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Monatsarchive: December 2010

Oh What A Year!


Wow…A year. And what a year…Hard to sit down and reflect on the whirlwind that 2010 has been because my whole body, mind and soul are still twirling from everything that’s happened and is happening. Gratitude sinks in. A sense of accomplishment. Hopes fulfilled. Goals simmering. I hope it’s not too long. There is some photo talk, some cookbook talk, some love and friendship talk, some travel and food talk. I want to write it all down to make sure I did not just dream 2010, it was so incredibly wonderful.


You guys have made this year special with your words, both online and off, sharing your thoughts with me as I came here each week to share some food and a few stories. With this post, I also wish to show the most important persons in my life, my parents and my husband that their patience and support, unconditional love pushed me harder. And the close friends who have shared many a "shoot meal" to help out!


I love reading everyone’s end of the year posts and I especially loved this quote from Matt Armendariz from Matt Bites: "I realized that everything I’ve ever done has led me to this point of my life, even when I hadn’t a clue. I realized the best is yet to come." He is so right! The hours I have spent working and honing my skills have given something that make me whole and thrilled to share with you. I am forever changed by the people I have met this year and the relationships I have fostered.

Chocolate Rice Pudding

The year started with a bang setting the tone for the rest of the year. Traveling, teaching, meeting, learning, working. I flew to Atlanta to meet my favorite peeps and delve into a Sugar Coma experience culminating by teaching a macarons workshop.


I came home to start photographing my first cookbook for Carrie of Deliciously Organic (available next week!). Not only did I learn a lot about books, publishing, logistics, etc…I also gained a close friend in Carrie and fell completely in love with her personality and the way she is in life as she is on paper. Honest, genuine and patient. We loved working so closely together that we are co-authoring a cookbook together in 2011. I can’t wait to get started!


Right after, I flew to L.A to teach more macaron workshops as well as some on photography, all so cleverly and perfectly organized by three amazing ladies I miss everyday, Rachael, Jen and Gaby. Why is this country so wide? From L.A, I flew to Seattle to teach more workshops on macarons and photography this time organized by Viv, the hostess with the mostess (no seriously) and I was eccastic to be able to visit with my favorite peeps: Anita, Jeanne, Jen, Shauna, Danny and Lu. Dang that was a good time!


I came home right on time to pick up my parents at the airport and take my mom inside the airport bookstore to show her the first magazine cover I had styled (!) I wanted to show her that all the time and patience they invested in believing and supporting my endeavors was paying off. I thoroughly enjoyed the 3 weeks we spent together this Spring. I was thrilled to be busy working on several magazine shoots to show parents how my job goes on a daily basis whether for clients, charity or events that friends were organizing. Volunteer to go beyond what is asked of you. Always.

Kumquat Cakes

The summer was looking just about as busy and quite frankly I was just about to burst at the seam from gratitude having this much work and being able to contribute my fair share of experiences to the household. In late June I flew to Utah to speak at Evo 10 and finally met lots of bloggers I had know online for years. From small group gathering to big room lectures, I finally met in the flesh authors and photographers I had been admiring for years and from too far. They reinforced my belief that I was on the right track, that being authentic and vulnerable is the way to open yourself to incredible experiences. From Utah, it was on to Colorado and the Food&Light Photography Workshop. I wish I could have stayed longer and enjoy the beauty of my surroundings but there was more work calling back home.


In one week, I had cleared my head and met some of the most gracious people out there. It would be hard to top. Oh wait! Flying home to celebrate my grandfather’s 100th birthday was seriously THE event of 2010. Forget work, forget deadlines, pending contracts and bills. Forget it all. The man is my Superhero. I wish I could have taken him on the road trip I took shortly after his birthday, heading down to the Alps and my native Provence. I bet you he would have had 100 more stories to tell. It was an amazing trip but there was more work awaiting at home.


Pretty much the day after I landed back in SC, I started doing the photography for another cookbook, this time written by the talented Holly Herrick and all about tarts. I know! One of my favorite topics! It was a ton of work cooking, styling and photographing but again I was teaching myself and learning so much in the process that it made the experience that much more fulfilling. I was looking to a little break during the fall and was thrilled to go back to San Francisco to speak at BlogHer Food once again and give back some of what I had learned. I really re-discovered and fell in love with the city again. Not to mention spending quality time with dear friends again.

Pumpkin pie

I went home and started on my biggest project yet to date with Wiley Publishing and before I could realize I’d do the bulk of it during the holiday season, Thanksgiving rolled around, marking the start of what B. and I label "End Of The Year Craziness". Being able to spend time with both friends and family as much as we have been able to this year has been the key to keeping us grounded. And going. And energized. And peaceful. And grateful

So what’s in store for 2011? I am looking forward to having my friend Taylor here for a few days in January and then driving to Alabama together for the FoodBlog South conference. I’m looking forward to meeting creative people I have been following for years and seeing friends again. I’ll be meeting for the first time celebrated author Virginia Willis, whose cookbook I will be photographing in February. I am also working on finalizing plans and dates for other jobs, shooting more cookbooks, writing my own (I know! That part is crazy!)


See, there is much known and much unknown to 2011 but you know what? I am looking forward to it all. Blog, friends, family, work. They make me whole. I try to take everything as a possibility for growth, good or bad and the kind words, support and frienships you have extended to me this year have made me do this move (from Love Actually) a thousand times over.


This year has been nothing short of feeling like Christmas mornings most days. So to you dear readers, I wish you a lots and more of these moments for 2011!

Happy New Year!

Sweet Holidays To You!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you have the sweetest of holidays! Thank you all for every bit of love and sharing you give me everyday and every time I come around here!

It’s going to be a quiet evening here with friends but you can be sure it won’t be without good food…! Here is our menu for Christmas Eve: homemade lox and blinis, French country pate and baguette, seafood fondue (salmon, tuna, scallops, shrimp), mixed greens with Meyer lemon vinaigrette and for dessert vanilla bean creme brulees….Oh yeah baby…! What’s on yours?

I have today completely dedicated to filling up the gift baskets I hand out to family and friends every year and since they are too busy to read today, I can tell you what is going into them!
French Macarons
Cranberry Coin cookies
Maple Leaf Cookies
Palm Sugar Sandwich Cookies with Cinnamon Cream filling
Indian Cardamom Cookies
Vanilla Shortbread
Sugar Cookies Sandwiches with Brandy Cream
Date Nut Loaves
Hazelnut Blondies
Elderflower Truffles
Cocoa Nib Truffles
Plain Chocolate Truffles
Lemon Meringue Forgotten Cookies

I hope they like them!

Joyeux Noel!

Poached Kumquat & Almond Cakes

Kumquat & Almond Cakes

I love this time of year for so many reasons. They hit me with a bit of nostalgia in the afternoon but they all revolve around the same flavors and scents. I found myself humming our favorite Christmas story. He caught me starring at the skyline while my mom was describing the snow back home. He noticed I let the cardamom pods linger on the countertop a little while. That’s the holidays too. So I close my eyes and just imagine.


Chocolate. Thick as ganache and strong as coffee hot chocolate. Cardamom. My mom’s Swedish cardamom rolls, Roasted chestnuts. Piping hot snack we would get on the streets of Paris while visiting my grandparents. Oolong tea. The perfect cup to warm you up in the afternoon. Clementines and kumquats. One of my favorite Winter dessert.

Kumquat & Almond Cakes

A yogurt and a clementine or a handful of kumquats was by far the most common dessert at our house during Winter. My mom has this gigantic wooden fruit bowl for everyday dinners that I love. Not because of what it is but because of what it promises. Comes Winter and it is a cornucopia of lychees, citrus, pears, nuts and dates. Snapping the citrus skin to smell their natural oils to feel instantly energized was however my favorite part.

Poached Kumquats

With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it only took a glance over the kumquats at the store to instantly feel the promises of clean, fresh and vibrant desserts. It brought about the biggest skip in my step and the urge to come home and start baking. I know, I know…it’s all about the chocolate this time of year but I got to tell you, after rolling 3 pounds of truffles, I needed a break.

I started slicing and seeding a couple of pints of kumquats and was almost instantly transported back to my parents' home. I had no idea what I was going to make for sure. I only had the beginning of a plan you see. My mind had stopped at poached kumquats. Once I had done those, I started popping them in my mouth like they were candies and figured I’d better come with a plan fast or there would not be many left to share with B.

Kumquat & Almond Cakes

Fate would have it that I had decided to explore some of my favorite dessert book again and had bookmarked pretty much the entire citrus section in Hidemi Sugino’s The Dessert Book. I can easily bookmark all the recipes in the book actually. There are handful of pastry chefs I would follow blindly in the kitchen. Sugino is definitely one of them. His desserts are clean and yet complex, refined and yet simple. His recipe bring out the inquisitive quality of each of us and makes you wan to imagine dishes like he did.

My mind quickly settled on a promising recipe for little tea cakes chock full of kumquat compote, poached kumquats and almonds. The compote is made by poaching sliced kumquats until tender and pureeing the whole thing, rind and pulp, together which adds the perfect hint of bitterness to cut down the sweetness of the cakes. Every bite makes made us slow down, close our eyes and just sigh.

Because we wholeheartedly approve. Hope you do to!

Kumquat & Almond Cakes

Kumquats and Almond Tea Cakes, adapted from Hidemi Sugino:

Makes 12

For the cakes:
1/2 cup (70gr) millet flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 stick (113gr) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cup (150gr) powdered sugar, unsifted
4 medium eggs
1 cup (100gr) ground almonds
1/2 cup reserved kumquat compote (recipe follows)

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Reserve.
Butter the insides of cake tins (your preference) and place on a baking sheet. Reserve.
Heat the oven to 350F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and powdered sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture and ground almonds and mix another 30 seconds. Fold in the kumquat compote with a spatula. Divide the batter in between your prepared tins, top with either fresh or poached kumquat slices and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown(the larger the tins the more baking time will be needed)

For the kumquat compote:
1 cup kumquats, halved and seeded
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water

Place the kumquats, sugar and water in medium saucepan over medium high heat and slowly bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 10 minutes, covered, until the kumquats are translucent. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, drain the kumquats from the syrup, reserve a few slices and puree in a food processor adding 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup of the reserved syrup as you go along. (it should look and feel like thick marmelade). Reserve.

Butternut Squash and Coconut Milk Rice

Butternut Squash & Coconut Milk Rice

Every year for Christmas I bake gifts for B’s family and our friends. The tradition started 10 years ago when B. and I entered stores after stores, Christmas shopping for his relatives, only to come out empty handed. What do you get the people who have everything? Homemade goodies. And tons of them. Neatly packaged in personalized boxes with pretty ribbons and paper. I go all out. They love it.

I do love to give those boxes filled with cookies, truffles, macarons, etc…but it is easy to let flours, sugar, chocolate, vanilla take over the kitchen. There are times I feel I am inhaling far more buttercream than humanly recommended. I bet some of you can relate! Baking after work also means multitasking with dinner. Clearly not the time to experiment with new or lengthy recipes so I rely on dishes which ingredient list and method I can recite as if it were poetry. Enters this rice dish.

Weekend Cooking

In the past eight years, I have probably made this dish once a month. I know….that’s a bit scary to think we ate it or some variation of it close to a hundred times. It’s that good. It’s so easy and can be adapted to all seasons that once you get the gist of it, it’s just a matter of not eating the whole thing in one sitting.

The flavors in this recipe were the main attractions for me. Coconut, squash, onion, thyme. They left me intrigued. It’s perfectly suitable for a vegetarian night. We love it simply accompanied by a poached egg on top and a slice of bread. Simple and yet full of flavors. Easy to make and easy to eat.

Veggie Box

Right now is the perfect time to use butternut or acorn squash but feel free to substitute yellow squash or eggplant. I sometimes use finely chopped purple or flat leaf kale instead. The black beans can be replaced by any other bean such as pinto or chickpeas. Rosemary can easily replace the thyme. You get it. Use the recipe as a canvas to fit your tastebuds. We love it when the temperatures drop! Hope you will too.

Butternut Squash & Coconut Milk Rice

Butternut Squash and Coconut Milk Rice, adapted from Cooking Light 2002:

1 1/4 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup light coconut milk
1 cup short grained or basmati rice
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups cubed peeled butternut squash
1 teaspoon chopped fresh (or 1/4 teaspoon dried) thyme
salt & pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (if using canned, drain & rinse them first)

zest and juice of one lime

Bring broth (or water) and coconut milk to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add rice, cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and keep warm (I just keep mine covered while I prepare the rest of the recipe).

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and lemongrass and sautee 5 minutes or until the onion becomes translucid.

Reduce heat to medium and add the squash. Cook until tender, about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in thyme, salt, pepper and black beans. Cook 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. Add rice to squash mixture, add the lime zest and juice and stir to combine.

Gluten Free Strawberry Jelly Roll Cake – Share Our Strength Contribution

Gluten Free Strawberry Jelly Roll Cake

As a child, I can’t say that I ever knew hunger. I got hungry for sure. But I never knew the deep feeling of being hungry and knowing I would not be able to satisfy my growling stomach. My parents did not always have it easy and I can see there were times when budgets and expenses were calculated to the penny but one thing my brothers and myself never questioned to have or not was food.

If times were a bit strained, we, as children, never knew it. I just noticed we ate more eggs throughout the week and lots more soups. I never put two and two together because I never had to. There was always food in my plate. Some children don’t have this chance. Some children go hungry on a daily basis.

Local Strawberries

My parents knew that. They made sure we did too and very early on in our lives made sure we knew the purpose of charity. We did it silently. Charity is an act that comes from inside of you. It does not need to be advertised or require praises. Just do. We know what it’s like to hit hard times and to have a great support system of friends and family. Some people are not as lucky. Most of all, children should never know the physical and emotional pains of hunger.

If I can direct your heart to cozy place this holiday season it would be toward Share Our Strength and their "No Kid Hungry" campaign. Gaby from What’s Gaby Cooking emailed a few weeks back and asked a bunch of bloggers to partner up with Share Our Strength to help them spread the word and raise awareness through a virtual progressive dinner, inviting readers to a Holiday Table filled with all sorts of ideas from appetizers to dessert, vegetarian, budget friendly, gluten free, gourmet, etc...

Gluten Free Strawberry Jelly Roll Cake

All these dishes are so tempting and for us so easy to come up with but for others it would take a village to fill up their plates. And the ones of their children. We are that village. We are that community. I have an ever shaking faith in our humanity but I believe the holiday season makes us softer and in that regard, I am indeed asking that you would consider participating and pledging to help Share Our Strength "No Kid Go Hungry" campaign. Why? Because one dollar makes a child already closer to 10 meals. That’s huge…


My virtual contribution to the campaign is one of my dad’s all time favorites, a Strawberry Jelly Roll Cake. His mother used to make it for him when he was a kid and I grew up listening to my dad’s recollection of Mamette (her nickname) and her famous jelly roll cake. It made him feel like a king. Every child should know that feeling. I always felt like it was a special moment when my mom would try her hand at it. A simple cake such as this became the anchor of some many memories in our family.

A lot of us out there will be creating wonderful family memories gathered around a pretty table filled with great foods, family recipes, easy, budget friendly, etc…you name it. We will give praises and thanks. We will raise our forks and cheer. We will eat, rub our bellies and laugh.

Every child deserves to have such memories…

Gluten Free Strawberry Jelly Roll Cake

Strawberry Jelly Roll Cake, adapted from this recipe.

Serves 6 to 8 people

4 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon (65gr) rice flour
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon (65gr) millet flour
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
softened butter for the baking sheet
1/2 cup to 1 cup strawberry jam
powdered sugar to decorate

Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter the bottom of a baking sheet (I used 2 quarter sheet pans) and line with parchment paper, butter the paper liberally.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow. Add the rice and millet flours, gum, baking pwder and salt. Switch to a spatula and fold the ingredients together briefly.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the whites at high speed until medium stiff peaks form.
Take about 1/3 of the egg whites and fold them into the egg yolk/flour batter. Do not worry about folding carefully, you just want to use the moisture from the whites to add fluidity to the batter.
Now, carefully fold in the rest of the egg whites into two installments.
Spread the batter onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 8-10 minutes or until barely golden brown.
Remove from the oven and let cool about 5 minutes. Place a piece of parchment paper onto your work surface, invert your baking sheet over it and slowly peel the parchment paper from the bake of the cake. Using the bottom piece of paper, start rolling the cake onto itself, starting from the longest edge.
Let it cool completely. Unroll, fill with the jam and reroll. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Keep refrigerated until ready to eat.

Scallops with Roasted Patty Pan Squash

Scallops & Roasted Vegetables

Everyday, every Winter, I am just a bundle of buzz, bliss, excitement and creativity. Everything about the day makes me move about and almost lose myself snapping photographs. The sky is magical this time of year with its every changing shades of blues. The silver and gold reflections of the water in the creek down below. I am constantly amazed at the light offering itself for the taking inside the studio. I lose myself in it as soon as the sun rises on the horizon until far after it is reasonable to admit.

Good thing my love for everything that is magical about Winter and the season is being matched with working on a few projects and chomping away at deadlines. I also love the fact that B. is either grading papers or exams in the room next to mine and through our respective silences, I know our minds are bursting with ideas. He’s constantly re-evaluating his way of doing things and presenting notions and I find myself doing the same in a different way. He is definitely the best mental partner I could have wished for.

Patty Pan Squash &Zucchini

Last Sunday morning I was writing on the couch in the studio, proof reading out loud a paragraph I was not completely happy with when B. popped his head in and volunteered to give it a look. We started talking photography and playing around with illustrations for a few chapters for a couple of hours. Before we knew it, we both heard our stomach growl. The light that day was so amazing I wanted to keep on working. But dang we were hungry too! Good thing that shooting food allows me to combine the two.

I wouldn’t normally do anything as fancy as scallops for lunch but it was Sunday after all, a quieter day for the both of us. One we like to make special. I also had been given these scallops the day before by one of the vendors at the farmers market who had just done a catering gig and was left with about two dozens huge scallops. I did not want to wait to cook them and risk being passed their peak for freshness.


Scallops cook fast, so it was the perfect quick lunch to fix while B. was grading a couple more papers. I wanted to include a vegetable side other than salad (they are my typical lunch fare throughout the week), something that would cook quickly too and possibly at the same time. By their mini size, the little patty pan squashes and zucchinis I had picked up at the market the day before were perfect. I actually started with these, just sprinkled with salt and pepper at high heat while I was assembling the scallops which took me less than 15 minutes. Once they were ready to go in, I lowered the oven temperature a bit and in 10 more minutes we had lunch. Special little Sunday lunch with my honey…

I brought everything up while pipping hot and started taking pictures. The smell was so hard to resist that within five minutes we were ready to dig it. A few more snapshots later and we were eating on the couch in my office, holding our plates in our hand and laughing at our actual set up. "I love your job!" Bill said enthusiastically. Yep. So do I!

Roasted Patty Pan Squash & Zucchini

Sometimes I know what is going to end up on the blog, sometimes I don’t. This lunch was completely unplanned but the resulting dish was too good and easy to keep for ourselves. I am glad I did not wait for a special occasion. The precise moment of just being in that day was special occasion enough.

Now I am wondering what I’ll find at the market for this upcoming Sunday, ehehe….
Have a great weekend!


Scallops With Roasted Patty Pan Squash:

Serves 4

Notes: For this dish, I counted we ate about 5 scallops each (we were hungry!) but you may want to adjust depending on their size. We ate the leftovers in a salad the next day.
To make gluten free breadcrumbs (or any kind of bread crumbs really), just process until finely ground a few slices of your favorite gluten free bread.
For this dish, start by roasting the vegetables as they take longer than the scallops to cook.

For the roasted squash:
assorted patty pan squashes or cut squash (count about a cup raw per person)
salt & peppper
about 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the scallops:
1/2 cup gluten free breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons finely shredded swiss cheese
salt and pepper
3 tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup white wine
20 to 24 scallops (depending on their size)

Prepare the vegetables:
Preheat the oven to 400F.
In a medium bowl, toss together the vegetables, salt and pepper and olive oil.
Place the vegetables in a baking dish or roasting pan and cook for about 20 minutes. Prepare the scallops in the meantime, you wan to end up with both cooked at the same time.

Prepare the scallops:
In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, thyme, cheese and salt & peppper. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the dish.
In a baking dish, place the tomatoes, white wine and top with the scallops. Spoon about one tablespoons of the breadcrumb mix on top of each breadcrumbs.
Lower the oven temperature to 375F and cook the scallops alongside the vegetables until done, about 10-12 minutes depending on their size. Remove both the scallops and vegetables from the oven and let cool a couple of minutes before digging in.

Pistachio – Cocoa Nib Macarons With Bourbon Buttercream

Pistachio Cocoa Nib Macarons With Bourbon Buttercream

Thank you all for the kind thoughts, good vibes and uplifting words. Thank you also for reading what I had to say about our dear friend. Today we officially said goodbye and I can’t stop thinking about what she used to tell me all these years: "Live hard. Love harder. Work the hardest…and always, always eat good food!"

Yes…eating good food that is inevitable with us. If we become friends, you will come over for dinner. And again. And again. I was raised this way. That’s the one thing my grandma did that I knew to count on when I was growing up. Sunday suppers around a full tables of nibbles and sweets were not just tradition. They were second nature happenings. Sometimes there were four people, sometimes ten. Did not matter. Same is true of our Sunday table.

Pistachio Cocoa Nib Macarons With Bourbon Buttercream

The idea was to end the weekend on a comforting note and to send you off into the new with a warm meal and a handful of sweet treats. In my case, both my pockets…ehehe!
Rum babas, petits fours, mini eclairs, financiers, madeleines, name it. In my pockets. Good thing we lived across the streets from my grandparents.

Did my grandmother or mother made all these fine treats? Heck no! I think David will confirm this but French people rarely make their babas, eclairs or macarons from scratch. Unless they are foodies. Or unless they have a blog. Or unless they are really into patisserie. If you ask a French person on the street if they make their own eclairs, they’ll probably answer "why the heck would I? That’s why pastry shops were created you idiot!" (side note: have a French friend say "idiot" for you…I hear it makes you smile – not that would know anything about that?!!)

Pistachio Cocoa Nib Macarons With Bourbon Buttercream

And you can imagine that the last thing on that list of things-people-would-not-make-from-scratch-because-someone-at-the-bakery-will-do-it-better-than-they-would-isa macaron. And if you ever ventured to master macarons, you can certainly relate. It might have taken quite a few tries to get them right. Or you got lucky the first time and it’s been smooth sailing since. One sure thing, they never leave anyone indifferent. You either love or hate making them or you either love or hate eating them. In my family it’s love on both counts if you wonder.

I love making them during the holiday season. They are the perfect size to finish a meal with, they fit perfectly in treat box and I have never heard anyone exclaim "well look at those ugly little things.." Now, I do see a lot of friends rush with passion to eat a few in one sitting and I have to quickly explain that back home, macarons are treated like confections not cookies. We eat them slowly and one at a time, like a good marron glace, or a crunchy meringue.

Pistachio Cocoa Nib Macarons With Bourbon Buttercream

I tend to favor macarons balancing sweet and strong usually keeping the buttercream on the sweeter side while adding citrus zest or spices to the shells. Nothing too crazy but playing well on opposites. This time I got inspired by a cookie I posted a few years ago and that make their way to our Christmas goodie boxes year after year. And for good reason. They are the perfect balance of sweet and salty, buttery and crunchy. The exact play of flavor and texture I like in macarons.

By judging the last two of twenty five made for Sunday supper, I’d say the flavor combination was a success and makes me wonder who among our friends had their pocket full when they left the house….!

Pistachio Cocoa Nib Macarons With Bourbon Buttercream

Pistachio Cocoa Nib Macaron With Bourbon Buttercream:

Makes about 25 macarons (more or less depending on the size)

Note: having spent the last 13 years in America, I got completely used to using cups while still using grams. There are times I favor one over the other but really, it’s more about ratios than anything else, in either system
To convert easily from one to the other, use this conversion table from Gourmet Sleuth.

For the shells:
200 gr powdered sugar
55 gr almonds (slivered, blanched, sliced, whatever you like)
55 gr pistachios (roasted, unsalted)
90 gr egg whites (use egg whites that have been preferably left 3-4 days in the fridge)
25 gr granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa nibs

For the buttercream:
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2-3 tablespoons Bourbon

Prepare the macarons:
Place the powdered sugar, almonds and pistachios in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Sift if desired.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, (think bubble bath foam) gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue (think shaving cream). Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry.
Add the nuts and powdered sugar to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds onto parchment paper or silicone mats lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with cocoa nibs. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 280F.
Bake the macarons for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool.
Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store the shells in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks (longer and the sugar starts to seep out which makes them sticky).

Prepare the buttercream:
Place the yolks in a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment.
Bring the sugar and water to 238F in a medium saucepan set over high heat. Slowly pour the hot syrup over the egg yolks and continue to whisk until cold. Change to the paddle attachment and beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Add the bourbon to the buttercream. Continue to beat for a few seconds until completely smooth.

Assemble the macarons:
Fill the macarons with the buttercream (pipe or spoon about 1 tablespoon per macaron) and store in the fridge for at least 48 hours before eating (the shell should be crisp without shattering in your hands and the center soft without being too mushy).

White Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse & Cocoa Nibs Shortbread Cookies

White Chocolate & Mascarpone Mousse With Cocoa Nib Shortbread Cookies

When I started this post yesterday I had no idea how fast the day would get away from me. Not because of work. Not because of play. I heard news of someone dear to me passed away. And I hit a wall. I could not put two thoughts together without having memories rush through my head.

I know we all experience the loss of someone dear many times in our lives and I certainly don’t write about all the sad stuff here. I try the opposite actually. But I want to tell you about Francoise. I must. You see, without Francoise, this blog would not be exactly what it is today.

 White Chocolate Mousse & Cocoa NIb Chocolate Cookies

A lot of us today have a pinch in our hearts knowing that Francoise is gone. She was, along with her husband Peter, the owner of Mistral, a French restaurant here in town which closed last year. To visitors she was a favorite cousin you see on vacation once a year. To her staff she was a surrogate mom, a favorite auntie and a royal pain in the butt too and we would not have changed that for the moon.

She gave me my first position as Pastry Chef. She hired me one day I was looking at a very small offering of dessert choices. Finally I put the menu down and said "Such a shame! Baking is so much fun!". I was working the line at another establishment at the time and she said "quit there! Come work for me! The guys don’t have time to make desserts. You’ve been baking all this stuff since you were a kid. You’re French! Me too! Let’s try!"

 White Chocolate Mousse & Cocoa NIb Chocolate Cookies

And that’s how I got the job. Really. We said we would try for a month. I stayed there five years. Just like many restaurant kitchens around the world, there were some pretty hard moments, some words that flew across the halls a little faster than they should have. There were long nights, tired feet and broken backs. But there was also that extremely exhilarating moment of 4 chefs starring at each other after a long New Year’s Eve of cooking and plating knowing that they had done it. And done it well. And they had passion pouring out of their tired hands. And they were ready to do it all over again.

The core people at Mistral did it day in and day out but few worked as hard as Peter and Francoise who were there seven days a week, fourteen hours a day. They had our backs and we had theirs. Francoise did not give second chances. She gave thirds and fourths. I can’t tell you how many waiters and cooks left and came back. Not because there wasn’t better in town. There wasn’t better in town to make you feel at home. Mistral was like the mafia. Once you were in, you were in.

Cocoa Nib Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Francoise was like my favorite auntie. She made me smile, she worked me hard, she never let anything be second grade and she was driving me up the wall at times. Trust me, she was taking no nonsense for an answer and boy was she hard at negotiating with but once you were in the family, your family and the family of your family was in too. That’s hard to find. Oh man. The church for her funeral on Tuesday is going to be packed. As it should be.

Bill and I had our first drink together there on the first day we met. We had our wedding rehearsal there too. Our first anniversary. Bill and his band played there for 20 years. Way before we met. Way before we knew each other existed. For the first 10 years we were married, we never had a date on a Friday or a Saturday because he was at Mistral playing music. I’d go sit at the bar from time to time. I liked New Years Eve the best though. Bill and the band at the front of the house and me in the kitchen with the guys. Midnight would come around and they would push me toward the front to get kissed. And then they would cuss me back in to finish my shift.

 White Chocolate Mousse & Cocoa NIb Chocolate Cookies

Francoise is so instrumental to this blog it’s incredible now that I let all the words come out of me. She helped me get my credentials as a chef. She listened to my ideas. She taught me how to put value and worth to everything I did. I remember one day she asked for an estimate on a side gig and when I handed her the figures, she looked at me and said "great, now multiply that by 3. That’s what you’re worth." Every time a photo client asks me for a quote now, I can hear her say "and multiply that by 3"! She was tough. I am glad she shared some of that with me.

Speaking of photo, she’d let me take polaroids of my desserts all the time. She knew I wanted to keep some sort of record of the things I was creating. I think she saw I was getting that in my blood but I did not know what to do with it. She did not want me to do anything with it. I was her pastry chef. She had little use for a photographer!

Whipped Cream

Of course, it was not all rosy and wonderful. Gosh there were days my eyes would be glued to the back of my head from rolling so much! But anyone masochistic enough to work restaurant kitchens or photography would tell you that’s what we do. That’s what we know to do and what we are passionate about. It takes a good bit of forgetting about oneself to be able to do what Peter and Francoise achieved for so long. To be a pillar of the Charleston restaurant scene for over 20 years is no small affair. They gave and sacrificed more than the general person would for their business. That’s what they knew.

I remember asking Francoise one day she looked tired and restless if they could close for a few days and go somewhere to relax. She looked at me and said in her thick French accent "Oh…sweeeeettieee!"

That was Francoise. Rest came too fast to those who love her. She gave us all she was until she could not anymore. She gave Bill and myself some of the best memories of our private, social and professional lives. She is missed. Damn Franny…

 White Chocolate Mousse & Cocoa NIb Chocolate Cookies

The dessert that comes with this post is actually a take on the first special she let me run at the restaurant. I had made nougatine cups (like these) and filled them with a mascarpone and white chocolate mousse. It was served with a few cocoa nib shortbread cookies to offset the rich mousse. She loved it so that she asked me to make it again for my first New Year’s Eve at the restaurant. Except it’s Charleston and it was unpredictably hot and humid that day. I literally stood over the nougatine cups with a blow dryer set on cool to prevent them from melting away. And thus came about the first of many eye rolls in my career there.


White chocolate Mascarpone Mousse and Cocoa Nib Shortbread Cookies:

Serves 6

For the mousse:
1 cup white chocolate chips
4 oz mascarpone (can sub cream cheese)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

For the cocoa nib shortbreads:
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1 cup millet flour
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup cocoa nibs

Prepare the mousse:
In a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the white chocolate and mascarpone together. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Once cooled enough, whip the heavy cream to medium stiff peaks. Carefully incorporate the heavy cream into the white chocolate mixture. Try to go fast or the white chocolate will have greater chances to seize on you and become grainy. I don’t add any extra sugar to this as the white chocolate is already pretty sweet to my liking but feel free to add up to 1/4 granulated sugar to the heavy cream as you whip it.
Pipe or spoon the mousse into glasses or ramekins.

For the cookies:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed. Add the yolks, one at a time and scrape the sides of the bowl if necessary to make sure everything is well blended. Turn the speed to low and add the millet flour, potao starch, cocoa and cocoa nibs and mix just until incorporated. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
On a well floured surface or between two sheets of parchment paper, roll the dough to 1/4-inch thin and cut out cookies with your preferred cookie cutter. Bake for 8-10 minutes on parchment lined baking sheets. Let cool in the baking sheet or on wire racks.