Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen on the Road: Paris Foodie Adventures

My husband Brad and I recently returned from a 12 day trip to Europe. On this particular trip, we visited three cities - Paris, Brussels and Prague.  Each of these cities has its own unique culinary traditions, and we made an effort to taste some of the best and most authentic foods in each place that we visited.  I will be doing separate posts on our gastronomical adventures in Prague and Brussels but I figured I'd start with Paris and some of our favorite foods that we ate while visiting that beautiful city for six days.

Crepes are one of Paris' specialties.  We had several crepes while in Paris. On our first night, we visited Le Petit Josselin in Montparnasse to sample some wonderful Parisian crepes. Josselin is one of Paris' best creperies and did not dissapoint, just like my husband had enjoyed the sister creperie down the block some 10 years prior on his last visit to Paris. We both had excellent savory and dessert crepes at Josselin. Below are photos of Brad's savory salmon crepe and my caramel crepe.

Street crepes are also wonderful. I had an amazing crepe with just sugar made hot while I waited (not pictured) at the Crepe Stand at Comptoir de Relais, a delicious Paris restaurant in the trendy rive gauche neighborhood of St. Germain that we enjoyed later in our trip.

Macarons when made correctly are just about the loveliest, pretties Paris dessert in the world. I've made macarons in the past but never ever like these. We went for the very best Paris macarons we could find at the wold famous macaron-maker, Pierre Herme.  We couldn't decide among all of the beautiful, colorful and delicious flavor combinations so my husband and I narrowed it down to seven (pictured at the top) and relished every bite.  These were a highlight and a trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to Pierre Herme.

Lamb and veal dinners are delicious in Paris.  I had a great veal with gnocchi and my husband had the delicious lamb dish pictured below at Restaurant Christine in St. Germain. For dessert at Christine, we had a Paris classic - one of the best souffles that I have ever had - a vanilla souffle with a strawberry sauce.

Now back to our full meal at Comptoir de Relais.  First we had some great French wines and appetizers at the wine bar portion of the restaurant while we waited for our table. Then, at dinner, we had a delicious beef dish (a bit stew like) with noodles pictured below. Yum! On the bottom is a picture of one of the appetizers, basically a mini beef sandwich with a creme fraiche based sauce. The apple tart we had for dessert was scrumptious as well.

We had another great meal in Paris at Allard Bistro - first a delicious salad with frisee and lardons, followed by a French classic made famous by Julia Child - boeuf bourguignon. This was another amazing meal, which ended with our desserts - a raspberry tarte and another French classic - profiteroles.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: S'mores Whoopie Pies

First off, I apologize for my prolonged absence. I have been on vacation for the last two weeks in Europe (new travel-food posts coming soon!) and my computer was having some issues for the week before that. But I am back!

Just before we left for vacation, I got a new cookbook that I have only begun to explore, Whoopie Pies, by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell.  This cookbook has fun and fantastic recipes for whoopie pies of every flavor imaginable.  Whoopie pies are something like an inverse cupcake and they seem to have the same fun-loving, cute appeal. I have made toasted s'mores cupcakes, which were  big hit, so this time I figured I'd follow Amy and Sarah's directions in putting together a s'mores whoopie pie. The result was equally delicious and reminiscent of the cupcakes, although I didn't actually use my creme brulee torch to toast the whoopie filling, the way I did with the cupcake frosting.

This recipe requires three components: whoopie cakes made using graham flour, a marshmallow whoopie filling, and chocolate ganache.  These whoopies are made the traditional way, using crisco shortnening and butter together in the cakes to get the texture and consistency just right.

Sarah & Amy's Graham Cracker Whoopie
1 1/4 cups graham flour
3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Sarah & Amy's Classic Marshmallow Buttercream
1 1/2 cups marshmallow fluff
1 1/4 cups vegetable shortening
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache
8 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (use good quality chocolate)
1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

Line several baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 375. First prepare the  cakes. Mix the flours  and salt in a mixing bowl.  Using a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, shortening and brown sugar for about three minutes until light and creamy.  Add the eggs and buttermilk and beat until combined. Combine the milk, baking soda and vinegar in a cup and add to the batter along with the flour mixture. Beat at medium speed until combined, for about two minutes.  Add the vanilla and beat for two minutes until combined.

Using a spoon, drop 1 tablespoon of batter onto the prepared sheets, and repeat. Make sure to space them at least two inches apart so the whoopie cakes do not run together.  The recipe is supposed to make 48 cakes (for a total of 24 whoopies when paired together) but I made just 40 out of it when I prepared this. Bake each sheet one at a time for 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 375 degrees, just until the cakes begin to brown.  It is important to bake  one sheet at a time to make sure they bake evenly an don't get burnt.  Allow the cakes to cook completely before frosting and adding the ganache to make the full campfire s'mores.

To make the marshmallow filling, beat the fluff, vegetable shortening, confectioner's sugar and vanilla on medium speed for several minutes until fluffy using the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

To make the chocolate ganache, put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Heat the whipping cream in a saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to bubble.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for 10 minutes until the chocolate is melted. Stir with a spatula until smooth and refrigerate for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until firm.

To prepare the whoppie pies, you can spoon the marshmallow frosting (or use a frosting bag)  onto half of the whoopie cakes. Top with the ganache and with a second whoopie cake.  This tastes just like the s'mores I had as a kid, only a million times better!

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