Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Chocolate for grown-ups

The sweetness is in the Packaging

photograph picture of charles chocolate bar from san francisco

If you are too old and too sophisticated for rice krispie treats, but still yearn for a little crunch your confection, check out this San Francisco-made chocolate bar I recently discovered, made by Charles Chocolates. More bitter than sweet, this bar will satisfy those who prefer a less sugary dark chocolate bar.
I bought mine for $3.99 at Cheese Plus, but on the website they are listed at $4.50.

PS. Today, the much-loved Japanese restaurant in San Rafael, Tomoe is closing its doors. Distressed fans have asked me to ask any Bay Area readers who know of anywhere similar that would make a good alternative, to share their ideas, here, in the comments section. Thank you.

Archive Alert! On this date in 2004 Derrick was hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday on the subject of Reisling. A year later, Derrick is hosting again. Check out his fun new challenge here.

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Chocolate for grown-ups

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I Ate Balls!! (not)

(And they weren't too 'Offal')

photograph picture of eggs florentine from Liberty Cafe filed under restaurant Review san franciscoFor our Bay Area readers we have a Capsule San Francisco Restaurant Roundup for November 2005, featuring:
Pizzeria Delfina | Tres Agaves | Garcon | Oola | Les Amis | Couleur | Q (illustrated by the picture of one of their table sculptures on the left) | The Flower Market Cafe...

I finally got to try
Pizzeria Delfina the other weekday afternoon when it wasn't packed. I am not going to write a full-on review but suffice to say, Fred and I shared a Margherita and absolutely loved it. Fred was raving about the crust, whilst I had a bit of a crush on the mouth-watering tomato sauce. A side of roasted cauliflower proved to me that this previously most wretched of vegetables can be made quite tasty, though I would have preferred less salt. For more info, visit the Pizzeria Delfina Website.
Pizzeria Delfina blogged: Vinography | Food Musings | The Restaurant Whore | Bay Area Bites | Scowl Nu?
Some very good friends of mine are venturing into the restaurant business. They are part of the team that have launched Soma's new Mexican & Tequila restaurant, Tres Agaves. I was sceptical, cynical and quite sure I wouldn't care for the frat-boy atmosphere that comes from being such a large eaterie so close to the Ball Park. I was part of a group of 8 friends (all paying our way) who shared several of their dishes, family-style, for dinner. I had to eat my negative words. Succulent, slow roasted pork carnitas, tender spit roasted chicken, tasty fresh fish, juicy wood-grilled skirt steak, salsas, guacamole, chips and melt-in-your-mouth corn on the cob. There wasn't anything that disappointed me, although please note that our hosts did recommended the pick of what they believe to be the best choices on the menu. All the food was delicious and having such a large selection of tequilas to wash it all down with didn't hurt either. For more info, visit the Tres Agaves Website.
Tres Agaves blogged:
Bbum's Weblog-o-Mat | Scowl Nu? | Aldoblog

There seems to be no stopping our other restaurant-owning friends who are fast building a little French empire, here in San Francisco. Barely 24 hours since flying in from Paris the week before last, and to celebrate the Beaujoulais Nouveau, we tried their new mission Bistro, Garcon. It's a really nicely designed spot, buzzing and homely with a welcoming French atmosphere. The food is traditional and hearty with items like roasted Mussels and frisee salad with a soft poached egg, on the appetizer menu. All four of us tried Duck Confit as our main course. It was good, but not quite peaking at the level of Oola's version which, a few weeks ago, raised the bar to best duck confit I have ever tasted. Don't leave Garcon without trying the Tarte Tatin. It's well worth the calorie splurge. More info about Garcon can be found here.

The same restaurant friends have just launched Les Amis, a high-end, down town eaterie headed by Plouf chef Thomas Weibull. We were lucky to be invited to a complimentary test tasting of part of their dinner menu last week. The food shows much promise and it looks like Weibull is relishing the creative opportunity he has been afforded by heading a more upscale restaurant than the mussel-lovers favourite on Belden Lane. Delectable amuse geules, crispy sweetbreads (which I thought were balls when I wrote this article, but actually they are not) and succulent rabbit wrapped in prosciutto plus accompanying rillette carbonara crowned with a little raw quail egg are the type of dishes you might expect to find on the menu. I thought the most delicious item, by far, was a delicate, crispy bass with duck crackling, jeruslaem artichoke and a mild ginger-orange beurre blanc which has since been haunting me with an insatiable yearning for more. The pastry chef has been allowed to go to town too, desserts were quite ambitious and we were sweetly surprised. In the interests of transparency, please be aware we did not pay for any food or wine on this occasion, neither were we asked to write about the experience. More details can be found on Opentable.

Talking of Plouf, my very favourite restaurant manager in town, Thierry, has left Belden Lane to head up Jocelyn Bulow's latest venture, Couleur at the bottom of Potrero Hill, at 17th and De Haro. And guess what - that's in my neighbourhood, so I can't wait. Well I won't have to hold out much longer - the last I heard, they open this coming Friday, December 2nd, next Monday December 5th. But call and double-check first. They left the following number, for enquiries, on their door: 415 255 0387.

Not Quince, not Quiznos, just a simple letter Q. Read all about this quirky, friendly Amercian Comfort-food Diner in the Inner Richmond right here, in my latest review for SFist.

Finally, if like me, you have wondered every time you have been at the lights at Townsend and 6th, waiting to leg it onto the 280 Freeway, what The Flower Market Cafe is all about, I can assure you it's not worth the parking fee. The food is mediocre, the setting isn't pretty and although the staff are really sweet and friendly, there is nothing about this 'mainstay' that will appeal to people who are the slightest bit interested in good food.

Happy Dining!

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I Ate Balls!! (not)

Monday, November 28, 2005

A British Take on Pies for Thanksgiving

with thanks to Jamie Oliver for his help

photograph picture of Toffee Apple Tart and Maple Syrup and Pecan Tart

This year, for the first time since I moved to America nearly five years ago, I was invited into the home of some friends, to join their family for a Thanksgiving meal. When we accepted the invitation, we assumed it was a dinner for their friends. When we arrived to realise we would be sharing the occasion, instead, with members of their families from all over the country, we felt incredibly honoured to have been included.

photograph picture of  Maple Syrup and Pecan Tart
Maple Syrup and Pecan Tart
The hostess asked me if I would mind contributing to the dessert. Of course not! Any excuse to spend time dabbling in the kitchen. I turned to the tart-centric dessert section of Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Dinners cookbook hoping to find recipes that not only would make suitable Thanksgiving fare, but would also help me utilize some of the homegrown apples that Elise had kindly given me the week before. Some readers have already been surprised to discover that Jamie's recipe for Maple syrup and pecan tart contains breadcrumbs. Yes! Breadcrumbs, you heard correctly. This tart is based on the very British, breadcrumb-utilizing Treacle Tart, but is then given a North American twist with the ommission of treacle and the addition of Maple Syrup and pecans instead. It also contains grated apple and orange zest. A sprinkling of thyme leaves at the end adds to its interesting flavour. Instead of using Jamie's pastry recipe for this tart's crust, I turned to the less-sweet dough featured on Shuna's blog which is easy to make with great results. A note about the breadcrumbs: The recipe doesn't specify whether dried or fresh should be used. I used dry ones, but next time might experiment with fresh or a combintion of the two. I think fresh crumbs might result in a more moist filling. The dry ones weren't bad, but maybe it could be better. Pictured above is the mini test-version of the pie. The big one looked like this.This was my personal favourite, but everyone else seemed to prefer the other tart:

photograph picture of  Maple Syrup and Pecan Tart
Toffee Apple Tart
The recipe for this super-rich, sickly-sweet treat of a pie is not available online but I can easily tell you how to make it and you can experiment. Firstly you need to make some Dulce de Leche. This is easy to do, as any self-respecting Brit who has ever made Banoffee Pie can attest. For the tart recipe you will need to use just two-14oz cans of sweetened condensed milk, but since it keeps for months in the fridge after being made, you may as well prepare more tins than you need as a stockpile for future dessert making. Take, then, (at least)two 14-oz cans of condensed milk. Place in a large, high-sided heavy pan and fill with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer the cans for 3 hours. Be very careful to keep the cans covered at all times and not to let the water run dry in which case rumour has it that the cans will explode.

Secondly you need to make a batch of Jamie's signature sweet pastry. Note - the number of egg yolks and amount of butter he uses does seem to change a little according to the source of the recipe, but hopefully, since this one is on his web page, it will be ok. In the book I used there were only two egg yolks specified and I thought it was a bit dry. This pastry is not a roll-out-the-dough recipe, it is a cut the pastry into slivers and squoosh together in the pan recipe. It is untraditional, yes, but the end result is very good. Mold the slivers into your 11inch pie dish and leave to chill in the freezer for at least an hour. Set the oven to 350F. Peel and slice the flesh of four as-sharp-as-you-can-get apples, rolling them to cover in a handful of icing/powdered sugar. Remove pastry case from freezer and empty into it, the contents of the two cans of pre-prepped condensed milk dulce-de-leche. Spread so it covers the base evenly then cover with the sugared apples. Pop into the preheated oven for 40 minutes until the caramel is bubbling. The result is pretty juicy. Scoop out portions with a spoon - you wont be able to cut it into neat slices. Serve with whipped cream to balance out the sweetness.

PS - Thanks, again, to Elise, who kindly provided me with enough apples from her garden to use in both of these recipes.

Archive Alert! On this date in 2004 we were partying at The Gostbar in Las Vegas.

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A British Take on Pies for Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Spiced Sesame Orange Florentines with Cashew Nuts & Fleur de Sel

Cookie Swap 2005

photograph picture of Spiced Sesame Orange Florentines with Cashew Nuts & Fleur de Sel with recipe

I recently discovered how easy it is to make Florentines. All you need to get started is the basic recipe and then you can experiment with different nuts and flavours.

3/4 cup of Bakers Sugar
1/4 cup of Honey
4 tablespoons of Butter
1/4 cup of Creme Fraiche
Grated Zest of Half an Orange
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/3 cup of sifted plain flour
2 handfuls of hulled white sesame seeds
2 handfuls of raw cashews, chopped into small pieces
Large pinch of Fleur de Sel
2oz dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place nuts and seeds on a baking tray and toast until they are golden brown (about 10 minutes). Put sugar, honey, butter, creme fraiche, orange zest and ginger into a heavy saucepan over a low heat and stir until butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring from time to time. The mixture should thicken and darken slightly. Stir in the toasted nuts, seeds, flour and the fleur de sel. Place half-tablespoon-sized dollops of the mixture on baking trays lined with a slipat or non stick parchment paper. Be sure to leave plenty of room for the cookies to spread. Bake for about 8 minutes until the florentines are evenly dark and golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray to cool and harden. Melt the chocolate and then pipe drizzles over the surface of the cookies. Once cool, keep in an airtight container

Reality Notes:
Regular cream can be substituted for the creme fraiche. Golden syrup can be substituted for the honey. Experiment with your favourite nuts. Fred prefers a version where I use only flaked almonds (no orange, ginger, salt or sesame seeds). The smaller your nut pieces, the more evenly your cookies will spread, but don't go so far as crumbing the nuts, I think that might look ugly. My oven has an element on the bottom, and I find that if I try to bake these cookies on the bottom shelf they burn around the edges. Therefore I have to cook them in two batches in the centre of the oven. If you have to do the same thing, try and keep the remaining mixture warm, over a very low heat, so it doesn't harden too much. Impromptu piping bag: For super drizzling action, put your melted chocolate in a plastic bag and cut off a tiny corner to make a hole through which you can finely pipe the chocolate drizzles on to the cookie.

PS. These cookies were baked for a joint virtual cookie swap organised by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess and Alberto of Il Forno for Sugar High Friday #14 and Is My Blog Burning #21, respectively.

Archive Alert! Around this time last year, I was Baking cookies like crazy for a charitable cause. Click here to see how much money we made in November 04.

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Spiced Sesame Orange Florentines with Cashew Nuts & Fleur de Sel

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Hollywood en France

The Translation of "Hollywood: into French

photograph picture of French Hollywood

Happy Birthday, today, to my little nephew, Ben, now aged 5.

In French, the word Hollywood, can mean one of two things. Firstly it is the Chewing Gum that I happily bring back for my friend Katja every time I go to France. Secondly, it is a cute French dog, named Hollywood, rolling around in the grass. Since I featured French cats last weekend, it is only fair I give some bandwidth to the French dog too!

PS This was an entry for Weekend Dog Blogging # 11 over at Sweetnicks.

Archive Alert! This weekend in 2004 check out a post called Feeding the Workers.

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Hollywood en France

Friday, November 25, 2005

Don't be Green with Envy

Be Green With Kiwi

photograph picture of kiwi from a mystery bloggers garden

Fred is not a breakfast guy. Neither is he a fruit boy. But when I suggested he start his yesterday with a kiwi fruit, he surprised me by jumping at the opportunity. Not only that, he declared it to be super-juicy and absolutely delicious.

Of course it tasted good! It was, afterall, a gift from the garden of a well-known food blogger. Can you guess who?

Archive Alert! Today, take a look at Ian's stylin' Gingerbread Men.

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Don't be Green with Envy

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

Thank You for Being Such a Great Audience.

photograph picture of some blueberries from Rainbow Orchards at the Alemany farmers market in San FranciscoI am somewhat culturally detatched from Thanksgiving and find it difficult to have any true depth of feeling about it, because of my lack of personal history and experience with it. I like to learn about it though, and this year we are lucky enough to have been invited to spend it with some American friends and their family. It's my job to take some dessert, I hope my choice will be suitable enough for the occasion. I am sorry, but I just can't bring myself to make pumpkin pie.

Turkey Tip of the Day
If you have a frozen turkey, don't forget to leave enough time for it to defrost slowly. Allow 24 hours of defrost time per 5lbs of meat. That means, if you have a 20lb turkey, you need to start defrosting it no less than 4 days in advance. If you forget, then just be thankful for the Fresh fish counter at Wholefoods.

Finally, I wanted to echo the words of Kalyn, who in response to a lovely message from Shauna, on Food Blog S'cool, summed up my sentiments, on this day, about the food blogging community. She wrote: "I am thankful to be prosperous enough to be able to participate in such a fun hobby, and to have found so many like-minded people to share it with." Hear, hear, Kalyn!

Archive Alert! On Thanksgiving Day in 2004, Fred and I ate our dinner at Osteria del Circo in the Bellagio. Yes! We were in Vegas, baby!

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Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Go on- Treat Yourself!

Two New Chocolate Addictions

photograph picture Montezuma's dark chocolate geranium orange organic and Vosges Black pear bar

I picked up a bar of the British-made Montezuma's Organic, Geranium & Orange Dark Chocolate a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting Avoca at Powerscourt in Ireland. The delightful, mild, perfumed overtones that hit you when you open up the box are even more subtle when you bite into and taste this gorgeous, slightly floral, dark chocolate bar. The emphasis is definitely more flower power than citrus fruit and none of the flavours are overpowering. Oh yumminess of all yummy. It doesn't last long. You had better buy a few. Save up your pocket money first, though, it's Euro 3.80 per bar. But heh - it's a small price to pay for such exquisite deliciousness.

The other day I was on Polk street and decided to drop-in on one of my favourite Food stores, Cheese Plus, formerly known (to me) as Leonards. This store is under new management and striking changes have been implemented. Gone is the mix-mash of International oddities I was kind of fond of. In there place are well presented luxurious food items I am sure I will get equally attached to. They even sell great-looking fresh sandwiches which I'll have to check out one lunchtime.

The chocolate selection caught my eye. None more than the Vosges Black Pearl Bar, flavoured with ginger, wasabi and black sesame seed. Ginger is the dominant flavour, the wasabi is less detectable and the sesame seeds give it the bar a lovely, slightly crunchy texture. A very nice, spicy bar for $5.99.

Cheese Plus: 2001 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (415) 921-2001

PS - If you are a Food Blogger who entered DMBLGIT, please read this post from Moira of Who Wants Seconds?

Archive Alert! On this date in 2004 we were sharing our experiences of making Thanksgiving sweets, candies and treats.

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Go on- Treat Yourself!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

La Provence - Guerrero - San Francisco - CA

A Little Corner of France on the Edge of the Mission

olive1.jpgThis is a copy of my most recent article for SFist in which I eat my way around the Bay Area in alphabetical order and then write about it in SFist-style using the 'royal we'. This entry, covering the letter P, was actually published a couple of weeks ago and I just getting round to repeating it here for my SF-based Becks & Posh Readers.

A short while ago we read the scoop, on SFist, about a new French restaurant on the scene. If you live in the area around Guerrero and 22nd, you might be thankful for the opening, a few months ago, of a friendly little French bistro calling itself La Provence. Whilst the neighbourhood itself might not conjure up images of neat little lavender fields, windy cobbled streets and lively pavement cafes, this addition to the outer Mission has a bright, sunny disposition and a friendly, welcoming persona that is definitely French.

We had reserved a table at 9pm on a Tuesday but found that calling ahead wasn't strictly necessary since the lofty, golden-hued room was only half full. The four diners in our party for the evening were all relaxed and in good spirits, perhaps because none of us had any difficulty parking? As we had a Frenchman among us, we allowed him a little witty repartee, in a familial fashion, 'en Francais' with the French speaking staff. The fact that the French appeared to be engaged in very friendly banter made us feel comfortable in our surroundings and we were eager to start imbibing. Very soon we were sipping the largest Kir Royale we can remember ever being served. They were cool and crisp and difficult to stop supping on once we had started. Likewise, the complimentary bread, delivered along with little pots of olive and tomato tapenade, were difficult to stop nibbling on once we had discovered how more-ish these most savoury and salty of spreads actually were.

We elected to share the starters. La Pissaladière, a little pastry tart topped with onion, peppers and olives was offered either with or without the anchovies that by traditional rights should be adorning it. Either way, it was tasty and its petite size was reflected in the reasonable pricing of $5.95. A Tartare de Saumon, at $8.95, was marinated in a citrus cure and then unusually paired with an eggplant caviar. The combination itself was nothing exceptional but each component was well prepared and the portion size was more than generous. Salade de Chèvre, $6.95, with a warm goat cheese, glistening vinaigrette-dressed salad with candied pecans was a perfectly good example of its genre.

Our mood was convivial, and because we had tricked one of our neighbours into being designated driver for the evening, we decided we could safely share a bottle of red without any going to waste. The wine list, again, was cheap compared to uptown prices and so we settled for a bottle of Brouilly at just under thirty bucks. We asked for it fresh or frais and because the staff actually understood what we meant by that, our bottle of red soon appeared with an ice bucket so we could chill it to the correct temperature for drinking.

Of the Main courses we managed to sample, the Gigot d’Agneau St Tropez, $18.95, was the most delicious. In fact, it was superb. The Californian-sourced lamb, cooked exactly to the requested shade of pink was extremely succulent and tasty with accompanying soft little pillows of grilled polenta that were the perfect for mopping up the thyme jus. The duck dish, Magret de Canard des Garrigues, $21.95, with a seasonal fig and red wine reduction was slightly less of a crowd pleaser. Don't be afraid to ask for you duck rare if that is the way you like it. The staff will recommend it medium but we stood our ground and insisted on it almost bloody for one of the portions, which made the Dracula-wannabee in our party much happier than they would have been with the medium-done version. The duck is on the sweet size so bare that in mind if you have more of a salty tooth.

We only shared one dessert between the four of us, but at just $5.95 each everything sugary is very good value. Our Clafoutis - which they describe as a French Bread Pudding with seasonal fruit and we would perhaps describe, instead, as a thick battered pudding was a fabulous interpretation of this classic French dish. We almost wish we'd asked for one spoon and four dishes, instead of vica-versa.

La Provence is not the fancy French place you would drive out of your way to, to look for the epitome of classic fancy dining, but it is certainly a charming and relaxed place for a causal and well-prepared meal in a very friendly atmosphere. So, if you live not too far away, make sure it is on your list of places to visit next time you want to sit down to a decent meal and a nice glass of wine without breaking the bank. The French. Really. You've just got to love them.

La Provence Restaurant
1001 Guerrero St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Tel/fax: (415) 643•4333

Dinner served Tuesday through Sunday
from 5.30 to 11.00 pm

Reservations: by telephone - (415) 643•4333

PS This review was a

Archive Alert! A year later, it's still one of my favourite spots in the city. On this day in 2004 we were reviewing Oola. Pork ribs that dreams are made of.

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La Provence - Guerrero - San Francisco - CA

Monday, November 21, 2005

Earthy & Autumnal

A Risotto for the Season

photograph picture recipe for Acorn Squash, Swiss Chard & Apple Risotto
Today: Happy Birthday to My Sister, Beccy, in Ireland!

This risotto is adapted from a recipe I learnt, recently, at the wonderful Tante Marie Cooking School. I have wanted to recreate it at home ever since and Fall is the prefect time to make it. This isn't a dish where all the flavours come together, rather the opposite. Each forkful tastes slightly different which keeps it interesting. One second my mouth is exploding with sage, the next mouthful I detect the distinctive ashy-tasting bacon from The Fatted Calf. Another bite reveals the earthy flavours of the Swiss Chard leaves, followed by a piece of crunchy apple. (Apple courtesy of Elise from Simply Recipes who grows them in her garden and kindly gave me a huge bag of homegrown goodies). The recipe is fairly labour intensive. The secret is to have all of the ingredients ready and prepped before you start cooking and an open bottle of wine and glass by your side to keep you occupied through the stirring stage.

Autumnal Risotto (Serves 6).
1/4 cup of green lentils, cooked
1/2 Acorn squash, peeled, cubed and simmered until tender
6 cups of chicken stock, warmed in a saucepan
3 tablespoons butter
6 rashers of diced bacon
2 large cloves of garlic, minced.
1 small shallot, minced.
2 cups Riso Carnaroli
1 cup dry white wine.
1 tightly-packed cup of finely shredded Swiss Chard leaves
1 Granny Smith Apple, peeled and diced.
1/4 cup parmesan, freshly grated.
1 tablespoon minced sage leaves.
Salt & Pepper, to taste.

Melt a third of the butter in a large saucepan and add the garlic, shallot and bacon. Sweat together over a medium/low heat until soft and the shallot is transparent. Add the rice and mix together well, until all of the grains are coated. Pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid reduces to almost nothing. Increase the heat to Medium and make sure your pot of warm chicken stock is in easy reach, right next to your rice pan. Using a ladle, add one spoonful of stock at a time to the rice, stirring all the time. Once the liquid has been absorbed into the rice, add another spoonful and keep stirring. Continue, for about half an hour, until all of the stock has been absorbed and the rice is soft with a little bite. Immediately add the diced apple, shredded Swiss Chard, pre-cooked lentils and squash to the rice. Stir. Finish with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, sage and grated parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste, stir well to blend and serve straight away.

PS. Experiment using different types of squash, lentils, greens and apples. And be warned - you may not like it. Fred, for example, was turning up his nose at it. Thank goodness, then, for my friend Hans who came round for dinner too. He finished off two huge helpings with gusto and annihilated my entire collection of home-baked almond macaroons.

Archive Alert! I was baking cookies to raise money for Aids Charity.

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Earthy & Autumnal

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Today's Brekkie?

Sundays were created for the lazy, right?

photograph picture of things from our sunday breakfast
Click to enlarge

Some nosey-parker wants to know what we ate for breakfast this Sunday. Not so much breakfast in our household, more like brunch! The satellite guys were scheduled to arrive between 8am and midday. Of course, this meant they didn't turn up until 11.57am. Once they had done their stuff I had a sudden urge to whip up a batch of almond macaroons using this Marunchinos (Sephardi almond macaroons) recipe.
I made an omelette using The Fatted Calf's splendid bacon, a particularly pungent Bay Area Farmstead goat cheese from Pugs Leap now stocked by Cowgirl Creamery and eggs from Marin Sun Farms, where else? I washed it all down with some delicious Japanese green tea kindly given to me by the adorable Keiko when I met her recently in London. That's all. Now, what's for dinner...?

Archive Alert! On this date in 2004 I was sharing some photos of vibrant red chard.

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Today's Brekkie?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Cats in a French Kitchen

The Cat(s) That Got The Cream and Then Some...

photograph picture of a very spoilt French cat!
Unbelievable! Bet you wish you were in my paws. Can you guess what I am up to? I am doing something most food bloggers only dream about. What would you give to swap with me?

photograph picture of a French Cats
We are trying to find out what they are having for dinner. We are sure someone mentioned Gigot D'Agneau, but we can't find it anywhere. Can you help us out?

photograph picture of a smoky grey French Cat
What's up with the sink? It hasn't got any food in it!

photograph picture of 3 French Cats
Why are we waiting?

photograph picture of cat running scared from the washing up
Aaargh! Get me away from the washing up.

photograph picture of cat running scared from the washing up
So that's what the humans are eating tonight. It's not fair. Why can't we join in?

photograph picture of cat running scared from the washing up
Hmmph. We only get to lick the empty dish? Well, it's better than nothing I suppose. If only I didn't have so many brothers and sisters. Garlicky lamb juice is better when it's not shared!

photograph picture of cat running scared from the washing up
Now which of these plates has the most cheese crumbs on it?

photograph picture of cat running scared from the washing up
Ah! This one does.


PS. I am not really the type to take part in Weekend Cat Blogging, a food bloggers non-food event about cats. But when I was in France I met an awful lot of cats, some of whom I photographed in the kitchen, eating, which more than qualifies them for a spot on the pages of this blog. When I heard that Clare, from Eatstuff, the founder of Weekend Cat Blogging, had suffered an unfortunate incident that landed her in hospital for a week, I promised Farmgirl I would take part in a special edition of WBW designed to send Clare get better wishes. But, then, last weekend, when the post was due, we had our own little Parisian hospital drama to contend with and I wasn't able to send Clare her virtual cat good wishes as I'd planned. This weekend Clare is back on the mend, back at home and back hosting the event. So I hope Clare will accept my entry as a rather late good-luck card dedicated towards her ongoing recovery.

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Cats in a French Kitchen

Friday, November 18, 2005

Le Sept Quinze

The Parisian Bistro brought Bang up to Date.
Le Sept Quinze, 29, Avenue de Lowendal, Arrondissement 15, Paris

"La Chef" - the female chef - at Le Sept Quinze presents a quirky modern twist on classic French cooking, using the freshest ingredients in a lively, genial Bistro setting. Read on...

photograph picture the cote de veau special at Le Sept Quinze, Bistro Restaurant, Paris

photograph picture of the Daily Specials Blackboard at Le Sept Quinze restaurant in Paris
Even before I had bemoaned the averageness of some of our European meals on this trip, a Parisian friend had arranged to meet us for lunch near her place of work, where the 15th and 7th Arrondissements meet. "There's a place I want you to try", she said, " I think you will like it". She was adamant we should reconnaitre at the very un-French lunch hour time of 12.30. We begrudgingly obeyed, and were first to arrive as the rather ordinary-looking little place opened its doors. No sooner had we sat down at the bar with an golden, antique-coloured apperitif of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, that the whole room quickly started to fill. Our friend bought several work colleagues along with her who apparently all find the opportunity of a lunch at Le Sept Quinze difficult to pass up.

Daily Specials: Click to enlarge/Clicquez pour elargir

photograph picture of two knives fighting over a rabbit pate at Le Sept Quinze, Bistro Restaurant, Paris

Terrine de Lapin aux fruits sec et noisettes. A battle was waged over the the two plates of Rabbit Pâte that someone in the know immediately demanded to keep us orally occupied whist we perused the Specials Board and the Menu. The succulent, rich meat, rilette-like in texture, was dotted with crunchy hazelnuts and juicy apricots and prunes. Good Start.

photograph picture of Cochon de Lait caramélisé at Le Sept Quinze, Bistro Restaurant, Paris

Cochon de Lait caramélisé, compote de coings au piment d'espelette. Caramelized piglet, with compote of quince and piment d'Espelette. Everyone wanted this dish, but there was only one portion left. Perhaps, because I am English, they felt sorry for me, and all insisted I should be the lucky one. The sticky, fatty, sweet pieces of pork, offset by the sharp quince and the spicy pepper was superb. But, naturellement, I had to share and much swapping of entrees (as the first course is called in France) ensued. The glistening slivers of house-cured gravadlax were as delectable as any I have ever tasted. A salad of fresh artichoke, grapefruit and toasted almonds was bright and zinging with flavour.

photograph picture of St Jacques scallops at Le Sept Quinze, Bistro Restaurant, Paris
St. Jacques étuvées aux herbes, croûton au sechuan. Scallops steamed with herbs and Szechuan croutons. Heavenly little egg white-like, fluffy little perfect pillows of scallop which had been so gently prepared, they just melted in my mouth. As an added bonus, they even included the delicious corals. Amongst the herbs, tarragon most dominated the flavour. The unusual sage-looking green leaves accompanying were actually some sort of incredible-textured "acquatic plant", that almost dissolved on hitting the tongue. We could garner no further information on this vegetable from the staff. Does anyone know anything more about what it might be? (Click picture for enlarged view). I could not discern any Szechuan in the too-oily, over-cooked croutons that didn't add anything to the otherwise delightful dish.

photograph picture of Croustade de fillet de boeuf, tapenade at Le Sept Quinze, Bistro Restaurant, Paris
Croustade de fillet de boeuf, tapenade Crusted fillet of beef with tapenade. Fred's main choice made a welcome change from the more usual hefty, fatty French Bistro steak choices. A tender piece of meat was wrapped in a crusty pastry coating. Fred was very much taken with this dish, especially the mashed potato side that was provided alongside all the main dishes.

photograph picture Petite pot de Chocolat, nougatine au sésame Parisphotograph picture Poire Confit au beurre salé, sablé aux amandes, sorbet cardamome Paris
Petite pot de Chocolat, nougatine au sésame & Poire Confit au beurre salé, sablé aux amandes, sorbet cardamome. I found the desserts to be the weakest element of this otherwise very satisfying lunch. The chocolate mousse had an overwhelming sense of alcohol which was stronger than the amaretto which provided the spirit. The caramelized sesames saved the day. The dessert du jour was equally hijacked, this time by the intensity of the cardamom in the icecream. No worries, by this point we had imbibed several bottles of red wine, and I was just grateful it wasn't me who had to go back to work for the afternoon...

PS. Merci a Valerie pour le recommendation. This review was a first impression

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Le Sept Quinze

Thursday, November 17, 2005

If Dessert Looks this Good - Should We Really Be Eating It?

The Height of Edible Fashion!

photograph picture of Pierre Herme's patisserie on the cover of Eux magazine

Fêted by the world's fooderati and darling of the Parisian Pâtisserie Circuit, Pierre Hermé is a man who clearly epitomizes good taste. A trip to one of his stylish French or Japanese boutiques will illustrate the ease with which he satisfies the visual senses as much as the palate.

photograph picture inside of Pierre Herme's Vaugirard Store in Paris

Expect minimalist chic in Hermé's stores: Clean lines and symmetry, a clinical backdrop splashed with harmonious hues. It is a cosmetic-counter approach to selling the sweetest of treats. Here you will find some of the most good-looking desserts in the world at equally handsome prices.

photograph picture inside of Pierre Herme's Vaugirard Store in Paris

Hermé's catwalk of cakedom is first piled high with macarons, a small selection of whom have been lavished, as if by makeup artistes, with glittering powders that sparkle with an irresistable shimmer.

Moving further along the runway, Hermé's current collection of desserts a la mode include an array of individuel little cakes that dance before my eyes like exquisitely dressed debutantes on their way to the grandest of balls.

The first pastry to catch my attention is wearing flouncy, pale gown. I imagine being the one to bite through its virginal surface before greedily devouring it, right down to its core. Or perhaps I might flirt with the more bohemian contingent amongst this fine display. They are resplendent with earthy autumnal hues and luscious red fruits that threaten to stain the lips blush, perhaps before a wild, passionate kiss?

But then, the sexiest dark-chocolate models smoulder with a deep, alluring, sensuous intensity, how can I resist? Or how could I fail to notice the shyer delectables coyly wrapped up in vivid, slightly transparent coverings, that draw my attention, only to offer a modest, fleeting glimpse of the deliciousness that might lie within.

photograph picture inside of Pierre Herme's Vaugirard Store in Parisphotograph picture inside of Pierre Herme's Vaugirard Store in Paris

I am like a magpie, seduced by all the shininess. I want the ones that look the prettiest to be mine, regardless of what might be inside them. I want to take them home with me and savour them for ever like trinkets in a jewellery box. I don't want to hear when the Pierre Hermé staff tell me that they have to be eaten today. I want them to become part of my eternal, personal treasure trove.

But as fashion is fickle, good cakes soon become crumbs. This display is for eating, not coveting. There is no doubt that Pierre Hermé's pastries are for people with good taste but, most importantly, do they taste good too?

photograph picture of macarons from Pierre Herme's Vaugirard Store in Paris

If you are lucky enough to be presented with a plateful of Pierre Hermé's macarons to sample you will first need to push aside any traditional or cultural preconceptions you have about the colours that represent the flavours you will bite into.

Vivid red pink is a strongly-scented Rose, not the framboise you might prefer. It is floral, sweet and incredibly girly. I happen to a bit of a sucker for anything rosey, but those of you who prefer their flowers in a vase should probably give this one a miss.

Bright green represents an interesting combination of Huile d'Olive et Vanille (olive oil and vanilla), not pistachio as you might expect. The boyish counterpart to his pink sister, Rose, this macaron is certainly much less sweet.

Marron et The Vert Matcha looks like chocolate but is, in fact, chestnut with a dense, unusual, almost savoury, green tea matcha at its core.

The most beautiful macaron of all is the Truffe Blanche et Noisette, undoubtedly the star of the collection, like a beautiful bride, dressed in delicate white and brushed with flecks of fine silver. So powerful and lingering is the presence of the curious creme of white truffle that sandwiches together the two halves of this noisette macaron, you might well decide that this strong marriage of flavours, like any serious wedding, should only be a once in a lifetime experience.

I am somewhat of a food adventurer who delights in trying new and innovative combinations of flavours. The experience of tasting the quirky Pierre Hermé Macaron collection was intriguing, but it was the more traditional examples that really made me gasp with pleasure. The simple but delectable Caramel a la Fleur de Sel was only bettered by it's grander SuperModel sister, the Macaron Plénitude, a melange of the same caramel and fleur de sel but with the addition of chocolate biscuit and ganache.

photograph picture of delectable cakes from Pierre Herme's Vaugirard Store in Paris

After the cute, uniform, little macaron biscuits, come those far more fancy models, the cakes. Who could resist a large chocolate lollipop with a name like Mister H Mogador's Passion? How whimisical. What fun. A childish treat strictly for grown-ups: because which youngster would spend 6,30 of their hard-saved-for Euros on one cake? Pierre Hermé isn't afraid to go against the grain and famously uses milk chocolate, where others might not, in several of his desserts. I respect his choice but because of the sharp lemon and piquant passion fruit fillings in this choca-lolly, I would have preferred dark. Surprise Yu had the opposite effect. This simple, orange-cellophane-wrapped dome with a light creamy and piquant Yuzu fruit filling was a heavenly little cloud puff of crumbly, mouthwatering, light-as-a-feather meringue.

If I had only been able to pick one of Pierre Hermé's delectable-looking confections, then I would undoubtedly have chosen the gorgeous-looking pear-shaped Instant Indivduel, Gelée de Thé Earl Grey pointes blanche, ganache au thé, mousse et biscuit au chocolate. The earl grey tea was subtle, it was dense and chocolatey but it didn't wow me like the Dune Individuel. Described as biscuit dacquoise pistache, crème légère à la pistache and praline feuillete au mais grille, the pale exterior of this little meringue-crowned bombe hides a jaunty green centre that is light, creamy and texturally accented by crunchy, caramelized little nibbles of corn nuts. Fred selected a Plénitude Individuel, which like its macaron namesake contained macaron chocolat, éclats de chocolat à la fleur de sel, mousse chocolat, caramel croquant. Although he didn't actually get to sample it in the end, I can attest that it was satisfying enough to please the most discerning of dark chocolat lovers. I can also attest that anyone with a sweet tooth and an appreciation of the potential for beauty in food, should swing by one of Pierre Hermé's boutiques, the next time they are in Paris or Japan.

Pierre Hermé: 185 Rue Vaugirard, 75015, Paris, France.

PS. This post was produced in collaboration with Design Public for their Delicious Design event featuring the subject, the aesthetics of food.

Archive Alert! On this date in 2004 I was lucky enough to be a guest at a delicious French Laundry Meal without even having to travel to Napa.

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If Dessert Looks this Good - Should We Really Be Eating It?