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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Failure is Part of the Recipe of Life

People often ask if I have failures.

Yes. I do. Sometimes more often than I would like to admit.

Today, I will admit to a couple in the kitchen last week. I’ll admit to some personal ones in another blog later this week.

What do I do, then, with stuff that doesn’t turn out?

Depends. If it is a total disaster, it goes into the waste bin. If not, it may be recycled.

Most of the disasters happen when I bake. And usually it is when I am not following the recipe, precisely. I do like to wing it now and again. With more than 40 years of baking experience, I generally know most of the chemistry. So I know what a batter looks like for a cake, what the texture is for a pie crust, etc.

The oven and your pans, however, can play a real role in the success for failure of your baking adventure. If your oven temperature is 25 degrees off, high or low, even a minute or two will make all the difference between overcooked and raw in the middle. The first time I made the recipe, I had the oven temp at 400 degrees, like the recipe stated. But I have a convection bake setting, so after 12 minutes, they were borderline burned. The second time, I set the timer for 10 minutes and the temperate at 375 degrees. When the timer went bing, they middles were sunken. So I walked away … and forgot for 5 minutes. Once again, overdone.

On the third time, I checked after 10 minutes. Middles still sunken. This time I set the timer for 2 minutes – barely enough time to pour a cup of tea and sit down. Bingo. Twelve minutes was perfect.

So what did I do with the less than perfect ones? Burned and chocolate, even slightly burned, isn’t repairable. They went into the waste can. The batch that we baked, but just not runny in the middle, I turned into cake pops. Essentially just crumble them up in a food processor, add frosting, roll into balls, and dip into chocolate. I also could have made a chocolate trifle, with layers of chocolate sauce. crumbled cake, and whipped cream.

It’s a lot of work to rescue a failure.

Earlier in the week, I was working on no-sugar baked goods made with almond and coconut flour. One was sweetened with oranges that simmered for two hours and then were pulverized in the blender. The other was sweetened with applesauce.

Both were dreadful. Just awful. They represented an entire afternoon of time, some very expensive ingredients (almond flour, olive oil, and a dozen eggs aren’t cheap), and wishful thinking.

Failure happens to anyone who tries. To anyone who dreams, “what if?”

If you keep at it, sometimes you get that perfect molten lava cake. And you get to eat it, while wearing PJs, on the couch, with the remote, and with as much ice cream as you like.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Chocolate Lava Cakes
These are best served about 15 minutes after coming out of the oven with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings
cakes
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings
cakes
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees if using convection bake). Coat 6 ramekins with cooking spray. Place on baking sheet.
  2. You will need 4 bowls for this. One will need to be large enough to mix all the ingredients together.
  3. In the first bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt.
  4. In a microwave-safe bowl, add chocolate and butter. Cook, uncovered in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir well. If not fully melted, return to microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Don't cook too long or the butter and chocolate will separate. Let sit for about 5 minutes.
  5. In a third bowl - this one large enough to hold all ingredients - and fourth bowls, separate eggs, discarding one white. The yolks go into the larger bowl with the sugar. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until light, frothy, and the sugar has dissolved into the eggs. Stir in vanilla. Beat the two egg whites until light and fluffy.
  6. Add melted chocolate/butter mixture to the eggs. Then stir in the flour. Don't beat it. You want to stir until the mixture is glossy looking. Then stir in egg whites.
  7. Pour mixture into the prepared ramekins. You can refrigerate this now if you won't be serving soon. If you refrigerate, take the ramekins out of the refrigerator long enough so the batter comes to room temperature before baking - at least 30 minutes (and depending on the temp in your kitchen, up to 2 hours).
  8. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The tops will be puffed, but not cracked. The ramekins will have some shimmy left in the batter if you move them, but won't have an indentation in the middle indicating raw batter. I check mine after 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack. Set timer for 5 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges of the ramekin. Invert each onto a wide spatula, then flip over onto a plate to serve. These are best eaten while still warm served with ice cream or whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours."

Use your favorite chocolate that you like to eat, bittersweet, milk, or semi-sweet. If you are using the milk chocolate, use just 4 tablespoons of the sugar. If using semi-sweet, then 5 tablespoons. Bittersweet gets all the sugar.

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Sunday Suppers: Find Peace (and Pot Pie)

The dog and I ice skated our way through the morning walk. When you have an active 90-pound dog, you can’t make excuses not to walk. He just won’t stand for it.

It took me awhile to adjust to this schedule of his. In the beginning, I tried to make him my running partner. But he was terrible around cars, even with a leash.  He’s got a tendency to want to walk into the path of a car when he sees it coming instead of walking away. We adopted him from the A.N.N.A. Shelter three years ago, and I wonder every day how he survived on the streets.

When he wasn’t trying to head into oncoming traffic, he wanted to stop and sniff ever 50 feet. I wasn’t getting much running done. Plus, it was December when we first adopted him, and he didn’t like going outside much when the temperature was below 25 degrees. He is a short-haired dog, missing a fair amount from this hind quarters due to abuse. He would cough and sneeze, and scamper back inside as soon as he finished his business.

Today, he is unfazed by weather. If it’s 11 degrees outside, with a windchill in the negatives, he’s still game for a 1 mile-trek around the block. If he had his way, we’d be out for at least an hour (unless it is a cold rain).

So I’ve adapted to him. We walk, sometime trot, twice a day logging a total minimum of 2 miles. I use the time to reflect, meditate, release … generally find some peace. Turns out my senior dog taught me some new tricks.

One of his favorite walks – mine too – is along the beach where my parents live in Fairview Township next to Walnut Creek. He watches all the fishermen as we make our way along the creek. Sometimes we meet a couple making their way down the bank to fish, or coming out of the woods after a bio break. These are among the highlight’s of the dog’s walk. For now he is adored. He will rush up to them – all 90 pounds of American Bulldog and Boxer, with the dopey nature of a Golden Retriever for good measure. Unless they are dog owners, and they can see the delight in his face at encountering someone to pet him, strangers are unsure whether to stand still as a statue or run. I reassure most, unless they are scared, that a simple pat will make his day. For the doggy dysfunctional, I command him back to my side.

The second half of the walk actually involves the beach, unless it is a strong NW wind clipping above 12 mph. We walk the beach in the heat of summer and in the dead cold of winter. Late fall is among my favorite times because it is quiet and the sky is so clear. Spring walks bring a lot of driftwood, and a lot of dead fish, but also the promise of summer. And summer is just glorious.

I try to find the beauty in our winter walks, although I admit we often have to retreat to Asbury Woods or Pleasant Ridge Park if the wind is wicked. Right now, the lake is kind of soupy, with a lentil kind of color to it. The sky is gray. And the ice dunes are just forming, so the color is snow mixed with a lot of sand. Despite the wind, Bobo would be content to walk until there was no more beach. His short hair and musculature keep him warm. Me, I’m freezing in layers, with wind protection, a neck turtle, warmers in my mittens, and Thinsulate in my boots. My eyes are watering, my nose is running, and I’m cursing a distant Irish relative who failed to find a train south.

These are the Sundays when it is warming to know I’ve got a dinner plan that is hearty and easy.

I typically buy a family pack of chicken breasts each week. Lately I’ve been roasting three right away so I have chicken for salads during the week. Today, I chopped up two of the large breasts and made pot pies. I had an extra pie crust in the refrigerator, but you can use a purchased prepared crust or a sheet of puff pastry, which would make this meal wonderfully extravagant with little effort.

I buy the frozen pea and carrot mix  – no point in chopping carrots. It all comes together in about 15 minutes. It goes into the oven for about 30 minutes. Then bingo – you have dinner. Add a salad if you so incline, or get a tray and sit down to watch Christmas movies tonight.

In this hectic holiday time, try to find some time for yourself. Release old grudges. Meditate. Visualize new goals. Find beauty.

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@MarnieMeadMedia.com

Print Recipe
Chicken Pot Pies
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat with olive oil. Add the leeks, onion, and shallot (if you are using dried shallot, cut it back to 1 to 1 teaspoons and don't add until you put in the broth). Saute until soft. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper, each. Add sherry and allow to reduce for about 1 minute. Then add chicken, broth, cream, thyme and tarragon. Simmer until all the flavors come together, about 10 to 15 minutes. Taste, add more salt and pepper if needed.
  2. Mix soft butter and flour together until it is smooth. Stir into the simmering chicken mixture and allow to cook for 7 to 10 minutes. Taste, and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Stir in frozen peas and carrots, and parsely. Set aside.
  3. In the meantime, roll out your pie crust so that you can cut the lids for the 4, 2-cup pot pie dishes (make sure your crockery is oven proof). Trace and add about 1 inch around the lip of each bowl. Then cut the pastry out.
  4. Divide the filling between the 4 bowls, which you have put onto a rimmed baking sheet (for easy entry and removal from the oven). Brush edges of each bowl with egg wash (will glue the pastry down). This step is optional. Top each container with the pastry, allowing the extra to hang over the top. Brush pastry with egg wash, piece top to vent steam, and put into a 375-degree oven to bake for about 25 to 35 minutes. Mine were ready after 25, so check then. You want the top nicely browned.
Recipe Notes

You can use a rotisserie chicken for this. I like to roast a couple of extra chicken breasts during the week to use in salads, etc.

This was adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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Bake Ahead for the Holidays

Trimming the tree. Holiday parties. Crazy schedules. All of these combine to make the month of December a blur and a challenge to get anything on the table for dinner.

I’ve always been a fan of having lasagna on hand. This is a trick I learned when babysitting for Ted and Denise Padden and their four children. She would have me come over and bake a big lasagna while watching the kids, and that would be dinner for at least two nights.

I don’t tend to make the big heavy meat lasagna anymore. Most of the time there aren’t enough people in my home to consume it. I could make and freeze half, but something about lasagna calls for lots of people around a table, a big salad, and some warm bread.

A few years ago I discovered how the Italians pair squash with pasta, including in lasagna. I enjoy the slightly sweet flavor of the roasted squash against the richness of the ricotta, especially when infused with sage or rosemary. Adding spinach to the basic bechamel sauce, adds color and another vegetable.

I made this recipe first for an early Thanksgiving feast and have made it again to try it with zucchini noodles instead of pasta. While I think the pasta version was better, the zucchini one has the benefit of being gluten free. To make the zucchini noodles, slice a zucchini length-wise in about 1/8-inch strips. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 350-degree oven for about 5-7 minutes to remove the extra moisture and increase the sweetness of the zuke. If it is still a bit slippery (like a wet noodle), roast for another couple of minutes until it is slightly brown in areas. Then use just like the pasta. The number of noodles with depend on the size of your zucchini. If they are small, you might need one zucchini per layer, or six (6) in total.

Feel free to play with the squash. Butternut is slightly dry when roasted and sweet. Acorn squash has less flavor and is a bit damper. Hubbard or any of the slightly sweet and very orange varieties will do well. I tried it with acorn squash, because I have heaps of them in the garage, and can’t say it’s a favorite. It will do in a pinch.  But even better is just a 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree, which eliminates the whole roasting step. Plus it is just the right flavor. Just don’t use the pie filling!

You can freeze this dish and bring it out later in the holidays, either for a planned event or a family emergency.

Enjoy

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna
There are a lot of steps here, but if done ahead, the whole project comes together quickly. Like any lasagna, once you master the recipe, it will be much easier in the future. You are essentially roasting butternut squash and pureeing it for one layer. Making a standard bechamel, but adding spinach, for another. And finally having a ricotta filling. So it's not terribly different than the standard lasagna process. I would make some extra bechamel sauce, or a tomato sauce, to serve alongside. Mine got a little dry.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To prepare the butternut squash, heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Rub inside with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place cut-side down on roasting pan. Roast for about 1 hour, or until soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Scoop out insides into a food processor and puree until smooth. Taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Can be refrigerated for two days.
  2. Caramelize the onions by placing in a hot saute pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the two sprigs of thyme. Stir to coat in oil and cook until onions are soft and slightly brown, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. This can be made two days ahead of time and refrigerated. Remove thyme before adding to the lasagna.
  3. To make the ricotta filling, mix cheese, chopped rosemary, eggs, half the grated Parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste. This can be done 1 day ahead of time.
  4. To prepare the spinach, melt butter in a saucepan, add flour and stir. Cook until flour is no longer raw and the two have come together into a thick paste, about 2 minutes. Add milk or half-and-half and stir until it comes to a boil. Add the rest of the grated Parmesan, nutmeg, and defrosted and drained spinach. Season with salt and pepper. This can be made one day ahead.
  5. To assemble, coat a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Lay down about 1 cup of the spinach cream sauce on the bottom of the pan and spread to coat. Top with noodles.
  6. Spread half of the roasted butternut squash on top of the pasta. Top with another layer of pasta.
  7. Spread ricotta cheese mixture on top of pasta, and top with caramelized onion. Cover with layer of pasta.
  8. Top with remaining butternut squash, and another layer of pasta.
  9. Finish with remaining spinach cream sauce. Cover with foil.
  10. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour (60 minutes). Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven. Allow to rest for 30 minutes before serving.
  12. Can be frozen.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from the New York Times

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