Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tartine Tuesday: Brown Butter Nashi Pear and Toasted Walnut Tartines

Nashi Pear

It's almost midnight and I am still in the process of posting this!! It's been a long day, so this will be short and sweet... a little something to ease you into fall and give you those warm, toasty feelings.
Brown Butter Nashi Pear and Toasted Walnut Tartines

Brown Butter Nashi Pear and Toasted Walnut Tartines

2 pain au lait (any sweet bread will work with this recipe)
2 nashi (asian) pears
1/4 cup of walnuts, chopped
juice of half of a lemon
3 tablespoons of salted butter
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar

Heat a small saucepan over medium heat and toast walnuts until brown, about 5 minutes.

Peel and cut the pears into 1/2 inch cubes. Place cubed pears in a bowl and squeeze half of a lemon over them. Mix to coat the pears with the lemon juice. 

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Cook the butter until it turns a medium brown color and begins to smell nutty, skimming any white foam or milk solids from the surface with a spoon. Add the cinnamon and cardamom, and stir to combine. Add the pears and reduce heat to low. Add brown sugar and stir occasionally for 6-8 minutes until the pears become soft.

Place pear mixture on toasted and halved pain au lait, and top with toasted walnuts. This goes really well with a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream! Serves 2-4.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Meeting David Lebovitz

For a beginner food blogger with an almost obsessive affinity for chocolate, meeting David Lebovitz might have made one as giddy as a teenie bopper Twi-Hard. Pastry chef, author, and award-winning food blogger, David Lebovitz has made a name for himself as one of the top "celebrity food bloggers" in the culinary world. I was just excited to meet someone who, like me, dropped everything and moved to the City of Light. His website has been (and still is) my go-to guide to Paris, not just for where and what to eat, but also for tips on how to order your food correctly, what to do when you're sick, and how to save money in Paris.

David Lebovitz Meet-Up

The book signing was held in Paris at La Cocotte, une librairie du goût (a bookstore of taste). The unpretentious and quite adorable bookshop was packed with a handful of food lovers. I was quite surprised that with the exception of the employees, essentially everyone mingling inside was either American or spoke English. I spoke to a woman from Vancouver who was on vacation with some friends from Seattle, and overheard people telling David, "I'm from Chicago," "We're visiting from San Diego." Being a little homesick (due to being actually sick) the previous week, the atmosphere made me feel right at home.

People gathered around the table of drinks and munchies, asking David if he himself actually baked the delicious treats that they were noshing. David humbly told everyone that although yes, he did make the fabulously gooey cheesecake brownies and cranberry oatmeal cookies, he also was human, and had burned a batch of the cookies prior to arriving. That of course, didn't stop me from going back for seconds.

I'll admit, I got a slight tingling of butterflies when I handed him my copies of Ready for Dessert and The Sweet Life in Paris. Anyone with that much experience and passion for dessert is definitely at the top of my "Food Heroes" list. A very friendly and quite humble guy, and we laughed about how he lured Quentin to come back inside to drink some wine and contemplated trading point-and-shoot cameras. 

As I flipped through Ready for Dessert, the latest compilation of David Lebovitz's best recipes, I remembered a video I recently watched on Rouxbe, about The Basics of Quality Chocolate. This video not only changed the way I buy chocolate, but also sparked a new obsession in buying it. I now have a small collection of dark chocolate waiting for me to attack it.

My Current Stack of Chocolate

So while I read up on chocolate ganache custard tarts and Guinness gingerbread cupcakes, I'll be brainstorming ideas for my first super-chocolatey recipe post. Maybe now is a good time to break out my Dark Chocolate Espresso Soufflés. Mmmm...

What's your favorite chocolate dessert?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tartine Tuesday: Cucumber, Feta, and Mint Croissant Tartines

Cucumber, Feta, and Mint Croissant Tartines

The first thing I noticed when we landed in Paris this past July was the roughly 30 degree drop in temperature. I'm not complaining, I would much rather spend my days picnicking outdoors in the nice, breezy, 70-ish (Fahrenheit) degree weather than trapped in an air conditioned room all day to keep from having a heat stroke. What I do miss though, is being able to go outside with my shorts, tank top and flip flops without having to bring a "just in case it gets cold" jacket. I miss feeling the heat of the sun nearly toast me to a crisp as I lay out in my bathing suit (yes, being raised in Florida, you actually like that feeling). I miss being able to wear flip flops all year round (which I couldn't even do in Atlanta), and not even knowing where to buy a parka.

I've had my couple of days in Veulettes where I could tan by the pool and only start to shiver when a cloud passed in front of the sun, but it doesn't compare to the summers in the Sunshine State.

As we get nearer to winter, my long sleeved shirts and jeans seem to be making more frequent trips through the laundry. I'll have to have my dad bring me all my "real" winter clothes when he comes to visit next month. To the back of the closet you go, flip flops... *tear*.

Since fall is right around the corner, I wanted to squeeze every last bit out of summer as I could. We got some sun in Veulettes (especially Daphné... poor girl!) while picnicking on the beach, and today being the official "Last Day of Summer" I wanted to make an especially summery tartine. 

Red Onions

I got the inspiration for this tartine from a new book I bought, Tartinez Gourmand with Éric Kayser. I've been buying french cookbooks in an attempt to help improve my French, but unfortunately, that means I can only hold a conversation if it has to do with food... Ha. I'll learn one day. His recipe was a simple croissant tartine, with cucumber, garlic and feta. I kicked mine up a bit with some lemon juice, red onion and mint. The bright, citrus marinated cucumber cuts nicely through the creamy feta and buttery croissant. The red onion gives it a spicy bite, and the mint finishes with a fresh burst that will make you wish that summer would never end.

Fresh from the Boulangerie

So here is my ode to the last day of summer... 

Cucumber, Feta, and Mint Croissant Tartines

Adapted from Tartinez Gourmand with Éric Kayser

3 croissants
1/2 of an english cucumber
1 cup of cubed or crumbled feta
1/2 of a red onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
juice of half of a lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
3-4 sprigs of fresh mint
salt and pepper, to taste

In a bowl, whisk together the minced garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Slice the cucumber into thin slices, about 1/8 of an inch thick. You can use a mandoline to slice them if you have one; otherwise, you can slice them by hand with a sharp knife, and don't worry if they are not perfect. Place the sliced cucumber into the garlic, lemon juice and olive oil marinade and mix to coat the cucumber.

Slice the croissants in half, as if you were going to make a sandwich out of them. In a toaster oven, or regular oven, toast the croissants cut side up, until they just start to turn brown (should only take 2-4 minutes).

Cut feta into 1/2 inch cubes, if not already cubed. Alternatively, you can use crumbled feta.

Top the toasted croissants with the cucumber slices and sprinkle some minced red onion over the cucumber. Top that with feta, freshly cracked black pepper and a few leaves of fresh mint. Serves 3.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Flying Kites and Delicious Bites

This weekend we went back to Veulettes for another relaxing weekend at the beach. 

Lunch in Veulettes

This time, we took a short drive to the nearby seaside town of Dieppe, where they were holding the Festival International de Cerf-Volant (International Kite Festival). It is the world's largest kite festival, and people from all over the world come to see the hundreds of kites being flown along the sea shore. We had a picnic of cheese, paté, hard boiled eggs, fruits and veggies on the pebble-filled beach while we watched the kites soar peacefully in the wind.

The Big Guys

Keeping it Afloat!

Follow me!

Several countries had their own booths to represent their cultural influence on the history of the kite, complete with demonstrations and examples of their kite designs.

Phillipines Booth!

Painting A Balinese Kite

It was a great festival, with some of the largest, and *ahem*... most interesting kites I have ever seen.

It's a Boy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Squid Ink Pasta with Crawfish and Garlic Ginger Velouté

Squid Ink Pasta and Crawfish Velouté

About three weeks ago I went to this place with Quentin and his Dad called Metro. It's similar to Sam's or Costco in America; a gigantic warehouse-type building with everything you might need... in bulk. I of course, felt right at home, since everything was "American-sized". Big jars of mayonnaise, ketchup... an enormous food section(almost 5 times the size of the one's at Sam's) and of course, laptops for half the price you would pay in the normal electronics store. Quentin was there to find a laptop, so he could use it to look for jobs and apartments since I needed my laptop for work... his dad wanted to take a look at the projectors, and I, of course, wanted to look at the food/kitchen stuff.

It's too bad that this place is only allowed to business owners, because they would make a lot of money off of me. Their kitchen section had a lot of professional kitchen equipment that made me wish I had my own restaurant... sous-vide machines, crêpieres, induction cook-tops... sigh. I spent about 15 minutes daydreaming on my perfect kitchen and then moseyed on over to the food section. 

The food section in this place makes my eyes glaze over. Now, yes, when it comes to "quality vs. quantity" you would think this place would lean more toward the latter, but the only things that stood out to me as being less than worthy were a few batches of barely ripe tomatoes and some packaged frozen foods. They have a great produce section, with just about anything you might need, a meat section that is so cold you may just come out of there with frostbite if you're not wearing the right clothes, and a dry goods area that has some pretty interesting finds.

One of those interesting finds happened to be the squid ink pasta I stumbled upon while looking at the price of quinoa. I had never tried squid ink pasta before, but was always curious about it. Luckily, it wasn't one of those items you had to buy in 50 pound bags, so I picked up a single package and took it home to give it a test run. 

Quentin's dad also picked up a small bucket of crawfish tails, écrevisse, from Metro and I thought they would make a good accompaniment to the pasta.

Mise en Place

I've tested this dish two similar ways already... The first dish didn't photograph as well as I thought it would, so I wanted to test another way to see if I could make the dish better tastefully and aesthetically. My inspiration for the second dish came from a cooking lesson I watched on Rouxbe, the world's first-ever online cooking school. I came across this site from a fellow food blogger, and after browsing through a few videos using their 7-day trial, I went ahead and purchased the lifetime membership!

Note: I am a Rouxbe Cooking School affiliate partner. As part of their affiliate program, I have the power to give you a free, full-access, no-videos-barred, 14-day pass to their site. All you have to do is go to the Rouxbe Online Cooking School and redeem the 14-day Gift Membership. After the trial, you can join for as little as $15 per month; however, there is no obligation. This site is unlike any other cooking site I've seen. It gives you clear, step-by-step demonstrations as you would receive in a cooking class. I've already learned so much, and hope to improve my cooking skills via Rouxbe. It's awesome! Check it out!

So as I was browsing through videos I watched their lesson on velouté, one of the 5 mother sauces made from combining stock with a roux. 

After watching it, I adapted it to my recipe.

Squid Ink Pasta with Crawfish and Garlic Ginger Velouté

500g squid ink spaghetti pasta
1 cup of crawfish tails (you can substitute with small shrimp)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup of vegetable stock
1 cup of fish stock
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 shallots, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
white pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
1 bunch of fresh chives

In a large pot of boiling salted water, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions.

To start the velouté, first melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, garlic and ginger to the butter and sauté until the shallots have softened and become translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Then add the flour and whisk until fully incorporated. Cook the flour/butter mixture (roux) until it just starts to change color.

Slowly add the vegetable/fish stock, a little bit at a time. Whisk and let it come back to a gentle boil each time before adding more stock. Add the stock until you reach a silky-smooth consistency. Strain through a sieve or mesh strainer to remove the garlic, shallots, and ginger pieces and any remaining lumps. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

Note: The sauce may thicken slightly as it cools, so if you’re not planning to use it right away, you may need to loosen it up with a bit more hot stock before using.

If your crawfish tails are cold, you can place them in a strainer and dunk into the hot pasta water for about 15-30 seconds. Just be sure that if they are pre-cooked crawfish tails, that you do not overcook them when re-heating them.

Drain pasta in a colander. In a large bowl, add the pasta, crawfish tails, and sauce, and toss to combine. Top with freshly chopped chives. Alternatively, you can plate these individually as shown in the picture above. Serves 4.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tartine Tuesday: Cream Cheese, Green Olive, and Cracked Pepper Tartines

I have a (fairly) new obsession in my life...

Green Olives


It all started with my best friend, Dannielle's arroz con pollo, which she made for me one night while hanging out at her place. Sure, I've had arroz con pollo before; chicken, rice, garlic, saffron... I knew the basic flavors, but never had I had it with green olives. I caught myself picking and eating the olives right out of the pot. I swear to you, I never liked olives before that very moment. I always found them too salty, too briney. But there, they were the ingredient that made the dish truly sing. Literally, my mouth is watering right now just thinking about it (and D, you know it's true!). 

That one night, that one dish... it opened up a whole new section of my palette that I didn't even know existed. From that moment on I was putting olives on and in everything... deviled eggs, lentil salads, gazpacho... and not just green olives, I love them all. I've come to really love the niçoise olives here in France... something Quentin thought might be "too much olive" for me. I eat them by the handful. 

So for this Tartine Tuesday, I'll give you a painfully simple, easy, snack that always quenches my thirst for olives.

Cream Cheese, Green Olive, and Cracked Pepper Tartines

Cream Cheese, Green Olive, and Cracked Pepper Tartines

8 slices of baguette, toasted
cream cheese
green olives, pitted and sliced
freshly cracked black pepper (black pepper is key in this recipe, so make sure you use freshly cracked black pepper)

Spread cream cheese over toasted baguette slices. Crack black pepper over top of the cream cheese. Top with sliced green olives. Serves 2(or one super olive-lover like me).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tartine Tuesday (FAIL): Roasted Eggplant, Mascarpone, and Crispy Shallot Tartines

I seem to have a recurring love/hate relationship with eggplant. 


(By the way, this is a FAILED Tartine Tuesday recipe... before you all get your hopes up. Sorry!)

When I was young, I despised eggplant. I can't remember if it was the texture or the flavor... maybe it was a combination of both, but no matter how it was cooked, I couldn't stand it. You could have covered it in chocolate and I probably still wouldn't have eaten it... okay, maybe I would have. But eggplant parmesan, a classic, delicious favorite? I wouldn't touch it. 

It wasn't until just this past year or so that I started to really appreciate eggplant. It all started with my friend Elliott's baba ghanoush. Similar in texture to hummus, which I love, I figured I would give it a try to see if my dislike for eggplant was just me being a baby (pun intended). It was light, creamy, and citrus-y, not bitter and gummy like the eggplant that I remembered from my childhood. From that point on, I felt I would give eggplant a second chance, and see where the relationship lead. 

It think eggplant and I are doomed to be like one of those on-again/off-again sitcom relationships.

In my last post, we were on good terms... cut into cubes and roasted, it was delicious. Today though, a completely different story. 

A week ago I went out to dinner with Quentin and his family to celebrate his Dad's birthday. We went to L'atelier du Parc, a modern French restaurant near the Porte de Versailles in Paris. Now, I am usually one to bring my camera everywhere I go, but that night for some reason I forgot to bring a camera. I even purchased a pocket-sized point and shoot a few months ago to make sure that even on those "inappropriate for DSLR" moments, I had a camera. I am still kicking myself in the ass for it.

I won't go into the entire experience in this post... as it would take quite a long time to write it all (the dinner was amazing). I will though, give you a little bite of what lingered in my head since that night. 

Before our meal was served, the waiters brought us an amuse-bouche. In French, amuse-bouche means "mouth-amuser"... literally, one bite, given by the chef, to give you an opening experience of the restaurant and prepare you for your meal. The waiters brought the amuse-bouche of eggplant and mascarpone cheese to us in shot-glass sized tapered glasses topped with a mesclun leaf (sorry there's no picture of it, *kick*). The creaminess of the mascarpone cheese perfectly accented the eggplant, and the thought of trying to re-create the recipe lingered with me the entire week.

Eggplant, Pre-Roast

I figured it would be fairly simple; roast the eggplant, add mascarpone, top it with something crunchy... crispy fried shallots. It started out great, I roasted the eggplant, pureed it, pushed it through a sieve to make sure there were no lumps, and mixed it with the mascarpone. I sliced the shallots, tossed them in flour, and fried them to a nice brown crisp. Everything looked good, but looks can be oh-so deceiving.

Shallots, Sliced

I can only describe it as "bland baby food topped with baby onion rings". Maybe my younger years of eggplant hating karma were coming back to haunt me?! Maybe I didn't roast the eggplant long enough. Definitely too much mascarpone. Not enough salt. Should I have added garlic? Ugh. Luckily I only made enough for 1-2 servings. At least it looked nice, and it was edible.

Roasted Eggplant, Mascarpone, and Crispy Shallot Tartines

I refuse to let this failed experiment keep me from writing off eggplant from my grocery lists. I will settle the score. So far: Eggplant-1, Katrina-1. Bring it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Drunken Pasta with Roasted Eggplant and Tomatoes

Uuuuugggh... I am really not feelin' so hot today. Last night was Romain's (our friend who let us stay in his apartment for free for a month) 30th birthday party. Let's just say there was a lot of dancing to 80's music (since Romain was born in 1980), a lot of booze, and a lot of, "This is so AMERICAN!" from Romain's brother, Ben. It was tons of fun, but I woke up this morning with a bruised and throbbing finger, and I can't remember how I hurt it. Thankfully, it's not broken.


Needless to say, today I'm a little cloudy-brained.

Tomatoes, Halved

Since yesterday was my first time back to Romain's apartment since we left, and we're talking about all things drunk-related, I figured I would do a little reminiscing. I'll share with you one of the things I conjured up while we were squatting Romain's apartment. It starts with a bottle of wine... no, not to cook with (yet), to start drinking. Then there's the roasted eggplant. I threw that in the pot with some pasta, tomatoes, onions, garlic, splash of wine, and topped it all with basil and some French Comté cheese. Comté is one of the most popular cheeses in France. It is a semi-firm cow's milk cheese and has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor, much like Gruyère. By the end of it, you'll be nice and toasted (due to constant drinking of wine while cooking), but it just makes it taste that much better.

Drunken Pasta

Drunken Pasta with Roasted Eggplant and Tomatoes

3/4 lb of fusili pasta
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of red wine (I used a Côte du Rhone, but you can use any red wine you like, just make sure it's a wine you would drink)
2-3 sprigs of fresh basil
a block of Comté cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the cubes of eggplant and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss together so that all of the eggplant is coated with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes, occasionally moving pieces around so they brown evenly.

In a large pot, bring pasta water to a boil and add salt and olive oil. Once boiling, add pasta and cook until just al dente, about 2 minutes less than is directed on the package. You can strain the pasta in a colander, just make sure to save 1-2 ladles of pasta water for the end!

In large sauté pan, add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and the minced garlic. Slowly bring the temperature to medium, and once the garlic has infused the oil (about 3-4 minutes) add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent. Add 1/4 cup of red wine and bring the heat to medium-high. Add the halved cherry tomatoes and sauté until softened.

Add the roasted eggplant, pasta, and a ladle or so of the pasta water to the tomato/onion mixture (if your sauté pan is not large enough to hold everything, you can transfer it all into a large pot). Stir over medium heat for a few minutes, just to finish cooking the pasta and let the red wine and pasta water create a tasty sauce. Sprinkle some chopped basil over the hot pasta and stir to let the basil start to wilt. Top with some freshly grated Comté cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Serves 3-4.