 10 or so simple tables and a lone cook in the open kitchen who presides over the dining room. An old zinc bar acts as a catch-all for bottles of water, wine carafes, and a big container of fleur de sel…which was a good omen.

One entire wall of Le Severo is a chalk-written wine list and menu. Notice I said ‘wine list’ first. That’s because three-and-a half lengthy columns are up there, listing all sorts of wine, heavy on the reds. Somewhere in the midst of it all lurks a terse menu, and it’s almost all about beef: steaks, Côte de Boeuf, Lyonnais Sausages, and Foie de Veau. First courses range from a salade Caprese, (a dish you shouldn’t order outside of Italy) and a salad with goat cheese. But the real star here is le meat, so we started with a platter of glistening slices of cured jambon artisanal, which isn’t really beef but I’m too revved up to go back and change that, and it came with a too-huge slab of yellow, ultra-buttery butter (which is the only way I could describe it…it was really, really buttery…I don’t want to change that either) which we slathered on the bread, from the organic bakery, Moisan, then draped our slices with the ham. We then gobbled ‘em down.
Delicious.

The other starter was a Terrine de pot au feu. Pot au feu is the French equivalent of a boiled-beef supper, complete with vegetables and broth. When done right, it’s excellent, and at Le Severo, my hunch paid off. The terrine featured cubed, boiled beef parts, tender and neatly diced, loosely held in place with a light, jellied beef broth.

Since it’s rather warm and humid here in Paris right now, I chose a bottle of Fleurie, which was an overwhelming task considering the size and scope of the wine list. But the prices were gentle enough to encourage experimentation and the list is full of curious wines, so I think whatever you chose would be the right choice. The Fleurie was light, upbeat, and fruity…yet sturdy enough to stand up to a slab of beef.

Anyhow, our steaks arrived flawlessly cooked.
The French love their beef bleu, practically raw. But I like mine rare to medium-rare, or saignant. The chef-jacketed owner William Bernet, who is the singular server, assured me I’d be happy with saignant, and when he brought my faux filet, the rosy, juicy slices were indeed cooked just to the lower edge of my desired point of tenderness. To the side, my steak was accompanied by very, very good house-made French Fries.

My only fault was that the fries could have spent an extra 48 seconds in the deep-fryer to get that deep-golden crust that everyone loves but cooks seem to have trouble attaining around here, a fault I find in too many restos in France. Does anyone really like undercooked French fries? But I didn’t need to reach for that container of fleur de sel at all during dinner; everything was salted just-right. That to me, is the sign of a great cook, and a great restaurant. If you can’t salt food properly, you should find another line of work.

I was able to talk my companions, who just moved here from Rome and were delighted to chow down on good, honest French cooking, into splitting a cushiony-round disk of St. Marcellin cheese, which was roll-you-eyes-back-in-your-head amazing. I had a simple Creme Caramel, which arrived properly ice-cold and floating in a slick of dreamy burnt sugar sauce.

And because they were eating cheese, I didn’t have to share one bite of it (Ha! My strategy worked.) My friends then had a Mousse au Chocolat, which they liked, but they were not as conniving as me and shared a bit, but I felt it could’ve used a wallop of more chocolate flavor, but that’s how I am about chocolate desserts. The espresso served after dinner was quite good, and living in France, I’ve gained a new appreciation for Illy café, which is all but impossible to ruin.

First courses at Le Severo are in the 10€ range, while main courses were priced 15 to 25€. The hefty Côte de Boeuf, which they’ll prepare for 2 or 3 people, is 30€ per person and I’m going to have it on my next visit.

On the métro home after dinner, it suddenly dawned on my that my dining companions were macrobiotic. So if macrobiotic people can enjoy a beef restaurant like Le Severo, you can imagine how happy it makes us carnivores.

Le Severo
8, rue des Plantes
M: Mouton Duvernet
Tél: 01 45 40 40 91

How Uncool Am I

I’m looking at my Pandora playlist this morning, thinking…

…”Anyone who sees this is going to think I’m a complete and total dork.”

Feel free to add stations.

Help me. Obviously I’m in need of an intervention.


Links Du Jour

People are going nuts over Ici ice cream, in Berkeley. Mary Canales rocks. Go eat her ice cream.
Tell her I said hi.

Not to upstage the timely importance of baby Suri, a reader sends me a link to this (a bit too) juicy history of Chez Panisse from Vanity Fair.
Um, thanks for sharing, JT.

Spend a week in Gascony, without leavin’ your laptop.

A chocolatier, looking at the comments to a recent interview, announces to me he’s single…and looking.
David fears making the announcement on his blog will cause his traffic to spike, and cause his server to crash.
(Chocolatier offers to send chocolate bars studded with bacon bits. David accepts.)

Zagat Guide to Paris restaurants for 2006-2007 is released. Big party at George V with lots of free Champagne and mingling with top Paris chefs. Taillevent is still #1.
David wonders why French web sites always have that God-awful music, and waits for invitation to lunch.

Homemade ginger ale wows Paris.

Skype announces that all calls to fixed phone lines in France for SkypeOut users will be free through the end of 2006.

KitchenAid offers blenders for just $39. Also announces ice cream making-attachment for European-model KitchenAid mixers.

Louisa shows how to turn espresso upside-down. Then eat it.

Amazon tell me,“Go build yer own store!

Adam & Family get shafted by the Powers That Be at Le Cirque.
Owner’s son writes a tearful response….which fails to elicit sympathy.

Salted Butter Caramels from Henri Le Roux

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I’d like to introduce you to Henri Le Roux. And if you don’t know who Henri Le Roux is, it’s time that you did.

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Le Caramelier; Salted-Butter Caramel Spread

There’s a lot of very talented chocolatiers and pastry chefs in France. Some are quite famous, and some just go to work everyday and do their jobs well. A few have rather large egos, others are more humble, preferring the lights of the kitchen to the ones in the television studio. (I was at a recent event with another food blogger who correctly noted that all the famous chefs mostly talk about is one thing: Themselves!) But if you mention the name ‘Henri Le Roux’ to any chocolatier or confiseur in France, they stand silent for a moment. Then nod agreeably. He is perhaps the most respected and admired pastry chef and candy maker I know.

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The famous C.B.S. caramels in assorted flavors, including lime, black tea, orange-ginger and, of course, chocolate

I first met Monsieur Le Roux when I went to the Salon du Chocolat in Paris with my Thierry Lallet, who has an excellent (and highly-recommended) chocolate shop in Bordeaux, Saunion, one of the best in France.

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Freshly-made C.B.S. caramels studded with hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts

Before that day, I thought that caramels were caramels, and until that point, I’d tasted so many things in my life that there was little left that would deeply impress me. M. Le Roux is a very kind man, who basically changed the way pastry chefs, glaciers, and bakers everywhere think about caramel: he created caramel-buerre-salé (caramel-salt-butter), which he simply calls C.B.S.
And they are truly divine.

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The 55-year old candywrapping machine barely keeps up with the demand for M. Le Roux’s caramels

Henri Le Roux, whose Breton father was a pastry chef (and lived in New York for 5 years, cooking at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) started making caramels in the seaside town of Quiberon in 1976, located at the tip of a dramatic peninsula in the south of Brittany, where the best butter in the world is found (the first chapter in his book, is called “Le Rideau de Beurre”, or “The Curtain of Butter”. He decided to open there, selling cakes, candies, and ice creams. But like warm, buttery caramel, word of his candies spread and he stopped making cakes and tartes to concentrate all his energy on candymaking. Just 3 years later, in 1908, M. Le Roux won the award for the best candy in France, Le Meilleur Bonbon de France at the Salon International de la Confiserie in Paris.

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Salted-Caramel Buckwheat Florentines just-slathered in bittersweet chocolate

M. Le Roux was kind enough to let me explore his workshop with him when I paid a visit during my August vacation in Brittany. As he raced from room to room, he flipped open bins of almonds from Provence or hazelnuts from Turkey to give me a sample, later showing me how he grinds his own fresh nut pastes in his broyeuse with massive granite rollers which keep cool, while metal rollers would heat the nuts too much, losing some of the flavor. And a rarity in the pastry field nowadays, M. Le Roux uses true bitter almonds in his almond paste, which he sources from the Mediterranean. Almond extract is made from bitter almonds, even in America, but they’re hardly used anymore since they’re difficult to find (and those pesky toxicity issues.) But in the land sans lawsuits, M. Le Roux makes that effort and blends a few into his freshly-pressed almond paste which tastes like none other I’ve tasted in France.

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Exceptional chocolates from Henri Le Roux, which were too good not to eat right away

I like to ask chocolatiers which chocolate they use.
Most are secretive, but M. Le Roux led me into a cool room packed floor to ceiling with boxes of various chocolates he gets from all over France and Belgium. He tore into them, breaking off chunks for me to taste and explaining how he uses some of each, blending them as he wishes to get the desired tastes he’s after. Valrhona and Barry-Callebaut are used, but he also sources chocolate from François Pralus, an artisan chocolate-maker located in Roanne, just outside of Lyon, who specializes in single-origin chocolates, as well.

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Henri and Lorraine Le Roux in their boutique, in Quiberon

I wanted to describe each and every chocolate in the box, but decided that that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. (Actually, I ate them all and didn’t feel like writing down what tasted as I was eating as I went. As mentioned, I’m a lousy blogger.) But I remember Harem, a filling of green tea and fresh mint, Sarrasine, infused with blé noir (buckwheat), and Yannick, blended dark cane sugar, salted butter and ground crêpes dentelle, hyper-thin, crackly lace cookies ground to a crunchy paste.

Oh yes, there’s C.B.S. too, nutty salted-butter caramel enrobed in dark chocolate as well, which was my favorite.

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Le Roux
18, rue de Pont Maria
56170 Quiberon, France

and

1, rue de Bourbon le Ch√Ęteau (6th)
Paris

(Will ship internationally.)

Henri Le Roux’s caramels and chocolates are also available in Paris at:

A l’Etoile d’Or
30, rue Fontaine
Tél: 01 48 74 59 55
M: Blanche

Le Roux Chocolate bars

Related Links and Recipes

Henri Le Roux in Paris

Salted Butter Caramels

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Ribs

A l’Etoile d’Or

10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris

Jacques Genin

Jean-Charles Rochoux

Patrick Roger

Paris Favorites

How to Make the Perfect Caramel