Saying Goodbye

Hello, all,

My sweet grandmother passed away yesterday morning, after a remarkable battle with a lengthy illness. She was 92 and a half years old and I loved her very much. That being said, I will be taking a brief break from posting for a few days to think about her as I will not be able to return home for the memorial service and funeral. (Special thanks to my cousin Kyla for this photo)

I will be writing another tribute to her later on in the week, but I wanted to share a story with you. It may seem a little bizarre, but this is a food blog and it is a story that I think you’ll enjoy. When I was 14, our family took a vacation to Hershey, Pennsylvania, leaving our elderly Chihuahua, Mitzi, with my grandparents. Mitzi was 11 and had a heart condition that required her to eat special food. We checked in every few days to make sure the dog was okay, and the response was usually some variant of this:

“How’s the dog, Gram?”
“Oh, she’s okay. She’s not really very hungry, so she hasn’t been eating much of her food.”
“Well, give her a few days. She’ll be fine and she’ll eat it.”
“She does enjoy fried bologna and cheese sandwiches, though. When I make myself one for lunch, I make her one, too, and we eat them together.”
“Gram, she has a heart condition- she can’t eat those!”
“But she looks at me so longingly when I have my lunch. I just give her a little bit.”

Over the week, a little bit turned into a few bites, and eventually, Mitzi developed a palate for sharing a bowl of vanilla ice cream with Grandma as well. When we went to pick her up, not ten minutes away from the house we received a call that Mitzi had lain down and fallen asleep for the last time, “after a sandwich and a little ice cream,” she’d just taken a nap next to Grandma and hadn’t woken up. We reassured her that she hadn’t done anything to harm Mitzi- rather, she’d given her the best possible care and love that she needed, with affection and nourishment. We should all hope to go in the same manner someday, drifting off after a fried bologna and cheese sandwich and a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

So as you can see, her love for food and kind, compassionate expression knew no bounds. Grammie loved many things, but one of the most special things we shared a passion for was chocolate with nuts. She especially enjoyed Mars Bars, which our family would buy entire boxes of when we chanced upon them at the grocery store, and peanut butter with chocolate. So yesterday, in her honor, I tracked down what I believe to be the only peanut butter and chocolate dessert in Paris (not an easy feat!) and ate it in a cafe. 

Gram, thank you for supporting all of my endeavors and helping cultivate my deep appreciation for delicious food. I feel comforted that in her last days, like Mitzi, she was able to be surrounded by everything she loved and rest easy on her way to whatever comes beyond this. I am confident that she is where she wanted to be and is now in peace.

Thank you,

Jess

Birthday treats in Paris (Pierre Hermé and Sadaharu Aoki)

It’s official. I’ve turned 22 in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I’ve spent the day exactly as I would have liked- walking around Paris, enjoying some incredible pastries, and surreptitiously photographing the dogs of strangers. #aspergianthug #clickthelink It’s been a fantastic day so far, and the best is yet to come. For now, I’ll give you a glimpse of what I’ve been eating today. True fact: I haven’t eaten a single pastry since I arrived. I wanted this to be my glorious coming-out party, and rather than scoff down sweets at an average boulangerie, I was saving myself for the big guns.

I started out the morning by hitting up two of the patisseries on my bucket list, Sadaharu Aoki and Pierre Hermé. I’d been to Hermé before, but never with a disposable income and a lack of parental guidance. Needless to say, I highly recommend surging into the vast selection of Pierre Hermé with completely unbridled lust. It’s varied, meticulous, and delicious.
I restrained myself and left with a macaron and one of their seasonal pastries, the Ivoire, although items from their Infinitivement Citron line tempted me with their sunny colors. I ultimately chose this pastry for its slightly bizarre ingredients- its mascarpone and balsamic vinegar with candied fruits kept me from splurging on the $160 tomato and olive buttercream cake.

While a textural  and visual masterpiece with the perfect balance of crunch and fluffy cream to soften the sharper edges, I thought the flavor execution could have been dialed up to 11, so to speak. The acidity of the lemon in the mascarpone and vinegar was present, but overshadowed by the thick circles of white chocolate and caramelized mille-feuille pastry. I would have liked to see a sharper salinity to counteract the sweetness of the candy and fruit compote. 

And of course, I had to get a macaron. The Bonaparte boutique had plenty of flavors, but ultimately, one of their seasonal cookies won me over. The Jardin Sauvage, with dark chocolate and lime zest, had a razor-sharp balance that I’d desired in the Ivoire. Salty, sweet, and sour, it was like eating a piece of tamarind candy and fine dark chocolate.
I ate these in le Jardin du Luxembourg, just as the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds.

At Aoki, I bought two pastries that I knew would pair impeccably with the birthday tea I splurged on yesterday, some fine Lapsang Souchong. Its smoky, meaty flavors really enhanced the first pastry, Aoki’s acclaimed salted caramel tart.

This is everything that I want my caramel to be. It’s aggressively salty, sweet, smoky, and viscous, suspended somewhere between liquid, solid, and utter goo. It held up remarkably to the 45 minute schlep and crowded, hot Metro ride home, and its thick biscuit base and chocolate piping encapsulated the caramel with no leakage. That’s what I call fine construction. When I bit into it, all hell broke loose. Needless to say, there’s no way I can eat a normal Twix or Snickers bar again. This is pastry gone wild. Don’t let its compact size deceive you- one is very filling and even a little overwhelming.
And finally, I knew I needed something to jam a candle in as an obligatory Happy Birthday prop.That something was making me salivate since I read about it in Yelp reviews of Aoki- the black sesame éclair. This was my favorite of today’s bounty, and I felt as if I could eat at least three of them. It’s literally perfect- it’s well-balanced and skimps in no part of its composition. Often, with these whacky flavors, you’re sacrificing quality for shock value. Not here. The choux dough is as expertly baked as any Genin or Stohrer example, and the pastry cream is smooth and creamy, coating every tastebud as the nutty, intense flavor of black sesame and black sugar sets in. I could see myself getting at least one of these a week. These will definitely haunt my dreams long after I leave Paris, and are an easy reason (one of many!) to come back often.

It was a wonderful birthday, and there’s plenty more to come. Thanks for joining me!

Carnitas Francaises, Habanero Raspberry Bergerac Sauce

I am not the most observant Jew. Case in point, posting about Franco-prepared pork on Yom Kippur, albeit two days after I actually made it, still makes me look like a halfhearted Sasha Baron Cohen progeny. Even if I told you I was fasting today, my flagrant offense of everything Jewish ever makes it pale in comparison. Still, it goes without saying that when steaks run up to $24/pound and when frozen chicken breasts swallow the bulk of your birthday money, seeing a 2 lb. pork shoulder for 4 Euro means that you put your money where your mouth is and eat like a queen for four days. Hence, Carnitas Francaises.

Two pounds, four Euro. And to think that all that I had to do was roll up my sleeves and hack at this sucker with a serrated knife like my life depended on it. After trimming and removing the skin and most of the fat and filleting the meat from the bone, I ended up with roughly 1.25 lbs of tender meat. I knew I wanted to make carnitas on the stovetop, and I also knew that I wanted to have a spicy, but distinctly French flavor profile, so I made a spice blend that incorporated all of those components.
The result, after three hours of simmering and twenty minutes of frying and chopping, was transcendental. Roddy, here’s that Franco-Mexican fusion we spoke of. Sheer, tender delight in miniscule shreds accompanied by a quick gastrique. I had every plan to make this into tacos, buy or make tortillas and eat it over the period of a few days, but its allure ensured that that never came to fruition. I ate it plain, slathered with its spicy, fruity sauce, on baguette, on white bread, but never on tortilla. However, there will be another time for this, that much I am sure of.

Carnitas Francaises
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 2lb. bone-in pork shoulder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder/1 clove of chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 tablespoon of parsley
1/4 cup of red wine (I used Bergerac AOC)

1. Trim, debone, and cut the pork shoulder into small  pieces, roughly 3-4 inches long. Heat a pot with roughly 3 cups of water on the stove on high.

2. Mix the spices together and toss to coat the pork. When the water is boiling, put in the pork and lower the heat to a simmer. Let the pork cook for 2-3 hours uncovered, or until all the water is evaporated.

3. When the water has evaporated, the pork will start to caramelize and fry in its own fat. After the pork is brown, remove it and let the bottom of the pan continue to brown. Pour in the wine and deglaze for a few minutes until reduced and toss in the pork again, allowing the wine to cover the meat. Remove the pork and shred.
Habanero Raspberry Bergerac Sauce
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 tablespoons habanero hot sauce, or 2 chopped habanero peppers
1/4 cup of red wine (I used Bergerac AOC)
1/3 cup fresh raspberries or raspberry jam

1. Let all ingredients simmer in a saucepan until reduced and thick. Stir frequently. Keep in a sealed container for up to 4 days.

Retro Cereal Week Round-Up

Hi, guys!

If you enjoyed my pain and annoyance with Kellogg’s Corn Pops from 1984 yesterday, why not check out the other bloggers who participated in Retro Cereal Week with me? On Monday, The Impulsive Buy gave us an utterly Bartesque look at The Simpsons’ Homer’s Cinnamon Doughnut Cereal from 2001.

On Tuesday, Rodzilla took a trip back in time with the edible time capsule thousands of 4th graders buried their Harry Potter figurines in- Millenio’s! Didn’t those come with a freshly minted penny from 2000?

Wednesday brought us a most excellent look at the 21-year old Bill and Ted’s Excellent Cereal, which, according to Food Junk, wasn’t excellent at all. And on Thursday, we saw Junk Food Guy’s take on the short-lived Dunkin’ Donuts cereal by Ralston Purina.

Check back soon for our next theme week, soon to be determined, and until next time, eat well! Unlike us. These cereals basically sucked hard.

Foodette

28-Year Old Corn Pops

I am not a hoarder. I repeat- I am not a hoarder. I had a normal day, did normal grocery shopping, had a normal session with my regular dominatrix, and finished off my night with a box of Corn Pops. From 1984. But that doesn’t make me a hoarder, I swear! I feel like the Tran Pak of food blogging- “oh my god, it was one time!” In fact, in 1984 I was a mere regret in my father’s eye and a ticking time-bomb in my mother’s womb. So, I digress. Not a hoarder. However, that does make the person I bought them from a hoarder. How does it feel, teenybeanybabysluvrrrr1962!?

1984 was an illustrious year for cereal, especially Corn Pops, a coveted item after the Additional Sweetener Ban of 1982 (SGR 1213). Folks were using all kinds of sweeteners in their cereal to spice up the flavors, not limited to the molasses and coconut oil found in these Corn Pops, soon to be replaced by corn syrup. Rated a prestigious grade of 9.5 Cheerios out of 10 by prestigious Pulitzer-prize winning cereal aficionado Tony Panthera (d. 2005, diabetes), these had an impressive breakfast window from 8AM to 10PM, and were described as “nearly effervescent, with a complex, lingering sweetness on the tongue.” They flew off the shelves and were never seen again. Until now.

When the opportunity came to review these and ruin my credit, all I had to do was make a few phone calls to Discover, put my apartment on the market and bam, I was the proud owner of a single-serving box of 1984 Corn Pops and not one, but ten high-interest private loans! I’m also now homeless.
Looking at the pristine box art, I was a little disturbed to see that some of the golden, sweet cereal pieces falling into the bowl of milk were discolored and bore a strong resemblance to rat turds, as though foreshadowing the box’s present contents. Nevertheless, I forged on, ready to meet my maker in the most hyperspecific way I knew: accidental vintage overdose.

These Corn Pops are fortified with essential vitamins, 15% of your daily recommended intake of B12, that patented “ready-sweetened” touch, and they taste like canned ass. They have a meaty texture with a distinct outer and inner layer, the crusty outer shell revealing a pasty, bubblegum chewy core. Despite the ominous grey spots on the outside of some of the puffs, they were thankfully flavorless when dry, but when doused with milk, tasted like they’d spent the last two decades crammed in the moth-ball stuffed pocket of someone who also had a habit of carrying cat litter around. “I taste no molasses, I taste no coconut. Only the lingering aftertaste of shame.” That’s a little Sartre for you. I want to stare into the hateful, pixelated contours of the logo and ask it why, why has this unworthy example survived the test of time when God has killed legends like Kurt Cobain and Mister Rogers? And why is it violating my taste buds?

Just for fun, and by fun, I mean self-loathing, I let these infuse their flavor into an innocent cup of milk to see what would happen. Three hours later, the puffs are still chewy and foamy and the milk is somehow thicker. And brown, presumably due to being infused with mold and K-Mart sweater essence. So, yes, these are truly putrid and bring back no nostalgic feelings other than the nostalgia for taste and dignity. This is my Midnight in Paris, except instead of Owen Wilson ennui-induced escapism I have Corn Pops from 1984, and instead of Zelda Fitzgerald I have…Corn Pops from 1984.

Whatever, in comparison, I still feel like I’ve come out on top. 

Foodette in Gay Paris: What I’ve been Eating

I thought I’d give you a glimpse into my diet here- it’s a little different than what I’m used to back home, but still delicious! My goal has been to try a new cheese every time I need it at the grocery store, and with the low prices and wide selection, that’s not difficult to achieve.

In addition to eating cheese, I get a fresh baguette or loaf of bread from the bakery down the street each morning. There are two of them- the trick is picking the one that doesn’t publicly humiliate a patron who, say, asks for “un” baguette at six in the morning instead of “une” baguette and has, “Oh, ewe ‘ood like wahn baguette, laydee?!” scathingly screeched at her. Needless to say, I go to the other one, the one that gives bread and doesn’t ask questions. And I always ask for “une” baguette.
With that delicious bread, I make sandwiches, accompanied by fresh fruit and coffee. And this is usually how my day begins.

For lunch, I have been sticking to basic dishes with plenty of leftovers, like pasta and this failed attempt at crepes above, as well as my latest all-purpose sandwich combining my favorite things (hot sauce, fresh raspberries, eggs, meat, and cheese) that ends up costing around $1.40 if I’m careful.
What can I say? I’m glamorous and smart.

My cheese selection has varied, but I’m most partial to mild, soft cheeses, like this Basque Tomme Noir and gooey Petit Munster.

However, when I have a big lunch, I usually go all-out and have a lot of protein and of course, potatoes on the side. This was from a visit to a delicious farm- I met all of the animals, and then I ate them. Roasted duck with bacon and house potatoes.
And despite my love for all icy beverages, I’ve developed a taste for tea, especially Kusmi’s offerings and the famous French tea house, Mariage Freres, whose haunting bourbon vanilla tea starts or ends a day with finesse.

Berthillon? Don’t mind if I do. There’s always room for dessert. This wasn’t the authentic Berthillon- their original location was closed for renovation when I went, but there are plenty of licensed Berthillon retailers to satisfy your creamy cravings. None of that knockoff stuff! This was a sweet, fresh cone of gianduja, with chunks of orange rind and nut, and salted caramel. So there’s a week in the life- can’t wait to show you more of what I’ve been cooking!

McDonald’s Le Charolais

Happy National Cheeseburger Day! Apparently, it’s also Happy Get Groped near a McDonald’s by a Guy Resembling Rob Pilatus Day, which if I’d known about in advance, would have surrounded myself with bikini models and Sinclair Sexsmith, but you live and you learn, I suppose. And get touched by strangers, but that’s all in the past now. But everyone knows that the objectification of women goes best with a side of fries, so here’s Le Charolais, McDo’s answer to the McDouble back home.

Surprisingly enough, McDo also has the McDouble and McChicken in addition to this little gem, but this is for when you’re feeling classy and want a burger to go with your McMacarons and McEspresso, both of which exist and are embarrassingly delicious. I initially thought that “Charolais” was one of those corporate neologisms designed to be a hybrid of “charred” and something Franco-sounding and chic, but to my surprise, my two-dollar burger has origin, baby, and champion origins at that, sourced from Ireland and the south of France. The Charolais cattle are a noble, prize-winning purebred line who would likely be ashamed to discover that they’ve been made into something eaten by me.

In addition to a pedigree, the Charolais has PGI-protected French Emmental cheese, lettuce, and a Dijon-pepper sauce on a fresh miniature ciabatta. This has more “local” food keywords than most Brooklyn restaurants, and it’s got the flavor to prove it. Almost every component is flavorful, with a distinct, defined sharpness unusual to fast food. Normally, food like this is enjoyed for its monolithic, consistent properties. After all, a Big Mac is the same in every language, but this is another story entirely.
For its low price point, this is excellent. Any pricier, though, and I’d have been a little peeved. The quality didn’t match up with the ingredients. The cheese stood out the most, with a very nutty, slightly sweet note. The mustard and pepper sauce was tangy and strong and despite its modest quantity, went a long way in enhancing the burger. Unfortunately, the beef was so overshadowed by its accompanying components that they swallowed it completely. Letting it stand for itself was a noble goal, but regrettably a failure in execution. It was drastically underseasoned and dry. And the components were delicious, but didn’t quite come together with the same level of syzygy of the McDouble. I’d try this again, and use it as a tool to blow people’s minds, but for a consistent sandwich, would stick to my old favorite. Sometimes the classics win out!

El Nopal, Paris, France

Weeds is over. And thanks to the 2 kbs speed of the wireless internet here (not that I am complaining, O Benevolent French Internet Gods and Goddesses, merely explaining the Esteemed Situation for my fellow mortals) I will not be streaming it. Am I sad? I do not yet know. I will know in mid-November, when my gorgeous partner in crime, Dillinger, brings over his computer and episodes. And then, friends, will I tell you. Until then, let’s celebrate with munchies, Parisian-style. Mexican street food!

At this rate, Rodzilla is probably wondering how much longer I’m going to screw with him. Why, for the love of all that is marrow and organ-heavy, would I be eating Mexican food and drinking a Desperado on a bench in the middle of a park near the Canal St. Martin? The obvious answer is because it is awesome- I’m willing to bet an order of steak frites that these are the best tacos in Paris, despite the obvious lack of competition. El Nopal is a busy, bright building amidst laundromats andoffice buildings. It is literally bright- bright purple, that is, and barely large enough to fit a griddle and two chairs. Its three owners dance around each other like a Three Stooges routine, making homemade tortillas, frying meat, and cracking open cold beer for the line snaking out the door.

One afternoon last week, two friends and I took a trip over to the restaurant, a trip I can see myself making many times again over the fall. El Nopal has a small menu selection, and US tourists may momentarily belabor the lack of tortilla chips, an uncommon side in France, but all will be forgiven once you sneak a piece of their carnitas from your taco or burrito. This is the real deal, folks. Caramelized, crispy edges with a thick, sweet crust revealing tender meat inside. I ordered three tacos, filled with a mixture of the daily meats. In this case, three homemade tortillas crammed with chicken and chickpeas, steak with onions and garlic, and habanero carnitas. It was the latter I preferred, but all three were filling and well-balanced in spice and flavor.

With these, I had one of the best agua frescas I’ve ever enjoyed, a freshly made cucumber mint drink with fresh lime zest and pieces of cucumber. It was a really wonderful beverage, one that will go very well with the flask of tequila I bring the next time around!

Both the tacos and burritos, which my two friends ordered and adored, were served with a habanero sauce that the owners warned us about in advance for being very spicy. This sauce is a good testament to the Parisian inability to handle heat- while the sauce was very zesty and fruity, it only delivered a mild heat.

I want to tell everyone I know about this place- it’s amazing. However, if French Mexican isn’t your thing, fear not, francophones, I have a sandwich later on in the week for you that I think you’ll all go wild for. Incidentally, this week is also Retro Cereal Week, a collaborate effort with myself and four of my amazing blogosphere friends. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to foist spoonful after spoonful of vintage cereal into our mouths and write about it on the internet, not because we secretly miss Fear Factor, but because we’re amazing. We’ll be featuring reviews each day this week, so check out The Impulsive Buy, Rodzilla Reviews, Food Junk, Junk Food Guy, and me, Foodette Reviews, each day to get the scoop!

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Squares Rocky Road

I think that Rocky Road is an underappreciated flavor. Although I guess it would put a damper on peoples’ impressions that it was initially used as a treat to con Australian workers out of their money with cheap ingredients, it still doesn’t deserve the harsh fate of being lumped with rum raisin and cherries jubilee. It’s not Rocky Road’s fault it had a terrible beginning. Look at vanilla- vanilla dealt underground sweeteners in Queens for ten years and it’s still the most popular flavor, but that’s good marketing for you.

Still, Kellogg’s isn’t doing Rocky Road any favors with its new Rice Krispies Squares. It’s setting it right back where it started, demarcating it as a bland, safe choice for the elderly and people who actively eat Chunky bars. While the ingredient list jumped off the package like the trailer for a summer blockbuster, the unveiling and consumption was more akin to watching a made-for-TV version on the couch in October. Such a letdown, Kellogg’s. I am disappoint. The rice krispie base is chocolate-colored, but weaksauce-flavored, with a light, sugar-heavy flavor and vague cocoa aftertaste, like drinking diluted chocolate milk or spritzing yourself with Ralph Lauren’s new fragrance, Doughnut Whisper.  It’s the opposite of beauty. This is what makes children cry.
The bars are inconsistent, some crammed with pieces of white chocolate, marshmallows, and raisins, and others basically empty. And I know that nut flavors aren’t as popular in Europe, but I was surprised to see this used as a flavor while lacking the most common component of Rocky Road itself- peanuts! Without them, this could be anything. I choose to call it Failed Expectations Boulevard, the bumpy, creeper-laden road parallel to Rocky Road that ends up in a place best described as a cross between an industrial park and abandoned trailer rest stop. It’s a pity, as the mild krispy base makes for a good neutral flavor sponge, but in this case, it just adds to the prolonged amount of lameness that you have to chew.

Jeff’s Famous Cajun-style Beef Jerky

I’ve slowly been working my way through the last of my emergency airplane snacks. As I’ve probably mentioned before, despite my experience with travel, airplanes scare me. My ideal carry-on would include flares, embossed stationary for last notes, bottles to stash them in, and vodka. Because 90% of those things are not allowed, I’ve settled for bringing an asston of snacks, for my own personal sanity and also to avoid paying $9 and my firstborn for stale pretzels.

So now that I’m here, I have a backup of random food. I’ve even been trying to incorporate them into my recipes. Suffice to say, curried rice a la mixed nuts and dried fruit with non-dairy creamer won’t be making it onto my normal menu. However, one of my best travel decisions was bringing along meat- tons of meat. Beef and turkey jerky, to be exact. I thought it would be fun to feature some of these (as well as some of the recipes I’ve been using them in! Foie gras, meet America.) over the next few weeks.

Today’s jerky is a classic, and a fairly tasty one. Jeff’s Famous Beef Jerky is a gas station mainstay and a college student’s dream. The ingredient list is very sparse- this couldn’t be further from the Slim Jims of yesteryear. The thin pieces of steak are coated in a mixture of spices, a blend I’d personally classify more as Tex-Mex rather than Cajun. I’ve found that Cajun flavors tend to have more of a reliance on herbs like thyme and oregano. This was black pepper and garlic heavy, with a powerful chili kick, but lacked the sweetness I expected it to have. I would have liked a little more sugar to balance out the heat and salinity. However, it was still a very tasty meat treat, with a layered set of spices that worked their way into the meat without overpowering its natural flavor. In this case, that’s a good thing, as Jeff’s uses a tender, naturally flavorful meat as the base for the jerky. The meat has a consistent, pleasant texture, though the smaller, thicker pieces tended to have a fattier texture with a bit of stringiness. Still, this is a great snack to travel with and an easy one to enjoy.