Tuesday, April 20, 2010

PIZZA-OFF, with café side-trips, and a Heartwarming Spaghetti Conclusion

We couldn't decide on what kind of pizza to make. Our differing pizza philosophies and sensibilities just couldn't seem to be reconciled. We should make a simple, traditional kind of pizza, was Clément's take. Let's go to the market on Sunday morning and throw whatever looks good onto dough, was my somewhat less strategic point of view. While debating in the line at the grocery store, store-bought pizza crust in tow, we decided that there was only way we could reach a decision.

We would have to have a Pizza-Off.

I of course immediately sprinted back to the refrigerated section to get another crust.

Sunday morning, we did our farmer's market shopping, and the two contenders were announced: Three Cheese (C.) v. Mediterranean Veggie (me). Let me tell you, it was on.

We spent Sunday, the most beautiful Spring day we've had in Paris so far, each of us gloating about our certain victory as we strolled through the neighborhood, passing by the Parc de Belleville and stumbling across La Mer à Boire, a café/bar located at the end of Rue des Envierges, a street that ends abruptly on the highest point of a hill which looks over the park, and all of Paris for that matter. The view was stunning, and I had no idea it existed! It's on the top of my Places to Get a Drink Outside This Spring/Summer list, but on this particular day we didn't stop our strolling.

We ended up in another café along the Canal Saint-Martin, after an afternoon's walk. Clément had a beer, and I a Diabolo Menthe. For those of you who may not be familiar with this very French concoction, it's French limonade (so the sweet, sparkly, light-on-the-lemon variety) with mint syrup, and on a warm, sunny day, it's just the thing. So refreshing! And so green...

And finally, we were home, armed with various veggies and cheeses, not to mention warriorlike determination, and the contest began.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spiced Carrot and Onion "Khoresh Muffins"

So, the other night I was looking to make some lamb stew. Lamb stew sounded good. So I was looking around for recipes on the internet when I came across this one: Lamb and Orange Khoresh, a Persian dish that looked quite worthy of trying. I followed the recipe perfectly except that I didn't add the orange flower water (completely forgot) and I put turmeric instead of the optional saffron. After an hour and a half of slow-cooking in my cast-iron Dutch oven later, the result was lovely. Extremely flavorful, and I loved the combination of orange and lamb with the turmeric, cinnamon, and green cardamom.

Which brings me to now. Really, it does, the connection will be made apparent momentarily. Last night, I was, for whatever reason, dying to make cupcakes or muffins or some cake-like substance to put into my muffin tin (I have no other cake-baking vessel, but I accept that, as I like cupcakes and muffins). All of that led me to the question: WHAT is the difference between cupcakes and muffins? Is it the icing? I suppose it's because cupcakes are made with cake batter and muffins are made with more of a quick bread batter. But WHAT is the technical difference between, for example, pumpkin bread and pumpkin cake? Why is the world so confusing?

The internet gives me answers like "DUH ONE IS CAKE AND ONE IS BREAD" (very helpful) or "cake is richer and sweeter than quick bread," but my taste buds disagree. Think of banana bread. Isn't it in fact denser and sweeter than most cake? Imagine putting icing on it. All your teeth would instantly fall out. Plus, cake is usually airier, isn't it? WHY IS THIS QUESTION SO HARD TO ANSWER?

There's some interesting discussion about the whole matter here, and a tiny bit of incomprehensible technical explanation here, should it actually interest you. Apparently it's a matter of crumb structure. Cakes tend to use flours with lower gluten content (cake flour), which imparts a more tender texture. Quick breads, however, tend to use higher gluten content flour (all-purpose flour), resulting in a denser texture. There's some other differences, like leavening agents in some cases, but I got bored reading about it. I think we'll just have to accept that there is logic behind the distinction, but at times the line is hard to draw (yeah, way to legitimize your crappy half-answer!)

So now is the part in the blog post where I explain why the Orange and Lamb Khoresh is relevant to the distinction between cake and quick bread. CUZ I MADE CARROT, ONION, CITRUS AND SPICE _______ (insert proper terminology here).