Galette des rois

galette des rois recipe

Starting in late December, pastry shops in Paris start jumping the gun, and windows and showcases begin filling up with Galettes des rois, or King Cake, in anticipation of the celebration of Epiphany, on January 6th.

Galette des Rois

Because it’s such a popular treat, and lucrative for bakeries, the period of availability seems to extend a few more days every year and it’s not unusual for find bakeries peddling them until the end of the month of January. It’s hard to blame them (and those of us who buy them) because they’re so good. Years ago, I used to bake them when I worked in restaurants, and they’re called Pithiviers, named for the town in the Loiret (south of Paris) where they allegedly originated.

Continue Reading Galette des rois…

Almond Flour FAQs

almond powder

Is almond flour the same as almond meal or ground almonds?

Yes. If you are unsure, check the ingredients on the package; the only ingredient listed should be almonds. If there are other ingredients, it’s not the same thing and should not be used in a recipe that calls for almond flour. Other names for almond flour are powdered almonds, almond meal, and almond powder.

(Some say that only blanched almonds are used for what is called almond flour, but I’ve seen unblanched almond “flour” listed as such, so that’s not always the case.)

What is the difference between natural and blanched almond flour?

Blanched almonds have had theirs skins removed. This is done by dropping them in boiling water for about a minute. Draining them in cold water, and slipping the skins off. Unblanched almonds have their skins on. Both kinds of almonds are then ground up for almond flour. A majority of almond flour you’ll come across is made from blanched almonds since most people prefer the lighter crumb and appearance in cakes and other baked goods. Some bakers say that unblanched almond flour can make baked goods heavier, but I’ve not found it to make a tremendous difference. So you can use either, unless one is specifically called for in a recipe.

Continue Reading Almond Flour FAQs…

A Very Good Steak frites in Paris

Café des Musées

I’m not the only one who is sometimes confounded by the French language. We recently had lunch at Café des Musées and my (French) partner ordered the entrecôte. Which I was eyeing on the menu, as I always do. But since I just finished a holiday food binge of epic proportions (plus a recent trip to San Francisco, where I gorged on tortillas, chow fun, and burritos), I decided to be a little more prudent and order the daily chalkboard special, a game dish that came with a salade de saison.

Café des Musées

Americans have an interesting relationship with steaks and beef: Before ordering, most people want to know what cut they’re going to get. Fair enough, as the French have their own specific cuts, such as bavette, onglet, rumsteack, and faux filet, among others. Much to visitors chagrin, they don’t all necessarily correspond to American or British (or other) cuts of beef that visitors are used to.

And although Americans are used to eating a wider swath of foods than we’re given credit for, most of us want to know exactly what is coming when we order our food: we want to know how it’s going to be cooked, what it’s going to be served with, if there is sauce with it – and often, if we can modify it in some way, and if we can take the rest home if we don’t finish it all.

Beef cuts France

(Since cuts of beef aren’t my area of specialty, I’ve been know to carry around a diagram of a cow with the French beef cuts denoted, showing which cut comes from where, and let them fend for themselves. Yet sometimes the menu or chalkboard descriptions are a little obtuse, like pièce du boucher or morceau de bœuf, which are “selection of the butcher” and “piece of beef”, respectively, which prompts a lot of questions. And for those times, I usually excuse myself to use the restroom and come back after they’ve ordered. Which I hope doesn’t make me a bad friend.)

Continue Reading A Very Good Steak frites in Paris…

Buvette Gastrothèque

chocolate mousse

There was a lot of talk this year about how Paris, and its food scene, are changing. Some of the talk was regarding gentrification by hipsters in Paris and the transformation of certain quartiers of the city. It was discussed widely by people who don’t live in Paris, and by those of us who do. (And those who work in, or frequent, the area.) Among those of us that live here, it brought up some wider issues, many reflected in the very good article, The Other Paris, Beyond the Boulevards.

fruit juice

Paris is often seen as a living “museum” – a city that is constantly referencing its past. “Improvements” often yield mixed results; the city has a spiffy new website and the auto-sharing program, Autolib, has been a hit. Yet the popular Vélib bike program is reportedly reducing the number of bikes by one-third and people are questioning if the current renovation of Les Halles is mirroring the same mistakes of the former structure, that it replaced.

Continue Reading Buvette Gastrothèque…

Winter Salad with Pecans, Pears and Gorgonzola

winter salad recipe blog pears pecans gorgonzola

I eat a salad almost every day. I grab a big bowl, make dressing in it, then toss in whatever ingredients I have on hand. It might be a hard-boiled egg, miscellaneous greens, bits of roast chicken, slivered carrots, shredded cabbage, toasted nuts, cherry tomatoes, crumbled cheese, and so forth – whatever I have on hand. (But hold the alfalfa sprouts; does anyone really like those?)

It gets pretty frosty in Paris in the winter, and I always feel sorry for the outdoor market vendors who stand there and shiver while we decide on what to buy. Those of us who descend on the market try to get in and out as fast as possible. When it gets really cold, some vendors huddle near plug-in heaters that don’t seem to do all that much, but I’m sure are better than nothing. (They have them in some of the French train stations as well, and people flock to be close to them, as if they were some mythic totem.)

At home, I’m okay in the heat department, but each year I vow I’m going to get one of those lights that is supposed to make you happy during the gray winter season. I was once a guest on a television show in New York and they had one in the corner of their kitchen. When I asked if it really made a difference, they said, “We’re not sure…but we seem to gravitate toward it, and all of us end up working around it.”

Continue Reading Winter Salad with Pecans, Pears and Gorgonzola…

La Maison du Whisky

La Maison du Whisky

This weekend, I think I just made my twentieth, and last, visit of the year to La Maison du Whisky. For the life of me, I have no idea what prompted me to go to a liquor store the Saturday before Christmas. Well, actually I do.

La Maison du Whisky

I was preparing to refill one of my empty cocktail aging barrels and the next cocktail on the docket required red (sweet) vermouth. After exhausting the three liquor stores in my neighborhood, who had no idea what I was talking about (although one caviste thanked me for illuminating him, which I thought was odd because I know very little about vermouth), I took a very crowded #96 bus over to the Left Bank to stock up on a few bottles.

La Maison du Whisky

Continue Reading La Maison du Whisky…

Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Pretzel Cupcakes

Chocolate peanut butter pretzel Robicelli's cupcakes

Well, this is quite a baking book. Starting off with the first thirty-one pages, which contain some of the most profanity laced – and best – advice I’ve read about baking. (Hmm, maybe I’ve been doing it all wrong.) But I couldn’t put Robicelli’s: A Love Story with Cupcakes down as I read through the fore matter, which the authors admonish that you’d better read because they “spent the better part of two freaking years” writing it because they “don’t want you jumping in like a lunatic and do(ing) something stupid.” Fair enough.

chocolate, peanut butter & pretzel cupcakes

So it’s a good idea to drop any reluctance you have to strong language – and cupcakes – if you want to enjoy this book, which I couldn’t put down and is truly laugh-out-loud funny. After dropping a number of f-bombs, the Robicelli’s warn you right off the bat that you’re probably thinking that cupcakes are stupid. And they agree with you, that many cupcakes are. But they make their case saying cupcakes are basically individual-sized versions of cake, which they say is one of the top five things in the world. And everyone likes cake – so why the hate?

Continue Reading Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Pretzel Cupcakes…

Zuni Café and Chez Panisse

Zuni hamburger with blue cheese

I tried. I gave it my best shot to try and make it through the list of the new places that were on my radar for my visit to San Francisco, the one that I’d been scribbling down for the last few month. But getting felled by a bout of whatever it was that I picked up on my flight sapped me of a bit of my energy. Fortunately, midway through my trip, I was able to rally back and proved myself to be the trooper that I knew I could be. But apologies to the folks who came by to meet me at my event, for the laryngitis that prevented me from expressing my enthusiasm for meeting you! And thanks for braving the cold temperatures to come out and say hi.

Even since my last visit just a few years ago, a bunch of bakeries, chocolate purveyors, bread places, and restaurants have opened in San Francisco that pretty much knocked my socks off. I was also thrilled to see that the city has implemented a city-wide composting program, to deal with all the kitchen and food scraps that normally get tossed. Seeing that has prompted me to take another look at options in my own kitchen in Paris, since it pains me to throw things that can be reused away. (The worm-based composters, which seem to be the best option for apartment-dwellers, make me a little uneasy. I have nothing against worms, but am not sure I could sleep soundly at night with a big container of them wriggling around nearby.)

Zuni burger

Continue Reading Zuni Café and Chez Panisse…