Monday, February 23, 2009

More on the Marais.

Earlier today, S.HOPtalk posted an interview with Little Brown Pen's Nichole Robertson. Nichole and her husband recently picked up stakes and moved from Montclair, New Jersey to rue St. Paul in the Marais, in central Paris.

Loyal readers will remember how much I love the Marais, and can probably guess how jealous I am of Nichole. But, that won't stop me from sharing her great recommendations for your next visit to Paris, including a stop or two in that most excellent neighborhood.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chocolate as art, in the frozen north.

I spent the weekend back home in my native New England - my friend Ginelle turned 30 on Thursday, and so I headed north to attend her surprise birthday party. On Friday, my (duly surprised) hostess and I visited our alma mater's campus and then headed to downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire for some lunch and, of course, CANDY!

One very windy, icy walk later, we arrived at Byrne & Carlson, a chocolatier and confectioner with a tiny, jewel-like shop in one of the old brick houses that line Portsmouth's seaside streets. The shop is lined from floor to ceiling with truffles, French lollipops, bars of Belgian, African and French chocolate, and bags of old-fashioned penny candy.

After a leisurely browse through the wares (and after sampling some dark chocolate nonpareils and a paprika-spiked truffle), I bought three pieces of caramallow (homemade marshmallow dipped in caramel and enrobed in dark chocolate), a bar of the French Eighty-Five (dark chocolate with an 85% cacao content), and a bag of the most delicious, fruity Gummi Bears I've ever tasted.

I have yet to break out the French Eighty-Five, but I can tell you that the Gummi Bears were, without doubt, the best I have ever had. They taste like fruit and sugar, and not at all like preservatives or over-processed syrups. The caramallows were fluffy, chewy, and sweet, but tempered by the slight bitterness of the chocolate shell.

Now, I know that most of my readers are not able to make it up to Portsmouth terribly often, so I wanted to let you know that Byrne & Carlson (thankfully) offer their delicious creations for delivery via their website. Go to it, online chocolate shoppers!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When inspiration strikes.

A few weeks ago, I spied this post on the (always entertaining) blog Internet Food Association. The idea of bourbon combined with caramel, buttercream and cake was pretty much irresistible to this boozehound. I decided to try my hand at my own version. They turned out pretty darn good - not too big, not too sweet, and just rich enough.

For the cupcakes, I used Nigella Lawson's phenomenally simple fairy cakes recipe. If there's an easier recipe in existence for making cupcakes from scratch, I've yet to find it. One batch of the recipe yields twelve small cupcakes, and nine medium-sized ones. (Skip the Royal Icing, obviously, unless you're skipping the buttercream!)

The buttercream was Gourmet's brown sugar buttercream - I first made this frosting as part of their legendarily (at least in my circle of friends) delicious blackberry brown sugar cake. It takes time (you'll be dropping butter into your mixer for about 15 or 20 minutes), but it's not difficult. The frosting keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, and is good for two batches of the fairy cakes.

The one piece of special equipment you need is a candy/deep-frying thermometer. The buttercream starts with a base of whipped egg whites, into which you stream piping hot sugar syrup. If the syrup isn't at the right temperature (about 248 degrees Fahrenheit), the frosting will be either grainy or soupy.

Finally, look up any recipe for caramel sauce (mine was an improvised version that used milk instead of cream), and stir a tablespoon of bourbon in at the end.

To assemble, let the fairy cakes cool completely, then frost generously with the buttercream. Drizzle with as much caramel as you like (you may want to place the cakes on parchment paper or aluminum foil while you do this, for the sake of your countertops), and eat. Cakes will keep - stored in an airtight container, at room temperature - for a few days.

Kitchen Lust: Le Parfait storage jars.

When in doubt, go French. This applies to pretty much everything in life: food, wine, travel, stockings, kissing, and, of course, kitchen storage.

A few weeks ago, I tired of shoving my coffee beans into Ziploc bags and nestling them into the tiny bits of spare room available in my kitchen cabinets. I had some free real estate on my counter (thanks to my mother's donation of an antique secretary for my living room, in which I have stashed, among other things, my mug o' writing utensils), so I decided to monopolize it with two Le Parfait storage jars.

Why two? Well, one for my espresso beans, and one for my regular coffee. The jars are gorgeous - well-propotioned, sturdy, stackable. Just looking at them makes me smile, and the ergonomically friendly latch ain't nothin' to sneeze at, either.

You can find Le Parfait jars on the Fante's Cookware website. Just click here and scroll down till you find the "Le Parfait Canning Jars."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Damn straight.

My eagle-eyed friend Andrea alerted me to this most excellent piece on the traditional martini, published yesterday in the Washington Post. Jason Wilson, travel writer and Spirits columnist, stands up for the classic drink, decrying the crappy post-WWII "dry martini" craze.

Like any sane martini drinker, Wilson likes a martini - not a glass of chilled gin or vodka, but a cocktail containing actual measurable amounts of vermouth, and sometimes even bitters. And it should be stirred, not shaken. And it should be made with gin, not vodka.

On that last point, Wilson has this to say: "I hate to break it to you, but there simply is no such thing [as a vodka martini]. The martini certainly is more a broad concept than a specific recipe, but there must be two constants: gin and vermouth. Beyond correctness, vodka and vermouth are just a terrible match. So call that drink whatever you'd like, but please don't call it a martini."

He also calls out the particularly annoying habits people have developed when it comes to ordering a dry martini. "Does any cocktail invite more bloviation than the Very Dry Martini? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know how you take your martini, Gramps: no vermouth. I should just whisper the word 'vermouth' while I mix it? Never heard that one before!"

As someone who gets really, really annoyed by all of these things and thinks a spade should be called a spade, I loved this piece. It spoke to my misanthropic disdain for those who drink vodka shaken with ice and call it a martini.

I echo Wilson's sentiments: drink whatever you enjoy, but don't try to slap the martini label on it in order to make yourself seem sophisticated. There's no need, really, and all you're doing is making it harder for me to order a real martini without giving the bartender a detailed set of instructions.

Photo courtesy of nicholas.m.carlson on flickr.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Paris, as seen by Design*Sponge.

Design*Sponge posted an awesome, incredibly comprehensive guide to Paris today. They don't mention Camille, but nobody's perfect.
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