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December 2019 Newsletter

Brrrr. Yes, it's almost winter and each year when it comes, I'm not ready for it. Deep down inside, I guess I still consider myself a Californian, where winter doesn't involve doudounes (one of the great French words, which means down parkas), gloves, scarves, and trying to stay warm in an apartment with windows that were likely conceived a century ago, or longer.

So now I've got hats, scarves, and mittens (yes, I'm the only adult that wears mittens in Paris) that I'm digging out of storage, but I gotta say, I don't love cold weather. I also have been saying that my next move is going to be somewhere warm, inexpensive, on the beach, and with good food. So that means an island in Thailand.

(Romain thinks I'm kidding. Ha! Won't he be surprised when the moving truck pulls up...and he'll also know why I've been stockpiling sarongs - no more clothes for me!)

One thing I don't mind, though, is snow. I think because we rarely get it. A few years ago we had a good blanket of snow in Paris, which was lovely. Everyone was entranced for a few days as the regular mélange of car and motorcycle noise and congestion on the streets was reduced to people tiptoeing on the new-fallen snow in a rare show of wonder and bemusement.

Parisians aren't quite used to snow, or ice, and eventually, things got a little slippery as people had to watch their footing. (The city of Paris isn't ready with salt and sand since snow is such a rarity.) Still, I hope we get snow this year because it makes the city extra beautiful and a calm stillness pervades Paris, that I enjoy.

Pumpkin Pie with marshmallow topping Thanksgiving recipe

Now that it's December, and Thanksgiving with its pumpkin pies and cranberry sauces are behind us, it's time to orient ourselves toward winter and I'm starting to think about winter flavors, and braised dishes, like Lamb tagine, Vietnamese pork ribs, Persimmon bread, French apple tart, and Cinnamon ice cream.

And to drink? Parisian hot chocolate, Toronto cocktails, and Jeffrey Morgenthaler's superb Eggnog.

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Christmas is a very festive time in Paris. There's a lot less gift shopping, and more food shopping, which suits me just fine. It's the time of year when locals stock up on Champagne; thankfully, many stores have impressive sales on bubbly, making it a good time of the year to fill your wine cave...and I do!

Marrons glacés (candied chestnuts), foie gras, & oysters, are also popular. Bakery windows fill up with Bûches de Noël, holiday yule log cakes, ready for people to take home and devour. Because the pastry shops do such a good job with them, hardly anyone makes them at home, but the one I've been making for years is in my book, My Paris Kitchen, and is filled with a not-too-sweet mixture of ricotta, dark chocolate bits, and candied orange, rolled up in spongecake and glazed with more dark chocolate. It never fails to impress and is less-rich than the buttercream versions, which can be heavy after a holiday meal.

I know a number of people plan to visit Paris between Christmas and New Year's Eve and get a little frantic, knowing that a number of restaurants close that week. Rather than panic that you won't be able to eat at Septime or Frenchie, I tell people just to walk around and find places that are open, such as neighborhood cafés and bistros. Your meal may not be Michelin-starred but you'll get a true taste of France all the same.

Also in December, uh...many will get another taste of France as there's a nationwide general strike planned for December 5th that will severely impact all train and travel services across the country. Air France ground services and SNCF trains will be impacted as well. If you have plans to travel on that day, my recommendation is that you check with the airline or SNCF train company asap to change your tickets. (i.e.; don't want until the last minute.) The RATP (Paris and Île-de-France transit) will be updating their site starting on November 3rd, and continuing through the strike. Note that this is an open-ended strike and may very well continue past that date, either a few days, or longer...

If you can steer clear of the disruptions, I hope that you all have a good holiday season, wherever you live (especially if you live on an island in Thailand - if you have a guest room, let me know...my laundry needs will be minimal - just a few sarongs every now and then) and enjoy whatever holidays you celebrate. I've listed a few cookbooks and baking books below that came out this year that caught my eye, and I've been baking my way through them, and will continue to do so in 2020.

- David


Some Favorite Cookbooks of 2019

There are lots of great cookbooks that come out every year. It's hard to keep track of them all, but here are a few books about cooking and baking that got my attention:

Even before Alpine Cooking by Meredith Erickson came out, when I saw the cover, I said, "I need that book." From the mountaintops of France, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland, this lavishly photographed (and hefty) tome captures the culinary life of the majestic mountaintops with aplomb, and a bit of wink about the special lives the people who live (and eat) in these regions lead. You may not be able to pronounce Meranerwürstel or Marillenknödel, but you can make Raclette, Ricola Ice Cream, an etherial Savoie Cake, and a very easy (but nourishing) Bread Soup with Chicory and Eggs. This is one of my favorite books, ever. Even if you don't cook anything, it's a lot of fun to read through, as well.

Bakers love to bake. And I don't know anyone that conveys that better than Joanne Chang in her new baking book, Pastry Love. I've already made several recipes from her remarkable collection of recipes, with each recipe for cake, cookies, pie, and pastry accompanied by its own photograph. Joanne owns a small chain of bakeries in Boston but breaks down her recipes for home cooks. I've been eyeing her Breakfast Cookies loaded with seeds, but started off baking up a batch of her gluten-free, vegan Flour Power Bars...and promptly ate them all. There's also Honey Nougat, S'mores Pie, and Panettone, in case you want to get a jump start on Christmas.

If you think you know pie, then you haven't met The New Pie. Ace bakers Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin are said to have won over 500 pie awards and the 75 recipes in this book are written for the rest of us to make at home. Forget plain Apple Pie or Lemon Meringue pie, this book will let you go next-level, with audacious ideas like Toffee Cream with Crunch pie, West Indies Wedding pie (a streusel-topped wonder filled with liquor-infused dried fruits, and topped with crunchy streusel), Smoky Caramel Almond pie (#omg), Butterbeer pie, and Italian Plum Affogato pie. There's no question...these guys are the champs of pie!

It's about time L.A. got its due as a culinary destination. If you've been lately, you know what I'm talking about. Aleksandra Crapanzano took a spin around the city with Eat Cook L.A, presenting the best recipes from the city's "exciting sprawl" of restaurants, bakeries, and cafés. Aleksandra deftly captures what makes the city so special with recipes like Spicy Lamb Breast, Green Harissa, Meyer Lemon-Olive Oil Ice Cream, and Grapefruit Negronis. I fell hard for the city, and the food, on my last visit to L.A., and turning the pages of this book reminds me of how vibrant the city has become, and what a delicious destination it now is.

How to update the Joy of Cooking, a beloved classic since 1931? Tap Irma Rombauer's great-grandson, John Becker, and his wife, Megan Scott, to do it. Revisiting and revising 4000 recipes and adding an additional 600 took them nearly a decade. While some are ready to pounce (due to the 1997 edition, which didn't quite go over as anticipated...), this one brings back the friendly, family voice that went missing and includes recipes that reflect how we eat today. Everything from cocktails to Korean dishes are in these 1200 pages, as well as tips on saving money when cooking, and preventing food waste. The young authors succeeded the dizzying task of bringing joy to a new generation of cooks and bakers.

If you want to learn to cook, says Michael Ruhlman, you can do so by cooking your way through these 175 recipes. He backs that up with clean, concise, and valuable lessons in how to make everything from a basic pot of beans to a glorious French cassoulet in From Scratch. Reflecting the global mix that's America, he doesn't stray too far from the basics, but gives us recipes (and techniques) for making Steak-Frites, quiche, pasta, pot pie, Thai curry, Dal, and Profiteroles with chocolate sauce. There isn't a recipe in this book that I don't want to make, and Michael gives us the confidence to tackle them all.

"Simple dishes that look after themselves" is the best cookbook subtitle of the year. Diane Henry delivers on her promise with a collection of recipes in From the Oven to the Table, where most of the work is done in the oven. Laidback cooks will appreciate Slow-Roasted Hoisin pork with radish & cucumber salad and Roast Cabbage with XO rye bread crumbs, Tomato-Goat cheese clafoutis with basil and olives, and an easy-peasy Greek Zucchini pie with polenta, feta, and dill.

Bacon Jam December newsletter

Recent Recipes and Posts on My Blog

This Caramelized Peanut Coffee Cake with a crunchy peanut topping takes the cake.

A freezer door malfunction led to a bounty of Cranberry Chutney. I was ready for Thanksgiving...and now, for Christmas as well.

Bacon Jam (need I say more? Okay, I will...) - shown above, is a super-versatile condiment that goes well with baked brie, turkey, duck, roast pork, goat cheese crostini, on burgers, as well as tucked into leaves of Belgian endive with blue cheese. Did someone say perfect holiday entertaining (do-ahead) appetizer?

I discovered the best Chausson aux pommes (apple turnovers) at Sain boulangerie in Paris. Wow, are those good... If you know what's good for you, bookmark that address for your next visit.

I was so excited about the re-release of Claudia Fleming's The Last Course, I baked up her justly-famous Stout Gingerbread.

And...a round-up of some of my favorite reads of the month.


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