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Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Ahhh! Paris!!!

Paris is one of my absolute favorite places on the planet. I’ve been lucky enough to travel there numerous times in the last decade and can’t wait to go again.  The romance, the architecture, the art, the cafe lifestyle; all sublime. But the best part about Paris is, of course, the food. I’m already seriously researching where to eat for my next trip in May. Yes, that’s right. It’s 8 months away and I’m still spending way too much time, every day, dreaming about what I’ll eat when I get there.

One of the many things I so love about Paris is that there’s an incredible bakery on almost every corner of every neighborhood in the city. Even the mediocre, non-artisan boulangeries have goods that beat anything I can get anywhere even close to my whole town. In Paris there are warm crusty baguettes available at almost any time of day, gorgeous, elegant pastries in every imaginable (and unimaginable) flavor. And of course, buttery, flaky, croissants. Who doesn’t love to start their day with a French roasted expresso and a fresh baked croissant? Heaven! And simply not available here in my neck of the woods. Unless of course I bake them myself, which I’ve sworn more than once, I would never do. It’s way to many steps, way too much waiting around for the various rises of the dough, and way to many calories to consume if I had a whole batch coming out of my very own oven. Plus, I knew I could never make them taste anything like ones in Paris.

Breads and pastries in Paris  

Well surprise, surprise! Just as I was salivating while researching which excellent bakery will be closest to the apartment I’m renting in Paris next May, (Le Grenier a Pain) I find out that the Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child! I guess I would be attempting homemade croissants after all.

I decided that if I was to do it at all, I’d try my best to do it right. I bought hand churned organic, cultured butter that was 85% butter fat and Callibaut for the chocolate ones I’d make. I followed the steps in Julia’s recipe religiously and patiently waited for the dough to rest and rise in it’s various stages.

The first rise

Folded and twice risen

I worked the butter until it was spreadable but still cool and carefully folded, turned, rolled, folded and turned. I let it rest for 2 hours and repeated the folding, turning. rolling and folding once again. And then, after an overnight rest in the fridge, I formed the croissants.

Butter spread and ready for folding and turning

The first croissant, finally shaped!!!

Patient again, I waited for them to rise a final time before double brushing them with egg wash and popping them into the oven.

Finally ready to bake!

It took a total of twenty hours to make 4 plain croissants and 6 pains au chocolate. As expected, they were expensive, time consuming, and challenging. I won’t be making them again any time soon but the surprise was that they were every bit as good as some of the best I’ve eaten in Paris. Crisp, flaky, buttery layers of deliciousness. I put on a pot of coffee and ate most of them warm, right out of the oven. I could almost imagine I was in Paris!!!

Fresh baked croissants! YUM!!!

Pain au chocolate anyone? yes please!!

And the bonus was the outrageous bread pudding I made from the 2 day old chocolate croissants I didn’t manage to stuff down when they were fresh.

Chocolate croissant bread pudding

And now, after a weekend of consuming close to a pound of butter (not to mention the heavy cream in the bread pudding!) it’s definitely back on the diet bandwagon.

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What a world we live in these days! With the advent of list serves, chat rooms, and travel board forums, to say nothing of social networking sites such as Facebook, it’s possible to have real time conversations with people from all over the world on just about any subject you can think of. And is there a more delicious topic to share and swap ideas, information, and opinions about than food?

Tour Eiffel, Paris!

My story really begins 5 years ago when I was doing some dining research for a trip to Paris and found the info packed France forum of the website Chowhound ( http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/49 ) There was so much fantastic discussion and information being shared there and I connected with one of the board’s resident experts, a Parisian food blogger and expert on all French foodie things. Julien was incredibly generous, sharing great advice on the best places to eat in Paris as well as offering to make the reservations for us before we arrived. Eventually, we made a plan to meet in person for lunch at a very popular Paris restaurant. (You can find the link to his great ZeBlog on my blogroll in the sidebar!)

In that bizarre small world way, it turns out that his wife hails from the town next door to ours, in the good old USA, and he asked if I would return the favor of fine food info when they came for their twice yearly visits to the in-laws. Thus began a relationship of meeting up in Paris and in Hartford for fun and food, though as you might imagine, the Paris restaurant meet-ups tend to have a bit of a higher hog involved!

On our trips to Paris over the years, we’ve met and shared great food with a number of Julien’s foodie friends from all over, many of them Chowhound posters with whom I’ve been trading information with for ages but never dreamed I’d meet and have meals with in person! While virtual connections can bring relationships of value into one’s life, nothing beats real face time and meeting the eyes of those you dine with. So this past weekend was a real tribute to how the Internet can forge and foster lasting relationships in ways that were unheard just a short decade ago. Right here in our humble house in the suburbs of Hartford, Connecticut, we gathered folks from Paris, Philadelphia, and NYC for an outrageous home cooked feast that certainly couldn’t be beaten in any restaurant in this state.

Julien and I shopped and cooked for 2 days as the guests made their way by planes, trains, and automobiles to my doorstep bearing gifts of aged cheese, rare wines, and fancy desserts from NYC’s famous Momofuku. The house smelled intensely of the rich stock I had been reducing for 2 days, as well as the slow roasted lamb shoulder, that was so tender by serving time that it practically fell from the bone. I don’t think the guests want to know how much cream and butter went into the meal and I only hoped that no one dropped of cardiac arrest while still at our house!

steamers, dipping broth, cheeses

hors d’oeuvres

For a pre-dinner snack, we had clams, steamed in my special reduced chicken stock, dipped in a sauce made from that stock, lemon, and heavy cream. Briny and delicious. Along with a super aged asiago and fine St Andre cheese and some fresh bread, we could have made a meal of this alone! Fortunately, there were only enough clams for us to have a few each!

Cream of brocolli and carrot soup

Pasta in lobster cream

Such tender roast lamb!

With nine of us around the table, the dining began in earnest. First, a cream of fresh broccol and julienne of carrot soup, followed by pasta with hunks of lobster swimming in a seafood infused cream. Next came the lamb shoulder, crispy brown on the outside, tender as butter, and rich with the fatty good flavor of a very long, slow roast, served au jus with a classic potato dauphinoise.

After a very brief breather, we were ready for sweets and the dessert course was rich and sugary enough to send the heartiest of us into a diabetic coma. As a homage to one of my favorite French chefs, (Stéphane Jego of Chez L’Ami Jean) I made Riz au lait: creamy rice pudding with home made caramel sauce and nut brittle (recipe below) along with chocolate/coconut/pecan cookies. Our friends from NYC brought a wild assortment of pies from Momofuku, including something called “crack” which is like sugar pie as well as grasshopper, Snickers, and coffeecake pie.

As the gathering came to close with everyone heading back to their own particular corner of the world, we raised our glasses in a final toast to fine food and good friends and I felt deep gratitude for the richness of my life and the connections that were forged and fed by the world wide web but brought into the flesh this day.

Recipe for Riz au lait (Creamy Rice Pudding)

1 vanilla bean                         3 1/2 C. whole milk

1/4 C sugar                               1/3 C arborio or short grain white rice

2 egg yolks, room temp       1 1/3 C heavy cream

Slice vanilla bean in half an scrape seeds into milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Drop scraped bean in as well. Bring milk to a simmer and then stir in rice. Simmer rice in the milk, stirring occasonally for 35-40 minutes. Remove bean. Stir in sugar and simmer 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in egg yolks and 1/3 C heavy cream. Pour rice pudding into a glass or ceramic bowl, cover with paper towel and then plastic wrap and let cool. Before serving, whip 1C heavy cream to soft peaks. Beat 1/2C of whipped cream into the pudding and then gently fold in the rest. Serve plain or with caramel sauce.

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