What the What…?

Here are some weird things you find in french supermarkets.  These photos were all taken in the Monoprix of Aix-en-Provence.  What in the world is a Monoprix, you might ask?  Well, it’s sort of like if Wallmart, Target, and Whole Foods all had a baby together in France.  Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.  But within this awesome magasin (that means store!) there are some items that are definitely unique.

Here it is ladies and gentlemen.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.

1. Les Crackets Cacahuette

            These are basically the small, hard cheetos but instead of being covered in a delicious, perfectly natural cheese powder they are covered in peanut flavoring.  And they are not as good as they sound.

p.s. the text at the bottom of the bag translates to “for light soirees with pirouette.”  so yeah.

2. Creme des Marrons (Chestnut Spread)

Not very courant in America, but the French go wackoo for it.  On crepes, on toast, on ice cream, but mostly on crepes, chestnut spread is an integral part of the french dessert repetoire.


3. Hunter Rabbit

How about some microwavable rabbit for your dinner in front of the tele?  Yeah, nuff said, people would never eat that in America.

4. Crustless Bread (only honey!)

This one really made me scratch my head, because isn’t crustless white bread stereotypically an American thing?  And I don’t even think you can find this stuff at Kroger…

It is described as “the heart of the interior of the bread for the pure moment of mellow pleasure.”

5. Pancakes.

No translation required.  I thought crepes were the thinner, more delicate version of America’s bloated cousin, the pancake?  Apparently not.  Damn you Globalization!

6. Powdered milk.  They are very into it here.  It is very unusual for a french household to have fresh milk that they must constantly refridgerate.  Also, skim is not a thing.

7. This is weird right?  Maybe I’ve just never seen it before…fun fact they are called calamari “doughnuts”

8. Speculoos Butter

Have you ever been on a Delta flight and they say “peanuts, pretzels or cookies?”  Well if you’ve ever chosen cookies, you know what’s next.  Speculoos are a belgian spice cookie traditionally served with coffee, and they taste sort of like a milder ginger cookie.  They are also kind of like crack.  I really have to hand it to whatever person decided to take these delicious cookies and puree they into a spread that looks like peanut butter but tastes like cookies.  I like where your head’s at.

9. CHIPSSSS (pronounced “sheeps” in french)

There are so many weird chip flavors in french supermarkets that I had to do a whole series.  Hold onto your hats!

Self-explanatory, but gross.  The french don’t even like la sauce americaine

Flavor: “The Pleasures of Summer.”

Hmmm

Coooookie Crisp

I feel like Arthur Conan Doyle or Emily Bronte right now.  I’m sitting at my desk wrapped in a blanket because my heating doesn’t work (yet when I asked my host dad, he just shrugged and said “oh yes. it only works sometimes, don’t worry.”), drinking earl grey tea, writing a piece of critical literary importance and listening to the monstrous provencal winds (affectionately dubbed ‘the Mistral’) whipping up the trees outside my window.  The only difference between them and me is that I’m pretty sure they didn’t have chocolate chip cookies. Poor bastards.

Let’s start at the beginning.  “It was a dark and stormy night…”

Just kidding!  It actually starts on a relatively sunny afternoon in the south of France…somehow that sentence just doesn’t have the same “oopmf.”

Anyway.  Yesterday I tried to do something nice and ended up being semi- thwarted by diabetes.

My host sister was passing the BAC (sort of like a the SATs but harder and french) and her favorite dessert was cookies, so obviously I decided to make them for her.  In France “cookies” only means one thing: chocolate chip.  It would be considered blasphemy here to add oatmeal, nuts or god forbid RAISINS to the classic “cookie.”  So I decided to Keep It Simple Stupid (holla Mr. Finswaith 7th grade!!).

To prepare I made another trip to the tiny epicerie near my bus stop and bought the exact same ingredients as last week: sugar, chocolate, and butter.  And also wine, but that was for a totally unrelated project.

However, halfway home I remembered that my host dad Patrick was diabetic. Gr. I realized it was time to tackle my nemesis: the mysterious fake sugar liquid.

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNNN!

It’s a lot more intimidating than it looks, okay?

Here’s a few things about chocolate chip cookies:

1. Literally everybody loves them

2. You can make them for any occasion, and should.

3. Make sure all the ingredients for your cookies are at room temperature, they will turn out better.

4. Brown sugar is important! (I didn’t have it, but used sucre de canne (brown sugar) and it worked out pretty okay!  Use it with white sugar for a richer taste and chewier texture.

5. ALWAYS chill the dough before baking.  Preferably overnight but a few hours is good too.  And cover the dough with plastic wrap before putting it in the fridge or it will absorb other narsty fridge smells like last night’s pizza!

6. Cook the cookies in the middle rack of the oven, if you put them on a high rack the tops will be burned and bottom rack the bottoms will be black.  Rookie mistake. You are better than that.

Get it, got it good.  No more excuses for bad chocolate chip cookies ever again.

I ended up making two versions of the chocolate chip cookies: one with real sugar and one with fake.  I’ll let you guess which is which.

Yep. The weird unappealing-looking ones were imposter mystery sugar liquid.  The first time I made the fake sugar dough I thought I had messed up because it ended up looking like and feeling like playdough, so I threw it out and did a do-over.  BUT IT WAS THE SAME THE SECOND TIME!

This story has a happy ending, however.  My host dad was ecstatic when he saw I had made these weird little cookie/brick halfbreeds for him, and I got several bisous and even a hug!  Which is hardly ever done in France.  Except when someone dies or, apparently, makes sugar-free cookies.  Then even tasted okay!  In a weird, bread-y way.  At least they had chocolate.

The real cookies were delicious: Crispy and light (as french cookies don’t use baking soda), they were so delicious my host mom made me take the majority of them to my center so she wouldn’t eat them.  

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (or so the recipe says…if you want the REAL  best chocolate chip cookies in the world and dont mind investing in several different types of flour here it is. DAYUM they are good.) http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/11/leites-connusmate-chocolate-chip-cookie/

Preparation Time: about 25 minutes
Cooking Time: about 15 minutes per baking tray
Refrigeration Time: at least 1 hour

Ingredients: (about 50 cookies)

2 Eggs
5 oz. Granulated Sugar
7 oz. Brown Sugar
7 oz. Butter
3 cups Flour (sifted)
11 oz. Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate (or your favorite high-quality dark chocolate)
Pinch of Salt
1 tbsp. Yeast (this means baking powder)
1 tbsp. Vanilla Extract

How to Make It:

1. In a bowl, whisk eggs, progressively add sugar, brown sugar, salt, and vanilla. Keep whisking until batter is smooth but frothy.
2. Mix flour and yeast.
3. Melt butter.
4. Slowly add, alternatively, butter and flour to batter, stirring with wooden spoon. Keep stirring until homogenous.
5. Break chocolate into pieces, and carefully stir into batter, trying to get the chocolate as evenly distributed as possible.
6. Put batter in refrigerator for 1 hour, or more. Preheat oven to 350°F.
7. Butter a baking tray, make small balls with batter (use a teaspoon for help), and place them on baking tray. Make sure that you leave enough space in between cookies.
8. Bake for 12-20 minutes (depending on how mushy or browned you want them) at 350°F.
Voilà!

p.s. Here is a picture of Asky looking sad because he wasn’t allowed to be in the kitchen with me while I was baking.

Catherine Battles the French Kitchen: Part Deux

I am happy to say try two turned out much better! When Rachel visited we made a very successful apple galette, but it wasn’t that good as it had not sugar and half-fat butter.  But the host fam seemed pleased!
Last week I’d had an extremely long day with TWO classes AND a meeting with my language partner, which is always fun but exhausting, and so on the way home I bought real butter (mmmmmmmmm), real sugar, and a bar of chocolate.

Of course that night was the night that power cost a lot, so I wasn’t allowed to bake until after 10 pm. No biggie, since I had to stay up for room draw at 2am.  Suzy Hopkins wooooooooo. So around midnight I snuck down to the kitchen and put the oven on to 218.333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333 degrees celcius, aka 425 farenheit.  Obvi I let Asky in the kitchen with me, because he is the cutest thing in the universe and who can say no to those eyes, even if he smells like dead fish mixed with feet.

That morning I’d been inspired by binge eating six madeleines (they come in packs of six okay? geez) from this local guy at the market that makes only madeleines.  You wonder how he makes a living, then you realize the madeleines are the most f*%&ing delicious thing in the world. Fo serious. Here is a pic if you don’t believe me (they were praline flavored)

Yeah the picture is very orange, whatever.
So as obviously my anti-baking host family did not have madeleine pans like some baking-obsessed freaks do (thank you santa, 2010!) I knew I was going to have to improvise.

 But if something has brown butter, almond powder, and dark chocolate, it really cannot be bad. cannot.

I loosely followed a recipe I found on the food blog CannelleetVanille.  Cause its name is in la francais!

I added a tablespoon of vanilla,used cane sugar instead of white sugar, omitted the baking powder (though you should not do this!)

…then added chopped dark chocolate. Cause I love it more than I like a lot of people.

…and baked the whole thing in a loaf pan, which meant that after I reduced the temperature (after the batter splits on top) it cooked for about 40 minutes (when a toothpick comes out clean), instead of the 5 minutes for cute little petite madeleines.

  And TA DAAAA!!!!!!!!

                            OK it may not look like this:

but give me a break, kay?

Even though this wasn’t baked under the most ideal circumstances (1 am in a foreign kitchen trying not to make a noise, hollaaa), it still got devoured in five minutes when I brought it to my program center.  Either it wasn’t too bad or these American kiddos just have no standards.

Recipe
Orange and Brown Butter Madeleines

6 eggs
250 grams sugar
Zest of 1 orange
2 tsp vanila extract
225 grams cake flour, sifted
110 grams almond flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
250 grams butter, browned and cooled

Start by making the brown butter. Place the butter in small saucepan and heat until it starts to bubble and sizzle. Watch it closely as it will start to brown soon after the sizzle diminishes slightly. When it smells like roasted nuts and the bottom of the pan is brown, remove the pan from the heat, strain the butter and let it cool.

Place the eggs, sugar, orange zest and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whip until light and thick, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, almond flour, salt and baking powder. Mix until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated. Slowly add the brown butter as the machine is running. Let butter incorporate into the batter and continue adding it.

Remove bowl from mixer and fold with a spatula to make sure all ingredients are well mixed. Let it rest in the refrigerator for 4 hours.

Pipe batter into madeleine molds. Bake at 425 for 8-10 minutes (when “bumps have appeared), reduce oven to 375F and continue baking for 5 more or until browned.

bonus: a (ok, two) super cute picture(s) of asky.  I tried to play ball with him with the orange I zested but he was just not interested. HOW CUTE IS THAT FACE???

Baking in a Foreign Kitchen is Hard

I knew baking in a French kitchen would be a challenge, what with their different measurements and different products etc.  I mean really, who doesn’t use cups and tablespoons? This is a civilized country! Also, a typical measurement in a french recipe is a “Cuillere du Soupe,” which means a soupspoon.  There is no official measure for a soupsoon.  It is just a spoon that you use to eat soup with.
Also baking powder does not exist here.  I found a translation, “levure chimique,” which means chemical yeast.  I asked my host family and they looked at me like I was crazy.  Which they do a lot, due to my weird American habits like eating breakfast in my pajamas and sleeping in late on sundays.
Just to make things a little more interesting, my host family has very…particular eating habits for les francais.  My host father is diabetic, which means he cannot eat things with a lot of sugar.  Which is too bad cause I like to make things with a lot of sugar. Then my host mother and host sister are constantly on “regimes,” aka diets, which means that all our butter, cheese, and yogurt is reduced fat.  And I’ve never seen chocolate in the house, nor white carbs.  Oh well, new experiences are good right?
My first baking experiment here was a complete and utter failure.  I tried to make a lemon yogurt cake, cause lemons and yogurt is healthy right?  I reduced the sugar, used the only oil in the house (olive) and omitted the baking powder and soda (which also doesnt exist, except weirdly for toothbrushing?).  Result: something that was sort of like unsweetened lemon jello slab?  The host family tried it, tried to say how good it was while stealthily palming it into their napkins.  Then the rest disappeared the next morning.  Maybe someone ate it all for a midnight snack? A girl can dream.
Oh yeah, forgot to mention that ovens are obviously celcius not farenheit here.  God when is Europe going to get on board with Farenheit!

First Post!

Hi! I started this blog so I could have a place where it wouldn’t be weird to post a lot of pictures of food and food-related things.  And talk about food in America in abroad, and how things are different between those two places. Cause they’re different countries.  Woo!