December 29, 2011

bonjour from my parents couch

A week and a half ago we were wandering the streets of Paris, ducking into patisseries and boulangeries, sampling madeleines, pain au chocolat, brioche and baguettes. It was truly a foodie tour, guided by my fabulous foodie friend Tala, who has just returned to Paris after a decade in the States. Fortunately for us it didn't take her long to get back into the Paris swing of things - she's spent the last few months getting settled by scouting out the best bread and sweets in the city.

A lot has happened since we were in Paris. We traveled the familiar route from Zurich to New York and were welcomed home with lots of hugs and a whole lot of sugar cookies. We've given and received gifts and enjoyed the company of family at the dinner table. There really isn't much like Christmas at home, and this Christmas we split our time between homes, first with my family and then a stint with Zach's in Providence. The only hard part about being home is the reality that it will be a while until we are home again, especially at a time when all of our family has gathered in one spot.

And the travel continues - we are off to San Francisco to ring in 2012 with our dear friends Helen and Brendan who are celebrating their wedding on New Years Eve.

Before we leave in the morning a few favorites from Paris...
We had barely set down our suitcases before we headed out again to two boulangeries in Tala's neighborhood (the 9th). Our first stop was Lendemaine (the first picture) where we picked up a kugelhopf, an almond croisant, a plain croissant and a brioche and a baguette (they were awared 2nd place for best baguette in Paris, and after having tried the 1st place baguette later in the weekend I think their baguette is the best). Eager to assemble a sampling of goodies we headed up the street to Arnaud Demontel where we bought another kugelhof, a raisin danish and a few more croissants.

The awards went to the almond croissant and the baguette from Lendemaine. I'd fly back to Paris just to eat them again. The second award, not pictured, went to the madeleines and pain au chocolat that we bought at Le Grenier à Pain (the spot that won 1st place for best baguette). I bit into the chocolate croissant and was so delighted by what I tasted that the bite almost fell right out of my mouth. I quickly handed it to Tala to sample since she is the resident expert and would be able to confirm or deny whether it was indeed a good croissant and she agreed it was fabulous.
This is us eating gooey French cheese on a baguette while standing on a street corner in Monmartre. Is there really anything better?
Maybe this fish on a bed of pesto sauteed veggies that we had for lunch was better? It's really hard to say what the best thing we ate was because everything was so delicious and flavorful. I've been to Paris a handful of times but this was the first time that food was the focus of the trip, and it was definitely my best visit yet! All we did was eat and it was fabulous.
I've climbed up the Eiffel Tower and I've ridden the elevator, but I think the best view I've ever had of it was from Tala's parents apartment. It's right there, out their window. And you know what, they still get excited when the lights start to twinkle.

Thank you thank you Tala! we will be back! And next time I'm taking train back so I can load my suitcase with gooey cheese, preserves and cooking supplies.

So off to San Fran tomorrow and then to Florida for a bit before I head back to Zurich on the 9th. Hopefully I'll have a second to post again soon.

December 16, 2011

sleigh bells riiiiiing...

"Sleigh bells riiiiiiiiing...." - that is the subject line of the email chain that is buzzing around amongst my girl friends. I jump on the new emails as they come in, loving the good tidings they bring - mostly about life, love, Christmas plans and pictures of new nieces and nephews - and sending my own right back out on the gmail sleigh. It really is almost Christmas. I'm heading home on Wednesday to deck the halls with my family and then Zach arrives just in time for Christmas Eve dinner and then we head to Providence on Christmas Day to celebrate with his family.

Before we jet off for the States we are actually heading to Paris, in about 2 hours, for the weekend! I wanted to post these festive photos before I head to the airport. My fingers are crossed that 1) Zach will make it, he's cutting it close with work stuff and 2) that our flight isn't cancelled with all of this wind and rain. Maybe you could cross your fingers too, the more the better. Danke!
The Swiss really now how to make a city feel festive. In the center of town, on the Bahnhofstrasse, there are lights hanging from every possible spot imaginable. The ones hanging above the streets are called 'Lucy', I believe in reference to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. They really are quite spectacular. Then there are also Samichlaus and his sidekick Schmutzli. Schmutzli, who paint his face back and dresses in a dark brown cloak, is pretty much the idea of coal personified.
Since so many people commented on our tree I thought I would post some close-ups. The ornaments are from the Christmas market in Germany and they remind me of the ornaments we use to trim our tree at home. My mom has always loved little wooden ornaments, so I guess I inherited that from her. Although I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't like a nutcracker rocking horse ornament. Oh, and I made the bird on top. Zach's family uses a bird on top of their tree and we've always used an angel, but I thought a bird was really a good combo of it's own way. And then there is this amazing almond cookie recipe that I want to share with you that can double as Viennese Crescent cookies or Linzer cookies, depending on how you roll the dough. I have to rush to the airport in about 5 minutes so I will share the recipe with you when I get back from Paris....

Okay back from a wonderful trip to Paris. We almost didn't get there because our flight was canceled on Friday night, but thankfully we zipped off on an early Saturday morning flight, which gave us plenty of time to shop for breakfast croissants.

Viennese Crescent Cookies/ or Raspberry Linzer cookies
adapted from Irma Rombauer

- 8oz / 1 cup unsalted butter
- 3 oz / 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 3 teaspoons vanilla bean powder, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 oz / 1 cup ground almonds
- 10 oz / 2 cups all purpose flour

- 2 oz / 2/3 cup powdered sugar for sprinkling
- raspberry jam if using

Preheat the oven to 350ºF / 180ºC and line baking sheets with baking paper

In a medium bowl beat the butter until it is creamy and light in color, then sift in the 3oz of powdered sugar over the butter and beat until incorporated

Add the vanilla and mix until smooth. Stir in the ground almonds. Follow with the flour, adding slowly, until mixed. Knead the dough until it is well blended. If the dough is very soft place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. You want the dough to be workable in your hands so make sure it is malleable when you take it out of the fridge.

For crescent cookies, take about 1 tablepsoon of dough and shape it into a crescent and place on the cookie sheet.

For the jam filled cookies, roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper until about 1/4" thick. Using a cookie cutter cut an even number of shapes out of the dough. Using a smaller cookie cutter, such as a star, circle or heart, cut the center out of half of the cookies. Move to the lined baking sheet.

Bake the crescent cookies for about 13-16 and the linzer cookies for about 10 minutes, or just until the edges have lightly browned for both. Cool the cookies on a wire rack. When completely cool dust the crescents with powdered sugar. For the jam filled cookies, take the cookie without the hole and spread raspberry jam on it and then top with the hole-cookie.
This photos is terrible and blurry, but I had to share it with you because this my friends is The Santa Tram, or Märchentram (fairytale tram). Santa drives the tram while his angles read fairytales to the children in the back. Only children are allowed on the tram, no parents allowed. I absolutely love this little Zürich Christmas tradition. I guess the theory is that parents put their kids on the tram for thirty minutes and then they can run off and buy that last minute toy while the kids listen to The Night Before Christmas while zipping around Zürich.

okay time to run! remember, fingers crossed...

December 14, 2011

Burgundy hotel

Yes, those are cow-donkey-mini pony-type animals grazing on the front lawn. Too funny.

So Zach's track record with hotels is not good, at all. The last hotel he booked we almost up and left before even setting down our bags. The hotel, if you could even call it that, was tired, dirty, depressing and really really far away from anything. The rooms were furnished with furniture from the early 80's, furniture that looked like was pulled right off the street and into the hotel. The couch was patterned with sagging cushions, the bed made with yellow jersey material sheets and the bathroom was brown all over. It was unpleasant, and it wasn't cheap, but by approaching it only as a place to sleep and spending the rest of our time outdoors we managed to make it work, but not happiliy.

Since then Zach has learned about tripadvisor and jetsetter and the value of advice from friends. And he put all that new knowledge to use when he booked our hotel in Burgundy. The hotel, called Abbaye De La Bussière, is located between Dijon and Beaunne in a little wine village, and dates back to the 12th century when it was built as a monastery. Zach pretty much redemed himself because not only were the grounds incredible and the interior vastly cozy, but the Abbaye restaurant has a Michelin star. It's crazy to think that we actually debated whether or not we should eat there, wondering instead if we should try and get a more local experience in Beaune, but thankfully we had our wits about us and made a reservation. It was arguably one of the best and most interesting meals that either of us had ever eaten.
So a bit about the meal. You could approach the menu a variety of different ways. There was the seven course 'house special' menu, the terrain menu with food from the region and then the a la carte menu, where you could simply create your experience. Zach and I both went with the latter option because we wanted to scatter our choices across lots of different things. Zach started with doe, dried and tartar, and then followed with the duck, seared breast and confit. And I chose the truffle risotto and the scallops. Everything we ate was perfectly paired and wonderfully flavored. Our palates literally woke up. I should also mention that we were served a variety of things that we didn't order. To start we munched on goat cheese fritters, a spoonful of salmon tartar and a cracker with foie gras, and then before our appetizers arrived we were served seared beef in a soy based sauce. Before you continue reading and I continue typing as if those things are common fare you should know that I was once a picky eater and that in fact that was the first time I had ever tried foie gras and raw beef. And they were both delicious, especially the beef. It was lightly seared on all sides, sliced thin but not too thin and served on a square plate. I think there was as much oh-my-goodness-this-is-so-freaking-good staring at each other as there was actual conversation. My fingers are crossed that we will find ourselves back at this hotel before long, perhaps in a different season when we can step outside in short sleeves and hop around to the vineyards and taste wine. Until then I'll continue browsing jetsetter and travel magazines and keeping up my where-to-go next file.

December 12, 2011

Beef Bourguignon and a trip to Beaune

It was a wonderful weekend. Zach planned the trip -- rented a car and found an amazing hotel - on Thursday and we zipped off on Friday. Often short notice can mean stress and confusion, but our trip to Burgundy was nothing of the sort. It was peaceful and exciting, filled with new scenery and lots of opportunities to say 'bon appetit', which in itself should constitute a good trip.

Our hotel was nestled amongst the vineyards in a little town called La Bussière sur Ouche which is just between Beaune and Dijon. Initially we thought we'd spend our time in Dijon, but after doing some quick reading and learning that Beaune is a charming city and that there is a market on Saturdays, we changed our plan and headed south to Beaune.

Peak tourist season is long behind us and far ahead of us, which really made it seem like we had an authentic experience in little Beaune. We wandered through the market, bought a baguette and continued wandering through the streets, eating our baguette as we went. Unfortunately it was rather rainy and cold so we wandered ourselves right into a cozy little cafe called Le Bistrot Bourguignon. We were too early for lunch so we nestled with our books and a cappucino, which eventually turned into a glass of local red wine and to go with our second glass was the house special of Boeuf Bourguignon. And so since you couldn't be there with us (next time?) hopefully this post, and the recipe that follows, will help transport you, and your taste buds, to a little French village (now is a good time to pour yourself a glass of wine).
Beef Bourguignon is one of those dishes that can be made a variety of different ways, spun to your pleasure however you like it. I chose to use Julia Child's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I borrowed (more like 'took' when you live 3000 miles away) one of my mom's copies of the book and there is only one post-it note peaking out of the pages, and it is firmly stuck to page 315, Boeuf Bourguignon, and that was reason enough for me to use Julia's recipe. And it turns out that was a great decision because her recipe is fairly simple and leads to a delicious, tender, and incredibly flavorful stew.

The scene at Le Bistrot Bourguignon was soul inspiring. We arrived at roughly 11:30 and there was already a group of people at the bar, market bags sitting on the floor or open on the counter, and everyone was talking and drinking white wine and enjoying themselves. We felt lucky to have happened on this convivial scene, but we remained to ourselves, in the corner, with a good view of everything that was going on.
There was red wine and gourgères and lots of people-watching as we nestled into our little corner of the restaurant. And of course there was beef bourguignon, served in a little coquette along side a pile of egg noodles. We both polished our plates and glasses and then set out for a mini driving adventure through the countryside. Just drivin' along and bam, a massive château appears in the distance. Jot this down as a you-know-you're-in-Europe-when moment. We drove through the stone town, up to the château and then walked around the perimeter since it was closed for the season. It is called Le Château de La Rochepot and it's definitely worth a driveby/walk around.
Sometimes rainy days make for better pictures. They give you a better sense of the atmosphere of a place. Sadly this picture of Zach is out of focus, but like a rainy day, I think it give the photo a sense of place, maybe even more so than if it was in focus.

I made Zach stop for photos shoots every once and awhile, but the one I was most adamant about was the stop for a cow photo-op. The pure white cows that dot the landscape are what give Beef Bourguignon its name; local eating at its best. I wish I had been able to bring some home, but with the lack of in-room refrigerator and a long drive back to Zurich it just didn't make sense. Perhaps next time we go we'll rent an apartment and spend the weekend cooking.

on to the recipe...
Beef Bourguignon
Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

* note : since it is only the two of us and meat is a fortune in Zurich I only used 1 lb of meat and adjusted the recipe accordingly. The recipe that follows is the recipe as written by Child

* wine note : like the beef, the dish is traditionally made with ingredients from Burgundy, so a red wine from the region is a good place to start. Julia notes that you should use a full-bodied, young red wine, such as Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône, Bordeaux-St. Emilion, or Burgundy.

For 6 people
- 6 oz chunk of bacon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 lbs lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 sliced carrot
- 1 sliced onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups red wine
- 2-3 cups beef stock or canned beef bouillon
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- a crumbled bay leaf

- 18-24 small white onions (or canned)
if not using canned...
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup beef stock
- herb bouquet - 4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, 1/4 tsp thyme, all tied in a cheesecloth

- 1 lb mushrooms
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoon olive oil

- egg noodles or potatoes for serving

Preheat the oven to 450º

Begin with the bacon. Remove the rind and cut the bacon into sticks roughly 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2-inch long. Simmer the bacon and the rind for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.

Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in whatever oven-friendly bakeware you intend to make the stew in. Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat until the bacon is lightly brown on all sides, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside. Keep the bacon fat/oil in the pan.

Dry the beef cubes using paper towel. The beef won't brown unless it is dry. Sauté the beef in the bacon/oil a few pieces at a time, until nicely browned on all sides. Set aside with the bacon.

In the same fat brown the carrots and onions. Once browned pour out the fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with salt, pepper and flour. Continue to toss until the beef is lightly coated in the flour, this will form a nice crust over the beef when it is in the oven. Place the casserole in the oven. Stir and toss the meat after 4 minutes. Return to the oven for another 4 minutes. Remove the casserole and turn the oven down to 325º

Stir in the wine and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove then cover the casserole and place it in the oven, regulating the heat as needed so that the liquid maintains a slow simmer. Allow it to cook for 3-4 hours until the meat is easily pierced with a fork and is tender.

While the beef is cooking prepare the onions and mushrooms. For the onions bring the butter and oil to bubble in a skillet, add the onions and sauté them over moderate heat for about 10 minutes. Toss the onions so that they brown evenly. Once browned pour in the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes until the onions are perfect tender but still retain their shape.

For the mushrooms...working in two batches, place a skillet over high heat with 1/2 the butter and the oil. When you see the butter foam subside add 1/2 the mushrooms (only as many as will fit). Toss and shake the pan for 4-5 minutes. As soon as they have browned lightly remove from heat and start with the second batch.

When the meat is tender strain the contents of the stew into a colander set over a pot (you want to save the liquid). Return the beef and bacon to the casserole (we kept the carrots and onions) and add the mushrooms and onions. Simmer the sauce for a minute or two. You should have roughly 2 1/2 cups of sauce. The sauce should lightly coat a spoon. If it is too thick add some stock and if it is too thin rapidly boil it down. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables and then pour yourself a glass of wine. Serve the meat with noodles or potatoes
Although we didn't leave the apartment on Sunday, except for that last dash to the store for tomato paste, we had quite the productive day of cooking, eating and tree decorating. Our tree is so mini, but when you have to carry it home on the tram you're limited to little trees.

Phew, this was a fun post to put together. And extra fun and special because all of the photos are film in I took a roll of 35mm film to get developed this morning and then ran to the store to pick it up this afternoon. I hope you enjoyed it...because there will be one or two more mini Burgundy posts.

December 09, 2011

christmas cookie

For as long as I can remember my mom has made Aunt Julie's sugar cookies. The key to Aunt Julie's cookies is to roll the dough really thin, as thin as you can, and then bake until just golden around the edges and sprinkle with sugar while they are still hot. They are superb cookies. At least we like to think so. We trade them amongst the family--my aunt Sarah will make some, pile them in a tin, wrap it with ribbon and gift it to my dad and my mom will make some and pile them in a tin, wrap it with ribbon and give it to my grandmother--they are family heirlooms that we make and eat every year at Christmas.

So as you can see these aren't Aunt Julie's cookies. It's just that it's not quite time for crisp sugar cookies. They are timed for the arrival of reindeer on rooftops. In the meantime I decided to make a different type of twinkling cookie, a molasses ginger cookie. This recipe is from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Everyday. I was struck by the dark cookie with the chunky demerara sugar shell. These cookies are a wonderful mix of sweet outer crunch and chewy flavorful cookie. The molasses flavor runs deep, through the chocolate, the apricot and the ginger, which all act as punctuations to the long meandering molasses sentence.

So about the molasses. Expats will often do crazy things to find some semblance of home , like spending $12 dollars on a small jar of molasses. It's just the way things go here. You want it, you need it, and you finally found it hidden on the bottom shelf so you buy it. But as so often is true, the product just doesn't live up to your expectations: the molasses I bought was too strong, which I learned sampling a cookie from the first batch. I adjusted for the second batch, substituting dark muscovado sugar for a good chunk of the molasses, hoping that the molasses in the muscovado would shine through, and it did, wonderfully.
These pictures are from a recent trip to Freiburg, Germany, for the Christmas markets. Christmas markets are ever present this time of year. Little wooden huts are set up in rows, evergreen garlands are hung from the roofs, and lights are strung from hut to hut. It's wonderfully festive, seemingly homegrown and super duper charming. These little elf villages, as I like to think of them, spring up all over Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Eastern France, and while the wares might be a bit repetitive and sometimes hokey it's always a treat to walk through them. On this trip I spent more money on food - bratwurst, cookies, glühwein - than I did on Christmas goodies, but the food still put me in the Christmas spirit!
Ginger Cookies
adapted from Heidi Swanson, Super Natural Everyday

*note: I had to adapt the original recipe because the molasses I found here was very strong. I substituted some of the molasses with dark muscovado sugar. If you live in the states, you can go with the original (1/4 cup molasses) but be sure the molasses tastes good, not harsh, before using.

- 1/2 cup / 70g demerara sugar
- 6oz / 170g bittersweet chocolate (64%) chopped into chip size pieces
- 2 cups / 230g spelt flour (dinkelvolkohrmehl) or whole wheat pastry flour and I think all purpose flour would be fine as well
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tbsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup / 115 g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 3 tsp unsulphured molasses
- 3 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
- 2/3 cup / 100 g fine grain natural cane sugar
- 1 large egg, well beaten
- 1 cup plump dried apricots, minced (after measuring)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC and line a baking sheet with parchment paper

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, ground ginger and salt.

Heat the butter in a small saucepan until just barely melted. Stir in the molasses, dark muscovado sugar. The mixture should be warm, but not hot. If it is hot to the touch, let it cool until just warm. Once cool whisk in the egg. Pour this mixture over the flour mixture and add the chopped apricots and chocolate and then stir until just combined. Chill the dough for about 30 minutes, until the dough has firmed up a bit.

Pour some of the demerara sugar into a bowl. Use a tablespoon to scoop the dough, split that tablespoon into two smaller pieces, and roll each into a ball. Roll each ball in the bowl of demeara sugar, using pressure if needed to make the sugar stick to the dough.

Place the cookies on the baking sheets a few inches a part. Bake for about 7 – 10 minutes until the cookies puff up, darken a bit and crack. Cool on a wire wrack.

And a little something funny for your Friday...look closely at this photo, at the center buttress (no pun intended, but perhaps it will give you a hit of what to look for) the gargoyles. Do you see what I see? The gargoyle on the left on the center buttress is facing the wrong way! Its butt is sticking out, towards us, and between the cheeks is a rain spout, so when it rains, water pours out of this gargoyles butt. seriously?! medieval humor?

On that note I hope you have a wonderful, glittering, weekend. And not to worry, I will post Aunt Julie's cookies soon!