13 January 2009

Sticky Sweet: Chocolate Starfish

What do you have for a late night dessert after a homemade Mexican dinner?

Craving churros and hot chocolate - but with no churro stand to be found - we improvised.

Alannah makes a ridiculously thick, sweet, dark hot chocolate that borders on being nearly-solid chocolate sauce. You can eat it with your fingers if you don't mind the risk of getting burned. And the risky behavior is worth it.

We'd made doughnuts a couple of nights earlier, so we warmed up some of the star-shaped ones, rolled them in cinnamon and sugar, and laid them in the hot chocolate upon serving. ¡Muy Sabroso!

Alannah's Hot Tamales

It's not a sexual proposition but an honest-to-god question uttered by many Californians in Paris: "Whose dick do I have to suck to get some decent Mexican food around here!?"

99.9% of Mexican food in Europe is laughable at best. And for that .1% that isn't, you either have to be the ambassador from Mexico, loaded... or invited into our house. (So that should answer the question above...)

We've tracked down some South American corn masa, but for the proper Mexican stuff, we've stooped to trading favors. And with what little dignity we have, we make our own tortillas and Alannah makes tamales. While a simple concept overall, making a tamal is no simple task. It takes some agile fingers and a deft touch to roll just the amount of masa, cheese, and saucy meat filling into a corn husk - and most importantly, to tie it off with a little strand of more corn husk.

Alannah's good at this. Damn good. Especially since she cooks her carnitas all day in cast iron pot.

After that, it's easy - steam, peel, and eat. Maybe with some crema fresca and fresh avocados or guacamole. Luckily, those are easily available in France. No special favors necessary.

12 January 2009

We Did It All for the Gnocchi

There's nothing quite as warming on a winter night as when Alannah works a big, hard piece of meat until it gives out and goes totally soft, left to swim in its juices until sopped up...

We're talking of course, about tough stewing beef - combined with aromatics and wine and cooked for hours and hours in a cast-iron pot. The anticipation for such a dish can be maddening... What's a couple to do while they're waiting seemingly forever for their daube de boeuf to be ready?

Make gnocchi, of course.

As expected for anyone's first time, it was pretty messy... but surprisingly not very painful. A little mashing, a lot of kneading, and about a thousand attempts to roll the "little pillows" off the back of a fork to get it just so.

At the end, a beautiful, chocolate brown daube over tender, handmade gnocchi.

Behind the Scenes
Making a beef daube is easy. Take hunks of the cheapest stewing meat you can find, and sautée it in a Dutch oven or cast iron pot with diced aromatics like onion, carrots and celery. Once they've got a good sheen to them and the meat is browned on the outside, dump in a bottle of dry red wine. You can go cheap here, too, but as a rule, don't go any cheaper than what you'd take to one of your Craigslist casual encounters dates. (i.e. nothing less than $4 or €3 a bottle) The secret: Throw in a square or two of dark chocolate. But no more, unless you want your meat to taste like Chocolate Salty Balls. Then slide the pot into a medium-high oven and let it stew for hours - don't pull out!

Gnocchi - like an Italian woman -is a bit more involved and needs a lot of attention. Boil and mash some potatoes. Prepare a large mixing bowl with some flour and an egg. Add your mashed potatoes and work into a dough. Keep working it until its consistent and has a pasta dough-like consistency. If necessary, sprinkle in more flour as you go along. Once you think you're done (you're probably not!), take balls of the dough and roll them out into long rods, no more than 3/4" or 2cm in diameter. With a sharp knife, slice off little cylinders - about the size of gnocchi. If you ask a guy, they should be about 6" in length. A girl will tell you more accurately that it's less than an inch. Roll the little cylinders along the tines of the back of a fork to get the little ridges that gnocchi - for some reason - is supposed to have. (Told you it's complicated!) Then lay on a dish or tray with lots of flour sprinkled around so they don't stick together, until it's time to give them a very quick boil, just before serving.

11 January 2009

No Holes Barred

It's nearly impossible to find a good doughnut in Paris. Hell, it was hard finding good doughnuts in the States. (You Voodoo Donut fans can suck it...)

So we had to do a little DIY and fry up our own. Then shake them in cinnamon and sugar. Then have multiple mouthgasms.

Admittedly, this was no easy task.

We had to keep an eye on the oil/candy thermometer (absolutely crucial), and the optimal temperature was different for each batch of dough used. Eventually, we found that round doughnuts weren't as tasty as doughnut holes and puffy little stars.