Tuesday, February 03, 2015

David's Paris Kitchen

nephew, niece, croque-monsieurs
First, a public service announcement: You need to watch Getting On, a television comedy of such charming oddity and intermittent, unexpected sweetness that after Mark and I finished the final episode last night, we were tempted to start all over again from the beginning. Don’t let any initial distaste for the setting (the geriatric ward of a hospital) or the characters (you’ll see) put you off. Just keep watching. The series is worth a subscription to HBO, but Season 1 is also available on DVD through Netflix. 

Ok, now to cooking: I own a few more of the Piglet books and I went to the library and collected as many of the others as I could. I’ve said my piece on Prune vs. Heritage and it was such an interesting exercise that I’ve decided to pursue this a little further. 

Next up for consideration: David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen vs. Bar Tartine by Cortney Burns and Nicolaus Balla.

I’m a longtime fan of David Lebovitz and opening My Paris Kitchen this past weekend was like catching up with a gossipy old friend. Lebovitz is droll, smart, and a total pro. A former chef at Chez Panisse, he lives (as you probably guessed) in Paris and writes a popular blog that weaves together wry stories from his daily life with unimpeachable recipes. He’s like a less funny David Sedaris who bakes a lot. His dessert books are terrific and I enjoyed his memoir, The Sweet Life in Paris.

The trouble with this attractive new cookbook is that while Lebovitz is as entertaining as ever, the recipes are incredibly boring. Not to put too fine a point on it. Grated carrot salad, tabbouleh, olive tapenade, baba ganoush, hummus, onion soup, coq au vin, mashed potatoes, roasted cauliflower (ahem), chocolate mousse, madeleines, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting . . . need I go on?

All good stuff, but not fresh or exciting, at least on the face of it. 

On Saturday, I made his very basic croque-monsieurs and they were exemplary. I put a platter of these rich, salty, ham-and-cheese sandwiches in front of a bunch of kids and watched them vanish.

photo of the photo -- very appetizing
Lebovitz includes a few non-French recipes in the book and on Sunday I served his smoky barbecued pork to Super Bowl spectators. It was some of the best barbecued pork I’ve ever made, involving little more than spices, beer, bottled barbecue sauce (I used Stubb’s), and the oven. I’ve barbecued pork shoulders outdoors over wood chips, ministering to them tenderly for hours, and this was not only easier, but better. Sort of galling. I served it French-style with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetable slaw, per Lebovitz’s suggestion, using his recipes. Both potatoes and slaw were great. Let me add that barbecue and mashed potatoes are a brilliant combination.

For dessert: kirsch babas with pineapple -- delicious yeasty little cakes drenched in alcohol. The recipe is here, but do not serve these to children or recovering alcoholics. Seriously.

Everything I’ve made from My Paris Kitchen so far has been perfect. Nothing I’ve made has been particularly original. The excellence of the recipes almost compensates for this lack of originality. Maybe it does compensate. I haven’t decided yet.

To be continued.


  1. Thanks for the show recommendation. We just finished all of Gilmore Girls and I need something new. I have a movie recommendation for you: Appropriate Behavior. It's great. I know what you mean about that Lebovitz book. I never bought it because the recipes didn't seem that great. Droll is the perfect word to describe his tone.

    1. Appropriate Behavior is going on the list -- do you remember a movie from a few years ago, two Iranian girls who are in love, one has to marry the other's brother? I can't remember the name.

    2. Circumstance! I hated it. Dripping with Orientalism.

  2. Ooh, I am very excited to hear what you think about Bar Tartine! It's an interesting pairing with this book (which I also own and share similar feelings to yours about; and I love him and read his blog regularly, or at least when I can do so without turning totally green with envy). I await your assessment of Bar Tartine eagerly. Have you eaten at the restaurant itself? It's an adventure, and the book reflects its sensibility very accurately.

    1. I ate at Bar Tartine a long, long time ago -- when I looked at the menu the other day, it did not look like the same restaurant. I'm going tomorrow! Taking my niece.

  3. I love David Lebovitz's blog. But when I checked "My Paris Kitchen" out of the library I ended up not only not buying it but not bothering to cook anything out of it. The problem I had was that it kept reminding me of "Around My French Table" which I already have and use a lot. So Lebovitz's book just seemed redundant, down to the references about "ooh! Moroccan influences on French cuisine!" and "this is how real French people cook at home!" and "look, even though I live in France, I make American food sometimes". Disappointing.

    1. I know, it is so similar to Around My French Table -- even a lot of the same recipes, like sardine rillettes.

  4. The cover and title alone reminded me of Around My French Table (warm coppery tones, chicken), and from what you mention of the premise it seems similar-ish too. That said I've never been disappointed by a Leibovitz recipe so I'll probably grab a copy.

    I bought Bar Tartine on the strength of a very happy memory of eating a morning bun from Tartine the bakery in Dolores Park, on a visit to San Francisco in 2008. I was very surprised to realize I now own a cookbook with recipes for things like corn-fungus powder. Looking forward to your impressions!

    1. I find Bar Tartine extremely daunting. Have you cooked anything from it?

    2. Nope. I one-clicked without reading much about it, it arrived, I gawked, and then put it on the shelf for a more ambitious day. I think I expected it to be more like the Rose Bakery cookbook but instead it is, as you say, very very daunting.

  5. I love that you are doing this! A little pre-piglet action, done by someone I trust much more than some of the piglet judges from years past. Thanks for adding a little bit of joy ad humor to my morning!

  6. OK everyone: I just wrote to Food52 and asked them to consider Jennifer as a Piglet judge. The address is editors@food52. If enough of us do that and include a link to the blog they'll have to click on it and then they'll be hooked like we are.

    1. You're making me blush. So sweet. If I was a Piglet judge, I would not be able to write about ALL the books!

    2. Thanks witloff! I just wrote to them.

  7. I'm going to see if my library has the Lebovitz book, just so I can get the pork recipe. I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to buying the book, though. I'll have to compare his book to Dorie Greenspan's and see which appeals to me.

    And I think Witloof has a great idea. Too many Piglet judges either don't cook from the book, or fiddle with the recipes, or use their post as a weird vanity exercise. Jennifer would be more considerate.

  8. Jennifer, you are on to something now!! I love that you are doing this. And yes, I trust your opinion infinitely. I will tell Food 52! Thank you so much for your blog. I feel like Miss Brill when she found an almond in her tea cake on the days your email appears in my box!!

    1. I love that story - but so sad!

    2. I've never heard of that story, but looked it up -- now it's on the list.

  9. Make sure you tell them for next year. The intern {I assume that's what she is} wrote me back and said the judges were chosen back in September. So we have to spell it out!
    Let's do this thing!

    1. So should we set our phones to remind us to write to them in August? I'll do it, no problem!

  10. Don't you prefer that Momofuku Bo Ssam pork recipe?


    1. I love the bo ssam, but it's saltier and altogether more intense -- this is soft, gentle, easy, sweet. Good for different occasions. Seemed better for Super Bowl.

  11. We love Getting On! Have you seen Nebraska? June Squibb (Varla) is exceptional! I made the aioli recipe and the meatball recipe from My French Table before shelving it. Just kind of ho-hum. His blog and his cookbooks are painterly but I'm never wowed by the results of the recipes. The Cocoa Marzipan Pound Cake from his Great Book of Chocolate the exception. I'm a sucker for almond paste. Never in my life have I had pulled pork with mashed potatoes. 1 1/2 cups of butter and 3/4 cup of cream for 3 pounds of potatoes? Is that a misprint? Did the cocoa and the cinnamon in the rub for the pork butt make it taste like Cincinnati chili? His Dukkah-Roasted Cauliflower sounds tasty but it would seem that the ground nuts and seeds would burn at 425 for 15 to 20 mins.You should do a cauliflower recipe from each of the Piglet cookbooks, lol.

    1. Many responses to this comment: 1. June Squibb got NAKED for Getting On. Could not believe that. I wonder how close Varla is to her real personality. 2. The mashed potatoes. You bring up an interesting question. I had changed the quantities of all the other dishes that afternoon and when I put the butter and milk in the potatoes, it looked like a ton -- way too much. So I assumed I'd accidentally doubled the milk or butter as I do this kind of thing all the time. I poured off a lot of milk and melted butter into the sink until I had the right amount for the potatoes. Now I wonder if it was a misprint. I can't remember what amount I used, though, so I'll never know. 3. Cauliflower -- great minds.

    2. I bet it wasn't a misprint. Suzanne Goin's mashed potato recipe has been my go-to for more than a decade, and it calls for four large potatoes (two russet, two yukon gold), one cup of butter and one cup of half and half. You stir this embarrassing surfeit of dairy fat into the riced potatoes (after drying them out a bit by stirring in their pot over a burner for a few minutes), and you think it's a mistake. They seem too liquid, almost like porridge. But somehow the potatoes absorb all the moisture and fat and come together beautifully after a few minutes.

  12. I clicked on the comments just to say I think you'd make a perfect Piglet judge, only to find everyone else saying the same thing. How do we make this happen?

  13. This is, I think, the only book you've ever written about that I actually own! I'm pretty excited to dive into it now.

  14. Hi! Catching up on your blog.
    I have the David Lebovitz book, and I made the mustard chicken for my mom's birthday and everyone who ate it proclaimed it the best dish I'd ever made. Delicious. I also made the frites, and they were fine, but have to be served hot hot hot. I will try the pork!
    Another great show is Derek, on Netflix. Its is so funny and has so much heart. My favorite show of the last few years!

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