Tastings

Kale Pomegranate Salad

I am lying in bed surrounded by tissues, humidifier on full blast, some food game show half keeping my attention, with a cup of ginger, lemon and honey that keeps getting too cold before I can finish it. I really don’t think this is that sickness (I really hope it is not) but nonetheless all of the things on my to-do list are just languishing there. I made my go-to-when-sick, toast, that is easy to make and comforting but then, just as I was about to try napping, I thought of kale salad. Maybe my body need some anti-oxidants and nutrients stat, but the kale salad with pomegranate and toasted walnuts that I made a few weeks ago at my parent’s house came into my head. The ingredients for which have been waiting behind the scenes in the fridge like actors waiting for me to call “places”. But can I muster the energy to make it? Washing the crevices of kale is a chore at the best of times, and freeing the arils of a pomegranate a task so difficult there are copious tutorials and videos for it online.
The kale salad is somewhat of a foodie joke lately because of its heavy presence on the menus of local-driven restaurants wanting to serve a dressed green and having much more kale than butter lettuce in the winter months. But not going out to eat as much as your average food critic, and living in a city that seems at least 6 years behind New York in terms of food, I’ve been eating my kale cooked. This recipe from Joy the Baker was the thing that got the kale salad idea implanted in my brain, while a Martha Stewart’s Whole Living recipe brought pomegranate seeds to the party. In the end I sort of made a Wuzzle (I apologize if you now can’t get the theme song out of your head) of the recipes, using the ingredients from the Whole Living recipe, and using Joy’s dressing. I made a few changes, including taking out the red onion because onions in the winter tend to be super strong tasting, and I replaced the honey in the dressing with maple syrup which I think was a perfect touch because honey can be overpowering while it sweetens, and I sometimes find it cloying.
I mixed everything except the nuts an hour or so early so that the kale could soften in the dressing and the flavors could marry. The leftovers the next day were really delicious too, with a stronger flavor and the kale softened up some. So you could even leave it overnight if you wanted to give your molars a bit of a break. I like kale, probably more than the average person, but I thought this salad was transcendent. It, to me, felt almost like eating dessert, and then getting to feel a little self-righteous about it. I couldn’t wait to make it again.

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Tastings

birds singing in the sycamore tree

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I’ve been in Paris now for three blue-skied, breezy days and I have been enjoying food because my vacation is over tomorrow, and I am going back to Boston, which I don’t care what anyone tells you, has very lame food. I’ve been eating things like flaky, buttery croissant and pain au raisin from the good bakery where they do it the right way with layer after layer of pastry. We ate moules frites at a Belgian restaurant, and falafel in Le Marais, which was very elusive as we could never find the precise cobble-stone street, and when we did the stand was closed, and the next day we again had a hard time finding it, but truthfully it was all the more delicious for its elusiveness, and for being stuffed with cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, hummus and spicy sauce along with the chickpea fritters. We ate crepes with nutella and bananas beside a fountain under the gaze of the Eiffel Tower, and then I had bread and cheese and wine for dinner. (Wine, in case you are wondering, is as delicious as I remember, not having had it since the last time I was here.)

This, even though I employed the same devil-may-care-vacation-is-almost-over attitude during the last few days in Tetouan, enjoying creamy avocado smoothies, pastries and cheeseburgers. I haven’t had the chance to discuss Omar’s Superburger here, mostly because it was closed during the day during Ramadan, and because it’s the kind of thing you get spontaneously, without making plans for a photo shoot. Omar owns a place by the main plaza. It is small and dimly lit, and has the look of a very old-school Spanish place, with heavy wrought-iron lanterns, leather stools and a dark wooden bar. You can order three things, a hamburger, a cheeseburger or a superburger, along with a few drinks and coffee. When you’ve ordered he will take a patty out of his refrigerator and flatten it out on the small, butane powered grill. He will scoop some finely chopped red onion onto the plancha, and then crack an egg into a metal ring. He will cut a roll and scoop out the extra bread in the top, leaving more room for the filling, and place that on the grill. He will cut a sheet of paper in half using the edge of the counter and then assemble the burger, onions, patty, egg, a slice of American cheese, Moroccan ketchup, and hot sauce if you request, wrapping it in half the paper and placing it on the other half. This burger costs 14 Moroccan dirhams, about $1.60, and is very good. Let’s just say I had more than one. 

 
Oh yes, I have been enjoying the last few days of this fun and fascinating trip, and am reluctant for it to end. But like all good things, it must. Here in Paris, that familiar crispness of late summer is manifest in the mornings, or in the moment you pass through a patch of shade, or find yourself wading through a pile of sycamore leaves, bringing a shiver of autumns passed, the jitters of school, the crunch of an apple. It always goes too fast, does the summer, but this one has been so full of memories and experiences and delicious food that I can’t possibly be regretful. I can only bask in the sunlight, enjoy a cup of coffee and the last pages of the last summer book, and get on that plane back tla réalité.

 

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Tastings

Leave the gun, take the pastries.

One thing any visitor to Tetouan, whether interested in food or just hungry, discovers quickly is that they do pastries right. The converging influences in the area, including France from colonial times in early 20th century, nearby Spain, the cultural and religious connection of the Middle East and even the Ottoman Empire which controlled nearby Algeria during the 16th century, affect the food traditions, as they do many other facets of life. The café we like to go to and drink one or four coffees faces onto a pedestrian walkway. Facing the outdoor seating is the side door of a bakery and I like to peer through the large screen door to watch the women mixing, rolling and cutting. One girl caught me looking and gave me the warmest smile, as if we were sharing something. Men and boys come to this door and pick up basket after basket of rolls and baguettes to sell elsewhere, and I wish I could say that I did not see them drop the bread on the ground and then pick it up and put it back in the basket, long past the 5-second rule. In addition to the baguette, which is everywhere, you’ll find French pastries such as croissant, pain au chocolat and madeleines at most bakeries. We also found a cakey, spongey doughnut flecked with chocolate and with a well in the center filled with more creamy chocolate. So amazing it was gobbled up too quickly to get a photo and they are, understandably, always sold out when I go back. The one to the right is a pretty classic cake doughnut, but glazed with honey and covered with almonds. These doughnuts are familiar and comforting, but also different than any I’ve ever had before.

Taking influence from the Middle East and Ottoman Empire, they use phyllo dough, usually for sweet-savory combinations. One is a filling of fresh local cheese with a crumbly texture and a fresh, milky flavor like queso fresco or farmers cheese. These are rolled up into a triangle and finished with a glaze of honey and a sprinkling of slivered almonds, and are a wonderful incarnation of my guilty pleasure, the cheese Danish.

Meat pastries are popular, like this triangle of phyllo surrounding minced chicken and almonds. Portable, crunchy, delicious, these make an excellent snack, lunch, dinner…or even breakfast, let’s be honest.

The Ottoman influence can be clearly seen in this, a bready dough surrounding a filling of mincemeat and nuts with a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon on the outside. It was an interesting combination of sweet, savory and spice, but I’m not sure I would go back for seconds.
 
Each bakery puts its own spin on these classics, as well as creating some new combinations, and I take it as my solemn duty to taste them all before I leave. You’re welcome.



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Tastings

Ladurée ooh la la!

Macarons are having a moment. A long moment, and I don’t really get it. The shop at which I work when I’m in Boston is one of the only places in the area where they are available and on Thursdays, when they come in fresh, people are clamoring for the pastel-colored treats. I love the way they look, especially set out on a dessert platter or fancily boxed up, but not so much the way they taste. Macarons, not to be confused with the macaroons of coconut and chocolate, are meringue cookies made with almond flour and a filling of buttercream or ganache and/or jam. I’m not such a fan of meringues to begin with, and I think that has something to do with my feelings. The texture is what most people rave about, a slight crunch on the outside yielding to chewy and then creamy on the inside. I find it pretty unexciting, and the flavors, of which there are many, taste all the same to me, essentially of butter and sugar with just a whiff of hazelnut or strawberry or whatever. However, I decided to reserve judgment. After all, I had only had them from one place, and that place was not in France, and that place particularly was not Ladurée, the birthplace of the French macaron as we know it.
Ladurée is one of those must-go places for visitors to Paris, either to sit in the café or to go to the counter to order pastries or macarons. It’s definitely a tourist trap, but like the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, for good reason. Macarons are really available everywhere in Paris, from patisseries to supermarkets. Pierre Herme is the other must-go spot for macarons in Paris. He is known for more unusual flavors (Foie Gras, anyone?). I thought it necessary to visit Ladurée, the gold standard, to see first, what I macaron should taste like, and second, if I liked it.
I approached the store (I went to the one on Rue Royale, although there are several) on a rainy Sunday and saw a long line down the block. Luckily, the line led to the dining room of the café, and I was able to go in the next door, which led to the patisserie counter. It was a short line and moved quickly. In French, I asked for six macarons and one madeleine, just to get a taste for the other pastries. The man who helped me was incredibly pleasant and not at all fazed by my attempt at the pronunciation, part of which was shouted at him down the long counter of attendants busily filling box after box. Somehow I communicated that I didn’t need a fancy box, a bag would do. The pricing for getting macarons in a gift box is higher, although I’m not sure about regular boxes, but as I was planning on eating them sooner rather than later, there was no need. Each mini macaron, the size of most macarons I’ve seen in the US, cost 1,70 Euro, about $2.13. Rather than just get a bunch to try, I got a few that I knew I would like, classics that are very popular and two that are more unusual. I ordered Pistache (pistachio), Vanille (vanilla), Caramel a la Fleur de Sel (caramel with sea salt), Petales de Rose (rose) and Réglisse (licorice). Now I know what you’re thinking. I actually hate licorice, but I read in several places that this flavor won over licorice haters and in fact was one of the single best things they had ever eaten, period. Wouldn’t want to miss that!
Vanilla was lovely, delicate, not too sweet.
I think they filled it with a vanilla guimauve,
or marshmallow, which they seem to use for
many of their flavors.
Pistachio was by far the best. A beautiful, natural
shade of green, with a strong but elegant flavor
of the nut, I do not think the filling was buttercream, but
was all or mostly nut paste, with little pieces of pistachio.
Salted Caramel was excellent, with a nice
crisp cookie giving way to a creamy, perfectly
textured caramel.
The rose macaron tasted like a scented candle filled
with butter.  In other words, not something I would like
to eat. I generally call myself a fan of buttercream, but
the buttercream filling these macarons (two of the five
flavors) tasted of only butter.
The licorice macaron also had a buttercream
filling that was pretty revolting. I was expecting
a complex flavor and was disappointed to find this
the least flavorful of the bunch!  Neither the cookie nor
the buttercream tasted of licorice, or indeed anything
but butter and sugar. And not even in a good way.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the madeleine was a day old, it
didn’t taste particularly fresh. It was fine, but not much better
than one from the supermarket. The only thing recommending
it was the faint flavor of lemon, giving the sense that it could
have been something special.

I still don’t really get it. The good ones are good cookies, and I do like a good cookie, but for me they are just not something to lust after, or make special trips for, or use up precious suitcase space for. More for everyone else, I guess!

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Tastings

So Tiny!

I love things that are tiny. Specifically things that are tiny versions of something bigger. Like dollhouse furniture, baby shoes, or those tiny little cocottes that hold, like, one egg. I do not think I am alone in this. So when I saw this mango in a Parisian fruit and vegetable market, I did a double take. Look how small it is! And when the smell coming from these little babies was sweeter, more delicious and more mango-tastic than any I have ever smelled, I knew one had to come home with me. I would like to carry it around in my pocket every day, but I had to eat it. It was the best mango I’ve ever had, although I’m certainly not a connoisseur, not living where mangos particularly like to grow. It was hard to cut into pieces and produced very little fruit, but boy was it good.

 

I also found this little stowaway ladybug too, in this beautiful lettuce in the same market.

This bread from the boulangerie caught my eye because it was shaped like a regular loaf, only miniature. But I bought it because it was bread and chocolate. Yes, please! There were also versions with nuts or raisins. I am definitely going to attempt this at home, although needless to say I won’t be able to replicate the wonderful flavor and texture of the bread. The size, beyond being adorable, is perfect for this kind of flavored bread. The perfect snack while standing in front of the Hôtel de Ville de Vincennes.
 

 

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