What I love most about visiting France is the inspiration I find in just about everything == it's endless. I believe it is impossible to be there and not be influenced in some small way, visually or gastronomically. Most likely, it will be both of those. In the weeks before I travel to Paris, or anywhere else in France, I note historical and cultural centers I should see in addition to pâtisseries I've been longing to visit and restaurants where I want to eat. But I'm also a big believer in just heading out in a different direction each morning to see where the streets take me. I am never disappointed. I'm always guaranteed unique discoveries that will inspire the way I approach something once I return home to St. Paul.
This recent trip was no exception. In addition to the 1200 plus photos I returned with, which remind me daily of the beauty that abounds, I ate foods that I knew I would attempt to recreate once at home. For me, that is the most meaningful thing I can do to remember a trip. There's nothing like being around the table on our patio with friends and family and eating a meal filled with delicious memories (A French Inspired Meal, French Cauliflower Soup with Truffle Oil).
One of the culinary highlights during my time in Paris was dinner at Restaurant Verjus. I had read about it in food magazines and was reminded by friend and food blogger Stacey that the American owners, Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian (a St. Paul native ?!), started their French culinary career by running the highly successful underground restaurant, Hidden Kitchen, out of their Paris apartment. While googling info on Verjus, I came upon a restaurant review by Alexander Lobrano for Saveur magazine. He summed up beautifully my experience there. (If interested, read the 2012 article HERE.) There is no ordering à la carte at Verjus. The meal is a tasting menu of approximately 8 courses. The only thing we were asked before the service began, was if either my husband or I had any food allergies and if we wanted the staff to pair each course with the recommended wine. We ended up talking with diners on both sides of our table throughout our meal, and if I had to describe the atmosphere, it could only be "festive". Everyone dining at Verjus that night was very happy to be there.
My little home kitchen project became the dessert I ate at Verjus that night. There are several components to this dish, but the ice cream, candied pine nuts and fresh ricotta can all be made ahead. I suggest making the cake the day of, only because I like how it slices; the cake's texture becomes more crumbly over time but the flavor is definitely as good.
PINE NUT ICE CREAM
+ found on Chowhound
MAKE ICE CREAM THE DAY BEFORE
• 3/4 cup pine nuts
• 3/4 cup sugar, divided
•2. 1/2 cups whole milk
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 5 egg yolks
1. Put 3/4 cup of pine nuts in a pie pan and roast them at 350 until fragrant.
Put roasted pine nuts and 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor. Process until you get a peanut butter-like consistency, Combine this with 2 1/2 cups whole milk in a saucepan. Add 1 teaspoon almond extract. Bring to a boil and then immediately remove from the heat.
2. While the milk is heating. whisk together the 5 egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Once milk mixture boils, slowly pour it into the egg mixture.
Pour back into saucepan and heat over low heat - DO NOT BOIL - stir constantly. Remove from heat once custard is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 10 minutes. Cool in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight.
3. Put into your ice cream maker and churn as directed. Freeze overnight.
CANDIED PINE NUTS
+ found on about.com
* 1/2 cup pine nuts
• 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
• 1 1/2 teaspoons water
• 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
• Pinch of salt
• 1/8 cup Demerara sugar
1. PREHEAT oven to 350˚F. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, water, salt, and granulated sugar until smooth. Toss the pine nuts and Demerara sugar in the honey mixture stirring well to coat.
2. Spread the nut mixture onto a parchment lined baking pan in a single layer and bake until the nuts are golden brown. Watch closely so nuts do not burn. Allow the nuts to cool to room temperature; chop coarsely. Keep candied pine nuts in an air-tight container.
+ Use either purchased Fresh Ricotta or make your own. Recipe HERE.
OLIVE OIL CAKE with RED GRAPES
+ recipe, adapted, found at marthastewart.com
• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pan
• 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
• 1/2 cup almond meal
• 1/4 cup coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 large eggs
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
• 1/3 cup whole milk
• 2 cups red seedless grapes
1. PREHEAT oven to 350˚F. Brush a 9-inch square pan with oil; dust with flour, tapping out excess. Whisk together flour, almond meal, cornmeal, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Beat eggs, sugar, and zest with a mixer on high speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; slowly add the oil. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk, and beginning and ending with flour.
2. Spoon the batter into pan. Scatter 1 cup of grapes over the top. Bake for 15 minutes. Scatter the remaining 1 cup grapes over cake. Bake until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean; another 25 to 27 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack, then turn out and slice into thin rectangles.
• Fresh Ricotta
• Good quality, runny Honey
• Olive Oil Cake with Red Grapes
• Pine Nut Ice Cream
• Candied Pine Nuts
1. On a small plate, smear a large spoonful of Fresh Ricotta; drizzle ricotta with honey.
Place a slice of the Olive Oil Cake on top of ricotta. Add a scoop of the Pine Nut Ice Cream to the plate and sprinkle with the Candied Pine Nuts. Serve and Enjoy!
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