Three Very Good Things: Color-Coded Sandwiches, Persimmons, and Gianduja Sablés

{This is part of a new series in which I share three delicious things from the past week. Please feel free to tell me about your own 3VGT in the comments below, or to post them on your blog.}

My three very good things for the week are as follows:

~ Color-coded sandwiches from Gontran Cherrier’s bakery. I’ve already told you about Gontran, who’s both a talented baker and a friend of ours, and who runs a wonderful bakery in my neighborhood.

Every time Maxence and I go, we have to restrain ourselves and pick up just a few of the items that are calling our names, but we can never resist the sandwiches, assembled on house-made black (squid ink), green (arugula juice) or red (paprika) buns, and garnished with super fresh and cleverly combined ingredients. We eat them perched on stools by the tall windows before we go off and run the rest of our errands.

~ My first persimmon of the season. Although I only discovered persimmons in my early twenties — thanks to the loveliest of coworkers in California — I am absolutely enamored with them and their intensely aromatic, bright orange, slippery flesh. They’ve just started to appear on produce stalls in Paris, and we ate our first over the weekend. (You do know to make a wish whenever you eat a fruit for the first time in the season, right?)

~ Gianduja sablés from La Pâtisserie des Rêves. Thanks to Louise, who runs the excellent blog Raids Pâtisseries, I am now hopelessly hooked on these crisp butter cookies, topped with a layer of soft hazelnut and chocolate paste, and thinly coated with bittersweet chocolate.

Three Very Good Things: Buckwheat Praliné, Pasta with Hokkaido Squash, and a Red Collapsible Lunch Box

I recently had the opportunity to meet the lovely Stephanie — the no less lovely Aran introduced us — and I am therefore a new reader of her blog, “where practical meets pretty.” She wrote about gratitude lists in a recent post, and the first comment underneath that post was by Mary, who talked about her weekly round-up of Three Beautiful Things.

I loved the idea, as I am definitely one to find gratitude and joy in small things. In a flash I decided it would be wonderful to start a (weekly-ish) Three Very Good Things series, in which I’d share three delicious things made, tasted, and/or experienced during the week.

Here’s my inaugural Very Good Trio. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments section, or on your own blog if you’d like to adopt the idea too!

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Best of 2010

I hope you’ve enjoyed a warm and cheerful holiday season, that you’ve shared laughter and good meals with the people you care about, and that you’re feeling full of energy and dreams for 2011.

May this fresh new year bring you joy, serenity, fulfillment, and really good skin. I look forward to another year of meeting you here on Chocolate & Zucchini.

Before we kiss 2010 goodbye altogether, I don’t want to miss my chance to reminisce on what it has brought me, thereby establishing my traditional “best of” list*.

Most memorable trip

The most salient memory I will keep from 2010 is, without a doubt, the trip I took to Japan with Maxence. I can even say it was the best trip of my life, and I wish I could bottle up the euphoria I felt for two weeks straight — and also wrap up in a magic doggie bag every single bite we ate, so I could savor them over and over again.

Most rewarding baking project

For the first time ever, I baked a galette des rois to celebrate the Epiphany, the traditional January holiday I wrote about here and again here. It was a success that far outweighed the (moderate) work involved, and I encourage you to try your hand at it too: the official date is this Thursday, but l’Epiphanie is customarily celebrated anytime in January.

Favorite breads

Ever since I found James MacGuire’s instructions for pain au levain in an issue of Art of Eating, it has become our weekly loaf of bread, and I now make it (almost) with my eyes closed.

I also baked a number of batches of these tomato burger buns. They accompanied us through a fabulous summer of near-weekly cheeseburgers — many of them vegetarian, since I discovered with glee that they sell portobello mushrooms at the greenmarket.

Favorite new cooking utensils

My new/old pressure cooker is definitely getting some mileage on my stove: I use it several times a week to cook legumes, grains, soups, and stock.

I have also acquired a used electric coffee grinder (a model very much like this one) that I have repurposed as a spice/seed grinder, to whizz things like flax seeds, cardamom and lemon zest.

And although it isn’t a cooking utensil exactly, we are delighted with the sparkling water fountain that my sister and brother-in-law gave us for Christmas, which allows us to turn still water to sparkling at the push of a button (“abracadabra!” optional).

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How To Tell When Meat Is Done

A few weeks ago, I read Tara Austen Weaver‘s book The Butcher and the Vegetarian, a memoir in which she writes about being brought up as a vegetarian and the challenges she faced as an adult, when she had to start cooking meat for herself to try to recover from a serious health issue.

The Butcher and the VegetarianIt’s a very good read, witty and honest, and even for readers like me, who don’t share her dietary background or meat-handling angst, there are a lot of elements to relate to in her story. I especially enjoyed the sections where she addresses the political and ethical sides of the meat question in a remarkably level and dispassionate way.

A number of things she wrote stayed with me after I’d turned the last page, but there is one short passage in particular, early on in the book (p.31), in which her brother gives a technique for testing the doneness of red meat. It’s a small thing, but I liked the tip so much I thought I would, in turn, share it with you:

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Best of 2009

In the wee hours of a fresh new year, it is a lovely feeling to sit down and reminisce about the one that just ended, trying to squeeze out its essence and single out a few of its most memorable moments.

Among them, and in no particular order, I would list the release of a French classic I helped edit, a Best Culinary Travel Guide award for my Paris book, a trip to San Francisco and our first-ever apartment swap, my thirtieth birthday, and a few other noteworthy things, listed below.

Favorite new kitchen pet

Last spring I started keeping a sourdough starter, which I named Philémon, and this has been the most gratifying, wonder-filled project I have ever undertaken: each starter bread I bake seems an opportunity to learn something new and improve my skills, and the results delight us every time.

In addition to simple loaves, English muffins, and bagels, I have just started making sourdough baguettes and you will hear about these very soon.

Favorite new appliance

After a maddeningly frustrating few months trying to work with an oven that refused to cooperate, I finally threw in the towel and invested in a shiny new one that has (knock on wood) served me really, really well so far.

The contender in this category is the electric steamer I got for my birthday, which opened me to a whole new world of steamy dishes. In 2010, I ambition to use it for homemade dim sum.

Favorite new cookbook

This is not at all a newly published book, but I recently acquired Claudia Fleming’s dessert book The Last Course after hearing glowing reviews from several trusted sources. And indeed, it is a beautiful and inspiring book, full of seasonally-sound ideas and useful tips. (The book is out of print and its market value has shot up to absurd heights, but it can be ordered for a more reasonable price through the North Fork Table & Inn, where Fleming works now. Update: the book is now sold out at the North Fork Table & Inn.)

A contender in this category is Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery, a book about baking with a natural starter, which is, as I think we’ve established, my current passion.

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