All Fail Caesar

I recently attended a dinner here in Paris, at a well-known hotel, where the first course was Caesar Salad.

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That was the Caesar Salad.

Yes, it has lettuce.

And anchovies (speared around skewers).

And cheese.

But, like, what is with those batter-fried Chinese shrimp?

Who gave the ok to put batter-fried shrimp on a Caesar Salad?

Mon Deui, what is so friggin’ hard about making American food?

Take Caesar Salad, for example. It’s simply torn leaves of Romain lettuce with a mustardy dressing seasoned with anchovies and a touch of worcestershire sauce. All balanced so no ingredient dominates the other. A handful of croûtons get tossed in, some Parmesan grated over the top, and voila!

That, ladies and gentleman, is a Caesar Salad.
Will someone please explain how hard that is to me?

Unlike French food, American food has few fancy sauces and is really pretty straightforward. While admittedly a lot of American food isn’t spectacular, I fail to understand why it’s so impossible to replicate. I’ve had the best cassoulet of my life in Berkeley, amazing Lebanese food in Mexico, marvelous French desserts in Tokyo, superb Moroccan food in France, and terrific Japanese food in Hawaii. So why is it so hard to make American food anywhere else but in America?

While I didn’t move to Paris expecting hamburgers and pizza, I fail to understand what possesses any rational person to spoon canned corn over a pizza. (Why would a country that shuns corn on the cob embrace its frozen kernel-y counterpart?)

Who the heck gave anyone permission to top a hamburger (or pizza) with a runny fried egg?

And if I get one more Salade Niçoise with a big scoop of white rice on top, I’m going to drag the chef down to Nice, force him to stand in the center of town holding their Salade Niçoise avec du riz in hand, and invite the townsfolk for a look-see.

And stand back.

It’s like those insane people, worldwide, that put cream in their pesto sauce.

For the love of humanity: Please stop!

Thanks. I feel better now.

This Week At The Market

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Griottes
Like many things in French, there can be several names for the same thing. Chicken breasts can be blanc de poulet, suprême de poulet, or poitrine de poulet. And there are 7 different ways to say “because of” (a cause de, grace a, car, parce que, etc…) When people ask me how long it took to learn French, I tell them that even the French don’t know how to speak French! They’re always learning more, consulting their dictionaries and checking their verb guides. Some French business people actually go back to school to improve their language skills. (Hmm, on second thought, I can think of a few Americans who could use a couple of language lessons too.)

Griottes, for example, are sour cherries. Yet there’s also Montmorency which are slightly smaller cherries, but can’t they just call them all sour cherries for bakers who are trying to learn the language?

So I bought a nice little sack of them to make Adam’s Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that sour cherries are available, I suggest you take advantage of them. They don’t last very long and should be used within a day of purchase. Most of the time, they’ll look kinda funky, somewhat dinged up, and a bit dark, which is normal and since most Americans stopped making fresh sour cherry pie (and the French don’t make pies), they can be hard to find.

Many year ago, trying to figure out what to do with the surplus, an enterprising man from a company called American Spoon Foods decided to dry the excess, hence the proliferation of dried sour cherries. I bring hoards back to Paris when I return to the states. We’re just beginning to see them here, but they’re pricey. My French friends love ‘em and I use them for special occasions. If you ever want to bring a gift to a French friend, or to me, I recommend dried sour cherries.

I also like caramel corn (thanks M.N.!)

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Salted Butter
Holy s@%#t!
Life doesn’t get any better than this. Look at all that salt! Every pore of this hunk of butter is oozing salt. To those of us who’ve been trained to use only unsalted butter, we forget how much better salted butter tastes. A chocolatier friend who just visited New York City to meet with investors who wanted him to open a chocolate shop, came back to Paris and told me he didn’t know if he could do it since the butter was so lame.

This is called beurre salé, and whenever I see those big streaks of Breton salt embedded in a mound at a fromagerie, I always end up taking a slab home. The smell is incredible. I can only describe it as similar to the smell that comes from when you melt butter on the stovetop, and there’s that lovely sweet-cream, dewy scent.
I can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow! In fact, maybe I’ll dig in right now.

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Tapenade
I used to make my own tapenade, thinking that my own…um, well…something doesn’t stink. That my homemade tapenade was always better. But I’ve been buying mine from a great olive vendor and it’s excellent. I eat it simply spread on bread, like a baguette tradition from Eric Kayser, a favorite bakery of mine.

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Brugnons
Brugnons look like white nectarines, but are considered a cross between a nectarine and a peach, which originated in France. There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about how they were hybridized, but I’ll leave that up to other foodies to argue. All I know if that they sure are good. They taste like a full-flavored white nectarine but are more complex and not as sweet, with a rather nectar-like taste.

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Arbequina Olive Oil
I’m gonna channel Rachel Ray and say… yum! (sorry). I was visiting one of my favorite huileries in Paris (Allicante at 26 Blvd Beaumarchais), and tasting a few of the new olive oils that she just received. This Arbequina olive oil from Spain was sensational; super-fruity, buttery, aromatic…everything a guy could want in an olive oil.

So yesterday I made a salad of tomatoes, roquette, flat-leaf parsley, and ricotta salatta that I got from the Italian épicerie, which my French friends had never tasted. If you’ve never had it, it’s a dried sheep’s-milk cheese similar to feta, but without all the salt and milder. I love it in the summer and crumble it recklessly over pastas and salads. Or bake tiny fingerling-like potatoes in it. I can’t wait to play around with my new oil.

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Haricot Beurre
Although people seem to associate French with haricots verts, I can’t resist their paler, and sometimes more curious, cousins.

A Visit to Parisian Chocolatier Jean-Charles Rochoux

This was an easy post!

If you’d like to know what it’s like to visit Jean-Charles Rochoux with me, one of my favorite chocolatiers in Paris, go visit Too Many Chefs for Meg’s write-up of our visit.

Update! You can read about my visit to Jean-Charles Rochoux, and see his staggeringly-beautiful chocolate creations.

Jean-Charles Rochoux
16, rue d’Assas (6th)
Paris
Tél: 01 42 84 29 45

Procrastination: Ce n’existe pas

As any American knows, procrastination is a way of life. For example, I’m nearing the end of a big project, yet am having a hard time bucking down to finish it. I even got so desperate in my procrastination that I pulled out my oven and cleaned all behind it, the sides, and scrubbed off the baked-on sugar around the knobs. I’m looking for other projects to tackle next. I am a procrastinateur, if such a word exists. (And I’m not above making up words around here.)

When I was taking French classes shortly after I arrived a few years back, my teacher who was insane, (which is another story, including how he just freaked and starting punching-out the blackboard, but at least it wasn’t me…although I’m sure he was thinking it was) but spoke, like, nineteen languages. With complete fluency. I hate those people. But he had never heard of the world ‘procrastination’. So I pulled out the immense French dictionary at the school and sure enough, there it was, in French and English, spelled the same way.

But if you mention the word ‘procrastination’ to any French person, most likely they’ve never heard it before. I don’t know why. A friend here offered, “It’s because French people don’t procrastinate.” When I looked the word up today in my Robert Collins French Dictionnaire which sports 120,000 traductions, the word ‘procrastination’ only appears in the English-to-French translation, not in the Français-to-English translation.

Coincidence…or conspiracy?

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So here I am procrastinating.
Speaking of things that are Too Good To Use, in France, you can get the most superb sunblock in the world. I was told about it by a friend who told me about this non-gloppy formula that she liked. So I went and bought some.

Then the plot thickened.
I was telling another friend about it, and she said,“Oh! That’s the stuff all my society friends from New York come over and hoard.”

Hmmm. Really? So I did some searching on the internet and found out that yes, Anthelios XL, or any suncress with Mexoryl® isn’t available in America, even though it’s considered the best, most effective sunscreen on the world. They refuse to give a reason, but FDA has banned the sale of it in the US.*

Paris has been hotter than heck lately. One blogger who shall remain nameless, Susan, pointed out that little weather icon I’ve added to the site said it wasn’t as hot as I was leading on.
So while she sits in her glamorous pool down on her farm, I offer indisputable proof…

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So now I have a sneaking suspicion that the weather icon I added is part of a large, right-wing conspiracy to make us believe that global warming isn’t happening and that yes, George W. Bush was a far better choice for president than Al Gore.

And never mind my photo of my chocolate thermometer.

Anyhow…I need to get back to work.
But I did try the sunscreen and it’s truly amazing. It’s thin, light, and didn’t leave my face feeling like a pruneaux after a day of walking around Paris during the heatwave. Since it’s not available in America (another right-wing conspiracy so all the sun-worshiping leftists get face cancer and can’t vote?), if you come to France, you can stock up (although check the legality with the authorities to make sure it’s okay) on La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Fluide Extreme for the visage, the face.

Don’t procrastinate.

La Roche-Posay products are available in many Pharmacies and Parapharmacies in Paris.

*Update: La Roche-Posay sunscreen is now available in the United States legally.

This is definately becoming a problem…

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White Chocolate & Fresh Ginger Ice Cream Recipe with Nectarines and Cherries

If you’re anything like me, you’re thrilled that the season for summer fruits is finally in full swing. I like nothing better than returning from my market with a basket full of fresh peaches, nectarines, cherries, and whatever other fruits happen to look best that morning. And since I’ve started plying the Parisian vendors with Brownies, I’m getting much-desired VIP treatment at the market, and more often than not, there’s a few extra treats thrown in too. It’s nice to know that Parisians can be bought for the price of a simple square of chocolate.

While others may prefer to cloak summer fruits in fancy desserts, when the temperature starts soaring, the idea of standing in the kitchen for a few hours crafting some overwrought concoction has little appeal. And to be honest, it’s kind of a no-brainer when it’s this hot and I can be trying on jeans surrounded by Parisian jeunes hommes instead.

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My appearance on a radio program recently prompted me to share two of my favorite summertime recipes: luscious White Chocolate and Fresh Ginger Ice Cream with Baked Nectarines and Cherries. During the summer I bake fruit all the time which doesn’t require standing over the stove. Invariably when I return from the market, I wasn’t able to resist anything, and I’m a hopeless wreck when confronted with everything so perfect this time of the year. But baking brings out the sweetness, softening fruits beautifully into this delectable compote, which is so seductively simple to spoon up with freshly-made ice cream.

For the baked fruit, I like to use light cassonade sugar, which is widely available in France. In the US, natural food stores and Trader Joe’s sell unrefined sugar, which is lighter than brown sugar but granulated and as easy to use as white sugar.

And since everyone gets their panties in a knot about making substitutions, yes, you can substitute 6 to 8 plums or fresh apricots for the nectarines, but be sure to use the larger amount of sugar since apricots get much more tart once they’re baked. They’ll also take less time to bake as well.

I know you’re going to ask about peaches (see, now you’re getting carried away…), but I find peaches soften too quickly and I prefer the tartness of nectarines. Plus nectarines don’t need to be peeled and really hold their shape much better than peaches. If cherries are out of season where you live, you can add a basket of fresh raspberries or blackberries when you take the fruit out of the oven, allowing the residual heat help them meld into the compote.

Lastly, some readers have asked me about ice cream makers so I’ve posted some tips in the previous entry if you’re thinking of purchasing one. They’re come way down in price in the past year and since I personally can’t imagine getting through the summer without homemade ice cream; you might think about making one your next purchase too.

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White Chocolate And Fresh Ginger Ice Cream with Nectarine and Cherry Compote

4-6 Servings

Is there anything better than warm fruit, slightly-sweetened, topped with a scoop of ice cream melting on top or alongside? The creamy-sweet taste of white chocolate pairs marvelously with the piquant bite of fresh ginger. Just enough to serve as a pleasant contrast.

White Chocolate and Fresh Ginger Ice Cream
About 1 quart (1 liter)

  • 3-inch piece (2 to 2 1/2 ounces) fresh ginger, unpeeled
  • 2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
  • 1 cup plus 1 cup heavy cream (500 ml, total)
  • 8 ounces (230 g) white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 5 large egg yolks

1. Slice the ginger thinly, cover it with water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes. Drain away the water but return the blanched ginger to the pan. Add the sugar, the milk and 1 cup of heavy cream to the saucepan and re-warm the mixture.
Cover and steep for at least an hour, or until you are satisfied with the ginger flavor.

2. Put the chopped white chocolate in a large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, then gradually add some of the ginger-infused cream mixture, whisking constantly as you pour in the warm cream. Pour the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

4. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula. Strain the custard into the white chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Discard the ginger. Add the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and chill thoroughly. You can set the bowl over an ice bath to speed it up.

5. Chill mixture thoroughly, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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Nectarine and Cherry Compote
Four to Six Servings

I prefer my fruit less-sweetened, but you can add the larger amount of sugar if you like. If you don’t have a vanilla bean, just add a few drops of vanilla extract.

4 nectarines
1 pound (450 g) fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 to 6 tablespoons sugar
optional: 2 tablespoons rum or kirsch

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (190 C).

1. Split the nectarines in half and pluck out the pits. Put them in a 2-quart baking dish with the cherries. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the fruit.

2. Mix in the sugar and rum or kirsch, if using.

3. Turn the nectarines so they’re cut side down, arranging them in an even layer with the cherries and tuck the vanilla bean underneath.

4. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to 1 hour, opening the oven door twice during baking so you can jostle the baking dish to encourage the juices to flow. The fruit is done when a sharp paring knife easily pierces the nectarines.

5. Remove from oven and serve warm, or at room temperature with a nice scoop of the White Chocolate and Fresh Ginger Ice Cream.

Storage: The compote can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Ice Cream Makers: Buying an Ice Cream Machine

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There’s lots of options to consider when buying an ice cream maker, and there’s certainly one that’ll fit within any budget. I’ve had several readers inquiring about ice cream makers and although there’s extensive information in my book, The Perfect Scoop, here’s additional information about the various kinds that are available to help you out:


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Cuisinart ICE-50BC

I’ve been using the Cuisinart ICE-50BC with excellent results for the past few years and could not live without it at this point. Not only is the machine very efficient, the price is extraordinary for a self-refrigerating machine. Although for a novice, it does fall into the ‘investment’ category.

I’ve never seen a better self-refrigerating machine at this price and was skeptical, but my ice cream maker has been a real powerhouse and I consider it an indispensable part of my batterie de cuisine nowadays. Some people find the noise bothersome, but frankly—it is a machine and machines make noise. I keep mine in another room when in use.

I do recommend if you buy this machine to purchase a separate plastic churning arm. Mine lasted several years but eventually snapped and it’s nice to have a spare on hand.


UPDATE: Cuisinart has released a newer model of this machine, the ICE-100, which boasts a sleeker design.

Cuisinart ICE-21

A lower-priced option is a machine such as the Cuisinart ICE-21. This machine is a excellent value, and you’ll need to pre-freeze the canister for 24 hours—no cheating!, before you plan to freeze your ice cream or sorbet. These machines make great ice cream and are extremely affordable.

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KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment

If you have a KitchenAid mixer, their wildly-popular KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment works really well. I had the opportunity to use one during my visit to the KitchenAid factory, and was really impressed with the care and precision of the attachment.

Like everything they make, the ice cream attachment did a great job of churning up the various ice creams that I ran through it. Note: If you live outside the United States, European KitchenAid mixers are different and the ice cream attachment made for US-models will not work with them.



You can also find more of my recommendations for machines and ice cream making equipment at Let’s Make Ice Cream!

Happy Churning!



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The Sales

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There are two periods during the year when stores are allowed to have Les Soldes, or The Sales. They occur once in the winter, beginning shortly after New Years Day, while the summer soldes start in late June. Although Americans think its odd, the government’s official explanation is that les soldes give stores a chance to blow-out all last seasons merchandise quickly by creating a little frenzy. But I think another reason is to give the little stores a break, since as we’ve seen in America, often the smaller merchants get squeezed out by the big guys offering lower prices on things by holding sales all the time.

So onward to the BHV. What is the BHV, you ask? Imagine someone scouring the every corner of the world, looking for the least-helpful people on the planet. Then they hire them and put them in one enormous department store that’s impossible to navigate but full of everything imaginable and necessary for daily life in Paris, so you really have no choice but to shop there.

And those are the people in charge of helping you.

And now, you get the idea of the BHV.

So today is the first day of les soldes and I would say to anyone who has fantasies that Parisians are polite, classy, and sophisticated, hasn’t been elbowed out of the way in front of the bins at the BHV department store, strong-arming anyone who might get between them and something they want.
Or don’t want.

It doesn’t really matter.

And Parisians tend to go a little wild here, since in general, things like clothing and housewares are pretty expensive. I happened to be heading to the BHV this morning, since last night I switched on my desk lamp and blew out some fuses in my apartment. Although I was determined not to get involved in the hubbub, once inside I got caught up in the madness and thought, “Well, I guess I could use a new pair of jeans.” Last week I discovered a bare spot forming in a place where not a lot of people get a close look at, thinking their days are numbered.

To make a long story short, I never made it to the hardware department, but instead got taken in by the stacks and stacks of jeans that were all 30% off. Since you can’t get away with wearing American-style baggy-assed jeans in Paris, you need to wear pants that are well-fitted, snug-tight up against your rear end (no matter what you weigh.)

Our unless you’re under the age of 21. Then you wear jeans hanging halfway down your butt, but only as long as you’re wearing boxer shorts underneath rather than those Euro-sling undies and swimsuits that some men in my age (well above the age of 22) like to wear here.

Not finding what I liked, I left empty-handed. But with my adrenalin (or was it my morning cáfe au lait?) pumping, I raced to the Levi Store in the Bastille. Not quite busy yet (aha!, I beat those young folks wasting their lives away in school), the young salesmen were instantly drawn to me, amazed at the Levis that I was wearing, which were made with a special cut and fabric that I bought in San Francisco. So there I find myself, surrounded by handsome, unshaven, young French men, all oohing and aahing while staring at my butt and crotch, reaching over feeling the fabric, and closing in all around me. I don’t know if it was me, or the summer heat has finally arrived once and for all, but it was surely getting much warmer in there. And naturally, I decided right away that I needed a new pair of Levis, and this was the place I must get them.

Helping me find a style I liked, one of the friendly young men, wearing a well-fitted t-shirt (was it Levis? If so, I want one too.) He kept calling me jeaune homme (young man), while asking me what I thought about the style that he was wearing by running his hands up and down his thighs to emphasize and make sure I understood how good they fit (yes, I did.) So he hands me a few pairs of the same jeans to try on, and transfixed, I head to the dressing room.

Since we’re in France, there’s no need to be shy and he pops right in soon afterwards and starts surveying the fit by yanking and patting and making sure all button-fly’s buttons were laying properly, exclaiming how well they fit. Yes, they’re supposed to be that tight, he told me. And for additional emphasis, in case I didn’t quite get it (yes, I did) he makes doubly-sure with his hands that I know there’s little room in there for anything besides maybe a Euro-sling, and perhaps a few centimes or fuses (…fuses? What fuses?…) But certainly not much else.

Soon all the other boys, er, I mean jeaunes homes, came by and made sure I’m getting properly fitted, admiring my choice in jeans. When I questioned whether I might need a larger size, one turned to show me how his fit him, sliding precariously down his backside, and he asked me if I wanted to same. (Yes, I did.)

But instead I went home with the jeans I had on, at 20% off, back to my darker apartment, thinking I’ll go back first thing tomorrow and get fuses.

But perhaps if the BHV took a cue from Levis and hired a few of these helpful young men as salespeople, customers like me might leave their store happily with something more than just a fuse in their pocket.

Levis
47, Faubourg St. Antoine
Tél: 01 44 87 03 06