World Chefs: French childhoods re-created in adult kitchens

Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:59am EDT

By Luciana Lopez
    NEW YORK, June 25 (Reuters) - Ethel Brennan and Sara
Remington had never met as children, but as adults they found
they shared many childhood experiences that  they brought
together in a new book, "Paris to Provence: Childhood Memories
of Food and France."
    The combination travel memoir and cookbook is interspersed
with photographs, not just of the recipes included, but of daily
 French life.
    Both Brennan and Remington had spent their childhood summers
in France with their parents, traveling the country and
experiencing the delights of onion tarts, grilled sardines and
truffled eggs.
    Brennan spoke to Reuters about delving into her childhood
memories of food and places and re-creating those experiences in
the book.
    
    Q: How does a person's individual experience of a place
change their experience of the food or cuisine of a place?
    A: Food and place are very tied together, as are all of our
memories when it comes to childhood. And things just take you
back or keep you there or remind you because food is so linked
to all of our senses.
    Q: How did going back to those memories as an adult change
or affect your experience of them?
    A: There were certain things I felt sad about when I
discovered they actually are products of the past. For example,
it used to be you would go to the beaches and all along the
Mediterranean people would sell baskets of fresh-made
cream-filled donuts and beignets. That doesn't exist anymore.
    Occasionally somebody will be coming along selling the
beignets, but they're not homemade. They're very industrial or
they're commercially made. It's just not something that you see
as I remember it from childhood. I think that is a danger when
you start going back into your childhood. Things change, they
have to change."
    Q: How do you want people to experience France through this
book?
    A: We very specifically approached the food from a simple
standpoint. The recipes are very traditional, and regionally
traditional ... Most of the ingredients people can find here and
if they don't have them on sale they can be ordered online. We
did not want to alienate anyone with the complexity of the
cooking. We would hope that someone who was curious about France
and maybe wasn't traveling there felt that they could make
something really simple that would re-create our sense (of being
there)."
    Q: Do you have a favorite recipe?
    A: I would say the beignets are a favorite, but I will say
that my absolute favorite in the book is strawberries in red
wine syrup. Fresh strawberries, red wine and sugar, and they
macerate and then you can add mint and that's it. It's really
good, and we used to have it when we were kids, and I just
couldn't believe they'd serve it to you. You'd finish the
strawberries and you'd have a quarter cup of really sweet red
wine at the bottom of your glass.
    Q: How did you choose which recipes to put in?
    A: The way we structured the book was in the format of a
road trip - starting in Paris, then the farmers' markets and
then picnics and lakes, then the family dinners and being at the
beaches and cafes and bistros. Each one of those chapter titles
lent themselves to certain recipes ... We didn't go the
traditional route of having a dessert section or a salad section
or an appetizer section, and that actually gave us quite a bit
of freedom to put in one or two things, and maybe not
necessarily have a dessert in every (section).
    
    Beignets
    1 cup warm whole milk (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1/4-ounce package dry yeast
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1 tablespoon orange flower water
    4 cups all-purpose flour
    4 to 6 cups canola oil
    1/4 cup powdered sugar
    Pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Mix in 1 tablespoon
granulated sugar and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let stand
until the yeast begins to bubble, about 5 minutes.
    Whisk the egg, butter, salt, vanilla, the remaining sugar,
and the orange flower water into the milk. Add 2 cups of flour
and work into the wet ingredients using a wooden spoon. Add
another cup of flour and gather the dough into a ball. It will
be sticky. Knead the dough and add the remaining flour, a
quarter cup at a time, until it forms a smooth yet soft ball;
stop adding flour at this point. Transfer the dough to a clean
bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 and a half
hours.
    Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and roll out to
a 1-inch-thick rectangle. Cut the dough lengthwise into 4
pieces, then cut it crosswise into 6 pieces, creating 24 small
beignets. Cover the dough with a clean, dry dish towel and let
rise for 1 hour.
    In a large deep skillet over high heat, warm the oil until
it reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a candy thermometer to
check the temperature. Fry the beignets in small batches of 2 to
3 in the hot oil, turning them every 30 seconds or so with
tongs, until they are puffed and golden brown all over. They
cook quickly and will start to burn if left too long in the oil.
Remove the beignets from the oil and drain on paper towels. Put
the powdered sugar into a fine-mesh strainer and dust the warm
beignets generously with the powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

 (Reporting by Luciana Lopez, editing by Patricia Reaney)
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