Paris

Celebrating

By | Bitter | No Comments

I was thrilled to learn on Saturday morning that Bitter had won the James Beard Award for Single Subject cookbook. I was asleep in Paris when all the excitement was happening in New York City. My email was full of congratulations from friends and colleagues. It is wonderful to be nominated, but it is an even bigger thrill to win, especially against stiff competition.

Of course we had champagne in the cellar, but my husband decided to buy a cake. This is never a problem in Paris and we went to La Pâtisserie des Rêves on rue du Bac. Our gâteau of choice there is usually a Saint Honoré, we buy one every May to celebrate our wedding anniversary, so we decided to try something else. I’d just read Paris by Mouth’s choice of the best Paris-Brest and as I’m a fan of cycling, the choice was obvious, plus I like cakes with a back story.

As Paris by Mouth points out this cake was created by pastry chef Louis Durand  in 1910. The Paris-Brest bicycle race went right by his store in Maisons Laffitte a suburb of Paris.  The cake is a ring of choux pastry topped with sliced almonds, baked then split and filled with a praline cream. I’ve made this cake in cookery school, and eaten many, but I knew Philippe Conticini would create a fabulous Paris-Brest with a twist. Read the description here. To say the cream filling is light, while true doesn’t convey the richness and intensity of its hazelnut flavour and the liquid praline within is just genius. With a glass, or two  of champagne it was the perfect way to celebrate.

Thanks to everyone for their kind wishes and next time your in Paris, run to La Pâtisseries des Rêves, you can buy an individual one.

Cardoons everywhere

By | Books, Paris | 4 Comments

Springtime in Paris gets all the acclaim, the song April in Paris celebrates the beauty of that time of year – the classic rendition is by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. While I love April in Paris too, November, a month that is often derided in the northern hemisphere, is a great time to be in this city. Not only are cardoons available in the markets, they are growing in the public parks, like the Luxembourg gardens.  Anyone who knows me, or who has read Bitter knows I’m passionate about cardoons.

Cardoon

I was thrilled to learn that Aya Brackett, the photographer for Bitter, won a prestigious award for her images in the book. You will be very impressed when you see who the judges were. Aya took a beautiful photograph of cardoons that you can see on her blog post, if you don’t have the book yet.

When I talk to journalists about my book Bitter, it’s often pointed out to me that cardoons are not easy to buy in the USA. This is true, but it shouldn’t be the case. Cardoons are grown commercially in California, so if there was more demand, they would be readily available. (By the way you can find cardoons at Fiesta Farms in Toronto). Think back 10 years, how easy was it to buy radicchio? Consumers can create the demand, so it is up to you to help me make cardoons more popular. It is true that they require work to prepare, but they’re are worth it. Their bitterness makes them perfect in rich braises, or cooked under a blanket of béchamel and cheese. You can also eat the inside stalks raw in salad or with a dip.

We should also celebrate cardoons by planting them in our gardens, so we can enjoy their beautiful silvery foliage.

Friends in the Bayou

By | Louisiana | One Comment
While the weather was warmer in Louisiana it was the warmth of the people that impressed me most – friendly and unfailingly polite. The importance of good manners is often overlooked today. From the culinary students to people in the street, there was an acknowledgment that you existed – a smile, and greeting often followed by a conversation. That’s something I miss in Toronto. In Paris I will get a bonjour from strangers in the street and often find myself at the bus stop talking to someone I’ve just met. When I return to the Toronto, I have to adjust, my hellos to strangers in the street as they are usually met with a start and then discomfort.
My host, chef John Folse, is recognized everywhere in Louisiana, people want to chat and have their photo taken with him, and he always obliges. He has a vast network of friends and suppliers and I was lucky to meet three of them. Perhaps the most colourful is pictured above Bubba Frey. You can hear him describe the history behind the name of the town Mowata. I met Bubba on his farm where he raises many birds including guinea hen, turkeys, chicken, geese and ducks. He catches crawfish and grows peas. He told us that his wife offered him a choice betweens a plucker or a shucker for Christmas. He chose the shucker because he much rather pluck a bird than shuck peas.
We visited the Eunice Superette managed by the charming Andy Thibodaux. Despite it’s name this is a butcher store attached to an abattoirs. Andy has been butchering all his life, you can see him here. He was having a boucherie the following weekend, the traditional butchering of a pig. This happens in winter and the community helps with the task of killing and butchering the animal. Alas I wasn’t staying long enough to attend, but I hope to time my trip better next year.
The flat terrain and abundant rainfall make Louisiana an ideal place to grow rice and the rice paddies are the perfect habitat for crawfish. For my Aussie friends a crawfish is very similar to a yabbie. You can see the red tops of the crawfish traps sitting just above the water line everywhere you look. Until the middle of the 20th century crawfish was a poor man’s food, now it an important industry. I met Dexter Guillroy at Riceland Crawfish who explained that the cooler weather this spring has meant a slow start to the crawfish season. Riceland processes crawfish and swamp chicken – yes alligator. I didn’t eat any alligator this time, I’m guessing it is close to crocodile in taste, but I did eat a crawfish boudin and crawfish étouffée.
I’m planning my next trip south, not only for the warmer weather, but to spend more time with these warm and friendly folks.

Winter Cooking

By | Cooking | No Comments
Provence is a mere memory and winter is biting hard this year in Toronto. In France it is the warmest winter in a century, I was just in Paris and it was warm enough to have a drink on the cafe terraces (with the heaters). Here it is the coldest winter in some time. It feels like the coldest since I first arrived, but my memory for cold is very selective. One big plus is that this bone chilling and pipe freezing -18C weather, yes we still have a heater warming our bathroom pipes, usually means bright sunny days. The photo was taken during a snow storm, but most of time I can sit in my living room bathed in brilliant although not warm sunshine.

I am spinning my wheels waiting for my BITTER book to come back for proofing, so to pass the time I’m cooking cold weather favourites. Last weekend it was cassoulet from Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes. I used haricots Tarbais that my friend Isabelle gave me. These beans, grown around the the town of Tarbes in south western France, are harvested by hand and dried naturally. I was lucky, these dried beans are always hard to find and last year was a very small crop. On top of that, as you’ll see if you check out their website, there was a fire at cooperative and there are no dried beans available until after this year’s harvest. So I’ll have to wait until November to restock. Sure you can make cassoulet with other dried white beans but the Tarbais are special, large, creamy and they holds their shape.

Cassoulet is a perfect dish for winter entertaining. You can make it ahead and as it cooks it warms up your kitchen and fills it with the rich, aromas of duck and sausage. The cocotte goes straight on the table so guests can help themselves. With all those beans, duck confit, pork belly and sausages you don’t need much else. I bookended it with a salad of bitter greens and a Campari ice. The bitterness at both ends of the meal was the perfect balance to the cassoulet.

So one way to cheer yourself up when it is too cold to venture out is to make stock, soup, or a stew. All simple and will cook away while you sit in the bright, cold sunshine and read a book, or this blog.

Bitter Christmas

By | Christmas | No Comments
With everyone talking about Christmas baking and cooking I’d like to put a word in for eating something bitter at this time of the year. Bitter has been my life over the last year or so as I’ve been working on a book about bitter foods to be published by Ten Speed in September 2014. I think there should be a little bitter in every holiday menu. Bitter foods spark the appetite and more importantly help you digest your food, very beneficial at this time of year when we all tend to over indulge.

Dandelions are one of my favourite bitter greens: in my Paris market I was offered a choice between the familiar dark green, chewy ones and those pictured here. I chose the pale dandelions. They had been blanched, that is grown under a blanket of soil, which made them more tender, but also more bitter. I eat them bathed in a simple dressing of olive oil with a good amount of lemon and salt added. Salt and acid help balance bitter. The darker specimens respond better to a hot dressing which wilts them into submission. Place them in a warm bowl, cook up some fatty bacon and when crisp add it to the leaves. Pour some vinegar and white wine to the pan stirring to deglaze and season well. Tip the hot dressing over the dandelions and toss. Add to your Christmas menu and serve it before the pudding to restore your appetite.