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- Des, The Grommet

l’appart: The Delights & Disasters of Making My Paris Home

David Lebovitz’ latest book, l’appart: the Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, is a cringe-worthy tale of a multi-year ordeal that he might never have undertaken had he even an inkling of difficulties he would endure.

When he describes his old apartment and why it was so difficult to give it up to purchase a Parisian apartment, you can clearly imagine the spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower with its effervescent, bubbling lights and appreciate his ideal location on the edge of the Marais, the extraordinary neighborhood farmers’ markets and especially the rare elevator to the top floor of the building where he lived. He also shares the quirky downside of older apartments in the City of Light, issues which might be deal breakers for a lot of Americans, though it’s amazing what we can adjust to if the percs outweigh the pain. But the desire for a big kitchen with a full-sized oven, a big “American” refrigerator, the physical space to properly prepare and refine his recipes and write his books, would seal his commitment to the city he now considered his home.

In David’s inimitable voice, l’appart is his tale of the incredible challenges locating, purchasing and then renovating a Parisian apartment. As I read the nearly unbelievable complications of even finding a listing of apartments for sale, it struck me as so foreign and complicated, something that never occurred to me was possible in a country — and city — famed for their food, their wine, their chocolate, and what I presumed would be hundreds of years to refine a civilized life. In other words, until reading l‘appart, I was just as naive as most Americans in assuming we must have learned from the Europeans on how to set up and manage everything from banking to real estate to home maintenance and beyond. Nope. It’s a nearly incomprehensible, convoluted experience as the following passage indicates.

Chocolate Souffle

Courtesy of David Lebovitz from l’appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home

About the following recipe, David says, “Chocolate souffle remains one of my all-time favorite desserts, and even though I now have a variety of porcelain souffle molds in my kitchen here in Paris, I prefer to bake a chocolate souffle in a shallow baking dish. Some can barely wait to get past the crust, to dive into the warm, tender pool of dark chocolate underneath, but I like the fragile, cocoa-colored crust just as much as what hides beneath it. It’s a balance between the tough, and the tender, and one rarely exists without the other….Although I have my share of regrets, using good chocolate to make a souffle is never one of them.”

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds

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 Courtesy of David Lebovitz: The Sweet Life in Paris

Tagines (also spelled tajine) are a perfect antidote to cold, wintry nights. Remarkably enough, they’re also wonderful on warm summer nights. Why? because they are so richly flavored, all of your senses will come into play. They’re also warming, filling and unique enough for serving at intimate dinner parties or even for a special date night for two.

Stylish, Delicious Winter Salads

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Love salads as an entree but when the weather turns cold, not so much? That’s my problem. Easy to make, they can be as simple or complex as your mood or time allows, they’re healthy and, if you’re clever, you can get in your days’ worth of greens at one sitting. The problem? Facing a crisp, cold green salad on a cold, wet or snowy day! So, what’s the alternative?

Onion Confit

If you’ve ever eaten a burger, a sandwich or anything else that features caramelized onions, you likely had a wow moment — a how could something as humble as an onion be so sweet and pack so much flavor? Really. Onions?

So, in late November, as I was stalling as long as a I could before climbing out of bed and into the chilly morning, I started thinking about something new I could make to give friends and family for the holidays. Onion jam came to mind.

Great Homemade Food Gifts for the Holidays!

The holidays are happening this minute! If you’re in deer-to-the-headlights mode, there’s still time to pull it together and make gifts for family and friends without needing to trek to the malls and deal with traffic jams and long lines. And, the good news is that homemade food gifts are far more appreciated than “stuff.” So roll up your sleeves and let’s get started.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

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During my time in Devon, England, one of my goals was to try Sticky Toffee Pudding. For those of you unaware of English vernacular, “pudding” is used interchangeably with “dessert” and includes cakes, and other baked goods. To add to the confusion, puddings can also be savory, such as Yorkshire Pudding, which is served with roast beef. So Sticky Toffee Pudding is actually a cake that can be baked or steamed and is smothered in a caramel-like sauce.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

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Although I’m not vegan, I have dear friends who are. I’m also always looking for recipes that can accommodate family and friends with food allergies or food intolerance issues. When I read on food 52 about Joanne Chang’s cupcakes, I saw a winner. Joanne, who owns Flour Bakery in Boston, has created a recipe that is moist, deeply flavorful, and fully satisfies the craving for chocolate and the desire for a rich, moist cake or cupcake — vegan or otherwise!

Vanilla – Saffron Scented Butternut Squash Risotto

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The delicious autumn hard shelled squashes are so welcoming to find at the farmers’ market or in the produce section, especially as nights grow dark earlier and the weather turns chilly or cold. They all but beg us to take them home to make something warm, filling and comforting! What I love about this recipe is that you get an unusually silky, risotto as the butternut squash is used two ways. Half of the roasted butternut squash is pureed, which adds to the creaminess of this dish.

Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

Pumpkin and vanilla were meant for each other. Ditto with all the spices in this incredibly light, moist, delicious cake. Really, what could say autumn better than a freshly baked pumpkin cake or pie — or latte, I might add? Over the years I’ve really come to appreciate really fresh spices. I grate my nutmeg and grind allspice and cinnamon in a coffee grinder dedicated just for spices. The flavors really pop when they’re fresh. And our dear vanilla is the backup chorus once again, making sure all the flavors work synergistically.

The Differences Between Pure Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Flavor, and Imitation Vanilla

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Life can certainly get complicated as new products flood the market and old products get rebranded. There are actually five different types of vanilla in the marketplace right now and we’re not talking five different species here. We’re talking labels and what’s inside the bottles. As I get asked about this frequently, I decided to write an article specifically addressing what’s in the bottle and why it’s labeled the way it is. We’ll start with pure vanilla extract.

Pure Vanilla Extract
There is a Standard of Identity for vanilla extract in the United States. To be labeled vanilla extract, a gallon measure must contain 13.35% vanilla bean extractives (10-ounces of moisture-free solids), 35% alcohol, and the balance in distilled water. What is not listed in the Standard of Identity is sugar, corn syrup, caramel color or any other additives. Some companies include one or more of these ingredients on their labels, but most do not. The same is true with alcohol. Grain alcohol is the most commonly used alcohol but sugarcane alcohol is also used. Sugar or corn syrup are often used to mask the harsh notes of alcohol or to make the extract smell and taste better if the quality of the beans used were not good quality.

Vanilla Scented Chicken Scaloppine with Mushrooms

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This recipe (with some adaptations) comes to us from Jerry Di Vecchio, the woman who helped change the way the West eats. By West, I mean the Western United States. A gracious and amazing woman, Jerry spent her entire career working at Sunset Magazine, and many of those years as the editor/director of the food division. She also inadvertently launched my career as an international expert in vanilla. But that’s a story for another time. Instead, this easy-to-make, delicious entree is one you’re going to want in your collection of favorites, whether for a weeknight dinner or for a special meal with guests.

White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies

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This is a spinoff of the World’s Best Cookies, but worthy of its own recipe. It’s a reliably good cookie, keeps well because of the relatively high-fat level (though they don’t usually last long enough for that to be a problem), and you can switch out white chocolate for milk or dark chocolate, as well as the nuts. Part of the appeal of these cookies is the slight crunch from the cornflakes and slightly chewy thanks to the oats.

Icy, Creamy, Grapes with Vanilla and Mint

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When I was fifteen, I spent a memorable summer with my Connecticut cousins. Our Aunt Patricia (yes, I was named after her — we were known as Big Pat and Little Pat) worked and lived in New York City, and in our eyes she was all we aspired to be.  My cousin Deborah and I took the train to Manhattan and spent a day with Big Pat. It was a classic New York summer day — hot and sultry — but my aunt had prepared a sophisticated cold lunch, which included the perfect dessert: half-frozen table grapes in sweetened sour cream. This was before yogurt was mainstream and sour cream was considered a gourmet item. I’ve been making some version of this refreshing dish ever since.

Roasted Ratatouille

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Too much summer squash? Whether your neighbors look the other way when they see you coming with an armload of zucchini or you’re just looking for  another recipe to enjoy it, here’s my solution. When you roast squash, it shrinks like crazy and becomes deliciously sweet. I frequently roast potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash early in the morning before the heat sets in and one day I decided to see what ratatouille would look like if I roasted the squash and eggplant instead of braising them with onions and tomatoes. I’ve been making my version of ratatouille this way ever since. Yes, it requires an extra couple of steps, but I think it’s worth it. Here’s my “no recipe” for roasted ratatouille. You can decide for yourself if you want to make it or just roast the squash to add to salads, pasta or fritattas.

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