Some Very Sad News

This sad news arrived in my inbox this morning:

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The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and trauma from complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71.

Doughboy was buried in a lightly-greased coffin. Dozens of celebrities in the food community turned out to pay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, the California Raisins, Betty Crocker, the Hostess Twinkies, and Captain Crunch.

The grave site was piled high with flours.

Aunt Jemimah delivered the eulogy and lovingly described Doughboy as a man who never knew how much he was kneaded. Doughboy rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was not considered a very smart cookie, wasting much of his dough on half-baked schemes. Despite being a little flaky at times he still was a crusty old man and was considered a positive roll model for millions.

Doughboy is survived by his wife, Play Dough, two children, John Dough and Jane Dough, plus they had one in the oven.
He is also survived by his father, Pop Tart.

A funeral was held at 3:30 for about 20 minutes, or until done.


Happy Bastille Day!

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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.