Posts Tagged With: French Revolution

151/365: National Macaroon Day

Today’s food of honor may not have universally agreed upon ingredients, but the general consensus is that it’s delicious no matter how it’s made. May 31 is National Macaroon Day!

What a fun word to say, by the way. Macaroon. Macaroon. You’d have to be a real buffoon if you didn’t like saying the word macaroon. A macaroon is a light baked confection, either a small cake or soft cookie. In America, macaroons are traditionally made with coconut, but in many countries they are prepared with almonds. Occasionally, other nuts such as pecans, cashews, or hazelnuts are used. Indeed, the first macaroons were created by monks in an Italian monastery during the 9th century, and were essentially almond meringue cookies. The word comes from maccarone, Italian for “paste” – yummy! – and, yes, it’s the same word used to describe macaroni. Macaroons were introduced to France in 1533 by the pastry chefs for Catherine de Medici, the wife of King Henri II. During the French Revolution, a pair of Benedictine nuns, Sisters Marguerite and  Marie-Elisabeth, who were seeking asylum in the town of Nancy paid for their lodging by baking and selling macaroons. They subsequently became known as the “Macaroon Sisters.” As the cookie spread through Europe, people began adding coconut, and in many recipes it completely replaced almonds.

Surprisingly, Tara had never had a macaroon before. I happen to love them, but then again, I’m a big fan of coconut. The cookies were delicious!

Macaroons

Categories: Desserts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

80/365: National French Bread Day*

Bonsoir! Today’s food holiday is c’est bien. It’ll please even the crustiest of individuals and fill their hearts with loaf. It’s National French Bread Day!

It’s also National California Strawberry Day. No offense to Californians, but your strawberries pale in comparison to the ones grown in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, we have to wait until June until those are ripe. So, French bread it was!

By law, French bread must contain four specific ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. The French, you have to understand, love their bread, and even went to war over it. The storming of the Bastille in 1789 was more about bread for the commoners than freeing enemies of the crown; mass starvation gave way to anger and led to the French Revolution. Think about that the next time McDonald’s screws up your order and forgets to give you your six-piece chicken McNuggets. Afraid that history might repeat itself, when Napoleon ruled he passed laws establishing standards for French bread. The classic baguette is long and slender, but it wasn’t always so; wide, flat loaves were popular until the 1920s, when the French passed a labor law prohibiting bakers from working between the hours of 10 PM and 4 AM. (Boy, the French sure have a fondness for silly laws, don’t they)? “Sacré bleu!” they declared in unison. In order to get around this loophole, French bakers started making their loaves of bread long and thin, no more than 2.5″ in diameter, in order to speed up baking time. It’s got a soft, chewy interior and a crispy, golden brown crust and is cooked in a steam oven, which leads to a light and airy loaf that is, to borrow a phrase, c’est magnifique! French bread in other countries doesn’t adhere to such particular standards. In America, loaves are typically fatter, and available in whole wheat, multigrain, and sourdough varieties.

Since Tara and I can’t afford a trip to Paris at the moment, we had to settle for an American-style loaf of French bread instead. Not that either of us was complaining; French bread is quite tasty even if it is made contrary to Napoleon’s original desires. We served it two ways: with bruschetta as an appetizer, and sliced with a smear of butter to go along with grilled steaks.

French bread with bruschetta.

French bread with bruschetta.

Categories: Bread | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

24/365: National Lobster Thermidor Day*

We could have taken the easy way out today. There are two food holidays celebrated on January 24th, and one of them is peanut butter. This would have required little effort on our part, but Tara was adamant we make lobster thermidor instead. I’m glad I listened to her, too. One of the goals of this challenge is to try foods we’d never had before. A month ago I’d never tasted curried chicken or hot buttered rum and Tara had never tried Peking duck, and it’s fun to expand our culinary horizons. Lobster thermidor is a complicated dish requiring quite a bit of preparation, but with a few shortcuts – it’s almost impossible to find whole lobster out here, so we had to substitute lobster tails – we ended up with a dish that was very good, and new to us both!

Lobster Thermidor was invented by a Paris restaurant named Marie’s in 1894, in honor of the play Thermidor, a tale of the French Revolution. “Thermidor” is also the eleventh month in the French Revolutionary calendar, occurring from July 19-August 17, and means “month of heat.” You have to love the French language: every word sounds beautiful. Lobster Thermidor could very well have been called Lobster Brumaire (second month) or Lobster  Pluviôse (fifth month). Or, for that matter, Lobster Beret or Lobster Peugeot.

The French sure love cooking foods with shells, but I’ve gotta say lobsters are a lot more appealing than snails. Did you know that they are one of the few creatures that don’t slow down or weaken as they age and, in fact, are more fertile the older they are? Lobsters are the Hugh Hefners of the deep! Like tortoises, mussels, and Quahog clams, they can live for hundreds of years. In fact, some scientists believe that barring injury, disease, predation, and clarified butter, lobsters could in theory live indefinitely.

Somebody needs to invent a pill…

Our poor lobsters were not so fortunate. But boy, were they tasty! Thank you, Rachael Ray, for this recipe utilizing lobster tails. Interesting preparation: you remove the meat from the shells, saute it in butter with onions, shallots, mushrooms, milk and cheese, and then stuff it back in the shells, top with bread crumbs, and broil for about 5 minutes. Dinner was fantastic! And with candles, wine, and jazz records, very romantic. 🙂

Lobster Thermidor

Categories: Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

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