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Leaving On a Jet Plane Tomorrow

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Pierre Herme MacaronToday is my last day in Paris. How do these trips always manage to fly by so quickly? We were fortunate to have gorgeous weather for our entire trip, minus today. It’s rainy and cold. C’est la vie.

With no plans, we just started wandering around this morning before the impending deluge. Many shops and restaurants remain closed for the August holiday break, but thankfully, a few of my favorite cooking shops and patisseries were not.

I made my way to Rue Montorgueil, right by the apartment we rented last time. There, I purchased boxes of tiny macarons at Stohrer, one of the oldest bakeries in Paris. One box is a gift for the flight crew tomorrow, and the other will be coming back to Texas with me.

The main reason for heading over to that part of the city was because I wanted to purchase a lame (pronounced “lahm”), which is the tool that’s used to score the top of baguettes. This is just in case I decide to try my hand at baking them in Houston. I knew just the place to find it. E. Dehillerin! And, I was pleased to find it open. Bonus! It took me awhile to find the lame, which was literally under my nose in the first place I thought to look. But, in wandering around trying to find this little gadget, I also found two whisks in varying sizes that I couldn’t live without. So, I purchased my new cookware and headed out to G. Detou nearby.Lame1

There, I was looking for powdered food coloring that’s used to make macarons like the fantastic one pictured above. This ingredient is not cheap, and since I’m not in the business of making many batches right now, I settled on one. A chose a marigold yellow color that I’m hoping I can play with to achieve a variety of sunshiney colors.

I snaked my way back to the Marais in the rain, and happened upon Pierre Hermé, the rival patisserie to Laudrée (if there is such a thing here in Paris). I just wanted a small taste of their salted caramel macaron, but being the excellent vendeuse that she was, the shop attendant talked me into the monster-sized one. And it was worth every damn calorie.

For me, the best part about today was having no agenda and navigating around purely by memory. I love walking past a shop or restaurant and having a memory come flooding back. It happened today when we passed Costa Coffee (I’ll never forget ducking inside one in Budapest to escape the cold that was so harsh, I couldn’t even type on my phone), and again when I passed a boulangerie near the Centre Georges Pompidou. I thought, ‘I remember buying a baguette somewhere around here and walking around eating it.’ I looked left, and sure enough, there was the bakery in the same spot.

I can’t even remember which trip that was on, and that’s happening with more frequency as I visit Paris more often. Memories get jumbled up, but the internal Thomas Guide is becoming sharper with every visit. So, as is typical of the day before leaving an amazing city, I’m already plotting my return!

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Such Great Heights

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Kyle McNichols, JetBlue Inflight CrewmemberLook inside that tiny little airplane window. If you squint, you’ll see me sashaying up and down the aisles, delivering Terra Blue Chips, PopCorners, and hopefully drinks with ice that is neither too cold nor too plentiful. Seriously, people complain about that. With reclining leather chairs and DirecTV, it will be like my own little living room in the sky, and I’ll be the hostess. Well, air hostess, like they call them in the UK.

Still not following? What I’m trying to tell you is that I’ve given up my sea-level office and swapped it for one at 35,000 feet. I’ve been hired as a JetBlue Inflight Crewmember!

In a few weeks, I’m taking off for training in Orlando, and from there, I’ll be criss-crossing the country and Caribbean, delivering the JetBlue experience to passengers just like yourselves. It’s been a lengthy hiring process, but I did it, and I am really excited!

For the chance to see me in action, you better grab yourself a seat on JetBlue…see you in the skies!

2nd Annual Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest

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Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking ContestWhen I think of chicken, I think of Foster Farms. The bright yellow logo reminds me of shopping at the grocery store with my mom and dad as a child, spacing out in the meat aisle, asking for everything, and often getting shot down. I was invited to be a part of their 2nd annual Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest in Portland as a guest of Jennifer Heigl from Dailyblender.com. We’re Twitter pals, and until yesterday we’d never met face-to-face.I showed up at Le Cordon Bleu early, and found many nice people from Foster Farms and the culinary institute there to greet me. They explained that the contestants (there were five of them) would have approximately 90 minutes to complete their dishes, at which time the judges (there were four of them) would be presented with their plates. At the same time, all of us in the audience would sample each dish recreated by the LCB chefs, and we would have the chance to vote for the People’s Choice Award. Winner winner chicken dinner! Or breakfast. Whatever.
Recipes included Pan-Fried Chicken with Blueberry-Pinot Noir Sauce and Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Competition, JudgesGoat Cheese Polenta (Timmy Baker, Eugene, OR), Hazelnut-Sage Chicken with Ravioli (Mary Lou Cook, Welches, OR), Chicken Mushroom Ragout (Megan Futrell, Hillsboro, OR), Crispy Basil Skinned Chicken Breast with Peach Pink Peppercorn Compote (Russell Kool, Hillsboro, OR), and Stir-Fried Chicken with Walla Walla Onions and Hood River Pears (Deb Stoner, Oak Grove, OR). Each of the contestants were tasked with creating recipes that used local ingredients, and of course, the common thread was Foster Farms chicken. This was the Oregon State finals, and the two winners will go on to join the winners from Washington State (crowned last weekend) and California (crowned next weekend) at the finals at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, CA.
Jealous!
Foster Farms received more than 2,000 recipe entries, but yesterday, the Publisher’s Clearinghouse-style $1,000 checks would go to Timmy Baker and Russell Kool for their dishes. The People’s Choice Award went to Megan Futrell. The judges looked at presentation, originality, ease of recipe, use of local Contestants and winners of the Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Competition in Portland, Oregoningredients, and execution, and each contestant did a wonderful job touching on each category. All of the recipes were easy, and many of the judges commented on that aspect during their explanations. They must have had a hard time deciding, because they deliberated for quite awhile before issuing their decision. Ironically, (I say that because they were both Oregon State contestants last year) Baker and Kool were the cream of the crop. They were the only two repeats in the entire tri-state competition, proving they can bring the heat year-over-year.

I never imagined myself devouring chicken dishes at ten o’clock in the morning and liking it, but the event was fabulous and I’m so glad I went. A special shout out to Jennifer Heigl for having me! For me, the winning dish was the Crispy Basil Skinned Chicken Breast with Peach Pink Peppercorn Compote. It’s not really shocking; I’m a sucker for crispy chicken skin morning, noon, or night. Foster Farms Chicken Competition, Judges TableThe compote was tangy, sweet and could stand up on its own, and I’m planning to make a corn meal pound cake to pair it with, as it almost had a dessert-like quality and texture. If you’re interested in any of the recipes from the contest, I’m willing to relinquish them and help you share in the chicken bonanza. Just send me an email. I also have the recipes from the 1st annual competition because I’m just that lucky (thanks Toby!).

Best of luck to the Oregon constituency in Napa at the end of September! If you need someone to pack your knives, carry your whisks, or act as paparazzi, I’m shamelessly offering my services to tagalong. It’s the kind of person I am; a chicken-loving groupie, and I like it that way.

Do-Goodin’

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Wow, looks like this is my first post from our new home city, Portland. So far, we love it up here! The rain has been minimal, we’ve been doing our best to explore places outside the city center, and there are more restaurants than we know what to do with. It’s safe to say I’m spending more time on Yelp and Twitter than I should be figuring out the next best happy hour and where to make a reservation for dinner, but it’s necessary when you’ve made a mental goal to visit every restaurant in PDX. I’m systematically bookmarking places we’ve been to on Yelp so I can keep track. Don’t tell Brady that one.  

The amazing “Pettole”-Fried Stuffed Bread of Puglia



On Monday night, we attended a benefit dinner for Aviary Restaurant. Sadly, the restaurant caught fire on the 4th of July (yay fireworks), and was ruined with both fire and water damage. Firehouse Restaurant in the NE was gracious enough to host a benefit dinner for them, which we thought was a really great show of solidarity. So, I called them up and we were on our way towards philanthropic gorging. Truth be told, we also liked that the donation included paired wines. 

I picked up Brady after work and we ventured into the NE, a place we hadn’t been yet. It was mostly residential with cute little bungalows that lined the street, so there was a tinge of “are we lost?” in the air of the Mini Cooper. But a large brick building emerged behind some houses and I knew we had found it. Firehouse Restaurant is set in, what else? A 1916 firehouse. There were some amazing old black and white photos of fireman, engines and what not against the brick walls, and the kitchen was completely open. A rotisserie rotated around a gaggle of chickens and a brick oven presumably cooked the pizza we would later eat. The restaurant was set-up with communal wooden tables, which meant we would be chatting with our neighbors while eating. For a new couple in Portland, this was hardly a bad thing.  


The wine showed up like clockwork when each of the four courses were put out. The menu: 


First Course

  • Tuna Conserva, Pickled Summer Squash & Butterball Potato Salad
  • “Pettole”-Fried Stuffed Bread of Puglia 
  • Tomato and Basil Braised Romano Beans

Second Course

  • Farm Lettuces with Radish and Red Wine Vinaigrette
  • “Pizza Celio” Anchovy Cream, Grilled Radocchio & Grana Padano

Third Course

  • Rotisserie Chicken with Tomato and Bread Salad
  • Grilled Pork Spareribs and Jowls with Roasted Green Beans and Cherries 
  • Sirloin Tagliata with Argula, Lemon & Parmesan 
  • Oyster Mushroom Risotto

Dessert

  • Beer Ice Cream, Mocha Sauce & Pretzel Nougatine


Beer Ice Cream

Lord have mercy. It was one of those meals where food just kept on coming. Thankfully, it was served family style and they didn’t overestimate how much food to make; there was just enough for the table, which meant we were able to sample everything but not leave feeling like bloated pigs. My favorites from the menu: the “Pettole”-fried stuffed bread of Puglia (seriously, it was the stuff that dreams are made of), the rotisserie chicken and the beer ice cream. I’m vowing to figure out how to make that pretzel nougatine! It reminded me of peanut brittle, only nix the peanuts and insert pieces of pretzel. Heavenly! 


I hope Aviary made a killing that night and is able to re-open very soon. There were numerous people at our table who were big fans of the restaurant and bummed about its current state of affairs. We’d never been to Aviary before, so were we impostors? Nah. We just felt like doing a little something good…and we wanted the food too…and the wine. I’d definitely venture back to Firehouse to try out their food as well. The menu was succinct, thoughtful, and Italian. What’s wrong with that?! On a cold, rainy night, I can imagine the vibe behind the roll-up firehouse door: cozy and quaint with food that would knock a fireman out in his Lazyboy recliner. 

Rainy Day Tapas

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I woke up this morning to find it was pissing down rain in London. And I mean pissing. A friend’s house flooded overnight (sorry Megs!), and there I was with a pair of Havaianas and no umbrella. That’s what happens packing-wise when you mix an Italian trip with temperamental England.

Nevertheless, V dressed me in some shoes and a jacket, and off I went in search of Books for Cooks near Portobello Road. I made it there just fine. The shoes, on the other hand, weren’t so lucky. Drenched, I entered the cooking shop looking halfway homeless and certainly dejected; this was about to be some cooking class.

After killing about 15 minutes inside waiting for the class to start, we headed upstairs to a small loft-style cooking studio. 22 chairs sat facing the kitchen, and there was a rear-view mirror type apparatus so we could see what Chef Jenny Chandler was doing. This class was totally demonstration-based, which I can’t remember if I knew or not, but nevertheless, I was happy to sit back and watch someone else do the dirty work after my trying morning commute.

Chef Chandler whisked around the kitchen and was quite a crack-up with her random anecdotes. She had worked as a sailing boat chef for eight years, and one of her funniest stories was when the captain rushed down to the galley, screaming at her in Italian about how she had created incest with the onions, the “big brother,” and the garlic, the “little sister.” The moral of his story was that you don’t ever put both in the pan at the same time. The “big brother” should go in first and then the “little sister” can be added later. This little pun amounts to a recipe for not burning garlic. We all had a good laugh.

Today’s menu was Spanish tapas, or small plates for the less iniated. In about three hours time, we watched her make Piquillos Rellenos de Queso de Cabra (Goat’s Cheese Stuffed Piquillo Peppers), Calamares a la Plancha (Griddled Squid), Mussels with Chorizo and Cider, Tortilla de Espinacas (Spinach Tortilla), and Empanada (Galician Flat Pie). What took the full three hours to make took about 20 minutes for us all to devour; it was fantastic.

Some of the more random things I learned today are the following:

1. Madrid has the biggest fish market in all of Europe yet is approximately 400 KM from the sea.
2. The Spanish eat the 2nd most fish in the world per capita after the Japanese.
3. Pork is the most popular meat in Spain.
4. In Spain, they have special tortilla turners. It’s like a plate with a knob you can use to flip the tortilla from the frying pan. They can be found in hardware stores.
5. Cider is extremely popular in northern Spain and there’s a special technique for pouring it. Bartenders hold the bottle high above their heads in one hand and the glasses low by the opposite hip. They pour the cider without looking at either the bottle or the glass, and this whole dog and pony show allows the cider to breathe. Oh, and they drink it like shots!

Minus the rainy morning, today’s class was really fun and informative. Tapas are such a great thing to have in your back pocket if you’re entertaining or just don’t want to create a massive meal, especially if you’re cooking for just two. After finally drying out and warming up a bit, I was getting kind of antsy. Sitting through a demonstration-style class isn’t for everyone, and I found myself shifting in my seat a few times because I wanted to get up and prep or clean up the dirty dishes. It’s a great way to learn though because you can pay attention the whole way through, but I still I think I prefer the hands-on style of learning better.

Tomorrow, I’m off to India. Okay, not really, but the journey on the tube will seem like it since it’s so far from where I’m staying. Once there, anything is possible. Curry in a hurry? saga paneer? Onion bahji? Soon, we will all find out!

A New Take on an Old Favorite: Fish and Chips Hold the Deep-Fry

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Scene: Sloane Square, a rather posh part of London, where life is bustling around me. Range Rovers and Bentleys are dodging black cabs and double-decker red buses, whole Hugo Boss and Tiffany oversee things, half expecting their drivers to stop mid-roundabout and drop in. Although comical (the same Lamborghini has circled the square about four times), it’s a welcome respite after Oxford Circus, perhaps the most abhorred place of all by London dwellers. Today has been a bit of an oddball adventure.

I woke up with nothing to do in a city where there is everything to do. Feeling a bit uncertain, I remembered something I was hoping to accomplish while in London: take another Ateliers des Chefs class. The first one I took with them was in Paris last year, and it was a fantastic and affordable experience. I had my sights set on checking out the London studio, but with their strict one-month in advance booking policy, I’d forgotten all about it. I hopped on the phone with them, they had room for one more, and I had something to do today.

So what is Ateliers des Chefs, you ask? Quite simply, it’s a different version of Sur La Table. There are gadgets and Le Creuset for sale intermixed with those learning to cook. And one of their most genius cooking classes, in my opinion, is called Cook, Eat, Run. Instead of pony’ing up a bunch of money for a subpar lunch while at work (or in my case, in a touristy cross-section of London), you can actually take a cooking class, eat what you have made, and do it all for £15 and in under an hour. True story.

What we created today reminded me of a jazzed up version of fish and chips. There wasn’t a deep fryer in sight, however, so if that’s what you’re after, I’d suppose you’d be quite disappointed with this menu. The food was tremendous though and it literally only took the 30 minutes that the class called for (look out Rachel Ray).

We started with a quick demo on chopping, which I think was more than half the class had bargained for. I don’t consider myself an expert by any stretch, but some of these people looked dumfounded and afraid. Knives and apprehension: always a good combo. Alas, I took over for our table of five and held court with the knife and chopping board. We chopped up a shallot, mint, parsley, and a bit of lettuce; it was hardly rocket science.

Shortly thereafter, we sweated the shallot in some butter until it was sufficiently brown. The instructor added a splash of water to slow up the cooking process because the cast iron pans were quite hot, a technique I hadn’t thought to do before. After that, we added in diced pancetta and the room was instantly enveloped in a smokey, bacon’y perfume. In went a good clip of peas, followed by the herbs, and perhaps a cup or so of chicken stock. It bubbled away for a bit and then we removed it from the heat to prep our frying pans for the fish.

You always want to start fish with the skin side down in a flaming hot pan that’s been prepped with a bit of olive oil. When it starts to ripple, it is ready. In went the cod for maybe three minutes, we took them off the heat and flipped them gently, and then cooked them for about three more minutes before finishing them in the oven at 200 C. In my estimation, the entire start-to-finish cooking process took about 10 minutes total for the fish, and the pea and pancetta mixture about the same.

Meanwhile, some of the less adventurous boiled potatoes in the background and adjusted their seasonings. I stirred away while listening in amazement, firstly to some classmates who didn’t understand what sea salt was, and then a brief argument between the chef and a couple who were confused about why we weren’t all getting to cook each thing.  Ahem, the class was 30 minutes…total…and to be blunt, $hit needed to get done. They ended up being in my group, so I regaled them with where I’m from, sprinkled in a bit of food knowledge for them, their moods improved, we plated up our food, ate, and out we were in about 45 minutes prep-to-mouth.

It never ceases to amaze me that there is a takeaway from each of these cooking classes I take. Today, it was just how much some people need that carrot dangled in front of them when it comes to cooking. I guess it does pay to drag your children into the kitchen when they’re small and give them the tasks that you don’t want. I’m sure Sheila had me wielding a knife, and most certainly a potato peeler, at the age of four. Tomorrow, I’m venturing to Notting Hill for another class on Spanish tapas. Small plates, big learning…brilliant.

Wheels Up!

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And we’re off! Today is the start of another round of jetsetting and airport concourses. But I can’t wait! SNA–ATL–LHR is first on the agenda, and I’m excited to test out Delta’s “Economy Plus” on the ATL–LHR leg. 

This trip is bookended with stops in London, and on the second round, I’ll be participating in two cooking classes: Spanish tapas and Indian food. I can’t even tell you how excited I am to get back in a foreign kitchen! 

Be on the lookout for blog posts in the coming weeks. Cheers! Arrivederci!