Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Le Tour de France 2009

Oh, it was warm in Paris on the Avenue des Champs-Élysée this past Sunday, and just a little crowded. As the city waited for the Tour de France bicyclists to arrive, there was a parade and a lot of fervor. Souvenir shops, tee shirt hawkers and cold drink stands intermingled with the onlookers all along the grand boulevard. Everyone searched for the best place to see all of the festivities. My friends and I were in 3 different groups and planned on meeting up. Sounds like a crazy plan, but after exchanging cell phone numbers we headed out at different times. The group I was with started out at the Arc de Triomphe, and ended up across from the Grand Palais where there were large video screens on the side of the street. Cameras were following the bikers as they approached Paris showing them at every angle and location. At first I didn't appreciate the video screens, but as they showed the progression of the ride and closeups of the bicyclists, they built that Lance?! With so many people raising their arms high in the sky to capture the perfect photo, the American obsession with deodorant was sorely missed! Some people though, had the perfect seat. The crowds just kept getting larger, the bicyclists closer and then they finally arrived! You could feel the rush of wind as they passed. Congratulations and thanks to all of the amazing Tour de France cyclists. What a show!

Even as they passed the finish line, we still hadn't been able to connect with our friend Lisa, until
the end. It almost seemed like a miracle when she found us in the crowd as it was dispersing. Our friend, Doug was in another location, so we decided to meet up at a regular spot. The podiums were being prepared as the race wound down. We watched as the winners received their trophies, before going to meet our friend Doug. He left me a welcome message. When we arrived he was a sight for sore eyes, with cold beer to cut the Champs Elysee dust, and baguette with peppered saucisson. We discussed where to go for dinner and exchanged stories of our day, marveling at the stamina of those men in lycra!
Written and mainly photographed by Diane with some photos by friends, Lisa and Jana.
Thanks Ladies! And thanks Doug, for that final text!

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Glaze

Yesterday was my son's birthday, and I made a Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze for him. He loves peanuts. Last year he even grew peanut plants. Taking after his mother, chocolate also tops his list of favorites. Chocolate and peanuts are a dynamic duo. So when I saw this Chocolate and Peanut butter cake with it's glossy chocolate glaze on, I knew the birthday boy I'd make it for!

The weather here lately in the northeast has been very rainy and at times tropical. Yesterday was no exception. Trying to capture the lusciousness of this cake in weather that is more changeable than a moody teen, was challenging. In the end, it worked out well. I didn't want a cake as large as the recipe, so I halved the recipe and made it in a 6x4 inch cake pan. I then sliced the cake into 3 layers and assembled it according to the recipe. The only deviation was spreading the glaze on the entire cake versus letting it spill over in long luxurious drips. That takes me back to the weather...the drips just didn't drip too well. The glaze did spread over the entire cake very nicely though, and it looked and tasted perfectly. Outside, the rain pelted down as we celebrated. Later that night the wind whirled around as trees were downed and we lost our electricity. I was starting to think I should have built an ark instead of baking a cake, but after one taste of this rich and delicate cake, I think Noah would have approved.

Happy 19th Birthday, Zac!

This cake is moist and delicate with the cream cheese lightened Peanut Butter Frosting. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze brings both tastes together as it drips down the sides or is glazed on top of the frosting.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze

Adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman

Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake; serves 12 to 16

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.

To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.

To decorate with the Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips. Simply pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving. Decorate the top with chopped peanut brittle. (I used chopped peanuts.)

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate)

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

Written and photographed by Diane.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze recipe (pdf)

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Kiss and Makeup

My friend, Beth had to exchange something at the large department store, Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Trying to exchange or return something in Paris is not a gratifying general the attitude is, if you buy it, you own it. So we had braced ourselves for an uphill battle. A few conversations and a half an hour later, she had graciously exchanged her item. We looked at each other with an amazing sense of accomplishment. I wish I had taken a picture to document it!! Walking through this architectural beauty with a stained glass ceiling ,and balconies that Marie Antoinette would have approved of, I noticed women getting makeovers at the cosmetic counter. As a promotion, world class makeup artists were there for 2 weeks. Since we were on a roll, we decided to see if we could have our makeup done. Undaunted, the charming artiste began to work his magic on us. Afterward, feeling pampered, pretty and pretty hungry, we went locally for dinner. Beth had researched restaurants, and we decided to give the nearby, Carte Blanche a try. After settling in, our waiter brought us an amuse-bouche of layered crab, tomatoes and avocado. An amuse-bouche is just like a kiss...something bestowed upon you to show the talent and intent of the giver. It is a prelude of what's to come. We were ready for more and ordered from the menu! We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our meal, even with a mediocre dessert. After patting our lipsticked lips with the crisp white napkins and with shopping bags in toe, we headed home.

Here is my adaptation of "the kiss", with a little cayenne pepper to keep it hot...the makeup is on your own!

Crab, Tomato and
Avocado Amuse-Bouche

For the crab layer:
2 ounces crab meat, with a squeeze of lime

For the avocado layer:
1/2 ripe avocado, smashed until almost smooth with a squeeze of lime and a
dash of cayenne pepper

For the tomato layer:
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large clove garlic
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
dash of cayenne pepper

You'll need 4-2 ounce shot glasses.

Mix all of the ingredients for the tomato layer in a bowl.
Stir to meld the flavors and adjust the salt and cayenne pepper according to taste. Evenly divide the layers between the 4 shot glasses. In each glass, add one layer of the crab and then a layer of tomato mixture, draining most liquid from the tomato mixture as you spoon it into the glass. Top with the smashed avocado and serve with several crostini.

To make the crostini, thinly slice a baguette, brush with olive oil and toast.

Serves 4.

Written and photographed by Diane.

Crab, Tomato and Avocado Amuse-Bouche recipe (pdf)

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Friday, July 17, 2009

A Bastille Day Celebration

This year is the 120th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower and so the Bastille Day, or le quatorze juillet, celebrations were kicked up a notch. Masses came to the Eiffel Tower's Champ de Mars to celebrate the commemoration of the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Power to the people! Every year there is a grand fireworks display in the evening with musicians playing throughout the day. The sunny afternoon had everyone festively sprawled on blankets filled with foods from every ethnicity. We gathered up picnic items from the morning produce and cheese markets, the local grocery store and had some essentials brought from home. The front and center locations fill up very early, so we were off to the side a little. The musicians played, people danced or just enjoyed the liveliness with food and wine. As evening approached, we were all relaxing with eyes toward the sky. The first fireworks came and teased the crowd as they cheered. As darkness fully settled in, the sky lit up. The Eiffel Tower sparkled and fireworks seemed to come from every level.The tower itself changed colors with it's own light show. The grand finale shot out as the 1812 Overture played and the sky became a kaleidoscope of fire and color.

It was a finale to remember and gave a celebratory power to the people as they all stormed back home.

Written and photographed by Diane.
The last photo was contributed by a friend.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An Orange Fancy

I have been working back to back to back Paris trips and feel like I live in Paris more than at home in Massachusetts. Oh, what a tease life is! Upon arrival, the morning Parisian sun glowed a soft orange, giving a feeling of warmth and brightness. It has certainly been warm in Paris lately and according to the traffic, most Parisians were headed for holiday or just out of the city. I went shopping. The summer sales are going strong now,and I had planned to go to a store near the Madeleine that sells handbags. I needed to add to my Longchamp collection. And I did! And it was orange! It is such a happy bag that I had to use it immediately. I even found a companion, but it was just a fantasy! As dinner time approached, my friend and I decided to go to Chez Papa. I had never been, and after shopping, a bistro was in the budget. It specializes in the south west cuisine of France, which is spicier than other regional food. My friend and I both had duck. I had Duck Confit that came with sautéed potatoes. On the side was a spicy and sweet red pepper jam, and a dry pepper condiment to spoon on top. Wow, that really made the dish. I thought how nice it would be to have those spices with chicken as well.

After a short walk back to the hotel,
I managed to get a solid 8 hours sleep before my alarm went off. After the flight back home, I decided to give my idea for chicken a try. I marinated the chicken in orange juice, because I was in an orange state of mind, and herbs and spices. The chicken was marinating, the grill was firing up and I readied the plates. I then grilled the chicken, and served it with a red pepper jam mixed with orange zest. I think I have a new orange fancy...besides my new bag, of course!

Orange Chicken With Red Pepper Jam

2 pounds chicken breasts, split or cut of choice

For the marinade:
3/4 cup orange juice
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, or 2 teaspoons dried
4 fresh sage leaves, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix garlic, herbs, and cayenne pepper with orange juice. Put chicken in a covered glass pan or zip lock bag, and pour in marinade. Marinate 2 hours, drain and discard marinade. Grill until done.
Garnish with orange zest and serve with Red Pepper Orange Jam.

Serves 4.

Red Pepper Orange Jam

1/3 cup red pepper jam*
1 tablespoon grated orange zest, plus more for garnish

*I used a Red Pepper Jam with Ancho Chilies, by Earth & Vine Provisions, Inc.

Stir orange zest into red pepper jam and serve.

Makes 1/3 cup.

Written and photographed by Diane.

Grilled Orange
Chicken With Red Pepper Jam recipe (pdf)

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