Monthly Archives: February 2008

Nestle Dessert Chocolate

Here is a photo of the packages of the chocolate I strongly recommended in my Laura’s French Chocolate Cake recipe. It is Nestle Dessert Chocolate. Any serious French cook will use nothing else. Franck’s Mémé would refuse to make her chocolate mousse with any other type of chocolate.

I’d be curious to know whether you are able to find it in Canada or the US. If not, I may seriously consider starting an importing business!

Another important note in my recipe which I have now rectified – you need to butter and flour the pan before pouring in the cake mixture – I also use a teflon type non-stick cake pan (in the shape of a heart, because I have three girls and what girl doesn’t like a heart-shaped cake?) I have added this in now but if you printed out the recipe before it may not be included.

Now, off to your ovens!

Wine Rack Magic

Inventory time.

Our wine cellar in Beaune now has a gorgeous tasting table, a new lower stair (handy for getting out of the cellar after particularly decadent wine tastings), fresh pea gravel, power-washed stones, and Stonehenge-like atmospheric lighting.

However, you may have noticed that one major component is still missing, especially when you consider what the main use of this cellar will be. That’s right, the main purpose of our cellar (besides the aforementioned decadent tastings) will be for storing wine under ideal conditions. And what does this require? You got it, somewhere to pile up all those precious bottles.
Now we could have gone the route of metal wine racks, but the idea is for us to store some wine that will not be locked up (ours and our family’s mainly) and then to rent locked wine storage space to guests of ours and other interested parties, such as local winemakers. Sort of like those self-storage units, but with a Burgundian twist. The traditional metal wine racks just aren’t flexible enough to allow this.
Enter Mystery Cellar Expert who, as you won’t be surprised by now, just happened to have a brilliant and low-cost solution.
He strongly advised -he has very strong opinions on everything cellar related, and most things not cellar related too come to think of it – that he and Franck would create their own rack system out of poured concrete. They would create a series of concrete “shelves”, some of which can be covered with an aesthetic metal door and padlocked, while others can be left open.

However, because our Mystery Cellar Expert is a stickler for doing things the right way (i.e. his way, which is virtually the same thing) first he and Franck had to do up a prototype in wood.

So Franck hustled down to Beaune one evening, and by golly look what the pair of them whipped up in a matter of an hour or so;

Here it is, the template of our wine racking system (nicely highlighted by the new lighting if I do say so myself). Now we could consider the aesthetic and practical issues. Did it look too imposing? Did it hide that big water pipe on the wall? How many could fit side by side? How would they look lined up along one or two walls?

To this end Franck and Mystery Cellar Expert painstakingly measured and marked off placements on the ground, then moved the template, taking photos as they went, then back at home thanks to the magic of Franck’s Photoshop…voilà, you get this;

All using that same single template! Incroyable! Franck continued to fiddle around with Photoshop some more so we could see what the racks would look like lining one entire wall;
Genial, quoi…the consensus was that these looked great, which means that over the next week or two the cement pouring can begin in earnest in Beaune. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

*Sigh* It’s nice to be surrounded by so many clever people.

Some Things Are Just Too Good To Miss

I just happen to have lots of blog posts up my sleeve at the moment; short, long, and about widely varying topics such as the Beaune market, wine racks we’ll be putting in the cellar, Marion Cotillard’s Oscar win for “La Môme“, how french kids are driving their parents crazy these days, a photo of Nestle dessert chocolate (secret to all good French cooks) for Pam, etc. etc.

But today thanks to one of my favorite blogs I came across a list of “Do’s and Dont’s” for a taking care of babies that has to be read by all of you. Today. Now. It is that funny.

So everything can just wait while you go to the link below and scroll down to find out how NOT to care for your baby. And just for the record I’m not doing any of these bad things, except for maybe letting Clémentine chew on the odd shoe, and oh yeah, I had forgotten about the weightlifting we made her do last week…

My stomach still hurts from laughing so hard – wouldn’t be surprised if I popped a few stitches.

Laura’s French Chocolate Cake

When I asked Charlotte what kind of cake she wanted me to bake for her 8th Birthday dinner, she requested this one. Why? Because I have a firstborn who is as much a chocoholic as her mother. This french “fondant” chocolate cake is not for the faint of heart.

Even though I learned this recipe over here in France, you can find all the ingredients almost anywhere in the world. However, a word of wisdom – don’t stint on the quality of the chocolate or the butter, as you’ll see they are rather crucial ingredients.

– 200 grams of good black chocolate (I always use Nestle dessert chocolate, and swear by it)

– 200 grams of unsalted butter (if you are even considering using margarine, lard, or any other heinous low-fat butter substitute you don’t deserve to be making this cake)

– 5 eggs (the fresher, the better)

– 1 soup spoon of flour

– 250 grams of white sugar

– Butter and flour cake pan (preferably non-stick).

– Warm your oven up to 190 degrees Celsius (375 Fahrenheit).

– In the microwave or a double boiler melt the chocolate and the butter together, mix slowly with wooden spoon until shiny and without lumps.

– When melted, add the sugar and let cool about five minutes.

– Add in eggs to chocolate mixture one by one, stirring with a wooden spoon between each egg.

– Add in spoonful of flour and mix well.

– Put in cake pan approximately 20cm in diameter (I have a heart-shaped one that I always use for this cake) and bake for 22 minutes. The cake should be slightly wobbly in the middle when taken out of the oven. Let cool on rack. Great served slightly warm, and delicious and fudge-y after a night or two in the fridge

You can serve it with high quality vanilla ice cream (high fat bien sûr, and the kind with the real flecks of vanilla in it), with a fruit coulis, or just decorated with a bit of icing sugar as I did here. Candles are optional, but don’t be surprised that everyone in your family starts requesting this for their Birthdays, as is the case chez nous!

I know, I know I need to work on my food photo-taking technique…however, trust me, try making this cake! You will acquire new friends, make your children love you, and generally become a very sought-after host / hostess.

Spinal Tap – Stonehenge, the Stage Show, Pt. 2 of 3

For any readers who were mystified about my references in yesterday’s post to the film “This Is Spinal Tap”, Stonehenge, and dancing elves, here is the clip that I was referring to from the movie.

As I was watching this on You Tube Franck had to come in the office and check on me. I was laughing so hard he thought I was having a postpartum insanity attack.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet you must go out and rent it today to make your life complete.

"Salvaging" Authentic Light Fixtures

When we received the first electrical quote for the cellar in Beaune we almost keeled over. It was about ten times what we had anticipated, and when we asked the electrician mais, pourquoi? he banged on about how tricky and expensive it was to install atmospheric and indirect lighting to highlight the cellar’s pillars and vaulted ceiling.

Franck had the clever idea of running this by Mystery Man aka The Wine Cellar Expert and he poo-poo’d the notion right away. All you needed were regular floor lamps, he said, some flat local rocks, and a bit of ingenuity.

The floor lamps were no problem to pick up at our local Bricorama store in Beaune. The local rocks were a bit trickier. These cost a lot of money to buy from the stone quarry, but thanks to Franck’s Sunday bike rides with Martial he managed to source out some free ones. Ingenuity is never a problem when Franck is involved.

Franck and Martial’s bike rides go over hill and dale, and as luck would have it during one of their recent excusrsions Franck found a field of indeterminate ownership chock full of exactly the type of large, flat local stones the Mystery Cellar Expert said were perfect. They were just sitting there, and if the field was in fact owned by somebody (it looked like it was just left abandoned) he was no doubt helping the farmer who would otherwise have to move them before plowing…

So when my Dad was here the two of them trooped off on their Stone Mission in their dirtiest jeans and came back with a trunk full of stones. They washed them carefully, and then took them to the cellar where they reconnoitered with the Mystery Cellar Expert. And here’s what they did with them:

They used them to hide the (inexpensive) floor lamps and create a rather cool and spooky indirect light around the base of the pillars.

Here they are again, and in my opinion they compliment our tasting table very nicely. I find the effect strangely makes me think of Stonehenge (or, more accurately Stonehenge as it was showcased in one of my favorite movies “This is Spinal Tap” where the stage directors get the measurements wrong).

Can’t you just picture the little elves dancing around the base of our pillars too?

This Girl is 8 Today and Don’t Fret – Those Aren’t her Real Lips

I know, I know, I promised a further installment in the cellar saga.

However, as I said before I am functioning on a sleep-deprived gnat brain at the moment so when I made the promise I forgot that today is Charlotte’s Birthday. This means I will be baking cakes, making specially requested dinners, and generally celebrating that eight years ago today she came into our lives. She elected a feet-first arrival into the world, which certainly explains my first C-section and perhaps explains why she is so special.

Anyway, off I go, because February 21st is and should be all about Charlotte, and the cellar light fixture “salvaging” episode will just have to wait until tomorrow.

And yes, it is not just your imagination, we have a lot of winter Birthdays in our family

Camille – January 15th
Clémentine – January 23rd
Franck – February 11th
Charlotte – February 21st

And I am all by my lonesome in October…anyway, back to my cake.

Only Evian for Us French Girls

In Canada we used good ‘ole tap water (boiled at the beginning, if I recall correctly) for Charlotte and Camille’s bottles. Here in France, however, I am learning that chic French women begin the lifelong habits that are responsible for their world-renowned health and beauty when they are barely out of the uterus.

Even though our tap water here in France is just as rigorously high quality as in Canada, we were informed at the Maternity ward in Beaune that to prepare bottles we should only use high quality mineral water to mix with the powder. Preferably Evian, bien sûr.

When Clémentine was suffering from un petit peu of constipation (sounds much more elegant when pronounced with a French accent) on her return from the hospital I called the sage-femme and asked her if there was anything I could do to help her digestion.

The answer was, of course, self-evident to any French female. You must vary your high-quality mineral waters to remedy any digestive upsets. So now Clémentine has a rotation of three different brands of mineral waters in her bottles, and her digestive tract se porte trés bien, merci!

Tomorrow I’ll get back to ongoing saga of the Beaune cellar renovations, including telling the tale of our unique light fixtures that were *ahem* “salvaged” thanks to another one of Franck’s projects.

Tasting Table Trials and Tribulations

I am beginning to discover that having a newborn means that while “tomorrow” sometimes means “tomorrow” it could just as easily mean the day after that, or the day after that…one becomes very conscious of how time is a relative thing in newborn-land.

Anyway, back to how to get the 1000 pound stone table top (otherwise known as “The Beast”) from the back of Mystery Man’s truck down the steep stone stairs and into the cellar to finish off our tasting table.

This, folks, is where Franck’s galvanizing personality comes in. When I look at the photos of PROJECT TABLETOP my first reaction is, who are these guys Franck is bossing around?

For instance, take this senior citizen who looks like he is about to have a coronary as he considers the prospect of helping take The Beast out of the back of the truck. I’ve never seen him before in my life.

Same goes for the guy in the striped Rugby shirt and the one with his back turned to the camera; I don’t know either of them from Job. The photos show that Franck managed to round up at least six men to help, and as far as I can tell, only three (the stonemason, the mystery man, and Franck) have a reason to be there.

However, I have lived long enough with Franck not to put it past him to rope in innocent bystanders. I strongly suspect that the other three men were probably taking a nice stroll down the rue Rousseau Deslandes, perhaps whistling in the wind or counting their centimes to see if they had enough to buy a baguette at the wonderful boulangerie at the end of our street, when they were unwittingly enlisted into PROJECT TABLETOP.

The lucky ones got to stay up top while the stone slab was slid down wooden planks into the cellar. And oh looky here! Franck has also talked his team into sliding down the extra stair step (needed after the excavation) while he was at it. I sometimes wonder if my dear husband didn’t invent the phrase “kill two birds with one stone” or perhaps more aptly “kill two innocent bystanders with one seriously heavy stone step”, but I digress…

Watch out below! Here comes the table top, and oui, a 1000 pound slab of stone is easily big enough to crush a man. Wanna bet that white haired guy is thinking I should have just eaten that stale bit of baguette I had at home…

And PROJECT TABLETOP is not finished yet. The Beast still has to be carried a few more metres over to the fabulous flower-pot table base.

How do you say “hernia” in French?

And move it just a leeeettttle bit this way. I can’t tell who this guy is from his shirt sleeves, but I’d wager good money that he wasn’t particularly popular at this juncture.

Because of his bad back my Dad was the official photographer of PROJECT TABLETOP. I haven’t asked him but I am thinking it must be sweat from all these manly men that makes those blurry spots on the pictures.

Ahhhhhhh…enfin! Finally the tasting table can be baptized. The innocent bystanders, relieved to have escaped unscathed except for a few sore muscles, may be starting to think, maybe I still don’t have my fresh baguette for lunch, but I wasn’t crushed and a fine glass of wine does make up for quite a bit…

And doesn’t the table look perfect now?

Besides, there’s something to be said for being involved in great artistic endeavors, a bit like the slaves felt as they laboured on the Pyramids in Egypt. You know, posterity and all that. And did I mention the good wine?

But sacré bleu, that was one heavy piece of stone…

Innovative Use for Flower Pots

***Was going to post this yesterday, as promised, but Blogger decided it wouldn’t accept photos for some tempermental reason, and its spell check STILL isn’t working, so please excuse spelling mistakes. You know. Sleep Deprivation…well, OK, also the fact that I am a terrible speller… ***

Last night was our first truly heinous night with Clémentine. She had a bad case of the sniffles so every time we tried to lay her out horizontal to sleep she would get all stuffed up and cry. I probably enjoyed a grand total of two hours of broken sleep, which has left me with the attention span and brain capacity of a gnat. However, I vaguely remember promising posting something about flower pots, so here goes…

Franck befriends people all the time, and over the past year he has become buddies with a man who shall remain nameless, as we don’t want him to get in trouble with his boss, who has been working on our street. Luckily for us, this mystery man also happens to be an expert on renovating wine cellars, as he has renovated some truly spectacular ones himself in places such as castles in Champagne and massive chateaux in Bordeaux.

In the strange fortuitous way things seem to work here in France, their friendship has evolved to the point where mystery man has named himself de facto volunteer general contractor on our cellar project. He doesn’t want to get paid (god knows, we have offered), he just likes seeing a cellar renovated the right way, and I guess he enjoys working with Franck.

He does things like spends three hours power washing the entire cellar with his own power washer, because that is the way it should be done. All he would let Franck do to thank him is take him out to lunch. Anyway, suffice to say that he is a miracle worker for us, and if our cellar turns out as lovely as I think it will, the credit should largely go to him. But it can’t, because his identity must remain a mystery. Zut alors.

During one of their many long conversations Franck and mystery man concocted the idea of a tasting table, as our cellar is not only going to be used for storing wine for ourselves, our families, and our clients, but also for hosting tastings whenever we are able to swing it. In my opinion wine never tastes as good as it does when you are tasting it in a real wine cellar, similar to how hot-dogs never tasted as good at home as they did at school in Canada during Hot Dog day.

Our mystery friend has more than a few tasting tables under his belt, and rather then pay for an expensive stone base, he suggested using two concrete flower pots filled and glued together with concrete. And although I was very skeptical when Franck told me the plan, I was amazed how good the base looked when it was all said and done;

Looks like a real stone base, doesn’t it? Except that it costs about a twentieth of what a real stone base would cost.
Next step was going to the stone quarry to pick out a table top. Franck, mystery helper, and my Dad all hustled off to the quarry that’s in the village of Chaux right beside us in Villers-la-Faye.

Men being men they of course picked out what must have been the most imposing, heaviest table top in the place. Here is the beast in the back of the truck;

My Dad figures it weighs about 1000 pounds. Seriously. So now the problem is, how do mystery man, Franck, and my Dad who has a seriously bum back, get the huge slab of stone out of the back of mystery man’s truck and down into the cellar?

You’ll see tomorrow…