31 October 2012

On Book Covers and Crème Brûlée

They always say "don't judge a book by its cover." As a person who loves books and anything related, I've often wondered about this. I judge books by their covers all the time, especially since I know editors pick book covers in order to say something about the book or appeal to a certain type of reader. When you know the codes, it can become pretty easy to tell if it will be to your taste or not.

I've had a version of this conversation with a caviste (wine seller) in my neighborhood. He assured me that if you know nothing about wine - or at least about any of the wines you have in front of you - choosing by the label is not a bad idea. The domain who makes the wine also chooses the label and it tells you something about their taste. For example, if they make their labels classic, he says, they probably make their wines that way too.

Not only do we judge by covers but we get attached to the outer appearance as well. On, Shelfari, a book website where people can create their own personal shelves, there are often twenty or so cover-options for a single book and you can even upload your own. I mean if you've read the book, you know what's inside. Why should the cover art matter? But it does. I recently uploaded MY cover of the edition of Le temps retrouvé. Because, yes, after starting in a moment of craziness and talking your ears off about it again and again and again, three years later, I've FINALLY finished Marcel Proust's many-volume novel. (I'm not here to go on about it, but let me just say that if I never used French again it would have been worth learning the entire language just to read Proust in the original text. Ok, melodramatic moment over.)

So why do we do it? Why do we judge "covers"? I think, because it saves time and because it's efficient. Maybe because we're often right. We know what certain things look like. We recognize them. Or we extrapolate based on given knowledge and known codes. Mind you, judging by the cover becomes MUCH less reliable when we're outside of our culture. Just go into a bookstore in another country if you don't believe me. In France, every book looks like a dense philosophical essay to me. In England, the colorful covers look like cheap chick lit.

That said, I think we have the expression because we need to be reminded that judging a book by its cover doesn't always work. It has to be a working hypothesis at best. Because life will surprise you. Sometimes things look simple from the outside and when you get closer you find them to be subtle and infinitely complex. Recipes with few ingredients are like that: Poor Man's Soup, Pesto, Shortbread, even Cucumber Salad. Culinary magic.

But the opposite is also true. Sometimes things that look complex from the outside, turn out to be straightforward and simple once you get to know them better. Crème brûlée falls into that category. It intimidated me so much that, even though I got a crème brûlée torch for my last birthday, it took me a whole year to try it out. I got a taste of the bain marie technique when I made Pot de Crème and that's really the only tricky part. Otherwise this recipe is a piece of cake - or, shall we say, a spoonful of crème brûlée?

(serves 4 or 6, depending on the size of your ramekins)

6 egg yolks
80g sugar (about 1/2 cup)
375ml (about 1 1/2 cups) heavy cream
1 vanilla pod
1 Tbsp castor sugar per ramekin

Preheat the oven to 250ºF (130ºC).
Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy.
Pour the heavy cream into a saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds out into the cream - you can throw the bean in as well - and bring to a boil.
Strain over the egg/sugar mixture. Mix well and pour into ramekins.
Place the ramekins in a large baking pan and pour boiling water into the baking pan until it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Cook for about 30 minutes until just set. Remove from the oven and take ramekins out of boiling water. Let cool, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours - overnight is best for the perfect texture.
Right before serving, sprinkle 1 Tbsp of castor sugar over the top of the custard and fire with a crème brûlée torch until sugar is evenly caramelized. If you don't have a torch, you can put your ramekins under the grill setting in the oven for a couple minutes. Watch carefully so they don't burn.
Serve immediately for the perfect warm crunchy topping with cool, creamy custard,

It's not nearly as hard as it may sound. Give it a try and enjoy one of life's surprises!

05 September 2012

Indian Spiced Eggplant with Peas

Yesterday was official "back to school day" or la rentrée here in France. I've blogged about this phenomenon before. For the past week or so people have been little by little coming back from August vacations and getting back to work routine. Businesses have been opening again, neighborhoods have been filling back up with Parisians and people have been getting together with friends they missed over the summer. Although I hit the ground running with last week's 14-hour-days full of theater rehearsals, this week marks a return to the usual routine: some babysitting, teaching a few theater classes and continuing rehearsals for this year's plays.

It's also back to making delicious food from whatever the CSA throws our way week to week. Recently, I got a bunch of eggplants, both the classic purple kind and the white kind - I can only assume this is how the veggie got its name because they actually do resemble eggs. I'm not a big fan of eggplant and neither is D. (Send your delicious recipes my way, please.) My usual response when I don't like a vegetable is to put Indian spices on it. I mean, I'll eat pretty much anything once you add cumin, turmeric and eggplant is no exception. I discovered this recipe four or five years ago on the blog Orangette and it's been my go-to eggplant recipe ever since! And to top it off, it has peas in it and I LOVE peas.

(makes about 4 servings)

2 large eggplants (or 3-4 small)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds or ground cumin
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small jalapeño, seeded (or not depending on how spicy you want it) and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 ½ Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
4 or 5 curry leaves (optional)
3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped (out of season, canned tomatoes work too)
½ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. turmeric
1 cup frozen peas
 ¾ cup chopped cilantro (I leave this out and sometimes garnish w/ chopped scallions at the end, but if you like cilantro, go for it)
1/3 - ½ cup whole-milk plain yogurt (if you're feeling fancy, you can also use cream or coconut milk. I've tried both and they're delicious variations)
Salt, to taste
Garam masala, for serving

Preheat the oven to 500° F (250ºC). Put the eggplants on in a baking dish, and pierce them all over with a fork or knife. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the skins are blackened and the eggplant is soft when pressed. Set aside to cool slightly. Then slice open lengthwise, scrape the flesh from the skin and mash coarsely. (You can do this part a day or two ahead and refrigerate it.)

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add the cumin seeds (or ground cumin) and cook until they begin to sizzle and pop, about 10 seconds. Add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and beginning to brown, about 5-10 minutes. Add the jalapeño, garlic, ginger, cayenne and curry leaves (if using) and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add the paprika and turmeric, and cook, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes. Add the eggplant and peas and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the cilantro (if using), yogurt (or cream or coconut milk), and salt.

Serve sprinkled with garam masala.

29 August 2012

Refreshing Lemon-Limeade

Today marks the first official day of a new project, a week of physically and emotionally intensive rehearsals at a theater that has basically turned the keys over to us for a week to do as we please. Yes, they're crazy. But then again so are we - and anyone who throws themselves into something they are passionate about and just trusts the universe will provide.

I guess what I'm saying is that a certain healthy level of insanity is required to live life to the fullest. Marie Forleo - inspiring business woman living out her dreams - says in this interview that ambition is always unrealistic because it hasn't happened yet. I'm paraphrasing but it's a comforting thought because it means that if your dreams and desires are not based in "reality", then you're doing something right, you're on an adventure towards changing that reality into something else.

Of course those of us that cook know all about that.  The history of cooking is full of unrealistic ambitions from "let's eat this big round red fruit of the nightshade family in the hopes it won't actually be poisonous," to "let's break down the molecules of this food, turn it into foam and serve it in a restaurant." You start with some random ingredients, or a list of constraints, or just a wild desire for something particular and off you sail out into the waters of culinary invention perhaps with a recipe or two for guidance -- or not.

In this case, I was looking for a nice before dinner drink that was cooling and non-alcoholic. Enter Lemon-Limeade. I took what looked like a super simple recipe from Food & Wine. Don't be fooled. There are few steps and no special equipment, but unless you have a juicer (I hope you do), you're going to be squeezing lots of lemons and limes by hand. However, this delicious recipe is worth it (as long as you don't have any paper cuts).

1 cup sugar (I used raw sugar, which gave the lemonade a nice rich color)
4 3/4 cups water
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
slices for garnish

In a saucepan on high heat, stir the sugar into 1 1/2 cups water until dissolved. Remove from heat BEFORE mixture comes to a boil. Pour into a pitcher and stir in 3 1/4 cups of cold water and lemon and lime juices. Refrigerate until cool. Serve over ice, garnished with lemon or lime slices. Good with appetizers before dinner or to cool off in the afternoon.

22 August 2012

Home from Vacation and Homemade Vanilla Extract

Unlike last year when my US Road Trip made the blog nearly every day, this year's vacation was shorter, much more family-filled (think fourteen people to organize for dinner every night) and involved much less culinary creativity. Then again, why get creative when you can grill every night to this sort of view.

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. However, as someone who doesn't have a grill for most of the year, I always find recipes where you need one frustrating, so I will spare you the (amazingly yummy) details and head back to recipes you can make with little or no special equipment.

I had marked this recipe on the defunct blog Antics of A Cycling Cook a few years ago (yes that's how long the turnover is in my bookmarked recipes file) and finally got sick of paying lots of money for tiny tiny bottles of vanilla extract and decided to give it a try. Hands down the easiest recipe in the world, cheap in the long run, and made my baked goods so much better. I topped it off and gave it a good shake before vacation and came back to amazing vanilla extract. I highly recommend doing it yourself!

One small bottle of alcohol 
(I used a 20cl bottle of cheap Armagnac from the supermarket. Sam used cheap vodka. Anything will do - brandy, light rum, etc - but you don't want the alcohol flavor to overpower the vanilla so I would avoid dark rum and stuff like that.)
5 vanilla beans 
(This is the expensive part but worth the investment because you can use the same beans to make lots of vanilla. Sam suggests buying vanilla beans online because it's much cheaper.)

Split the vanilla beans almost all the way down lengthwise, leaving the base intact. Put them in your chosen bottle of alcohol. Shake well and let sit in a cool, dark place for 8 weeks. Shake every once in a while. 

I just top off the Armagnac every so often and give it a shake. You can replace an old bean with a fresh one every once in a while to keep the vanilla flavor strong. Et voilà!

18 August 2012

August and Psychic Cats

Hello dear readers. I am Sir Edgar Mindreader, the mastermind and psychic. I have been studying hard since our last post. Hopie took her computer with her on vacation and we've been busy playing with the human friends she left here for us, but now that she's back and sleeping off jetlag, I psychically knew you all wanted to hear from me.
And me?
They mostly want to hear from me, Marcel. All you talk about is tuna. They don't have to be psychic to know what you're going to say.
I'll talk about something else. 
Well, if you're psychic, you tell me.
Fine. You want them to pet you.
What?? Um, no. That wasn't at ALL what I was going to say.
What were you going to say?
I don't remember.

Don't mind him. Anyway...this week there's heat wave in France and we're spending most of our time lying on the kitchen floor because it's cool.
Yea, and not cuddling like we like to do in the winter:

Not that there's anything to see out the living room window these days with everyone away for the month of August. All the shops are closed and there are hardly any passers by. I psychically predict they will start coming back next week and all return at the end of August.
Um, that happens every year.
BECAUSE I psychically KNOW it will happen.

This is my I'm-not-impressed face.
Funny, it looks like your give-me-tuna-or-I'll-meow face.
Ok, you are psychic. Now somebody give me tuna. It's hot. I need sustenance!
Dear readers, I must go back to lying on a tile floor where my psychic powers tell me I will be the coolest. I recommend you give it try. I think Hopie will be posting soon, though she's not very coherent in this heat.
Ooh, but I bet I could guilt her into giving me a cuddle anyway. It's been sooooooo long! 

Thank you to D., our official photographer.
Yes, and official human-who-pets us.

05 May 2012

Roast Pork with Rhubarb

Well it's once again the season for rhubarb to start appearing in the markets and across the blogosphere. I can't say I mind. I love the tartness that rhubarb adds to sweet recipes like these Orange-Rhubarb Scones, or to crumbles and pies with sweeter fruits that are also starting to come into season. I have to confess, that, although the days of dowries have long past in France, my wedding agreements with D. may have included a certain number of Strawberry-Rhubarb Pies to be distributed throughout the course of our lives together (meticulously calculated with an equation involving number of pies per season, average life span and other variables).

However, although my CSA seems to think that rhubarb should count as my weekly fruit, I believe rhubarb is more correctly considered a vegetable and like most vegetables, it shines when roasted. To be fair, I did not come up with this idea, but when it comes to sailing off the edge of the culinary map, there's no one I trust more to navigate than Jaime Oliver (see: my slow but steady conversion to his recipes like Wild Mushroom Soup and this Seriously Good Grilled Zucchini Salad). This recipe is surprising and absolutely delicious. Like most of Oliver's recipes, it's not hard to make and whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

(serves 4)

One bunch of fresh sage (I had to go to the three different places to get this, but I think fresh sage is so definitely worth it.)
1 clove garlic, peeled
olive oil
2 pork fillets, trimmed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 slices Parma ham or prosciutto (I used speck)
7-12 sticks of rhubarb (enough to blanket the bottom of your baking dish)

Crush a good handful of fresh sage in a pestle and mortar. Crush in the garlic and then add 5 tablespoons of olive oil. Rub this mixture all over the pork fillets.  Let marinate for an hour (if you have the time).  Preheat the oven to 425ºF / 220ºC.  Lightly season the pork with salt and pepper, and wrap 5 slices of ham/prosciutto around each fillet.  Cut the rhubarb into finger-sized pieces and place in an appropriately sized roasting tray.  Lay the pork on top of the rhubarb. (You can rub the rest of the marinade into the ham at this point if you like). Sprinkle leftover sage leaves over the dish and drizzle with olive oil.  Get a piece of wax paper, wet it and scrunch it up, lay it over the meat and tuck it in around the sides.

Cook in the preheated oven for 15 mins, remove the paper and cook for another 15 mins.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 mins.  Slice the meat at an angle in thick slices and serve with juice over the roasted rhubarb. I served this with baked potatoes drizzled with sage butter. Oh, so yum!

20 April 2012

The Attack of the Zhu Zhu Pets by Edgar and Marcel

Marcel, Marcel, wake up! Hopie's away again. We can write to our dear readers on the blog again! I bet they miss us.

Enough to pet us? Or give us tuna?
All right. Hello? Anyone there?

Yes, hello dear readership this is Mastermind Edgar.
This is Marcel!

Hopie is doing a theater writing workshop with her company's loyal audiences in the center of France...
She likes them better than us. I bet she's giving them tuna right now.

...and then taking a show to another city she calls Lyon.
Lion? She's going to pet other cats??
So we're back to update our fans.

Tell them about our new toys!
I told you Marcel, those toys are not for us. They're for our humans.
But they squeak and roll around on the floor and look good to hunt! I know they're for us.

No Marcel, they're silly human pets called Zhu Zhus.
Other pets? Competition??
Exactly, Marcel. They are not to be played with. They must be eliminated.

Like we eliminated that evil leather chair?

Yes. We ripped it to shreds to show who was boss. We will do the same with these Zhu Zhu creatures.
But Edgar...
Come to think of it, they're...kind of scary. I think I might rather curl up under the bed.

Don't be ridiculous. We must rule in this house.
Or...we could take a nap in the humans' underwear instead.

Marcel, come back here!
No! If there's no tuna, I'm taking a nap!

Marcel! Excuse me, dear readers, insubordination calls. I must go. Until next time...

13 April 2012

Mongolian Salt Tea (Guest Post by Magdalena)

My youngest sister Magdalena (aka Future Master Baker) is currently spending a semester abroad in Siberia. I know, I know, I was skeptical too but if you have a good pair of boots, it's apparently a stunning place to be. You can read all about it on her blog Voluntary Exile. One of the great things is that she gets to go to places like Mongolia for spring break! So now, here she is with a special guest post about her culinary experiences there:

Hello, readers of Hopie's Kitchen. I was recently in Mongolia, where I was lucky enough to sample some unique Mongolian dishes, so Hopie asked if I would write about it a little.

There were three Mongolia-only drinks I wanted to make a point of trying: Mongolian tea, fermented mare's milk (called airag), and Chinggis brand vodka ("Chinggis" being the more authentic Mongolian spelling of "Genghis", as in Khan). I didn't get a chance to try the second, and I can't tell you how to make the third, so I guess tea it is.

Mongolians call their tea "süütei tsai", which literally means "milk tea". I find this a bit misleading, because the key feature of the tea is not the milk. It's the salt. My host mom in Russia tells me that Mongolians drink their tea with milk and salt because the mixture provides both protein and electrolytes, which they need for long days of the nomadic herding lifestyle. However, it's popular enough to be found all over the place in Ulaanbaatar, where the closest thing to herders I saw were the policemen trying desperately to control the terrifying Mongolian traffic.

Every non-Mongolian I've met talks about this tea as something horrifying that is an "acquired taste". Maybe there's something wrong with me, because I acquired it on my second sip. I found this tea so intriguing and oddly addictive that I couldn't believe the recipe was so simple—I was sure there was something else giving it its flavor. But it's really just three ingredients.

Magdalena assures me that, yes, this is a group of yaks.

Start with some loose tea. Any black tea will do. Boil some water in a saucepan, add tea leaves, and steep to your desired tea strength.

Next, add milk. The water-milk ratio in Mongolian tea is about 1-1, so add a lot. Just tell yourself you're making yourself strong for a long day of sheep-herding.

Instead of stirring, Mongolians will take a large spoon, lift some of the mixture out of the pot, and let it splash back in. This makes the milk light and frothy. I guess you could always just stir with a whisk, but why would you do that when you can pretend to be in a Mongolian ger, making your süütei tsai over the fire?

When the mixture is starting to boil again, take it off the heat and stir in some salt. This part is tricky, because the amount of salt really makes or breaks this beverage. I tried in vain to find a recipe that provided a concrete amount, so that I would have an actual proportion to go by, but most recipes for Mongolian tea say "add salt to taste." I don't know about you, but the amount of salt I usually prefer "to taste" is none.

Just start with a little bit, and gradually add more until it hits the perfect balance. Too little salt, and you won't taste a difference at all; too much, and it will just taste salty. Just enough, and you won't even be able to tell what the unusual ingredient is—it'll just give your tea a slightly enhanced flavor.

Made right, this tea has a rich, smooth taste. "It reminds me of caramel, but without the caramel part," I remarked the first time I tried it. ("I have no idea what you're talking about," my friend responded.) It truly does add up to more than the sum of its parts, so even if you are one of the apparently many people who don't love this tea as much as I did, it's worth a try. Be a little adventurous, like Chinggis Khan, who adventured out to defeat the enemies of the Mongolian empire, or like J. Enkhjargal, the architect who decided to build a 131-foot statue of Chinggis Khan in the middle of the Mongolian steppe.

03 April 2012

Delicate Champagne Cocktail and Parmesan Tuiles

I made these champagne cocktails for a party this weekend and I am so enchanted with them that I'm using writing this post as an excuse to have another one...you know, for inspiration. So let me be inspired: there's something fruity going on with the grenadine syrup (and, especially for French people, something that reminds you a little bit of being a kid again), something smooth and sweet with the pear juice, something citrus-y and a tinge bitter with the Grand Marnier, and then something absolutely decadent with the champagne. And it doesn't have to be good quality champagne. I'm using cremant d'Alsace which is about a third of the price and just as yummy in this cocktail.

Just perfect for the beginning of party with friends, or for an after-work drink, or for a romantic evening. Delicate and fun enough to toast the warm weather and the return of spring.

Speaking of spring in Paris, even though I live in an area where winter is not too harsh and snow does not keep us inside for months at a time, spring has brought Parisians outside. They come to the parks. They sit at the outdoor tables at cafés and watch people go by. They put away their fondu pots and start thinking about lighter foods.

Simple Champagne Cocktail
(per cocktail)

1 frozen raspberry
1 Tbsp grenadine syrup
1 Tbsp pear juice
1 Tbsp Grand Marnier liqueur

Put the raspberry in the bottom of the glass. Measure the grenadine and Grand Marnier on top and then pour champagne over it until the glass is full. It layers prettily but the taste is better when you stir it (carefully so the champagne doesn't bubble over).

These Parmesan tuiles (a sort of thin appetizer wafer) are also perfect for spring parties. Not to mention, they go perfectly well with this champagne cocktail. So, since I've been a lazy blogger lately, this time you get two recipes in one post.

Parmesan Tuiles
(makes a good plateful)

25g of flour
100g of Parmesan
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 Tbsp sesame seeds

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Heat a frying pan on medium heat. When hot, spoon about 1 Tbsp of mixture into the pan and spread thin, almost like a tiny pancake. You can probably do this three or four times in the pan until you run out of space. The Parmesan will melt and when it seems all melty on one side, carefully flip the tuile and cook it on the other side, all in all only a couple minutes. Remove from frying pan and let cool on a rolling pin to give them a nice curved shape. Repeat until you've used all the Parmesan mixture.

Happy spring parties! And happy Easter!

14 March 2012

Lyon and Bernachon

This weekend D. and I did a good deed. We helped a friend who just moved this year to a new city celebrate a birthday. Did it hurt that this friend is a foodie and that the new city was Lyon, a city known for its gastronomy? Well, no. Ok, full confession: we spent the weekend eating. The birthday girl was happy and so were we!

I won't go into all the different kinds of food we came across (the amazing charcuteries and the patisseries and the divine smells in the streets and the typical bouchons lyonnais), though it's all worth mentioning, but I can't help sharing pictures of our birthday tea stop.

Bernachon is a chocolaterie and patisserie about which we had heard many good things. Their boutique is a shop on one side and a salon de thé on the other. We arrived around 3pm, which was just perfect because it was after lunch and before the tea rush. We were seated right away and the staff was pleasant and available.

Being the conscientious foodies that we are, we had to sample a maximum and so we got tea (small but good-quality selection), hot chocolate (amazingly smooth, chocolaty and creamy), the assortment of warm savory petits-fours AND the assortment of sweet petits-fours and then split everything three ways: a festival of tastes! The birthday girl finished off with the largest, most dense (and yet delicious) macaron I've ever seen, which she ate on and off for the rest of day!

All in all a very successful weekend!

21 February 2012

Split Pea Soup with Cumin Seeds

The common cold: exciting side effect of temperatures changes, bane of modern medicine, butt of this telling joke...

A man went to see his doctor because he was suffering from a miserable cold. His doctor prescribed some pills, but they didn't help. On his next visit the doctor gave him a shot, but that didn't do any good. On his third visit the doctor told the man to go home and take a hot bath. As soon as he was finished bathing he was to throw open all the windows and stands in the draft. "But doc," protested the patient, "if I do that, I'll get pneumonia." "I know," said his physician. "I can cure pneumonia."

Luckily my doctor prescribed rest and supplements for my immune system rather than pneumonia, so I immediately came home and made chicken soup. I made the stock directly with a whole chicken so the meat would get falling-off-the-bone-tender, then made the soup with onions, carrots, celery, and lots of garlic, parsley and some fresh ginger added near the end for the maximum in vitamin strength. I definitely recommend it if you're under the weather (even better if you can get someone else to make it for you)!

Only in France would a baker sign his bread like a Picasso!

I've been trying a new kind of soup pretty much every week these days. Latest in this delicious craze has been Heidi's amazing Vegetarian Split Pea Soup. This is one of those recipes that's insanely cheap, insanely easy to make and insanely delicious. (Check out 101 Cookbooks in general for more of those kinds of recipes. Heidi's good at them!) I added cumin seeds to this soup and I think the flavor worked well.

serves 2-3 people

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
a pinch of sea salt
a pinch of cumin seeds
1 cup dried split peas
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1-2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (you can reserve the zest for garnish if you love lemon)
a few pinches of paprika
more olive oil to drizzle

Heat olive oil in a pot over med-high heat. Stir in onions and salt and cook a couple minutes, until the onions are soft but not brown. Add the split peas and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the peas are cooked through but not mushy (about 20 minutes).

Using a cup measure, put about 1/2 cup of the soup aside. Puree the rest of the soup. Stir the reserved soup back into the puree. This technique gives the soup a little bit of texture. Stir in the lemon juice and season to taste.

Serve in bowls drizzled with olive oil and topped with paprika and a bit of lemon zest.

03 February 2012

Bayonne Ham Sandwich with Roquefort and Apple

A cold snap here has left Parisians shivering in their fashionable coats and reaching for their leather gloves. Yesterday the metro was slowed because of ice and people are generally at a lost as to how to keep warm. I am in my winter happy place. Ok, so it's in the low 20s and windy, but it's finally sunny! No rain boots, no more mid-season jacket. I finally have on my winter coat and the cute hat I bought in Bryant Park when I was in NYC over Christmas. When I wake up, the sun is rising and sending all sorts of beautiful colors across the sky. I'm onstage until the end of February and rehearsing two other shows. I play soccer every afternoon with kids I babysit for fun and exercise. Right now, life is good.

I've been trying to make all of my meals at home these days, even when they need to be simple and quick. When I absolutely have to eat on the run, I bring something with me. I gave up on buying sandwiches that are more expensive and not nearly as good as mine, and started having fun with all sorts of variations. This is one of my recent favorites.

Bayonne Ham Sandwich with Roquefort and Apple

French bread
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Two slices Bayonne ham or prosciutto
2 Tbsp Roquefort (or other blue) cheese
4 thin slices of apple (I used golden delicious)
fresh ground pepper

I know you all know how to make a sandwich, but just for the sake of being thorough...
Spread the mustard on the bread. Lay on the ham/prosciutto, Roquefort and apple slices. Grind pepper to taste. Close sandwich and eat!

22 January 2012

Tomato Red-Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk

Look at me! Finally a free moment for blogging!
Traveling over Christmas break and then hitting the ground running in January with a new show going up next week has turned me into a terrible delinquent blogger. I haven't been reading blogs or responding to comments or posting new recipes. All I can say is thank you for your forbearance and I look forward to doing some catching up.

Winter is in full swing in Paris and my rain boots are getting lots of wear. I swear, if I had known cute rain boots were the secret to avoiding seasonal depression here, I would have bought them years ago (I'm telling you, fellow Parisians, get cute rain boots)! Weather was similar over Christmas in the US, but there were long walks in nature to counter any doldrums. Back in the city, a heavy work schedule hasn't really left time for doldrums either, but on those days when even my rain boots or my new blue and pink wool cape can't perk up the grey weather, there's always food!!

I don't know about you, but after the excesses of Christmas with the family (I'm not going to even think about the quantity of wine and cheese ingested, but man was it good), I've been going for warm, light meals this past month. Soups like classic Potato-Leek and Hearty Quinoa Stew have been favorites on the table, but I also love trying new soups in winter and this one, based on this recipe from the wonderful Art, Food and Travel Chronicles is definitely a winner.

3 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)

About 5 fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup red lentils

1 Tbsp cumin

2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup coconut milk

salt, pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the shallots, garlic and red pepper flakes.

Saute it for a few minutes, until soft and then add the tomatoes. Let it simmer for 5-8 minutes.
Add the lentils, cumin and vegetable stock. Bring to boil and then let it simmer for about 45 minutes.

Putting aside maybe 1 cup of the soup, purée the remaining and then put back on the stove along with the cup of soup you put aside. Add the coconut milk and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.