Tag Archives: The Francophile in Moi

For Dreaming of Paris at Breakfast Time: Crepes Recipe!

February 2013

Six months of nannying near Paris pushed me to a proficient level of French, a level at which I could approach people my age and feel comfortable enough to speak to them (ie: not sound like a three-year-old; ie: I could date in French). Fast forward more years than I care to count, and I’m far better at eating French than speaking French. As sad as that realization may be (and as much as I am working to remedy that), the consolation is ever so delicious…

Crepes and Nutella Mess

Crêpes
Makes 10 crepes

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
5 eggs (local/free-range)

1 1/4 cups organic whole milk
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup and 1 Tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the eggs.

Gradually add in the milk and water, whisking to combine.

Add the salt and butter; beat until smooth.

Relinquish the bowl of batter to the crepe master at the griddle

OR

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe.

Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.

Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side.

Serve hot with Nutella, Bonne Maman jam, fresh fruit and homemade whipped cream. If eating these crepes on a quiet Saturday morning by yourself, whip out that French grammar book and get busy!

Bon Appétit!

29 Cakes for 29 Years: Mocha Cake Recipe

February 2013

To say I like planning theme parties is an understatement, so when I decided to have an Amélie Themed Anniversaire, I crafted many small, film-inspired details (that perhaps were mostly apparent to me?). One of those details was the birthday cake…or cakes, rather. Combine the espresso and chocolate flavors from Amelie’s waitressing job at Café Des 2 Moulins with the opening credits, in which little Amélie bites raspberries off each of her fingers, and you have the inspiration for my birthday cake tradition!

Cake Side View

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Coffee Glaze & Mocha Buttercream

Note About Size: In order to get 29 little cakes, I doubled the recipe and used a large, sheet pan, but your everyday dessert craving or small get together probably doesn’t call for that much cake. However, your everyday dessert craving or small get together probably does call for a rich chocolate dessert with the bold accent of espresso. The recipe below is for two, 9″-round, cake layers.    

Coffee Glaze

Coffee Glaze

Ingredients

1/4 cup raw cane sugar
2 Tablespoons boiled water
1 Tablespoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules

Directions

Combine the raw sugar, water and instant coffee in small bowl. Stir until sugar and coffee are dissolved.

Raspberry Garnish Cakes

Mocha Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients

1 bar (4 oz.) Dark Chocolate Baking Bar, melted

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
3 Tablespoons organic heavy cream

1 cup (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups organic powdered sugar

Directions

Dissolve instant coffee in cream.

In a separate bowl, beat butter, vanilla extract and salt in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes.

Beat in melted chocolate until blended, scraping occasionally. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in coffee mixture, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until desired spreading consistency.

Birthday Cake Assembly 01

Chocolate Espresso Cake

Ingredients

5 oz Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips, melted

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups organic, packed light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, softened
4 organic large eggs
2 Tablespoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup organic buttermilk

Directions

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and line two 9-inch-round baking pans with wax paper.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.

Beat brown sugar, butter, eggs, instant coffee and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes.

Gradually add melted chocolate and continue beating for an additional minute.

Beat flour mixture into creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake for 33 to 38 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Run knife around edges of cakes. Invert onto wire racks; remove wax paper. Cool completely.

Brush coffee glaze over cake layers.

Spread Mocha Buttercream Frosting between layers and top of cake.

An Amelie Anniversaire [Birthday]

February 2013

Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain is a colorful, accordion-accompanied film about Amélie, whose childhood was suppressed by a mistaken diagnosis of a heart defect. Her isolation causes her to retreat into a fantastical world of imagination. As a young woman, she leaves home to becomes a waitress at the Café Des 2 Moulins (two windmills) in the heart of Paris. In her Montmartre apartment, she discovers a time capsule from a previous tenant’s boyhood. In resolving to return the memories to the owner, she sets off to become a do-gooder. After helping those around her, Amélie soon realizes she must be bolder in pursuing love and her own happiness.

From the endearing missions, to the quirky romance and the Montmartre backdrop, the film has always filled me with such happiness. For my 29th year of life, I, like Amélie, decided to plan something whimsical and quirky for myself- a night in which the film came to life!

French Party People

[In the apartment of Raymond Dufayel]
-I really like this painting.
-It’s “Luncheon of the Boarding Party” by Renoir. I paint one every year, for years now. The hardest is the eyes. Sometimes, they change their moods on purpose,when I’m not looking.
-They look happy here.
-They better be! This year, they had hare with morel and waffles with jam for the children.

Palmiers and Candlelight

Amelie Anniversaire

Amélie doesn’t have a boyfriend. She tried, but it didn’t live up to her expectations. On the other hand, she enjoys all sorts of little pleasures,putting her hand in a bag of seeds,piercing the crust of crème brûlée with the tip of a spoon. And [skipping stones ↓] on the Saint-Martin-canal.

French Flag of Goat Cheese

The French Flag of Goat Cheeses- Fraternité, Égalité et Liberté

Apples and Antics

Bretodeau Sleuthing

[At the home of the grocer Collignon's parents]
-Before the grocery, he used to be a ticket puncher.
-What’s wrong with that?!
-At night, he gets up and punches my oleanders!

Cheese and Quiche Face

Since hordes and hordes of tourists flock to Montmartre each year, I adorned the table with a typical tourist souvenir- snowglobes featuring my own photos of the Sacré Coeur and the Café Des 2 Moulins.

Blubber Suicide

Amélie’s only friend is called “le Cachalot.” But the atmosphere at home turned it into a neurasthenic and suicidal fish. Since these suicide-attempts only increased her mother’s stress,a decision is made. ENOUGH!!!

Gnome and Quelcy

[Amelie and her father in his kitchen after the disappearance of his garden gnome]
-
Your garden gnome is gone ?
-Is he back in the shed?
-Moscow and there. Nothing.No explanation.
-Maybe he wanted to travel around.
-I don’t get it. I don’t get it.

Gnome and Accordioniste

IMG_9571

IMG_9589

Since Amélie worked in a cafe making espresso drinks, I baked a mocha cake, layered with mocha buttercream (recipe to come!). The opening credits inspired the raspberry garnish.

Gnome and Cake

Gnome at the Creperie

Amélie’s only refuge is the world she makes up. In that world, vinyls are made the same way as crêpes, and the neighbour’s wife, who has been in a coma for months,just decided to do all her sleeping at once.

Creperie 01

The outside world seems so dull that Amélie prefers to dream her life until she’s old enough to leave. Years later, Amélie is a waitress in a bar in Montmartre, Les Deux Moulins [pictured above in my own photo from Montmartre] .

Amelie Theater

Raspberries and Popcorn

[In the movie theater]
-Sometimes, Amélie goes to the movies.
-I like to turn around in the dark to see the faces of the people around. And I also like to spot the little detail nobody will ever see. But I don’t like it when the driver doesn’t watch the road.

Screening

-I know who the mystery man of the photo machines is, M. Quincampoix.He’s a ghost, M. Quincampoix. Nobody can see him.He can only be seen on photographs. When a girl has her picture taken,he moans: hooooooooooo. While he softly caresses her neck. That’s when he’s caught by the camera, M. Quincampoix!

Behind the “theater,” I made a Photomaton (photobooth), since no Amélie party would be complete without a photobooth. More details on DIY photobooths in a subsequent post.

Accordion Dance

If you have ever listened to the film’s soundtrack by Yann Tiersen, you know the accordion plays heavily into the theme. Fortunately for me, I happened to know a really talented musician! The party would not have been the same without his musical accompaniment.

Accordion and Dog Painting

Polaroids and Album

[Intro to Nino Quincompoix]
Pages full of failed identity photos that their owners had thrown away and that had been re-assembled and classified by some eccentric. Some family-album!

Fin

Photos by my very talented friend Alex Mohamed!
Party held at Assemble: A Space for Arts + Technology (and the occasional birthday party)

Time Flies When You’re Having Galette!

January 21, 2013

On Friday, a coworker gave me an early birthday surprise in the form of a Galette des Rois from La Gourmandine. The surprise of the cake warmed my heart, but the cake itself made me so [unreasonably?] happy. I was beaming, and people were noticing. First of all, this is what I call the almond croissant of cake, and everyone knows how obsessive I am about almond croissants. Secondly, my memories of France are flavored with this cake.

Galette and Lessons

As I strolled down my almond flavored memory lane, it finally dawned on me how much time had passed since I lived in France, and admittedly, I felt a little bleu.

Galette and Figurine

However, my Special One quickly assured me I most definitely have more French adventures in store. Furthermore, I can’t complain about six years that have been filled with friends, family and adventures to other parts of the world. Even furthermore, my birthday is starting with a slice of my favorite cake, a mug of French pressed coffee and an attempt to make my brain think en français again! January is all about daily French diligence (on one very big sheet of paper)!

Galette French Lessons

Additionally, this year’s galette bestowed upon me a little female baking partner for the little baker from last year. Allow me a moment of musing, and I propose these figurines are a sign! My next French adventure will be with my Special One, and it will be better than a birthday slice of galette (ie: most amaaaaaaaaazing!).

Galette Open Slice

I hope you all have a cake that makes you this happy, and I hope someone surprises you with that cake!

Happy Birthday To Me!

Pancakes & Purples (Berry Port Wine Sauce, Round III)

May 2012

I like pancakes as much, if not more than, the next brunch-loving lady, but I especially like our partnership of pancakes.  I make the batter, and he flips the ‘cakes.  On this gluten-free Sunday morning, we took our partnership of pancakes into the sunshine for a perfectly relaxing, coffee-accompanied start of a sunny day.  Then we drizzled our griddle stacks with the berry bursts of flavor leftover from a special birthday dessert.

“To love someone is to see a miracle invisible to others.”

Chestnut Flour & Berry Pancakes

Note:  Depending on the origin of yours oats, this recipe is gluten free.  For more on oats in a gluten free diet, here’s an intro to the issues.  

Ingredients

1 cup chestnut flour (more if fruit is watery)
1/2 cup organic quick-cooking oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 eggs (local/free-range), at room temperature
2 Tablespoons honey
3/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 Tablespoons goat butter, browned
1 1/4 cup frozen cherries, thawed

Directions

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees or the lowest temperature available.

Combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and lemon zest.

Next, whisk the egg in a bowl and add it to the dry mix.

Add the honey, milk, vanilla extract, almond extract and browned butter. Stir to combine.

Heat a cast iron griddle or skillet over medium heat and lightly coat with oil.

Using a ¼-cup scoop, pour the pancake batter onto the skillet and add 6-8 blueberries on top of each pancake.

Cook until browned on each side (they are ready to flip when the tops start to bubble a little).

To keep already made pancakes warm, place them on an ovenproof dish or baking pan in the oven.

Serve with berry port wine whipped topping and extra berry port wine sauce.

Berry Port Wine Whipped Topping

Ingredients

4 oz organic Neufchatel cheese
1/2 cup organic whipping cream, chilled
1/2 cup blueberry-cherry sauce (mostly the liquid)
2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to whip until well combined. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

A Very French Baked French Toast & Roasted Pineapple

March 2012

It was the bright and sunny brunching hour at the special cabin in the woods, but more importantly, it was the last brunching hour of the long weekend, so we treated ourselves to a decadent baked French toast!

This decadence stemmed from the substitution of croissants for bread and a layer of Justin’s chocolate hazelnut nutbutter (more wholesome than nutella!), making for a very French, French toast!  One rather rich thought entered my mind as I was making this… can you even fathom a bite of baked French toast made with almond croissants?!?!  One bite would surely be heaven, and one bite would surely be enough! Perhaps I’ll try that one day!

Baked Croissant French Toast

Inspired by Bon Appétit

Ingredients

5 all butter croissants, cut lengthwise

2 Tablespoons Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter
*1 cup homemade bourbon whipped cream (recipe below)

5 large eggs (local/free-range)
3/4 cup organic buttermilk
1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 Tablespoon organic brown sugar

extra maple syrup

For the Baked French Toast

Grease an 11×7 glass baking dish with butter.

Create one layer of croissants using four bottom halves.

In a bowl, whip the bourbon whipped cream and chocolate hazelnut butter together until creamy.

Add the 4 croissants tops. Use the remaining croissant to fill in any gaps.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, buttermilk and maple syrup.

Pour the egg mixture over the croissants, making sure to fully saturate the top layer.

Sprinkle with the cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar.

Let sit for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake until golden brown and set in the middle, about 40 minutes.  Serve with maple syrup.

*Bourbon Whipped Cream

Ingredients

1 cup organic heavy cream
3 Tablespoons Bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 Tablespoon organic brown sugar

For the Whipped Cream

In a chilled bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Use an electric mixer to beat until peaks form.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.  Add a dollop to your brunch cup of coffee while you’re at it!

Roasted Pineapple with Pistachios 
Adapted from Bon Appétit 

Ingredients

1/2 cup (packed) organic brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 medium ripe pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into wedges or chunks
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/3 cup natural unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons torn fresh mint leaves

Preparation

Preheat oven to 450°.

Stir first 3 ingredients in a large bowl until sugar dissolves.

Add pineapple; toss to coat.

Let marinate, tossing occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Place pineapple, one flat side down, on a nonstick skillet; reserve marinade.

Roast pineapple for 15 minutes.

Stir/flip, brush with marinade, and roast until tender and caramelized, 10–15 minutes.

Drizzle with remaining marinade; let cool slightly.

Arrange pineapple on a plate.

Spoon Greek yogurt on top of the pineapple. Garnish with pistachios and fresh mint.

The sun was as warm and golden as that roasted pineapple.  When March hands you a warm, sunny day, there is no choice but to spend as much of the afternoon outside as possible, especially when that afternoon takes place at a cabin in the woods.

Oh that big hunk o’ man?!?  He’s my lumberjack boyfriend.  No big deal.

The grasses, trees and mountains began to yawn and stretch, as they gradually awoke from their winter slumbers.  For though the sun was quick to warm us that weekend, the grasses, trees and mountains had been dormant for many a cold, wintry month.  Their warmth was yet to come!

As a newcomer to that special cabin in the woods, part of my privilege is discovering the changes the seasons bring over the mountains, valleys and wooden beams.  I can’t wait to see how the cabin gussies himself with spring flowers and bright green grasses!

(…until the next, greener, sunnier times that is)

Header_cabin-glow

One For You & One For Me (Cabin Weekend, Part II)

March 2012

There’s a certain quiet that is felt.  This type of quiet is not defined by a lack of sound.  This type of sensory quiet is defined by a calm… a slower pace… a lack of “shoulds” and “woulds.”  This type of quiet accentuates small details… the endless appeal of a flowing creek, the rapid changes of the sky, the flickers of light cast on an array of textures and minutes marked by light and not by schedules.  I’ve only felt this type of quiet a few times, but they have been magical, memorable times, and this cabin weekend was one of them!

Like a long, quiet scene in a film, I watched myself float through the weekend with my special one.  We swayed back and forth on that swing, with its perfectly framed view.  We watched the flickers of light, felt the warmth of the sun and sipped slowly on drinks that added their own textures and patterns to the moments, as we quietly escaped reality.

One for Him

Negroni
1 part gin
1 part sweet vermouth
1 part bitters

One for Me!

AITA Snap + Organic Birch Beer + Organic Orange Slices

For Us!

A French wine connoisseur once told me tasting wine is not about elitism or fancy terms.  Wine tasting is about remembering your grandmother’s kitchen or recalling a meadow in spring.  It’s about memory and experience.

Smoky ash on goat cheese and fingertips.

The creamy taste and smell of asparagus?!?

A bite that made me think of eating the real deal at a port, while watching sailboats prepped for a major journey.

These were the characteristics of cheese tasting on a sunny afternoon, and future hints of asparagus in a creamy cheese will recall a weekend quietly slinking by a window view.

World Nutella Day Commemorative Brunch

February 5, 2012

Someday I’ll have a calendar marked with all the quirky, commemorative food “holidays” (does that calendar already exist somewhere?).  Last year, I discovered I had just missed World Nutella Day, but I did what any modern girl on a mission might do:  I marked my Google calendar and let technology take care of the rest for me!  Last year, I also discovered what I had always thought was the result of a flash of French brilliance was actually an Italian invention.

Fast forward to 2012, and my calendar reminded me I had a celebration in store!  When Italy is due kudos, it’s my time to queue Nina, the best gift Italy ever gave me (albeit it via America, but she does have the passaporto)!

I am not one to argue against the flavor combination of chocolate and hazelnut, but I do have a few objections to some other items on the Nutella ingredient list.  Thus, I made my own version…my own “rustic” version (my food processor is a bit on the tired side) and then put it in between layers of panettone bread for a really rich flavor and an additional nod to Italy.

Look what happens when we pretend!!!
(click on the image ↓ below ↓ to see us in action!)

We channeled the best of Italy- the curvaceous women of Fellini films, donned our sunglasses for a spell and proceeded to pretend we were sitting at an Italian cafe.

Little trays with a view certainly help the Sunday morning game of pretend…

Brunch beverages…

One Village Coffee (with a dollop of homemade whipped cream, perhaps?) and a cinnamon swizzle stick for a touch of fancy and spice!

Blood Orange Bellini and a toast… to our inner Sophias!

World Nutella Day Baked French Toast

I had some egg nog approaching its final days.  Being the daughter of invention, I used that egg nog for a really decadent milk source in the custard sauce.  Waste not, eat creatively!  Feel free to use regular milk instead.

World Nutella Day Recipe:  Baked French Toast

Ingredients

Organic, unsalted butter
1 loaf Panetonne bread in 1-inch slices,
1 cup homemade nutella
pure maple syrup
Goat cheese (Soignon), sliced
Mixture of cinnamon, raw sugar and cocoa
3 cups organic egg nog
2 eggs (local/free-range)
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons Frangelico
1 Tablespoon AITA Root
2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Generously grease a 9×9-inch baking dish with butter.

Arrange bread in a tightly-packed layer in the pan.

Smooth a layer of homemade nutella over the bread, followed by maple syrup and the slices of goat cheese.

Use the remaining slices of bread to complete the top layer. Sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon, raw sugar and cocoa.

Whisk egg nog, eggs, vanilla extract, Frangelico, Root, brown sugar and salt. Pour over the bread. You probably will have extra liquid, but make sure the mixture seeps into the top layer of bread.

Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

Cut into squares and serve with maple syrup and homemade whipped cream.

Homemade Whipped Topping

Ingredients

1 cup organic heavy cream, chilled
1-2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1-2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1-2 Tablespoons Kraken Rum

Directions

Step One:  Release the Kraken!

Step Two:  Combine all of the ingredients in a chilled bowl.

Step Three:  Use an electric mixer to beat until stiff peaks form.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Step Four:  Heap onto French toast and maybe even add a dollop into your cup of coffee!

Felice festa di Nutella!

[Mi dispiace io non parlo italiano.]

Finale.

La Galette des Rois/The Best Way To Start The Work Day

January 2012

Once again, thank the bon Dieu for La Gourmandine‘s presence in Pittsburgh and their adherence to tradition.  January 6th began with my youngest coworker under the kitchen table while many coworkers gathered around a flaky, almondy cake.  Why?

‘Twas the season of La Galette des Rois!

I learned about this tradition firsthand, when I studied abroad, in Aix-en-Provence, in the South of France.  My cultural liaisons were not steeped in Catholicism, so my understanding of this Epiphany cake tradition lies more heavily on the flaky, butter, baked side of the spectrum.

On January 6th specifically (though often repeated during the month of January throughout France), the youngest person present hides under the serving table containing the Galette des Rois.  The cake is cut evenly into slices for each person awaiting the rich, almond decadence.  Without viewing the parcels, the hidden young person announces who shall receive the first and subsequent slices.

The young buck must remain hidden so as to prevent any sort of bias, for one of the slices contains the la fève.  Literally, this translates to bean, but a small, ceramic trinket is today what the bean was to the French of old.  The recipient of the slice containing the hidden trinket is crowned King for the day.  With such an honor comes great responsibility- the obligation to provide the next Galette des Rois.

Unfortunately, the lack of Americans who are familiar with this tradition equates to an increased risk of a lawsuit.  In our case, the little toys were not baked into the layers of the cake, but rather, they were sent in a small bag accompanying the cakes.

When I first experienced this tradition, it was the day of my 23rd birthday.  The birthday gods smiled upon me, and I found a little seashell ornament in my slice, thus warranting my crowning.  This year, I did not win, but I did manage to snag a little baker.  Our kindred spirits belonged together, and he and his neckerchief were bound for some journeys With The Grains.

Bon Appétit!

Revoir

December 2011

Pittsburgh isn’t a huge city by any means, and its propensity for French fries on salads and sandwiches (and maybe anywhere and everywhere else in between) really narrows the dining options for this foodie.  I also tend to obsess when I really find something that speaks to me.  Rather than call my affinity for Brasserie 33 an “obsession,” I offer a brief French lesson and a glimpse of why reviews are useful [read:  delicious], especially when my review is a first learn for my dining companion.

revoir /ʀ(ə)vwaʀ/ (conjugate⇒)

  1. transitive verb
    1. (voir de nouveau) to see [sb/sth] again;
      il ne l’avait pas revu depuis 10 ans he hadn’t seen him for 10 years;
    1. (en pensée) to see;
      je la revois encore dans sa robe bleue I can still see her in her blue dress;
    1. (réexaminer) to go over [devoir, épreuve];
      to review [méthode, action];
      to check through [compte];
      ‘à ~’ ‘go over again’;
    1. (corriger) to correct;
    1. (réviser) Scol to revise GB, to review [matière];
      to go over [leçon].

B33 Tarts
Warm Brie, goat cheese and caramelized onion tarts

I was imagining a larger tart with a softer, more pastry like crust, so while these petites were tasty, I would like to see a revamped version.

Les Huitres Rockefeller
7 Traditional oysters Rockefeller

We weren’t sure what Rockefeller had to do with oysters, but as it turns out, this preparation method included greens, ham and cheese and tasted as though the oysters had been baked.  In my quest to understand and enjoy seafood for what it is and not with what it is garnished, this version did nothing to advance my pursuits.  However, it did confirm my affinity for high quality ham and cheese combinations. 

I’ve shown you the lamb shank special and frites before, but what this photo is speaking to now is how amazing both menu items are!  A very clean bone and a few french fry scraps attest to the meal that constantly lures me to this corner of Shadyside.

Brandy + Profiterole

Our waiter told us this was his first go at plating this dessert, so I hereby declare, “well done!”  What a lovely little puff of honey drizzled divinity!  A splash of brandy made us feel like we might return home to a large fire in our library, don burgundy colored robes and maybe even smoke a pipe, which is to say, we were drinking a painted picture of the noble sort of brandy aficionado.

Voilà qui conclut notre leçon de français pour aujourd’hui.
That concludes our French lesson for today!

A Bit of Belgium for Brunch

November 2011

My brunching companion thought I was leading him astray.  We had driven over a few winding ways, some wider streets lined with large, brick mansions, expansive lawns with the last falling leaves and finally a narrower road that showed little promise of leading to a pot of brunch at the end of the rainbow [gray sky].  We were right on track!  I pointed through the red, German brunchmobile’s window, “there!” I exclaimed.  There was the tucked away corner spot I had been meaning to try for ages- a bit of Belgium in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Point Brugge Café

The exterior of the restaurant offers both a unique neighborhood charm and a bit of a European bistro feel (especially when a bicyclette finds its way to the front area).  The interior, however, exudes all the charm of a new dorm’s common room decor scheme.  If you don’t believe me, visit a newer construct at the Carnegie Mellon campus and then proceed to brunch.  It’s a combination of beige, purple, some triangular shaped patterns and an overall decor undeserving of the menu it houses.  If anyone Point Bruggers are reading, I will design for food!

Before I properly begin, I must confess I am about to cheat you, dear foodie reader, for I brunched at Point Brugge and forfeited possibly the most talked about brunch offering on the menu:  the mussels!  In the world of seafood, I’m still mostly a virgin…I’m like the Catholic teen who has experimented without ever really going all the way.  My Midwestern roots still somehow run fairly deep, and I tend to gravitate toward the land animals.  I have made some forays into the deep, blue sea, but I have yet to run the full gamut (and for that I am awaiting a true seafood mecca, or rather, the marriage, in the case of my Catholic metaphor).

Nor have I truly found my taste for the shelled menu options.  I have tried mussels.  I have found them to be satisfactory, but I have yet to eat them and consider them a stand out, stand alone food.  As I have experienced them so far, they are merely a collector of sauce.  Forgive me, dear seafoodies, I just haven’t found that special mussel man to whom to devote my full loyalty.  I did, however, have a taste of the ocean in my meal, but I owe an apology to true seafoodies all the same.

Now, let me begin with what I did eat [and share].

Eggs Benedict with Crab Cakes

Egg yolks puddling over a crab cake perched on a thick slice of brioche?  Why yes, I shall eat that!  So I did have a taste of the sea, after all, but a crab cake is like the adult version of a fish stick (right?), so this only counts as fooling around- delicious, delicious fooling around.

A note about Point Brugge waffles from the waffle-makers themselves…

Waffles are everywhere in Belgium, with different regions laying claim to their own distinctive styles, such as Flemish, Brussels and Liege. Point Brugge features Liege waffles on its brunch menu. Liege waffles are golden in color, fairly dense and a bit crunchy. A scrumptious caramelized sugar flavor comes from pearl sugar in the batter.

Liege Waffle Special

The waiter described the waffle special with caramelized apples and an additional drizzle of caramel, and my wide eyes signaled “d’accord!”  The crisp exterior and cakey interior of the liege waffle was an addictive duo.  Eating that waffle was a bit like fooling mom and sneaking cake into the breakfast meal.  The caramel sauce did add a sweet variation from the waffle topping norm, but as it was a fairly light drizzle, I would have enjoyed the addition of pure maple syrup as both a sauce supplement and a flavor compliment.  The apples were a bit more on the mushy, applesauce side of the spectrum than I had expected from the verbal description.  I would have preferred a crunchier apple with a caramelized surface.  Conclusion:  I need my own waffle maker!

Side Note/A Note on Sides

One bruncher, moi, did the prix fixe option which meant a mimosa and a side dish.  I chose the Housemade Maple-Apple Sausage, and I recommend it with my whole, hog-lovin’ stomach!  It was a sausage patty with whole chunks of apple and a significant maple flavor.  It just now occurred to me how I missed the obvious opportunity of eating a slice of sausage on the same fork as a bite of waffle, apple and caramel.  What was I thinking?  (probably just thinking “nom nom nom”).

One Final Thought…
[and a bit of a francophile rant]

After committing to the prix fixe mimosa, a cocktail on the menu caught my attention:  a framboise mimosa.  Could it be?  A mimosa 2.0?  I was intrigued and asked the waiter what that drink would be. When he answered (framboise/juice/champagne), he broke a piece of my heart (the heartbreak was completely unrelated to the cocktail itself).

There are a few places in Pittsburgh that offer framboise.  My favorite local dive bar is one of those places, offering the bevvie on tap, served in the appropriate glass no less.  My elitist, francophile problem is this:  people are terrified of French pronunciation (it is scary, I understand the intimidation of the language all too well) and assume all ending consonants evaporate into the romantically smoky ether.  It’s just not true.  Yet for some reason, these same consonant killers really want to tack the [t] sound on croissant.  Also not true.

However, this widespread pronunciation panic causes this:

/fʀɑ̃bwa/

instead of this:

/fʀɑ̃bwaz/

I will refrain from a full fledged French grammar lesson, but my brief explanation is this:  due to the final -e, the [s] is pronounced, and as a single [s], it is pronounced more like a [z] sound.

What this translates to is a bunch of bartenders saying the first version, causing me to look like the uncultured idiot.  This has commonly occurred to the point that I questioned everything I thought I had remembered from the Parisian French Language Institute where I gained my French foundation.  I finally had to find resolution with online pronunciation guides and even a second confirmation from a friend who studied French at Cambridge!  I am willing to accept this consonant chopping from most bartenders, but from a Belgian establishment?!?  I expected the waiter to say that [s] and say it like a [z].  He did not.  Once again, I was left looking like the stupid American with no sense of French pronunciation.  Pour quoi?!?

Ok, rant ranted.  White girl problem/first world problem done.  It’s fine.  I’m fine.

Fin.

Another Look at PGH: A Pastry Pique-Nique

October 2011

One of the perks of working for the quirky start-up that is my day job is what we call “French Pastry Tuesday.”  On Tuesdays, the company and Ed, the volunteer pastry fetcher by default of being a neighbor of the bakery, brighten our day with pastries from La Gourmandine.  I made the mistake of disclosing my zeal for almond croissants which make a limited appearance, so Tuesday mornings at work now feature a mad dash (and the occasional fisticuffs) to the pastry delivery to snag the coveted croissants with the moist, almond filling.

I have also alluded to the pastry source of happiness when I talked about my “Me, Myself et Moi” moments.  The choice for a Saturday morning breakfast during the Heather & Jess visit was clear!  Mind you, when you stay up extremely late on a Friday night catching up with an old friend and forming a bond with a new friend, Saturday “morning” and “breakfast” come around 1pm, which explains why these late birds missed the almond croissants.  Luckily, the bakery offers plenty of other delicacies.

La Gourmandine
4605 Butler St,
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
Neighborhood:  Lawrenceville

Since the sun was shining on the beautiful Allegheny Cemetery just across the street, we went on a Pastry Pique-Nique.

Paris-Brest x deux
Choux dough filled with hazelnut cream

Those coffee cups held hot beverages from one of the finest espresso purveyors on the Pittsburgh scene (and even beyond the Pittsburgh scene):  Espresso A Mano.  The combination of their cappuccino and La Gourmandine’s pastry makes for a moment that transcends the borders of this steel town.

Jess took a slightly more savory route to our French “morning” and chose a brie tart.

Animated-Pique-Nique

The pastry gods were shining upon Heather and her hazelnut selection.

After ample digestion and relaxation time, the ladies were due for a Lawrenceville tour.  The adventures continued.

Blondies Have More Fun [With Bourbon]

October 2011

I once sat before an abrasive New York hair stylist, looked enthusiastically past the black leather pants on her cigarette skinnied legs, looked beyond the ill-fitting, black sweater, looked underneath the exaggerated, swooping bangs with subtle tones of auburn gleaming in the jet black color, and I said, “I want something edgy!”  I was the demonstration client for the students of the Dessange method, but apparently, I didn’t really fit the mold of their desired demo.  Abrasive New York barely took a pause from her moment of final glory to address my disappointment, “If you want ‘edgy,’ you need to use color.”

I explained to her how the purist respect I have for my body prevents me from willingly exposing my scalp to chemicals.  “Just bleach the ends then,” she retorted, and I had to admit, I hadn’t thought of that loophole.  I also have to admit, I did learn a great deal from that abrasive New Yorker (she really just wanted to come across as abrasive) such as the meaning of “occipital.”  I actually liked her despite how this recap makes it seem.

I thought about what she said, and I concluded I needed to live a little.  By following her advice, I could have my cake and eat it too, or in this case, have my color and avoid the chemicals.  Granted, I returned to the salon, and her students told me my new hair scheme was too “avant-garde” for them.  Really?  An asymmetrical boy haircut was too avant-garde?!?  I crossed the street, went to a new salon and came home with more color than my head has ever contained.

Blondie

Did I have fun with my tuft o’ blonde?  I did.  Will I have fun without it?  I will.

No-More-Blonde-Tuft

Does all this pertain to food somehow?  It [sort of] does!  Are blondies more fun, as the saying [sort of] goes?  Well, they’re definitely more fun with bourbon!  Now, finally, we talk dessert, or rather, we let the pictures do the talking while we sit back chewing!

(click the ingredient list to enlarge)

(click the directions to enlarge)

Me, Myself et Moi

September 2011

Recently over a picnic dinner, some friends asked me, “do you eat like this all the time?”  What did they mean by this?  Maybe it was the tablecloth or the glassware.  Maybe it was the vintage wood grains or the repurposed fishing basket.  However, my guess is this meant the overall love and care put into the shared meal.  Would I do the same for myself each night?

Another friend recently listened to my woes over the coming wanderings that will lead my inspirational yoga instructor away from this gray town.  This beautiful friend told me, “Don’t ever make any person bigger than yourself, Quelcy.”

When I put those questions and the advise together, this is what emerged:  quiet, beautiful moments for me, by myself et avec moi.

A friendly fella named Steve recently started selling fresh juice at the yoga school.  He will also be vending his vitamin-filled, jam jars at the Pittsburgh Public Market.  Significantly boosting my produce intake with such bold colors immediately brightens my day.  Steve and the rest of the juicing yogis have inspired me to invest in a new kitchen contraption.  I can’t wait for my very first elixir!

Beets and Bonne Maman and little, local plums turned leftover rolls into something brand new.

Same rolls on a different quiet occasion…

If I could preserve only two memories from all my time in France, one would be mon aventure avec un accordéoniste, and the other would be the flavor of crème d’amande.

Almond croissants are the perfect pastry in my baking book, but for whatever reason, they are really hit or miss on American soil.  Thankfully, there is a a “true taste of France in Pittsburgh,” and La Gourmandine actually tastes like France!  This almond croissant was the most perfect pastry in the bakery basket, and it made the ideal addition to a quiet brunch for one.

On a slightly different note, another friend told me the world would soon drench me in metaphorical champagne and pearls!

Dear World,

I am ready, and I can hardly wait!

xoxo,

QTK

Quelcadelphia In The Times of Irene

August 2011

This is the perfect window, in a splendidly tall row home, with wooden floors, a behemoth butcher block and kitchen tiles with blue flowers.  This perfect window makes me want to sit on its sill, drink tea whose vapors hit my face with the breeze, read and daydream, daydream and read.  Fortunately for me, this is the perfect window in the home inhabited by several outstanding fellas (and an adorable ladyfriend as well!).  These fellas are my friends, some new, some old, but I dare say, we are not fair-weather friends (being as we sort of survived a hurricane together…well, hurricane hype, that is).  Thanks for everything Philly Fellas!  I am still plotting how to be the seventh roommate!

Without further ado, I present… Quelcadelphia in the Times of Irene!

The Spring Gardens

Just beyond enviable row homes, people-watching stoops and a stone church, emerged this beautiful garden!  Glancing across the street yielded quite the urban view.  Yet another reason to love the Fairmount neighborhood!  There were iron tables and chairs where I could have very easily passed a sunny afternoon (had there been sun, and had I had access past the garden gate gazing).

Cafe L’Aube
1631 Wallace St.
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Neighborhood:  Fairmount

In Brian’s biking, he spotted a “Quelcy type of place,” so I went walking past impressive door details, antique accents, flora and perhaps even fauna, in search of the art nouveau facade of Cafe L’Aube.  I had the place to myself, which gave me a chance to practice French with the French-African owner, concentrate on the various French magazines and most importantly, to savor my buckwheat crepe with ham, goat cheese, fig jam and a sprinkling of herbs!  The interior had a very crisp, calming aesthetic, offering quiet respite from a rainy afternoon.  Some sunny day, I’ll have to sit at those outdoor tables.  I love a good corner locale for people watching.

Bookhaven
2202 Fairmount Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Neighborhood:  Fairmount

I was going to ask one of the fellas where I could find tattered pages and that particular smell of many, many old books crammed, in every which way, onto old shelves.  As the wandering would have it, I stumbled upon this place on my own.  The store provided me with my stoop read for the weekend:  Siddhartha.

The Fairmount Farmers Market
22nd & Fairmount Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19130

I was even more pleasantly surprised when I wandered right into a farmer’s market.  Look at that palette of carrot colors!  I bought mango donut peaches and blackberries and quickly concluded, I would love to have more mango donut peaches in my life!  The taste is not that of biting into a mango, but the hint of the namesake is there.

Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat
800 N 4th St
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Neighborhood: Northern Liberties

Unfortunately for my sister’s vacation, Hurricane Irene caused an evacuation of Ocean City. Fortunately for me, it meant I was able to spend the afternoon with my sister and her family as they followed the evacuation trail through the city.  A friend recommended Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat, and upon eating, I quickly sent a thank-you text for the tip!  Oddly enough, Honey’s fusion is somehow your Jewish grandmother meets your sassy Southern BBQ slinger (ie:  “Bubby’s bbq brisket” and fried pickles made their way to our table spread) and they somehow unite for good?!?

The corner restaurant boasts quite an herb adn vegetable garden on its trellised wall and an assortment of locally sourced menu options.  I enjoyed feeling as though I had walked into the cafe from Fried Green Tomatoes, and I really enjoyed my Croque Madame (locally sourced ham & cheese on Challah French toast, topped with a sunny side egg, with maple syrup in the sandwich layers)!  On a side note, It is becoming evident and will become evident if you continue to scroll through this post, that I have a weakness for Challah based brunch items.  I admit it, but at least sharing tends to add a slight variety to my brunching and lunching.

After seeing this article in the NY Times, I bookmarked this website, so when my sister asked if there was anything else I could think to do while we were all together, I already had a response:  Old Timey Ice cream and Sodas!

The Franklin Fountain
116 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Neighborhood:  Old City

We knew we had arrived at the correct spot when we saw the line from the door of the turn-of-the-century corner building, the wood and iron tables under the trees and the vintage soda pop uniforms darting to and fro.  The line, though long, may not have been long enough because the multiple menu options and combinations made forming a decision quite difficult.

Upon reading the history behind The Franklin Fountain, the impressive collection of antiques and attention to historical detail made a lot more sense.  The founding brothers come from a line of antique collectors, and the eclectic decor brimming from every nook and cranny really enhances the feeling of stepping into the front door and stepping back in time.

Aesthetically speaking, I have nothing but compliments!  Tastefully speaking, I have high praise.  Service wise… unfortunate.  Mind you, I am not the type of aunt to blindly think my nieces and nephews are floating on angel wings.  When I tell you my nephew was being curious and not troublesome, I mean it.  He merely stepped on an antique scale, which for all intents and purposes, looked as though it were “open” for customer use in that kitschy type of way a boardwalk shop might offer.  There was even a little sign that said something about “your weight,” which might lead one to conclude he or she could discern his or her weight by stepping on that very scale.  The moodier of the soda jerks rather abruptly told my brother-in-law, “please [the type of "please" that was formality only] don’t let him stand on that scale.  It’s over 100 years old [said with all the condescension he could muster under a white, paper hat, which was surprisingly a lot].”

Listen soda guy, I hear ya.  I know the woes of working behind a counter, but it’s an ice cream shop!  You have to expect kids to be there, no?!?  I say all this not to steep bitterness but more as a warning.  If you are bringing kids, be prepared for a possible stink eye or two.  That being said, my soda server (not the kid hater) had one of the most genuine smiles and really seemed to take pleasure in serving his customers.  Hit or miss, I suppose.

Ordering leaned on the overwhelming side.  First, we were stuck behind girls who were just loitering around the menu counter (not reading the menus mind you, just obstructing our process).  Next thing you know, we were being scolded for occupying too much counter space, but that’s where the menus were.  Then there was the pressure of choosing from the extensive menu and taking advantage of both the soda and ice cream worlds (not a huge complaint obviously).

The obvious choice probably would have been one of the many ice cream floats, but as someone reared on an intense appreciation for ice cream, I have issues with liquifying it.  I want to savor my flavor of choice in its solid (and melting) form.  Thus, I divided and conquered:  a mint chip ice cream cone and a Japanese Thirst Killer Phosphate (Orgeat {almond}, Grape juice, & Angostura Bitters with Phosphate).

Once upon a time, I only ate mint chip ice cream if it looked like Saint Patrick’s Day had been muddled into the cream.  Those tables have definitely turned, but mint chip is still ice cream perfection in my world…when it is white, that is.  The Franklin version and homemade waffle cone did not disappoint.  I shared my bright red phosphate with the family, and I beamed inside when my niece described the flavor as, “it’s like a collage of apple cider and [communion].”  What a little poet!  A collage!  With words like that describing food, I should probably plan to relinquish this blog to her any day now.

The Farmer’s Cabinet
1113 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Neighborhood: Market East

Ah my friends, they have come to know my food preferences and tastes (and I’ll be honest, “selectiveness” ha) very well.  Thus, my dear friend Heather told me about a new restaurant she thought should be on my Philly radar:  The Farmer’s Cabinet.  I was enticed immediately by the name, which stems from an old handbook devoted to agricultural information for local farmers.  The name lends itself to a decor of warm wood grains, large railroad ties or rafters (?) strung from the ceiling holding flickering candles, wooden shelves of old bottles and a menu featuring locally sourced ingredients, small batch beer and handcrafted cocktails.  Of course this place was on my Philly to do list, and accordingly, I had very little restraint when ordering.

Our friendly and helpful waiter (extra kudos because we were pushing the kitchen closing hour), assisted in our butcher block/cheese board selection.  I like brie cheese as much as the next, but in my francophile world, I see it more as a staple and less of a night-on-the-town cheese.  Let me tell you, the Moses Sleeper Brie from The Farmer’s Cabinet changed my mind!  It really rocked me from my brie stupor with its complex flavor and texture.  Try it!  Try it!  Try it!  The rest of the appetizing slate offered Birchrun Blue Cheese, smoked duck, cardamom pickled carrots in a jam jar and the quiet contentment that arises when friends are silenced by good food!

From that deliciousness, we progressed to a sharing of the seared pork tenderloin (bacon bourbon cream, mustard greens, cranberry greens) and the ground short-rib burger (aged cheddar and bacon jam).  Allow me to reiterate two very important points:  bacon bourbon cream and bacon jam!!!!!!  The words say it all, and once we had the food on the table, we were speechless!  Just one more time…bacon jam!!!  Bacons and bourbons aside, the burger passed the test of the stand alone meet quality, whereas the pork tenderloin was only as good as the contributing flavors in each forkful.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was disappointed, but I wasn’t overwhelmed.

We easily worked our way through a few rounds of cocktails as well.  First of all, there is something unique about saying, “I will have a Sacrificial Dance (Rye, strawberry & rhubarb rattafia, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and fresh lemon juice),” or “I’d like Ancestral Spirits (Bourbon, cointreau, lemon juice, blueberry preserves, dashes of ginger tincture and a mint garnish).”  I wouldn’t be hard pressed to believe in some mystical power emanating from the cocktails, especially the Ancestral Spirits!  Maybe that was just the “magical” effect of quality alcohol cleverly concocted.

From the moment we sat at our table, we eyed the dessert menu and made a note to save room for some sweeter samplings.  Amongst the table, we shared the Whoopie Pies, Phyllo ice cream sandwich and the Bavarian Pretzul Redux.  I’ve had my share of fancier whoopie pies (that’s “gobs” to you, Pittsburgh), but this whoopie pie wiped all previous pies from memory.  Each flavor asserted itself, and we were all “politely” eying the last bite of dessert, poised to savor the last lavender bits.

When I picture pretzels in dessert, my default image is a suburban jello salad with a pretzel crust, but this farmer’s version was such a far cry from cul-de-sac potlucks (as one would expect).  The pretzel redux was beautifully plated and so richly chocolaty, I forgot part of its salt versus sweet complexity came from the snack classic.  The banana ice cream sandwich was the middle ground in my book, which was a very, very delicious dessert book.

Great friends!  Great food!  Great ambiance!  How did we ever leave that table?

Well, the real answer is we left with an alcohol and food induced merriment and loud pop hits on the stereo!

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Sabrina’s Cafe
1804 Callowhill Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Neighborhood:  Fairmount/(Art Museum)

I usually seek out new dining options, but memories of brunch at Sabrina’s lingered in my head and hungry stomach.  The cravings coupled with proximity to Phil’s new Fairmount location and the impending Irene rains all pointed to Sabrina’s Cafe.

I have a theory about the plate planners at Sabrina’s.  I envision a brainstorm board in their kitchen, with magnets featuring various meals offered on typical menus (ie:  omelettes or steak with crème fraiche).  When deciding the daily specials, the head chef, in a wild, frenzied movement, rearranges various meal cards into groups, and these overwhelming compilations become the specials.  This is to say, Sabrina’s menu boasts very extensive descriptions.

Par Example: 

The Breakfast Club Special
Cornbread & green onion foccacia topped with scrambled eggs with a BBQ basil-cilantro pesto, cheddar cheese, fresh spinach, topped with grilled honey balsamic, flank steak, a corn, tomato, red bean and pepper succotash and roasted jalapeno-avocado crema….just try to say that in one breath!

Duckies “Friend Zone” French Toast
(Not quite a verbal mouthful but definitely a mouthful of towering French toast!)
Filled with a sweet blend of cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, blueberry, sweet almond and oat clusters and vanilla shortbread, topped with a peach-honey syrup.  Yummmmmy!

Bonus:  Love the Leftovers!
If only I carried an army figurine with me because I really should have included some type of scale figure with these French Toast photos.  Point being, this plate leads to leftovers, and when I wanted dessert later in my visit, I paired a slice of this French Toast with French vanilla ice cream and my own cherry compote, and it was deeeelicious!

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Cafe Lift
428 North 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Neighborhood:  Spring Garden, Callowhill, Avenue of the Arts North

Sundays are not days for big decisions or early action.  This was especially true on the post Hurricane Hype Sunday.  Each of the Fairmount brownstone residents slowly emerged from slumber to enter the brunch brainstorm slowly occurring in the breezy living room, where bubbles were blowing out the perfect window.  There were attempts to find a new place, but when the gents told me one of their brunch staples, Cafe Lift, used to house an industrial elevator, hence the name, I was enticed.  When I saw the menu, I had my shoes on and umbrella ready.  Then I fell down the slick stairs, but that’s a different story.

The dear friend Heather mentioned above was able to join our brunching endeavor as well.  I loved her company and her willingness to split two entrees, thus striking the perfect brunch balance of sweet, savory and even a tad experimental:

French Toast
Challah dredged in a cinnamon vanilla custard then finished with fresh fruit and homemade whipped topping. [I really appreciate the use of the term "dredge" here]

+

Hudson Rose’s Savory Pancake
Savory buttermilk pancakes cooked with chopped bacon, sauteed spinach, scrambled eggs and fontina cheese layered between and served with pure maple syrup.

Bacon in the pancake!  I’d been toying with sausage in the pancake, but bacon?!?  Daaang!  You may be skeptical about the maple syrup dousing all of the listed components, but trust me (and possibly ignore my grand affinity for maple syrup ever so slightly), the combinations were harmonious!  The gents had the idea of a post-brunch nap for their afternoon, but in the interest of quality time with Heather, I energized enough to do some Anthropologie lusting, so let’s just pretend this fur is part of my permanent collection.

As the daylight faded into bay window silhouettes, I found myself on the stoop drinking hot tea, the vapors hitting my face with the breeze, reading and daydreaming, daydreaming and reading.

Thanks again, Philly and friends and family.  It was a wonderful adventure in the time of Irene.

A Belated Bastille Soiree

Juillet 2011

It was time to celebrate July birthdays at my day job, and what better way [for a Francophile party planner] to commemorate than with a French Fête in honor of Bastille Day?!?

(Click on the invitation to see the party pics)

To really motivate the potluckers’ French brainstorming, I sent an inspirational food collage prior to the party:

I may have both drooled and cried over my keyboard when assembling the above collage (click the collage to enlarge).

As for me, I decided to try my hand at a nutty Breton cake.  I must confess, this cake did not match all my memories of the motherland version.  I may have been guilty of slightly over mixing, but I also venture that my fatigued food processor just didn’t hack into those hazelnuts enough.  Thus, I still encourage following this recipe thanks to some really rave reviews, but really grind those hazelnuts and mix lightly.  Suggestion number deux:  this cake is quite lovely (and maybe more appropriately) served with coffee or tea.

Voila.  Bon courage!

Hazelnut Gâteau Breton

Cake Ingredients

1 ¼ cups organic, evaporated cane juice sugar
1 ¼ cup local honey
1 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted, husked
12 large egg yolks (local/free-range)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, divided
2 Tablespoons potato starch
2 large egg yolk beaten with 4 teaspoons water (for glaze)

Layer/Garnish

Fig Compote (or jam of your choice)
Whole strawberries with stems attached for garnish

Whipped Topping Ingredients

3 cups organic heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract

For the Hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Arrange hazelnuts on a stone baking pan and place on middle oven rack.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes until toasted and fragrant.

Allow to cool slightly.

Rub the hazelnuts together in a linen towel to remove the husks.

For the Cake

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F.

Butter and flour a 9 x 13 rectangular pan.

Combine ½ cup sugar and hazelnuts in processor; blend until nuts are finely ground but not pasty.

Combine 12 egg yolks and remaining ¾ cup sugar in a large bowl; whisk until well blended and slightly thicker, about 2 minutes (do not use electric mixer).

Whisk in honey and then the hazelnut mixture.

Gradually whisk in the melted butter.

Combine the flour and potato starch in a separate bowl and then sift over the batter; stir just until blended (batter will be thick; do not over mix or cake may be tough).

Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top with offset spatula (layer will be thin).

Brush top generously with egg glaze.

Using back of tines of fork, deeply mark crisscross pattern atop cake, marking 3 times across in 1 direction and 3 times in opposite direction.

Bake cake until deep golden on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes, then remove pan sides and cool cake completely.

*Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in foil and store at room temperature.

For the Whipped Topping

Chill a medium-sized bowl in the freezer.

Remove the bowl from the freezer.  Combine the heavy cream and vanilla.

Use an electric mixer (unless going for forearm glory) to beat until stiff peaks form.

Chill until ready to use.

For the Assembly

Cut the cake into two layers.

Spread a thick layer of fig compote followed by whipped cream.

Add the top layer of cake.

Pipe whipped cream onto the sides and garnish the top.

Add the strawberries with stems for the final touch.

It’s not a French Fête without CREPES!

I made crepe batter, but I knew better than to attempt the batter splatter portion of the process.  I’m just not all that seasoned at spreading and flipping.  I am, however, very well versed at eating crepes.

The Crepes
Makes approximately 20 crepes

2 ½ cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour
2 ½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
10 eggs (local/free-range)
2-1/2 cups organic whole milk
2-1/2 cups water
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the eggs.

Gradually add in the milk and water, whisking to combine.

Add the salt and butter; beat until smooth.

Relinquish the bowl of batter to the crepe master at the griddle and then transition to this important question:  What type of crepe combination do I want (first)?

Fin.