The Book Tour

Do you know what this is?

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It’s my almost-empty peanut butter jar, which means I’m just about due for a trip back to the United States of America…I’ll be on The Book Tour!
The good part of The Book Tour is that I get to meet lots of people who bake from my books and read my blog.

This is what I’ll be doing the rest of the time…

1. 6:47 am: Wake up.

2. Figure out what city I’m in.

3. Search for remote control buried under covers and turn on TV.

4. Remove eyemask and earplugs.

5. Get out of bed and mentally think about trying to find a place nearby for breakfast that won’t set me back $37.85 (ie: the overpriced hotel dining room) for two eggs, imitation-butter-slathered toast, soggy home fries with lots of freaky-colored paprika added for no reason but to try to make them look more ‘gourmet’ but in fact they look scary and gross, and watery orange juice. Bottomless cup of coffee is $4.75 extra…since they know you’re going to order it anyways…why not overcharge?
Thankfully it’s bottomless, since you need to drink four cups before you feel anything resembling a caffeine jolt. And it comes with those little plastic containers of half-and-half that have the consistency of house paint. (Isn’t it cheaper, and better, to give you fresh milk? And who the hell uses half-and-half anymore?)

6. Reconsider staying in my hotel room and making coffee in the provided coffee-maker adding powdered-milk substitute.

7. Find nearby Starbucks. Figure out their stupid size-system that makesabsolutely no sense and just sounds pretentious and I can’t bring myself to ask for something vente when I just want a medium-sized coffee with a bit of milk. Grab a puffy, super-sized Apple-Blueberry-Cranberry Streusel Bagel and bottle of icky-green Odwalla Power Juice intended for menstruating women and head back to the room to watch Diane Sawyer interview some actress who shaved her head for a movie role.

8. Eat breakfast and switch channel to Good Morning, Springfield. Weathergal Jenni Johnanssen is interviewing a 107-year old grandma about her needlepoint fetish. Some vitally important news about Katie Holmes baby, which everyone still assumes is a product of Tom Cruise. Change channels to QVC. At least they’re honest about what they’re selling.

9. Shower and shave. Pack up clothes from night before. Smell socks and decide to throw them away. Briefly feel bad for the housekeeper, leave her $3, and wheel my luggage out the door.

10. Get down to desk and realize I forgot my shirt hanging in closet. Go back up to the now-smelly room, find out room key needs to be re-set and I need to go back downstairs to the desk and there’s now a line. Of course the person in front of me is having a problem with his credit card while simultaneously carrying on a cell phone conversation with a business associate who is probably in the next room.

11. Explain to the bellhop that I don’t need help (ie: $3) with my little carry-on suitcase.

12. Try to get someone to explain how to get to airport.
No one knows.
No one even seems to know how to get around the city they live in. Much disagreement at the hotel front desk about how to get to the airport but after a little conference amongst them, they draw me a rudimentary map
(Don’t people ask them that all the time? Why don’t they just have a photocopied map with directions?)
Go outside but can’t figure out which rental car in the parking lot is mine since they all look exactly alike. Eventually find mine, distinguishable by the York Peppermint Patty wrappers on the floor. Discover Palm Pilot is frozen and fused to the vinyl front seat.

As I’m turning onto the highway, realize I left my only razor in the bathroom and I forgot to shave.

13. Drive to airport in morning rush hour listening to Howard Stern interview identical-twin lesbians about their silicone implants which their stepfather bought them for their 16th birthdays.
Get stuck in traffic and realize that I have no idea where I’m going but it doesn’t really matter since I can’t move anyways. Watch drivers applying make-up, reading newspapers, picking their noses (they stop immediately when they see I’m looking and pretend they’re scratching their noses), and eating KFC breakfast burritos.

14. See sign for airport, find a gas station to fill up the car, and pray I don’t get shot. Drop off rental car, answer lots of stupid questions intended to try to get me to pay more money.

15. Get to airport and gasp at long line snaking around check-in.

16. Get in line and gasp when realize I need to use the bathroom.

17. Get out of line.
Find bathroom. Go in stall. Consider crying.

Reconsider that at 46 years old, I shouldn’t be crying. Go to bathroom instead.

18. Check-in, find gate and wait while some idiot yells on his cell phone to his business associate. Change seats and sit next to woman wearing a good bottle-and-a-half of horrid perfume, reading Real Simple magazine and dog-earing pages. I read a USA Today that someone left behind.
Not much news, but there sure are a lot of pretty colors.

19. Get on plane, decline the vile coffee, and fly to next city. Eat the apple that’s fallen to the bottom of my shoulder bag, resting in the detritus at the bottom along with an uncapped Sharpie and find my last, long-lost Ambien.

20. Pick up rental car. Listen while they try to talk me into all sorts of things that triple the price. I decline. Grave predictions are made by the rental car rep.
Feel guilty. Buy insurance.

21. Drive around new city in Chevy Cavalier (“Would anyone really buy this model of car?“, I think to myself.) Find hotel. (Getting better at this. I only got lost twice.) Fend off bell-hop that wants to help me with my little carry-on (ie: $3). Desk clerk tells me there’s no reservation under my name. Call cooking school. Tell desk clerk to re-check. Desk clerk finds reservation. Room isn’t ready. Won’t be ready until 3 pm. It’s now 10:30am and I’m in a strange city in the middle of nowhere.
Look for bathroom, sit in stall.

Cry.

22. Ask at front desk about a good restaurant nearby for lunch. They suggest TGIFridays, Bennigans, Cracker Barrel, or Paneria. (My cunning strategy of asking, “Where can I get something fresh for lunch?” invariably makes them draw a blank.)

23. Eat The World’s Largest Chicken Salad with Country Ranch Dressing (on the side) served on a pile of deep-fried noodles which I intend to pick away (but actually they taste pretty good even though I know they’re really bad for you) accompanied by The World’s Largest Glass of Iced Tea in a glass with more ice than Antarctica. There’s barely room for tea.

I drink my iced tea shivering, wondering why in the middle of December the air-conditioning seems to be operating at full blast.

Waitress asks me at minimum of three times, “How is everything?”
I want to answer, “Please leave me alone.”, but I’m too polite and I know she’s just doing her job, so I say, “Fine, thanks…” (…but please stop pouring more ice tea whenever I take a sip from my glass!)

24. Go to room, which smells like pine deodorizer. Unpack fresh socks and undershorts. Realize I don’t have any more fresh undershorts. Decide to multitask: take warm bubble bath while washing undies. Listen to television “news” about Maddox Jolie’s hair and complaints about how expensive gas is in America.
No one mentions the war.

Stop at Walgreen’s to get new razor. Am transfixed by the shampoo aisle. What does someone do when faced with a choice of 87 different kinds of shampoo? I am paralyzed with indecision and wonder at Walgreen’s, and leave with my razor and two York Peppermint Patties.
And Teen People magazine.

25. Find cooking school and meet the assistants who are lots of fun and enthusiastic. I suggest they wear nametags since within seconds after they tell me their names, I’ve forgotten them, and from then on have to pretend I remember their names.
I barely remember mine at this point.

26. Set up for class. Guests arrive. Teach a fun Chocolate Class. Great class and only one person tells me they’re allergic to chocolate. No one asks “How do you stay so thin? or “Why do you live in France?” (er“…watch the news lately?) or “What do you think about low-carb chocolate?” (See previous question, Why I Live in France…there’s no such thing as low-carb chocolate!) or “Are French people really rude?” (Um, yes some of them are, but I guess since no one is rude in America it’s quite a shock.)

People laugh at my jokes and like everything I make.
Sign books and chat with guests.
Buy a few things at the store before I leave.

Realize I’ve spent most of my teaching fee buying kitchen tools.

27. Go back to my hotel. Realize I’m starving and haven’t had anything to eat since lunch eleven hours ago. Ask at front desk where I can get something to eat. They recommend TGIFridays, Bennigans, Cracker Barrel, or Paneria. (I give up asking for fresh. Too optimistic.) And I’m too cheap to order the room service soggy club sandwich for $23 and the glass of wine for $12 (I’ll need at least 2), plus 20% service charge and the $3 room delivery fee and $5 tip they’ll inevitably linger around waiting for.

28, Take a hot shower in a bathroom with the World’s Greatest Water Pressure. God I love America.
I vow never to return to Paris.

29. Peel off poly-fiber bed covering and slide in bed. Prop myself up with every pillow available in the room, including cushions from the sofa. Turn to HBO and find a late-night show about strippers in the San Fernando Valley. More than one looks like Mariah Carey. Oh wait, that is a Mariah Carey video. Brief and miscellaneous skin shots keep me from flipping channels until I can’t take it anymore and turn it off.

30. 3 am. Try to sleep.

31. 4 am. Realize I can’t sleep.

32. 4:30 am: I need to be up in 2 hours.

33. 4:35 am: Can’t find my last Ambien. Take an Excedrin PM.

34. 5:15 am. Fall asleep.

35. 6:54 am. Wake up.

Realize I have a plane to catch at 9:15 am and I have no idea where I am.
See socks lying on floor by television and spilled bottle of Excedrin PM.

Pull the covers back over my head. Search for remote.

Parisian Hot Chocolate Recipe: Le Chocolat Chaud

When the winter chill comes to Paris, one of the great pleasures is sipping a cup of rich hot chocolate, le chocolat chaud, in a cozy café. But no matter where you live, you can easily make and enjoy the chocolatey taste of Paris at home.

Contrary to popular belief, Parisian hot chocolate is often made with milk rather than cream, and get its luxurious richness from lots of top-quality chocolate. This cup of chocolat chaud is deeply-flavorful, but not over-the-top rich…so there’s no need to feel guilty indulging in a nice, warm cup whenever – and wherever – you feel the need.


Parisian Hot Chocolate

Four ‘Parisian-sized’ Servings

  • 2 cups (.5l) whole milk
  • 5 ounces (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, (best-quality), finely chopped
  • optional: 2 tablespoons light brown sugar


1. Heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan.

2. Once the milk is warm, whisk in the chocolate, stirring until melted and steaming hot. For a thick hot chocolate, cook at a very low boil for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Be careful and keep an eye on the mixture, as it may boil up a bit during the first moments.

3. Taste, and add brown sugar if desired.

Serve warm in small demitasse or coffee cups.

Note: This hot chocolate improves if made ahead and allowed to sit for a few hours. Rewarm before serving. I also like to add a few flecks of fleur de sel, the very good sea salt from Brittany.

How to Buy Vanilla and Vanilla FAQs

Vanilla is the ‘salt’ of the pastry world.

It’s the background flavor to just about everything I make, and I add a few drops of pure vanilla extract to whatever I’m baking.

Fresh Apricots Roasted with Vanilla Bean

Vanilla is reputedly the world’s most popular flavor but many of us who use it know little about it, except that it smells and tastes great, and sometimes seems outrageously expensive for such a tiny bottle.

Here’s the answers to some of the questions that you might have about vanilla…

What’s the difference between the three ‘origins’ of vanilla available?

Bourbon: This doesn’t mean the vanilla contains whiskey, it refers to the I’le de Bourbon, now known as Réunion. Most Bourbon vanilla is now grown on the island of Madagascar, the largest vanilla-producing region on the world. Bourbon vanilla is the strongest and most full-flavored of all the vanillas and give you the most ‘bang-for-your-buck’. I use Bourbon vanilla for baking, since it’s assertive flavor doesn’t lose potency when cooked.

Tahiti: Tahitian vanilla gained popularity a decade ago; its shockingly-high cost perhaps fanned its fame. Tahitian vanilla has a more delicate flavor; very floral and tropical. I use it in fruit salads or scenting tropical fruit desserts since baking with it seems a waste of it’s subtle flavor. Tahitian vanilla used to be far more expensive than Bourbon, but recent socio-political and economic events equalized the prices somewhat. Tahitian vanilla beans are plumper than others, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they have more flavor or are a better value. They’re just naturally moister.

vanilla ice cream

Mexico: If you think that quart bottle you bought in Mexico for $1 was a great bargain, think again (then dump it down the drain.) Real Mexican vanilla is perhaps the best in the world, and the price of pure Mexican vanilla is similar to other pure vanilla extracts. Labeling laws in Mexico differ than those in other countries, so that jumbo bottle of ‘Real Mexican Vanilla’ you bought at the tourist shop is likely a synthetic and contains coumarin, a substance banned in the United States by the FDA since it’s considered toxic, like tonka beans. I love pure Mexican extract, it’s sweet-spicy scent reminds me of just-churned vanilla ice cream and is versatile for every baking and cooking application.

Other vanilla growing regions include Bali, Sumatra, Java, China, and Indonesia. Often in some of these countries, vanilla beans are dried over fires to speed up the process, giving the vanilla beans a smoky aroma. I sniff the vanilla before buying (if I can) when it’s been produced in any of these countries but in general, I avoid vanilla from these regions. The prices are generally lower but the quality is often inferior.

uncured Mexican vanilla beans vanilla powder

Why is vanilla so expensive?

You may have noticed wild fluctuations in vanilla prices over the last several years. Political unrest and commercial reliance on pure vanilla (such as Vanilla Coke) increased demand and raised the prices worldwide. Vanilla cultivation is also the most labor-intensive of all food crops. Each orchid stalk can take a two to three years to produce it’s first flower then each flower needs to be hand-pollinated. Then the beans are branded (to prevent theft), harvested, cured and air-dried for up to one month (during that time they’re rolled up and stored away each evening to prevent condensation and theft.)
Vanilla cultivation is also dangerous business. Because this valuable crop is cultivated in impoverished countries, looting, theft and violence are unfortunately common.
Considering how little vanilla is used in baking, I don’t mind buy top-quality vanilla, which costs little more than commercial varieties but is infinitely better.

How do I substitute vanilla bean paste for vanilla beans or vanilla extract?

There are no hard and fast rules, as some pastes are stronger than others. Generally speaking, you can use 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste instead of 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. To replace 1 vanilla bean, use 2 teaspoons of vanilla bean paste.

What is single-fold and double-fold vanilla?

Vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol. Commercially-available extract has a very high ratio of beans-to-alcohol: single-fold vanilla has 12 ounces of vanilla beans (about 100 beans) per gallon of alcohol. Double-fold has twice as many and is mostly used for professional applications.

vanilla beans

How do you store vanilla extract?

Vanilla extracts are generally packed in amber-colored bottles, since light and heat are the biggest enemies of extracts. Store then in a dark place (not the refrigerator, since condensation can cause them to spoil.) Most extracts will retain their potency for a year.
Buy pure vanilla extracts from sources that sell lots of extract, since stock rotates frequently.

Vanilla beans should be moist, never brittle, when you buy them.

To keep vanilla beans moist and plump, store them in airtight bags in a cool, dark place (not the refrigerator, since moisture can cause them to mold.) Once used, you can rinse and dry vanilla beans and re-use them for infusing, as they still contain lots of precious flavor. Well-dried vanilla beans can also be buried and stored in a container of sugar for a few weeks to make vanilla sugar.

Why is there alcohol in vanilla?

Alcohol is an excellent base for infusing and for preserving, and it doesn’t spoil. Most vanilla extracts are in an base of about 35% alcohol. There are vanilla extracts without alcohol for those wishing to avoid it (most does cook out during baking, but trace amounts do remain.)

Remarkably, alcohol also changes the way your senses ‘taste’ flavors, so I add a bit of vanilla extract to recipes even if I’ve infused them with vanilla beans.

Want more information?

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Read one of the best books on vanilla, where you’ll find historical and cultural information in this useful volume, from Patricia Rain, one of the world’s leading experts on vanilla.

Continue Reading How to Buy Vanilla and Vanilla FAQs…

Sweet ‘N Stinky: Pierre Herme’s White Truffle Macaron

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Le macaron truffle blanche

The White truffle Macaron from Pierre Hermé, is part of his fall collection of désires. From the first bite, this little cookie of almond-enriched meringue reveals sweet and reassuring buttercream…then the disconcerting jolt of musky, earthy white truffles. Nestled inside is a dry-roasted nugget of crunchy Piedmontese hazelnut, whose flavor provokes you into realizing that this combination of sweet and savory is surely the work of brilliance.



Pierre Hermé (Available seasonally)
72, rue Bonaparte
and
185, rue de Vaugirard

At the Market in Paris

At my local marché this week…

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Grown in Brittany, one of the weirdest vegetables found in France is Romanesco, a relative of broccoli. It’s cooked the same way, a la vapeur, simply steamed and tossed with a pad of rich French butter.

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Sand-grown carrots are sweeter (and dirtier) than ordinary carrots.

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French (and American) cooks can find lots of thyme at the markets, which is much stronger than the thyme I’m used to. When I moved to France, I’d add big handfuls of thyme to everything I could since it’s so abundant and fragrant. It’s my favorite herb. Eventually a regular dinner guest bluntly told me I put too much thyme in things. (French people believe they’re doing you a favor when they criticize you, and I’ve had to explain to a few of them that Americans are a bit more subtle in our approach.)

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The wonderful, sparkling-fresh seafood at the markets is something I’ve always stop and take a good look at. I’m always fascinated (and sometimes a bit freaked out) by bizarre sea life; slithery eels, shark meat displayed alongside the toothy shark head, bulots or little sea whelks that you pop from the shells with a pin, octopus (which some day I will work up the nerve to try…or perhaps not), and tiny grey shrimp, known as grises that are simply boiled in aromatic fish stock known as court bouillon then eaten cold, like popcorn. I really admire the fish people I shop from at the market, since I think their job is the most difficult and gruesome (although last week I saw an enormous wild boar, larger than I was, hanging upside down at the boucherie, which was soon to be evicerated for Civet de Sanglier, a long-cooked savory stew of wild boar, the sauce thickened with red wine and blood.)

Come Christmas the fish mongers are especially busy folks, since French people are insane for fresh oysters and buy them by the crate. Almost all the oysters come from Brittany, and before motorized transportation, horses would gallop wildly towards Paris from the coastal regions until they collapsed from exhaustion. Then there’d be another horse along the route to take over from there. This ensured that the briny oysters made it to Paris fresh and cold. My favorite oysters are the flat Belons, which I like with a bit of shallot-vinegar sauce wiht a few grinds of black pepper, sauce mignonette, along with a well-chilled glass, or two, of Sancerre and tangy rye bread smeared with lots of salted butter. It makes the cold, grey winter that’s quickly approaching us here in Paris bearable.

Chocolate Mole Recipe

mole

There’s nothing I like better than a big batch of mole, the famed Mexican sauce, spiked with chiles, spices, and a hint of dark, bitter chocolate.

carnitas

Mole is excellent spooned over baked or poached chicken, and I’m especially fond of slathering it over a pot of crispy-cooked carnitas, too.

Mole Recipe

Recipes adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway Books) by David Lebovitz

Makes enough for smothering one chicken or a pork shoulder, previously cooked.

  • 5 dried ancho dried chiles
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon each: cinnamon, ground cloves, dried oregano, powdered cumin, ground coriander, ground anise seeds
  • 1/3 cup (55 g) sliced almonds
  • 1-2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 cup (40 g) raisins or diced prunes
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup (250 ml) water (or more, as needed)
  • 1 oz (30 g) unsweetened chocolate, melted

1. Remove the seeds and stems from the chiles and soak them in very hot water until soft, about 30 minutes or so. (Make sure they’re submerged by setting a lightweight bowl on top of the chiles.) When softened, puree the chiles in a blender. If the skins are tough, you may want to pass the puree though a food mill or strainer.

2. In a small skillet, sauté onion in vegetable oil until soft and translucent. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Add spices and herbs and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, being careful not to let them burn.

3. Add to the chile puree in the blender, the almonds, the cooked onions and garlic, tomatoes, raisins or prunes, sesame seeds, salt, pepper, water, and melted chocolate, then puree until smooth.

4. Add additional water, if necessary, until the consistency is smooth and slightly pourable.

Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.


To make Chicken with Mole Sauce:

1. Begin with one chicken cut into six or eight portions. Brown the poultry pieces quite well in a large casserole in vegetable oil. Once browned, remove the chicken pieces from the pan and saute one chopped onion in the casserole and cook until translucent. Deglaze the casserole with some wine or stock, and scrape in any browned bits from the bottom with a flat wooden spatula.

2. Add the chicken back to the casserole along with a cinnamon stick or two, and add enough chicken stock, water, or white wine to cover chicken pieces. Cover the casserole, and gently simmer chicken until tender throughout.

3. Once cooked, remove chicken pieces from the liquid and arrange them in a shallow baking dish. Smear chicken pieces generously with mole and bake in a moderate oven, turning once or twice during baking, for about 30 minutes.
Serve with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

the sweet life in paris paperback

Dulce de Leche Recipe

dulce de leche

The first time I had Dulce de Leche I began spooning it directly from the jar and into my mouth and before I knew it, I had made it almost all the way through the jar.
It was that good!

I scraped it off the spoon with my teeth, savoring every sticky, sugary mouthful. The jar of Dulce de Leche I was given had a picture of a goat on the label and was called Cajeta. I had developed a fondness for goat milk since I lived very near a goat dairy in upstate New York, and while perhaps not to everyone’s taste, the farmhouse tang of it I found very appealing.

Once in a while they’d invite me over for some homemade goat milk ice cream which was so delicious that any ice cream I ate with cow’s milk after that seemed bland and one-dimensional. Since I also love anything caramelized, coupled with the barnyardy taste of goat milk, I’d found heaven in this sweet-silky paste…conveniently packed in a nice glass jar from our friends south-of-the-border.

Eventually the rest of the world discovered Dulce de Leche and now there’s scores of Dulce de Leche (or is that Dulces des Leches?) on the market…although nowadays most of what’s available is made from the more public-friendly cow’s milk.

If you do come across some made from goat milk, I urge you to try it: it’s incredible!

Continue Reading Dulce de Leche Recipe…

The Biggest Bottle of Red Wine in Paris?

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