February 2016 Desktop Calendar

February 2016 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month, I am offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

The desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our February 2016 desktop calendar is a photo of my divine raw chocolate truffles, a super easy treat to whip up, and oh-so-delicious. The perfect gift idea for Valentine’s Day!

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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Best of January

Dawn in the Sacré-Coeur gardens

Dawn in the Sacré-Coeur gardens

2016 is off to a delicious start for me, and I hope it is the same for you! Here are some highlights from the month. Please share your own in the comments below: I want to know what you’ve been up to, in the kitchen and elsewhere!

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Perfect Almond Croissants

Perfect Almond Croissants

Croissants aux Amandes

You will find almond croissants in most all French bakeries. Originally devised as a way to pimp leftover croissants and offer them for sale again the next day, they are simply croissants filled with crème d’amandes (almond cream), sprinkled with sliced almonds, and baked again until the cream has set and the elbows of the croissant have crisped up.

Croissants aux amandes have long been a favorite of mine. When my father took my sister and me to the Latin Quarter to buy bande dessinées (graphic novels) with him on Saturday mornings, he would buy us one each from a now defunct bakery-cum-café, and this was as much a treat as the weekly harvest of comic books.

But bakery-bought almond croissants are often too sweet and too rich for me — after eating one you can’t imagine being hungry, like, ever again — so I’ve taken to baking my own, ecstatic to discover how extraordinarily easy it is to make perfect almond croissants at home.

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Paris Butcher Shop How-To: 6 Tips to Buy Meat Like The French

Viande&Chef

The Paris butcher shop is among the most pivotal institutions of any neighborhood’s market street. This is where the savvy shopper goes for the highest-quality meat, freshest prepared foods, and best advice.

Whether it’s a traditional, mom-and-pop boucherie or one of the more sophisticated ones that have opened in recent years (see my top 5 below), the Paris butcher shop does require a little bit of gumption, as you simultaneously try to figure out what’s what, one-up the garçon boucher‘s playful banter, and ignore the little old lady pushing her shopping trolley and sniffly dog up against your ankles.

But I wouldn’t dream of trading this for the anonymous styrofoam trays of the supermarket: I’d rather eat less meat less often, but go for the good stuff with the artisan touch and the traceability.

On that subject, I am thrilled to announce there’s a new sustainable butcher in town. Benjamin Darnaud, a young French chef I’ve been friends with for years, has just opened Viande & Chef in Paris’ 10 arrondissement. He buys whole animals from a select few artisanal farmers, and his talented team comes up with innovative ways to use every last part, rather than supply a disproportionate amount of the more prized cuts. This nose-to-tail approach means they may not have the exact cut you’re looking for that particular day, but they’ll make it up to you tenfold with delicious and quirky stuff. (We thank them for allowing us to take pictures in the shop; photo credit: Anne Elder.)

Without further ado, here are my 6 tips to win at boucherie.

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Banana Pecan Cake with Maple Glaze

Banana Pecan Cake with Maple Glaze

This banana pecan cake entered my life thanks to one of the countless blessings this blog has brought to my life, which is to have met and become friends with quite a few cookbook authors.

Cookbook authors are delicious people to be around, naturally, and if I manage to fox my way into their house they may actually cook for me, but the invaluable bonus is that, once I’ve come to know and trust them, once I’ve witnessed how exacting they are, and how much pressure they submit themselves to in order to produce bulletproof recipes, I feel I can use their cookbooks with blind faith. I know I’m in good hands, and things had better work out because I know where they live.

One of my cookbook-writing friends is Marianne Magnier-Moreno, whom I met almost years and years ago at Chocolate & Zucchini’s second anniversary party, and who wears many hats: recipe writer, journalist, translator, cheesecake maker, young mother, and significant other to a gifted painter.

The crumb is moist and fluffy, the flavors multi-dimensional, and the overall sweetness is moderate, which leaves ample room for the maple glaze to step in and do its thing.

Marianne has recently released (and received an award for) a book called Le Grand Manuel du cuisinier that could actually be seen as an epic follow-up to another wonderful one she had written years before, called Mon Cours de cuisine pâtissier, a baking manual that offers seventy recipes with step-by-step pictures and detailed instructions. Step-by-step photography is nothing new in the world of cookbooks, but I’ve always thought it could make a book look dull. Not so here, where the shot-from-the-sky visuals and tasteful styling make each double an aesthetic treat.

My dear friend’s banana pecan cake

Among the winning recipes in that book is one for banana pecan cake, which I often bake when I have über-ripe bananas to use, and top with a maple glaze that’s also one of Marianne’s recipes.

I actually do not make the cake quite as written: I substitute almond butter for part of the butter in the printed recipe, and maple syrup for part of the sugar. I also lower the amount of flour, and add a little amber rum, and use pecans in place of Marianne’s walnuts.

Now, I know I just stated that I wanted to feel I could follow a cookbook’s directions with my eyes closed, but let me explain: I like to bake and cook things my own way, but in order to tweak a recipe, I need it to be rock-solid, otherwise it might not hold up to the tweaking.

But this banana pecan cake does, and brilliantly so. The crumb is moist and fluffy, the flavors multi-dimensional, and the overall sweetness is moderate, which leaves ample room for the maple glaze to step in and do its thing.

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