Random Meryl Streep post #1

Can we just take a minute and consider how amazing she looked in the movie Manhattan.

Lavender Crème Brûlée

Today was my first full day home and I spent it unpacking, grocery shopping, and, unsurprisingly, baking.

One of the only food items I brought back from France was the box of monk-grown cooking lavender that I had purchased in Provence. I decided to try it out for the first time with a traditional Crème Brûlée. The same woman who shared with me her secrets of jam making explained to me that, beyond the standard vanilla, Lavender is the only acceptable flavoring in a Crème brûlée. I tend to be a little less dogmatic, but can appreciate the sentiment. The recipe base came from http://www.cookingforengineers.com, and it turned out beautifully, so thanks science! I wanted to have the lavender flavor be present but not too powerful, so I layered it in small quantities into various parts of the dessert by steeping some in the cream, by scenting the sugar that I scorched, and by dipping the blueberry garnish in a lavender simple syrup (My addiction to simple syrups is definitely becoming a problem… sorry.)

Lavender Crème Brûlée

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I actually used vanilla powder, which I found in Lyon, but feel free to use extract or even a split vanilla bean.)

8 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon of Cooking Lavender

A couple of Tablespoons of Lavender Sugar (take the lavender flowers used in the simple syrup and toss them into some granulated sugar… let sit for however long.)

Garnish: Blueberries dipped in Lavender Simple syrup (I tinted the syrup by crushing 4 blueberries in it while the sugar was dissolving.)

Whisk together the sugar and the egg yolks until frothy. Heat up the cream slowly with the vanilla and the lavender until it appears to be just about to bubble. Strain out the lavender. Temper the yolks by adding a ladle or two of the cream initially before adding all of the hot cream cream mixture. Once well combined, pour the custard into ramequins and cook in a water bath at 250 F for about an hour, our until the custard barely jiggles. Chill in the fridge until cold. Sprinkle the custard with a layer of the lavender sugar and scorch with a torch or under a broiler. Let stand to allow a crust to form. Add dipped blueberries and the syrup as a garnish.

Missing France

I’m sitting in my friend’s dorm in London, watching youtube videos before heading out to the Tate Modern and other activities of a touristy nature. Just returned from an amazing week in Berlin, Brussels, Bruges, and heading to Canterbury in 2 days…

but sort of wishing I was still in France.

A snow storm.

Grenoble gave me one last present today with a healthy dose of Alpine snow. The presence of the unbelievably huge and fluffy snowflakes made the last day unbelievably surreal.  I walked around my neighborhood a little to play in the snow. Here are some pictures.

Laura and I had brunch to work through a fairly intense hangover at fittingly named  La Bon’Heure, a restaurant that could only be justly described as a French diner. I had a Croque Madame Savoyarde. It gets the Savoyarde description because unlike the usual gruyere/emmental cheese, you could choose between regional Reblochon or Beaufort. I went with Beaufort because I had never tried it before. It marks the 5th regional cheese tasted (Reblochon, Bleu de Bresse, Saint Marcellin, and Vacherin before that)  and a happy close to my gastronomical adventures here in the Rhône-Alpes region. For my last dinner, my host family recreated a Christmas dinner for me and gave me 2 cookbooks (one of sauces and one of quiches)! I feel so lucky to have been placed with them.  Having a holiday dinner with them, however, does make me miss holiday dinners with my own family.

It’s just past 12 and technically Saturday, but it doesn’t feel possible that I am leaving France later today. I am not ready to leave and don’t feel ready to head back to Swarthmore…

Comics and Doodles and Good Byes

Having 10 hours of French language class a week begins to wear on you by around week 2. My friend Laura coped by constructing elegant postures to hide her napping habit. I, on the other hand, doodled… constantly. Whether attempting to master the Times New Roman font in pen or drawing people in my class (and in the case of German vocab master, turning them into pirates), I was left with a collection of hundreds of sheets covered in doodles.

I also took a comic book class this semester. For our final, two of us decided to get our hands dirty and attempt our own comic books, along with an accompanying critical essay. 10 pages of critique and 3 extremely unfinished looking pages of comic strips later, I am handing it all in tonight at our farewell dinner. This marks the close of my semester abroad and my delusions that I actually know how to draw. I have so much respect for illustrators and comic book makers, it’s unreal.

To be honest, I’m feeling really sad about leaving France. It has been an amazing semester and I thank my host family and the warm people of Grenoble… and the fine artisan bakers for making it so special. This sadness is tempered by excitement to travel to Berlin, Brussels, Bruges, and London with my friend Jon before returning stateside. This will be my last post until 2010, so happy holidays and New Year and all that jazz.

Jumping the gun: Early New Years Resolutions

In the midst of a late night (read 2:42 am) paper writing session, and a momentary feeling of writer’s block, I have decided to use this time to announce publicly my resolutions for 2010. Please don’t be surprised that all of them listed here revolve around food, as it is in the title of the blog and is the focus of most of my non-school efforts. I probably will think of something non-food related at a later, more appropriate date. I have listed them in order of importance/urgency, to know which ones need to be handled sooner than others.

1. Decide between Local Agriculture/Slow Food Movements in Philly or Issues  in Anti-Hunger Advocacy in DC for my thesis topic and, subsequently, my summer plans.

2. Perfect the Macaron. These light, meringue based marvels are the fashionable pastry equivalent to cupcakes in France, except that they are impossibly difficult to make and, therefore, the perfect challenge for a fledgling pastry warrior. Flavors to learn (starred* flavors are ones that I have thought of as potentially great macarons, while the rest are flavors that exist in pastries around France): Chocolate, Raspberry, S’mores, Caramel Apple, Orange Blossom, Matcha Green Tea/Sesame, Red Velvet*, Mud Pie*, Blueberry Rosemary (inspired by a Cocktail)*, and Tomato Basil Mozzarella (my host mom told me about a baker at her office who makes savory macarons, and the idea does sound fairly crazy, potentially delicious)

3. Become a soup master. I don’t know what else to say about this one really, other than that I have realized abroad I really really like soups. Perfect comfort food, very nourishing, endless flavor combinations. 

4. Learn to make jams with the proportions the woman in Provence taught me. (Fig/Ginger, Strawberry, and Abricot). 

5. Open online Coconut Cake Wedding Cake Shop. I know I probably (definitely) won’t sell any, but it will give me the chance to make a really really big version of my favorite recipe of coconut cake (which I have yet to share on ff&f) and maybe one day add other items (like macarons and jams, made to order). 

I’m not going to reread what I wrote, because it will be funny in the future to have proof of my slow descent into madness during finals season abroad.

Nicole’s Perfect Pâte brisée.

My cooking teacher, Nicole, is a 60 something (if I had to guess) year old culinary school grad and daughter of a pastry maker . This means that she knows practically everything you’d ever want to know about French cooking. Our course is designed to teach us simple, versatile, and traditional French cooking that we can bring back home with us. While I absolutely adore her, I feel like I am walking on egg shells in her kitchen the entire class. I am told that I consistently under-salt and over-pepper, and all my work is double checked. So far, I have been doing everything to Nicole’s satisfaction (except for one Bechamel incident which wasn’t entirely my fault) and the course is definitely the highlight of my week.

One of the recipes that I am most grateful for is Nicole’s full-proof Pâte brisée recipe. It’s not everyday you get a pie crust recipe that has stood the test of generations of bakers and culinary school instructors. One thing you will notice about this recipe, is that it lacks the egg yolk many other traditional recipes use. I don’t know why, and don’t really care because the result is always a perfectly flaky crust. I asked for Nicole’s permission and she is thrilled to share the recipe with all of you, on the sole condition that you never forget the pinch of salt when you make it. 

Pâte brisée

200 g of Flour

100 g of Butter cut into small cubes (cold)

1 Pinch of Salt (!!!!!)

1/2 a cup of cold water

Combine the butter, flour and pinch of salt together with the tips of your fingers. Nicole explains that the tips of your fingers and your knuckles are the only appropriate parts of your hands to touch the dough, because they store the least amount of heat. Once well combined, add the water and kneed until it forms a ball. If it seems a little dry sprinkle a little water on it and kneed it again. Conversely, if it seems to sticky you can sprinkle a little flour on it continue to kneed. The result should be a firm ball of dough. Let cool in the fridge (or outside in the cold) for 30 minutes before using.

Since making a Leek Quiche with the dough in our course under the watchful (sometimes vaguely threatening) eyes of Nicole, I have used the recipe twice for my own pie creations. The first was an apple pie I made for my host family (who have continued to ask for American treats). I am referring to it as à la Grenobloise because I added local Grenoble walnuts in the topping. The second was for Thanksgiving when I made a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie with the recipe. 

I can’t really include recipes for any of the pies since I sort of experimented with all of them (except the pumpkin pie which was just standard back of the can instructions and not worth sharing anyway). Also, the apple pie was not very spicey because my host father doesn’t like cinnamon and the filling wasn’t as syrupy because you can’t get brown sugar in France, so I just opted for cane sugar. The pecan pie was a total guessing game because I substituted 1 cup  of corn syrup for a 454 g can of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Needless to say, I will never use corn syrup again because LGS is way more delicious. It gives the pie a really nice caramelly taste instead of just sweetness like corn syrup. 

What I can include is a picture of the apple pie and a picture of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Enjoy!