Searching Through Paris

The hardest thing about living in France (aside from speaking French) is that most of us Americans here expect things to be like ‘back home'; corn-on-the-cob, Office Max open on sundays, and cheery customer service.

I tried explaining that uniquely American concept of, “The customer is always right” to a French friend, and he just kept giving me this blank look as if I was explaining how aliens were impregnating Republicans in an effort to achieve global domination through procreation.

It seems like everything that I look for, I can’t find. Whatever I’m looking for, will surely elude me.

The good news is that everyday staples like…

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My Beloved Fleur de Sel

and
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Er, Any Takers for Dried Algue?

…are easily available.

But I wanted to make Meg’s Pickled Onions a few weeks back. I couldn’t find white wine vinegar at any grocer. Last night’s risotto almost didn’t happen either…I couldn’t find Arborio rice and, naturally, the local Italian épicerie was (still) closed for vacation.

For the past few months, I’ve been considering an all-out search for a Cake Carrier.
Now, that’s not something that one searches for everyday. Perhaps you’ve never searched for one. Maybe you have.
But I knew it would take a bit of work; I began to gather my strength and prepare myself.
Sometimes takes me hours to prepare myself to do simple daily tasks, like going to the bank here. It’s exhausting. Or having a key made. Or choosing just the right baguette.
And never mind the amount of mental preparation it takes me to enter a French department store…the frenzy!…the jostling!…les resquilleurs who the cut in line!…(although when I try to do it, I always seem to get nailed.)

And just in case you think I’m picking on the French (I’ll leave that for the US government), it’s a chore to find exactly what you’re looking for, no matter where you live.

Don’t believe me?
Quick!
Where can you find a Cake Carrier where you live? You probably wouldn’t know where to look either, whether it’s Portland or Peoria (and searching the internet doesn’t count. No cheating.)
Now imagine me mètro-ing around Paris, frantically searching for something that I didn’t even know the name for in French.
(And for some unknown reason, my otherwise excellent French dictionary doesn’t provide a translation for something so important, so vital to one’s existence, as a ‘Cake Carrier’.)

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So imagine my surprise when snooping around the enormous BHV department store and finding this cloche de gâteau!
And to top it off, it was only 9 euros!
(If Emile Zola referred to Les Halles as; “The Belly of Paris”, I’d dub the BHV; “The Digestive Tract of Paris” since everyone in Paris needs to go through it at one point or another. And no one comes out exactly the same way as they went in.)

But a Cake Carrier is not something one can easily do without, thank you very much.
If you think it’s not an essential item, you try schlepping a carefully-frosted cake on the steamy mètro, dodging the crush of Parisians during rush hour and see how your cake (and you) fare.

And speaking of baking essentials, here’s something I’ve re-discovered that I tucked into my suitcase at the last-minute when I returned last winter from the US…and you should discover them too:

OXO Measuring Spoons

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These are the best!
Oxo tools don’t have a lot of bells-and-whistles: they just work.

These are the best measuring spoons I’ve found. They’re affordable, well-designed, and…if you put liquid ingredients in them, you can rest them on the countertop without them spilling or tipping over.
See above?

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that make a baker happy, and these measuring spoons are one of them.
And sometimes it’s the bigger things, like my new cloche de gâteau .

Now I gotta scour Paris looking for corn syrup and pecans in preparation for “Celebrity Foodblogger Survivor” for Katrina disaster relief.

Coming soon….

Franglais

Did you know you already speak French?

It’s true, and I’m not just talking about quiche and Tar-jay.

Franglais is the curious and unlikely (but perhaps inevitable) invasion of English into the French language.

Not since the un-easy (but remarkably convenient) alliance of Franco-American culture, as found in Franco-American ‘Spaghetti-O’s™’ (whose relationship seems more Italian-American…if you ask me), has there been such a near-fatal collision of two diverse cultures and languages.

Here’s some of the more popular Franglais words that I hear on the streets and in cafés;

Très People
: Very celebrity-conscious, in reference to People magazine, which curiously isn’t available here.

Le Lifting: Le Plastic Surgery

Le Jogging: Jogging (like that’s something you see a lot in Paris!…)

Les Baskets
: Sneakers…which Parisians wear for style, not comfort. Très chic.

Les Thongs: Plastic Flip-flops (in French, the ‘h’ is silent, so it’s not ‘thongs’, like G-strings, you say, “Les Tongs”). And ‘thongs’ (the underwear kind…for both sexes) as well as the plastic ones (for your feet) are quite popular in Europe. I almost bought a thong by accident (you know which kind…) when buying undies a few months ago.
Ouch! Those things look painful.

Les Preservatifs: Male contraception (aka; condoms), Don’t ask a chef is he uses preservatifs unless you’re prepared to get romantically involved.

Le Weekend: The weekend.
(This is interesting since there are only a 23 words in my French dictionary that begin with “W”, and all of them originated from other languages; Walkman, Water polo, W-C, Weekend, Wagon, etc…and when I play Scrabble in French, I always seem to get stuck with the “W”, which is like a cruel joke. It’s such a high-value letter, but I can never find a way to use it. Could that be why I always lose when playing Scrabble in French?… or could it be the unending fountain of points found in French verbs, which French Scrabble players have to their advantage…with 14 different verb tenses to pick and choose from, no wonder they always win!)

Le Shopping: Shopping (ok, that’s another no-brainer, but Americans are better at shopping so it seems fitting that they use an English word when there’s plenty of words they have already in their massive vocabularies.)

McDo’s: McDonald’s (Did you know the French are the largest consumers of McDonald’s in Europe?)

Les Emails: There’s lively controversy whether this is supposed to be plural around here.
We say in English, “I have a hundred emails to read.” but we also say “I can’t get to all of my email today.”. or, “I have a hundred pieces of email to read.”
Or
“I could sure go for a nice, big slab of chocolate cake.”, and we also say (or at least I say), “I’ve could eat chocolate cake all day.”, but also, “Hmmm, look at all those delicious chocolate cakes.”
(Boy, am I glad to be a native-English speaker. Imagine if I’d had to learn to read and write in English…you might not read my blog if I spoke, say, Latvian or Estonian…would you!…unless you were Latvian, or Estonian, I supposed, but then you wouldn’t know who I was. But wait a minute, how do you know who I am??)

Les Teenagers: Teenagers

Les Top Models: Supermodels (however in America they’re revered, and here no one understands our fascination with them.)

Le Gadget: Gadget (which sounds cute when French people say it.)

Le Snack: A relatively new concept, and the reason that the French are getting rounder.

Le Fast Food: Another relatively new concept, and Reason #2 the French are getting rounder

Très Snob: Someone snobbish.


So that’s 15 new, and very au courant words you can add to your French vocabulary.

The French Breakfast

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Le petit dejeuner

Crazy People

Who remembers the good old days when if you saw someone walking down the street talking to themselves, you’d think that that person was crazy?.

A short while back, it startled me to see so many people talking to themselves while walking down the street.
Why all of the sudden an influx of crazy people?
What was the world coming to?

That is, until I realized they were chatting on cell phones using indiscreet hands-free devices.
“Ok, they’re not crazy”, you think.

But from the volume of their voices, you realize they’re anything but indiscreet.
I’ve heard everything.
Business deals, surgical results, cussin’, personal details of last night’s date…all for everyone to hear, whether we want to or not.

Then you realize, “Ok, they are crazy.

Last time I was a Chicago O’Hare airport, riding the inter-airport shuttle between terminals, a businessman in a poly-blend yellow shirt, super-stylized wavy hair, and a JC Penney navy blazer (and I’m quite sure a gold ‘power’ necklace underneath it all) was literally screeching into his cell phone.
It was something about a disk.

And it was a very important disk.
So important, he made sure we all knew it.

“I need that f&$cking disk. If she doesn’t get that f&%cking disk to me to by tonight I’m gonna…and this f&$cking airline. They’ve f%$cked up again….why can’t they get anything f&$%cking right.”

What a charmer!
(And I’m thinking…“Please God, don’t let me be seated next to him on the plane, please God…I’m a good person, I just bake cookies for a living…”)

I wondered if he was married, if he had any friends.
And if so, if his friends were just like he was. I couldn’t imagine anyone in their right mind voluntarily spending more than 7 seconds in his presence.

You get the picture, but I mean, this asshole (pardon my French) was SCREAMING into the phone, so that even those of us huddles together in the back of the bus just to avoid him had no choice but to listen. If anyone had the nerve to say something, I’m sure they were at risk of getting punched out. The driver, who he was sitting directly behind, looked like he was going to drive the shuttle under an approaching aircraft wheels just to get this guy to shut up.

And those kind of people are always itching for a fight, thriving on any kind of confrontation with others.
And why do they always seem to be the ones getting upgraded?
(Is it because they’re such a pain in the backside to the airline employees? I bring the ticket counter people cookies, but all I ever get is a seat with a meager 4-inches of legroom, until the idiot in front of me slams their seat backwards the nano-second the Fasten Seat Belt light goes off.)

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So…this morning I’m taking the bus to yoga. I know it seems funny to ‘ride’ to do exercise, but I was running late.

Anyhow…this man of Indian-descent, who’s kinda nerdy wearing big, dark-rimmed glasses that I’m sure will be held together by white tape in a few years, is talking very LOUDLY into his mobile phone….

“Yes, I said Capricorn.”…..”Yes, CAPRICORN!”

He’s speaking in broken-English, and unaware that he’s sharing the bus with someone who has an excellent command of the language of Shakespeare.

Then he starts shouting about how much it’s been costing him to chat…
“It costs me 200 euros per month on my SFR bill….200 euros!…yes, these calls!”

He finally begins winding up the conversation, saying he’d like to meet the caller that afternoon…after his doctor’s appointment, then began describing his horrible, scaly skin condition that’s running rampant over his legs and feet, prompting the medical exam.

Now that’s hot,really hot.

Thanks for sharing.

Anyhow, I’m watching CNN International last night and they’re showing images of the devastation in New Orleans, instead of the usual stories of Maddox Jolie’s hairstyle or The Runaway Bride or the latest tv Bachelor-star that cable “news” is normally preoccupied with.

After showing images of overworked police and military people who have the unenviable task of wading through the flood wreckage, unearthing bodies and rescuing trapped families, the story continues on to the looting.

The CNN reporter begins interviewing a man trying to scurry away, hauling away plastic sacks of trousers he’s looted from a local store.
(And no, he wasn’t taking baby food for his starving children, or medicine for this elderly grandmother.)

When the reporter asks the man if he feels any guilt for what he was doing in the aftermath of this horrendous catastrophe, the man responds…
“If it was wrong, the police would be stopping me, wouldn’t they!…”

Later I watched as the head of FEMA mentioned that workers had to stop delivering supplies to the disaster-stricken area because people were shooting at them.

Maybe it’s me. I don’t know.
But I think people are getting crazier.

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Click here to help others in need. Everyone, in spite of the few crazy people, need help.
Donate to the relief effort.

Zuni’s Pickled Red Onion Recipe

spring onions

When I arrived in France a few years ago, I was a surprised to find that red onions are rare and cost nearly four-times the price of yellow onions. I reasoned that although French cuisine uses lots of onions, most often they’re cooked to enhance their sweetness, and they become an essential backdrop for braises, stews, and casseroles…and most-notably in French Onion Soup. So why use the red ones if they’re going to get lost?

The rose-colored onions of Roscoff, a small port village off the north coast of Brittany, which faces England, are considered a delicacy in France. Beginning back in 1828, French farmers would load up boats with these pink onions to sell them from their bicycles in England, where the farmers were affectionately dubbed “Johnnies” by the Brits.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite books, The Zuni Café Cookbook (which everyone should own). Like all of chef Judy Rodger’s recipes, this one is a winner. The onions are tangy and sweet, and keep their nice crunch. They’re perfect on hamburgers and Mexican food, as well as a nice condiment for any sandwich.

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The Zuni Café’s Red Onion Pickles

Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

Judy’s recipe calls for 1 pound of red onions, peeled and sliced into rings. Make a brine with 3 cups white vinegar, 1½ cups of sugar, cinnamon stick, a few cloves, allspice berries and peppercorns. Add 2 bay leaves and a small dried chili, then bring it all to a boil in a 4-quart non-reactive saucepan.

Simmer the onion rings, in three separate batches (that means, one-third of the onion rings at a time), for 20 seconds each (20 seconds for each batch) in the brine. Remove onions to a baking sheet using a slotted spoon to drain them, and let cool.

Then you do it again, simmer the onions in three separate batches, for 20 seconds each. Drain them, and cool.

Then you do it again…simmer the onions in three separate batches (yes, have you memorized it yet?… 20 seconds each…then drain them and let them cool.)

Finally you chill the brine thoroughly. Once chilled, add the onions and store in the refrigerator.

Related Recipes

Homemade Kosher Dill Pickles

Cocoa Nib, Shallot and Beer Marmalade

Herbed Ricotta Tart

Pickled Red Onions



Food Blog Day 2005

Do you know what today is?

It’s Blog day 2005!

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As I learned from Pim, today food bloggers spanning the globe are to name 5 new food blogs that they like.
Here are a few of my favorites at the moment. I wanted to list more than 5, but I’m still psychologically-bruised by Mrs. Sheegan, my 3rd grade teacher, throwing up her hands and telling my parents, “David has a very hard time following directions. He’ll ever amount to anything…”

Ha! I say to her.
Here I am…and where is she? I don’t see her blog listed anywhere around here, do you?
I don’t read .com after her name… do I?

Then I had second thoughts.
I realized that as a grown adult I just may need to learn to follow directions, (maybe that’s been my problem all along…gulp, my editor will be thrilled with this new revelation)…so I winnowed down the list to just 5 new blogs that requests.
And I guess that means I I’ll soon be on my way to amounting to something.

Since I have no idea who many of you are (if you don’t post comments), here’s a list of food blogs that I haven’t mentioned in my postings that you should check out…Happy Blog Day!

The Food Whore

A very funny and scathing look at the world of catering. Anonymously penned…of course! As someone who’s worked in the restaurant business for 25 years and has seen everything.
I’m hooked.

The Cooking Fire

William (or Bill?) writes about the cuisines and culinary traditions of Mexico. Think you know Mexican cooking? You’ll learn something new here from each entry.
Pristine, informative photos accompany this well-written blog.

Chocolate Alchemy

This blog is focused on the how’s and why’s of making chocolate for people that want to tinker at it themselves. Lots of information and exploration. A terrific place to learn about chocolate.

In Praise of Sardines

Brett shares his wonder of all good things to eat wherever he goes. And he seems to go to all the places I want to go and eat!
Recently he blogged about my favorite food cities: Barcelona and San Sebastian, and is now back in San Francisco.

The Farm Girl Fare

Always dreamed of gettin’ outta ‘Frisco and moving to a midwestern farm?
Susan did, and she writes lovely tips about bread making, farm cooking, often accompanied by daily photos from her farm and gardens.

If you’d like to explore some other food blogs and web sites for other bakers and friends, many who I’ve written about before but didn’t want to ignore, check out my links page.

Want To Start A Food Blog?

If you’re wondering what it’s like to write a food blog, or what’s involved, check out what Adam writes.

He’s just celebrated his 1000 posting which I believe merits a complimentary upgrade from ‘amateur’ status, don’t you? Perhaps we can help him find a new title…(since somehow “The Mediocre Gourmet” doesn’t have quite to same appeal.)

Adam has the youthful enthusiasm I had before I became the hardened, yet wiser, internationally-celebrated cookbook author that I’ve become.
That was before the media and damn paparazzi pursued me relentlessly, compelling me to seek refuge and my reclusive existence in my Paris rooftop pied-à-terre, prompting much speculation in the industry. The scandals of reputed multiple cosmetic surgeries, a failed romance with Jennifer Lopez (and that American Idol star, which I can’t talk about due to our settlement agreement), the revealing slew of unauthorized biographies that cast doubt on my personal life, and that nasty, and unfortunately public, falling out with Justin and Cammy at that club after that award scandal.

All have forced me to live an unassuming and vaguely anonymous life, food blogging in Paris.

Zut!

A recent article in Le Nouvel Observateur noted a steady price increase for some of the basic staples of life in France:

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Kouign Amann Recipe

Is there anything more fabulous than something created through the wonder and miracle of caramelization?

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Is there no means and ends that one won’t go to to experience that sigh with relief when one triumphantly pulls this perfectly caramelized melange of butter, sugar, and salt out of their oven? I think not.

Those butter-loving Bretons invented this unique gâteau for delivering the maximum dose of caramel: an all-encompassing dessert, which does double-duty at tea time. And I’ve been obsessed with figuring out how to make a perfect Kouign Amann, one of my favorite caramelized things in the world. And here are my results.

I searched long-and-wide for Kouign Amann recipes, which are rare…either they’re really sketchy, assuming that no one will actually dare to make it, or they didn’t work at all and I was left with a wet, buttery mess.

This week, I pulled disk-after-caramelized-disk out of my oven in a obsessive attempt to master this dessert that I love so much. This was also much to the delight of friends and neighbors, who never thought they could get enough Kouign Amann. After all my tinkering, by now they have.

I also learned why it was so hard to find a good Kouign Amann, it’s a bit of a challenge. So if you’d like to make a Kouign Amann, here’s a few tips I learned that will help you out before you get going…


  • Use the best salted butter you can find. I use Breton salted butter, which is easy to find in France. But use whichever good salted butter you can find and flick few grains of coarse crunchy salt before folding the dough in layers and across the top before baking. It’s a pretty good approximation of the real thing.

    (There is actually only one stick of butter in the recipe, 1 tablespoon per serving, so the resulting cake seems more buttery than it actually is.)

  • This is a very sticky dough. You should have a metal bench or pastry scraper or a metal spatula handy to help with turning, as well as to keep the dough from sticking to the counter top.

  • Work fast. Letting the dough sit on the counter and warm up is not a good idea. Roll quickly.

  • Although I recommend waiting about 1 hour between rolling out the pastry layers, you can wait several hours (or overnight) for example, if you have a bit of extra time.

  • It is strictly forbidden to think about diets while your making a Kouign Amann.

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Kouign Amann

About 8 to 10 servings

  • 1 tablespoon (12 g) active dry yeast, not instant
  • ¾ cup (175 ml) tepid water
  • 2 cups (260 g) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar (which will be divided later)
  • (Plus additional sugar for rolling out the pastry)
  • 1 stick salted butter (110 g), cut into ½-inch (2 cm) cubes and chilled
  • 2-3 tablespoons additional salted butter, melted

1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water with a pinch of sugar. Stir briefly, then let stand for 10 minutes until foamy.

2. Gradually stir the flour and salt. The dough should be soft, but not too sticky. Lightly dust your countertop with flour and transfer the dough onto it.

Knead the dough with your hands until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes. If the dough is very sticky, knead in just enough flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands.

3. Brush a medium bowl with melted butter, put the dough ball into the bowl. Cover, and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, line a dinner plate with plastic wrap and set aside.

5. On a lightly floured countertop, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12″ x 18″ with the shorter sides to your left and right.

The dough may be sticky and difficult to handle. Use a metal pastry scraper to coax the dough into shape, and a minimal sprinkling of flour, as necessary. (It will all be beautiful later, trust me.)

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Distribute the cubed butter in the center of the dough and sprinkle with ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar. Grab the left side of the dough, lift and fold it over the center, than do the same with the right side (like a letter). You should have what resembles a 3-level pastry.

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6. Sprinkle the entire length of the dough with ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar and (without rolling) fold again into thirds, as before.

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Place on the plastic wrap-covered dinner plate and chill for 1 hour.

(At this point, wipe excess flour from the countertop and dust the countertop with a rather liberal handful of sugar for rolling out the pastry again.)

7. Once chilled, remove dough from refrigerator.

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Ease it away from the plastic onto the sugar-covered countertop.
(Use more sugar than shown. I was busy doing double-duty as the photographer and baker.)

Top the dough with ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar, press it in a bit with your hands, and roll into a rectangle for the last time.

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Now wasn’t it easier this time?

Again, fold into thirds and let rest in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.

8. Preheat oven to 425° F (220° C) and brush a 9-inch (23cm) pie plate, preferably non-stick, with melted butter.

9. Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll dough into a circle about the size of the baking pan. It will be sticky; dusting the top with a sprinkle of sugar will help.

Once rolled, lift the dough and coax it into the pan. (It will want to break. If so, fold it in half and quickly slide something flat under it, like the metal bench scrape AND a metal spatula and quickly slip it into the pan. If it does break, just piece it back together in the pan.)

10. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar and drizzle with 1 tablespoon melted butter.

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Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is deeply caramelized. Let stand a few minutes, then run a spatula around the edges to release the Kouign Amann and slide the cake from the pan onto a cooling rack.





Kouign Amann Links

Since this is an unusual recipe, readers may appreciate a few links and photos from people who’ve made it successfully:

Kouign Amann (Flickr stream)

Another Kouign Amann, made using American ingredients.

Served with Love makes this Kouign Amann.

French Letters shows-off a buttery example as well.