July 4th in the Desert

Last night, we had a 4th of July cookout here at Al Ahkawayn. As I made my way over to the tennis courts where we were told to meet at 6 pm, my nose was greeted with the wonderful smell of coals burning on a grill. I was excited at the prospect of a good ol’ American style BBQ, but unfortunately, while the coals were certainly real, the food was not. Okay, it was real food of course, but not what you’d expect on 4th of July! On the grill they had some chicken kebabs, beef kebabs and some big black hunks of meat that looked rather suspicious. I was told that it was liver and having never seen grilled liver before and after having heard so many horror stories about the food here at school this past week, I decided to steer clear. 

Even without the usual hots dogs and hamburgers, we still had lots of watermelon to make up for it, a star spangled banner and some old fashioned (and new) American tunes to keep us going. Some people even started a session on the electric slide!

Moroccans are very proud of the fact that they were the first country to recognize the United States as a new nation when it was created all those many years ago. We were reminded of this fact several times throughout the day by the teachers. I was amazed to learn that this little African country would want to recognize the US so quickly. Apparently, the Moroccan–American Treaty of Friendship is the longest unbroken treaty the United States has with any country. Who knew!!

While it was no New York and we had no fireworks, although some of us pondered starting a bonfire, it was a far cry from last year when I was too sick from chemotherapy to really do anything that monumental except decorate patriotic cupcakes!

Spring Break Part II: Learning the age of Michelangelo

We’ve just finished out first day in Florence after a lovely last day in Venice yesterday. The weather god’s answered our prayers and we were blessed with lovely blue skies and sun as we made our way through the island and continued with a blue skied day here in Florence.

Yesterday was a day of wandering, wrong turns and seeing what we could discover down random little alley ways. We walked through the Jewish Ghetto, which was of the more beautiful palazzos we had walked through in all of Venice. I still continue to be amazed by the whole concept of using boats for all transport but I guess it works for them. 20120415-214433.jpg

After another pizza for lunch, we found a gelato place that had celery ice cream. It was so delicious! You might think it would have no taste given that celery doesn’t really taste like anything, but I kid you not,it taste just how celery should taste if frozen form – deliciouso!

As for museum stops, we went to Ca d’Oro, which was a former palace right on the Grand Canal full of lots of renaissance artwork and sculptures. The marble architecture of the building was so beautiful. We also went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection which is a lovely little modern art collection that Peggy collected throughout her life. She lived in Venice until her death and donated the house as a gallery in her will. As expected, she was quite the socialite and was said to have had affairs with Samuel Becketti and Max Ernst. Like the Ca d’Oro, the house had an amazing view onto the Grand Canal. 20120415-214714.jpg

I would have to say that Venice was a wonderful and memorable way to start our trip. I loved getting to the north of the island, away from all the tourists and seeing what residential life is actually like on the island. I can’t really imagine living on the island full time, but I guess someone has to cater to all the tourists 😉

After only 8 hours in Florence, I feel like we’ve more than we will see this entire trip. Honestly, anything after the David seems almost sad in comparison. I think that the David has been one of the most impressive things I have seen since being in Europe. You see the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, etc… yet somehow the almost always manage to underwhelm. Not so with the David. It lived up to every expectation that I had and beyond. Truly a highlight. In addition, we learned that Michelangelo was a mere 26 years old when he carved this master piece – feel inadequate much? 20120415-220721.jpg

In addition to the David, we passed the Duomo, but didn’t go in yet as it was about to close. We also went inside the Basilica di Santa Croce, where Michelangelo and Galileo to name a few are buried. I’m still constantly impressed by the basilicas here which are so beautiful and so different from the cathedrals in France. 20120415-220714.jpg

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The day ended with some more strolling around and scoring some free wine at a restaurant that caters to students. It was really a wonderful first day in Florence and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.20120415-214748.jpg

Passover Treats

It’s that time of year again – out with the baguettes, the croissants, the pain au chocolat, in with the matzohs, brisket and macaroons. Somehow giving up these leavened confections seems to much more difficult here in France, but luckily for me I’m headed to London for the first 4 days of Pesach, so I won’t be tempted too much. 

I have never been to London before. Actually, I’ve never been anywhere in England, so when my friend Jess invited me to her home in London for seder, I was thrilled! London is one of those places that I’ve always assumed I would go to but never set my mind on going. Now that I’m finally headed across the channel, I’m really starting to get excited. While I won’t be able to do all my usual culinary samplings because of Passover, I’d say it’s fortunate I’m not coming to Paris for the first time, as missing out on all the boulangeries here would be just sinful.  

All London is straight out of a Harry Potter film, right? 

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite Passover recipes. Hopefully I’ll be able to whip something up before I hop on the train Friday morning or maybe I’ll be able to make something when we arrive 🙂 I’m going to head down to the Marais in a little bit (the Jewish section of Paris) to see what treats they might have on sale now! And I’m sure I’ll have a full update on London next week!

My award winning macaroons 

An easy flourless chocolate torte

Lemon meringue pie

And probably my favorite recipe at all (that I never get around taking pictures of) Caramel Matzoh

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

Two years ago I was in Panama drinking green beer on St. Patrick’s Day. Last year I was in the Alps hanging out with this guy…

And this year I imagine I shall be celebrating somewhere out in France. Funny how this has turned into such an international holiday for me! Being over in Paris, I know a lot of my friends are planning on heading over to Dublin for the weekend. I cannot wait to hear the crazy stories that I’m sure will come out of those adventures!

With St. Patrick’s Day in the air, I figured a cookie with a beer reduction added to it seemed quite appropriate. These are some super delicious cookies – they have 3 types of chocolate in them! I might not be the most authoritative figure on beer tasting, but I couldn’t really taste the beer. It’s definitely in there though, so if you want to make something with alcohol in for this beer drinking holiday, I promise you, this has beer in it!!

I know some people don’t really like white chocolate, but it’s the perfect compliment to this chocolate cookie. The beer reduction certainly gives the cookies their deep brown color even if the taste doesn’t shine through. I’m really missing my mix master a lot these days, as I know these cookies would have been that much better if I could have whipped the butter just a little more than my poor arm, which was trying as hard as it could with a simple little whisk. Of course, these was almost a whole sheet pan of these that didn’t even make it to the cooling rack before they found their way into my mouth 🙂

ST. PATRICK’S DAY CHOCOLATE BEER COOKIES

(Adapted from The Galley Gourmet)

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 2 (12-ounce) bottles of Guinness extra stout or draught
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 1 extra large egg yolk
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups white chocolate chunks
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

1) In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce the Guinness and the brown sugar, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until thick and syrupy and measures 1/3 cup, about 30-45 minutes.  Set aside to cool slightly.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

3) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (OR WITH YOUR OWN ARM!), cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs and yolk, one at a time, until combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla and mix until combined.

4) With the mixer on low, gradually add the cooled beer syrup, mixing until combined.  Gradually add the dry mixture until no flour is visible.

5) Fold in both the white and milk chocolate chips.

6) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours, preferably overnight.

7) Preheat the oven to 325° F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop (about 2 tablespoons), scoop out portions of the cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheet spaced 3 inches apart.

8) Bake the cookies until the edges are set, about 15-17 minutes.

9)  Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

10) Enjoy!

Christmas in Marseilles

On Christmas Eve, the entire Arnoux-Decamps family gathers around a huge tree with more presents than I have ever seen for a huge family celebration. I was so excited to be able to join the party, having heard Charlotte talk about her Christmas traditions for so many years.

After popping a bottle of champagne, the madness ensues with some opening gifts slowly one at a time, and other tearing off the paper to get a peak at their haul. Even I got some presents!

Not even all the loot yet:

Charlotte got a hat!

My Chanukah inspired gift: 

The meal, of course, was amazing. It was actually quite similar to a Thanksgiving meal, with turkey, string beans, roasted chestnuts, cranberry sauce and lots and lots of wine…

The foie gras: 

The food: 

Enjoying the meal: 

In Provence, there is a tradition to have 13 desserts at the Christmas table. There was a huge plate full of different types of nuts and fruits in addition to two ice cream cakes and a brown butter pumpkin cake made by yours truly. Everyone thought that my cake was store bought as they weren’t used to cakes like that 🙂

The nuts and fruits:Champagne!It was a lovely evening had by all and I am so thankful that I was get to join in on the celebration!

And then there was none…

Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake

French baking is delicious. The croissants, the chocolate, the bread, etc…. That being said, it’s a different kind of baking than in what I’m used to in America. After making a list of all the things I was going to need for this cake and some other things goodies I plan on baking over my stay here, we realized that there were going to have to be a few changes to the recipes.

The idea of using baking soda in food was completely foreign to everyone I said it to. All of Charlotte’s family members said they might have some for cleaning or brushing their teeth with, but never for baking. After that, I realized that buttermilk was going to pretty hard to come by as well. But perhaps the most impossible of all was molasses. Even trying to describe it was difficult – brown, gooey, syrupy substance that is used in gingerbread (not the appetizing when you think about it in those words). Needless to say, I didn’t even bother looking for it and decided to substitute honey instead.

Being the “professional chef” that I am, I brought my own cake pans and measuring cups all the way from America! Some might make fun of me, but it was a good choice as they might have been hard to come by here, as everyone measures in grams and have my favorite cake pans in the world that I would bring with me anywhere if I knew I needed to make cake. I also brought some canned pumpkin with me to make the cake as Charlotte had all but guaranteed me that we would not find that here. Baking in a kitchen that is not familiar is always a challenge, but I was able to find everything I needed and I think the cake came out just as it would have had it been made on the other side of the Atlantic. I’ve made this cake three times before and I have finally decided that brown butter makes everything better and I shall now make it with every dessert I make in the future.

BROWN BUTTER PUMPKIN LAYER CAKE

(Adapted from Fine Cooking)

INGREDIENTS:

For the cake 

  • 6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter; more for the pans
  • 9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1-1/2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk

For the topping

  • 1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup unsalted, raw, hulled pepitas (I used walnuts instead)
  • 2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. chopped crystallized ginger

For the frosting 

  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 5 oz. (1-1/4 cups) confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS: 

For the cake

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans with removable bottoms (or butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment, and flour the pans).
  3. Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until cool but not set, about 15 minutes.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk 1-1/2 cups of the pumpkin purée with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk until very well blended.
  6. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.
  7. Bake the cakes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto racks, remove the pan bottoms or parchment, and cool completely.

For the topping

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the pecans and pepitas and cook until the pecans brown slightly and the pepitas begin to pop, about 2 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger.
  4. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the skillet.

For the frosting

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown.
  2. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until the solids settle at the bottom of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the bowl to the freezer and chill until just firm, about 18 minutes.
  3. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom; discard the solids.
  4. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes.
  5. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Assemble the cake

  1. Put one cake layer on a cake plate.
  2. Spread 1/2 cup of the frosting on the layer. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nut mixture over the frosting and top with the second layer.
  3. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.
  4. Arrange the remaining topping in a ring 1-1/2 inches in from the edge of the cake and serve.

Off to Marseille(s)

At the crack of dawn this morning, David and I headed off to the train station to make our way to Marseille to Charlotte’s family’s house for the holidays! After only 4 hours of sleep and quick coffee before getting on the train, I was WIDE awake 😉 On the super fast TGV trains, it only takes 3.5 hours to cover 500 miles! How crazy is that? If only the trains in the US went so fast, I’d take them everywhere!

Charlotte and her other brother Aurelien picked us up at the train station and we were off to the famous Arnoux compound about which I heard so much. It is so lovely here, even though I get lost every time I walk down the stairs! Charlotte and I are sharing a room in her grandma’s side of the house while the rest of the family is scattered about through different sections of the mansion (as Charlotte likes to call it).

Upon arrival at the house, I quickly proceeded to make a shopping list for all the ingredients I’m going to need to make cake and cookies over the next few days. We then went out to the supermarket to purchase said items (full details on the shopping experience to come) and then returned home to decorate the Christmas tree, which was quite the fun task!

Starting…

Midway…

With a bow on top! 

We are about to have Pot au Feu (brisket-type meal) for dinner! I’m also excited to show everyone how to light the menorah tonight as this is a new experience for many of the Arnoux family members.

After being sick for the first 24 hours that I was here in France, I’m ready to start eating like a normal human being again! All I have eaten over the past few days has been some vegetables and few croissants. I’m looking forward to the Christmas meal on Saturday!


Pretzel Bites

Memorial Day Weekend – BBQ’s, summer, pool, sunshine, all sorts of things come to mind. For me, spending the weekend upstate means baking! Baking in my uncle’s kitchen is the best place – it has tons of work space, a nice big oven, and during a family vacation weekend, there are always enough people to sample my goods.

I’ve wanted to make pretzels for a long time. I always thought that to make big fluffy pretzels, one needed lye. What I discovered though, is a) lye is very dangerous for the home cook and b) a simple mixture of baking soda and water is the perfect replacement for lye, which makes the salt stick to the pretzels. After realizing I didn’t need to use lye, my plans of making pretzels seems much more in grasp than I had imagined.

If you like warm fluffy dough, these are for you. In all honesty, are not all that interesting, but with a sprinkle of salt and a bowl of mustard to accompany, these are a perfect afternoon snack. I made two full plates of these, and they were all finished long before dinner. If you wanted to make actual big fluffy pretzels, like the ones you buy from a street vendor, as opposed to just bites, this recipe could easily still be used, just increasing the bake time a few minutes. Be sure to keep an eye on these little guys once they get in the oven, because they’ll burn quickly if left in too long.

PRETZEL BITES

(Adapted from Let’s Dish)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant (or rapid rise) yeast
  • 1 cup very warm water
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • Coarse salt (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

DIRECTIONS:

1) In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, place the flour, salt, sugar, yeast and 2 1/4 cups flour. Mix to just combine. Add the water and mix well, adding remaining flour, as needed, a bit at a time to form a soft, smooth dough that clears the sides and bottom of the bowl.

2) Knead the dough, by hand or machine, for about 5 minutes, until it is soft, smooth and quite slack. Lightly oil the dough and place it in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap.  Let it rise for 40-60 minutes.

3) Preheat your oven to 475 degrees.

4) Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper or lightly greasing them.

5) Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into about four equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope, about 1 inch in diameter.  Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

6) While the dough is resting, combine the 1/2 cup warm water and the baking soda in a liquid measuring cup (deep enough to dip the pretzel bites into). Stir until the baking soda is dissolved.

7) Cut each strip of dough into pieces, 1 to 1 1/2 inches in long.  Dip each pretzel bite in the baking soda solution and place them on the baking sheets. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

8 ) Bake one sheet at a time for 5-7 minutes or until the pretzels are golden brown. Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter. If desired, sprinkle with coarse salt.  Pretzels can be reheated in the oven or microwave on low heat.

A Day of Love

Valentine’s is right around the corner and in my opinion, the Hallmarkification of this holiday is fine because it just means that I can bake all that much more without any remorse. “It’s Valentine’s Day? Chocolate? No problem!”  It’s great! I’ve also spent many hours making holiday cards and plan on running to Michael’s the moment this holiday is over to stock up on discounted Valentine’s craft things for next year. So whether you’re not a Valentine’s Day fan, or are going to be having an amorous day about town – these recipes are bound to please.

I believe that I have written of the famous Julia Childs mousse in a previous posting. Well, I have made it yet again with this sublime recipe. This mousse is just slightly labor-intensive but so worth it. It comes out the perfect texture: between light & airy and thick & creamy. And after all: isn’t chocolate the ultimate aphrodisiac?

Chocolate Mousse

(Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup dark-brewed coffee
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3/4 superfine sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur
  • 4 egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbs sugar

DIRECTIONS:

1) Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat.

2) In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise.(3-4 minutes) Beat in orange liquer.

3) Continue to beat mixture over an ice bath for an additional 3-4 minutes.

4) Beat the chocolate into the egg yolks and sugar.

5) In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks are formed.

6) Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume.

7) Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.

8) Enjoy!

But of course, mousse wasn’t enough for this holiday: I also made these sumptuous Red Velvet Cake Balls. After a trek through New York City to find red velvet cake mix on Valentine’s Day (it’s worse than finding a pumpkin on Halloween!), I was able to purchase the last box the store had. The deep, lustrous red of the cake mix was really necessary for these cake balls. The rich and chocolatey texture of the inside (my roommates even referred to them as truffles) with the firm white chocolate outside made for a perfect Valentine’s combo. I even sprinkled some pink luster dust for a festive finishing touch.

Red Velvet Cake Balls

(Adapted from Bakerella)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 box red velvet cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake)
  • 1 can cream cheese frosting (16 oz.)
  • 1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)

DIRECTIONS:

1) After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl.

2) Mix thoroughly with 1 can cream cheese frosting. (It may be easier to use fingers to mix together, but be warned it will get messy.)

3) Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet.

4) Chill for several hours. (You can speed this up by putting in the freezer.)

5) Melt chocolate in microwave per directions on package.  (Or over a double boiler as I did, being careful not to burn the chocolate)

6) Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper until firm. (Use a spoon to dip and roll in chocolate and then tap off extra.)

7) Enjoy!

A New Year

So I have failed miserably at keeping my poor blog updated these past few weeks. I’m so incredibly sorry, but I’m back and ready to bake again in 2011! I just returned from an amazing trip to Oregon where I grew up. It was so nice to be there – I hadn’t been back in almost 3 years. I had a great time hanging out with friends, hiking, biking, shopping, and most especially, eating. There are so many places to eat in Eugene and I don’t think a day passed that I wasn’t out eating a some restaurant or bakery.

One of my favorite eating establishments happens to be in Eugene. It’s called Sweet Life Patisserie. In my opinion, it is quite possibly one of the most amazing bakeries in all the world. They actually made my brothers wedding cake almost 15 years ago when they were just starting out. They have now evolved into a beautiful bakery and cafe with an additional wedding cake showroom. I have never failed to get something delicious while I was there and this time was no exception. We got marionberry cheesecake and an opera cake, which was so rich we couldn’t even finish it. Now I’m not sure what marionberries even are exactly, but I really have only ever seen them in the Pacific Northwest and they are just amazing. They really need to import them out east.


In the midst of all my other activities in Eugene, I did manage to sneak in some time to make a really delicious cranberry chocolate torte. Now, my friend just had the recipe around her house, so I’m not sure the source, but here are some lovely photos. As you can see, I discovered a new color function on my camera 🙂

I’m excited to bake again in 2011 and can’t wait to keep you updated!