French Food Stamps

The other day I was waiting on line at La Poste (emphasis on the word ‘waiting’…), I happened to notice a new series of stamps on sale. Of course, I wanted to take a picture right then and there, but I figured everyone would think that was goofy, so I bought a set to show you:

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I love these. Stamp dedicated to cane sugar, Cantal cheese and ‘la bouillabaisse’.

And people ask me why I live in France.

Strawberry Granita Recipe

There is nothing simpler to make than a fresh fruit granita. For me, the only hard part is finding real estate in my freezer for the pan to stir it up in.

But springtime means strawberries. And lots of ‘em!

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Years ago, taste was hybridized out of commercial strawberries in favor of firmness for long-term storage, but many farmers are growing varieties of berries that have lots of flavor again. No matter where you live or shop, in supermarkets or greengrocers, you can determine quality by taking a big sniff. Where you find fragrance, flavor is sure to follow. And I find tossing strawberries in a bit of sugar and letting them stand for a bit releases their juicy sweetness and the berries become a rosy-red color.

Fraise des Bois

Granita is basically a shaved ice. No ice cream machine is needed. All you need is a fork. The mixture is simply raked while freezing. Once frozen, spoon the icy crystals over vanilla ice cream, or piled into a glass by itself, perhaps with a complimentary fruit sorbet, or maybe a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

Strawberry Granita
About 6 servings

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop (Ten Speed Press)

  • 1 pound (450g) strawberries, rinsed and hulled
  • 3 tablespoons (45g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) water
  • optional: 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1. Slice the berries into pieces. Toss the strawberries with the sugar and let stand for at least one hour at room temperature, or up to four hours. The strawberries will be very juicy and a lovely red color.

2. Place a non-reactive shallow metal or glass tray in the freezer (a long, rectangular lasagna pan works perfectly, but you can improvise.)

3. After one hour, puree the strawberries and their juices with the water in a blender. Taste, and add a squirt of fresh lemon juice if desired. At this point, if you want to strain out any seeds, you can. (I do.)

3. Pour the mixture into a shallow pan in the freezer. Check after 30 minutes. As the mixture begins to freeze, use a fork to scrape the frozen puree that froze around the edges into the center. Return to freezer.

4. Check the granita every 30 minutes, and scrape again as before, perhaps with a bit more vigor as the mixture hardens. It should take about 2 hours of freezing and scraping to finish completely.

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Related Links and Recipes

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Roquefort and Honey Ice Cream

White Chocolate Sorbet

White Chocolate and Fresh Ginger Ice Cream

Wondering which ice cream machine to buy?…
Meet Your Maker


The Return Of Salted Butter

Forget everything you’ve been told about salted butter.

Ok.
There, I hope that was easy.

(Now forget my last column.)

I’ve recently reconverted to salted butter.
Most recipe-writers like myself call for unsalted butter because it’s easier to gauge how much salt will be used in the recipe and everyone seems to be on an exactitude kick when baking. Lighten up, home cooks. If people followed traffic rules with the same methodical precision they followed recipes we’d all be a lot safer.

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Kouign Amann took me a few years to learn to pronounce (although I tried to describe this to a French person) it’s pronounced like “shwing” from Wayne’s World, which lost something for better or worse in the translation. It’s perhaps the best known dessert of this region. Driving through villages and cities, you’ll find them piled high in the window of bakeries. Layers of flaky pastry cooked with obscene amounts of salted butter and sugar. When cooked right, the combination of melt-away pastry and salty caramel is unbelievable.

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However since I wrote the last column on getting larger, I figured I’d better hold back on further descriptions of Kouign Amann and switch to gâteaux Bretons and palets Bretons. Both are basically buttery shortcakes with that lip-coating-just-near-the-ocean saltiness that cuts the richness of the butter.

Palets Bretons are small, cake-like confections (shown piled above) that have the consistency of rich cornbread with the exact blend of tender-toughness that Clint Eastwood is beginning to aspire to. Gâteaux Bretons are larger cakes made of rich better, poured into a cake mold, scraped with a fork, then baked until golden brown. When done right it’s perhaps the most delicious thing in the universe. The picture that you see here means that a lot of people will get to experience that delicious-ness themselves.

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My favorite place for palets Bretons is C. Ferchaux on the rue Général de Gaulle in Ploubazlanec (Bretons have a different language, and many of the names and places are full of “z’s”. You should have heard me trying to give directions.) I practically died walking in the bakery. The overwhelming smell of butter was greater than that of a butter farm I once visited. On the countertop was a big pot of rice pudding that the woman informed me gets cooked in the oven alongside the bread for 4 hours. I took a picture, but it would take a better food stylist than me to get rich pudding to look unctuous in a photo, so I skipped it in favor of the cakes.

Why French Women (and Men) Do Get Fat

Just about everyone coming to Paris asks me if I’ve read “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano.
No, I haven’t read it, and I’m kind of sick of hearing about it, because many of the answers just seem all too obvious. Especially one of the reasons; it’s because they smoke.

Is the alarming rise in American obesity aligned to the fact that about 20 or so years ago, people in America began to quit smoking? If you’ve been to Europe, you realize lots of people still smoke. (And I’m not sure any government wants too many to quit smoking, due to the huge taxes on cigarettes.)

But to say that there’s something that the French women know that American women don’t is rather silly. In America, people drive just about everywhere. Think when was the last time you walked to the store to buy groceries (and lugged them home?) And think about the staggering array of candies and fast-food available in ‘drugstores’ in America. And just how many calories are in that jumbo smoothie? (Answer: About 50% of your daily requirement.)

But for some reason, I wonder why Americans think there is some magic reason for the French being so slim? True in cities worldwide (and in American cities as well) many are preoccupied with appearances. But in America, the question remains why diet books are so popular, gyms are everywhere, and none of us are getting any slimmer. I loved the look on a friend’s face here in Paris when I told her that people get up at 5am in America to work out at the gym.

So here are some observations why French women, and men, are (sometimes) in better shape than their American counterparts:

1. There is more of an emphasis on quality, not quantity. Unlike in American, in France, fast-foods and soda are very expensive while fresh foods and wine tend to be cheaper. It’s expensive to eat healthy in America.

2. Meals are much lighter; there is often only one large meal per day. Many French people will have soup or a salad for a meal, unless dining in a restaurant.

3. People walk a lot. Even if you take the métro, there’s plenty of stairs to contend with. For example, these are the stairs to my apartment. Imagine lugging 4 bottles of wine, 6 liters of Badoit water, and 10 kilos of flour up there!

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(Ok, those aren’t really my front stairs…)

But just imagine how much more exercise you’d be getting if you walked to the gym (to use the treadmill) or walked to work (to sit behind a desk all day.) Still, it does add up.

4. Quantities are smaller. I’ve seen French people cutting up a single chicken wing with surgical precision, taking all the time in the world.
And consider a container of yogurt. French yogurt is about 4 ounces, half the size of their American counterparts. And for the most part, French people eat whole-milk yogurt ‘nature’, with no sugar added. Portions in America are huge.

5. There simply isn’t the culture of ‘always eating’ in France. I recently read an article about fast-food restaurants inventing new things for Americans to eat while driving. Are we all that busy? Cookbook author Marion Cunningham once said to me, “Everyone’s always telling me that they’re so busy..but I’d like to know what’s everyone so busy doing?”

6. And finally, people are not all the same size. Thankfully, most women don’t resemble Paris Hilton (scary!) or Anna Nicole-Smith (scarier!) Still, even in France, there’s more and more people that could perhaps walk a bit more, and consume a bit less.

I’m often asked how I manage to stay in shape eating all the fabulous foods around me. Well, for the most part, when I indulge in a croissant, for example, I’ll eat the best croissant I know of (the ones at Au Levain du Marais at 28, blvd Beaumarchais near the Bastille come to mind.) If I want chocolate, I don’t bother with a big, rich chocolate dessert. I’ll eat a few squares of the very best, most bittersweet chocolate I know of.

Ok, off for a walk to Berthillon for ice cream…

I’m Nuts For This Sausage

A friend of mine, another David L (who also worked at Chez Panisse with me and is now a chef in Switzerland) comes to visit me often, and it’s one of the few times I let someone else into my tiny kitchen. He’s a terrific cook, and perhaps the only person who is more picky about the way things should be in a kitchen than I am.
David and I like to roam about town looking for things to eat but we always we have a falafel at L’As du Falafel on the rue des Rosiers, in the Marais when he arrives. I usually insist visitors to Paris go there during their trip, since I would rank their 3.5 euro falafel as good as many 3-star dining experiences (and better, and cheaper, than one I recently had.)

Recently we were at the Richard Lenoir market, off the Bastille, and on sunday (the market is thursday and sunday) there are two of the nicest young women from the Savoie selling products from their region. They’ve got everything from buckwheat squares of pasta, rugged mountain cheeses, and cured meats. David (the other one) was excited to see this sausage which is studded with nuts!

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It seemed pretty wacky to me to put nuts in sausage, isn’t it? But the nutty, crunchy almonds are terrific and I can’t wait until next sunday since, as you can see, I’m almost at the end of my, er, sausage.

Welcome to my web site, DavidLebovitz.com

It’s finally up, my new blog. (Actually I’ve been blogging before it was cool, beginning in ’99) but new software is making this much easier, or so I’ve been told.

We’ve been working months on getting things ready with a vivid new design.

You’ll find lots of new postings, sometimes daily, mostly about things I’m finding to eat, recipes, places I visit, and more.

There’s also a place for readers to post comments, which I read and respond to.

Please be patient with this site for the next few weeks as I learn how to post text and pictures (it’s ain’t as easy as making brownies…)

There may be typos, misspellings, accents missing, and general chaos, but once I get things up and running smoothly, you’ll want to visit often.

Thanks, and ‘a bientôt’

David

Springtime In Paris

There’s plenty of clichés about Paris in the springtime that are true. But what I really am happy to see are the return of the radishes. I love radishes, and by the looks of things, so do Parisians…

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Wow!
I can’t get enough of them and I always get two bunches, since I eat one right away, dipping each crisp, spicy radish in a bowl of fleur de sel.

One radish vendor told me eating radishes will make you sleep better.
Lars, a German friend, told me to save the leaves and make soup (which sounds icky), and Chinese medicine practitioners eat daikon white radishes to ‘cool’ down. I remember as a kid, in my first (and only) garden I planted radishes, which actually grew!… unlike much of the other things I planted. I discovered it wasn’t much fun pulling weeds when everyone else was playing, so the garden was abandoned after the first radish harvest.

Luckily radishes are in abundance right now, and I can buy them weekly at my local market in the Bastille, and I’m using them as much as I can. Aside from dipping them in salt, I thinly slice radishes and toss them with coarse frisée, toasted hazelnuts and hazelnut oil; a terrific salad served with a round of fresh or aged goat cheese. Trimmed radishes, split lengthwise, are tasty served alongside Tapenade.

L’Autre Boulange

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Bread lined up at one of my favorite bakeries in Paris, L’Autre Boulange


So it’s springtime here in Paris. At my outdoor market, I’ve been buying colorful blood oranges from Tunisia and Spain and making refreshing sorbets, then candying the peel to serve alongside. (My grandmother never let me throw anything away…) As the weather gets warmer, dinner’s often a simple salad of peppery arugula and watercress sprinkled with a drizzle of argan oil, a favorite oil, made from argan nuts that have been munched by tree-climbing goats in Morocco, after which they’re “expelled”, then laboriously pressed.

I’ve also been baking tagines (Moroccan casseroles) using spring lamb and plump, sweet prunes from Agen. And sometimes dinner will just be a slice of Terrine Gascon which I get from my local butcher, made from shredded duck confit and I suspect an overdose of duck fat. (I figure if I down enough rosé with it, that will dilute the richness in my system.) There are also many new cheeses that I’m trying at my fromagerie, such as an earthy, crumbly, and pungent bleu cheese from Savoie, ripe and gooey brie de Meaux, and a new favorite, Langres, a copper-colored knob that when sliced, reveals a soft, creamy interior with the lovely sweet-pungent smell of fresh cream, grass, and barnyard.

And I’ve been trying as many new chocolates I can get. I’ve had some lovely bars from Green & Black’s organic chocolate from Great Britain, as well as handcrafted Tuscan chocolates from Slitti and Amedei that I’ll be visiting with guests in May during my upcoming Italian Chocolate Tour.

For those of you unfamiliar with Tuscan chocolates, they are some of the finest chocolates you’ll ever sample. Wish you were coming along?

The International Salon d’Agriculture in Paris

Each winter, the International Salon d’Agriculture occurs in Paris at the enormous Porte de Versailles exhibition center. The French are in love with anything agricultural. I recently saw a huge, room-sized map of France artfully composed of vegetables and fruits from the various regions.

And they love cows. (Well, living in a country with the most exceptional cheeses in the world, I am beginning to worship them as well.) When I last went to the post office, I was offered their newest stamps, which featured a cow. When I showed them off to some French friends that came for dinner that night, there was much ooh-ing and ahh-ing.

Although I do like cows as much as, um, the next person…I was more intrigued by the food representing all the regions of France and several other European communities and Africa. I bought a hunk of nutty Gruyère from the Swiss pavilion that was really, really good and sweet-scented, slender vanilla beans from the Antilles.

There was lots of unusual seafood to gasp at, delicious Basque foie gras conserved with pimente d’Espelette (smoked pepper powder), and much wine to sample, as well as Pommeau, an aperitif of Calvados brandy blended with apple cider.

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I’m Thinking of Giving Up Fish

I meet some lively Africans from the Ivory Coast, who split open a cocoa bean and fed me the slippery seeds within. If you’ve never seen a cocoa bean, they’re beautiful pods filled with slippery, almond-sized beans imbedded in a creamy liquid.

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African Cocoa Beans

Although the Salon is great fun, it’s always mobbed and this year was no exception. The one thing you never want to do is get between a French person and food. Otherwise, look out!

L’Autre Boulange
43, rue de Montreuil (11th)
and
12, place de la Nation (12th)