Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Parisian Macarons

Ever since I tasted my first Parisian macaron, I have been in love.  My love only increased when I went to a book signing in December for the book Mad about Macarons! by Jill Colonna.  I bought the recipe book and finally got the chance to make some of my own last week. 

Macarons are a bit high maintenance, which is why I put off trying the recipes for quite awhile.  I had determined the book was better off sitting on my coffee table on display.  But after walking past several patisseries selling these little suckers last week, I decided I needed to go ahead and give them a try.  They are SUPER expensive in the shops, so I figured I could save a little money by making my own (not eating them at all is just not an option!). 

When you decide to make macarons (do not pronounce the "s"), you must first age the egg whites of 4 or 5 eggs in your refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.  These are no chocolate chip cookies, where you can decide you want them and then eat the final product in under an hour. 

Once your egg whites have aged, it is time to get to work.  Basically, you need powdered almonds, two types of sugar, cocoa (if you are making chocolate macarons!), and your egg whites.

Next, you whip the egg whites and mix all of your ingredients together.

You put your mixture into a piping bag or something that will help you squeeze the batter out into perfectly round circles.  I had some trouble making them all the same size, but I'm sure I will get better with practice!

Next, you let them sit for about 30 minutes before baking.

Once they are hard to the touch, you pop them in the oven for around 10 minutes.  If they have been made correctly, they should form "feet" around the edges.  Basically, that just means they should have a frilly edge.  I was thrilled when I looked in the oven and noticed that my macarons did in fact have feet!

You let the macarons cool and then prepare the filling.

Here is my final product!

The super hard part about making macarons is that you can't eat them right away!  You must put them in the fridge for 24-36 hours.  Then, they must sit at room temperature for about an hour before tasting.  When your whole apartment smells divine, it is pretty hard not to just try one.

I was good and waited 24 hours before trying (I couldn't manage 36).  They weren't perfect looking like the ones in the patisseries, but I have to say they were AMAZING.  I'm going to try to make vanilla macarons next weekend! 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tarte au Citron et aux Amandes

This week I decided that I needed to make a French dessert.  For my first solo experience with one (I made one a few weeks ago when I was Cooking with Sabine), I made a lemon and almond tart.

Since I am lazy, I started with a premade crust (pâte sablée) and
poked holes in it with a fork.

Next, I zested three lemons...

...and juiced them (with my new juicer from Italy!).

Then I took three eggs...

...and mixed them with 100g of melted butter, 200g of sugar, 75g of powdered almonds, and the lemon juice and zest.

I poured the mixture into the crust.

And then baked it for 30 minutes (covered in foil) and then 15 minutes uncovered at 200 degrees Celsius.  I let it cool and then put it in the refrigerater.  It is best eaten cold.
It turned out quite well...if I do say so myself!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sunny Sunday in Montmartre

The Montmartre neighborhood of Paris is one of the most lively, energetic, colorful areas you can find in this city.  While much of Paris looks like this...

Montmartre looks like this...         

Picasso, Monet, and van Gogh all spent time in this eclectic neighborhood.  Although it is overflowing with tourists now, its charm is undeniable.  The cobblestone roads, street musicians, vivid colors, and village-like atmosphere make this one of my favorite spots in Paris!  Montmatre has the ability to transport you out of a large city and into a cozy, comfy, welcoming town. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Chandeliers of Versailles

Over the weekend we visited Chateau de Versailles.  We actually went to see a temporary science exhibit and a temporary exhibit of thrones from around the world.  But what grabbed my attention while in the gorgeous chateau were all of the chandeliers.  There are literally hundreds of them throughout the palace.  I only wish I would have been able to see them at night...I'm sure that would have made them even more magical. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Adventures in Italy

Dustin and I spent all of last week in Italy - half of our time was in Rome and the other half we spent in Naples.  The two cities are complete opposites.  Rome is romantic, with golden torch-like lighting in the evening.  It's clean (at least compared to Naples), relaxed, and full of things to explore.  Naples, on the other hand, is "in your face" Italy.  The people are loud (often speaking with large hand gestures...some that are awfully rude), the traffic is horrible (it is a miracle that we weren't hit by a vespa while crossing the street), and it is really dirty.  But, it is the birthplace of pizza and mozzarella.  What's not to like about that?!

Our first stop was Rome.  We took a bus tour on our first night there to get a feel for the city and how it is laid out.  As you can see, we were the only crazy people sitting up top in the freezing cold wind!

Our entire second day was spent in ancient Rome.  It was absolutely amazing to see all of the ruins.  They took me right back to high school Latin class. 

The Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

There would have been a wooden floor here when the Colosseum was in use.  Here you can see where they kept the animals and gladiators.  

In the Roman Forum

Looking down on the forum.

Next, we went to the Pantheon.  It was built around 126 AD.  INCREDIBLE!

We ended our day of exploring at the Trevi Fountain.  I got to enjoy my first true Italian gelato!

Day 3 in Rome was spent in Vatican City at the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's.  Below is the Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museum.  Besides the Sistine Chapel, it was my favorite part!

I was able to discreetly take a few pictures in the Sistine Chapel on my iPhone!  Dustin and I sat on a bench for about an hour taking it all in.  It is truly a masterpiece!

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Basilica

Inside St. Peter's

We spent day 4 exploring Trastevere - a very authentic Italian neighborhood in Rome.  It is off the beaten-path, so there weren't very many tourists around.   

After exploring for a bit, we hopped on a train from Rome to Naples.  Naples is a little bit less-tourist friendly.  It was an adventure just figuring out how to get from the train station to our hotel.  After we finally discovered where we could buy a metro ticket, we made it to the hotel no problem.  At this point, it was getting pretty late.  We grabbed a pizza at a place that is supposed to have one of the best pizzas in Naples.  I was super excited about it because Naples is the birthplace of pizza.  The place was packed full of locals and the waiter obviously did not speak any English.  All of that was a great sign!  No tourists (besides us) around!  We stuck out like a sore thumb.  Unfortunately, the pizza did not impress.  It was good, but not all that I had been expecting. 

Day 5:  Pompeii.  It is pretty amazing to think that a volcano exploded nearly 2000 years ago, covered a city in ash, and perfectly preserved a civilization for us to explore.  People have been literally digging Pompeii out for the last 300 years, and they are still finding parts of this amazing city!  Unfortunately, most of the household items (pottery, medical instruments, shaving kits,etc), paintings, mosaics, statues, and surviving furniture have been removed and are now in a museum in Naples.  But when you go to the excavation site, you get to walk through the streets of this ancient city.  I had no idea how large it was!  If we saw everything, it would have taken over 6 hours.  We didn't have that kind of time, so we saw all the highlights - some of the better preserved homes, a Roman "fast food" joint, a brothel, Roman baths, and a few fountains.

The original city gates.

 Mt. Vesuvius in the background.  It used to be one giant cone, but the explosion that covered the city left an indentation. 

As excavation work progressed, scientists realized that there were hollow spaces in the packed down ash.  They discovered that these hollow spaces once held the bodies of people who hadn't managed to escape the city.  The bodies were decomposed by now and nothing was left.  So, they pumped plaster into these holes and were able to make plaster molds of the shape of the bodies when they died.  Unbelievable!

 A perfectly preserved Roman bath!  The ceiling is even intact!

This is a mosaic floor mat at the entrance to a home.  It reads in Latin, "Beware of the Dog!"

An oven in a bakery.  Italians still build their pizza ovens in this fashion!

Inside of a home.

Can you spot the grooves in this road?  They are from chariot wheels!

The town's stadium

Inside the stadium

After an exhausting day of walking around Pompeii, we took the train back to Naples.  We were still in search of Naples' best pizza.  For those of you who have read or seen Eat, Pray, Love, there is a scene where the main character (Julia Roberts in the movie) eats pizza in Naples.  She claims it is the best pizza she has ever had.  So, we decided to eat at the same place.  There were definitely some tourists there, but there were also several locals.  Whenever eating out in another country, you will always have a more authentic experience if locals choose to eat there as well.  Anyway, this restaurant is definitely a no-frills kind of place.  It's only decoration was a pattern of green and white tiles on the walls, a few pictures of people who had worked and eaten there, and a small picture of Julia Roberts eating there in the movie.  There are only two things on the menu: pizza with cheese (Margherita) or pizza without cheese (Marinara).  We ordered pizza with cheese and got to watch the men make the pizzas in the wood-burning pizza oven.

All I can say is that the pizza was INCREDIBLE.  Literally the best pizza I have EVER had.  It had a thin crust, perfectly flavored sauce, and chunks of mozzarella on top.  I had no problem finishing off a whole pizza myself.  It was so good that we ended up eating there the next night as well!

The outside of the Pizzeria.  

On day 6, we took a bus ride along the cliffs of the Amalfi coast.  The coast is known for its breathtaking views and for the amazing lemons that come from the area. 

We stopped in a cute little town, Amalfi, on our bus ride.  

I enjoyed a delicious cappuccino there!

In another town we stopped in, Sorrento, lemon trees lined the main street!

On our last day in Naples, we went to the National Archaeological Museum.  It is the museum that houses much of the artwork found in Pompeii and other Vesuvian cities. 

A fresco found on a wall inside someone's dining room.

A mosaic with extremely small pieces!!

That afternoon, we got back on the train to Rome for one last night in the golden city.  We spent the evening checking out some of the major sites at night.  The Colosseum did not disappoint!

We left the next morning to catch a flight back to Paris.  What an incredible trip!