Saturday, May 29, 2010

Molasses Rhubarb Tartelettes

Fun fact: Rhubarb is a vegetable. And vegetables make some of the funnest desserts. Rhubarb is also very tart. Logically, therefore, it makes good tarts.

I've eaten rhubarb pie before -- I remember the first time I ate it, the rhubarb was very green, and the texture seemed so vegetal that I was very weirded out by my pie. But, as I'm making an effort to explore new produce, I decided to cook up some of my own and bought some rhubarb last weekend from a very puzzled man at a produce stand. What are you going to do with it?, he asked me in a fascinated but ashamed almost-whisper, as I'm sure a produce man selling rhubarb can lose face a bit by not knowing what it actually is.

Some restaurant guys had me get ahold of some for them, he explained, but I have no idea what it is. How does one cook this?

I must admit I was ill-equipped to really educate the produce man, but I was able to explain that it's very tart and people usually cook it with plenty of sugar to make desserts. I, personally, would be making tarts, I offered. Yes, I had already decided their sugary fate.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Leisurely Spring Breakfast

It's Spring! At last! Today it must have hit 80 degrees, and Spring produce is really finally showing up at my neighborhood farmer's market; or, more precisely, the omnipresent asparagus and strawberries are starting to come from France instead of Morocco. And a few exciting seasonal extras, such as rhubarb, are showing up here and there as well. So of course, this weekend, we had no choice but to come home with ALL OF THESE THINGS. 

It's a bit disappointing for me, actually, that one can go to one of the many Parisian farmer's markets and not buy a single thing that was grown within in the Ile-de-France region, or even the country! Even at the farmer's market, so much is imported, whether it be from neighboring countries like Spain, from the DOM-TOMS (overseas departments and territories, such as Guadeloupe), or just warmer, more southernly countries where stuff grows earlier and longer. I miss living in small town America where the goat farmer came every Saturday to peddle his wares, even if they were only green garlic and goat cheese with green garlic in it. In Paris, the markets are expansive and impressive and you can find so many things! But they lack that neighborly feeling, and that relationship with the physical terrain, that terroir that the French celebrate so. It's practically easier for me to find out where my vegetables come from when I buy them at the supermarket. How confusing for someone who tries to buy things responsibly and think about her carbon footprint!

But fortunately, now that the produce is starting to come from France, the vendors seem happy to advertise this fact. And I was happy to listen to them.

So today, we dug right into our Spring produce with a late breakfast of Fresh Chèvre and Dill Scrambled Eggs, Asparagus Salad, and Strawberry Scones.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

on Salted Butter Caramel Mousse, Mistakes, and Magic

There is something you absolutely have to do immediately if you have not already done so in your life. Bored? Had a bad day? Having an existential crisis? Or simply craving dessert?


I personally made it for the first time over week ago, and now I can't stop making caramel. I don't want to stop making caramel.

All the times you make caramel will be delightful experiences, but the first is the best. I hear they say that about a lot of hard drugs, too. I guess caramel has a lot in common with hard drugs. But seriously. It's magical. You're worried, you hear that your sugar will reach a way-beyond boiling 338ºF and if you manage to drop it on your face you'll pretty much be sad. You watch your scalding sugar boil away and wonder if it will ever really turn to caramel or if it will simply disfigure you and your favorite saucepan. Does caramel only happen in the movies? Does it only happen to people richer, more attractive, and more successful than me? But then your sugar starts to turn brown, and then browner, and browner, and behold!


Here's how.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Savory Mini Puff Pastries

One of my favorite institutions of French culture is the ritual involved in eating, most especially the ritual known as the Apéro.

The apéro is a mysterious beast, as it is not simply the little appetizer snacks one might have before dinner, although it frequently includes peanuts, radishes and butter, chips, or other such little nibbles. It also includes alcohol, especially before-dinner drinks like Pastis, Muscat, Martini (the sweet, wine-based kind, which is a mix of wine, plant extracts, vermouth, and sugar), or the always-acceptable wine or beer. An apéro can be a short little appetite-teasing affair before the meal begins, but it can also be an entire evening in itself, followed by no meal whatsoever. When ample food is involved, this can be referred to as an Apéro Dinatoire. Otherwise, it's just what we English-speakers would call a party.

The apéro has been getting some media attention lately in France, as Facebook users have been organizing Giant Apéros in various regions of the country where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people show up in a public space to "meet people" / drink a lot. There have been reports of comas, and even one death in the most recent apéro géant. Police are cracking down, as the events, being unofficial and unregistered with the local government, are illegal. The Parisian apéro géant, which is foreseen for May 28th, was to be the biggest one yet, but apparently lots of people are dropping out, as the police are getting ready to squash them. And nobody likes for their apéro to be squashed.

A recent, more life-sized and less dramatic apéro of my own was accompanied by these savory puff pastries. Which actually made it fairly dramatic. I'd never successfully made a pâte feuilleté before, but I was surprised to find that the recipe was quite easy, and yielded delicious, buttery, flaky results. A batch of these is a perfect snack with the people you'll share your dinner with, over a little kir, perhaps, just to make your meal that much more ceremonious.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Green Tea Cupcakes

Belleville is a very international neighborhood of Paris known especially for being home to one of the two Chinatown districts in the city. It's not far from my own neighborhood, conveniently enough, and it makes for some pretty fun grocery shopping. Even better, if you get tired while exploring the endless aisles of curious delicacies the shops have to offer, you can take a pork bun break at one of the Chinese bakery counters, and go back to your shopping nourished and invigorated. 

A trip there last week resulted in an array of sauces, noodles, and vinegars I'm excited about exploring. Tamarind paste is one thing I'm looking forward to getting into. But the big revelation I had was to get on to the baking with matcha train.

It all started when I impulsively picked up a pack of green tea noodles (which I later ate simply dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil, and thoroughly enjoyed), and got to thinking that there's a lot of potential in green tea. I could make green tea flavored anything. And it was with this thought in my mind that I purchased my first powdered green tea.  

My matcha baking debuted the very next day, with the need for a last-minute dessert to contribute to the dinner a good friend was making. I searched the internet for interesting green tea dessert recipes, and ended up choosing cupcakes, partially I think due to a recent cupcake catastrophe that occurred when I tried to make these puppies, Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting. It sounded great, and it would have been great, if I had made about 1/4 of the icing the recipe called for. But instead, I made the full recipe (which was supposed to correspond to the quantity of cupcakes also involved in said recipe...), and piled 'em high with pillowy frosting. To my horror, they were so sweet and so rich, they actually caused me to entirely lose my desire to eat cupcakes. They were basically nauseating, and on top of that it sparked yet another conversation about how us Americans eat such rich food, etc. etc. So this time I was hoping to avenge my last cupcake failure with something less sweet and more subtle. This was my big chance!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dirty Sticky Rice and Scallion Galettes

Last week, I bought a bunch of scallions to try my hand at Pad Thai. It worked out well, but afterward I had quite a bit of scallions leftover. What's a girl to do with a million scallions? Scallion galettes, that's what. So the next day, we made the galettes by briefly boiling some scallions, draining, and blending them, mixing them with egg, flour, and more chopped scallions, and then cooking them in some oil. They were lovely. Clément also prepared some ground pork seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil like he remembered eating with another version of scallion galettes in China. 

Then, after a weekend of buying ingredients for specific recipes, we had the fridge full of lots of assorted leftover ingredients, plus some pork and a few galettes. It was clearly a fried rice moment. But fried rice with ground pork, this was clearly reminiscent of Dirty Rice. And so was born Dirty Sticky Rice. 

I had also made a carrot-ginger salad dressing from Smitten Kitchen last week, and we still had carrots and ginger in our hot little hands, so I made it again (it's fantastic), and we thus finished off the leftover salad and cucumber. Success! Now we can fit beer in the fridge again!

Monday, May 3, 2010

BRUNCH PARTY! + Mini Chèvre Cheesecakes with Strawberry Coulis

It's Spring, it's Sunday, and we had friends in town. What better occasion for a BRUNCH PARTY?

Hoping to wow said friends with my sparkling culinary wit and American brunching know-how, as soon as we decided that the BRUNCH PARTY would be held chez Clément and I, which happened Friday evening when I got home from work, I immediately started planning the menu. Sundays can sometimes be a little tricky for errands, and Saturday was May 1st (French Labor Day), so forget doing major shopping then, as many shops are closed. I had to get the ball rolling, as they say. And roll it did.

Until, of course, I came home from the store starving and sleepy, and pretty much ate dinner and went to bed. It pretty much stopped rolling then.

But then, like a Brunching Superhero, I woke up early Saturday morning, bought the couple of ingredients I couldn't find and/or forgot to buy on Friday (all while fending off aggressive Lily-of-the-Valley hustlers, the relentless May Day flower pushers that come out once a year--ok, maybe they're 7 years old, but that's no excuse), and did some preparation work so that Sunday would go smoothly, even after a night of endless sangria at our favorite tapas place.

And smoothly it went, indeed. Dessert done in advance, all we had to do this morning was whip up hollandaise sauce, make biscuits, fry potatoes, and poach eggs. Considering we were a team of 4, this was pretty manageable.