Posts Tagged With: Paris

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

30/365: National Croissant Day

We would be pretty flaky if we failed to celebrate today’s food holiday, National Croissant Day!

Most people associate croissants with France. But unlike the Eiffel Tower, escargot, and Gerard Depardieu, croissants actually originated in Austria. The hills were alive with the sound of croissant bakers perfecting their craft as far back as the 13th century! It was called kipferl then, and came in different shapes and sizes, but the concept was the same: pastry dough layered with butter, rolled, and folded. The result is a flaky, buttery, layered pastry that can be either sweet or savory (whereas Mr. Depardieu is merely unsavory). Various legends state the croissant was invented in Europe in 732 to celebrate the defeat of the Umayyad forces by the Franks, with the shape representing the Islamic crescent; by the Viennese in 1683 to celebrate the Christian victory over the Ottomans in the siege of that city, the crescent a nod to the Ottoman flag; and by Gerard Depardieu, hungry for a snack that looked like a smile after yet another public relations disaster. Nobody knows the true source, but this much is clear: in 1839 August Zang, an Austrian soldier and baker, opened a bakery in Paris and introduced the City of Light to the crescent-shaped pastry. It was a match made in heaven.

I love croissants. Other than bananas, they are the only food that resembles a sliver of moon…and that makes them out of this world! (Insert canned laughter). Because a warm croissant for breakfast would have been too easy (and Tara and I are proving to be loathe to go the easy route, which may be to our own detriment as the year rolls on and these challenges pile up – even our East Coast culinary consultant, John, advises us to keep it as simple as possible), we decided to up the ante and order a croissant sandwich for lunch!! We are rebels, she and I. So we met up at Panera a little after noon. I laughed when I saw their menu advertising a “French croissant.” But then I remembered that, up until this morning, I too thought that croissants were French. This experience has been an eye-opener, that’s for sure.  I ordered a turkey avocado BLT and had them make it on a croissant instead of the usual bread. It was, as the French say, “c’est magnifique!”

No idea what they say in Vienna…

Turkey Avocado BLT on a croissant

Categories: Pastry | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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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