Right before we left on our grand adventure, my good friend D -- a fellow blogger, frequent commenter on The Casual Baker, and (I suspect) a bit of a blog addict in general -- passed along a link to one of her favourite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen.
Stumbling upon an established food blog is like hitting a gold mine, with weeks, months and sometimes even years of historical posts ready and waiting. I always begin with good intentions: "Oh, I'll just read the most recent entries and then slowly make my way back in time over a few weeks. A few old posts here and there, on the days when my habitual food blog circuit comes up a little short on content."
But, almost without fail, something on one of the side panels (a category title or a randomly selected recipe) catches my eye and good intentions fly out the window with self control in hot pursuit. Before I know it, I'm clicking through recipe after recipe, pictures blurring into one other, ravenously exploring every inch in only the most superficial way.
It was in the midst of this latter phase that I came across a recipe for blondies and found myself sufficiently inspired to stop the insanity and get baking. The formula for blondies is simple. Take the dense texture of a brownie, subtract the chocolate, and add a rich butterscotch flavour (usually the product of brown sugar, butter and fragrant vanilla).
Bake. Cool. Cut. Eat. Repeat.
Best enjoyed with your favourite brunette.
Source: Based on a recipe posted on Smitten Kitchen, 25 November 2006.
Note: Would be delicious, I imagine, with a generous handful of butterscotch chips.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Monday, May 21, 2007
On Wednesday past, we had our first visitor from home. R's sister M stayed one night with us en route to Marrakech for some much-deserved R&R. While we could offer nothing but damp, dreary weather and an air mattress on the floor (more on that later), she was still kind enough to bring both our summer clothes and a few oft-missed food items that we can't find or just aren't the same here. Equally distressing situations, really.
Let's see who's on his/her game and can guess what was in our food package (see the photos below for clues). Nothing to win, except my admiration!
OK, back to the air mattress while you're working on your guesses. When attempting to buy an air mattress in France, be sure to throw in that's it for le camping, even when it's not, or you will be certain to get more than a few strange looks. Also, do not be fooled by the se gonfle et se dégonfle très facilement sticker on the box. This does not mean your air mattress comes equipped with one of those built-in pumps (or any pump for that matter). And there is nothing easy about inflating an air mattress using the air exhaust vent of your vacuum cleaner and a makeshift pipe fashioned out of an empty water bottle. Well at least it didn't look easy from my vantage point on the couch.
Somehow, amidst all this excitement, we managed to slip in a delicious meal at a local world cuisine hotspot called Ave Maria, just down the street and around the corner. Recommended by my craft services partner from my early weeks in Paris on a student film shoot, Ave Maria was a pleasant surprise after an uncertain start. I will admit to being concerned at first, sliding behind a precariously placed plywood table in a room where cigarettes easily outnumbered plates. And normally I'd balk at a restaurant offering such a broad selection of cuisines on its menu: M dined on Afghan cuisine, R ate Indian, and I chose Mexican. But with generous portions and flavourful food, not to mention an (as yet) untested dessert menu, Ave Maria will lure me back.
1, rue Jacquard
Labels: Away from the kitchen
Friday, May 18, 2007
Pendaison de Crémaillère (Housewarming)
We moved this past weekend. By taxi. With all of our worldly possessions packed in two suitcases and a series of plastic bags, we bid farewell to the calm of the 16ème in exchange for the bustle of the 11ème. In an instant, my view of Paris shifted 180 degrees.
The well-coiffed Parisienne matrons with their yappy leashed companions have been replaced with chic twenty- and thirty-somethings walking arm-in-arm, the traditional French brasseries with trendy world cuisine, and the impeccably maintained residences with the occasional graffiti-decorated door. And I couldn't be more pleased.
As always, I turned to food to mark the occasion, with a housewarming gift to us from us. You can eye something forever, waiting for someone else to notice and make it yours, or you can go out and treat yourself.
R: Chocolates from Régis?! You shouldn't have!
S: Really, it's my pleasure. What a lovely studio apartment we have. And Parmentier, un quartier très sympa.
Stepping into the shop, I was careful to avoid eye contact with the shiny cellophane bags of chocolate-covered caramels, orangettes and pâtes des fruits, and instead strode purposefully toward the glass confections counter.
"Are they a gift," asked the woman behind the counter, "or are they simply for tasting?" Flushing slightly, I confirmed that we had no intention of sharing. Smiling, she diplomatically recommended the 250-gram Régis bag as the value-maximizing alternative.
"Un mélange, s'il vous plaît." Tumbling into the bag, one after the other, the flash of silver tongs on bite-size morsels of dark and milk chocolate filled with rich ganache, crunchy butter toffee, soft caramel, smooth pastes, and nutty bits of almond, peanut, hazelnut and pistachio. Around 30 confections in total, not counting the two samples (of our choice, I might add) that we were offered after showing interest in making a purchase.
The important question I'm left with, of course, is how big a box do you need to buy to score those free samples?
89 rue de Passy
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Originally from the Limousin region in central France, clafoutis is a baked custard dessert traditionally made with unpitted cherries. Never one for unpitted cherries (who is, incidentally?), I set out to make a clafoutis all my own. My first inclination was foiled when our great deal on Spanish strawberries at the local marché revealed its true colours overnight, turning into a soggy paperbagful of moldy mush. But, being the type to keep my eye on the prize (especially when it comes to dessert), I dragged R. and I here, there and everywhere around the 16ème the next day (a Sunday, no less) looking for a suitable replacement fruit, eventually settling on red plums.
Much like my first attempt at a soufflé, the clafoutis puffed up into a beautiful golden dome during baking, only to lose a bit of steam en route from the oven to our plates. But the sweet scent of cream and plums prevailed and we forged onward, with a dusting of icing sugar and forks blazing.
While we're on the subject, it's worth mentioning a small but perhaps significant cultural difference when it comes to icing sugar. In Canada, I buy my icing sugar by the kilo and use it by the cupful in frostings, fudge and shortbread. In France, icing sugar is sold by the 1/2 kilo in a tall cylindrical shaker, much like an oversize spice bottle, with a series of small punctures in the lid. If you want a cupful of icing sugar in France, you have to be in it for the long haul, one puff at a time.
I think there's a lesson in here somewhere, but I'm feigning ignorance for the time being. You know, ignorance and bliss and all that.
Plum Almond Clafoutis
4 small red plums
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a pie plate.
Pit the plums and slice them into small wedges (about 8 per plum). Arrange the plums evenly in the bottom of the greased pie plate.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the sugar and whisk well. Add the milk, cream and vanilla and whisk some more.
Add the ground almonds, flour and salt, and whisk until smooth. Gently pour the batter over the plums.
Bake until puffed and golden on top (about 40 minutes, but check after 30 minutes).
Serve warm with a dusting of icing sugar.
Note: Equally delicious served reheated, or even cold, the next morning for a breakfast with a small dollop of yogurt, fromage blanc or crème fraîche épaisse, depending on your decadence quotient.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
3 Reasons Why Gâteau au Yaourt Is My New Favourite Cake (And Why It Should Be Yours Too)
A French family classic that deserves cross-the-pond recognition, gâteau au yaourt is my new favourite cake. Here’s why:
1. It's not so bad for you.
Look, I'm not here to convince you that this cake is health food because, let's face it, this recipe is clearly lacking in the spelt department. But with only 1/2 cup of a healthy oil and the option of using lower fat yogurt, you could be doing much worse.
2. It's moist.
When it comes steaming out of the oven and you first cut into it. When you sample it a second time a few hours later (purely out of scientific curiosity, of course) to see how the taste has changed since it's cooled off. Just before bed, after having been left on the kitchen table, uncovered, all day. Again in the morning, despite the plastic wrap that refuses to stick. And in your lunch the day after that. And, well, by day 3 you shouldn't have to worry about it anymore.
3. It's versatile.
This recipe can take you from a cozy afternoon spent in the company of a book and a cup of Earl Grey, to a triumphant strawberry shortcake finish at a summer dinner party, and everywhere in between.
Bake in your favourite berries or fruit for a weekend brunch. Layer with your favourite jam, custard, ganache, crème de marron or Nutella for a simple weekday dessert. Ice and stack with your favourite icing, frosting or whipped cream for a birthday celebration.
Now start playing with the ingredients: substitute ground almonds for a portion of the flour; try flavoured yogurts instead of plain; or intensify the flavour with citrus zest and a splash of juice or your favourite liqueur.
Don’t be shy, it’s a forgiving recipe.
Gâteau au Yaourt
1 cup plain yogurt, unsweetened
½ cup canola oil
1 cup sugar (I used a mixture of cassonade and white sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8- or 9-inch cake pan (or line with parchment paper).
In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the eggs. Add the yogurt, oil, sugar and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and stir just until combined.
Pour mixture into prepared baking pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Source: Chocolate & Zucchini, http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2005/10/gateau_au_yaourt.php, although alternative versions abound.
Labels: Cakes and cupcakes