06 December 2009

Le Fooding Hype + Video: ...Like a Horse

This last week, Paris foodies have been abuzz about La Semaine du Fooding, one of Le Fooding's events throughout the year that get people to line up, shell out a few euro for a fabulous charity, and indulge in tiny dégustation portions of foods from France's hottest up-and-comers, talents worthy of discovery, and – of course – massive corporate sponsors like Nespresso and S. Pellegrino and the like. Names that normally make us cringe, but when it's all for charity, it helps to have heavy hitters.

Unlike the mass clusterfuck (not the good kind) that was the Paris edition of Le Grand Fooding d'Eté at the sprawling Domaine St-Cloud last summer, which was overcrowded, overhyped and sported an incredibly dull "barbecue" theme, this winter edition seemed much more promising: A limited guest-list (each night's allotment of spots disappeared within minutes), a funky-cool atmosphere at the long-decommissioned swimming complex of la Piscine Molitor, and the titillating theme of "Les Incorrects."

The atmosphere and setting were perfect for an event made for noshing on allegedly "politically incorrect" (or perhaps out of fashion) foods. La Piscine Molitor, in its cavernous urban decay and graffiti-covered surfaces, felt more like an underground San Francisco warehouse party in the mid-90's than some yuppified foodie event – only without DJs or mobs of sweaty kids swallowing pills and each other's tongues. We already felt at home.

The agenda for the night of forbidden foods was as follows: Stinky cheeses (depicted in the program as able to attract flies) unusually paired with Veuve Clicquot champagne; Sardinian chef Tonina Simbula's taboo horse meat dishes; a random creation by a "masked chef" too ashamed for his reputation to be using the ingredient du jour; and cookbook maven Tish Deseine abusing our palates with the now-suspect French staple known as... butter.

Naturally, an event like this brings out not just the food-crazies, but the crazies as well. While no one was throwing paint bombs at us going in (security was tighter than a side-hugger's unsullied slit) the Fondation Brigitte Bardot had a truck outside condemning horse meat. For those unfamiliar with the FBB, it's a more vainglorious version of PETA run by its namesake, either because Ms. Bardot wants all the attention to herself, or because even PETA doesn't want to be associated with a washed up racist who wouldn't look good in their naked protests.

Enough chatter, however, how about some dark, grainy video action?

NOTE: Some pro photog came up and snapped photos of us while I was eating the horse meat. Would love to know if we ended up on some web site or newspaper...

While it was certainly fun to go, we couldn't really reconcile the theme of "Les Incorrects" with what we actually ate.

Not So Stinky Cheese
The stinky cheeses were, of course, of good quality. They just really weren't all that stinky, certainly not enough to draw flies. And while pairing them with champagne may be unusual for the stodgy French connoisseur accustomed only to red wine with a heady cheese, we crazy Californians have been doing all sorts of crazy shit to our cheese boards for years. The only unsettling part of it was being served Veuve Clicquot, which is a fine champagne, but against my just-instated personal boycott of LVMH group products. (Here's why you should boycott the greedy conglomerate and help destroy their cloistered business world.)

Can Horse Meat Be Beat?
Chef Simbula's horse dishes were good. Very good. It was Alannah's first time, but she wasn't put off by the idea of it at all, and she loves animals even more than I do. Frankly, it's nothing special - just very lean, dark and at the same time very tender, not unlike ostrich. Basically it's a healthy red meat. But all the flavor, both in carpaccio and steak form, came from the accompanying garnish. Neither of us would go out of the way to eat a horse dish, but to be frank, nothing would morally stop us.

While we both appreciate the efforts of animal rights activists around the world, we find it hypocritical of anyone who can condemn one type of meat over another if extinction/over-hunting isn't the issue. Is a cow no more cute and worthy of petting than a horse? Is a pig not smarter than most animals we keep as pets? All animals are to be cherished and treated with respect. So perhaps all the activists out there should be more concerned about the horrendous conditions most of our food animals suffer due to our industrialized farming, rather than what animal, specifically, winds up on our plates.

But I digress...

Stay Masked, Please
On to our next station: The masked chef. We didn't bother sticking around for the unmasking, because quite frankly, we didn't want to be disappointed in yet another glammy Parisian chef, so we're better off not knowing where this guy cooks. In a land where food is sport, there's a lot of hype, in turn meaning a lot of disappointment. (Hence why we cook so much for ourselves!)

And this ill-conceived bit of Asian fusion served up to us was not helping matters.

The "forbidden" ingredient on this Friday night was hot dogs. Specifically, Knacki brand hot dogs, found in hypermarkets, supermarkets and mini-marts all over France. While we may be Slow Food aficionados, we have nothing against the humble hot dog, and have in fact gobbled many a wiener ourselves. One of our favorite non-traditional hot dog treatments is our friend Arnold's, well, traditional Filipino spaghetti which leverages the hot dog's inherent saltiness with tangy and sweet. (Of course, we call it Japanese spaghetti.)

Although our masked chef did go for some of the sucré-salé combination, it was a hell of a lot more salty than anything. The hot dogs were steamed in bamboo steamers atop woks (pointless gimmickery, really), blended coarsely in food processors, mixed with mint, nuoc nam (fish sauce), peanuts, scallions and half the garnish menu of a Thai restaurant, served over a banana leaf and topped with fried garlic. It was basically Thai/Laotian larb, only with hot dog in place of the usual meat (which can be pork, chicken, beef... anything.) We called it "WTF is this mess of salt?"

Between the high salt content from the hot dogs, fish sauce, and fried garlic, it seemed more like the un-PC ingredient we were having was salt, with French health minister Roselyn Bachelot wagging one of her ironically sausage-like fingers at us for exceeding the daily guideline.

There's nothing creative about substituting hot dogs for meat in an Asian dish that is typically made from any meat at hand. No transformation. No flavor sensation. (Unless sucking on a salt lick is exciting to you.) And the upsetting part of all this is that it's really indicative of what passes for fashionable food in Paris these days. It's the second horrendous bit of Asian fusion I've wanted to snowball back into the mouth of the chef this week (Alannah was luckily spared of the other one), a horrendous virus spreading amongst all the wannabes who try to do it simply because Joël Robuchon, William Ledeuil and the like have parlayed it into grand success. But what these masters do is take influence and inspiration from Asian cuisine, not ape it or simply substitute Western ingredients here and there. Someone needs to cockpunch the majority of Parisians and remind them that trendy does not constitute good.

End rant.

More Butter, Please
Somewhat underwhelmed at this point, we weren't expecting much from the fourth "course," the promised butter overdose for dessert. We didn't see Irish-cum-Parisian cookbook star Trish Deseine when we got to the station (her Twitter status said she was on her way), which is a shame because she is the only one we wanted to congratulate for living up to the media hype. (There was a man at the station and I can't recall the name on his chef's whites, but I did give him my compliments...)

At any rate, whomever made it, the Kouign Amman (I have no idea how to pronounce Breton words, sorry) was orgasmic. All thanks to the butter. But as Alannah kept raving about it, it was buttery without being heavy. Light as a feather, yet rich as can be. At one point she called it "butter cotton candy." I wouldn't go that far, because it did have enough heft to it to be substantial and satisfying (candyfloss is too evanescent for my tastes) but she was on to something... A contradictory sensation that was, in fact, a revelation.

That was the shocking, cool, learn-something-new-every-day part. For us, cooking with disproportionate amounts of butter is old hat. But to make what seems like a half kilo of butter weigh in at only a few grams... That's a trick we'd love to turn.

Despite having had the best-for-last surprise, and the satisfaction of knowing that - good or bad - we helped out a very worthy charity, I can't help but feel more and more ambivalent toward Le Fooding. Besides the fact that their web site is a largely unusable, Flash-intro-with-no-non-Flash-skip-button piece of crap, their events have been nowhere near the level of hype they generate. (This could be dead wrong, though - the recent New York edition sounded fabulous by all accounts.) While the word is an amalgamation of "food" and "feeling," there's just no feeling to it. The organization has an interesting mission, but it seems more like it's in the trend business (emphasis on the business) than in showcasing groundbreaking food and its purveyors.

Of course, being gluttons for punishment, we'll be back at the next event (if they let us in), and hope that Le Fooding can refocus on its mission, instead of being just another Parisian hype machine.

03 December 2009

Purple Stuff: Mystery Vegetable

Please help us identify this leafy, purple vegetable.

We bought it the other day at our green grocer's, not really caring what it was, just that it looked very good. It was among the other seasonal greens (yeah, it's purple...) without any labeling. I asked the cashier what it was, and she enthusiastically told me they were... beet leaves!

This was a bit surprising to me, as I've been eating beet greens since I could remember, and they've always been green, with just a hint of red in the stem sometimes.

Before diving into them tonight, I did a little online research. The closest thing I could come up with is orach (based on this photo at The Kitchn) aka German mountain spinach. But I'm still not convinced...

We tasted some of it raw, and it actually tasted not like beet greens, but a bit like beet root! Sweet, sugary, a bit mineral-y. After lightly wilting it, though, it gave off a beet-like juice (only much less intense) and lost its sweetness, tasting more or less like spinach.

So how did we have it? I added spinach to the pan while wilting in garlic-tinged olive oil, and served it both over and under buta-no-kakuni (Japanese style braised pork belly) over chestnut basmati rice.

And yeah, it was as good as it looks.

And although Alannah wasn't as intrigued by the whole beet-like flavor (notice the beet juice coloring tinting the rice, above) I'm ready to have the rest raw in a salad, maybe with a citrusy zest.

So does anyone know what this is? And how it's normally eaten? First definitive answer wins a moist, sticky date.

No, not with Alannah, but a nice, sugary deglet noor from North Africa. (Winner must take delivery in Paris, as fruit products generally do not pass customs. Kthxbai.)

02 December 2009

Video: Nice n' Slow

If you've been looking at our stuff regularly, you'll notice that we tend not to use many prepared foods in our cooking, and we tend to prefer stuff from our local markets. The occasional canned tomato might make an appearance, and yeah, a lot of our seasonings – particularly more exotic ones – come from bottles procured at Asian markets and whatnot. While not entirely outside of our comfort zone, we try to avoid it whenever possible. After all, this is all about DIY.

We've taken our commitment to doing things the right way by joining Slow Food, the movement made to counter our hideously spreading fast food culture and its effects.

We did so by going to the EuroGusto expo in Tours, France, to sign up in person. And eat and drink everything in sight.

Held every two years, EuroGusto is a chance for purveyors of Slow Food to get together and show off their stuff to food professionals and enthusiasts alike. As the video attests, we're not the classy pros and industry deciders these events are designed to attract... But the mass-consuming ruffians they're trying to convert.

Click the video above to go to YouTube and watch in HD

If anything, Omid's drunken, bloated face is living proof that being actively concerned about well-sourced, responsibly grown food won't make you some frail little hippie. Slow Food isn't about militant vegetarianism (look how much swine was consumed!) nor is it about being a hardcore locavore (the event covers all of Europe). It's about eating well, but not ignoring the fact that the choices we make affect the whole world. Now that's something anyone can get behind.

22 November 2009

Goin' Deep / Au plus profond

Deep Dish Pizza two ways / à deux façons

I have a confession to make: I don't really care much about pizza. I know that as an American, that's like saying I could give fuck all about Major League Baseball, Ford Mustangs, and Pamela Anderson's tits. Maybe that's why I moved to France. Before we got married, everyone asked Alannah how she could marry a heathen who doesn't care for pizza.
J'ai une confession : Je ne suis pas vraiment fan de la pizza. Je sais que comme américain, c'est comme dire que je n'ai rien à foutre au sujet du baseball professionel, le Ford Mustang ou les nénés de Pamela Anderson. Peut-être c'est pourquoi je suis venu à France. Avant de nous marier, tout le monde a demandé d'Allanah comment elle peut épouser un homme qui n'aime pas la pizza.
The truth is I do like pizza very much. I just don't subscribe to the theory posited in the film Threesome that "Sex is like pizza. Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good." Well, I don't agree with the pizza part. Good pizza is hard to come by.
En vérité j'aime beaucoup la pizza mais je ne crois pas la théorie du film Threesome ou on a dit "Le sexe est comme la pizza. Même lorsqu'il est mauvais, il reste bon." Bien, je ne suis pas d'accord avec la partie à propos de pizza. Une bonne pizza est difficile à trouver.
While pizza and Italian food in general have been improving vastly in France (you'd think this would never have been an issue considering the proximity), and while the toppings are varied and often creative, the styles are severely lacking. You have your authentic Italian thin-crust, wood-fired oven variety, as well as the godawful pseudo-American kind like Pizza Hut and Speed Rabbit.
Bien que la pizza et la nourriture italienne ont bien amelioré en France récemment (ouais, c'était un problème, même avec la proximité de l'Italie !), et bien que les garnitures sont bien variées et créatives, on manque le choix de style. On trouve l'authentique comme à l'Italie : croûte fine, dans un four à bois; ou le style pseudo-américain de merde comme Pizza Hut ou Speed Rabbit.
What you won't find here is deep dish pizza. Often mistranslated here as "thick crust" pizza, as it is assumed that's how Americans like it, deep dish pizza is something from Chicago that I believe Europeans would like even more than Barack Obama. And Europeans love him.
Ce qu'on ne trouve pas ici est la pizza "deep dish". Souvent maltraduit comme la pizza "à croûte epaisse" parce que les américains en aime, la pizza à plat profond est quelque chose de Chicago que je crois les européens aimeraient même plus que Barack Obama. Et les européens adorent Obama.
We set out to make a deep dish pizza the Chicago way. Classic sausage, onion and pepper with a cornmeal crust.
Nous avons trouvé notre défi : faire une pizza à plat profond à façon Chicago. La classique de saucisse, oignons et poivrons, avec une croûte à semoule de maïs.
But wait! According to my research, real Chicago pizza doesn't contain cornmeal. It was added by people trying to emulate the golden color of the originals by Pizzeria Uno and Gino's... who allegedly use food coloring to get the right color. Well, I believe that when trying to approximate a national food, you go by what the majority do. And in this case, that's a cornmeal crust. Let's do it.
Mais attends ! Selon ma recherche, la vraie pizza de Chicago ne contient pas de semoule de maïs. C'était ajouté à la recette par des gens qui ont essayé d'émuler la couleur dorée des originales par Pizzeria Uno et Gino's... qui apparement utilisent des colorants dans la croûte. Bon, je crois que quand on veut rapprocher un aliment national, on utilise les ingrédients de la majorité, et donc, la semoule de maïs. Allons-y.
A standard cornmeal crust (enough for a 12" cast iron skillet or pizza pan) is made of 220g all-purpose flour, 40g cornmeal, 1 tsp salt mixed with a solution of 2tsp yeast, 125ml warm water, 1tbsp honey. When a dough starts to form, mix in 4tbsp olive oil. Cover the dough and let it rest at least 4 hours, allowing it to almost double in size.
Une croûte à semoule de maïs standarde (assez pour une poêle de fonte ou plat à four de 30cm) contient 220g de farine type-65, 40g semoule de maïs, 1cc sel, tous mélangés avec une solution de 2cc levure, 125ml eau chaude, 1cs miel. Quand une pâte se forme, ajoutez 4cs huile d'olive. Couvrez la pâte et laissez rester au moins 4 heures, laissant la gonfler à presque 2x la taille originale.

Prepare your toppings, or rather, fillings. Since making pizza at home can be time intensive, you may as well use the best ingredients you should get in order to make it worthwhile. In addition to using fresh onions and peppers, take care to get a good mozzarella di buffala cheese and a high-quality sausage (in links or loose). Lightly sautée one diced onion with one large link sausage, crumbled, five diced button mushrooms. Once browned, add one diced green bell pepper. Set aside. Dice one large ball of mozzarella.
Préparez la garniture. Car faire la pizza chez soi peut prendre du temps, il vaut mieux utiliser les meilleurs ingrédients possible afin de ne pas perdre votre temps. De plus d'utiliser des oignons et poivrons verts bien frais, prenez soin et cherchez du bon fromage mozzarella di buffala et de la saucisse de qualité (sinon une chair à saucisse bien fraiche). Légèrement faites sauter 1 oignon haché avec une grosse saucisse décortiquée, 5 champignons de Paris hachés. Une fois doré, ajoutez un piment vert haché. Laissez froidir. Hachez une grosse balle de mozzarella.
Prepare your sauce: Heat 450g of crushed tomatoes (canned is perfectly fine), mixing in 2 cloves minced garlic, 2tsp salt, 2tsp sugar, and a handful of chopped basil. Stir well to integrate over medium heat.
Préparez votre sauce : Réchauffez 450g de pulpe de tomate (ça ira en boite), en ajoutant 2 gousses d'ail écrasé, 2cc sel, 2cc sucre, et 1 poignée du basilic haché. Mélangez bien pour l'integrer sur une chaleur moyenne.
Line your cast iron skillet or pizza pan with butter and a light dusting of cornmeal, then spread out the dough like you would a pie crust. Put the layer of diced mozzarella on the bottom, followed by the sausage/pepper/mushroom/onion mixture, and top the "pie" with sauce until just below the edge of the crust. (See photo above.)
Tartinez la poêle de fonte ou plat à four avec du beurre, faites une couche légère de semoule de maïs et puis mettre la pâte à croûte dedans, comme on fait une tarte. D'abord, faire une couche au fond avec le mozzarella, puis le mélange de saucisse/oignon/champignon/poivron et remplir la "tarte" avec la sauce, jusqu'à juste dessous le bord de la croûte. (Regardez la photo ci-dessus.)
Put the pizza in a 375ºF/190ºC/Th.7 oven for 30-40 minutes - about when the crust is golden. Remove, allow to cool a few minutes, and cut into large slices. Serve while hot. Or eat when leftover, because like any all-American pizza, it's even better the next day.
Mettez la pizza dans le four à 375ºF/190ºC/Th.7 pour 30-40 minutes - jusqu'à la croûte est dorée. Enlevez-la, laissez froidir quelques minutes, et découpez en grosses tranches. Servez chaude. Ou mangez-la froid, car comme toutes les pizzas all-American, c'est mieux le lendemain !

But wait... there's more! Here at Hungry Amateurs, we never do anything only once. We'll try anything twice. Three times if we like it. So of course, we had to do it our way.
Mais attends ... il y en a plus ! Ici chez Hungry Amateurs, on ne fait rien seulement une fois. Nous essayons n'import quoi deux fois. Trois fois s'il nous plait. Donc bien sûr nous l'avons fait à notre façon.
Frankly, I'm not a fan of the cornmeal crust. Again, this is an area where Alannah differs with me, but somehow we work it out. Vigorously.
Franchement, je ne suis pas trop fan de la croûte à semoule de maïs. Encore c'est quelque chose dont Alannah n'est pas d'accord, mais nous subsistons. Vigorousement.
Back in San Francisco a battle rages between the chi-chi hipsters (who love Little Star's faithful version of Chicago deep dish) and sensible people (who prefer Patxi's cornmeal-free approach). The first time I had Patxi's, I fell in love, remarking how buttery and brioche-like their crust is. And I love butter so much I'd do illegal things with it. So it was time for a new challenge: Make a deep dish pizza with a brioche-like crust. This is actually not that hard. Take the recipe above, remove the cornmeal and the olive oil, add one egg, 50ml milk, 80g unsalted butter and an additional 2tsp sugar.
À San Francisco un combat fait rage entre les bobos (qui aiment le resto Little Star et sa version de pizza fidèle à Chicago) et les gens plus raisonnables (qui préfèrent le pizza à plat profond sans semoule chez Patxi's). La première fois que j'ai goûté la pizza de Patxi's j'étais amoureux, remarquant la croûte plein du beurre - comme une brioche ! Et j'aime tellement le beurre, je ferais des choses bien interdit avec lui. Donc le nouveau défi : faire une pizza à plat profond avec une croûte briochesque. C'est pas difficile. Prenez la recette ci-dessus, enlevez la semoule et l'huile d'olive, ajoutez un oeuf, 50ml de lait, 80g de beurre doux et 2cc de sucre de plus.

Our self-imposed rule was simple. Other than the crust, the ingredients had to remain the same: One bell pepper, one link of sausage, one onion, five large button mushrooms, and one ball of mozzarella di buffala. Naturally, though, we're sticklers for texture and mouthfeel. So I sliced everything finely. The onions were first caramelized before adding the sausage, and the mushrooms were cooked separately and not added until the very end. Largely because I forgot them and Alannah had to remind me.
La regle que nous avons fait nous-mêmes est simple. Sauf la croûte, tous les autres ingrédients doivent rester pareils : Un poivron, une saucisse, un oignon, cinq gros champignons de Paris et une balle de mozzarella di buffala. Naturellement, nous sommes chevaux sur la texture et l'impression en bouche. Donc j'ai tout emincé finement. Les oignons étaient caramelisés avant d'ajouter la saucisse, et les champignons cuits séparément et pas ajoutés jusqu'à la fin. Carrément parce que je les ai oublié et Alannah a du me rappeler.

OK, so I cheated. I used red peppers as well as green peppers, and in a nod to another San Francisco favorite – the drunken 4am delivery of sausage and ricotta from Volare Pizza – I plugged the pie with chunks of fresh ricotta cheese. I paid dearly for this transgression, though. I went to our local Italian deli for a tub of housemade ricotta for a ridiculous price, not knowing that the Monoprix supermarket nearby sells their "gourmet" line of ricotta for a tenth of the price. D'oh! Also, I used a springform cake pan to get a higher wall and, thus, a deeper pizza.
Bon, j'ai trompé. Ainsi que le poivron vert, j'ai utilisé unpiment rouge, et en hommage à un autre favori San Franciscain – la livraison à 4 heure du matin d'un pizza de saucisse et ricotta de Volare Pizza – j'ai ajouté des morceaux du fromage ricotta. Cependant, j'ai payé chèrement cette violation des regles. Je suis allé chez notre épicerie italienne à prendre une barquette de ricotta maison à un prix ridicule, pas sachant que le supermarché à côté vend la version "Monoprix gourmet" à dix pour cent du prix ... Mince ! En outre, j'ai utlisé une moule à charnière pour une croûte plus haute et ainsi, une pizza plus profonde.

The result? Look at that and tell me you don't want to simply stick your di eat it all up.
Le résultat ? Régardez-là et dites-moi que vous ne voulez mettre votre bi manger-la tout.
OK, so Alannah still prefers the cornmeal crust. Everybody has as much of an opinion about pizza crusts as they do about toppings. But overall, the deep dish pizza inspired by San Francisco kicked Chicago's ass to the curb.
Bon, Alannah préfère toujours la croûte à semoule de maïs. Il y autant d'avis sur des croûtes car il ya sur les garnitures. Mais global, la pizza à plat profond inspirée par San Francisco a bien démonté Chicago.

17 November 2009

Nice Pear / La poire pulpeuse

Pear Crisp (which can also be done with apples)

Last week we went a little crazy at the market and bought a few too many of the gorgeous giant Savoie pears on display. We were left with too many pears on the verge of spoiling, so Alannah turned to her childhood for inspiration, as she has so many times in the past. So when I say that this dessert is so easy that even an eight year-old can do it, I'm not lying.
La semaine dernière on a pété un plomb et a acheté trop des belles poires de Savoie au marché. Alors on avait des poires juste avant le point de pourrir et Alannah s'est tournée vers son enfance pour l'inspiration, comme d'habitude. Donc quand je dis que ce dessert est si facile qu'un enfant de 8 ans peut le faire, je ne mens pas.
In the same family as the crumble or the cobbler, the crisp is an easy, highly adaptable dessert that can be made with just about any filling, or even made savory. Traditionally made with apple, here it is with pears. Alannah and I both like pears better than apples anyway, but with a few tweaks beyond the traditional recipe, this dessert will blow your tastebuds to kingdom come no matter how you fill it.
De la même famille du crumble ou du cobbler, le crisp est un dessert facile est fortement adaptable qui peut être fait avec quasiment toute garniture, même salée. Traditionellement fait avec la pomme, ici nous en faisons avec la poire. Alannah et moi, nous aimons plus la poire, néanmoins avec quelques petites modifs à la recette traditionelle, cette dessert va vous envoler, n'import quelle garniture.

Start by lining a baking dish with sliced pears (or apples). How many? It depends on your dish, but enough to line it about 1 inch/3cm deep. Most recipes will call for you to peel the apples/pears and mix sugar with them. Don't. You don't need the extra sugar, and you do need the fiber!
Pour commencer, remplissez un plat à four avec des poires (ou pommes) émincées. Combien ? Ça dépend de la taille de votre plat - assez pour faire une couche de 3cm de fruit. La plupart des recettes disent que vous devez epluchez les poires et les macérer. Ne faites pas. Vous n'avez pas besoin de trop du sucre, et vous en avez de fibre végétale !
Preheat your oven to 325ºF/160ºC/Th.5.5. Then start making your topping. Mix 1.5 cups/300g of rolled oats, 1 packed cup/200g brown sugar, 1 cup/125g flour, 2 tsp cinammon, then pour in 1 cup/225g of melted butter. For a subtle but noticeable dose of "wow," add a healthy pinch of allspice. Real allspice. As in "Jamaican pepper." Don't use a blend of spices, or "pumpkin pie spice," or Alannah swears she'll punch your head in. To make sure you have the real stuff, just buy the stuff called Jamaican pepper and pulverize it yourself with a pestle and mortar.
Chauffez le four à 160ºC/Th.5,5. Puis commencez à faire la croûte. Mélangez 300g de flocons d'avoine, 200g de sucre foncé (C'est pas le sucre roux mais un sucre en poudre à melasse!), 125g de farine, 2cc de canelle, et puis versez 225g de beurre fondu. Pour ajouter une petite dose de "waouh" mettez une grosse pince de poivre de la Jamaïque. En anglais on l'appelle "allspice" mais c'est souvent un faux melange des autres épices. Alannah insiste que vous achetez le vrai poivre chez un bon épicier, et l'écraser avec un pilon et mortier.

Once your mixture is fairly combined - don't overdo it - spread it over your pears in the baking dish. It should be about half as thick as your fruit layer. Don't worry if it's not even: You know you want it rough!
Une fois que la pâte est assez mélangée - ne faites pas trop - tartinez-la au dessus des poires dans le plat. Il faut être la moitié de l'épaisseur de la couche de fruit. Ne vous inquiétez pas s'elle n'est pas lisse ou plate. Vous l'aimerez un peu brutale.

Most crumble recipes call for only 25 minutes of cooking at a higher temperature, but the secret to this crisp is the caramelization of all the brown sugar. Plan on baking it for 35-40 minutes, but check on it regularly anyway! The size of your baking dish and overall thickness will vary the cooking time. When the topping has turned a rich golden brown (and is solid to the touch when you tap it) and the sugar and juice are bubbling together, it's time to pull out. The longer (and slightly cooler) cooking time should ensure a more gooey caramel topping than the standard method.
La plupart des recettes ont besoin de 25 minutes de cuisson à une température plus élevée, mais le secret de cet crisp est la caramelisation du sucre foncé. Comptez 35-40 minutes de cuisson, mais le contrôlez régulièrement ! La taille de votre plat à four et l'épaisseur du crisp va faire varier le temps de cuisson. Quand la croûte est devenue bien dorée (et bien firme à la touche quand vous le tapez avec les doigts) et le sucre et le jus de fruit bouillonnent vers le haut tout ensemble, c'est l'heure de l'enlever du four. La cuisson plus lente doit assurer un caramel plus collant sous la croûte que la méthode normale.

Allow it to cool at least a little bit before serving. Nobody likes eating napalm, and it'll be much easier to cut into pretty squares. Although it'll be pretty hard not to just attack the baking dish with a spoon.
Laissez-le froidir un peu avant le servir. Personne n'aime manger le napalm, et il sera bien plus facile à découpez en petits carrés ... Cependant il sera difficile de ne pas attaquer directement le plat à four avec une cuillère !

15 November 2009

Brown Town Throwdown: Part Deux

Note: This post is back to being only in English because any French person should know how to make crème anglaise or ganache already... Or buy it at Monoprix. :P

Baking several batches of brownies leads to a rather interesting question: What do you do when you've got several kilos of leftover brownies in the house? The first thing, of course, is to unload your chocolate goodness on everyone you know. Then give brownies to them. This week, colleagues, friends, bartenders, neighbors – pretty much anyone in Paris lucky enough to know us – were treated to all three kinds of brownies.

Despite claiming brownie supremacy for our own recipe, nobody seemed to care which one they got. Each sample got ingested quicker than a pile of Colombian "powdered sugar" cookies at a Lohan Mother-Daughter Fundraiser. Real brownies really are that rare in Paris.

However, we still had a good amount of brownie left over, in spite of our sharing spirit. So we took Alannah's classic recipe for bread pudding - and used brownies instead of bread.

Bread pudding is pretty easy. Cut up your bread (or other baked good) into chunks and place in a deep baking dish. Pour a fairly standard custard over it (beaten eggs, milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla - heated moderately so as not to curdle), and place in a medium oven for 45 minutes. Pull it out, let it cool at least a little bit, and voila! Bread Brownie pudding.

This isn't bad on its own, but around this household, we like to push things a bit farther. So it was time for another battle, albeit a little one: How can we best finish off these brownies with a money shot? Is brownie pudding better with the classic crème anglaise? Or Alannah's luxurious dark chocolate ganache?

The ganache-topped brownie was a killer, through and through. A chocolate-sugar rush that would kill that quack Dr. Atkins if his carb-free ass weren't already dead. Something already rich and bold was made richer, bolder, and – we kinda mean it – deadly. The portion pictured above is probably only about 60g. Any more would be like a Mandingo Party in your mouth.

Shifting gears to the one topped with white stuff... Crème anglaise is the French term for runny custard. Which makes this version of the desert rather meta, since the bread brownie pudding is what it is because it's cooked in custard.

If you don't already know how to make a crème anglaise (believe me, one of our friends joked that it's made up from ground up Englishmen, but sometimes I think it's not a joke) and you look it up, you'll see terms like "easy to ruin," "nerve-wracking," or "it's easier just to buy it at the store."


Beat the ever-loving hell out of two fresh egg yolks with about a cup of sugar and a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract (or scrape in the grains from one real pod). Bring a cup each of milk and cream to a simmer (not a boil) in a saucepan/pot, remove from heat. Temper your egg mixture with a few spoonfuls of the warm milk/cream. Then pour the mixture back into the pot (again, not on the heat) slowly while whisking. Once integrated, put the pot back over low heat, keep whisking, until everything's simmering again. Pour through a strainer into a bowl to cool. Then, once cool, pour through a strainer again.

On second thought, just go to the store. (Just kidding. Crème anglaise is like meditation. Do it calmly and it's simple and satisfying.)

Beyond the black/white contrast, one thing that makes this version of the brownie pudding great is temperature. Chill the crème anglaise, warm up the brownie pudding. Separately, of course. Then make a small pool of crème in a dish, put a serving of the pudding on top, and drizzle more crème on it.

And that's what makes this one a winner. The contrasting flavors. The differing temperatures. Light versus dark. Cool versus warm.

While Alannah and I both feel that going deep into the dark side of things is great, we're more partial to mixing it up with a little bit of simple vanilla action, to keep things more interesting.

12 November 2009

Mission(ary) Position

Carne asada burrito. Guacamole. Salsa. Rice. Black beans... Easy, right?

This is our second bilingual post in a row. After showing all of France how a real brownie is made, we figured it's time to keep schoolin' Parisians on American (or in this case Mexican-American) food. Next lesson: How to make a proper burrito. No offense to those who have set up Mexican restaurants in Paris...
Ceci est notre deuxième billet bilingue. Après avoir montré toute la France comment faire une vraie brownie, nous avons décidé de continuer enseigner les parisiens au sujet de la cuisine américaine (où cette fois mexicaine-américaine). Prochaine leçon : comment faire un vrai burrito. Si vous avez un resto mexicain à Paris, ne le prenez pas mal, mais ...

No, wait a second - be offended. You ass-clowns couldn't fucking make a proper burrito to save your life. Fuck you, your ground beef, and your red beans. Just because your typical customer can't tell Mexican food from a plate full of Tex-Mex vomit doesn't mean you should be serving garbage at €14 a plate. You should be ashamed.
Alors, non ! Prenez-le mal ! Tous vous cons ne peuvent pas faire un vrai burrito pour sauver vos vies. Je vous emmerde. Nique votre viande hachée. Et nique vos haricots rouges. Peut-être votre client typique ne peut pas distinguer entre la nourriture méxicaine et un plat de vomi Tex-Mex, mais ce n'est pas un raison pour servir les déchets à 14 € le plat. Vous devriez avoir honte.

The thing is, making burritos is easy. Why? It originated as a way for Mexican migrant workers in California to take a hot lunch to the field with them. If some poorly paid, overworked, likely undocumented laborer can make a good burrito early in the morning, surely you can do a decent job in your high-rent Parisian kitchen. So listen up. This is coming from a couple of San Franciscans, and everyone knows the best burritos in the world come from San Francisco. Specifically, the Mission District. The poorest, dirtiest parts of the Mission to be exact.
Le truc c'est ... faire le burrito est facile ! Pourquoi ? Il a commencé comme un moyen pour les travailleurs saisoniers mexicains à la Californie d'apporter un déjeuner chaud aux champs. Si un clandestin mal payé et surchargé peut faire un bon burrito le matin, vous pouvez certainement réaliser un burrito acceptable dans votre cuisine Parisienne de luxe. Bon, écoutez bien. Cette demande est d'un couple des san franciscains, et tout le monde sait que le meilleus burrito du monde provient de San Francisco. Spécifiquement du quartier Mission. Les parties plus pauvres et sales de la Mission, exacte.

First, neither one of us don't ever want to see a red bean in a so-called Mexican restaurant again. Or you're going to have two pissed of San Franciscans on your hands. And remember, San Franciscans drink a lot. Which means we fight a lot. So if you don't want a fight on your hands, back away from the red beans. While Mexican cuisine does sometimes make use of small red beans, they're never used in the casual dishes you put on your menus. And certainly not with the big red beans you seem to love so much. If you're serving burritos and tacos, then you use pinto beans or black beans. End of story. Ok, sometimes you can mash the pintos into refried beans, but get your basic beans right before you start experimenting.
Tout d'abord, nous ne voulons jamais revoir un haricot rouge à un resto "mexicain" (bien entre guillemets).  Sinon vous aurez deux san franciscains en pétard. Et rappelez-vous les san franciscains boivent beaucoup. En signifiant nous combattons beaucoup. Alors si vous ne souhaitez pas lutter, ne touchez pas les haricots rouges. Bien sûr on utilise parfois les petits haricots rouges dans la cuisine Mexicaine, ils ne sont jamais utilisés dans les plats typiques de vos cartes. Et certainement pas les gros haricots rouge que vous apparement adorez. Si vous servez les burritos et les tacos, utilisez les haricots roses ou noirs. C'est tout. D'accord, parfois vous pouvez faire purer des haricots pour les "haricots sautés" mais d'abord vous devez apprendre les bons avant de commncer  à expérimenter.

Today, we're doing black beans. They're cheap, they cook relatively quickly, and they're delicious. Simply dump 500g of dry black beans into a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Throw in half a diced onion, one small dried chili, a clove of garlic, and a teaspoon of chili powder. Let it simmer for an hour. Once the beans are tender, you can reduce the heat. Add more water if necessary during the simmering process. Salt to taste, but not too much. You're going to be mixing a lot of flavors.
Aujourd'hui nous faisons les haricots noirs. Ils sont pas chers, ils cuisent relativement vite, et ils sont délicieux. Tout simplement versez 500g des haricots noirs dans un grand casserole d'eau et portez à ébullition. Ajoutez un demi oignon haché, un petit chili seché, une gousse d'ail, et une cuilliere à café de poudre de chili. Mijotez une heure. Lorsque les haricots sont tendres, réduisez bien la chaleur. Vous pouvez ajoutez plus d'eau si vous avez besoin pendant la cuisson. Ajoutez du sel à goût, mais pas trop : vous allez melanger plein des savours !

Next, take any fantasies you have about ground beef and leave them as just that: Fantasies. As in you will never be touching the stuff. Go to the butcher and ask for a nice skirt steak. Today, we're making carne asada. Prepare a marinade of 1 sliced green chili (or jalapeño pepper), a fistful of chopped cilantro (coriander), a teaspoon of chili powder, a generous pinch of salt, a small pinch of black pepper, half a sliced onion, and the juice of one lime and half an orange.  Combine, lay in 300g of tenderized skirt steak (or flank if you want to go cheap). Add half a bottle of beer if you like. And, no, not Desperados you dumbass. That's not even beer, and most certainly not remotely Mexican. Refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes.  Bring out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking.
Puis, prenez vos imaginations au sujet du boeuf haché et laissez-les en tant que ça : imaginations. Car vous ne le toucherez jamais. Allez voir votre boucher et lui demandez une belle bavette d'aloyau. Aujourd'hui nous faisons du carné asada. Preparez une marinade de 1 piment vert emincé (ou piment jalapeño), une poignée de coriandre hachée, une cc de poudre de chili, une grosse pince du sel, une petit pince de poivre noir, un demi oignion emincé, et le jus de 1 citron vert et demi orange. Combinez, mettez dedans 300g de bavette d'aloyau martelée (ou bavette normale si vous êtes radin). Ajoutez une demi-bouteille de la bière si vous voulez. Et non, pas Desperados, gros con. C'est pas une bière, et certainement pas mexicaine !  Mettez-le dans le frigo au moins 30 minute, et sortez-le au moins 30 minutes avant la cuisson.

In a medium saucepan, heat some olive oil and soften 1/2 of a finely diced onion with chopped up tomato (or a few tablespoons of canned tomato if you swing that way). Once it begins to break down, add a pinch of ground cumin, a large pinch of salt, and half a clove of minced garlic. Then add 150g of rice, which you should sauté until it starts to become clear. Pour in 280ml of water, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir, reduce heat to minimum and allow to steam for at least 15 minutes without removing the cover, ever. After 20 minutes tops, you can remove the cover to check it, and then remove it from the heat.
Dans une casserole moyen, rechauffez de l'huile d'olive et ramolissez-vous un demi-oignon finement haché avec un peu de tomate ecrasée (ou quelques ccs de tomate d'une boite si vous préférez. Lorsqu'il commence a décomposer, ajoutez une pince du cumin moulu, une grosse pince du sel, et une demi-gousse d'ail ecrasée. Puis ajoutez 150g du riz, et faites sauter le jusqu'à c'est clair. Versez 280mg d'eau, couvrez la casserole et portez à l'ebullition. Réduisez la chaleur au minimum et laissez comme ça au moins 15 minutes sans jamais toucher le couvercle. Après 20 minutes maximum, vous pouvez enlever le couvercle pour contrôler la cuisson du riz, et enlevez-le du fourneau.

In the meantime, clean and dice 2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, 1 small white onion, and 1/2 of a green chili. Mince 1 clove garlic. Combine in a bowl.
En attendant, nettoyez et découpez 2 grandes ou 3 moyennes tomates, 1 petit oignon blanc et 1/2 d'un piment vert. Ecrasez 1 gousse d'ail. Melangez dans un bol.

In another bowl, use a fork (or two forks) to mash two ripe avocados.  Add 1/3 of the mixture from the previous bowl and the juice of 1/2 lime. Mix well. This is your guacamole.
Dans un autre bol, utilisez une fourchette (ou deux fourchettes) et ecrasez le chair de deux avocats murs. Ajoutez 1/3 du mélange du bol précedent et  le jus d'un demi citron vert. Melangez bien. Ceci c'est votre guacamole.

Go back to your first bowl of tomato/onion/chili/garlic. Give it two generous pinches of salt and mix, allowing to sit at least five minutes. This will leech out the liquid for your salsa. After you see a little of this liquid, go ahead and add the juice of 1/2 lime. This isn't a bad time to throw in a few pinches of chopped cilantro (coriander). This is your salsa.
Retournez au premier bol de tomate/oignon/chili/ail. Mettez dedans deux grosses pinces du sel et melangez, et laissez-le rester au moins cinq minutes. Cette étape coller le liquide pour votre salsa. Après voir un peu de ce liquide, allez-y et ajoutez le jus d'un demi citron vert. C'est aussi un bon moment d'ajoutez quelques pinces de coriandre hachée. Et voila, votre salsa!

Ten minutes before you want to eat, turn on the broiler in your oven, with a rack placed immediately below it. If you don't have a broiler, have a large skillet ready to heat (dry).
Dix minutes avant de manger, allumez le grilleur au votre four avec un plateau mis juste au-dessous. Si vous n'avez pas de grilleur, préparez une grand poêle (sec) à chauffer.

In another skillet, add a tablespoon of oil over high heat and, once hot, gently place your marinated meat and onions. Against all normal instincts, cook the meat until it is medium-well. This step hurts me as much as a good spanking, but trust me, just like then, this is the right thing to do. Once medium-well, remove the steak from the heat and place on a cutting board. Pour the rest of the marinade into the skillet to begin reducing with the now caramelized onions. After the steak has cooled for one or two minutes, begin to slice, then dice. Return to the skillet with the reduced/caramelized onions and mix.  (Some people don't like onions in their carne asada - if that's the case, skip the onions, but do return the meat to the skillet to keep warm.)  Turn off the heat.
Dans une autre poêle sur la chaleur forte, mettez un cs de l'huile, et une fois chaude, mettez la viande marinée et les oignons. Contre tous vos instincts faites cuire bien la viande. Cette étape me blesse autant qu'une bonne fessée, mais me faites confiance, c'est également une bonne chose. Une fois bien cuit (!) enlevez le steak de la chaleur et mettez-le sur un plateau de bois. Versez la reste de la marinade dans la poêle et faites réduire avec les oignons caramelisés. Après laisser le steak refroidir d'un à deux minutes, commencez a le trancher finement, et puis découpez en petits cubes. Mettez-les encore dans la poêle avec la réduction/oignons caramelisés et mélangez. (Certains n'aiment pas des oignons dans le carne asada. Si c'est le cas. n'utilisez pas les oignons, mais re-mettez la viande dans la poêle pour la réchauffer.) Arretez la chaleur.

Now comes the most critical part: your mise en place. Take everything you've made so far and build an assembly line. In order to not get cold, soggy, or break the tortilla wrapper, a burrito must be made quickly and adeptly. Have a cutting board ready with a sheets of foil on it.
Et maintenant la partie la plus critique : votre mise en place. Prenez tous que vous avez faits et créez une chaine de montage. Afin de ne pas refroidir, tremper ou autrement casser la tortilla, un burrito doit être fait rapidement et habilement. Préparez un  plateau de coupe avec des feuilles d'aluminium.

Take 1 flour tortilla and wet it gently on both sides with some water on the palm of your hand. Place it under the broiler of your oven for about 10 seconds each side, or the same on a very hot skillet. This will steam and grill your tortilla at the same time, eliminating the great burrito debate between steamed and grilled.
Prenez 1 tortilla à farine et humidifiez-le légèrement avec un peu de l'eau sur la paume de votre main. Mettez-le sous le grilleur de votre four pour dix secondes chaque côté, ou faites la même chose dans la grande poêle sec. Ceci cuira à la vapeur et grillera votre tortilla en même temps, éliminant la grande discussion du burrito entre la vapeur et la grille.

Fill your tortilla. First, the essentials of a proper Mission-style burrito: Black beans, rice, and meat.  Then come a small dose of your other fillings, including sour cream and grated cheese. Pull a Barack Obama and keep everything right in the unchanging center while skewing slightly to the left. Fold the bottom portion up over the filling, then fold the longer right half over. Then the top flap. You may leave the left end open for presentation.
Remplissez votre tortilla. D'abord avec les éléments essentiels d'un burrito approprié de la Mission : haricots noirs, riz et viande. Puis mettez-vous les autres éléments dont de la crème fraiche epaisse et du fromage râpé. Faites-vous un Barack Obama et restez bien au centre sans rien changer en biasiant légèrement vers la gauche. Pliez la partie inférieure vers le haut au-dessus la farce, puis la partie de la droite. Puis la partie supérieure. Vous pouvez laisser le bout gauche ouvert pour la présentation.

Alternately, you can keep the fillings dead center, and fold the flaps over in a clockwise fashion until you have a nice "pillow". Either way, wrap in the sheet of foil below, then place under the broiler (or in the skillet) to help melt the cheese and maintain the burrito form. This step simulates the car/bike/Muni ride home from the taqueria, and is essential for conditioning your burrito.
Alternativement, vous pouvez mettre tous les éléments en tout milieu et pliez les ailerons de tortilla dans le sense des aiguilles d'un montre jusqu'à vous avez un petit "oreiller". N'import quelle façon, enveloppez-le dans une feuille d'aluminium et mettez-le sous le grilleur (ou dans la poêle) à faire fondre le fromage et gardez la forme du burrito. Cette étape simule le promenade de la taqueria chez vous par voiture/vélo/Muni et elle est essentielle pour conditionner votre burrito.

Serve with some more of the rice and beans if you feel it necessary (though it really isn't) or some plain tortilla chips. If you really want to go vato loco, dress the dish with some radishes and pickled carrot and pepper. 'Cause that's how we do it, esé.
Servez-le avec un peu plus du riz et des haricot si nécessaire (mais c'est vraiment pas) ou des chips tortilla natures. Si vous voudriez vraiment être vato loco, mettez sur le plat des radis roses et des carottes et piments marinés. Car c'est comment on le fait, esé.

Other than the tortilla (notice how we had to use an undersized whole wheat abomination by Old El Paso, as that's all that was available at Monoprix on a holiday evening) all of these ingredients are easy to get just about anywhere. Even Paris. So you have no excuse - none whatsoever - for making a bad burrito. On the off chance that you're a Parisian restaurateur reading this, let us know when you start making burritos this way, and we'll send a ton of business to you.
Autre que la tortilla (remarquez comment on a utilisé une abomination toute petite en blé, faite par Old El Paso car c'était la seule chose disponible chez Monoprix pendant un jour ferié) tous les ingrédients sont facile à trouver n'importe ou. Même Paris. Donc vous n'avez pas d'excuse - pas de tout - pour faire un mauvais burrito. Sur la petite chance que vous êtes un restaurateur parisien qui lit ce billet, signalez-nous quand vous commencez à faire les burritos à cette façon. Nous vous apportons plein de clientèle.

08 November 2009

Brown Town Three-Way

This is our first bilingual post, based upon a little challenge I threw out on Twitter the other day. You see, ever since Alannah and I moved to France, I can count on one hand how many good brownies we've had: None.
Ceci est notre premier billet bilingue, basé sur un petit defi j'ai lancé sur Twitter il y a quelques jours. Depuis que nous avons démenagé à France, je peux compter sur mes doigts exactement combien de bonne brownie on a mangé : Aucun.

When we arrived, a fellow American transplant at work told me at lunch never to order the brownie. "Here?" I asked, referring to the restaurant. "Anywhere in France," he replied. Ouch!

Lorsque nous sommes arrivés, un collegue aussi muté des États-Unis m'a dit pendant le déjeuner de ne jamais commander une brownie. "Ici ?" je lui ai demandé, au sujet du resto. "Non," il m'a dit. "Nulle part en France." Ai !

He was right, though. Nearly two years later, there's not a good brownie to be found. So imagine my excitement when I saw this tweet announcing that a French person was sharing her recipe for real brownies! Not that I needed such a recipe, but I was excited to see that the French have finally figured out how to make brownies.

Mais il a eu raison. Presque deux ans plus tard, je n'ai jamais trouvé de bon brownie. Donc imaginez mon excitation quand j'ai vu ce tweet, disant qu'une française partage sa recette du vraie brownie! Bah oui, je n'ai pas besoin d'une recette, mais j'étais ravi à voir que les français ont enfin appris comment faire la brownie.

I clicked the link and... Dammit! There's baking powder in there! That's a cake! If there's one hard and fast rule about brownies, it's that they don't contain any leavening.

J'ai cliqué le lien et ... Putain ! Il y a de la levure ! C'est un gâteau ! S'il y a un seul règle pour faire la brownie, c'est qu'elles ne contient pas de levure.

I know the French know what they're doing when they bake. They are undeniably the best bakers in the world. This is because they are steeped in tradition and are not keen on bending rules. And that's the problem. The brownie was born of a mistake. Someone forgot to put in the baking powder when making a chocolate cake and voila! There's your brownie.

Je sais que les français savent bien qu'est-ce qu'ils font avec un four. Ils sont sans doute les meilleurs pâtisseurs du monde - c'est incontournable - parce qu'ils sont trempés dans la tradition et ils ne sont pas accoutumés à casser les règles. Et ça c'est le problème. La brownie était née d'une betisse. Quelqu'un a oublié de mettre de la levure dans la pâte d'un gâteau au chocolat, et voila ! La brownie !

@ParisLovesMe said that I, then, should give her a recipe. And I said I'd make some this weekend and even take pictures. The only trouble is... I don't bake, and I rarely use recipes.
@ParisLovesMe m'a dit, donc, que je doit lui donner une recette. Et j'ai dit que je vais faire des brownies ce week-end, et je même prendrais des photos. Le seul problème est ... Je ne fais pas la pâtisserie, et j'utilise rarement les recettes.

So I turned to a couple of my go-to cooks for inspiration: Alton Brown for his scientific, purist approach to American classics, and Thomas Keller for his refined technique. Both offer what I would call an "ultimate" brownie recipe, so I would take the best of both and create my even more ultimate recipe. The figures below are extrapolated for use with an 8.5" round cake pan (because that's what Alannah brought from the US), from Brown and Keller's original recipes for 8" and 9" square cake pans, respectively.
Alors, j'ai cherché l'inspiration de deux cuisiniers : Alton Brown pour sa méthode américaine puriste et scientifique et Thomas Keller pour sa technique raffinée. Les deux proposent ce que j'appelle les recettes "ultimes", et je combinerais toutes les deux dans notre propre recette plus ultime. Les chiffres ci-dessous ont été extrapolés pour utiliser un moule de gateau rond de 8.5"/22cm (car c'est ce qu'Alannah a apporté des USA), contre les recettes originales de Brown et Keller pour les moules carrés de 8"/20cm et 9"/20cm respectivement.

sugar/sucre en poudre
brown sugar/
sucre foncé

cocoa powder/
cacao en poudre

(60% cacao)

vanilla extract/
extrait de vanille
45 min @ 300ºF/
150ºC/th. 5
40-45 min @ 350ºF/
180ºC/th. 6
40 min @ 325ºF/
160ºC/th. 5.5

All three recipes ways require that you beat the hell out of the eggs and fully integrate with the sugar until creamy.

Toutes les trois recettes demandent que vous fouttez les oeufs vigoureusement, et les integrer compètement avec le sucre, jusqu'à il soit crémeux.

Alton Brown's recipe is incredibly simple: Melt the butter and mix in with all of the wet ingredients. Sift together all the dry ingredients, then fold in all of the wet.

La recette d'Alton Brown est incroyablement simple : Fondez le beurre et mélangez-le avec les autres ingrédients humides. Tamisez ensemble les ingrédients secs, puis ajoutez tous les humides.

Thomas Keller's approach calls for melting half the butter, then pouring the melted butter over the solid butter and working it into a mostly consistent, creamy mixture, with lumps of solid butter throughout. The butter mixture is then added - alternating with the sifted dry ingredients - into the egg/sugar/vanilla bowl. Chopped up chocolate chunks are added at the very end.

La méthode de Thomas Keller exige que vous fondez la moitié du beurre, et mélangez-le avec le beurre solide à faire une crème assez consistent, mais avec des petites morceaux de beurre partout. Le mélange est puis ajouté - alterné avec les ingrédients secs - dedans le bol des oeufs/sucre/vanille. Le chocolat - haché en morceaux - est ajouté à la fin.

For the Tavallai version, we went with Keller's more professional technique of folding dry goods and butter into the egg/sugar/vanila mixture. However, I used a whisk to cream the melted and solid butter together - almost whipped - for a smoother butter that marbled into the bowl. Again, the chocolate chunks are added at the end.

Pour la version Tavallai, nous avons suivi la technique plus professionelle de Keller, en mettre les ingrédients secs alterné avec le beurre dans le melange oeuf/sucre/vanille. Cependent, j'ai fouetté le beurre fondu et le beurre solide, comme une crème presque montée, pour un effet marbré dans le bol. Encore, les morceaux du chocolat sont ajoutés à la fin.

As expected with its cocoa-heavy recipe, the Brown version came out very dark, and was difficult to set in the pan because of its concrete-like thickness. The Keller batter was much more fluid, and in every step of the way, much lighter in color. Our version was exactly in the middle.
Comme prévu avec sa recette pleine du cacao, la version Brown était très foncée, et c'était un peu dificile à mettre carrement dans le moule à cause de son épaisseur bétonesque. La pâte lisse Keller était bien plus fluide, et à chaque etape, plus claire en couleur. Notre version restait precisement au milieu.

After cooking, the Brown version was expectedly dark and dense, the Keller version lighter in both color and consistency with a beautiful craquelure, and ours again in between with a mild craquelure but a beautiful two-tone coloring. The chocolate chunks remain solid and visible.
Après la cuisson, la version Brown était foncée et dense comme prevue, la version Keller plus légère et plus claire avec une belle craquelure, et le nôtre encore au milieu avec un effet craquelure bien plus doux, mais avec un effet marbré. Les morceaux de chocolat restent solides et visibles.

I "fileted" each brownie round, and we filed the rest into plastic tubs with labels. This way, we can share each kind of brownie with our friends this week to get their opinions. Don't you wish you were in Paris?
J'ai fait des "filets" avec chaque rond de brownie, et puis nous avoins classé les restes dans des boites en plastique avec des étiquettes. Comme ça, nous pouvons partager chaque genre de brownie avec nos amis cette semaine pour prendre leurs avis. Souhaitez-vous que vous étiez sur Paris ?

For the tasting, we had all three of the brownies presented in each of the ways typical of the respective chef. The Alton Brownies plain, the Thomas Keller brownies dusted with powdered sugar as they are at his Ad Hoc restaurant (and in the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook) and ours with Alannah's trademark dark chocolate ganache, which has already been titillating Parisians with its few public appearances... A total of nine different brownies!
Pour la dégustation nous avons présenté tous les trois recettes à la façon de son chef respectif. Les Alton Brownies nature, les brownies Thomas Keller époussetées du sucre glace comme servie à son resto Ad Hoc (et dans son bouquin Ad Hoc at Home) et le nôtre avec sa fameuse ganache au chocolat noir, qui a déjà titillé plein des parisiens pendant quelques apparitions au public ... un total de neuf brownies différentes !

The Alton Brownies were a dense chocolate bomb. Like having your mouth raped by a giant chocolate wang... Only you can't rape the willing. Delicious, but overwhelming.
Les Alton Brownies étaient une bombe de chocolat. Comme faire violer ta bouche par une grosse bite à chocolat ... Seulement c'est impossile de violer les disposés. Delicieux, mais saissisants.

Keller's brownies are near perfect, as you'd expect from a 3-Michelin starred chef, reminiscent of the amazing chocolate Bouchon from his bakery of the same name. However, Alannah found the powdered sugar to simply get in the way of the chocolate, and we both thought the chocolate chunks were a bit too much. Otherwise, the texture is perfection.
Les brownies de Keller sont presque parfaites, comme prevu pour un chef étoilé (3x), réminiscent de son Bouchon de chocolat de sa boulangerie-pâtisserie éponyme. Cependant Alannah a trouvé le sucre glace interférant du goût de chocolat, et nous avons pensé que les morceaux de chocolat étaient un peux trop. Autrement, la texture est la perfection.

And our version? Let's say this is the first and only time that you will hear of Tavallai trumping Keller. Our recipe truly combines the best of both, delivering the dark chocolate punch of Alton Brown's recipe, and nearly matching the excellent texture of the Thomas Keller recipe. And Alannah's ganache just puts it over the top, though it's a wholly unnecessary luxury. The flavor and level of chocolate are perfect, and a dozen grams of tweaking the butter (more) and brown sugar (less) should yield the velvety texture of the Keller brownies.
Et notre version ? Disons que c'est la première et seule fois que vous entendez que Tavallai a battu Keller. Notre recette combine le meilleur des deux autres recettes, livrant le coup de chocolat de la version Brown, et presque appariant l'excellente texture de la recette Thomas Keller. Et la ganache d'Alannah est vraiement extra, mais c'est un luxe complètement inutile. Le goût et le niveau de chocolat sont parfait, et un dizaine de grams de bidouille du beurre (plus) et sucre foncé (moins) devrait rapporter la texture veloutée des brownies Keller.

04 November 2009

Help Us Join the Mile High Club

This post is not about food.

It's about begging and pleading with our little audience to get us on a flight to New York. We promise to tell you all the sordid details about what it's like to fully indulge in all the luxuries of an Air France A380. The champagne. The supposedly-created-by-Alain-Ducaisse meals. How the walls of the lavatory hold up to a little punishment.

Just hit up this post on Omid's travel blog to watch a really short video (yes, Alannah's in it, too, boys) and send us to New York.

We'll love you forever, and throw a feast in your honor.

25 October 2009

Eatin' Ain't Cheatin'

Or so says the lame t-shirt found at tourist traps like Bourbon Street and Times Square.

I fully embraced that philosophy, going sans-Alannah to the United States for a week-long business trip and subsequent (mandatory) few days of R&R in Atlanta and New York, respectively.

Although I love my wife and share in all culinary splendor (and disaster) with her, I wasn't going to go off to a couple of America's great cities without indulging in local specialties. Sorry, babe, but although we share everything, this one's all mine. Gimme gimme gimme!

Things started off with what I thought would be a bang. Around the corner from my Atlanta digs was the celebrated South City Kitchen. "Contemporary southern food," they call themselves. I referred to it as fancified southern standards. And they delivered. Beyond the well-made fried okra (how can you screw that up, really?) and cornbread biscuits, I went for the first thing on my Georgia checklist - Shrimp and Grits, the local specialty. Although at South City, it's shrimp and scallops and grits. It was good. Really good. But tempered by the fact that it's basically the same thing as frutti di mare e polenta. All this time, I'd had shrimp & grits many times before. Just under a different name, with a different accent.

My colleagues who joined me didn't fare as well. The fried catfish was insipid and the accompanying hush puppies should've been called mush puppies. And everything was way over-salted. And as the wife would tell you, I like salt. Yet I was still taken aback by how many gigantic glasses of ice water I had to put down. On a more positive note, another colleague went separately and raved about the buttermilk fried chicken. I told him to go to Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc in Yountville, California to try TKFC (Thomas Keller Fried Chicken) before delivering a verdict.

Overall, South City was nice for what it is. I'd recommend it for people seeking upscale southern food, but to me, the food from below the Mason-Dixon line should be down and dirrrty. Cheap and satisfying.

Before hunkering down for work, I took some French colleagues on a shopping safari on Sunday. We ended up at a fancy mall in Buckhead, but in true southern style, the food court was anything but fancy. I sidled up to the first joint handing out free samples of southern vittles. "Woah! That's all salt!" Disappointed, I went to my old food court fallback from the States, chicken teriyaki from Sarku.

Even the normally acceptable teriyaki here was loaded with enough salt to put a normal human (i.e. a West Coaster) in a hospital. And to top it all off, they didn't use Japanese rice but cheap, dry jasmine rice. Fortuanately, the "medium" beverage was about the size of my gigantic head, so I was able to wash it down.

Back at my hotel, I wasn't prepared to pay $23 for banquet-quality biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Even when on an expense account, I simply couldn't go for the hotel breakfasts on principle.

Lo and behold, just behind the hotel there was yet another food court. And there, I found (at breakfast time) the $1.50 chicken biscuit.

And it was good. Damn good. It was salty as all hell, and eating fried chicken for breakfast probably shortened my life more than most other risky behavior I engage in. But it was worth it. With each bite of the chicken biscuit, I fully accepted that for the coming week, I would be eating food with a 50% sodium content, and that I should just roll with it.

Then I had the home fries.

No. Seasoning. Whatsoever.

WTF? Seriously? I get my tastebuds blasted with salt, Accent, and god knows what else for a couple of days, and I'm served a salty southern standard like home fries with no taste at all?

Granted, I got this at a place called Goldberg's Deli, but c'mon. If they can do a moist, delicious chicken biscuit, how could they not get home fries right? Its saving grace was the inclusion of fresh red and green bell peppers: The only non-deep-fried vegetables I'd seen since whatever it was I'd been served on the plane a few days before.

After a couple of days of pretty-but-bland banquet food, an old colleague and a customer and I got to talking about our predilection for eating. We decided we had to go "off-campus" for a real southern breakfast, and said place would be the famous Flying Biscuit. (Waffle House was too far...)

Despite being a chain, the Flying Biscuit is good. Friendly service full of genteel southern charm, good coffee and fresh orange juice (the hotel only had that horrible carton stuff), excellently executed scrambles, creamy grits, and - of course - huge biscuits.

I have to admit, though, that I prefer Alannah's biscuits. They're rounder, more tender, and feel better in the mouth. But after the rollercoaster of food over the preceding days, it was nice to get a meal that was consistent through and through.

Several more days of hotel banquet and room service followed, with nothing to really keep me salivating. This is probably a good thing, because I had tons of work to do. I didn't need to spend my days and nights in a constant state of food coma. Or salt-induced hypertension.

As the last day of the conference rolled around on Friday, I said goodbye to my European colleagues. I'd be staying on for a few days of vacation time, with one last night in Atlanta to spend with my US chums.

I was looking forward to that. I love our life in Paris, but what I miss most about the US (besides all the great places I know I can pig out) are my friends, and I was excited to spend an additional night with them, free of the burdens of work.

I was doubly excited that we were to dine at Abbatoir. When looking up what to eat in Atlanta, this came in as the only trendy restaurant outside of the spectrum of traditional southern food that I felt I had to try. Their name meaning "slaughterhouse," they specialize not only in meats but also in the off-cuts, so as not to waste the animal. I was really looking forward to eating at what may be the southeast's version of Incanto. The buzz was great.

Unfortunately, there was no offal on the menu that night. The closest it came was a plate of charcuterie, which was comparable to what you could get at a downmarket tourist dive in France.

One dish I did find peculiar and interesting and ultimately tasty was the pickled shrimp. I'd eaten pickled just-about-everything on my trip to Japan, but not shrimp. This dish was certainly the "oddball" highlight of this trip.

The rest of the food at Abbatoir is excellent, by the way, if not very inventive or adventurous.

Sorry, Atlanta, but I just couldn't find foodie adventure in your neck of the woods.

Fortunately, it was off to New York City the next morning.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find my excitement.

After a grueling week of work and eating crap in the South, the lack of sleep and blood-salt content were getting to me. I got to my friend's East Village apartment and cuh-rashed!

It was a beautifully sunny Saturday, though, so we eventually motivated and made our way to the new Highline park on the west side. Before we climbed up to the park itself (it's elevated, on an old stretch of railroad track, not unlike the Promenade Plantée at the Viaduc des Arts in Paris) I spotted a sight familiar to street food junkies: The Van Leeuwen ice cream truck.

Being a total foodiot, I jumped at the chance to buy $4-a-scoop ice cream out of a dodgy truck. I even convinced my skeptical buddy I should buy him a scoop. I got the Giandujia (chocolate & Piemonte hazelnuts). He got the espresso, and also got over his skepticism.

Truth be told, Van Leeuwen is very good, but nowhere near the best. I'm a spoiled bastard nowadays, living so close to Paris' amazing Deliziefollie, where Alannah and I satisfy many a nocturnal craving. And they've actually won "best in Europe" awards. Trend vs. experience: Experience wins.

Dinnertime meant a trip on the L to Brooklyn. Specifically, the hipster hell known as Williamsburg. But I was willing to put up with so-not-even-ironic-anymore trucker hats and mustaches and morons who don't know how to ride their fixies for some good barbecue at Fette Sau.

Fette Sau is German for "fat pig," but the menu is less German (save for the warm potato salad and sauerkraut) and more pig. Or more accurately, you're guaranteed to walk out feeling like a fat pig.

You order food by the pound, and it's served on big metal platters, alongside jelly jars of beer or whiskey from their extensive bar menu. Seating is Biergarten style on communal picnic benches (another German aspect, I guess). We ordered a half pound of brisket, a quarter pound of barbecued ham, another quarter of pork belly, a tub of beans, a basket of potato salad, and another basket of kraut. Between the two of us, we were destroyed. And I'd forgotten to order the slab of ribs we initially wanted. Which would have killed us.

But apparently I have a death wish, as we rolled ourselves over to Hotel Delmano for a round of St. George absinthe.

Absinthe is legal in the US now, but the market is flooded with many pretenders that don't even contain wormwood. St. George, made in Alameda, CA of all places (right next to Oaktown in the 510) is considered among the best out there, often ranked above some of the finest absinthes from Switzerland.

Any more than one glass - beautifully rendered with water and sugar dripped through the traditional slotted spoon - and I would've been a goner for sure.

Sadly, I did come across one casualty during the trek across Williamsburg:

Good barbecue, good absinthe, and respect paid to the passing of Gourmet magazine? Perhaps Williamsburg isn't the hipster hell I thought it to be. In fact, I found it less pretentious and annoying than the gentrified-by-trustafarians neighborhoods in both San Francisco and Paris. I wouldn't hesitate to go back.

The morning after required some caffeinated revival. Fortunately, my friend's place is around the corner from Ninth Street Espresso. As I waited in line, I drew parallels between NSE and San Francisco's Blue Bottle, which incidentally was around the corner from my place. Both take a ridiculous amount of pride in their coffee. Both take a ridiculous amount of time making it. Both have ridiculously simple menus. Bless them for that.

But in my opinion, NSE hands Blue Bottle its ass. And I love Blue Bottle. I'd take BB coffee over that of the finest Parisian cafés any day. Yet NSE puts them to shame. Rich, robust, expertly pulled. Yeah, so the guy behind the counter is wearing a trucker hat. Just because you look like a douche doesn't mean you can't make the best espresso or macchiato outside of Italy. (For fancypants, they have a location at the over-hyped and underwhelming Chelsea Market on the west side.)

But you know how it goes: Looks are always deceiving. That's the great thing about a food safari. You hit up the obvious places, and sure they're good, but sometimes it's the unpolished joints that are the true marvels. Like the Halal Guys food cart.

The "halal cart," as it's most often called, is no secret. They're a street food phenomenon, and street food itself is the hottest thing among foodies since Giada and Nigella rubbed their prosciutto-wrapped melons against one another. (Ok, that never happened, but that's how hot street food is right now.) Even in the wee hours of the night, people queue up to get a chicken and rice platter off of what's most often called a roach coach, and it's cool to do it. Even when sober.

And it's out of this world. It doesn't look like much, but the chicken is perfect. The almost biryani-like pile of basmati rice is beautifully seasoned. The hot sauce packs a serious punch. And the particular Halal Guy I dealt with is awesome. He spoke Spanish to the people in front of me. And when I told him how his cart blows away the hundreds of halal takeaways in Paris, he replied to me in French.

The craziest thing is that they set up shop at 53rd and 6th (or 7th during the day, when I went) - smack dab in Midtown Manhattan, home of gaudy chain restaurants, overpriced tourist traps, and that abomination people call Times Square. Right in what I consider the worst part of New York City is some of the best, cheapest food.

Cheap became thematic on this little jaunt. People say New York is expensive... because it is. But look around, and there are deals to be found.

Like $3 drinks at Lit Lounge. For that price, you can afford to while the hours away, boozing it up while you wait for your turn to eat at a Lower East Side hotspot like Ippudo.

The Akamaru Modern ramen (with a supplement of kakuni pork belly) at Ippudo is far and away the best ramen I've had outside of Japan. Places in the San Francisco Bay Area try pretty hard to make good ramen, and they do pack the house. And Paris is growing its own respectable ramen house scene around Rue Sainte-Anne. But none of the joints in those places come remotely close to what Japan's "Ramen King" Shigemi Kawahara has going in NYC. After a bowl of Akamaru and a side of Hirata buns, I didn't even want to bother with nearby Momofuku Noodle Bar for a comparison.

The next day was decidedly more downscale. I met up with a friend (and fellow San Francisco transplant) for lunch. His venue of choice: Wogie's. For cheesesteaks.

What? Cheesesteaks in New York? Why not just hop the train to Philly?

I looked them up and read repeatedly that Wogie's does cheesesteaks even better than the standard-bearers in the City of Brotherly Love. I confirmed with my friend. "See you at Wogie's."

I made my way to the West Village and we hooked up at the cheesesteak joint in question. One of the party recommended I have mine with Cheez Wiz in lieu of real cheese. There were two ways of handling this. Being the Parisian cheese snob that I have become and turning my nose up at the concept... Or being who I truly am and say, "Oh, what the hell? I can't get this crap at home!"

And so we had cheesesteaks with cheeselike-substance on them.

It was the most horrific thing I'd eaten in some time. Mind you, I was just in the south, and this thing still seemed horrific in comparison. But it scratched a certain itch that I didn't even know I had. Sometimes you just have to try disgusting, taboo things to find out that they're not that bad. And in fact, pleasurable. Especially with a gigantic beverage with free-refills to wash the ooze down your gullet.

After lunch I made my way downtown, walking off my who-knows-what-was-in-it lunch through Battery Park, Ground Zero, and southern Manhattan in general. I happened upon a bookstore and decided to pick up a little something. Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home (see reference to Ad Hoc above) had come out ahead of schedule. Early in our relationship, Alannah told me the only way she'd forsake me is to eat at Ad Hoc. I got her the book, so I'm guessing now she'll never go astray.

I made my way back to the East Village, making a pitstop across from Tompkins Square Park to pick up a famous chocolate egg cream from Ray's Candy Shop.


I'd tweeted about how underwhelmed I was by this New York classic, first off being truthful but secondly hoping to get a rise out of my New-York-is-the-center-of-the-universe-and-how-dare-you-question-anything-from-here friends. But instead, I got a whole lot of agreement.

The going theory, as far as I'm concerned, is that the egg cream is something tourists order, and once we leave the place, the shopkeepers laugh mightily.

By the way, an egg cream contains neither egg nor cream. Discuss.

I rounded out my last daylight hours in New York with a true American classic: The Budweiser tall-boy.

After all, everyone should drink at least 32 oz. of water by the end of the day...

Before catching my red-eye flight back to Paris, we had a quick dinner at Cafe Orlin. Burgers, booze, and a bafflingly bubbly blonde server were my last taste of New York City.

I came back home exhausted. Bloated. A few pounds heavier. And in serious need of sleep. But I also came back with a mission: To get back to New York. And eat it. All of it.