Monday, March 30, 2009


Laduree, Pierre Herme, Poilane, Berthillon, all famous for first class French treats. What fun we had sampling the highlights from each of these shops.

Paris must have hundreds of patisseries and chocolat shops throughout its charming little neighborhoods. It seemed as if there was a boulangerie, patisserie, fromagerie, around every corner.

We tried macarons (french spelling), eclairs, tarts, cakes, salted butter caramels, baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolat, crepes, and ice cream.

It was too cold to buy cheese and have a lovely picnic in the park (although apparently not too cold to eat ice cream), so we didn't try any chunks of cheese, but the baguettes didn't really need anything extra.

Pierre Herme

First the macarons. I mentioned in a previous post that macarons had achieved cult status in Paris. I'm not kidding--there is even a National Macaron Day (March 20th, if you're interested). Macarons are brightly colored little pillows of almond powder, sugar, egg whites, and icing filled with flavored cream. My favorites were the lemon and caramel. We tried macarons from the two most beloved shops: Laduree and Pierre Herme. We both prefered Laduree but to be fair it may be because we ordered odd flavor cominations from Pierre's shop.

Citron Tart from Pierre Herme

Poilane is famous for its gorgeous round 8 pound loaves slashed with a P on top. We split a loaf and packed it in the suitcase to carry home. I have loved having sliced Poilane bread with butter for breakfast.

Poilane's store front

We paid a couple of visits to Berthillon's, located on the Ile Saint Louis, to try the caramel au buerre sale (salted butter caramel) flavor I had read so much about. The flavor was sold out the first time we went so we had the regular caramel instead. Oh my. It was delicious. The depth of flavor was surprising. We had to return to try the salted butter caramel.

On a bright sunny day lines of ice cream loving customers waited for scoops from any shop that sold the famous Berthillon ice cream.

We went directly to the original shop and waited for 30 minutes. I got the last two scoops of the salted butter caramel ice cream.

Hands down the best ice cream I have ever tasted. Both flavors. I loved both the regular glace Caramel and the Caramel Buerre Sale glace. The salt added is the fleur de sel coupled with salted butter.

Denise Acabo happily posed with us in her darling little A l'Etoile d'Or shop.

The last place on our list to track down was Denise Acabo's A l'Etoile d'Or candy shop. Denise is a charming character wearing braids and tartan plaid skirt. I had read that you must pay her appropriate respect before she shows you around her little jewel of a candy shop. We did and we were treated to a little tour of the best of the best.

I have never spent that much money on candy (in fact, I am not converting the Euros to dollars for that very reason). Of course, she sells what is considered the best Caramel-Buerre-Salé (salted butter caramels, the obsession continues) by Henri LeRoux exclusively at her shop in Paris. So we had to buy a few of those.

We also bought a few of the exclusive and expensive (of course) Bernachon chocolate (don't ask me what we were thinking, we must have been buzzing from a sugar high). I haven't even tried it yet--but since Bernachon is only one of a few chocolatiers to make its chocolate by hand I am guessing it will be excellent.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Yea for homemade pizza! It was great fun putting it all together. This past Sunday I made the dough as instructed by Chef Pino Ficura and it tasted the same as it did in class. When does that ever happen?

I prepared the dough Sunday morning, let it rest, divided it, and refrigerated it for several hours.

Pino suggested using either a baking stone or untreated terra cotta tiles (cheaper, but what if they were secretly treated??). Cook's Illustrated recommended Old Stone Oven which I found on sale at Shar's Kitchen. I put the stone in the oven, set it at 500 degrees, and 45 minutes later started baking pizza.

The family came over for dinner and everyone had their own bit of dough to stretch and add whatever toppings they chose. We then baked the pizzas for around 7 minutes each. Soooo good.

Here is Pino's recipe (he is actually an Italian trained in Italy, France, and the US, so he has "pizza" credibility):

500g All purpose/Plain flour [18oz], plus more for kneading the dough
1/2 Tbsp fine salt or 3/4 Tbsp kosher salt
300g lukewarm (100F, 38C) water [10 1/2oz]
1 envelope/1 scant Tbsp of dry yeast
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl
In a large bowl mix flour and salt.
Dissolve the yeast in the water, add oil, whisk all together and add to the flour and salt mix.
Work with a spatula or a spoon until you can no longer mix, then transfer on a floured surface and knead for 10 or 15 minutes, until the dough is silky and elastic.
Put in a well oiled bowl, cover with wrap and let ferment until doubled in bulk. Usually 1 hr.
At this point divide the dough with a bench scraper into 4 equal pieces and roll each piece individually to form a tight ball.
At this stage you can refrigerate the dough, covered up to 8hrs (it will develop more flavor), or let if proof again, covered at room temperature for about 1 1/2 hrs.

Place a pizza stone or terracotta tiles (with no chemical treatment!) in the bottom rack of your oven and preheat the oven at the maximum temperature your pizza stone can support without cracking. Terracotta tiles can take higher temperature without breaking. Preheat for at least one hour.

Stretch one of the 4 pizza dough balls into a flat disk, heavily sprinkle flour on a pizza peel (or the back of a cooking sheet), place the disk on the peel, spread two or three tablespoons of tomato puree on the pizza, leaving a good inch (2cm) outer border. Place sliced or grated mozzarella on top of the tomato sauce and slide the pizza directly on the heated tiles. Turn on convection if available.

Your pizza should cook in 5 to 8 minutes, look for puffed border and a cooked bottom before taking the pizza out.

Slide cooked pizza on a cutting board and let rest a couple of minutes before cutting and serving. Pizza can be garnished with raw olive oil and fresh basil leaves.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Here are a few more photos of my recent trip to Paris. Six lovely days all spent in Paris with the exception of one quick day trip to Versailles.

Saint Joan of Arc. I remember writing a book report about this brave young woman when I was in the 5th grade.

A beautiful fountain smack-dab in the middle of a Paris intersection.

Versailles is a bit overdone for my taste, so this interior walkway was a nice rest for the eye.

The Musee Jacquemart Andre was a favorite sight. It is the 19th residence of a weatlhy, art-collecting couple. It was spectacular.

After touring the Jacquemart Andre Museum we walked down Haussmann Boulevard and turned up rue Rembrandt--a gorgeous residential neighborhood.

Rue Rembrandt ended at the entrance of one of the prettiest parks I've seen, Parc Monceau. The temperature was perfect, the sky bright, no dark clouds looming so Parisians were out and about in full force.

A meeting of French Girl Guides, lots of families, runners, and couples taking walks.

So many flower markets. Long-stemmed tulips for 10 Euros!

After dark, at the top of the hour the Eiffel Tower is lit with twinkling lights for the first five minutes. Magical.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Chef Pino Ficara at work.

Until this year I haven't been comfortable making anything with the word "dough" on the ingredient list.

What better way to learn how to make pie crust, pastries, and pizza dough than from a French pastry chef?

See the dough below? Those are slabs of butter on top of the dough. This is why croissants and pain au chocolat are so delicious.....

Linda and I took a baking class offered by Cook'n With Class. Chef Pino Ficara taught three of us (me, Linda, and Leah from Toronto) to make pizza, croissants, pain au chocolat, and pate brisee (pie crust). We had a great time and I am now more comfortable with all sorts of dough. Of course, I haven't actually tried any of these recipes since I've been home, so we'll see.

Croissants with pure cane sugar sprinkled on top.

The croissants and pain au chocolat are a success when you can see those gorgeous flaky layers.

Pain au chocolat. I love these babies.

Pate brisee filled with apples, raisins, and toasted pine nuts.

Next time, I would make this with a brown sugar crumb topping instead of a top crust.

The pizza was classic tomato sauce and mozzarella--easy and delicious.

Pizza dough with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh rosemary, and French sea salt. I've become obsessed with sea salt. I'll post about it sometime (won't that be exciting).

I will soon be making the pizza dough and the pate brisee reporting back to you the results.

However, I do not plan on making the croissants or pain au chocolat. It is way too time consuming and I cannot imagine my Arizona kitchen ever being cold enough to have success with the dough. And you can see above the amount of butter used is obscene. But it was great fun learning the techniques.

My friend, Sarah, found out about this French cooking class. If you are planning on a European trip and are interested in any kind of classes, go to Shaw Guides for more information.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Just returned from a perfect trip to Paris! I will write about this trip soon but I wanted to post a few images for you to view. My friend Linda and I roamed around the neighborhoods of Paris for one week. Lovely!

Macarons--apparently have reached a cult status in Paris, for good reason.

A pretty shop on the Ile Saint-Louis.

Beautiful sculptures abound.

A classic Croque-Monsieur.

The Louvre.

Friday, March 13, 2009


This makes the list of my favorite non-fiction books. Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II. I read this book a few years ago and was reminded of it the other day.

Several years ago I read a book review by Barbara Peters of the Poisoned Pen Bookshop (Scottsdale, Arizona) and knew it was a book my darling Dad would enjoy. But unforunately, he passed away before I could give it to him. So I forgot about it until my friend Darcey gave a glowing review about it at a book night discussion.

This is the story of what happens when two wreck-divers, John Chatterton and Rich Kohler, find a German U-boat 35 miles off the shore of New Jersey. There is no record that anyone knew that the German's came that close to the United States during World War II.

Robert Kurson, the author, writes about the actual diving experience in a way that made me almost hyperventilate at the thought of this insane sport. I think I held my breath when I read about the critical importance (as in life or hideously painful death) of ascent. When the divers are under water with minimal or zero visability Kurson makes you feel you are right there. During this expedition lives are lost and marriages ruined. I cared about these guys and mourned with them.

Beyond the technical descriptions of deep sea wreck diving (which oddly I enjoyed) Chatterton and Kohler cared enough about the crew on the U-boat to research them individually. They treat the wreck site with respect.

This is a book I was sorry to see end.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Finished! This is not a quick read but it is excellent. Amity Shlaes wrote this prescient book in 2006. It is eery to read about depressed home values, anti-Wall Street sentiment, tax increases, increased government, job loss, and it all takes place in the 1930's.

Shlaes gives interesting details about the personalities of the men and women who influenced FDR. She describes the policies put in place that expanded government and alienated business covering 1927 through 1940 without too many statistics. I never realized how individual businessmen were mercilessly targeted by the Depart of Justice. This included Andrew Mellon who gave our country the National Gallery of Art.
(Mellon was an interesting duck--I am going to find a good biography about him.)

The forgotten man is the man who works hard to stay off government assistance but continues to get stuck with the bill bailing out everyone else. Regardless of your opinion about our current economic situation and government policies this is worth reading and thinking about.

Friday, March 6, 2009


The whole point of German Chocolate Cake is the frosting. The cake is just the excuse to slather on the gorgeous caramel-coconut-pecan frosting. It didn't really matter that the cake was from a box mix since the candy-like topping covered each layer. I know I had sworn-off box mixes but since I had two boxes that were about to expire I made them up into a three-layer cake (and one 8 x 8 cake).

The recipe for the frosting comes from the The Lion House Classics Cookbook
and it is very simple. I doubled the recipe to completely cover the cake and have extra for the smaller cake.

1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
3 beaten egg yolks
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cup Baker's Angel Flake Coconut
1 cup chopped pecans (I toasted them first)

Add the milk, sugar, beaten egg yolks, butter, and vanilla to a sauce pan and cook over medium heat for 12-15 minutes. Add the coconut and toasted pecans and stir. Let cool and then frost your cake.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

BARBECUE SAUCE - Barefoot Contessa

Ina Garten again. Her barbecue sauce is so good and so easy. It also could be slathered over an old shoe and you wouldn't notice because the sauce is that good.

We had a double birthday party last night for Tammy and Steve--what is it about March and birthdays? I have two family members with March birthdays and several darling friends also born in this month. Anyway, I made the barbecue sauce for chicken thighs and drumsticks--yum. I served it with salad, mashed potatoes, and walnut and apricot bread (not homemade). The dessert was a killer German Chocolate Cake (to be posted soon).

I marinated the chicken parts for several hours and placed them in a baking dish for 75 minutes in a 350 degree oven. I then broiled the chicken for 5 minutes to char them a bit.

Leftover sauce can go in to the freezer--isn't that great! I didn't know you could freeze barbecue sauce but apparently it works.

1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion (1 large onion)

1 T. minced garlic (3 cloves)

½ cup vegetable oil (I used a few tablespoons of olive oil)

1 cup tomato paste (10 ounces)

1 cup cider vinegar

1 cup honey

½ cup Worcestershire sauce

1 cup Dijon mustard

½ cup soy sauce

1 cup hoisin sauce

2 T. chili powder

1 T. ground cumin

½ T. crushed red pepper flakes

In a large saucepan on low heat, sauté the onions and garlic with the vegetable oil for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not browned. Add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer uncovered on low heat for 30 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 6 cups.