Breakfast in Paris

J’adore Paris. It’s as simple as that. After my first trip, 27 years ago, not so much. But we’ve both mellowed a bit, Paris and I. She is more accepting of visitors, especially if you make an attempt at being polite in her language – bon jour madame or monsieur goes a long way. As does s’il vous plait, or please. I am more tolerant of her idiosyncratic bureaucracy – things open and close according to forces that are not in my control; if someone can’t help you, wait 10 minutes or 24 hours, and, often, they can or will. I don’t know why. C’est la vie.

Terrorism has changed a lot of life. There are now threat alerts posted at major locations. There are armed – as in machine gun armed, military personnel in the subway checking ID and at attractions patrolling. The Eiffel Tower base is now barricaded do prevent explosive vans from blowing the whole thing, along with the people visiting, up.

But a lot hasn’t changed. Parisians get up. Get on the subway. Stop at cafés. And have croissants – some much better than others. But nearly all better than what we can buy here.  Our guide noted, however, that doctors recommend eating no more than 3 per week.

We weren’t there to listen to doctors. We were there to eat and drink in all things Paris – from the croissants, to the metro, to the churches, to the museums, to the shops, restaurants, cafés, and, to even have a picnic dinner in the park watching the Eiffel Tower put on its nightly light show while men with green plastic bags hawked Champagne, wine, and beer to fellow visitors. It was heavenly. Where else could you buy a salted caramel and chocolate Pot de Crème in a supermarket.

This visit, in addition to buying the Seine River cruise and the Catacombs tickets (if you buy in advance the line is only about 30 minutes instead of the normal 90 minutes to 2 hours or more), I booked a 3-hour croissant class at La Cuisine Paris. The cooking school, which offers classes in English and was highly recommended in a New York Times review of cooking classes.

It certainly lived up to its reputation. La Cuisine Paris offers many classes, including a market shopping class that includes making lunch or dinner, macaroons, baguette, etc. But, for my daughter and I, learning to make the basic French pastry was the ultimate experience.

Our teacher, Guillaume, was from Marseilles and trained in Lyon – the epicenter of French cooking. His English was perfect, as was his ability to teach to all levels in our class, which included a Canadian student who had spent the year in Paris and whose mother told him to come home having learned how to cook something. There were several amateur pastry makers – American and Canadian, two novices (including my daughter, 14), and a Paris dweller.

We learned the three keys to the perfect pastry – butter (must be at least 82 percent butterfat which is typically found in European butters but not American, which requires 80 percent), technique, and time.

About the butter – this is really crucial. Guillaume recommended we buy President in the United States. Or basically any French butter. I didn’t really understand until I read Dorie Greenspan’s article on the difference in how the French make their butter.  Here is an article on the various types of butter you can usually find in American grocery stores and how they stack up. They aren’t cheap – you are going to pay about 150 percent more for half the butter. If you are going to make pastry, this is not the time to go cheap. I’ve done it. You will regret it. Because you will have about 24 hours invested in the process of rising, rolling, laminating, baking, etc. If you are going to do all of this, don’t try to save $2.

This goes back to the basics of cooking. When you have one star ingredient – in this case butter – make sure it shines.

I’m giving it a shot here in my U.S. kitchen. I bought butter yesterday – and I’m being daring using a U.S. butter cultured in the European fashion (the ratings are recommended, but not as high as Plugra, which is the best and I couldn’t find). The dough is rising as I write.

Right now, though, the best ingredient you can find in our area is strawberries. I went out on Sunday – complete with jet lag and 84 degrees – and picked 8 quarts. I will be back this afternoon because all of those berries are turning into fancy little shortcake cakes. Not the biscuit kind, but the ones made with a sponge cake, a lemon simple syrup, lots of whipped cream, and berries. Lots and lots of berries.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. And I’ll keep you posted on the croissants.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Strawberry Shortcake Cake
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter or cooking spray. Line with parchment and grease parchment. Or use mini paper cake pans that you have coated in cooking spray.
  2. Cut off tops of strawberries and thinly slice half of them, leaving remaining berries whole. Mix sliced strawberries with superfine sugar and half the lemon zest and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip eggs and egg white on high speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Gradually pour in 1 1/4 cups sugar. Whip on high speed until mixture is a pale yellow and thick, 1 to 3 minutes.
  4. Fold flour mixture into egg mixture. Fold in milk, vanilla and butter until completely combined. (I melt the butter in the milk when warming in the microwave for 30 to 45 seconds).
  5. Gently pour batter into prepared pan and bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Invert cake onto a cooling rack and peel off baking paper. Let cool completely. If you are using mini cake pans, bake for 15 minutes, then check, and turn to evenly distribute heat. Check again after 5 minutes.
  6. To make syrup: In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup) sugar, 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and optional pepper. Simmer on medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining lemon zest.
  7. Whip heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form.
  8. Using a serrated knife, horizontally slice cake in half. Generously brush each cut side with lemon syrup. Place the bottom half, cut side up, on a cake plate. Spoon sliced strawberries and any juices over it. Spread half the whipped cream over strawberries. Place the other cake half on top. Spread remaining whipped cream on top. Garnish with whole strawberries and drizzle with more lemon syrup for serving.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Cooking at New York Times. Recipe by Melissa Clark with some modifications by Marnie Mead.

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Do You Want to go to Paris with Me?

In less than a month, my daughter and I will be boarding a plane for Charles de Gaulle airport to spend a week in Paris. This is part birthday trip for me, and part research to plan for a trip next year with Life Can Be A Trip, a travel and tour company in Erie run by Denise Padden and Ginny Rogers.

They were both Erie Day School teachers when the idea to create a travel company, starting by taking middle schoolers without their parents to Europe. Times and terrorism have changed their business plan, which now focuses on trips to Europe with adults.

My first trip with Padden and Rogers was five years ago, when I went with them on one of their last tours with students. We were late comers to the group, so my mother, daughter, and I stayed in an apartment near the Eiffel Tower and joined the tour each morning. It was my third visit to Paris and it was fabulous.

I’ve since gone with them to Greece and Italy, both times as part of a food tour. It combines my passion for understanding all parts of a country – by experiencing all the senses, not just the looking and walking part.

I’ve wanted to add a food tour to Paris as part of their offerings for a couple of years, but bombings and terrorism have kept interest at bay. I know I run more risk of being killed on I-90 every day than a week in Paris, so I’m packing my bags and we’re heading to the City of LIghts next month.

I’ll be checking out food tours, especially cooking schools and walking tours around Le Marais, in the hopes that I can return in 2018 with a group from Erie. If interested, please e-mail me or comment on this blog. You can also visit, Life Can Be A Trip’s Facebook page. My daughter and I will have a de-lightful time. And I hope you will consider making this trip of a lifetime with me next year.

If Paris isn’t your ideal spot, then consider Sicily. Since we had such a fantastic time in the Chianti region outside Florence, it’s time to head south. We have a fabulous guide lined up and are in the planning stages for May 2018 – that’s just a year away. All of the regions of Italy are fantastic, but Sicily is a special spot. The largest island off the boot of Italy, the residents consider themselves more Sicilian than Italian. It has been in the hands of the Greeks, Germans, Arabs, Normans, Spaniards, and independent. Even after Italian unification, Sicily remained independent of Mussolini during World War II.

Because it is a volcanic island, the region is rich in citrus, tomatoes, almonds, grapes (wine), and pistachios.

This will be one very fun trip.

If you aren’t in to cooking (and not everyone is), you just need to be into eating. We learn and visit many farms, and spend parts of the day with cooking lessons to cook a large meal most days (sometimes lunch, sometimes dinner).

Food is a fabulous way to understand culture and meet new people, even if you don’t speak the language. Because the language of food, and adventure, is universal.

To get ready, I’m cooking up some simple recipes that transport me to Paris with little effort. For my daughter, that means crepes. In her mind, there is only one type, those filled with Nutella. For me, it’s a mesclun salad (le salade) with bacon (lardons) and a poached egg (oeuf). It’s simple, but oh so delicious – made more so when you are sitting in a bistro people watching.

Bonne journee

Marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

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Do You Want to go to Paris with Me?
Cuisine French
Servings
Cuisine French
Servings
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Bake Madeleines for April in Paris

I’m head over heels in love – with spring. Everything about it renews my soul. The sound of the birds fills my head with song – sweeping away some of the darker thoughts of winter. On my walks I inhale the perfumes of the daffodils, the hyacinths just coming up  – even the dark, dampness of the soil.

The creeks are filled with purpose, rushing by the willow trees with the laughter of a young child. That same creek will meander like an old man by the time August comes around. But, for now, it reminds me of a toddler in a bathtub.

Out on the lake, the ducks, geese, and gulls are chatting away with their honks, squawks, and dives into the water.

The flowering tree outside my widow is showing small white flowers. If I look away too long, I suspect they will burst forth into bloom.

Yes, the the world is alive again.

Springtime reminds me of Paris. The last time I visited we were on the cusp between spring and summer – having the honor of experiencing both seasons (according to the calendar). In truth, the first day was gorgeous – and we were jetlagged. I think it was rainy and 50 degrees every day after. The Seine was threatening its riverbanks.

I visited during all four seasons – fall, winter, spring, and summer. And will be returning in early June. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to revisit during all the the seasons again. But, at the same time, there are other countries to visit as well.

In any case, it is spring. And I am thinking of Paris. Which makes me think of sitting at café outside, eating and drinking my way through one of my favorite cities. And this makes me think of the famous French madeleines, the little cakes shaped like shells that are famous in Paris.

Being very American, I was at first disappointed in madeleines. They weren’t cakes. They were cake-like cookies. I expected CAKE. American cake. Big slices of cake.

Over time, I appreciate how the French eat. They eat sweets, and croissants, and butter, and sauces, and French fries (called frites), and steak, and, and, and. And they aren’t fat. That’s because they eat in moderation.

So just one (or two) madeleines should take care of that sweet tooth after dinner.

They don’t keep. They are best eaten the day they are made. Don’t put into plastic or a container to try to save them. It won’t help. The batter keeps well in the fridge, so you can just make a small batch for a craving.

Like all things French, there is a debate about the correct way to make them. At issue is whether to use baking powder or not. If you do, use one without aluminum (so there is no tinny flavor), such as Rumsford (red and black label). I don’t use baking powder for mine because I don’t like the taste. As a result, my cakes are a little denser than those made with the baking powder.

I do use cake flour. Most recipes call for all-purpose flour. It’s up to you. I find them to be a little more delicate with the cake flour. If you do use AP, I like Gold Medal for baking. It’s a Cook’s Illustrated favorite.

Madeleines are made in a specific pan, which violates my code not to buy pans for just one purpose. Sometimes you just have to break the rules. If you are buying one, buy nonstick. Otherwise, I like to melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter with 1 tablespoon of flour. Then I brush that into the indentations in the pan to keep them from sticking. Remove the little cakes from the pans about 3 minutes after they come out of the oven.

You can glaze them with lemon and powdered sugar. Or I just sprinkle with powdered sugar.

TIP: Use a tea ball with a handle as a go-to powdered sugar spinkler for cakes, cookies, etc. It sifts, sprinkles, and can be stored in the container with the sugar.

Enjoy.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
French Madeleines
Course dessert
Cuisine French
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine French
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Use an electric mixer to beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl just to blend. Beat in vanilla, lemon peel and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Stream in 10 tablespoons of the cooled melted butter in into the batter, beating just until blended.
  2. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
  3. In the meantime, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the melted butter. Stir to combine. Use a pastry brush to coat the indentations in your pan. (Don't use it all. This recipe makes from 24 to 30 cookies). Place madeleine pan in freezer for 1 hour.
  4. Spoon batter into each indentation in pan, estimating it to be about 3/4 full. Do not spread it out. This will be about a scant tablespoon, depending on the size of your molds. Mine take about 2 teaspoons.
  5. Bake for 8 minutes. Turn pan. Bake for another 3-5 minutes. The madeleines should be browned around the edges and slightly golden on top. Remove from oven and cool 3-5 minutes. Gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch.
  6. Dust cookies with powdered sugar.
Recipe Notes

You can make a batch of the madeleines and then refrigerate the remaining batter to make more the next day. This will keep for about 3 days.

Some people will decrease the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and add 1 to 2 tablespoons each of honey and brown sugar; add 1 more egg; add baking powder; add lemon juice, etc. This is a recipe, once you make it, that you can then make your own. I sometimes use almond extract instead of vanilla. Or you could add lemon extract to boost the lemon flavor.

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Quiche it Simple During Lent

The Lenten season is upon us. This exercise in meatless Fridays sticks with me even though I am no longer a practicing Roman Catholic.

Culturally Catholic, I am. So the guilt about eating meat remains with me to this day.

Skipping meat on Fridays wouldn’t be that big a deal if I could serve the grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. I love grilled cheese. Any cheese melted between two pieces of bread slathered in butter or olive oil is pure heaven.

Except my daughter doesn’t eat cheese. And she has a nose that can smell it several rooms away.

If I crave a melted cheese sandwich, I eat in the middle of the night when she is asleep. Then I burn candles to get the smell out of the house.

Sometimes I will order one when we are eating out for lunch. But she is relentless in her ongoing commentary about how much she hates cheese.

Yes, this is odd. I am the mom. It is my house. But when your child is on the autism spectrum, however mild, this isn’t a battle anyone is going to win.

Fortunately, she likes most vegetables. So on many meatless nights, it’s just a plate of roasted vegetables and pasta or rice.

But I’m trying to find add a little more protein to her diet, which would consist largely of chocolate and chips if left to her own devices. We eat a lot of chicken.

When Lent rolls around, it’s time to cook more creatively. We live just a couple of miles from a chicken farm, so we always have fresh eggs in the house. That means frittatas, quiches, and omelets.

The beauty of any of these is that you are free to improvise. Throw some spinach in for some extra veg, add or change a cheese, and use fresh herbs if you have them.

I keep a box or two of frozen pie crusts that I buy at Trader Joe’s in Cleveland on hand. It’s one of my favorite crusts, and it saves time.

Today, I had some extra smoked salmon, green onions, and potatoes. If I had baby kale, chard, or spinach, it would have gone in too. I was finished in less than 45 minutes. Plus the leftovers can do double duty for breakfast or lunch tomorrow.

This is #whatsfordinner tonight.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Salmon, Dill, and Potato Quiche
This is an easy dish for dinner or lunch. Pair with a cucumber or green salad. Depending on appetites, and whether it is lunch or dinner, this can feed from 4-6 people.
Course dinner, Main Dish
Cuisine American, French
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course dinner, Main Dish
Cuisine American, French
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Roll out pie crust so it will fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Place crust into pie pan and trim off edges. Top crust with parchment and pie weights or beans. Place on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove paper and beans and cook another 5 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, cook potatoes in salted boiling water until tender. Drain. Slice.
  4. Beat together the cream, eggs, dill, lemon zest, salt and pepper until the eggs are lighter and there is a bit of foam on top of the batter.
  5. Place cut potatoes over the bottom of the pastry. Then put half the salmon strips in the gaps. Sprinkle with half of the green onions. Pour over the egg mix.
  6. Bake for 25 mins until the top is firm. Allow to cool. This is best served at room temperature. Before serving, top with the remaining strips of salmon, some dollops of creme fraiche, sour cream, or yogurt. Sprinkle remaining green onions on top and some dill.
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