Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stohrer's wells of love

So much sugar today...I made a stop by Stohrer, a patisserie in the deuxieme (2nd). Apparently it was founded in the late 1700's by the royal patissier, or the guy who was the head pastry chef for the king of France (Louis XV at the time). The exterior is so old-school and the interior has a few gorgeous murals. They have savory dishes on the right side of the store but I was there to get a sugar high. And see, there's a line out the door!

They still sell some of the same pastries they did back in the 1700's (recipe wise that is). And so today I got their specialty, puit d'amour or "well of love" and because I couldn't resist (and cause I've never tried one), a kouing amann which translates to "butter cake" in Breton. 

The puit d'amour is essentially a cylinder made out of puff pastry (the well), filled with pastry cream and topped with some caramel. Pastry cream + caramel most definitely = love, at least in this case. And the kouing amann? Well that was like eating a whole stick of butter and a cup of sugar, but in the best sense. Its essentially the same type of dough as a croissant, but it has a ton more sugar and butter as each time you fold the dough, you fold in more sugar and butter. And again, SUGAR AND BUTTER. Dorie Greenspan explains it best. But the best part about it is the doughy chewy center. Yum! I left half of it for tomorrow but it took a lot of willpower.

Oh, but for dinner I had some cous cous with merguez sausage and a bit of harissa. Since I have no desire (nor time) to make anything complicated, I'm going to be doing only quick, simple and delicious things that I can easily make for one.

Update: I finished the kouing amann this morning. Still flaky and delicious.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Ce quoi ca? It is the first hamburger (or "am-BOO-hr-gh-err" as they say here) I have ever eaten in Paris. 

My coworkers convinced me to try what they claim is the best burger ever from a place nearby called Razowski's (contrary what the daisies on the website may make you think, the place is very sleek). I ordered the "Razowski burger" which was "pain de mie, boeuf, oignons, champignons sautes, avocat emince, creme fraiche, ciboulette" which I took to be "bread (hamburger bun), beef (patty), onions (not raw), sauteed mushrooms, sliced avocado, creme fraiche, chives".  And this is what I got.

Granted I should've known better because I like the minimal (cheese)burger with just lettuce, tomato, ketchup and pickles. And I was already weary when the regular burgers on the menu had mayonnaise as one of the ingredients. Mine didn't have mayo, but seriously, look at it. I mean really, they killed it! Its like killing a cow twice. It's already dead, why don't we ruin the meat as well? Sigh. Cold burgers? Not real hamburger buns? No ketchup?! Blasphemy. Fine, I can deal with raw onions but the vehicle for the patty, an essential component, is way off. I mean it's like two toasted rounds of bread! The only thing redeeming about this were the "fries" I ordered which were really roasted potatoes, and the pickles. And my Diet Coke. 

Prior to getting the burger, my coworkers told me not to voice my dislike, if that be the case, and if I did, I would be greatly disliked and banished from future ordering (which I can't afford at the moment). However, I'll give the place a second chance, but not for take-out. I am not a fan of cold burgers. I feel sorry for them if that's the best burger they've ever had...they need to try something better...

So, dear Mr. Danny Meyer, I suggest you expand to Paris asap. They will be all over you as french people like to be uber trendy but compassionate to the working class and since burgers are simple food and from America, they'll be all over you like a...I'll refrain from writing something inappropriate. No, really, they do. Its calle bobo or bourgeois bohemien. Anyhow, Danny, make it happen.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pretending to cook for two

Ah, so difficult to get used to cooking for one (do I even want to?). I knew I didn't need to get two zucchini's when I bought them but getting just one to stuff is so sad. But I think after making the stuffed zucchini I realized I don't like cooking for one. It's boring. I have no one to taste my food other than myself! It's so much easier for me to toss a salad together, or butter some bread, or reheat some frozen ratatouille. Sigh.

Stuffed Zucchini (loosely adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini)

2 round zucchinis
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup of grated cheese
Olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs de provence (or whatever herbs you have)

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the tops off the zucchini and core out the inside and reserve the zucchini flesh. Put the zucchini shells and tops into a casserole dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. place in the oven for 20 minutes until the shells are soft but not collapsed.

Meanwhile put a pan over medium high heat. Add a count of olive oil and sautee the garlic until fragrant. Add the reserved zucchini flesh and cover with a lid. The zucchini will render a lot of water, so drain periodically. Add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, salt, pepper and herbs and continue cooking the zucchini until soft (about 10 - 15 minutes). Place in a colander either over a bowl or in the sink and let drain.

By now the zucchini shells should be done. Take them out of the oven and place them upside down on a paper towel lined plate. In the same pan as the zucchini flesh, sautee the onion over medium heat in a little olive oil. Add the ground beef, season with salt, pepper and herbs and continue to saute until lightly browned. Add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste and stir to combine. Take off heat and add the cooked zucchini flesh. Mix thoroughly.

Stuff the zucchini with the sauteed beef mixture. Put the tops of the zucchini on and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Take out of the oven, take the tops off and divide the cheese evenly on top of the two zucchini. Put the oven to broil and put the zucchinis back into the oven for a few minutes until the cheese has melted and is golden brown.

You can also make vegetarian stuffed zucchini...just substitute rice or quinoa or some grain for the meat and use ricotta as a binder.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Le frigo

Today I received 10 pairs of shoes. Granted, they were all my shoes from when I was in the U.S. My air shipment came in. Along with the shoes were the two cartons of clothes, bags, my make-up holder and the towels that still smelled like my laundry in NYC. And it took just 30 minutes to unpack my life in New York. Although I am missing all my "dry food stuffs" as they labeled it...they must have sent it by sea.

Now my apartment is overflowing with clothes (I didn't realize I had that many!) and I don't know how to organize everything since I'll be moving out in a month and a half anyway.

And my fridge is overflowing with yogurt.

And those two green balls at the bottom? Round zucchini. To be stuffed with the ground beef above, some rice, some tomatoes and I dunno what else. We'll see how that goes.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Glorified ham and cheese

They say there are so many different types of cheeses in France that if you eat a different one each day for a full year, you still won't have tried all of them. You'd have 35 more days to go, at least. And so, during lunch, instead of getting St. Nectaire, which I've tried before (one of my coworkers said its too smelly thereby I deduct that I am more French than him), I got Cantal on my sandwich. And apparently, Cantal is made from milk from cows that feed on hay in the winter months in the Auverge region in France. You know what happens to the milk from those same cows when they feed on grass in the summer? It's made into a different cheese! That one is called Salers. Genius!

And so, the point of my story is that I had the most delicious sandwich today. Ham and cheese. But waaaaay glorified because the baguette was from Julien which is a somewhat famous bakery in Paris (it won best baguette a few times), and the ham was jambon de pays, which is a thicker, less salty but more intense prosciutto, and the Cantal cheese which has a mild flavor but the texture of butter that has been slightly softened and can barely be spread on bread. Oh, and it also had some butter on it. IT WAS SO GOOD. And huge. I ate a whole baguette for lunch. And then a salted butter caramel tiramisu from Kaiser. Oh gosh....

Update: Apparently this place (Le Petit Vendome) really does have some of the best sandwiches in Paris according to various internet sources. I even got the right combination! +1 pour moi!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Skiing in Courchevel

I haven't been skiing in two years, but thats not saying much since I've only skied twice before! We (company weekend trip! but the cost most likely comes out of my bonus) went to Courchevel the weekend I "officially" moved to Paris. Apparently its the "Aspen of Europe" or something like that. That doesn't impress me but it was so pretty! There was so much snow...the most I've seen in many many years. And they make everything so nice, stringing up evergreens with lights. And its not really a town, its a bunch of little chalet villages (chalet's are so cute!) on a mountain that connect via roads. So we took the TGV there, which is one of those super fast trains where if you stand up to go to the bathroom you end up wobbling up the aisle, and falling onto random people's seats, which I pretty much did. And this is our dinner on the train:

Only in France would they give you a boxed dinner, with a half bottle of wine. But no water.

On a random note, apparently all the Russian oligarchs like to go to Courchevel for Russian New Year, during which time my hotel room, for example, was 1,300 EUR a night. That is not a typo. And 4-bedroom (the ones without) a pool, go upwards of $30,000 for a weekend. Crazy! But, the view out of my 1,300-EUR-a-night-during-Russian-New-Year room (we had roommates) can't be beat...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bye bye best(est) city in the world

The movers came to pick up the rest of my stuff on Monday, leaving JPs apartment pretty much scrubbed clean of any of my belongings. And now I'm in the Air France lounge at JFK. How depressing. Sure, lounges are nice and all but not when you're leaving what I've learned over the years is the best city in the entire world. There's so much to do, so much to see, so much to EAT! You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, regardless of the time of day (or night for that matter). And there's something for everyone. I don't know why tourists like NYC (I don't think I would, it takes more than a few days to get accustomed) but I definitely know why people love living there.

And so, for my last supper (hah, funny korovka...) I made JP's favorite: lasagna rolls. I've made these a few times and they never come out the same because the filling depends mostly on the ingredients I have on hand. I loosely adapted the recipe (as I tend to do) from Giada de Laurentiis' lasagna rolls. It's a perfect way to use up any leftover cheese or veggies you have an hand. I usually eat only one of these but I've seen JP polish off up to three in one sitting. Plus, they taste great reheated!

Lasagna Rolls (adapted loosely from Giada de Laurentiis)

1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
Salt, pepper and nutmeg
6 lasagna sheets
3/4 cup + 1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 ball of mozzarella, diced finely (or you can use shredded)
1/2 cup of frozen spinach, thawed in the microwave and squeezed dry
2 links of hot italian sausage
Any other veggies you have on hand, finely diced
6 slices of prosciutto
2 cups marinara sauce
Shredded parmesan

Preheat oven to 450F

Noodles: Set a pot of water to boil. Add salt and a little bit of olive oil. Add the lasagna noodles and boil until they're no longer firm (7 minutes or so). Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet so they don't stick together.

Bechamel: While the noodles are boiling, make the bechamel sauce by melting butter over medium low heat. Whisk in the 2 teaspoons of flour and whisk continuously for two minutes. Add the milk and turn heat up to medium high. Whisk the bechamel until it begins to simmer and thickens. Take off heat and add salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.  

Filling: Take the italian sausage out of the casing and sautee. When there's almost no pink visible, add whatever veggies you had on hand (I added some finely diced zucchini but you can also add some mushrooms or peppers or whatever you have). Sautee a few minutes more and take off heat. Mix the 3/4 cup ricotta, thawed spinach, the mozzarella (leave some for sprinkling on top later), and the sausage and veggie mix. The hot sausage should melt the cheese a little binding the mixture. If not, you can add an egg in there but I usually don't. You can also add whatever spices you want to the filling.

Assembly: Pour the bechamel sauce into the bottom of a 9*9 inch glass dish. Take a lasagna noodle and spread some of the 1/3 cup of ricotta on one side. Add a slice of prosciutto and then place a heaping tablespoon of the filling towards one side of the noodle. Roll up and place seam-side down into the glass dish. Continue with the rest of the noodles. Top of the marinara sauce (I like TJ's Rustico sauce), sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and add some shredded Parmesan on top. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes until the sauce bubbles. Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes until the cheese on top is golden. Remove from the oven, let stand a few minutes and serve.

This is what happens to my leftover filling:

I fry it in a tiny pan like a pancake!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pulling pork butts

I really should not be allowed to step foot into grocery stores. I walk in needing a few items and walk out carrying two huge bags filled to the brim. This happened last week. I decided it was about time to use the Le Creuset the people-who-keep-me-sane-at-work got me for my "going-away" to Paris gift. And what better way to do so than to make pulled pork?! MMMMM.

And so I walked out of Whole Foods with the two bags (helped by JP, of course) that contained, among other things, the chicken and the ricotta and the lettuce and the tomatoes for the stuffed chicken breast dinner, italian sausage for my upcoming lasagna rolls, apples (on sale, can't pass it up!), pineapple (just because), some other things, and a 2.5lb pork butt. It's not really the butt, it's the shoulder. 

And as I usually do with non-baked goods recipes, I decided to research. How does one go about making pulled pork in a dutch oven? My favorite pulled pork of all time is Big Bob Gibson's (I don't know how Chris Lilly = Big Bob) pulled pork sandwiches that we had at the Big Apple BBQ for two years in a row. Best thing about the whole food fest. So I used Chris Lilly's dry rub and since I didn't have anything to inject the pork with, I just poured some apple juice down the sides of the Le Creuset. Into the oven at 225F for 4 1/2 hours. I was pulling the pork at 2:30am. And reheated it the next day for dinner (after we went to an all-you can drink brunch at Mercadito for $21, which was pretty gosh darn AWESOME and resulted in a very happy JP + PG running around Paragon finding me ski pants, for reasons we shall not mention but might involve having 5+ drinks). 

Pulled Pork (loosely adapted from Chris Lilly)

2 1/2 lb pork butt (also called shoulder or boston butt)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup smoked paprika
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon chili powder 
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup apple juice
Hot sauce (optional)
Brioche, white bread, parker house rolls, or whatever vehicle you want for the pork

Preheat oven to 400F. Mix the all the dry ingredients together (add more heat / sweetness if you want). Rub the pork butt with the spice mixture so it has a very thick coating (use all of it!) and pat down to adhere. Place in dutch oven with the fat side up. Pour apple juice down the sides of the pan, making sure not to get it onto the top or sides of the pork. Cover with the lid and put in to oven. Immediately turn the oven down to 225F and let it be, undisturbed, for 4 1/2 hours. 

Remove the pork butt from the oven and shred the meat on a cutting board using two forks. I like to get rid of as much of the fat on the meat as possible, so I just throw those parts out. Put the shredded pork into a bowl and add the liquid thats in the dutch oven by the 1/4 cup until the pork has a moist consistency. Season with more salt to taste and add a few squirts of hot sauce (optional but it can be sriracha, cholula, tabasco, whatever you have on hand...I used chimay habanero salsa). Serve between slices of white bread, brioche or parker house rolls.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Resolutions or lack thereof

I never make new years resolutions, mainly because I can't stick to things like that. I can try to stick to something or promise myself something, but I know I won't be able to see it through. Instead I make little resolutions every once in a while like "mmmm, I ate salad this week and now I can eat chocolate" which the following week becomes "oh man, I ate so much chocolate, must eat salad...". I like to reward myself when I'm good. But I've been really really really really bad.

So I got back from Brazil on December 24th. I stepped on the scale January 7th. +9.4lbs since I returned. Oh dear oh dear. But fear not! My excuse is New Years, mama's bday, and eating a whole lot of delicious restaurant food which will continue into this weekend (dinner Friday night at Azul Bistro, brunch Saturday with the family + JP at Churrascaria Plataforma, brunch Sunday with the kiddies at Mercadito for endless guava mimosas, dinner Sunday with JP at Maialino...and that doesn't include the pork butt I have in the fridge and the lasagna rolls I promised to make). So I conclude I ate a lot of salty food and am retaining water and that's at least half that weight. Yogurt + salad when I get back to Paris, but for now, I will enjoy myself.

We had chicken breasts stuffed with ricotta, spinach and mushrooms, along with a side salad tonight, which is my idea of healthy. Not sure how healthy it is, but at least lets pretend! I've been wanted to try stuffing chicken for a while and this was the perfect time to do it.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

2 chicken breasts, pounded thin
1/2 cup part skim ricotta
1/2 cup chopped frozen (or fresh) spinach, thawed in the microwave
Handful of cremini mushrooms (lets say 8 small or 6 large), diced finely
1/2 shallot, diced finely
1 clove of garlic, diced finely
Salt and whatever other spices you want

Preheat oven to 400F. Thaw the spinach in the microwave and wring out as much water as you can using a paper towel. I like to put the spinach in a paper towel, making a little bundle, put it in a seive and just press on top of squeeze out the water, otherwise my hands get scalded with hot spinach water...

Put an oven-proof medium-sized pan (if you don't have one its OK) over medium-high heat with a turn of olive oil (thats once around the pan). Dice the shallot and garlic, turn down the heat to medium-low and add to the pan (I used to burn onions and garlic all the time until I realized I just need to turn down the heat...). Sautee for a few minutes until translucent. Add diced cremini and sautee until nicely browned. While the cremini and onions are in the pan (turn the heat off when they're done), pound out your chicken breasts to no more than 1/2 inch thickness. Put the ricotta into a medium sized bowl, add the spinach and mix until incorporated. Add the cremini mixture, salt, and whatever spices you want to use (I used a little cayenne pepper). Mix until incorporated and then add a few squirts of sriracha to taste.

Put the same pan as before on medium-high heat with three turns of olive oil (bottom should be coated). Take the chicken breasts and put a heap of the ricotta spinach mixture into the center (make sure the inside part of the breast is facing up). Fold up the sides and secure each with a toothpick. When the oil is hot, place the chicken bottom side down into the pan and let it pan fry for about 6 - 7 minutes until you see that the sides of the chicken are turning white. Place the pan in the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes (if you didn't use an oven-proof skillet, you can put the chicken on a baking tray / cookie sheet lined with foil). Serve with a side salad, and don't forget about the toothpicks...

New Year's Eve Menu

New Year's Eve was a major opportunity for me to use my friends as guinea pigs and try out a bunch of recipes I've wanted to make. I have a whole big bookmark list on firefox that's just waiting to have a dent put in it. Here's half the menu (apart from the Brazilian cookies I brought over and JP arranged, the majority of which barely passed as edible, unfortunately, but apparently proved to be fantastic chasers):

Cheese Straws (adapted from Ina Garten)
1 sheet thawed puff pastry
3/4 cup grated gruyere
1/3 cup grated parmesan
Salt and pepper
Garlic powder
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine the grated gruyere, grated parm, and whatever spices (I used paprika and garlic powder, but you can also use dried herbs, and you can use whatever hard cheeses you have on hand) you want, along with salt and pepper. Roll out puff pastry on parchment paper. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with the grated cheese and spice mix. Use a rolling pin to press the mix into the puff pastry. I like to put the puff pastry in the freezer now to make it easier to cut (about 15 minutes), but you don't have to.  Cut 1/2 inch thin strips of the puff pastry and twist in opposite directions from the ends (like you're twisting string). Place on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until the straws are puffy and lightly browned, turn once, and bake for another 3 - 5. Make sure the cheese doesn't burn! Oh, and I forgot to take a picture.

Turkey Lettuce Cups (adapted loosely from PF Chang)

1/2 lb ground dark meat (turkey or chicken)
1 small box of cremini mushrooms, finely diced 
1/2 sweet yellow onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 head of iceberg lettuce

Heat large skillet on medium-high and sautee the ground meat until lightly browned and no red remains (light pink is OK, otherwise you will overcook it later). If you use turkey, you might want to add some olive oil to the pan first but chicken has enough fat in my opinion. Meanwhile, mix the soy sauce, brown sugar and rice wine vinegar in a separate bowl. If you want this to be spicy, add some cayenne or red pepper flakes.
Add the mushrooms, onions and garlic to the meat and sautee for 2 - 3 more minutes. You can add other veggies like celery and carrots but you basically want whatever you're putting in the ground meat to be of a small, uniform size so everything mixes together. Then add the stir fry sauce and sautee for 1 - 2 more minutes. Done!
Pull apart the iceberg lettuce leaves (I found this tricky and kinda failed) and wash them, then spoon some of the ground meat onto each leaf, arrange on a platter and serve! I recommend sriracha as an accompanying sauce but you can make a dip.

Zucchini Ricotta Tart

1 sheet thawed puff pastry
1 cup ricotta (you can use part-skim)
1 zucchini, thinly sliced into circles
3 sliced cremini mushrooms
10 halved cherry tomatoes

Preheat oven to 350F. Roll out puff pastry on parchment paper. Spread ricotta (you can add herbs to this if you like, or spices) over the puff pastry, leaving a thin border of about a 1/2 inch. Arrange zucchini circles on the puff pastry, top with slices mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Grate some gruyere (or any hard cheese) over the top. Place in the oven for about 10 - 15 minutes until the edges of the puff pastry are puffy and golden brown. I like to cut this so that each slice has a zucchini circle on it. Serve warm.

I used two packages of white chocolate chips for this (slowly melted over a double boiler) instead of the bark, and half a package of semi-sweet chocolate chips. I also added some lemon zest to the cake batter. JP fed the remains to his co-workers.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Steak(ums) and veggies

First thing I cook for JP after coming back for vacation - steak. It was a fluke. We were at Whole Foods picking up groceries for my New Years Eve spread; I was searching for ground dark chicken meat (ended up with ground dark turkey meat), and he found a package of 3 marinated rib-eye steaks with the wrong sticker price on it. $17.99 per lb. It said the package was a little over half a pound. Completely mislabeled when packages of the same meat, that seemed to weigh the same, were going for $30 for the entire package. We grabbed it. Dinner ended up being grilled marinated rib-eye with roasted fingerling potatoes and green beans. Yum.

I am awful at writing recipes because I eyeball most things. The veggies were pretty much the following:
1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Line baking sheet or pan with foil 
2. Par-cook a handful (or however many you want) fingerling potatoes in boiling water for 6 minute
3. Remove from water and cut in half. Place in lined baking sheet and toss with olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and whatever other spices you like (I put chile powder, oregano and garlic powder). I like to make sure the potatoes are cut side up. Roast in oven for 15 minutes
4. Remove from oven, add green beans and a little more olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss. Roast for 5 - 7 more minutes.