à la Française – Baguette Tradition

Bonjour! When I was living in Paris, one of my favorite parts about the experience was my daily ritual of buying a fresh baguette from the local boulangerie (bakery). Everyday, after my classes were over, I’d take the metro home, and on my walk back from the station to my apartment I’d stop in at my local boulangerie to pick up a warm and toasty baguette tradition for dinner. I’d usually actually only eat a third with dinner, have another third with Camembert or cheese afterwards, and save the rest for breakfast (which is quite anti-French considering these baguette become hard and indelible quickly).

It goes without saying that in France, the baguette is sacred. Making them really is a form of fine art. Bakers wake up in the early hours of the morning and work all day in order to keep a nation fed, and their passion for their work is unrivaled. So much so that every year in Paris, hundreds of bakers gather and compete to see who makes the best baguette, with the winner receiving the honor of being the official baker of the president. No wonder the baguette is a staple in the French diet. Every meal is typically served with a side of baguette, perfect to munch on or use to mop up the plate at the end of the meal. Or of course, why not do the hipster thing and have a picnic with wine, cheese, and a baguette?

My daily baguette ritual, however, has lead to one slight problem: I’m now spoiled, as I’ve yet to find a baguette here that can live up to France’s impeccable baguette standards. So instead of trying to buy a perfect baguette, I’d figured I’d do as most great chefs do and try and replicate it my own the kitchen. Although I’ve only finished with my first attempt, it’s obvious that I’m no master bread maker yet. That being said, I can guarantee that a homemade baguette straight out of the oven will be infinitely better than a store bought one any day.

After scouring the web high and low, I settled on two recipes from which I adapted. They can be found at here and here, however since they’re both in French I’ve posted a translation of the recipes below and included some tips and tricks. Enjoy!

Microsoft Word - Baguette Recipe.docx

IMG_5321

A big part of making any kind of dough is the water, so I bought evian brand water in order to make my french baguettes.

IMG_5323

IMG_5327

I actually forgot to make the incisions right away so I attempted to make them after having put the baguettes in the oven already but unfortunately it was too late. Oh well, c’est la vie!

IMG_5331

Tips: Buy your baguette as close as close as possible to the location where you’re going to eat it. Nothing’s worse than a cold baguette, plus you won’t be able to resist the urge to nibble at it! If its obvious that’s it’s straight out of the oven, remove any sort of wrap around it as that traps the gas that’s trying to escape.

Playlist of the Week – #3

Hey everyone! I may have skipped a week but I’m back! Once again, here’s a small sampling of the music that I’ve been rocking out to lately! Enjoy and keep on being awesome!

1. ‘Jealous’, Chromeo

‘Jealous’ is without a doubt one of the many “Songs of the Summer”. Chromeo, who have been no strangers to creating electro-funk hits, released this single earlier this year and people haven’t stopped dancing to it ever since. The hype will probably die down soon, but before summer ends be sure to enjoy this jam to the fullest extent!

2. ‘Classic’, MKTO

To accompany Chromeo, another top-40 hit. What can I say, I just love popular music. MKTO’s ‘Classic’ is a song I can have on repeat for a while.

3. ‘Salsa Tequila’, Anders Nilsen

Just as gimmicky as Psy or Ylvis, but without the fame – except in the Netherlands, of course, where it was trending on Spotify. Deceivingly, this song isn’t about food, but if you’re into dance music it’s worth a listen if only for it’s catchiness.

4. ‘Brighter Days’, FM Belfast

I had the chance to see this band in concert last spring without knowing a thing about who they where, and in the end it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been too. Not only can these Icelanders rock (er, play synths?), but they know how to work a crowd and get everyone on their feet, jumping, and having fun. The band even came out for a second encore, and with no more material to play they ended up repeating songs. Extremely high energy and extremely contagious, especially live, this band is by far one of my favorites of 2014. Hopefully you get a chance to check them out as well.

Best Beer Commercials

Let’s mix things up a bit. I’m actually going to take a step back this week and time-travel back to the Fourth of July. Hopefully everyone had a fantastic Independence Day, whether it was filled with cupcakes or something equally delightful. This year certainly featured its fair share of good eats and fireworks, however on top of that I noticed that along with the festivities came a slew of beer commercials to commemorate the day.

The most buzz-worthy, without a doubt, goes to Newcastle Brown Ale, whose viral campaign “If We Won” encouraged Americans to think about what would have happened if Britain had won the Revolutionary war. The campaign featured appearances from Zachary Quinto and Stephan Merhcant, and caused quiet a stir with many debating the appropriateness of Newcastle’s counter-patriotic attempt at humor (while we’re talking about Newcastle, let’s give them a shoutout for their equally funny Super Bowl commercial that never happened featuring Anna Kendrick). Despite Newcastle’s best efforts, it was another foreign beer that managed to one-up them and take home top honors for this year’s best Fourth commercial. Guinness, the legendary irish beer maker, created an emotional and powerful piece that paid tribute to those who served. The spot was very well crafted — much like their beer — and truly deserved top honors. You can watch the advert below, and as a result of it, I’ve been inspired to track down and featured some of the best beer commercials of our time.

1. Guinness ‘Empty chair’

The spot that inspired me to do this list, this powerful bit honors those who have served their nations. It ends with a touching message, “The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character”, as well as a nod to Guinness’ now iconic hastag, #MadeOfMore. It’s not a surprise that this takes the top spot; Guinness has been no stranger to terrific commercials, and recently put out an equally emotional advert featuring a game of wheelchair basketball. Be sure to watch both that commercial as well as the one below. As an added bonus, I’m going to include a short video on pouring the perfect pint as well as Conan O’Brian’s hilarious tour of the brewery.

2. Carlton Draught ‘Beer Chase’

Hailed by many as one of the top beer ads ever, the Australian brand opted for a retro vibe complete with a ‘car chase’ set to cheesy background music. The beauty of it is that of course no one is actually driving around, as both the cops and bandits have been drinking. In the end, this not only leads to a hilarious chase on foot, but also provides a great way to remind individuals not to drink and drive. Great stuff!

3. Red Stripe ‘Ugly’

There’s actually not much I can say about this one. It’s downright funny and straightforward: Red Stripe’s ugly bottle will make ugly people look beautiful. Nothing more to it, and nothing more needed.

4. Stella Artois ‘Gadgets’ 

Wes Anderson is no strangers to helping produce commercials, having worked with Prada and American Express. In 2010, he teamed up with Belgian beer giant Stella Artois to create this jovial little bit. Surrounded by an industry that relies heavily on humor for marketing, Wes brings a more cinematic approach along with his unique style in order to create this fun, quirky advert. It’s a breath of fresh air.

5. Bud Light ‘Swear Jar’

Yes, it’s extremely immature and childish, but it still cracks a smile. Whether or not it actually aired or was deemed too crude for TV, this bit is just simply humorous.

Bonus: Heineken ‘Walk-in Fridge” 

A classic play on the contrast between girls and boys, while the women get excited over a walk-in closet, this tongue-in-cheek bit parodies that excitement when some men get excited over a walk-in fridge full of Heineken. As an added bonus and clever play on words, Heineken created a sequel feature nothing other than a “walking fridge”. Enjoy!

Playlist of the Week – #2!

Hey Everyone! It’s time for my second installment of my playlist of the week! I actually recently saw a film, and one of the lines went, “It’s always nice to cook with a glass of wine”. While I definitely agree with this statement, I also think that a good playlist doesn’t hurt either. This week I’ve got more songs for you, and even though my cooking playlist is usually tied into my mood or what I’m making, I’ve had these songs on repeat for a while and hope that you enjoy them too.

1. Kavinsky ft. The Weeknd, “Odd Look”

French house artist Kavinsky gained fame after his single, ‘Nightcall‘, was featured in the movie Drive. This lesser known hit of his features Canadian singer The Weeknd, and it sounds like it comes straight from a hip-hop dance video. It’s an easy song to dance along to or just enjoy! The Weeknd’s part really works well in this song, and if you haven’t heard of him either, check him out!

2. Maroon 5, “Maps”

I said last week I’m a sucker for top-40. Maroon 5 is no exception, and I’m loving this hit of theirs.

3. Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know?”

Another ‘mainstream’ song, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ comes from Arctic Monkey’s latest album, AM. Although Arctic Monkeys have been making music for a while, their newest album really is a cut above the rest and has finally turned the Arctic Monkeys into a household name.

4. Alt-J, “Left Hand Free”

After a breakthrough first album “An Awesome Wave”, Alt-J (∆) is gearing up to release their sophomore album this fall. I fell in love with their debut album and was fortunate enough to meet the band and get my copy signed at Coachella two years ago. ‘Left Hand Free’ is the second single off of the new album, behind ‘Hunger of the Pine’. If you haven’t heard of the song or the band, check them out. Their song is very unique with no two songs sounding quite alike. It might take a few listens to get into, but they are well worth it.

à la Française – Macarons (and mistakes!)

This post is also available on my other blog, azeatsandbeats.wordpress.com

Just recently, I returned to my home state of Arizona after spending a year of my life abroad in wonderful Paris, France! This meant that for an entire year, I was surrounded by some of the world’s best cuisine (and I make the distinction to say surrounded by it, because I’ll admit I didn’t always get the chance – or have the courage – to sample it). Inspired by my time in France, I’ve challenged myself with bringing some of the world’s finest and best delicacies to my own  kitchen. First up, I’m diving right into the deep end by attempting to bake le roi de tous les friandises*: the macaron.

I was warned that making these devilishly good treats would be extremely extremely difficult. However, right before I left France I picked up a pocket-sized cookbook dedicated exclusively to the macaron – and to be honest it made the whole process look like a piece of cake. Yet just like baking anything else, making a perfect macaron is an art; and if that’s true, then you could say I’m still on the step where I’m learning to fingerpaint.

In the end, I attempted to make four different but complimentary varieties of the confection: chocolate, coffee, caramel, and vanilla-nutella. For a first effort, I was quite happy with the results, even if they fell a bit short of expectations. Actually, they were, without any doubt, far from perfect. Always looking on the bright side (and like any good chef), I’ve decided to focus on my mistakes and learn from them. Here are some of my takeaways after baking the macarons; my hope is that these notes provide insight to anyone who is considering attempting to make their own batches.

IMG_5297

Almost a Mistake #1: A Cookbook in French

I’m fluent in French, so a French language cookbook isn’t a deal breaker. Despite making only minor use of a dictionary, the cookbook still posed it challenges. For example, the book was written using the metric system in mind, and some of the ingredients were harder to find here than in France (plus the quality of products can vary from country to country). In the end, I’m not afraid to admit that I did have to remake parts of the recipes due to misfollowed steps. Not a huge deal, but obviously it’s a waste of time and ingredients.

Almost a Mistake #2: Four Different Varieties

This wasn’t a cardinal sin, but in hindsight, trying to make four different varieties during my first attempt wasn’t the best of ideas. It felt hard to keep track of everything and the quality definitely suffered because of the quantity. To make things easier, next time I’m planning on focusing more on a smaller variety so that the overall quality isn’t compromised.

(Real) Mistake #1: Not Aging the Egg Whites

As it turns out, the verdict is that aging egg whites is an important step in the baking process. Partly because of a translation error, I skipped this step. The recipe I was following did in fact call for the egg whites to be refrigerated overnight, however I falsely thought this was because eggs aren’t always stored in the refrigerator in France. Assuming the cookbook was simply implying that the eggs should be cold, I beat my egg whites right after cracking them: a big no-no.

Mistake #2: Not Beating my Eggs Stiff Enough

Okay, so the mistake cited might not be the actual problem, but regardless my batter felt a lot runnier than it should have been. It possibly could have been because I didn’t beat my egg whites enough, but at the same time I can’t rule out too much downtime (remember, trying to make four kinds at once!) or the Arizona heat that could have melted the batter (it’s a serious thing!). Next time I’ll definitely be more in control of the factors I can, and hopefully by beating my egg whites longer and by being more efficient I’ll end up with a better result.

Mistake #3: Not letting the batter dry

Going off of the last mistake, since it felt like my shells were melting too quickly, I used my not-so-great improvisational skill and had the “genius” idea of putting the shells straight into the oven. This, of course, was the exact opposite of the step in the cookbook that was telling me to let the shells rest and dry for an hour. The reason this step is important is because it’s vital in order for the macarons to get their famous ‘legs’. The result, of course, is that my macarons turned out just like cookies. At least they tasted great!

Mistake #4: The Fillings

Just when I thought I couldn’t mess up anymore: I did. With the exception of the Nutella filling, which was simply just a spoon of Nutella, my fillings were less than perfect – atrocious even. The chocolate ganache filling just felt a bit too overpowering. The coffee filling tasted superb but was runny like a sauce. The worst of the lot, however, was the caramel that instantly hardened up and turned the macarons inedible. In all fairness to me though, I’ll attribute this mistake to the recipes (in French) that I was following.

Fortunately, my attempt to make macarons did have its bright side!

IMG_5251

 Victory #1: Caramel Shells

So remember when I said I put the macarons straight into the oven? Well, as it turns out, I did let one batch sit and dry up. Can you guess what happened? They turned out perfectly, with legs and a glossy finish! Obviously, since I’m not an expert I can’t say 100% that letting them sit was the reason this happened, but having them turn out the way they did was fantastic! Unfortunately, I did mention that the caramel filling was horrid, but at the very least I’m happy with these shells.

IMG_5191

IMG_52011

Victory #2: The Coffee Macarons

Without a doubt these were the hardest to make of the batch, and it showed. I ended up tossing most of the shells, and the filling was runny like sauce. All that being said, the few that did turn out surpassed my expectations when it came time to sample them! Absolutely amazing! Although I’m on the lookout for a different, thicker recipe for the filling, the coffee macarons were a hit!

Bonus Victory: Making Brownies

In the end, my chocolate macarons turned out a lot like mini-brownies. Considering the goal was to make macarons, it wasn’t the best of results, but I really enjoyed them anyway!

IMG_5265

IMG_52111

In all honesty, for a first attempt this wasn’t bad at all. I learnt first hand the hardships of making these little devils, and in turn why they’re often so expensive and hard to come by in stores. The caramel macarons had perfect shells yet a disastrous filling. The chocolate macarons turned out more like brownies. Finally, both the coffee and vanilla-nutella macarons looked like monstrosities, but they tasted far beyond their looks. Next time, with the lessons learned from this bake, I’m planning on being more efficient and streamlined. And since macarons come in all different varieties, I’ve got my eyes set on some of the fruity varieties for next time. Hopefully with this advice, my next batch (and yours as well if you decide to make them!) will turn out better, and I’ll end up with delicious, fantastic looking macarons.

*the king of all confections.

IMG_52011BW

Playlist of the Week – #1!

If you are anything like me, you’re either doing one of two things as you bake: either pretending to be hosting your own cooking show, or listening to some tunes and cooking to the beat! So, this week I thought I’d do things a little bit differently and introduce a new weekly segment where I share with you a piece of my “cooking” playlist. Hopefully these songs help you have as much fun baking as I have! Enjoy and have an awesome day!

1. Disclosure, ‘Latch’

Although I love discovering the next big thing, I’m also a sucker for anything top-40. With their single  ‘Latch’ recently achieving platinum status in United States, Disclosure is the latest sensation to come out of Britain. Their single is on repeat across all the major radio stations, and I’m fine with this. The energy is contagious and it’s a sure-fire way to get you in the mood! Also check out: ‘White Noise’, ‘F for You’, and ‘You & Me – Flume Remix’

2. Sam Smith, ‘Money on my Mind’

Speaking of ‘Latch’, we can’t forget to give credit to the voice behind the song: Sam Smith. He recently released his debut album, “In the Lonely Hour”, which is likewise making a big splash over here in the states. ‘Money on my Mind’ is one of his more upbeat songs and really gets you going. For a more mellow jam, check out ‘Stay With Me’

3. Stromae, ‘Peace or Violence’

With the World Cup just having finished, it’s fitting to include a few international artists to the list. Stromae (derived from the word “Maestro”) is arguably the biggest francophone artist in the world right now. Although he’s just beginning to form a presence in the US, he’s still relatively unknown. His music is top-notch, combining elements of both house and hip-hop. In a few months, he’ll be taking his talents away from his home soil and embark on a small yet already sold-out tour of the US. ‘Peace or Violence’ is an upbeat hit from his first album, but be sure to check out his newer stuff including ‘Formidable’, ‘Papaoutai’ (which he performed on Seth Meyers), and ‘Alors on danse”

4. Cro, ‘Traum’

Keeping up with the international acts; in honor of Germany’s World Cup victory, I present to you Cro. Currently one of Germany’s biggest hip-hop/pop stars, his music was on repeat while I made my Patriotic cupcakes. If you dig this song (or German hip-hop/pop in general), check out his other songs!

Bonus 1: Sia, ‘Chandelier’

I put this song as a bonus because this isn’t a song I can see myself baking to. However, the music video is drawing tons of acclaim and the song itself is fantastic. Sia’s been around for a while but this song really breaks the ice and has lead her to perform it on both Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen’s shows. Give it a listen!

Bonus 2: Chromeo’s Oreo commercial

A little foodie related bonus. Chromeo recently created a song for an Oreo’s commercial, and let’s just say I wish it was longer. I can’t get enough of this funky little beat.

Mealtime: Nandos Chicken!

This post is also available on azeatsandbeats.wordpress.com

Summertime is in full swing, which means it’s the season to get down with all those beloved summer clichés. It’s time to brush the dust off from the grill, pull up a chair and grab some cold ones, hang out with good company, and relax by the pool. And of course, summer is absolutely synonymous with good BBQ. But despite the fact that red meat is king this time of year, it’s always good to mix it up every once in a while. Next time a good meal is in order, there’s no harm in considering some mouthwatering chicken recipes to please a crowd.

For a sure-fired hit, SORTED Food has come up with a Nandos [Copycat] Chicken recipe, which is the perfect headliner for a chicken-based meal. For those not familiar with Nandos: it’s a chicken-based chain restaurant that operates worldwide. Their specialty is their flame-grilled Peri-Peri chicken; simply put, chicken seasoned with South African spices. The unique chicken recipe is a worldwide hit and those who have tried Nandos can’t stop raving about it. Fortunately for East Coasters, Nandos has a couple locations in the area and its famous sauce is sold in stores. For the rest of us, this imitation recipe tastes spot on. The sauce is effortless to make and can used to marinade the chicken beforehand and then cooked to perfection in the the oven for about an hour.

To compliment the chicken, serve it up like the restaurants do with a side of fries. For a superb “chip” to go along, consider the extra effort of making Chef Heston Blumenthal’s “Triple Cooked Chips”. With three cooks, this method of making fries is a bit more tedious then others, but the end result is glorious fry perfection. Start these fries early in the day, and don’t forget to add on a small salad to go along with the meal.

No summer meal would be complete without a cool, light summer drink and some desserts. On a warm summer night with a good meal, nothing hits the spot more than this White Wine Sangria. It requires time to mix the wine and fruit flavors together, so prepare the night before (this also makes serving a breeze come mealtime). In a rush? Another quick option is to head to Trader Joes and buy a not-too expensive red wine (two buck chuck anyone?) as well as some Orangina to make some cheap Sangria by mixing equal parts over ice. To finish off, try some of these healthy Chocolate Pots. They’re quick and effortless to make, taking no more then 5 minutes to prepare, and can be stored in the fridge for a stress free dessert at the end of the meal, or to eat as a great snack on a hot summer’s day.

This summer, don’t hesitate to be an adventurous cook, try new things, and make great food. There’s nothing better than sharing a fantastic meal with family and friends.

IMG_5024

IMG_5056Final