Got your knickers in a knot trying to find new dessert ideas for the holidays?
Pick up the November 2005 issue of Bon Appétit magazine, which features some of my absolute favorite new dessert recipes…
Sometimes I go back into the archives and pull up a post to refresh it. Perhaps the hours have changed, they’ve moved, or something else prompted me to tweak the entry. But a lot has happened since I first wrote about Ô Chateau wine tasting programs. First off, since I wrote about them, they’ve moved – twice.
I was recently given the gift of a jar of extraordinary foie gras with summer truffles…
The foie gras was mi-cuit, meaning it was just partially cooked (to between 175°F and 200°F, or 80°C to 90°C), which is considered the best way to preserve foie gras, so only the finest quality livers are used. Once sealed in jars, the foie gras needs to be eaten within a few weeks, it’s so fresh and delicate.
So what does one do with a whole, entire jar of foie gras?
This was a very special jar of foie gras indeed, and perhaps the best in the world.
It was preserved by Monsieur Pebeyre, a forth-generation truffle hunter in the Dordogne (we used to have him ship black truffles to us at Chez Panisse). As you can see, he generously overloaded it with fragrant and elusive black summer truffle slices that he hunted and bits of tasty, yellow-gold duck fat.
I didn’t hesitate a moment to decide that this was the special occasion I’d been waiting for and popped open a special bottle of wine that I had been saving from California; a Navarro Late-Harvest Gewürtztraminer (from one of my favorite California winemakers)…spicy, fruity, and complex. Served very cold, it was the ideal companion to the rich duck liver, which we simply spread on toasted baguette slices, sprinkled with a few flecks of fleur de sel, and savored as an accompaniment to the nectar-like wine, which we enjoyed as an apéritif.
1. Everyone’s always in a big hurry.
…except the ones who are waiting on you.
2. Could there possibly be any light more unflattering than the lighting on the Paris métro?
3. All the newspapers are in a funny language.
And the Sunday New York Times is 13 euros.
4. The coffee is universally awful.
Yes, much of the coffee in America is horrid and/or disgusting, but at least the possibility exists of finding decent coffee in America.
5. Parisians will just walk right into you. Even if you’re on a deserted sidewalk, they’ll veer away, then curve around, and bam!…walk straight into you.
6. Les Madames.
I don’t mean hookers, I mean those mean women of a certain age who wield their shopping chariots and expect you to move outta their way. You can easily spot them; they wear squared-off wire-rimmed glasses and are proudly bundled up in overcoats, and cut in line pretending not to see you. Then when it’s their turn, they spend 5 minutes arguing with the vendor over the price of one fig or a slice of cheese (and then take forever trying to count out the centimes to pay, acting like it’s a big surprise and inconvenience when they have to fork over the cash.
As my pal Kate pointed out, this is the last generation of them.
7. Everything is so damn expensive (except bread, wine, and cheese).
Le Creuset cookware, made in France, is cheaper in America than in France. My Delonghi heater (Italian) was 3 times the price it is in the US… and why is a Phillips Sonicare (Dutch) toothbrush twice the price?
Can’t they just truck stuff across the EU border?
8. Dog crap is everywhere…and it’s disgusting. Even most French people think so.
If you have a dog, pick up after it. I had a dog. I picked up after it. It’s part of ownership. If you have kids, you clean up after them. It’s a unknown concept called “responsibility”.
(Although I should let you know that with all the dog poo here, the last time I stepped in some was in, of all places, San Antonio.)
9. The French language has 14 verb tenses. English has 6.
Really, how many past tenses does one language need?
10. The French are explosive.
An organic bakery I visit often, Moisan, is lovely. Everything is picture-perfect. Glistening, caramelized fruit tarts, rustic hearth-baked breads, golden croissants, and little savory pizzas bubbling with melted cheese and fragrant with fresh herbs. I go in there all the time and the saleswomen could not be nicer.
Last time I went in, there was a lovely tray of fresh-baked Madeleines; deep-golden, buttery, and still warm from the oven. And they were picture-perfect.
So I complimented them, “Ce sont très jolie, madame.” (“Those are very beautiful.”)
The saleswoman, who’s always been so very nice to me, snapped back, “Ce ne sont pas jolie, Monseiur. Ce sont delicieux!” (“They’re not beautiful, they’re delicious!”)
And with that one little interchange, she will no longer wait on me or speak to me. If she happens to get me in line, she ignores me.
NEWS FLASH: At a dinner party tonight, I asked some French friends about this. They said if you use the word jolie (beautiful) to describe something, it’s rather pejorative. Like saying it’s ‘cute’, in a trés-Disney kind of way.
Who knew? (see #9)
11. The French don’t seem to be as interested in coming to conclusions, instead preferring to discuss things forever without resolution. Everything takes a lo-o-o-o-ong time.
You also realize that it’s not about helping the customer, but about employing as many people as possible to keep them working (25% of the people in France work for the government.)
Last week, for example, I needed shoelaces.
Simple task. Right?
The enormous BHV department store has everything.
Sure enough there’s a wall of shoelaces…every variety, material, width, brand, color, and size imaginable.
Except, or course, the one I needed.
(And forget asking for help; it’s non-existent. Their normal tactic is to send you to another floor just to get rid of you. Now I’m on to that ruse and don’t fall for it.)
12. Why does it take 2½ hours to wash your clothes in a French washing machine?
(See previous entry. Perhaps the washing machines are also more interested in the “process”, rather than the “results”.)
And good luck finding unscented laundry detergent. I took me months and months to finally find some. The smell of the normal laundry detergent was so strong and fragrant that I couldn’t sleep in the same room with my freshly-laundered clothes.
13. Charles de Gaulle Airport is consistently rated the worst airport in the world. It’s a major embarrassment that one of the world’s greatest cities has an airport that would rival one in a third-world country. Gee, I wonder why?
For two years, all the bathrooms were broken in the Terminal #1 Arrivals terminal, where you pick up your luggage. After sitting on a plane all night, you gotta go.
How many years does it take to fix a bathroom?
Last time I arrived, each and every elevator in the terminal was hors service (broken). People in wheelchairs and those with luggage carts were scratching their heads figuring out how to get downstairs.
How long does it take to fix an elevator?
And once you check in and go through security in Terminal #1, there’s no bathroom. Since you need to check in two hours in advance, you have to leave the waiting area and re-go-through security.
(I am sure the Olympics organizers who arrived at the primitive and crumbling Charles de Gaulle were as shocked as most visitors, and it sealed the fate for Paris hosting the games.)
14. Le President™ Camembert
France has the greatest cheeses in the world. Walk into any cheese shop, or even a supermarket, and you’ll find a bounty of delicious products from dairies and cheesemakers across France.
So why do the supermarkets stock some of the worst cheeses in the world right alongside the good stuff?
Because people buy them. They’re vile, rubbery, flavorless cheeses with little resemblance to the real thing. It can’t be the price difference, since they’re roughly equivalent or a few centimes more.
15. French people smoke too much.
I don’t mind cigarette smoke. Really I don’t. I’m used to it. But recently, the past few times I’ve been out for dinner, the people next to me as soon as they sit down they drop their packs of cigarettes on the table and chain smoke the entire night. I don’t mean one to two cigarettes, I mean lots of cigarettes. The other night the woman next to me had six cigarettes during the course of her meal.
I’m not on an anti-smoking crusade, but how many cigarettes does one person need to smoke during a dinner out?
And did you know that one-third of all people in France smoke, and 50% of all teenagers between the ages of 15-24 years old smoke too?
The French parliament is taking up the no-smoking ban in restaurants this fall, as they’ve done in Italy and Ireland. I think it’ll pass.
What are the French going to do? Take to the streets and go on strike in support of smokers?
Once you get started, it’s hard to stop.
For some reason, people keep asking, “Why do you live in Paris?”
1. No one freaks when they find little black flecks in their vanilla ice cream.
2. If introduced as a pastry chef and cookbook author, I hear oh-la-la la’s instead of a litany of complaints about everyone’s diet.
3. The chocolate popsicles you buy at the supermarket are studded with real cocoa nibs.
And no one freaks about it.
4. Teenagers have three-course meals with their friends in restaurants. With wine.
5. Coffee, water, and wine are all the same price.
6. I live next door to the best croissants in Paris.
7. I can go to Laduree for a dark chocolate macaron, Berthillon for a superb scoop of their new salted butter-caramel ice cream, Pierre Hermé for an Ispahan fix, Poilâne for just-baked, crusty levain bread, and Jean-Charles Rochoux for chocolate pavés…whenever I want.
Every day if I want.
8. You can talk pharmacists into giving you cool prescription drugs if you have a good story.
(I don’t personally know if this is true, but I’ve, um…heard it is.)
9. I can buy a mind-altering selection of cheeses from my fromagerie for way less than the equivalent of $10.
10. Lucques olives…
…and the open-air markets!
Coming Soon: Ten Things I Hate About Paris…!
I like the word ‘addictive’.
I use it when it refers to something I like a lot and can’t stop eating.
So instead of implying a substance abuse problem (the jury’s still out around here whether or not chocolate is an abusable substance), the word has positive connotations for me. But I tend to use the word a lot, so much so that I fear that using the word addictive has become another addiction to me.
My friend Joanne recently came to visit me in Paris after a trip through Piedmont, the region of Italy famous for white truffles, hazelnuts, and chocolate (for some reason, though, she didn’t bring me any fresh white truffles.) But she did bring me a lovely box of something dark and chocolaty:
Perhaps you’re familiar with Baci or Bacio di Dama, the little blue & silver foil-wrapped circle of Italian milk chocolate with a nice crisp hazelnut in the middle. Baci di Dama translates to kiss of a woman.
So I’m now in the possession of a very big bag (another reason I love Italy…big portions!) of Baci Cherasco; sinful little buttons of dark chocolate with crushed roasted hazelnuts.
The tasty Baci Cherasco were invented in 1881 when the confectioner, Marco Barbero, had make some a batch torrone and had some leftover hazelnuts bits left over…
Thinking quickly, Signor Barbero gathered up the remaining hazelnuts and had the good sense to coat them in bittersweet chocolate and made little ‘kisses’ from them.
Nowadays the hazelnuts are hand-crushed with rolling pins to assure they’re still in irregular chunks before dipping.
(Whenever I have any remaining tempered chocolate, I scramble through my kitchen cupboards to see what else I can dip. I’ve enrobed coffee beans, pretzels, honeycomb, prunes…you name it, I’ve dipped it.)
Baci Cherasco are suspiciously simple…just two ingredients: dark chocolate and crunchy hazelnuts. They’re delectable and truly addictive; the hazelnuts are perfectly roasted (always toast nuts, folks…) and the chocolate used is some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Consequently, I’ve become addicted to the little dark nuggets with the powerful aroma of Piedmontese hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate. So much so, I almost ate the entire bag of chocolates as if it were a sack of popcorn.
Via Vittorio Amanuele, 74
Announcing the first (and only)…
This week Meg and I went to the Salon Fermiers here in Paris. Similar to a trade show, the exhibition hall was filled with food producers selling everything from chestnut honey, fleur de sel, foie gras, artisan goat cheeses, and wines from various regions close to Paris.
But what we loved most was the prunes.
When I tell visitors to France that they must try the pruneaux de Agen (prunes from Agen) they snicker. Why do prunes have such a bad rap? Prunes are very good for your health; they’re high in iron, with no added sugar but lots of fiber…and yes, they keep you, um, ‘regular’.
These prunes from Agen were amazing and I was later sorry I only bought one bag. They were moist, plump, and super sweet, with hints of chocolate and spices. We both later wondered how we could get more for this particular producer.
There are close to 3 million plum trees in the southwest region of France, known as Gascony. The finest plum for drying is called the prune d’Ente, a variety that’s better dried than fresh. The first time I had pruneaux d’Agen was when I visited my friend Kate, who happens to live adjacent to Agen, the veritable kingdom of prunes, where prune-lovers from ’round the world congregate to enjoy the world’s best prunes.
The French adore prunes and in fact, after California, France holds the second spot in world prune production. When I visited Gascony Kate, we went to a Prune Museum…and I say “a”(meaning not singular) museum, as there’s more than one in Agen.
One even had a gift shop featuring a comic book super-hero who was prune-fueled!
(And, no, I’m not making that up…)
Prunes have borne the long-suffering brunt of poopy jokes in addition to the recent humiliation of being re-named dried plums, vexing recipe writers everywhere.
You tell me, does dried plum juice sound as appetizing as prune juice?
And how many times have you heard the integrity of prunes denigrated as a snickering joke?
It’s Time To Give Prunes Their Due!
With a nod of inspiration to Wine-Blogging Wednesdays, let’s devote a day to prunes…the moist, wrinkled little nubbins deserve another glorious day in the sun.
So give us your best prune recipe or best idea for using prunes.
Mash some prunes into ice cream, bake prunes in a savory tagine, poach ‘em with some kumquats, or chop them up and beat them into a chocolate chip cookie batter. Stew them with Armagnac, toss them in a seasonal autumn salad with crisp Fuyu persimmons, or make prune enchiladas (…er, on second thought…)
Use your imagination to create something prune-tacular!
UPDATE: Here they are, the prune recipe round-up!