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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.


By | Bitter, Cookbooks | No Comments

The weekend after Easter I was in Chicago. I must have pleased the local weather gods as I had fabulous weather. Sunny, clear and warm, after Toronto, at 15C. It was a little windy the first day, just Chicago living up to its reputation, but it was wonderful to see lots of green, blossom and flowers. The locals are very friendly and I met lots of interesting people. My first event for Bitter was at the Arts Club of Chicago, a private club in Chicago, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year. It seems to be a well kept secret because many people I talked to in the city didn’t know about it. If you live in Chicago check it out. I was interviewed by the charming and well read Victoria Lautman. As an author you always know if someone has read your book, or just glanced at the press release. Victoria had not only read Bitter, but delved into all my books. We had a great conversation with interesting questions afterwards. The club chef even made some dishes from book for the luncheon that preceded the interview.

My second event was on Saturday with Chicago Foodways and the Chicago Culinary Historians. These are two very active groups that hold events at Kendall College. If you are interested in food you should be a member.

I haven’t illustrated this post with a photo of the city of Chicago, you can see a couple here. Instead I wanted to show you one of the best things I ate – the menudo at Carnitas Uruapan, a tiny hole in the wall in the Pilsen area of Chicago. I found it thanks to Mark, and you should take a look at his interesting blog. The food was great, it was crowded and cramped. Any spare space in the restaurant was filled with people lining up for takeout, but they managed to fit in a kid with a guitar who sang Mexican songs. It’s not a fine dining experience, but it was fun, delicious, friendly and cheap.  So this bowl of menudo is my homage to Chicago.

Grapefruit, white of course!

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When it is -20C outside, colder if you factor in the wind chill, you need something to cheer you up. Nothing grows in Ontario in this weather, but citrus fruits are everywhere in the market. They arrive from warmer climes. Seville oranges stay for only a brief moment, don’t miss them, and the cédrats/ citrons from Sicily (more about them next week) are here too. Grapefruit, always available in these days of jet setting fruit, are at their best at this time of the year.

The grapefruit is a relatively new addition to our fruit bowl, (mid 18th century) and it’s the only citrus fruit that doesn’t originate in Southeast Asia. Citrus trees hybridize easily and grapefruit are the result of an accidental cross between an orange and the largest of all citrus fruit, the yellow, thick-skinned pomelo. Today growers believe we prefer the sweet pink and red grapefruit developed at the beginning of the last century, I do not. Thankfully white grapefruit are back at my local market and I’d like to think I’m partly responsible after my promotion of them in Bitter. White grapefruit have a bitter edge that makes them much more interesting to cook, especially when making a dessert.

A friend bought me a bottle of Suze, back from Montréal so as well as drinking it I decided to make the Suze Sorbet recipe from Bitter. It’s freezing outside and I am making sorbet, yes. It’s the perfect end to a meal of rich, fatty cassoulet and the recipe couldn’t be simpler –

1 1/2 cups / 375 ml freshly squeezed and strained grapefruit juice (about 3 medium)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice, from about 1 ⁄ 2 lemon
3 1 ⁄ 2 ounces / 1 ⁄ 2 cup / 100 g superfine (caster) sugar
1 ⁄ 3 cup / 75 ml Suze

Stir the grapefruit and lemon juices together with the sugar and Suze until the sugar is dissolved. Cover and refrigerate the mixture overnight. Also, place a container for the sorbet in the freezer to get cold.

The next day, remove the sorbet mixture from the refrigerator, stir again, then churn in an ice cream machine following the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the sorbet to the cold container and freeze until ready to serve.  You will have about 2 cups / 5oo ml enough for 6 to 8 serves.

Reprinted with permission from Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC

The colour is a soft yellow and the taste bitter-sweet. The digestive powers of gentian, the main ingredient of Suze, help digest the cassoulet.

Suze Sorbet

Seville Oranges

By | Bitter | 4 Comments

Bleakest mid-winter in Canada holds little joy, except for the arrival of Seville oranges. And they are here now so get some and make marmalade. I add my dram of whisky to my homemade marmalade as a salute to my ancestors and the bard,Robbie Burns as his birthday is coming up. Seemingly a quintessential English food, marmalade’s beginnings however have nothing to do with England, or even oranges.

Marmello is the Portuguese word for quince. The Portuguese mixed this fruit with sugar to make marmelada a solid, dry preserve, much like today’s quince paste. Served at the end of meals, marmelada as a digestive, and to settle the stomach, an early antacid. Whether it was the taste, or its therapeutic effects, marmalade became popular and other fruits were added, notably apples and oranges. Today, in many European languages, the word marmalade is a generic term for what English speakers call jam.

During the eighteenth century, the Scots introduced marmalade at breakfast. As both orange peel and sugar were believed to warm a cold stomach and stimulate the appetite, they believed the best way to start the day was with marmalade washed down with a glass of whisky. It was still a thick paste, and not until the end of the century did it start resemble the jam we are familiar with today. In 1797 Janet Keiller, a Dundee grocer’s wife, popularised “chip” or Dundee-style marmalade. This was made with finely cut pieces of Seville orange peel suspended in a soft jelly that could be spread. Serving marmalade (and toast) at breakfast quickly became the norm.

With the expansion of the British Empire marmalade traveled the world, to Antarctica with Scott and up Everest with Hillary. Its popularity in remotest corners of the globe transformed marmalade yet again, and recipes using limes, kumquats, ginger and pineapple began to appear. Seville orange marmalade with a splash of whisky added is my favourite. On dark winter mornings, it may not warm my stomach, but it definitely brightens my mood.

Another new year

By | Bitter, Epiphany, New Year | No Comments

I will not say I have made a resolution to blog more often, resolutions never work. But having given myself the month of December off, I was doing a lot of book promotion, I plan to be more diligent with my social networking.

The end of the year is always about lists and I was thrilled to learn that Bitter made many of them. It is always a little odd to be judged in this way. My focus was on promoting the book in Toronto and Montréal before Christmas and now I am preparing to go to the west coast to visit Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco. Please check my Facebook page for details, all the events will be posted there, plus there is a video of myself making bitter drinks with Montréal Gazette writer Lesley Chesterman.

Tomorrow is Epiphany and the day to eat one of my favourite cakes Galette des Rois and here is the recipe part 1 & 2. Of course you can buy the puff pastry, but trust me it is not that hard to make. And don’t worry if you haven’t started, you can eat your galette all week. It is fun to celebrate the year with special foods, we have all enjoyed our Christmas favourites, so let’s start the New Year off on the right foot.