Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tisane - Infusion

To combat the cold and to bring some inner comfort, I've been brewing lots of infusions lately, in many different variations.

There is no specific recipe, per se - I use what I have on hand.  We tend to have boxes of freshly dried herbs around our apartment - see photo below.   The verbena here is from last summer when it was abundantly available.  You'll find mint, parsley & sage there as well.

If you happen to have fresh herbs on hand, go ahead & use them -  they would even be preferable.  But recently dried herbs are pretty amazing, too.  And by recent, I'm talking about something you've dried yourself within the last 12 months.  I encourage everyone to dry their own herbs if you have access to good quality fresh bouquets (more on drying herbs in another post). 

My favorite infusion lately is this (with the optional honey & lemon juice):

Infusion in the pot:
2-4 dried sage leaves
Small bunch of dried verbena leaves
a dried mint leaf
A small piece of star anise (usually a broken bit;  a whole star is too intense)
Lemon peel (washed, or oranic is better; no pith) - optional if using lemon juice below
Small piece of a cinnamon stick
A couple of cardamom seeds (not the pods, but the black seeds inside)
Half a piece of a dried vanilla bean pod (previously used for its grains)

Extra Add-ons (Optional...but highly recommended!):
1/2 - 1 soup spoon of honey (or to taste)
A small spoonful of lemon juice

What I do:  Place all the dried ingredients into my little black tea pot which I absolutely love.  Add boiling water (medium hot boil, if that makes sense...) and let steep for 6 minutes.  I find 6 minutes is long enough, but frankly the timing depends on how intense you like it.  Logically, more time will give a stronger flavor; less time = less flavor!  As with everything I do, I taste it to see if I like it.  When it's done infusing, I pour it into my 2 mugs that already have honey and lemon juice in it.  Stir to blend.  Enjoy!

This one is simply sage, verbena, mint and star anise pod.
One of my boxes of dried herbs
The infusion with honey & lemon - it gets cloudy like this!  It tastes better than perhaps it looks!  ;)
The infusion "naturelle" - no honey & no lemon, for when you don't want extra sugar intake.
If you don't have these particular ingredients on hand, why not play around with your own ingredients to find the taste you like?  I refrain from putting too much star anise in the mix (even if I do adore it).  What I strive for is to have a little bit of each taste present.  Interestingly enough, I first taste the lemon & honey, and this is followed by all of the other herbs & spices - just delicately so.

This tea pot makes it easy to experiment with different variations - I love it for that and because it  keeps the infusion nice & warm. 

At any rate, this is a great, caffeine-free way to help stay hydrated in the winter...aren't we supposed to drink 1.5 liters of water each day?  Something like that...


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Happy New Year!

Here in France, it's perfectly acceptable to send New Year wishes throughout the month of January.  I love how it doesn't have to be done before end of the holidays...isn't that obvious?!  So, here's my wishing the world more peace, less hunger, more security, more sanity, higher employment, happiness all around, "stable" weather, less consumption & waste, and greater tolerance. 

Imagine all the people living life in peace
...And the world will be as one...

May this new year nudge us a little closer to "one".   

(I stand by that thought no matter how the new year has started.)

Happy 2013,

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Favorite Mediterranean Flavors

Take a look at this mezze plate:

From top left (clockwise):  eggplant, chick pea purée, tabouli, white cheese with mint, another scoop of tabouli
I love, love, love these flavors!  Especially when you can mop it up with Lebanese style flat bread.  And yes, that's extra olive oil poured on top...a must!

What's interesting about the eggplant "mash" (that's what I'll call it) is it's texture.  Here in France, a variety of it is made and called "caviar d'aubergine".  The texture is all about smoothness (or so I was taught).  I like this rustic, highly textured variety - made especially interesting with the addition of red peppers, herbs and onions.  It was tangy, smokey, slightly spicey and full of eggplant goodness.  I just love how the color stays so light & refreshing.

Now, look at the tabouli.  Notice how different the tabouli pictured here is from the other tabouli we have come to know and love.  Here, it is all about the parsley, then tomatoes, a bit of mint, and finally, you see there is a small bit of bulgur.  Perhaps this looks unappealing (it doesn't grab me visually, I will admit), however, whatever it lacks in looks, it more than makes up for in taste!  It is a must try.  I will start to do some recipe testing because I am now an addict and the habit is too expensive to support on the market! 

For the chickpea purée:  it is much creamier compared to "normal" hummus.  This one had a more pronounced taste of tahini (sesame seed paste) than I am accustomed to.  Very miam (that's french for yum")!

The last item here is "fromage blanc" (white cheese).  Fromage blanc, I admit, still puzzles me a little.  From where I come from, there is no such thing as fromage blanc.  Perhaps the closest we get in the US is cottage cheese, but it's completely smooth here!  It reminds me of a thicker greek yoghurt.  Anyway, no matter how I try to describe the texture, I can say that the taste is pure delight!  The added mint brings a refreshing aspect to the dip.

A take-away portion for 2 people:  30€ (including the bread which only cost 0.70 centimes!).  

I will report back with any success on the parsley tabouli and eggplant "mash"!  And I hope you have a chance to try these things.  You can find them at most open-air food markets in Paris, and at specialty middle east "traiteurs" (caterers).  And baguettes work just fine in case you don't have that flatbread...


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Today in the Kitchen - Summer's Market Menu

Today was a day to reconnect with someone who took one of my market tours/cooking lessons/lunches last September.  We had an absolutely great time last year visiting Marché Président Wilson, stuffing chicken, making a Hollandaise sauce (ha! inside joke...) & such, her first visit to Paris.  Having fallen in love with this city as many of us do, she is now here on her 2nd adventure.

And so we teamed up again today in the kitchen.  This time we didn't concentrate solely on French cuisine as we had last year.  Anything was fair game.  The only criterion was that it had to be interesting to us and to our potential clients (she also caters).  We decided to do something very French (leeks & vinaigrette), something downright out of the blue (Halloumi, anyone?), and then Pad Thai...because of the love of it and to knock it off the "never cooked before" list.     

Here are today's creations in the kitchen:
Jeaunes poireaux, vinaigrette de noix et citron, oeuf dur râpé
Baby leeks, walnut & lemon vinaigrette, grated egg
Halloumi frit, tomates dété (Joël Thiebault), vinaigrette aux herbes
Fried Halloumi (cheese sticks), summer tomatoes, herb vinaigrette
Pad Thai aux crevettes - Shrimp Pad Thai
My thoughts on these recipes:
  1. The leeks are really nice because tasting a baby leek is interesting in and of itself.  It is something to enjoy while in season, and now is the time.  They are soft and gentle and you can eat most, if not all, of the green part.  (With older leeks, you use only the white parts).   This first course is completely subtle (unlike the other two "in your face" dishes on today's menu)...but sometimes subtle is great.  For a multi-course tasting menu, this would be a stellar beginning...
  2. That Halloumi has become my favorite new thing.  Bye-bye preserved lemon.  You've just been replaced (only momentarily though!).  I can't describe how satisfying this dish is.  It has texture.  It has flavor.  It has color.  Ace in the bucket.  Man oh man.  Can't wait to share this with other willing takers -- you must simply trust what I say!  For any Chicagoans out there, however, if you like'll understand immediately what I'm talking about and I know you will love this.  That's all I have to say.
  3. Authentic Pad Thai - the secret is in the sauce & the organization.  It is comforting and full of contrasting flavors and textures (sweet, salty, tangy, spicy, crunchy, soft...).   I don't expect many customers will request this on their menus since you can go to just about any restaurant and get a great Pad Thai, but I will for sure be repeating this for my husband and friends...très, très souvent!  (But I secretly hope people will order is amazing!)
:/ dma

Friday, December 2, 2011


Here's a cocktail that is both beautiful and intoxicating, so be careful - they are so nice looking and festive, that you might forget to sip!

We once offered Crantinis at a dinner party as a pre-dinner cocktail.  Almost half of our 11 guests were french, and none of them took up the offer.  Not even interested.  They went for the Champagne.  I'm not saying that that says anything, I'm just saying that that is the way it was.  (That's a lot of "thats" in one sentence, isn't it...and my old english teacher must be cringing wherever he is...).  Four of us did go for it, however.  Three American gals & one Irish guy.  He said something like, an Irishman would never turn down an offer for a drink....neither could the Americans apparently! 

 So, here's how I make them:

Enough for 2 drinks

2 shots vodka
1 shot cranberry juice extract (fresh cranberries that are put through a juicer)
splash of lemon
1 shot of simple syrup* (optional)
Lots & lots of ice cubes - as many as will fit in your martini shaker

* simple syrup = putting equal quantities of water and sugar in a pan and warming it until the sugar melts.  Make as much or as little as you need.

Yes, I shake mine.  Always.  So, that's it:  add all ingredients to the cocktail shaker & shake it up, baby.  Keep shaking.  Maybe put a towel on the shaker because it's going to get good & cold.  Keep shaking.  Water from the melted ice that you've been shaking will dilute the drink a bit (definitely in a good way).  Then pour a little & taste.  Is it good?  Do you like it?  If not, now's the time to rectify it.  Add a little more cranberry juice or more simple syrup....or maybe more vodka?  I certainly won't judge... 

I actually prefer it on the dry side rather than sweet, but everyone might not agree with me on this.  I added freshly juiced cranberry juice because we didn't have any bottled cranberry juice in stock but did have an extra bag or two of cranberries in the freezer.  That made the cranberry juice natural, without added sugar, and by default, it turned out Crantinis on the dry side. 

Don't you just love the little bubbles?  I only added this picture because of that....and the brilliant red color which I swear is only possible if you use freshly juiced cranberry juice...

This drink is smooth, tart, acidic, and has a hint of vodka.  Bon dégustation.  Hope you enjoy. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tarte Fine à la Tomate & Moutarde

Tomato & Mustard Puff Pastry Tart

The tail end of summer is winding down fast.  Here's an easy tart to pull together that uses the last summer tomatoes you may have on hand.  This makes a great lunch when served with a salad, packs well for picnics or makes nice appetizers if cut into bite-size pieces.

200-230g / 7-8 oz puff pastry (either fresh, or frozen that has been thawed)
5-6 ripe tomatoes, sliced thinly and seeded
about 2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
about 1/3 - 1/2 cup of grated gruyère or swiss cheese
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
herbs de provence, to taste
chopped sun dried tomatoes (optional)
1 tablespoon capers (optional)

It's so easy, that you can practically follow the pictures to understand how to do it:

  1. I used a 26 cm / 10 inch glass pie pan - I buttered the bottom before laying out the puff pastry dough inside. Make a decorative edge by pinching the sides with your figures (we'll just call it rustic then).  You could also make this in a rectangular shape or cut into small individual circles.  Use a sheet of parchment paper underneath in these cases.  Dock the dough; rest in fridge until needed.
  2. Preheat oven to 200°C /400°F (I used convection).
  3. Cut your tomatoes thinly and seed them.  Coat with olive oil.  Set aside until needed.
  4. Spoon the mustard on the bottom of the puff pastry dough.
  5. Sprinkle with cheese.  Just a thin layer is enough.  This isn't really about the cheese, it's all about the tomato.  Sprinkle sun dried tomatoes over the cheese (if using).
  6. Place the sliced tomatoes in a rosary pattern around your tart, on top of the cheese.  You could even cut them in half again to get a tighter pattern. I didn't do that today, but when I do, it looks really nice.
  7. Season well with salt, pepper and herbs de Provence (or substitute with rosemary, thyme).  Sprinkle a little more chopped sun dried tomato and capers, if using.
  8. Bake in oven about 20 minutes, or until nicely browned on the  top, side and bottom (the advantage of the glass is that you can actually see it).  The tomatoes should be cooked down a bit & there shouldn't be liquid left from the tomatoes. 
  9. Remove from oven and let rest about 15 minutes.  Can be served room temp or slightly warmed but I find that it's not as good if served piping hot out of the oven.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Bye Bye Bali...Back to Paris

It's been forever since I've was in Bali and returned to Paris.   Since end of April in fact.  Don't know what happened here.  Time seems to have just evaporated, like it tends to do. The year has been busy with several events, private dinners, cooking lessons and the such, but also with lots of visitors.

OK, so that's my way of explaining why I haven't been around much.  "Stuff" has been happening.  Oddly enough, it's not as easy to restart as I thought.  The longer the break, the more difficult it is. 

The good news is that I've been cooking up a storm this year...!

Anybody still out there?  (I hope, I hope!)