Sunday, June 19, 2011

Easy Week Night Dinner

Here in the Northeast, school still isn't out. Yes, I know we are edging into late June but we're still packing lunches each morning and doing homework at night. And because of all the snow we got this Winter, we have had 4 days tacked on to the end of our school year so the kids are not out until Friday June 25th! If you are a parent, you know the end of the year is busy, busy, busy so it helps to have some easy week night dinners the whole family can enjoy.

One of our favorites is a grilled Panini brimming with all sorts of goodies. Layered with taleggio cheese, prosciutto, spinach, peaches, and drizzled with honey, the salty sweet flavor of this very sophisticated grilled cheese is heavenly. Brush the cibatta bread with extra virgin olive oil and grill in your panini press until the cheese is melted, the spinach is wilted and the bread is browned. 

Now that summer is approaching, this pressed sandwich could be tweeked to include the season's freshest produce. I'd love to hear what you do with your summer paninis!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

CC Cupcakes!

I've got the letter C on my mind lately because C is the first letter of the name we've chosen for our newest daughter. I also have cupcakes on my mind. Why, I do not know. But considering I had the opportunity to bring a dessert to a group dinner last night, I figured I'd make a go of a cupcake that has been dancing around in my head.

Coconut Cardamom Cupcakes 
(lots of C's up there, no?)

The cupcake itself is a vanilla coconut cake batter and the frosting is a standard cream cheese (more C's) frosting infused with cardamom.
But I decided to fill the cupcakes with a little surprise in the center.
The filling is a Saffron Cream. A sweet pastry cream with a twist.

The cupcake batter baked up really well and I cut holes in the centers in which to pipe in the saffron cream. 

After I topped the cupcakes with the cardamom cream cheese frosting I sprinkled some toasted coconut on top to add some color.

They were delicious!

Vanilla Coconut Cupcakes with a Saffron Cream filling and a Cardamom Cream Cheese Frosting


  1. 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  2. 1 tablespoon baking powder
  3. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  4. 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  5. 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  6. 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  7. 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  8. 1 cup granulated sugar
  9. 4 large eggs, separated

Saffron Cream

  1. 1 cup milk
  2. 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  3. Large pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
  4. 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  5. 1/4 cup cornstarch
  6. Pinch of salt
  7. 4 large egg yolks
  8. 1 tablespoon unsalted butter


  1. 3/4 pound cream cheese, softened
  2. 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  3. 3 cups confectioners' sugar 
  4. 3/4 tsp ground decorticated cardamom 
  5. 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut or unsweetened coconut flakes

    1. MAKE THE CAKE: Preheat the oven to 250°. Line your cupcake tin with papers. In a medium bowl, whisk the cake flour with the baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk the coconut milk with the vanilla and coconut extracts.
    2. In a bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter with 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar until fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well between additions. With the machine at low speed, add the dry ingredients in 4 batches, alternating with the coconut-milk mixture.
    3. In a large bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. With the machine on, gradually beat in the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar until the egg whites are thick and glossy. Scrape the beaten whites into the cake batter and fold until just combined.
    4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed. Transfer the cakes to a rack and let cool to room temperature.
    5. MEANWHILE, MAKE THE SAFFRON CREAM: In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, coconut milk and saffron and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the egg yolks until smooth. Gradually whisk in half of the hot saffron milk. Scrape the mixture into the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, whisking, until the saffron cream is thickened and just comes to a simmer, 4 minutes. Transfer the cream to a heatproof bowl and stir in the butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream and refrigerate.
    6. MAKE THE FROSTING: In a medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the cream cheese with the butter until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and cardamom and beat well. Fill a pastry bag with a decorating tip of your choice and tefrigerate until chilled but still pipeable, about 10 minutes.
    7. Using a corer or a small serrated knife, cut holes into the cupcakes but do not go all the way through. Discard most of filling from hole but keep the top. Using a piping bag and a large tip, fill cupcakes with saffron cream. Place top of cake piece over hole to hide filling. 
    8. Pipe frosting onto cupcake. Less is more with this b/c of the cardamom flavor in the frosting. No need to go over board with the frosting.
    Make Ahead The unfrosted cake can be wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature overnight, or frozen for up to 1 week. The frosted cake can be refrigerated, covered, overnight. Serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.
    *Recipe adapted from Tyler Brown and Food & Wine.  

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Petit Dejeuner

Your morning meal in Paris is a wonderful thing if you are of the continental breakfast persuasion. The pastries and breads combined with the wonderful fruits you can get at this time of year make for a delicious start to the day.  This morning we started the day with pain aux raisins, pain au chocolat, baguette, des fraises et des cerises. And of course we had some lovely french beurre and confiture on hand for the baguette.

 One of the things I love about France is that children often start the day with a bowl of hot chocolate. I don't know why they use a bowl but watching kids wrap their little hands around the warmth of of the cocoa makes you consider having your morning coffee that way.

We have started making hot chocolate for breakfast around here and the taste of the cocoa is different than it is in the US. It is less sweet and has a richer chocolate flavor. I think I'll be bringing a few boxes of this home with me in August!

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Never been much of a baker. Don't get me wrong. I love sweets.  The savory side of the culinary world has always had a stronger pull on my palate, which may be, in part, due to the kitchen in which I was raised. Growing up our family had a kick-ass muffin recipe which everyone loved, cheese cakes appeared from time to time, and chocolate cookie batter rarely made it in scoops to a sheet pan. Brownies were always made from a box, pancakes from a mix, and cakes, hum, cakes were bought. Preferably from Alden Merrell. But my mother was known for her curry dishes, lemon garlic salad dressing, and something our family affectionately calls chicken and peaches. There just simply wasn't much baking going on.

Spending last summer in Paris sparked an interest in me to bake. After all, who can resist all the yeasty and sugary creations this city produces on every corner and several places in between. No other country can top France in a competition to produce incredible baked goods. In fact, rarely have I had even a simple baguette outside of France that rivals the delights of it's skinny loaf. This was especially puzzling to me last year when we returned home after 3-months of Parisian pain and I could not find a single breadmaker who could pump out a baguette that was simple, tasty, fresh and not weapon-like. Well except in Fairfield, CT where there is a wonderful pair of French bakers at Isabelle et Vincent. But these bakers, and I assume their ingredients as well as their secrets, are imported. Why though can't we replicate the french baguette, I wondered. The challenge started to consume me and I realized that if I was ever going to tackle a good loaf of bread, I should first become a baker. So I've spent the past year baking more than I ever have and have enjoyed every minute of it.

When we arrived back in Paris I was on a mission to take as many baking classes as I could. Who else could teach me better than the French? Last year I never found a place that was offering the kinds of classes I was looking for, at a time that was convenient for me, and in an environment I liked. I prefer classes that are less about a recipe and more about technique. There is always a nuance to creating something that books just can't convey. It is rewarding to learn the basics of something and then be able to tweek and change it to suit your desire.

The Macaron class last Saturday at La Cuisine Paris was so fabulous that I decided to see if I could attend another class. Luckily, I was able to find a sitter and signed up for a Wednesday afternoon Eclair class. I dropped my kids off with their new sitter at the playground in Le Jardin du Luxembourg and I scooted over to a 3-5 pm class just up the street. It could not have been more convenient.

We learned the basics of Pâte á Choux and I had a great revision on Crème Patissière. We learned the technique of piping the dough and then filling these delicious creations. A few people dropped out of the class at the last minute so we were fortunate enough to be just three students. As a result, I really made a batch of these goodies all by myself. It was a fabulous hands on experience. We made chocolate filled éclairs with a chocolate Glacage topping and apple flavored ones with a caramel topping. I also asked the chef if I could make a few round ones just to see how they'd turn out.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fromage et le Foot

I did not celebrate the USA FIFA Worldcup game yesterday with food. And we lost. So today, as 3/4 of my family is British, I decided to whip up a cheese board from what was in the frigo for the England/Germany game.

My guess at the 76 minute mark is that food does not matter when it comes to football. England was robbed of a goal but then forgot that defense was an important part of the game.

Tant pis.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

La Cuisine et les Marchés de Paris

I think the single thing I love most about Paris is that I can make nearly every day about food. Shopping for food, learning about food, exploring shops that sell equipment to prepare food, it is a wonderland of exquisite nourishment.

Saturday mornings are all about the Batingnolles Bio Marché. It is small but really good and the vendors there are wonderfully sweet and helpful. The whole market is organic so it takes a bit of the thinking part out of the shopping experience. You can just gravitate to what looks or smells good and go from there.

Plus there is always some sort of entertainment at the Marché and today it was this lovely lady as a singing clown. She serenaded my children with Sur la Pont D'Avignon.

I came home with a lovely assortment of fresh vegetables which won't last long here. The good and the bad of it is that buying fruits and vegetables at market here in France pretty much means they are ready to eat within a day or two. Unlike at home when your produce arrives at your market while still trying to ripen, everything here goes from farm to table ready to eat. 

After the market we had a light lunch here at the apartment and then I gathered the family and we trundled off to the Luxembourg area for some play and some cooking. I enrolled in a cooking class on Macarons which was conveniently located across from Le Jardin du Luxembourg where the children could play for a few hours under the watchful eye of their handsome father. We had a tad bit more of a French experience getting down there than we would have liked with our bus route being shortened due to an unexpected manefestation. No one seemed sure about what the grave was about since we'd just had one on Thursday against the raising of the retirement age. As it turns out it was a series of street closures for the Gay Pride Parade.

The class was run by a fairly new outfit called La Cuisine Paris which apparently opened in October 2009. They have lots of classes at different times all days of the week so if you are a working stiff, a mère au foyer, or a student, there is a good chance you'll be able to find a class that suits your schedule.

There were 7 of us in our english speaking class. Two friends from Hong Kong by way of London, two American grandmas and their granddaughters, and me. We all had a wonderful time learning about these colorful cookies and I am sure that each on of us will be trying them on our own.

We made a green cookie to suit the green-apple vanille crème patissiere filling and then of course we did the obligatoire Chocolate Ganache.

I am excited about trying these recipes while I am here in France and having yet another excuse to go to G. Detou for supplies. I am not however exicted about the fact that I don't have a mixer and will have to use my brute strength and a whisk.

After the class, box of macarons in hand, we scooted home to make a quick dinner before the USA Ghana game. While in France we do things the French way with salad and cheese coming after the main dish. With two kids who actually eat vegetables but don't care for salad dressing, I have taken to just mixing greens in a bowl with dressing and serving salad ingredients on the side with the cheese. Here are some photos of our salad topping plate that the kids pick from while we eat cheese after our main. I added more of everything after this photo but when it comes to the simple beauty of food, less is more.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Après Dejeuner

Two doors down is an artisan boulanger. The bread is great. Today the kids and I are having a lazy day that included walking across the street and 5 doors down to the Franprix for some supplies. On the way back I grabbed a baguette two doors down to make sandwiches for lunch. Oh and I decided it was a good time to sample the pastries to make sure they were good. I chose my three favorites, éclair au chocolat, tarte aux framboises, and flan. 

They were all terrible. I Paris.