Monday, February 28, 2011

KCC Challenge: Salabat (Filipino Ginger Brew)

I'm feeling a little bittersweet today. Here I am on the last leg of February with this month's Kulinarya Cooking Club Challenge. Brought to us by Pia from Inato Lang Filipino Cuisine and More, this month's theme is to create a February-Valentine's-Aphrodisiac Filipino recipe. I've known this whole month what I was going to make. Before I left to come to Paris, I scanned a bunch of Filipino recipes from my mom's favorite cookbooks. After browsing through the recipes, I came across Salabat, a Filipino Ginger Brew. It's a seductive infusion of spicy fresh ginger and sweet brown sugar. I've never actually had this drink before, but ginger + brown sugar? Sounds good to me. Ginger is an aphrodisiac, right? I think so.


Now, I'm not one to post a recipe without at least giving a little backdrop to set the scene, but today, I just am not channeling the aphrodisiac vibe. 

My Valentine's Day was sweet, and just what I wanted; no fuss, just some quality huggle-time with my man. But for the rest of the month, I've been struggling - pretty unsuccessfully - with some serious winter blues. I won't go into detail, but I'll just say that being born and raised in sunny-all-the-time Florida doesn't prepare you - in any way, shape, or form - for a long, cold, gray winter in Paris. I've been trying to stay afloat by eating more healthily, testing my hand (and mouth) at bright, vitamin C-boosting recipes like my Blood Orange and Green Olive Tartines and Blood Orange, Fennel, & Rouget en Papillote. I think I saw the sun a total of 2 days this month, in which I made a serious effort to soak up as much vitamin D as I possibly could. It didn't help much.

And on top of it all, I've been sick these past three days. I've been able to fly by most of the winter without the catching the inevitable flu, but seems as my luck has caught up with me. So, being sick + winter blues = me going a little cuckoo. Yesterday was the accumulation of it all, and whatever emotions that had been brewing in my brain all winter had finally reached the boiling point and exploded onto Quentin. Sorry, babe... but I think I'm a little bit better now. 

The weather forecast for this week shows more suns than clouds, so I'm optimistic. I'm continuing to remedy myself with lots of water, rest, and this little brew that not only soothes my throat, but also lifts my spirits. 


... and if you're not sick, this might lift a little more than just your spirit... *wink* *wink*

Salabat (Filipino Ginger Brew)

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 cup of water

Using an electric kettle or small saucepan, heat water until boiling. Pour into a mug and add brown sugar. Stir until completely dissolved.

Place the grated ginger inside a tea infuser or tea strainer, and steep in the mug for 10-15 minutes.

Serve hot. Makes one serving.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Testing My French Cooking Skills: Filets de Rouget en Papillote

Yesterday I tested my skills at cooking en papillote. The French term literally translates to "in parchment", and refers to a method of cooking where food is placed into a folded pouch or pocket and baked. As I was cleaning out the fridge (something I love to do), I noticed I had one last blood orange, half a bulb of fennel, and some fresh filets de rouget (red mullet fillets).

Blood Oranges

Rouget en Papillote

I fumbled around on the internet a bit and came across Gordon Ramsay's recipe for none other than Red Mullet with Blood Orange and Fennel en Papillote. Perfect, right? So I made it for lunch.

Rouget en Papillote

The recipe was pretty easy to make, except for the fact that I need to work on my pouch folding skills. I'm not posting a photo of them because honestly, they looked pretty ghetto. 

The subtle flavors of anise and citrus complimented the delicate flavor of the rouget without overpowering it. The end result was simple and refreshing, and my plate looked like a sunset.

Rouget en Papillote

On to the next challenge! 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tartine Tuesday: Honey Drizzled Beets with Lemon-Tarragon Goat Cheese Tartines

I never thought I would like beets. Even just recently I made a comment to Quentin about how they aren't my favorite thing... and how I never really liked them. But this year I'm attempting to give a second chance all those things I loathed as a food-ignorant adolescent.

Bloody Beeting Heart

Turns out (unsurprisingly) that there are a lot of things I didn't like back then that I love now... red wine, olives, black pepper (freshly cracked of course). Don't even get me started on cheese. I actually refused to eat cheese unless it was bright yellow, square shaped, and wrapped in individual clear plastic sheets. I'm so glad I grew out of that phase.

I gave beets a second shot. Hell, I was basically dreaming of this recipe in my sleep last night.

I roasted the bloody beauty and paired it with tangy goat cheese, lemon zest, and my new favorite herb; tarragon. The tart, fresh goats cheese balances beautifully with the earthy sweetness of the beets. The lemon zest brightens up all the flavors and the tarragon adds a woodsy licorice note that makes my knees weak. Damn, I love tarragon. A little sweet drizzle of honey at the end took it right over the top.

Honey Drizzled Beets with Lemon-Tarragon Goat Cheese Tartines

These tartines are bloody delicious.

Honey Drizzled Beets with Lemon-Tarragon Goat Cheese Tartines

6 slices of bread, toasted
1 medium sized beet (uncooked & with the skin on)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pinch of large grain sea salt
200 grams fresh goat's cheese
1 sprig of fresh tarragon (or roughly 2 pinches of whole dried tarragon leaves), chopped
zest of 1 small lemon
honey, to taste
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

To Roast the Beet:

Beet Pre-Roast 

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit (205° Celsius). 

Rub the beet with vegetable oil and sea salt. 

Place in a roasting pan with about an inch of water in the bottom and cover with aluminum foil. Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until a knife slides easily into the beet.

Remove from the oven and let cool before peeling. Once cooled, peel and slice into a medium dice or bite-sized pieces.

To Make the Lemon-Tarragon Goat Cheese Spread:

Lemon-Tarragon Goat Cheese Spread

In a bowl, mix together the goat cheese, tarragon, and lemon zest until combined. Add freshly cracked pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and place into the refrigerator until the beet is cooled and prepped.

Spread goat cheese mixture on toasts and top with the roasted beet. Drizzle honey on top. Serves 2.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Side Trip: Luxembourg - Luxembourg City

I'm about 3 months behind at finishing my three-part "Side Trip: Luxembourg" series. Whoops. I've been a little sidetracked; with a couple months of back-to-back deadlines, the holidays, and a bit of the winter blues, I seemed to let the most important part of my trip to Luxembourg slip right through the cracks.

This is the 3rd and final component in my Luxembourg travels, which covers the capital of this perplexing and enchanted country, Luxembourg City. And it's a long one. Better late than never, right?

After our 2 day stay in Vianden, and our day trip to Echternach, my dad and I spent the remainder of our Luxembourg journey in the country's capital, Luxembourg City. Living here for a summer when he was (roughly) my age, it had been 40+ years since my dad had been back. I could tell he was excited as ever. I've heard countless stories of how he lived above a bar, coming home from work with a baguette tucked underneath his arm and a string of sausages flung over his shoulder... How he navigated his way down treacherous basement openings delivering armfuls of Coca-Cola, the stair treads almost completely worn away from decades of use. The thing I loved most was how he described the city, a seemingly fairytale description that you had to see to believe.

River-cut gorges and food lover's dream gardens...

Luxembourg City

If only I had a garden like this...

Streets so narrow you could stand in the middle and touch the buildings on either side.

Luxembourg City

Buildings that looked like castles, and castles that looked like, well, castles... stone bridges spanning the valley... and some of the most breathtaking views imaginable.

Pont Adolph

He wasn't exaggerating.

The easiest way to get to Luxembourg City from Paris is by train. With the lightning fast speed of the TGV, you can make it in under 2 1/2 hours. The train station drops you in the center of the city, where you can easily get your bearings and start exploring.

Know before you go: Luxembourg City is a town on two levels. Be prepared to do some serious up and down hiking. I am 26, and have never felt pain in my knees (going downhill, mind you) like I did on that trip. Comfy shoes (and stretching) are a must.

We stayed at the Hostelling International Youth Hostel, which is located in the Pfaffenthal/Clausen quarter of the city. Having a very positive experience with the HI Youth Hostel in Vianden, we thought we would give the Lux City hostel a shot. Getting to the hostel from the train station can be achieved (inexpensively) in one of two ways; by bus or by foot. Going to the hostel is easy on foot, as it is all downhill. You can get a city map from the information office at the train station to make sure you don't get lost along the way. Coming back though, I would 100% recommend taking the bus. Trudging uphill with heavy luggage and a deadline to catch the train can make for an uncomfortably sweaty ride back home.

The hostel was warm and welcoming. Fully equipped, this place has a bar, restaurant, free wi-fi, ping-pong tables, free breakfast, and very helpful staff. For the money and the ambiance, it is worth the tiresome morning hikes up to the Ville-Haute (high-city). After a full day of walking we spent the early afternoons lounging outside on the deck, watching other backpackers playing ping-pong. We ended most of our nights with a cold pint of beer and some delicious grub from the hostel bar.


Here are a few of the places we went (all easily walkable, just make sure you have a map that distinguishes the different levels of the city):

MUDAM (Musée d'art moderne Grand-Duc Jean) - Located in the Kirchberg quarter in the north-east, the modern art museum sits high upon a plateau overlooking the city. The modern building, designed by I.M. Pei (the architect who designed the Pyramids at the Louvre) is intertwined with historical Fort Thüngen. It is a beautiful contrast between old and new, stone and metal.

I.M. Pei's MUDAM

MUDAM Exterior

Underground Restrooms

David Zink Yi

From the interior, the building itself is almost more impressive than the art collection. The stone-relief handrails were pretty freakin' sexy (if I do say so myself), and the windows seemed to be placed in such a way that you would think they were framing a piece of art.

Stair Rail

Fall Colors

Place Guillaume II -  The town square in the heart of the Ville-Haute quarter. The center of town, and where you can find good shopping, the tourist information office, and really clean public restrooms!

Luxembourg City
Palais Grand-Ducal (Grand-Ducal Palace) - The official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and a pretty impressive building. Also located in the Ville-Haute quarter, it's amusing to watch the tourists taking pictures with the on-duty Palace Guard, making his rounds and never once cracking a smile.

Palais Grand-Ducal

Ducal Palace Guard

The Grund - Literally translated, "The Ground", this quarter of the city is quite a romantic area of town. Ivy-coated houses line the river's edge as it winds through the lower level of the city. It's a great place to spend the day weaving through the narrow streets and picturesque parks. I also heard there's some great nightlife once the sun goes down.

The Grund

The Grund

A few of the things we wanted to do were closed for the cooler months, like walking through the casements, a network of underground tunnels spanning 23 kilometers throughout the city. What we did get to see was wonderful, and with the lack of tourists, made walking through the other parts of town much more enjoyable.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Pretty Sweet Valentine's Day...

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (P.S.)

I woke this Valentine's afternoon (yes, I slept in a little today... hehe) to the sound of Quentin baking in the kitchen, and a sweet gesture from two of my food blogging compatriots, Kate @ The Food Hound and Annie @ Second Helpings! They nominated me for the Stylish Blogger Award, and I can't be any more flattered! Thanks so much girls!

Following the guidelines of the "Stylish Blogger Award" recipient, here goes 7 things you may not know about me... 

1. About 4 years ago, I couldn't cook to save my life. I couldn't hold a chef's knife without fear of lopping off one of my fingers. I was still in college, where my daily sustenance consisted of Ramen Noodles and Taco Bell. Yum. After numerous barbecues of black(not blackened), charred-to-a-crisp salmon fillets (Dannielle, you know what I'm talking about) I started to test the waters with more simple basics like macaroni & cheese, chicken adobo, and grilled cheese sandwiches. 

My slight obsession with cooking started after a certain melange of flavors went terribly wrong. You see, my boyfriend, Quentin, is a great "put everything in the pot and it always comes out delicious" kind of cook. I, on the other hand, am not. Trying to mimic his carefree tossing of this and that into a dish, I concocted a... I think it was pasta... dish consisting of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, worcestershire, and about 10 other flavors that ultimately lead to a reaction of "Um... yeah, not your best dish..." It was horrible. From then on I pushed myself to become a better cook.

2. If I could do it all over again, I'd be a potter. I have to give thanks to my Dad, which is where my innate attraction to clay began. Himself being an avid potter in his younger years, I remember growing up, having my jungle gym consist not of swings and slides, but of a kick wheel, glaze tiles, and stacked buckets of slip. This all didn't connect until I was in college, when my then-boyfriend signed me up for a pottery class in our student union. I immediately fell in love with the clay... the way it took me out of my head, the way the movement of the clay felt beneath my fingers. I was hooked. 

I ultimately spent an extra year in college to get a minor in ceramics under my academic belt. I spent the beginning of each semester in the office of the head of the art department, begging to be put into an already full ceramics class. My most influential teacher, Jeremy Colbert, who I studied with for over two years, taught me more than just technique, but how to understand the clay. I truly miss those years.

Cone 10

Cone 10

Cone 10

Raku Fired

Raku Fired

3. I have one of the strangest cats I know. When people first meet Bruzer, I often hear comments like, "He looks like an Egyptian cat" or, "He doesn't look like other cats." It not just his looks. This cat eats plastic bags, yet runs like the wind if you shake one at him. He can hold full on conversations with you if he's "feeling chatty" that day. He loves to taste test whatever I cook... unless there's citrus in it. And he bit me in the eyeball while I was asleep. Twice. Luckily no damage was done. But I still love him.

Lazy Bum



4. My passion for photography started while I was living in Italy. I spent a summer abroad in Florence, studying drawing and exploring my love of travel. My roommate, Courtney, also studied abroad with me. She was much more into photography, and I remember her filling an entire suitcase with rolls of film and her looking at me and asking, "Do you think that will be enough?" 

For the trip, I bought myself my first digital camera, a Canon A95, after reading countless numbers of reviews to make sure I got the camera I really wanted. I was more accustomed to the plastic disposable cameras (do they still make those?) that made that unforgettable *ting* when you pressed the shutter button, so a digital camera was a new endeavor for me. Boy, did it change me. From then on, I had no urge to buy cheap souvenirs for which to remember my trips and vacations. My photos were my souvenirs.

Italy 2005

Italy 2005

Italy 2005

Italy 2005

Italy 2005

Italy 2005

Italy 2005

Italy 2005

Italy 2005

Italy 2005

5. I'm 1/2 Filipino, and 1/2 American. But I can't count to 10 in Tagalog. I'm working on that though!

6. I am anally meticulous about things being straight. Probably due to my interior design background, where my professors would start our day with drawing hundreds of straight lines "just to warm up", I'm now able to align things almost always without the need of a ruler or level. This can be an annoyingly picky trait, as even the slightest unevenness feels like Chinese water torture.

7. I'm not much of a reader. I've straight out told people, "I can't read" when they try to offer me that great book they just finished reading. I don't know if it is because I don't have the time, or if my attention span is more like that of a... SQUIRREL! ... dog, but I seem to have a hard time reading most books from start to finish. It's not that I don't want to... there are certainly a number of books I would love to dive into. I've read the first 1/4 of Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about 5 times, but can never seem to get any further. Ultimately, there have only been a few that have crossed the finish line; Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris, and Timothy Ferriss' The 4-Hour Work Week.




So now to pass on the torch, I am to nominate 15 other deserving bloggers of my choice. Here goes:

Tiffany from 920 Photography
Melissa from Prête-Moi Paris
Shannon from Je ne sais quoi
Dahlia from Energetic Chef
Maribel from Food Geek's Diary
Jen from Jen at Work
Erika from The Ivory Hut
Trisha from Sugarlace
Roberta from La Roquette
Stacey from Stacey Snacks
The Couple from City Share


Oh, and by the way, Quentin was baking this: 

Banana Bread with Blood Orange and Chocolate Chunks

Banana Bread with Blood Orange and Chocolate Chunks

My Valentine's Gift

YUM. :) Happy Valentine's Day Everyone!