Yum

The day of our departure from England, we headed out for St. Pancras station to take the Eurostar train to Paris. The station was close enough to walk to, even with our suitcases dragging along. St. Pancras is the station where Harry Potter was filmed, even though it says in the movie that they’re at Kings Cross (which is right next door, actually). It’s a lovely train station with nice exposed brick walls and an arched glass ceiling.

Taking the Eurostar is pretty straightforward. You need to buy your tickets online as far in advance as possible if you want a good deal. I think ours were around £65 for a one-way ticket. There are assigned seats and the seats with a table in between are in high demand. We printed our tickets out at the station and headed through security. It’s much the same as airport security except you’re allowed to bring drinks along and they aren’t concerned with looking at your liquid toiletries. They are, however, interested in all your electronics. They took everything out of Mister’s backpack, asking what everything was. India and I were both patted down. It took forever to get through security and there is absolutely nobody there to help you figure out where you’re going. Just follow all the people up the giant elevators and then head for the train car listed on your ticket.

There is no baggage claim so all your suitcases get brought on board with you. There is plenty of room overhead or at the luggage racks at the front and back of every car.  I didn’t see an employee the entire trip, once we were through security. Heaven help you if you need some assistance!

The entire trip takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The last time we went from England to Paris, they had built the chunnel but hadn’t started running it. Instead we had to take those nauseating ferrys from Dover to Boulogne. It seems like it took forever. Do those even exist anymore? I can’t imagine that anyone would take them.

Most of the trip is overland; the underground part is less than half of it. Here’s my first selfie in France! The last time we were here almost nobody had cell phones and we had no children. Things have changed.

Hildie train

Speaking of children, this boy would put his head down and fall asleep every time we were sitting for more than five minutes.

York Train

We arrived in Paris at the Gare du Nord station. It was like walking into a train station in Detroit. We left the beautiful St. Pancras station only to arrive in a place that is totally ghetto. The Gare du Nord is not terribly user-friendly either. We wanted to get onto the Métro but the ticket kiosks only took Chip + Pin credit cards (which no American has. If an American credit card has a chip, it’s a chip + signature card. There is a difference. I’d heard that this might be the case but I though we’d be able to find a cash window since it was a weekday morning. Wrong!!!) There were a few machines that accepted Euro coins, which we also didn’t have. We had to walk all the way around the outside of the station and enter it from the upper floor to access the rest of the train station. We couldn’t find an ATM so we had to settle for cash exchange (rip-off!). We eventually found a real person working at a ticket office and and had enough money to buy a couple of books of subway tickets (called carnets). It was a real pain and left Mister cursing under his breath about how much he hates French people and why do they make everything so complicated?

We dragged our suitcases down into the Métro and managed to find our way to the flat we had rented on the Ile St. Louis, which is one of two small islands in the middle of the Seine river (it’s the one on the right in the photo below). The other is the Ile de la Cité, which is where Notre Dame sits. When I was a teenager I had a poster of Notre Dame and the Ile St. Louis on my bedroom wall. I used to imagine that I lived there and how cool my life would be if I did. I’ve wanted to stay there ever since.

Notre Dame light Sepia

Nearly all of the buildings on the Ile St. Louis were built in the 1600′s. It’s quite a peaceful and charming place with only a few streets. From our living room window you could kind of see the river. It’s just past the pale green tree in the center of the photo.

Our flat Ilstlouis

Our flat was in a skinny building with slightly terrifying wooden stairs. I love to think about all the people who have climbed those steps over the years. Who were they? When did they live? What was the best thing that ever happened to them? And the worst?

Paris stairs

About fifteen steps away from our front door was a very good gelato shop called Amorino. It’s definitely the most cozy gelato shop I’ve been to. Every place on this island has the original exposed beams. It’s such a lovely rustic touch.

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People rave about this stuff and it was good. But I’ve had better.  Never have I had it so artfully scooped, though. This is my first gelato flower.

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We liked to get our gelato or ice cream then walk a block down to the Seine and sit on the riverbank watching the boats go by. It was fun just hanging out with the kids and talking without any electronics or interruptions getting in the way, aside from peddlers trying to sell beers out of a cooler (weird).

Down the street a block or so was the best ice cream shop in Paris, Bertillon.  It closes early-ish (8 pm) so we only got to have ice cream there once. I liked it a lot more than the gelato. Let me tell you the very best thing about Paris: they take caramel very seriously. Here in the States caramel is kind of a secondary flavor. It’s just now beginning to get the starring role it deserves. But the French know the importance of caramel, especially salted caramel, and you can find caramel au beurre salé in all sorts of yummy products.

Berticecream

If you are planning on going to Bertillon, be aware of the hours and also the fact that it’s closed most of July and August. Why an ice cream shop would be closed in the summer is a mystery only the French could explain (I know that’s when they take vacations but come on! It’s summertime. And you make ice cream. How about taking a vacation in November instead?) Anyway, if you find yourself wanting ice cream when Bertillon is closed, don’t fret. Finding Bertillon in Paris is like finding Blue Bell in Texas. In other words, it’s everywhere.  If you’re on the Ile St. Louis after closing time, just head over to Pom Canelle which is about twenty steps away. They have a take out Bertillon ice cream window that is usually open til 11 pm  (just look for the line outside). It’s also a restaurant (seating inside) that serves delicious food. We ate there one evening and enjoyed it immensely. Their onion soup is superb. Mister kept calling it French Onion Soup which, technically, all onion soup is when you’re in France. The food is simple and delicious.

Poulet et haricots

Let me just mention French restaurants while I’m at it. The oddest thing to an American is that they all look the same. There is really no theme to them. Especially if you’re eating outdoors at a café. They all have the same exact chairs, the same tables, the same colored awnings. The menus tend to be somewhat similar too. It’s very hard to decide what might be good restaurant and what might not. I suppose once you start getting into a higher price point, the restaurants get a bit fancier but I wouldn’t know. Meals aren’t our big splurge, even in Paris.

That’s where your cell phone comes in. You can download apps like Travelocity and find out which restaurants nearby are good. You can search by price point, by location or by rating. It was so helpful! I believe it’s a free app, so make sure you download it before you go. (And try it out before you leave since quite often the initial download requires a lot of data and you don’t want to waste the precious data on your overseas plan.)

We are huge fans of crêpes (say it the French way so it rhymes with “peps” not “gapes”) They’re cheap and easy to eat. There are tons of sit down creperies but to-go crepes can be hard to find if you’re not staying in a touristy area (“to go” in French is “à emporter” FYI). Tourists are fond of crêpes because they’re cheap, I guess. I’m partial to crêpes with ham and cheese and fresh spinach.  The best crêpe places will have a sweet batter which is white and a savory batter which is made of buckwheat and is brown.

The nice thing about Parisian restaurants (well, all restaurants in France really) is that people don’t tip.Well, they do but it’s always included. You might want to leave an extra €2-3 if the waiter was particularly helpful. Being a waiter or waitress is considered a real career; one that they are paid decently to do. They get the same wage whether they have one table all night or ten. Since French people tend to be more relaxed about working, they’d really rather have you stay all night. Less work for them in the long run. You will also most always have to ask for your check. It’s just how it works over there and is not necessarily the mark of poor service. Remember, they like their meals to last a long time.

It seems odd that take out food isn’t more poplar in France but the French really do like to sit around and take their time at meals. This is just insane to Americans who are always go go go. Sitting down for two hours at lunch or dinner seems like nothing but a waste of time. We were frustrated a lot because the only restaurants we could find were sit-down restaurants and we didn’t want to waste our precious sight-seeing time talking about philosophy (or whatever it is that Parisians discuss over long, dawdling meals).  We ate a lot of baked goods and sandwiches because all bakeries have sandwiches to go.

If you do find some good restaurants ahead of time, you’ll most likely need reservations. That’s how it works over there. I speak some French but the idea of calling a restaurant in France and making a reservation was so far out of my comfort zone that I simply couldn’t (I really have to psych myself up to talk to strangers on the phone in America. It’s strange.) Also, most restaurants don’t open til 7 pm. This is how French people spend their evenings, eating and talking. I emailed the guy were were renting our flat from (who used to live in Austin, coincidentally) and asked if he’d make reservations for us. He was completely happy to. If you stay at a hotel, have your concierge do it; that’s their job.

And then there is the issue of drinks. We don’t drink alcohol, being Mormon, which I have to say was kind of a bummer. Wine always seems so appealing. Instead we had water or if we were dragging, a Coca. Always in a can. The only place I ever saw fountain drinks was at McDonald’s (yes, we went to McDonald’s a couple of times. Sometimes a girl just needs a big pop, a toilet and free wifi). If you ask for water at a restaurant you’ll usually get bottled water. If you want tap water just ask for une carafe d’eau (most French/English translator apps will have a pronunciation button so you can hear how to say words and phrases. I like the VidaLingua app a lot. I think it was $2.99. Worth it!). All drinks will be room temperature, so just get used to that fact. As I’m sure you’ve heard, Europeans are not terribly fond of ice. Or cold drinks in general. Just embrace it. Even at McDonald’s you won’t get ice in your drink. It seems subhuman but you don’t want to sound like a bratty American by complaining.  When the stewardess on the flight home put ice in my cup I almost started to cry for joy.

By now you know I love walking tours. So that’s the first thing I scheduled for our arrival in Paris. Our tour was through Paris by Martin. The guide we had was Martin’s partner whose name was Pepe. He was delightful. By the way, tons of men in Paris wear scarves. As far as women’s fashions go, I never saw a maxi skirt once. I brought one but the idea of wearing it made me feel so frumpy that I left it in my suitcase the entire time.

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Pepe walked us all over the Marais district, showing us the oldest and most interesting parts of the city (it was the Jewish section and nobody cared to make it all new and fancy in the 1800′s when they did the major overhaul of Paris.) The nice thing about Paris is that there aren’t horrid modern buildings plopped down all over the place.  Most everything is old and picturesque. Or at least old. (Tangent: Unlike our British tour guides, Pepe was like having a private photographer. It was nice to finally get some shots of all four of us!)

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Rumor has it that Johnny Depp just bought an apartment here in the Place Des Vosges.

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The buildings all have these wonderful vaulted arches so I can’t say that I blame him.

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In the Marais is the most superb bakery called L’Eclair de Génie that sells nothing but eclairs. Sometimes there are foods that are really hyped up and when they don’t taste nearly as great as you’d hoped you are just so let down. This was not one of those occasions. These were unearthly good. Unbelievable.

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The eclairs are not cheap. We each got two–for research, of course. At $8-10 apiece , they had better be fantastic. But look how they have the name of the shop stamped on a little chocolate disc! And the nuts are dusted with gold! There went our dinner budget but it’s Paris! What are you supposed to do? Eat mediocre, cheap food all the time?

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We wanted to save some for later but we had gobbled them up by the time we got to the end of the block.

Fam Eating Eclairs

 

After the Marais we strolled down to the Quartier Latin. So many fabulous things to see. Here’s the oldest restaurant in Paris called La Procope. It opened in 1686 and among it’s clientele are Benjamin Franklin, Robespierre and Voltaire. We didn’t eat there (too many eclairs) but it’s in a charming area.

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There’s also a great fountain in the very touristy area near St. Michel.

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A lot of buildings in Paris have lovely courtyards on the inside. You can rarely see them unless you have a key. Or unless you have Pepe.

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We saw so many gorgeous and amazing places. It was the perfect way to kick off our stay in France.

Probably my best and favorite thing that happened during our time in Paris was the Fête du Pain (The Festival of Bread. Can you imagine anything more delightful?) It’s an annual event held in front of Nôtre Dame in a gigantic tent that is turned into a bakery. The idea is to draw people into the career of becoming a baker (Okay I’ll do it!).  Bakers from all over France come dressed in bright orange polo shirts (not really what I picture un boulanger traditionnel wearing, but oh well) and bake in front of people. Lots of local kids come and watch and see what it’s really like to be a boulanger. There are no separate kitchens or back rooms, everything happens out in the open.

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But the absolute most wonderful thing about the Fête du Pain is that everything is sold on the spot. Food is baked all day long so anytime you walk by, there are fresh baked goods being taken out of the oven. You don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to get a fresh baguette. It’s heaven. Heaven!

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The Fête du Pain was in between our apartment and our métro stop so naturally we found ourselves there quite often. Let me just tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a pain au chocolat that’s still warm from the oven with the chocolate still soft and squishy. Speaking of pain au chocolate . . .

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First you place the little bars of chocolate in the dough, then you roll it and cut it. Then you wait for your adoring public to gobble it up, closing their eyes and moaning with each bite.

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I could have watched these guys bake all day.  Here are the baguette bakers. Instead of baking the bread on a tray or in a pan, each loaf is placed in a big piece of fabric called a couche, row by row, scrunching the fabric between each one.

The croissants were the most interesting to watch. And most delicious. Theoretically there is a point at which you get full of croissants and you don’t want to eat any more. I have never reached that point, which is a bit distressing. Fortunately I enjoyed all the rich, fatty food in Paris without a second though because I walked such an insane amount.

Each batch of croissant dough is rolled into a square. Then a giant slab of butter is placed inside each one. The dough is folded over the edges of the butter like a tasty envelope. It’s then chilled, rolled and folded again. And again. That’s what makes all the delightful layers of a croissant.

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I don’t think this photo catches the massive amount of butter used in a croissant. If you want to know why they taste so good, watch this little video. That thing he folds in half and pounds out at the beginning? That’s butter not dough. Try not to faint.

There were some other tasty things being made. No idea what these could be. Any guesses?

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The charming man in the video below was making an apple tart. You can actually hear me speaking pitiful French in the video. The lovely baker was asking me where I was from, and when I told him Texas he informed me that he’d been to Florida. Which is actually right across the gulf so I give him points for that. Usually when you tell people abroad that you’re from America they’ll inform you that they were in New York/California/Seattle last year. In other words, a thousand or two miles away. It’s like telling someone from Denmark that you’ve visited Czechoslovakia.

 

At the end of the Fête du Pain there was a contest amongst all the bakers. What amazing bread from all the different parts of France.

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I would seriously come back to France again during May to visit the Fête du Pain again. That’s how grand it was. Bread is my one true love.

Y’all know how much I love snacks, right? A lot. A super lot. I would much rather eat snacks all day than have a meal. Even a really delicious meal. Are you like that too or is it just me? Far and away my favorite place to by snacks is at H•E•B. It’s my favorite grocery store. They’re only in Texas which is sad for you if you don’t live here. But chances are you know someone who lives in Texas so you should pass this along. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve eaten lately:

I have spurts of paleo where I don’t eat flour. And I have a jillion friends who don’t eat flour (some have better reasons than others but I’m not going to give you a hard time if you want to jump on that bandwagon). It always makes me sad that I can’t bake for my gluten-free friends because baking is my love language. Well guess what! Now I can! H•E•B has a new gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mix that is to die for. Seriously, they taste like honest-to-goodness chocolate chip cookies and they puff up nicely. You would never guess that they’re gluten-free. Color me impressed.

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Snacking in December would not be complete without some peppermint. As Buddy the Elf says, candy canes are one of the four elf food groups. Oreos are one of the few store-bought cookies I will eat and H•E•B does a dandy version of Oreo-type cookies with peppermint filling. They’ve got actual pieces of chopped up candy canes which makes them extra yummy. My kids will eat a package of these in about fifteen minutes. They’re like locusts where cookies are concerned. It’s a bit frightening.

H•E•B also has some Sun Chip-type snacks. They’re called, vaguely, “whole grain chips”. I tried the Smoked Gouda and they’re delicious. Mister took one bite and said, “holy crap, these are good!” I’m not a huge fan of cheese, especially on my snacks (Cheetos?Barf. A million times barf.) but these are more smoky than cheesy. For reals, you need to try these! Worth a trip to the store just to pick up a bag.

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You know what I also got at H•E•B that’s really cool? A tortilla warmer. Not one of those weird plastic things like they have at Mexican restaurants; this is soft and made of fabric. It’s for heating tortillas in the microwave and keeping them warm on the table. We eat a ton of tortillas. The best ones are freshly made. Sometimes I make my own and sometimes I buy them. But this warmer is a really nice way to keep them warm on the table (and it’s not very expensive either). Look how holidayish this one is. Christmas in Texas, folks!

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Before the New Year hits and you’re all healthy and eating right, get on over to H•E•B and pick up some of their Primo Picks snacks. They’re worth every pound you’ll gain!  Check out some of their other yummy foods here!

When I was growing up if I saw something European at the grocery store I would almost always buy it. This was back in the day when Evian was considered exotic and nobody had even heard of Nutella. Nowadays you can find American knock-offs of most foreign products but my heart still goes pitter-pat when I find things that are actually imported from Europe.

My local HEB grocery store has been cornering the market on Italian stuff lately. They have a ton of Primo Picks that are fresh off the boat from the Old World. Yes, you can get American pasta anywhere, but I swear there is just something more magical when you eat pasta that was actually made in Italy. I like to imagine the beautiful castle where the pasta is made, artfully draped on wood racks that have been used for centuries. What? You mean to tell me that Italian pasta is made in factories, not in castles? Whatever. Don’t rain on my Italian parade. The nice thing is that authentic Italian pasta is actually not very expensive (and there are all sorts of cool unusual shapes!) so you can spring for some fancy sauce too and not break the bank. We tried the Orti de Calabria vodka sauce. Talk about flavor! Yummmm! It’s a pretty affordable dinner and it beats drab old spaghetti with Prego.

HEB was kind enough to send me a fantastic goodie bag of some of the Italian products they are carrying right now. You guys, this is not mamby-pamby Americanized crap; this is full-flavored authentic stuff.  Before I even opened the box I could smell it. In particular the Sabatini Tartufi truffle salt. This is like garlic salt but a million times better (and swankier!). Here’s what you can do: defrost some frozen bread dough, roll it all out, then slather it with melted butter and sprinkle with truffle salt. Cut the dough in slices, bake it and you have some super easy but molto delizioso breadsticks. Plus you can be all braggy to your friends and say, “Oh those just have a bit of truffles on them.” Hopefully your friends are smart enough to know you mean mushroom-y truffles and not chocolate truffles.

Italian Primo Picks

Italy is nothing without olives and I am madly in love with them so we’re a good pair, olives and I. The Central Market olive oil is actually from Tuscany (pressed outside of the aforementioned castle, no doubt) and is superb. I eat a lot of olive oil and this is one I will definitely be buying again. The Taggiasca olives are also fantastic. They are sweet but a little tangy and would make a great muffaletta sandwich. Listen, I like plain old black olives from a can too, but these are ooh-la-la so good. Perfect for an appetizer platter for the upcoming holidays, hint hint.

You’ve watched It’s A Wonderful Life, right? We watch it a couple of times every Christmas and there’s this scene where Mr. Potter (the jerk!) is telling George Bailey to stop wasting his time helping those poor immigrants. He calls them “garlic-eaters” in the most sneering tone imaginable. Every time he says that I’m all, “Mr. Potter you are truly a psycho.” Italian food is where it’s at, man! If you live in Texas head on over to HEB and pick up some yummy Italian goods. They’ve got you and all the other garlic-eaters covered!

Hatch chiles, that is! It’s time for Hatch chile season. Last year I showed you how to roast your own chiles here (you can roast any pepper this way, not just Hatchs). But you might not feel like roasting your own. If you are lucky enough to live in Texas near an HEB grocery store, you can find them roasting big drums of Hatch chiles over an open fire in front of the store. You should smell the air! It would make you drool, even if you’re not a big chile lover. Right now is the Hatch Chile Festival so get on over.

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HEB has you covered if you’d like to try products with Hatch chiles but you don’t feel like cooking. Hatch chiles are kind of spicy but the products they carry that are made from Hatch peppers are pretty mild. I tried their Hatch chips and both their red and green salsas and they are really, really good. They all have a lovely flavor full of spices without being spicy. You know what I mean? Lots of taste without sizzling your tongue. The green salsa, ironically enough, has a little bit of zing but nothing to make you feel like your mouth is on fire. My boys polished off the chips in about twenty minutes and keep reminding me to get another bag.

India is eating paleo these days so she was happy to have some new salsas to jazz up her meat. There’s only so much you can do with chicken, right? The Hatch salsas are mighty tasty slathered over eggs too. Go India!

We also tried the tortilla soup and Green Chile Stew. We’ve bought the Tortilla soup several times already because my husband is a big fan of it. The Hatch chips crumbled over the top make a nice addition, as does a bit of canned chicken to make it a little heartier. It’s not necessary but I like soup to be super filling so my kids don’t get hungry an hour later.

 

Make sure you stop by HEB this week to catch the rest of the Hatch Chile Fest. It’s definitely a Texas thing! (Although technically Hatch peppers come from New Mexico. But like everything else, we Texans make everything better.) And don’t forget some truly texas sodas like Dr. Pepper or Big Red to wash it all down.

 

 

I was compensated for trying these products but the opinions are totally my own. I’m not about to lie to help anybody out.

 

 

HEB (the best grocery store in Texas, hence the World) sent me some new Primo Picks to try out. Primo Picks are interesting/cool/extra awesome products that they feature at the store. Since I am always game to try new things, I was pretty jazzed.

I waited until the kids got home from school before I tried anything. I wanted to have more than one opinion than just my own. The clear favorites for them were these yummy things:

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The Lacey’s cookies are halfway between candy and a cookie. They’re two of toffee-esque cookies with a slather of dark chocolate in-between. I’ve seen them around before but never tried them. Ohhhh man, I wish I had never tried them. They’re now what I fantasize about when I have my cheat day. Since you can’t really send your kids to school with such sugar bombs (save those for Mommy, please), This Snacklemouth Salty Chocolate Clusters is a little more appropriate for every day. The kids snarfed down this stuff which is kind of like moist, chocolatey granola. It’s gluten-free and not very high in sugar. A perfect addition to the lunch boxes. Or at least it would have been if we hadn’t promptly eaten it all. Plus, don’t you dig the funky box? The guys has chocolate dripping from his mustache and eyeballs! Sweeeet!

The chips were also a big hit. As much as I love sweets, I love a nice salty potato chip as well (with a coke, naturally). I like the big crunch of Kettle Chips and these don’t disappoint. They have a really pronounced potato flavor which I appreciate when I eat chips; I don’t want to taste a bunch of chemicals, thankyouverymuch. Plus the bag is cute. I like the fonts. Yes, fonts matter!

I really appreciated the coconut oil and coconut water. Despite appearances to the contrary, I’m actually trying to make healthier choices for my family. Lately when I’ve cooked stuff in the frying pan I’ve been using olive oil. I’ve heard amazing things about coconut oil, so I was very happy to give HEB’s virgin Coconut Oil a try. I cooked up some Basa fish (have you heard of it? It’s some new kind of fish and it’s superyum) in the coconut oil and slathered it with guacamole (you don’t eat guacamole on your fish? What’s the matter with you?) The coconut oil gave it a subtle tropical-ish flavor. I like it. And it’s fantastically healthy (for a fat, I mean. It’s not healthier than a handful of fresh carrots.)

 

My whole family was very excited to try the three flavors of BBQ sauce. Let me give you a little background, though. We used to always buy grocery store BBQ sauce and it’s always tasted fine. That’s because we didn’t live in Texas. Now we live in Texas where BBQ is taken terribly seriously. We usually buy a bottle of sauce at our favorite restaurants (I prefer the sauce at Southside in Elgin, TX and Mister Prefers the sauce at Rudy’s.) One time we ran out of restaurant sauce and I bought the same old BBQ sauce at the store like we used to buy. Only this time it was inedible. It tasted all wrong. It was weirdly sweet and had nasty chemical overtones. (I complain about food tasting like chemicals a lot. That’s because I’m spoiled and like homemade-tasting food. Unless it’s Funyons.) We scraped the sauce off and ate our dry meat without. So I was intrigued by the trio of sauces that HEB provided. If nothing else, it gave us an excuse to buy a heaping lot of brisket. The verdict? All three sauces were mighty good. No chemical flavors whatsoever.  Finn, Arabella and I preferred the Better Than Good Traditional Texas sauce. Mister and India like Mama’s Original sauce the best. York Preferred the Better Than Good Texas Moppin’ Sauce, and Ada doesn’t like meat at all so she just had a salad.  The Texas Moppin’ Sauce has a definite mustard overtone. I think mustard is simply the most disgusting condiment in the world so I didn’t care for it at all.  I was more than happy to find some grocery store sauces that I can be happy about using. Now I don’t have to buy spendy bottles at restaurants any more.

I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the Primo Picks at HEB. Pick up a few next time you’re at HEB. And if you don’t live in Texas, poor you.

 

 

I was compensated by HEB but, trust me, the opinions are all mine. You can’t buy my taste buds.

Arabella loves to read my cookbooks and pick out things for me to make. My kids are all sugar addicts like their mother so her recipes are usually in the dessert category. A couple of weeks ago she picked out this beauty from my Cooks Country magazine that she wanted me to make as her birthday cake; it’s a S’mores Ice Cream Pie:

I seriously love s’mores.  Not the biggest fan of ice cream, but it was a hot day yesterday, so I was OK with it. Birthdays are always a huge deal around our house and require a massive amount of work: make the requested breakfast, take the child lunch at school, make a birthday cake, make the requested dinner (or hope they want dinner out) and usually buy/wrap a bunch of presents.

I figured an ice cream cake means no baking or icing so it would be a lot less work. Uuuuggggh. This dessert was so much trouble! The graham cracker crust needs to be baked, so the oven does have to be turned on. Then there is a layer where chocolate is melted and combined with heavy cream and corn syrup. But because I was making this when the babies were walking in the door from school I forgot everything but the chocolate which, when frozen, became hard as a sheet of metal. Then a layer of marshamallow fluff was spread over that. Do you know what a pain it is to spread marshamllow fluff? A horrendous pain, not to mention incredible messy and sticky. It tasted super yum, though, so everyone ate their ice cream off the top and then held the crust like a sloppy chcolatey cookie to eat at the end.

Also, when the pie is ready to serve, the ice cream is covered with marshmallows and broiled quickly to brown them. It was a delicious step and one that really made the dessert taste like s’mores. Unfortunately it also made the pie start to melt and by the time the graham crackers were affixed to the outside and candles were lit, the whole thing was melting like crazy. I ended up throwing the dripping pie onto the table and screaming at everyone to hurry up and sing, for Pete’s sake the stupid dessert is getting chocolate everywhere.

So if you have all day with nothing going on and really feel like undertaking an arduous task (and you like s’mores a lot), this might be a good dessert to try. Also, make sure that there are a lot of people who will eat this instantly because an ice cream dessert in a springform pan with the sides removed is probably not the best idea. It was super delicious, though. I mean, it tasted really good and was very smore-y.

Arabella was extremely happy with this, even though I put the leftover pie in the freezer, slammed the door and yelled, “I hate everything!”  (good thing Arabella had scurried off to look at her presents). Not my finest cooking moment but the birthday girl felt loved and that’s the whole point.

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a couple of months you probably have heard me mention my favorite grocery store, HEB. It’s not a word, it’s initials. The founder was named Howard Edward Butt, an unfortunate name. Mister’s mother grew up in San Antonio and remembers shopping at “H.E. Butt”. I guess they got tired of all the kids tittering about the name and it was shortened at some point into H-E-B. At any rate it’s my very favorite grocery stores and they’re only in Texas. They feature lots of local products and they have good prices. When they got in touch with me a few weeks ago and asked if I’d like to try some of their Primo Picks products I was like, “heck, yeah!”  So they sent me a lovely bag full of goodies.

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Primo Picks are products (mostly local) that HEB thinks are extra good or interesting. Being lovers of sweets, my family gobbled up The Big Chip Cookies first. You know I love cookies. But not store-bought. There is no way I would eat a store-bought chocolate chip cookie. But I tried one of these and–my gosh–they were good! Like, good enough to eat a lot. Chips Ahoy wishes they were this delicious. The entire bag was gone in ten minutes. Not joking.

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The kids were also excited to try the Vintage Soda Pop cake and frosting mixes by Debbie’s. Cake mix is another one of those things that I turn my nose up at. Yes, they’re convenient but they taste so artificial. But this cake mix (made with HEB’s version of Dr. Pepper) was really yummy. Not fake-tasting at all. I would totally keep a couple of theses on my shelf for last minute desserts.

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Also big hits were the Texas Firecrackers spicy crackers (Jasper ate almost the whole bag himself) and the Better Than Good Bacon Jam. I’m not going to lie–the bacon jam freaked me out a little. I love bacon a lot; in an “eternal soul mate” kind of way. The thought of eating it in a smooshed up, semi-liquid form kind of grossed me out, though.  But I slathered some on a steak and it was great. Mister wanted to serve some with cream cheese and crackers but I kept forgetting to buy cream cheese. I bet it would taste fantastic.

I also liked the tortilla warmer. It’s the thing in the picture with the cheesy illustration of a jalapeño riding an armadillo. I wish it had a simpler illustration, like an outline of Texas or something. But it was super handy for warming up a stack of tortillas and keeping them warm. Since it’s fabric it’s a lot easier to store one of those big plastic tortilla warmers. I’ve been needing something like this for years.

I’ve seen Primo Picks all over HEB in the past but I usually pass them by. I admit that I get stuck in a rut with the food I buy. I don’t want to waste my money on food that my family might not like. Being able to try several Primo Picks was eye-opening. These are pretty great items. If you’re a fellow Texan, you might want to throw a few Primo Picks in your buggy next time you’re at HEB. Try some products and let me know what you think!

 

*HEB sent me all of these products to try. The opinions are mine.

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Everybody needs to know how to make a pie. It’s just one of those life skills that all Americans should have. Despite the saying, “easy as pie”, it’s actually kind of hard. Not hard, exactly, but complicated. I made this tutorial because I want to take the intimidation factor out of pie crust. Let’s face it, pie crust is the scariest part of pie-making.

Today I’m going to teach you how to make a double pie crust. That means it’s for a pie with a top and a bottom (like an Apple pie). You can also blind bake the crust. Blind baking means cooking the pie crust empty; you’d use this for a pie with a filling that won’t be baked in an oven: usually chilled pies like Chocolate Cream or Lemon Meringue. If you blind bake the crust you’ll only need half of the dough (because you’ll only need a bottom crust). Don’t half the recipe! Pie crust freezes beautifully so save the remaining dough for another time (just throw it in a ziploc and keep it in the freezer. Don’t forget to label it because you will have no idea what it is when you run across it in a few months.)

Here we go. Pie crust doesn’t have many ingredients: fat, water, salt and flour. I like to gussy mine up with a little sugar too. (The complete recipe is at the end of the post.)

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The salt and water are pretty straightforward. If your tap water tastes gross, use bottled. Either way it needs to be cold. Put it in a bowl with some ice cubes just to make sure. Flour needs to be all purpose. I like King Arthur the best.

Then there’s the fat.  There are a dozen types of fat that can be used in pie: butter, shortening, oil, lard and suet, among others. Butter, as you can guess, tastes the best. That’s kind of a no-brainer. An all-butter crust is phenomenal. But lard is unbeatable at making the texture flaky beyond belief. I like to use a combination of butter and lard. Here’s the thing: not just any lard will do. You don’t want the kind from the grocery store. It is disgusting. It smells like a barnyard and is hydrogenated to make it shelf-stable.

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The kind of lard you need is called leaf lard. No, it’s not made from leaves. It’s made from the fat around a pig’s kidneys. It doesn’t smell or taste weird. It’s just pure fatty loveliness. You’ll probably be able to find it from a small butcher shop or artisinal meat producer. Try the local farmer’s market. You’ll want to look for these clues: It must be refrigerated and non-hydrogenated. I buy it for $10 a jar and that makes about 4 pies worth.

If you can’t find leaf lard, don’t worry. All-butter crusts are amazing. Shortening and oil belong in the pantry. For the best pie splurge on butter and–if you find it–leaf lard.

If you’ve got a food processor, making piecrust is a million times easier than doing it by hand. If you are processor-less use a couple of forks to smash things up. Or you can use a pastry blender. I had one of these for several years and it totally does the job. Some cookbooks recommend using your hands. All the ingredients need to stay as cold as possible while pie-making. Nice warm hands do not keep butter cold. Use a tool.

 

Combine all your dry ingredients in the food processor and mix them up.

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Cut your butter up into slices. It should be cold. Drop the butter pieces into the flour mixture and try to keep them from sticking together.

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Pulse the butter for about 3 seconds and then add the lard. If you’re using all butter, keep going. We need to talk about what makes a good pie crust. It needs to be tender, it needs to taste good and it needs to be flaky. Butter is going to give it a great taste, but the lard is going to help with the texture. The less pie crust is processed, the flakier it will be. As the butter and lard melt, they’ll leave behind big air pockets; this is what causes flakiness.

If you’re making a pie that will bake in its crust like an Apple or Cherry pie, you’ll want butter pieces that are about the size of peas (and smaller). If you’re going to make a pie that’s filled afterwards like a Strawberry Pie, you don’t want the juice to leak into all the flakes and make it soggy. So you’ll want a not-as-flaky crust. To do this, make the pieces of butter and lard smaller. The mixture will look more like course sand.

I’m planning on making a Lemon Pie, so I want the fat pieces to be pretty small. This is how it looks after the fat has been processed with the flour. There are a few pieces that are the size of small peas but most of the mixture is pretty fine.

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Next you’ll take your little bowl of ice water. Add a tsp. of canola oil to it and whisk it up as well as you can. Add 6 Tbs. of water/oil mixture and process it in five 1-second pulses.

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The crust is going to look pretty dry. The way you’ll know if you’ve added enough water is to take a small handful of crust and press it together. If it smooshes together and makes a fingerprint, you’re all set! If it’s still too dry to come together add more water/oil mixture–1 Tbs at a time.

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Once your dough is the right consistency, takeout of the food processor and separate it into two equal sections. Squish each half together until it forms a disk. Wrap each disk with plastic wrap

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Chill the pie crust dough in the fridge for at least half an hour. You can keep it there for a couple of days, if needed.

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If you won’t be needing a second pie shell, freeze the extra disc of dough. Keep it in the plastic wrap and slip it into a ziploc. It should last for a month or two.

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Now you’ll need your next batch of equipment: a rolling pin, a pie plate (I like Pyrex the best) and something to roll out the crust between. I recommend parchment paper or these super awesome bags designed just for that purpose. You can find them at fancy kitchen shops or online. I bought mine here and it was $5. I’m so in love with this pie crust bag!

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Whether you use parchment or a pie crust bag, the pie crust will be a smidge sticky when it gets warm. I recommend sprinkling some flour on your parchment or tossing some in the pie crust bag.

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To figure out how wide you need to roll your pie crust, measure across the top of the pie plate and add a couple of inches. When it’s the right size, peel off the top piece of parchment/pie bag then place it back on lightly. Now flip over the crust and peel off the bottom piece of parchment.

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As gracefully as you can, flip the crust upside down as you are placing it in the pie plate. You need to be as quick as a wink to get it right but you can do it.

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Ease the pie crust into the bottom and sides of the pie plate ever so gently. This stuff is incredibly fragile; try not to poke a hole in it!

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You’ll probably have a big flap of crust hanging over the edges. I like to keep this quite long and fold it under to make the crust edges nice and thick (I freely admit it–crust is my favorite part of the pie!). If you do need to trim it, clean off a pair of scissors and cut the crust with those. It’s much easier than trying to use a knife. You won’t need to cut your crust any shorter than this:

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If you’re making a pie with a top crust you’ll roll the top out, fill the pie and lay on the top piece.

Bend the remaining edges under once or twice. Now you’ll shape your pie edges. There are lots of different patterns but let’s do a plain old scallop. If you’ve got any fingernails at all, they’ll poke right through the dough, so I always use my bent fingers like so:

 

 

If you’ll be blind baking your crust you’ll need to bend the crust over the lip of the pan just a bit. This will hold the edge of the crust in place while it bakes. Sometimes the crust will slouch down in the pan; bending it over the rim a tiny amount will help solve that problem.

If your crust hasn’t got any filling in it, you’ll need to poke some holes in it to keep bubbles from forming. A fork is just dandy for this.

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Once your crust looks perfect you’ll need to put it in the freezer for about 20 minutes. A crust made with butter tends to puff up when it bakes and if it’s not throughly chilled when it goes into the oven, the edges and designs (if there are any) will swell up and not look as pretty. Make sure when you put it into the freezer not to smack it on the top of the ice maker. Arrrrgh.

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When you’re about to take your pic crust out of the freezer, preheat your oven to 375°. It’s very, very helpful to keep something in the pie shell as it’s baking to keep the crust from slouching down the edges, as I mentioned before. You can find all sorts of pie weights and things like that sold in stores but this is what I like to do: Use a heat-proof bag; the kind used for baking a chicken or turkey.

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Fill it with rice and use the twist tie to keep it shut. Nestle it into the pie crust.

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Bake the pie crust for 15-20 minutes then remove the bag of rice (use a hot pad! That sucker will be hot!) Continue to bake the crust until it’s golden brown on the bottom. Probably another 15 minutes. Cool the crust and load it up with your favorite pie filling!

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I’ve tried lots of recipes and this one from EverythingPies.com is my favorite. If you don’t have leaf lard just use all butter.

2 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup leaf lard
6-8 Tbs ice water
1 tsp. canola oil

Mix dry ingredients together in a food processor. Add butter and lard and process til butter is the size of small peas. In a small bowl whisk water and canola. Pour 6 Tbs water/oil over flour mixture. Process for short pulses until dough barely starts to come together. It is wet enough when it can be pressed or squeezed and it holds its shape.

Seperate dough into two equal sized disks. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill for at least half an hour. Remove from fridge and roll into shape. Line pie plate with dough, add weights/rice and bake at 375°  for 15-20 minutes. Remove rice/pie weights and bake until crust is golden brown on bottom (another 15-20 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool before filling.