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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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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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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Is There a Santa in the House?

I miss Santa. He wielded so much power in December. All you had to do was utter his name and behavior would suddenly improve. A simple, “Santa’s watching” reduced complaints, hustled out the door, fed the dog, and generally meant peace on Earth.

Not that my daughter is a hellion. She is a smart, funny, well-behaved … teenager. And, for now, she talks to me. And sometimes she listens. She’s got this tell, though, when she stops. You know, when she’s there physically, but mentally all she hears is “blah, blah, blah.” So then I say something outrageous, like condom, and suddenly she is present again. “Marn,” she will moan.

I’m not fond of the “Marn” thing to my face. I still don’t call my mother by her name to her face. I do sometimes call her “Didi,” which is the approved name for the grandkids to call her. But I remember when I was her age and we started calling all the moms by their names among ourselves. I’m a child of the 60s, so we generally didn’t call them by their first names to their faces.

Teens push boundaries. There are kids in her class who are having sex, smoking weed, harming themselves, bullying others, and generally acting like teens act. There’s a reason why – anthropologically speaking. At this age they push away because, throughout history, this is the age when they struck out on their own. Some sources insist they push away because they know they will be pushed out. There are days when I think they were shoved because of their behavior.

In any case, we know a lot more about teen brains now. And, in this country at least, we don’t marry our 14-year-olds off anymore. We understand their brains – and behavior – aren’t fully developed until their 20s. Mark Twain may not have known the science behind it, but I’ve always loved this quote:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

All of this brings me back to Santa and why I miss him. He is a gift to parents for about 1 month. Some parents may haul Santa out in July, but I always reserved him for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You could abdicate all discipline to Santa. I didn’t have to threaten. I just has to say, “Santa.” Immediately, whatever behavior was aggravating at the time disappeared. It really was a gift.

Sure, there was some work around it. Hiding presents. Making sure there was different wrapping paper for Santa presents. Altering handwriting. Dodging the “Is Santa real” question as she got a little older. “I don’t know, honey, what do you think?” worked for a while.

Now I have to parent 365 days out of the year. Like I said, she’s a really good kid. She knows where the presents are hidden and she doesn’t look. She wants the joy of opening on Christmas morning. Indeed, the real reason she held on to Santa for as long as she did was a fear that the present pile would be diminished if Santa wasn’t carrying the financial burden anymore. (I love the logic of kids.)

But this morning, when it was 11 degrees outside, and she had no hat, no mittens, no boots, and just a fleece jacket … despite nagging all week about it … I really just wanted to say “Santa” and have her magically put on a hat, mittens, and her down coat.

Santa can’t do that anymore. And I can’t stuff her into a snowsuit (although I wasn’t particularly adept at that past age 3 anyway). So Santa must be content with filling her stocking with more hats and gloves, and hope that brain of hers – so smart in so many ways – will register that Santa really is watching out.

Enjoy the holiday season

XOXOXO

marnie

Marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Rollout Sugar Cookies
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 9 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 9 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make the dough: Beat the butter and sugar until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  2. With the mixer on low, slowly add the vanilla and almond extracts, and mix until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  4. Divide dough in half. Place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Pull wrap around each half and gently shape into a flat disc. Chill overnight.
  5. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
  6. To shape and bake: Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll approximately 1/4" to 1/2" thick on a flour and sugar dusted surface. Cut out cookies. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can reroll scraps once or twice to use up the cookie dough.
  7. Bake the cookies for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, until they just barely start to turn golden on the edges. Remove from the oven and cool completely before decorating.
  8. To make the icing: In a large bowl, add powdered sugar, egg whites, salt, and lemon juice. Beat with an electric mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium until it is white and thick. This is what you will use to pipe around the edges of the cookies using a pastry bag and plain tip. Once you have finished piping around the edges of the cookies, let it dry for about an hour. In the meantime, you can tint and thin out the icing using either another egg white or water to flood between the piped edges. You want the consistency to be that of maple syrup. I use a paste color to tint the icing, if you are using liquid tint, don't finish thinning out the icing until you have achieved the color you want. Once you finish flooding the cookies with icing, allow to dry for 24 hours before adding any other tint - like for eyes or mouths (or else it bleeds into the white icing).
Recipe Notes
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