Results tagged honey from David Lebovitz

Cornbread with Harissa Butter

Cornbread recipe with harissa butter

One of my friends who also has a food blog told me that she likes the posts where I cobble together ingredients in Paris to make something American. After spending countless hours roaming the city in search of this and that, it’s something that is actually fun for me to do, too. I like nothing better than prowling around and discovering ethnic épiceries (often around Belleville and the Marché d’Aligre), where I always come home with a variety of curiosities, in addition to what I was originally looking for. Some are still in the back of my cabinets, like still-sealed coconut concentrate from Vietnam (which looks similar to molasses, and probably tastes amazing), and the bag of Fritos, which an American friend who was staying in my apartment spied, and threatened to open – and eat. But didn’t

Four years later – yup, the coconut concentrate is still in my baking cabinet, and the Fritos are still uneaten, along with a bag mahlab, the fragrant kernels of Mediterranean cherry pits, a dried-out stalk of candied angelica, which I had to buy since I searched far and wide for fresh angelica in France (even in the region where candied angelica is made) and no one knew where – or what – fresh angelica was (thus ending my ability to spin a story, and a recipe, out of that one). I have a tin sack of سبع بهارات, a Lebanese blend of seven spices that has no occidental equivalent that I can think of. There is a small box of handmade chocolate from Oaxaca that has been calling my name ever since the start of hot chocolate season. And just added to my roster are six juicy, plump Meyer lemons that were hand-delivered, and are begging to be made into something that exploits their unique, sweet-citrusy character.

bacon

While I love to play around with these things in baking, it’s hard to share any recipes because not everything is available everywhere. And while the internet fills a lot of gaps in global availability, there are no substitutes for a number of things. Fortunately cornmeal is something that is readily available not just in America, but is used in the cuisines of India, Sri Lanka, and Italy, as well as Central and South America. And a few months back, I was happy to find a bag of cornmeal in a shop VT Cash & Carry, up in the lively Indian quartier of Paris.

The French have a different relationship to corn than Americans. It’s native to us so we use it often, in a variety of guises – mostly fresh, but also dried and ground. But other cultures have cornmeal-based specialties. Lest you think the French don’t ever use cornmeal, think again, mes amis.

Cornbread recipe

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Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée Restaurant

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

A few years ago in Paris, I was invited to a special lunch by Dan Barber, of Blue Hill in New York City, who prepared a meal at the restaurant of Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée. I’ve been fortunate to be on the guest list for some of these meals, including ones that profiled Japanese and Chinese chefs, meant to introduce the foods of other cultures to journalists and food professionals here in Paris.

Of course, Alain Ducasse has upscale restaurants in Paris, Monte Carlo, New York, and Tokyo. But during a recent renovation of the Plaza Athenée hotel in Paris, Chef Ducasse and his chef at the restaurant, Romain Meder, decided to break from – and challenge – the traditional definition of luxury dining, and feature the producers and farmers, who produce the food, where good cooking starts. The menu has been completely rewritten, focusing on vegetables and sustainable fish.

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

Before this transformation, when Dan Barber was at the restaurant, he gave an impassioned talk to the French journalists and food writers (along with a few of us anglophones) that were assembled, about what he’s doing at his restaurants and his philosophy. Unfortunately the translator gave a word-for-word recapitulation, which didn’t (and couldn’t) explain the sociological shift and remarkable, and profound, transformation in American dining and eating habits over the last few decades. People used to say to me, “Don’t all Americans eat at McDonald’s?” But those who have been to the states now come back, and say “The food was incroyable.”

Farmers’ markets are in full swing in most major cities in America, and on airplanes (and in fast-food restaurants), you’re likely to find bits of radicchio in your baby lettuce salad, and even my local Safeway in San Francisco had organic milk from a local producer and bean-to-bar chocolate. French cuisine has taken a notable hit, mostly because of the increased reliance on pre-packaged foods. But that’s kind of becoming a thing of the past, and the tides are turning. And in this case, it’s coming from the top.

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

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Corsica

Corsica

I finally got to Corsica. I’d heard so much about it. But somehow, I’d never made it there. Corsica is a large island off the Mediterranean coast of France, which has had a rather back-and-forth relationship with France. But the short story is that it was back under French rule in 1796, where it’s firmly (although to some, precariously) remained.

Corsica

Its most famous resident was – and still is – Napoléon Bonaparte. And the airport in Ajaccio, where we flew into from Paris is named after him. since he was born there.

Corsica

Our friend who we were rendez-vous-ing with was arriving in the early evening, so we had some time to stroll around the city. We started at the excellent Musée Fesch, named for the uncle of Napoléon, who was a collector of Italian art. The current exhibition featured classic paintings, paired with recent work by Andres Serrano, an artist most famous for submerging a crucifix in pipi.

Corsica

The photograph of that was the only work in the museum that was protected by Plexiglas and there was an interesting few paragraphs that accompanied it, offering a little explanation, ending with “typical American culture….politically correct.”

When I arrived in France, my second French teacher asked me, “Why are Americans so politically correct?” It’s been over a decade and I’m still not sure I have an answer. (Or, being from San Francisco, know why that is even a question.) But a reader noted that there was an attack on the photo in France as well. So even if it’s not typique, I guess I should be glad to know we share the title, at times, for being PC. Or whatever you want to call it when it comes to religious icons. However perhaps in this case, it’s best to leave the “P” out of it.

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Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Granola

peanut butter chocolate chip granola recipe-20

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Just like “muffin” is basically another word for cake, granola doesn’t have to be strictly “health food.” In fact, some granolas are so sweet they could easily qualify as candy. But since I tend to spend the better part of the day roaming around my apartment, sticking my hand in various boxes and jars of stuff to eat (some that qualify as health food, while other things that don’t quite fit that definition), I wanted to come up with a granola (called muesli, in French) that I didn’t feel so guilty about dipping my hand into throughout the day.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Granola

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Almond Honey Squares

Almond-Honey Squares recipe-15

When I take visitors through those big glass doors of the La Grande Épicerie in Paris, the first stop may very well be the spectacular pastry section, where fanciful cakes wrapped with ribbons of chocolate, or covered with a spun-sugar lattice topping, are proudly displayed in glass showcases like jewels.

Almond Honey Squares

In the corner, less obvious, are the sweets for le grignotages, or snacking. (Which they also call le snacking, in French.) Among the sugar-topped chouquettes and scalloped madeleines, are squares of candied almond-covered shortbread, called miella. Although they don’t grab your eye with the same intensity as the surrounding pastries, they are my favorite thing in the showcase and I am borderline addicted to them. When I point them out to people, they rarely show the same enthusiasm as I do, being more transfixed by the rows and rows of colorful macarons and glossy éclairs. “Tant pis” (tough sh*t, or more politely “too bad”) as they say – more for me!

Almond Honey Squares

Fortunately, I am able to limit my consumption to the occasional trips across Paris, when I feel the need to do some damage at the grandest culinary supermarket in town. Not that I need an excuse to go there, but it’s probably best I don’t have easy access to those caramelized almond-honey squares. (And the three aisles of chocolate bars.) Well, until now.

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Gastrique

Gastrique recipe

I don’t regularly watch American cooking programs and competitions, although occasionally I come across them on TV here in France, dubbed (Version Française, or VF), which makes them less interesting to watch. And I don’t go to those cooking vacations where chefs come and cook for guests on tropical islands because, frankly, I’m never asked. (Although unbelievably, I did just get an email from a public relations person, which contained links and photos to one of those food festivals, asking me to write a post on my blog about it…even though I wasn’t there.)

So I decided to spare you a post with someone else’s photos about an event that I didn’t even go to. But while everyone else was frolicking on the beach sipping tiki cocktails with their favorite chefs, I was at home, reading. One thing that caught my eye in the newspaper was an article about Bobby Flay – who often appears on television and probably gets to go to those food festivals – regarding a new restaurant he is opening in New York after a hiatus from restaurant cooking.

roquefort cheese

Unlike writing about faux vacations, I was much more intrigued by a recipe for Chicken with Roquefort cheese that accompanied the article. So I went to the market and came home with a big hunk (unfortunately, not the guy from the Auvergne who sells sausages and terrines, with the dreamy smile..) of the blue-green veined cheese that happens to be the first AOC designated food in France.

(The AOC designation was enacted in 1925, and was meant to control and protect production and quality standards. See how much more important reading and researching is, rather than sitting at a bar by the ocean, drinking rum cocktails with warm sand under your feet?)

Gastrique

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RAP Épicerie

RAP Italian Epicerie

Due to our closeness to Italy, it’s fairly easy to find an Italian épicerie in almost any Parisian neighborhood. (Although locating an authentic Italian espresso is a little more elusive.) I’m fortunate because there are two excellent Italian épiceries (speciality food shops) close to where I live, but most of the places get their items from a distributor, which means the selection is somewhat narrow. Few places have farro, and I’ve never seen anyone selling farina polenta taragna, the mix of polenta and buckwheat that I first had in the mountains above Milan, and I’d never seen it anywhere outside of Italy. (So I’ve been making my own.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

That’s not a complaint – it’s great to be able to find Sicilian salumi and pasta from Tuscany. And Cooperative Latte Cisternino, an excellent Italian dairy cooperative, is a terrific place for Italian cheeses and other products. (Although they always seem to be closed when I go there.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

But artisanal products, items from small producers, are a little more challenging to find. So I was charmed when my friend Terresa and I took a field trip to discover RAP, which offers rarely seen Italian foods, imported directly by Alessandra Pierini, who curates the selection in her jammed-to-the-rafters shop in the 9th arrondissement.

RAP Italian Epicerie

I haven’t seen such a varied and curious selection of products all together outside of Italy since, well – ever. (Eataly, eat your heart out.) Granted RAP is tiny; imagine if someone pushed eight phone booths together, and you’ll get some idea of its size.

RAP Italian Epicerie

Yet I was incredibly excited to be surrounded by shelves and shelves holding many of the foods I love from Italy, including unusual chocolates, citron soda, and pure, unadulterated pistachio spreads, which were in danger of being eclipsed by things that I’d never seen or tasted.

RAP Italian Epicerie

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No-Bake Granola Bars

granola bar recipe picture

Someone once asked me how I know when to give up on a recipe. Sometimes I realize after a few tries, that I should just forget about it. And others, like the tarte tropézienne in my next book, I made seventeen times until I got it just right. (Because I got a little crazy about getting it just right, including bringing slices around to local bakeries to get their opinions. Plus making a second trip to the bakery in the south of France where I had the one that inspired me to include it.) And the cake has four components, so multiply that times seventeen, but I still didn’t give up until I got it just right.

No-bake granola bars

Speaking of my next book, I had a kind of funny idea (well, at least to me…) to end the book with a recipe that has been vexing me for ages: granola bars. And I would accompany my spectacular barre de müesli recipe with a triumphant story about how I was able to succeed in the face of multi-grain adversity, which somehow I could turn into a metaphor for my culinary life. (In that very special way that I do…which has editors scratching their heads as my writing curves from one completely different subject to eventually landing on another – which, if I/they have any luck, is on the recipe at hand.)

No-bake granola bars

But after a whole other round of testing, as my deadline loomed – and I had depleted all the flacons d’avoine (oats) in the natural food stores of my neighborhood – I realized that it was time to give up my idea of including a naturally delicious dream bar, and move on with the rest of my life.

No-bake granola bars

Then, one day, I had little peanut butter frosting leftover from a project, sitting in a bowl on the counter. And since we were taking a trip and I wanted to bake up something to take along to snack on, I mixed it up with some nuts, dried fruits, and whatever I had around – then pressed the whole shebang into a pan and baked it up. And you know what? Bingo! They were the best granola bars I’d ever had, hands down. C’est la verité.

No-bake granola bars

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