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3.31.2008

Right this minute

So, last week, when I said that Brandon and I didn’t really plan, per se, to go to Brussels, I inadvertently left a little something out of the story. What I should have said, in retrospect, is that we did have plans for a vacation, but they didn’t involve Brussels. They involved San Francisco.



Sometime last fall, we decided that we needed a vacation. March sounded like a good time to aim for - soon enough, but safely past the hubbub of the holidays - and so we started poking around online, looking for airfare to somewhere relaxing. We sort of ran wild with the whole idea, really, mulling over Mexico and Spain and New Zealand, but as you might expect, everything was stunningly expensive. Like, please-pass-the-smelling-salts expensive. So we recalculated and decided that a simple road trip would do. In fact, a road trip to San Francisco would more than do: there would be palm trees and possibly even sun, and we both have family to stay with nearby, and then, you know, there’s also plenty to eat. So we started making plans. Brandon’s father even got in on the action, deciding to fly from New Jersey to Seattle and join us for the drive down the coast. We were going on vacation! To San Francisco! And then, of course, I went out for prosecco and pizza with our friend Olaiya, and she had found cheap tickets to Brussels, and after that, uh, we were going on vacation! To Brussels and Paris!

But Brandon’s dad had already bought his plane ticket, and it would have been cruel to make him cancel. And between you and me, it’s kind of hard to say no to a drive down the Oregon coast, to the promise of sandy beaches shrouded in fog and root beer on tap at the Rogue Brewery. So we went to Brussels and Paris. And then, last week, we three piled in the car and came, winding through the redwoods and eating way too many M&Ms and jelly beans, to California, where I sit right now, on my cousin Katie’s couch in Oakland. There are palm trees, and the sun is shining, and though I woke up this morning under a haze of dread, thinking of the loads of work I should have been doing last week when I was instead driving along the coast and eating fistfuls of Easter candy, for a Monday, it’s not bad. I mean, as Brandon’s aunt Pam said a couple of nights ago, when we sat lazily around a table in Santa Rosa and played cards for four hours, why do today what can be done tomorrow? (She then proceeded to completely thrash us at Quadruple Solitaire.)



Anyway. Where I really meant to go with all this - because I know you’re wondering - is here: artichokes. Have you seen them in the market yet? Because California is apparently crawling with them. Because they’re coming into season right this minute, and unlike some things, they cannot wait until tomorrow, or at least not if you like them as much as I do.

The half-eaten, oddly lit beauty above was my dinner last night, along with some scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, and approximately one quarter (and entirely too little) of a very, very tasty bottle of rosé. Brandon and I had planned to cook dinner for my cousin and aunt, something easy and springlike, and yesterday morning, as though on cue, a little light bulb in the shape of an artichoke clicked on over my head. So we walked to Berkeley Bowl - what I would not give, I swear, to live out my days within walking distance of Berkeley Bowl - and found not one but three different sizes of artichokes, plus a separate display of fat globes with long stalks still attached, artichokes like strange, alien roses. For the right bride, I found myself thinking, they would make a very nice bouquet. They were plump and round and heavy, much prettier than their stalkless cousins, so we came home with four of them. Then we lopped off their stalks, snipped away their thorns, and steamed them until their leaves pulled easily from the choke. I guess we could have eaten them plain, but we’d just been given a bag of homegrown Meyer lemons, and it seemed sort of reckless to ignore them. So we scanned Katie’s cupboards, and while the artichokes were steaming, we made a Meyer lemon aioli. Which, come to speak of it, is what I really want to tell you about, even beyond the artichokes.

I forgot to mention this a couple of weeks ago, back when the issue hit the stands, but my column in the April issue of Bon Appétit is on the subject of mayonnaise. And while I understand that mayonnaise is a contentious subject - haters, I know you’re out there, because I once walked among you - I don’t want to let the month slip by without mentioning it, because making my own mayonnaise, or aioli in this case, is among the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in the kitchen. (Second only to my first kiss with Brandon, which took place in front of the dishwasher in my old apartment. And maybe also to standing at the counter and eating ice cream straight from the carton. Maybe.) It seems daunting, I know, the thought of turning oil and raw egg into something pleasantly edible, but once you get started, there’s nothing to be afraid of - or, at least, nothing but the possibility that you might fall madly in love with it. I speak from experience.

Anyway, we started last night with my usual mayonnaise formula, and from there we sort of played around, using a good dose of Meyer lemon juice, plus smashed garlic and a small palmful of zest. Then we spooned it into a bowl and passed it around the table, scooping it up on the warm, meaty leaves. And then, when the leaves were gone, we dragged the soft, dense hearts through it too. It’s my favorite kind of dinner, really: the kind that gets your hands dirty and makes a mess of the table, the kind that makes everyone go quiet, chewing and gnawing and tugging with their teeth. I guess it goes without saying that we won’t be planning - or not planning - any more vacations for a while, but so long as there are artichokes to be had in Seattle, I’m ready to be home.


Meyer Lemon Aioli
Adapted from Bon Appétit, April 2008

You could make aioli - or mayonnaise, for that matter - in a blender, but I like to do it by hand. For one thing, it’s kind of fascinating, in a totally geeky way, to feel the emulsion come together under your whisk, taking on body and oomph, growing silky and thick. And though it’s a major arm workout, it’s so simple to do, and so satisfying, that I’ve just never felt inspired to pull out the blender. To make it especially easy, I like to wet a dishtowel, fold it, and place it under the bowl to steady it, so that I can pour the oil with one hand and whisk with the other without the bowl jumping all over the counter.

1 medium garlic clove
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp. Meyer lemon juice
¼ tsp. champagne or white wine vinegar, or to taste
Heaping ¼ tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. salt, or to taste
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 medium Meyer lemon, or to taste

If you have a garlic press, press the garlic clove. If you do not have a garlic press, mince the clove finely; then sprinkle it with a pinch of salt and smash it a bit with the side of your knife, so that it softens to a dense paste.

In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, egg yolk, Meyer lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and salt. Whisk briefly, until the mixture is bright yellow and well blended, about 15 to 30 seconds.

Now, start adding the oil. It is absolutely crucial that you add it very slowly. For the first ¼ cup, add it impossibly slowly – only a few drops at a time – and whisk constantly. Make sure that each addition of oil is fully incorporated before you add any more. (Your arm will get tired, yes, but don’t worry; you can stop to rest as often as you need to.) As the oil is incorporated, the mixture should begin to lighten in color and develop body, thickening tiny bit by tiny bit.

After you have added the first ¼ cup oil, you can increase the speed at which you add it, pouring it in a thin, continuous stream, whisking constantly. Stop every now and then, if you need to, to put down the measuring cup, whisk well, and make sure that the oil is fully incorporated. The mixture should continue to thicken, and by the time you have added all the oil, it should be pale yellow (or yellowy-green, depending on the color of your olive oil), silky and thick. Whisk in the Meyer lemon zest. Taste, and adjust seasoning - vinegar, salt, zest - as needed.

Serve immediately, or cover and chill for up to three days.

Note: For safety’s sake, raw egg is not recommended for infants, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. To avoid the risk of salmonella, buy your eggs from a reputable source, and take care when separating the yolks and whites, so that the contents of the egg do not come in contact with the outer part of the shell. Or use pasteurized egg yolk instead.

Yield: about ¾ cup, or enough for at least four artichoke eaters


***

Olaiya’s Favorite Artichoke Dipping Sauce
Adapted from Good Food

Here’s a little bonus for those of you who like to dip your artichokes in the classic combination of melted butter and lemon juice. This sauce is based on the same concept, but I think it’s even better. Our friend Olaiya found this recipe a few years ago in the British magazine Good Food, and it’s been her favorite accompaniment to artichokes ever since. Feel free to taste and tweak as you go; you hardly need a recipe, really.

½ cup dry white wine
14 Tbsp. (1 ¾ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup finely grated parmesan, or more to taste
Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
Salt

Pour the wine into a medium saucepan. Place over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and whisk in the butter a couple of pieces at a time. Whisk in the parmesan and lemon. Taste, and adjust lemon, parmesan, and salt as needed.

Serve hot, with steamed artichokes.

3.24.2008

That's all

We didn’t really plan to go to Brussels. We were just looking for a vacation, that’s all. Then one December night, over a couple of glasses of prosecco and a pizza, our friend Olaiya happened to tell me that she had just found cheap tickets to Brussels. I don’t make, nor do I intend to make, a habit of mixing alcohol and travel planning, but this I can now say from experience:

Prosecco + 2 Girlfriends + Talk of Cheap Tickets to Brussels =
2 Girlfriends + 1 Husband in Brussels, 2 ½ Months Later.

Not that I have any regrets, mind you. I’m just passing on information.



I had been to Brussels once before, when I was 18 years old, for approximately 36 hours. It was the summer after my high school graduation, and I went backpacking around Europe with my cousin Katie. We started out in London, took a couple of trains and a ferry to Bruges, and then, somewhere around day 8, arrived in Brussels. I remember next to nothing of our brief stay there, save for finding our hostel and showering for the first time in days, eating a mediocre waffle, and having a stranger come up close behind me on a street corner and say, breathing heavily into my ear, what I understood as, “Nice neck.” Of course, as it turns out, the words for “neck” and “ass” sound almost identical in French. But hey, you know, either way. By now, I was long overdue to a return visit.

We met Olaiya a couple of years ago, shortly after she moved to Seattle from Brussels, where she had lived for four years. Olaiya is an effortless cook, the kind of person who seems to stir and whisk as easily as she walks and talks, and her kitchen is filled with remnants of Belgium: recipes for baked eggs and leek confit, old silver spoons and crackly bowls from the flea market at the Place du Jeu de Balle. She was always telling us about Brussels, her old haunts and friends and favorite beers, and sometimes, I knew, she missed it more than she wanted to. Last December, in need of a fix, she started combing the Internet for cheap fares. And then Brandon and I invited ourselves - prosecco, you are the BEST! - to come along.

And then, a few days before our departure date, we all, all three of us, came down with the flu. But we went anyway, and though the flight was miserable - and Brandon and I lost our luggage for a day, and the three of us landed in a graceless, coughing heap on the doorstep of Olaiya’s friend Laurence and completely demolished her supply of honey, lemons, and Nutella and then slept for the better part of 48 hours - in the end, I really, really liked Brussels.



Oddly enough, it reminded me a bit of Seattle. I’ve thought about it for a while, and a fair comparison might be this: that Brussels is to Paris, say, as Seattle is to San Francisco. Let me explain. Seattle and Brussels are both a little gritty around the edges. They’re gray; there’s a lot of construction; and the architecture is an endearingly odd mishmash of old and new. For large cities, they still feel a little quiet somehow, still sort of undiscovered. Both are composed of many small, discrete neighborhoods, but those neighborhoods are fairly spread out, so if you don’t know exactly where to go, you might not find a single thing. (Except Pike Place Market and the Grand Place.) In San Francisco or Paris, on the other hand, you’d be hard-pressed not to find something scenic, exciting, or at least pleasantly edible on most any street corner. (I exaggerate, but not by much.) What I mean by all this is that in Seattle and Brussels, you have to try a little harder. When you do, what you get is every bit as worthy; it just takes a little digging. Which, in its own way, makes it all the more charming.

I don’t have a recipe for you today, but I hope you might not mind. Instead - and in case you find yourself in Brussels one day soon, or maybe just in need of a vacation at your desk - I want to tell you about a few things we found there, with all due credit, bien sûr, to Olaiya.



1. The Moroccan crêpe.

I should begin by saying this: do not underestimate the combined power of fresh goat cheese, honey, and olives. (Or spicy olives, to be specific, coated in something akin to harissa.) It is the trifecta. It will slay you. Several months ago, Olaiya told us about these crêpes - or crêpe-like flatbreads; the sign called them m’semen - and explained that they could be found at a stand at the Marché du Midi on Sunday mornings. They make the best breakfast, she said, and I am happy to report that she did not lie. Warm, messy, and made on the spot, they spill over with soft, tangy cheese, sticky honey, and whole green olives coated in a fragrant, oily sauce that makes your lips burn and tingle. You’ll want to eat it on the spot, hunched over one of the wooden tables behind the stand, and be sure to order a glass of sweet mint tea to wash it all down. If it’s cold outside, and drizzly, the steam from the tea will send up a small mint-scented cloud that hovers over the table while you eat, and that, too, is very nice.

Of course, now that I’ve told you this, I wish I knew the name of the stand, but I’m afraid that I don’t. It also sells dried fruits and olives and marinated vegetables, if that helps, and of the stands selling those items - there are only a few of them - it is the largest. It’s located right near the overpass where the trains go by, next to the woman who sells fresh eggs and butter.



2. Belgians have an impressive way with raw beef. There is a powerful school of thought, I know, that holds that the only way to deal with raw beef is to cook it, but these people will not be daunted. Witness filet américain. Also known as steak tartare, it is a dish composed of minced or ground beef mixed with onions, capers, fresh herbs, and other seasonings, and occasionally an egg yolk. It is also delicious. I had not been terribly interested in eating raw beef before - although I do like a good carpaccio, and my mother loves to steal pinches of raw meatloaf from the mixing bowl - but now I want to eat it forever. Olaiya and Laurence took us to a tavern called Le Trappiste, a classic old place with red leather booths and wooden chairs and waiters with slicked hair and bow ties and vests, and there we chose from three different presentations of filet: the standard one, a mound in the center of the plate, served with toast; the sandwich one, in which the beef is piled onto a baguette; or my favorite, called toast cannibale.

I have been wanting to tell you about this for two weeks now, in part because
“cannibal toast” is the most fun thing to say in the whole, wide world. (Cannibal toast, cannibal toast, CANN-I-BAL TOAST!) Of course, now that I’ve gone and made a big deal about it, I should also tell you that in reality, it’s not nearly as exotic as it sounds. It’s actually kind of dainty. It’s filet on toast points, with a salad in the middle. But it’s outlandishly good - tender and sweet and pleasantly rich, spiked with crisp, briny capers - and with a splash of Worchestershire and a cornichon on the side, you will want to eat it every day. Or at least once a week.

P.S. The fries were also very good.



3. Do not be fooled by the impostor commonly known, in the United States, as the “Belgian waffle.” It is not only inferior, but it bears no resemblance, none whatsoever, to the loveliest of true Belgian waffles, the gaufre de Liège.

In Belgium, there are two general types of waffle: the Brussels, and the Liège. The Brussels waffle is what most of us, in the US at least, would call a Belgian waffle. It is thick and evenly golden, with deep recesses for holding pools of butter or whipped cream or whatnot. Though delicious, is it rarely that remarkable. The Liège waffle, on the other hand, is what you see in the first photograph above, and it is nearly impossible to find outside of Belgium. It is sold on the street as a snack, and it, blessed be, is what people come back from Belgium swooning about. It is made from a rich, yeasted batter and cooked quickly in a heavy iron - often in an oven filled with gas flames - until it is tender and lightly caramelized, with a dense, stretchy crumb that looks a little like that of a particularly rich cinnamon roll. But what really makes it special is that it is sweetened with a particular type of sugar called pearl sugar. When the dough bakes, the little beads of sugar inside soften into sweet, melty pockets, and any beads facing the surface of the hot iron ooze like caramel.

All told, the whole thing is both deadly sweet and deadly, deadly delicious, and if you decide to share it with someone - like, maybe, your spouse - you had better be prepared to duke it out to the last crumb, and believe me, people, it will get dirty. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Oh, and when you buy your waffle, be sure to choose a vendor with a gas oven, not an electric iron. And choose a vendor who is actively making his waffles, not just selling some that he baked, la di da, an hour before. (Belgaufra is a small chain that’s especially good; there are a couple of outposts on rue des Fripiers, not far from the Grand Place.) You want a fresh waffle, still warm from the oven, not a cold (or reheated) specimen. And then you might want another.


Addresses

Le Trappiste
Avenue de la Toison d’Or 3
Open daily

Belgaufra
Multiple locations

3.17.2008

All we ever really want to do

It’s very hard, let me tell you, to know where to begin. I guess it would be smart to start with Brussels, since that’s where we went first, but then, you know, there’s also Paris.



Sometimes when I write about Paris, I worry that I sound like a broken record. You know - saying the same thing over and over, the same thing I always say, the same thing everyone always says about that lovely, gray city. Sometimes I just want to sit quietly, just me and my thoughts, and not say a word. But I’ve never been much good at that, as you might guess. And though my feelings for Paris change a little every time I go back - they get more nuanced, I guess you could say, and a little harder to explain - it’s always 100% love. It’s hard to keep quiet about that.

For the most part, when I’ve been in Paris, I’ve been alone. As a college student there, I lived with a host family, but I spent most of my hours on my own, wandering the narrow streets, poking into bakeries and reading books in the park. Then, the year after college, when I worked in a French public high school, I lived in a tiny studio apartment with only a garden gnome for company. (My landlord had left him on the small terrace outside my window; his name, I was told, was Vincent.) Being in Paris with Brandon, a partner in crime, someone to chat with on street corners and slump against on the subway late at night, made it feel like a different city. Of course, I’d been in Paris with my mother, and with my dad too, but with Brandon, it was somehow entirely new. It felt strange at first, and awkward, like wearing a dress that’s a size too small. But then I started to like it. And then I liked it even more.

For his part, Brandon had lived in Paris too, with a girlfriend - “My Predecessor,” as I like to call her - for several months a few years ago. Like any foreigner who tries to make a home there, he had his share of pleasures and frustrations in the city, and he was nervous, in a way, about going back. That, in turn, made me nervous in all sorts of ways. But somewhere between the baguettes and radishes and bottles of wine, the crappy French TV shows I forced him to watch, the buttery sole meunière at Bistro Paul Bert and the buckwheat beer at Breizh Café, the flea market at Porte de Vanves and the falafel in the park, the musty apartment we rented and the reddish glow of the street lamp outside, we made it new. We ate, and we talked, and we walked. That’s all we ever really want to do, anyway. That’s what vacations are for. So we did it again the next day, and the day after that.



Before we left, I had mentioned here that Brandon and I had differing allegiances when it came to baguettes. His favorite baguette came from a boulangerie called Martin Marcel on rue Saint-Louis en l’île, the main drag on the Île Saint-Louis. My favorite baguette was from Au Levain du Marais, a boulangerie on rue de Turenne, not far from my old apartment. We were vehement in our respective loyalties. We were willing to duke it out, bare our teeth, do anything, really, to defend our baguettes. So a formal taste test was conducted. And as it turned out, we were both completely defeated - slayed, even - by an outsider, a baguette named Eric Kayser.



I had been hearing about Kayser for years - namely that he was the best bread baker ever - but I never gave him a try. I guess he just seemed too famous, somehow, or too beloved. I preferred to keep my cool distance. Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know what I was thinking, trying to deny him. I have learned my lesson.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. There are many great bakers in Paris, and many great breads. We sampled specimens from l’Autre Boulange, Arnaud Delmontel (whose baguette was named the best in Paris in 2007), Jean-Luc Poujauran (now selling only wholesale, sadly), as well as our old beloved boulangeries, just to name a few. They were all delicious. Some were flawless. (Though not - sob! - the baguette from Au Levain du Marais. It was sort of boring, to tell you the truth. Quite tasty, but meh.) But the best baguette, hands down, fingers crossed, tongue tied, you name it, was to be had at Eric Kayser. The crust was thin and crisp; the crumb was chewy, freckled with shiny air bubbles, and perfectly salty; and when you tore off one pointy end - often still warm, fresh from the oven - and bit into it, it crackled in gleeful protest. (Which, I would argue, is what anything worthwhile, or anyone, for that matter, should do when bitten.) On the matter of the baguette, Brandon and I stand totally corrected.



And then, of course, there was the falafel. I am one of those people who has long maintained that L’As du Fallafel makes the very best in Paris. Or anywhere, for that matter. But Brandon insisted that his favorite falafel proprietor, Chez H’anna, just a few doors down the street from L’As, was far superior. Of course, this called for a taste-off. And while I really, really hate to lose, I have to tell you: Brandon was right.

I am pretty sure that some rabid L’As du Fallafel fans are going to come after me now, cursing and screaming and pelting me with bags of pita, but I am not afraid. I have eaten falafel at L’As more times than I care to count - I first went there in 1999 - and while it is very good, it seems to me that it just isn’t what it used to be. The flavors of the various components - the cabbage salads, the hummus, the fried eggplant, the falafel itself - all taste a little muddled, and everything gets drowned under a heavy cloak of tahini sauce. At Chez H’anna, on the other hand, each component tastes fresh and distinct: even lumped together inside a single sandwich, each item still tastes like itself. Plus, in addition to the usual cabbage, they also throw in shredded carrots, cubed cucumber, and a lovely tomato-based sauce of sorts that tastes a bit like salsa, but with a Middle Eastern bent. (Also, don’t forget to ask for hot sauce - sauce piquante - on top; it’s delicious and, despite its name, not too spicy.) We took ours to a park around the corner and ate them in the sun, and Brandon got hot sauce all over his face, which, on the right person, is really kind of charming.



Now, I know this is running on a bit, and you probably have better things to attend to, like working or sleeping or eating ice cream on the couch, but before I leave Paris behind, I should also tell you about The Great Macaron Decision. I consider it a public service.

One of the first specialty pastries I ever tasted in Paris was the macaron. My host mother told me about them, I think, and advised me to go to Ladurée, the famous and very posh tea salon, to try the best ones in town. In the years since, I have eaten a lot of macarons, but none could equal Ladurée. But now, oh, I don’t know what’s happened. Brandon and I tried four mini macarons - praline, caramel, coffee, and pistachio - and all of them were totally, totally lackluster. They were too sweet, for one thing, and the flavors tasted somehow muted, the way voices sound when you’re listening through a wall. We only finished them because the mangled, uneaten bits on the plate looked too sad to leave there. I guess I should have expected as much - I had been warned - but still, I was surprised. Even when I tasted them with my mother last spring, they seemed more interesting somehow. So sad.

But! On the bright side, I can quite confidently tell you that in my personal address book, Pierre Hermé is now the name that sits beside the heading “Best Macaron.” It’s decided. His - pictured above in olive oil, caramel, passion fruit with milk chocolate, and Ispahan - are what every macaron should be. The meringue cookies were crisp, light, and slightly chewy inside; the fillings were smooth, airy, and rich with flavor; and put together in a single mouthful, they tasted impossibly vibrant, a flavor and texture that made me think of fireworks and symphonies and first love and all sorts of other analogies that make me feel like gagging a little. Suffice it to say that they were very, very good.

I could go on and on, but I guess I should leave it there. That’s enough about Paris, I think. But before I bring this to a close, I have to tell you about one more thing.



When Brandon lived in Paris, his favorite breakfast was a particular brand of granola - the cheap Franprix / Leader Price brand - flecked with bits of chocolate. On our first morning in town, he went out immediately in search of some. I was skeptical. Chocolate at breakfast has always seemed wrong to me somehow. It seemed too decadent and lusty, entirely out of place, like watching a sex scene on television when your parents are in the room. But I have now spent eight mornings eating chocolate granola for breakfast, and I have concluded - with all due gratitude to Brandon, my personal granola pusher - that chocolate is, once and for all, perfectly acceptable at any time of day. I had been a doubter for so many years, but now, good lord, I get it. And I think this revelation might, quite possibly, be the cosmic purpose of our marriage.

Chocolate granola took some getting used to, I will admit - that stuff is sweet - but doused in 2% milk, it went down more than easy. Brandon noticed that his usual brand seems to have revised its formula - it isn’t as good as it used to be, he tells me - but still, it was damn fine. (The Monoprix brand, however, was a little better. (Yes, we tried both.)) We ate it every single morning, and when it was gone, we stared mournfully at the box.

And a few days ago, once the jet lag had subsided, I decided to try to recreate it. Now, I know it was only a few weeks ago that I was telling you about my usual granola, so you probably aren’t exactly itching for another one, but I hope you’ll pardon me. It’s entirely worth it, I promise. This recipe is a keeper. And I figure everybody needs a couple of granola recipes up their sleeve, am I right? I mean, hell, breakfast happens every day. You might as well be prepared for it.

Happy week, friends.


French Chocolate Granola

I guess it’s a little unfair to call this granola “French,” since you can buy something similar in Belgium too - and probably, for that matter, pretty much anywhere. Besides, the concept of granola seems pretty all-American, no matter how you tweak it. But because I first had chocolate granola in France, French it’ll be. So there.

This granola is essentially a very good basic recipe - inspired by the Honey Crunch Granola in David Lebovitz’s ice cream book - that’s been tweaked to boost the sweetness ever so slightly, and to include chocolate. It’s quite different from the commercial granola we ate in Paris - much less sugary, for one, and without any ingredients with scary names - but its flavor pushes all the right buttons. It’s toasty, a little sophisticated, and way better, if I may say so, than the specimen that inspired it. We can’t keep our hands out of the jar.

For the chocolate, you’ll want something that’s bittersweet, but not too bittersweet. I think Trader Joe’s bittersweet Pound Plus bar - the big one with the brown wrapper - has the perfect flavor for this recipe: dark, yet still slightly sweet. (The back of the package says that it has a minimum of 54% cocoa solids.) Whatever you use, feel free to chop it to your desired size. I like mine finely chopped, as indicated below, in bits roughly the size of a pencil eraser. But you could go larger or smaller, if you like.

Oh, and consider doubling this recipe. Really. We’re plowing through it over here.

3 cups rolled oats
½ cup raw almonds, chopped
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
6 Tbsp. mild honey
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
½ cup, or more, finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (see above)

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, coconut, sugar, and salt. Stir well to blend.

In a small saucepan, warm the honey and oil over low heat, whisking occasionally – watch out! the oil will want to splash - until the honey is loose. Pour over the dry ingredients, and stir to combine well.

Spread the mixture evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Set a timer to go off halfway through the baking time, so that you can give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly. When it’s ready, remove the pan from the oven, stir well – this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet – and cool completely.

When cool, transfer the granola to a large bowl, storage jar, or zipper-lock plastic bag. Add the chocolate, and stir (or shake, if using a jar or bag) to mix.

Store in an airtight container. Serve with plain milk; soy milk and plain yogurt overwhelm the chocolate flavor.

Yield: about 5 cups


***

Addresses

Chez H’anna
54, rue des Rosiers; 4th arrondissement
Métro: St.-Paul
Closed Monday

Eric Kayser
8, rue Monge; 5th arrondissement (main shop; there are others elsewhere)
Métro: Maubert-Mutualité
Closed Tuesday

Pierre Hermé
72, rue Bonaparte; 6th arrondissement
Métro: St.-Germain-des-Prés
Open 7 days a week, I believe

Not mentioned here, but also recommended

Fromagerie Quatrehomme
Exceptional cheese shop; prepare to be overwhelmed
62, rue de Sèvres; 7th arrondissement
Métro: Vaneau
Closed Sunday and Monday

La Cave à Bulles
A small shop specializing in artisanal French beers; very helpful service
45, rue Quincampoix; 4th arrondissement
Métro: Rambuteau
Closed Sunday and Monday

La Campanella
Shop carrying mostly Italian goods, but don't miss the Brittany honey (miel de la côte des Légendes); also, the shop's owner is a gem
36 bis rue de Dunkerque; 10th arrondissement
Métro: Gare du Nord

And for more, see this older post. And Clotilde’s forthcoming book, of which I’ve had a sneak peek. It’s terrific.

3.12.2008

To say hello

Ahem.

Anyone still out there? It feels like I’ve been gone for ages. Whew.



We just got home last night, and today I am woozy with jet lag, but I had to pop in for a minute to say hello. Even more, I wanted to thank you for bearing with me lately - with my nasty case of the flu, and then with my running off, willy-nilly, on vacation for two weeks. I feel much better, I’m happy to report, although that was one hell of a flu. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It was mean.



But pitted against gaufres de Liège, and all that frothy Belgian beer, and Paris’s infinitely restorative butter and cheese and baguettes and wine and candied bacon ice cream (yes, I can attest; that stuff really is delicious), it didn’t stand a chance. Not a one.



More on all that on Monday, I promise - once I’ve had a little more sleep. I woke up this morning feeling as though my head had been rung out like a wet washcloth and then hastily heaped back onto my neck. It feels good to be home, but I think it’ll feel even better in a few days. Especially once I figure out how to make the Moroccan crêpes we ate at Brussels’s Marché du Midi, warm and fat with fresh goat cheese, honey, and spicy olives. That’ll feel very, very good.



But before another second goes by - and because I, oof, forgot to tell you about it before I left - I wanted to remind you that Brandon and I will be teaching a cooking class next week, on Tuesday, March 18, at 6:30 pm. As with our previous class, this one will be held at In the Kitchen, at 207 Unity Street in Bellingham. (Note: not in Seattle! I hear there was a bit of confusion about this last time.) We’re calling the class Eggs 101, and in it, we’ll be tackling all things egg-related, from mayonnaise (the topic, as it happens, of my column in the April issue of Bon Appetit; so handy!) to perfect poached and hard-boiled eggs, souffle, and possibly, if I can kick this jet lag fast enough to practice them, pavlovas. (Jet lag, jet lag, go away.)

To sign up or get more information, send an e-mail to classes (at) inthekitchenbellingham (dot) com, or call 360.733.1267. And for a slideshow - thanks, Gabe! it's gorgeous! - of our previous class, click here.

Talk to you in a few days, friends.