Monday, March 31, 2008

Tasty Tools: a blogging event!

After a few months of blogging, I decided it was time for an important accomplishment in the food blogging world-- my first blogging event. Joelen is an awesome girl I first met on The Nest cooking message board, and since she also lives in Chicago I have gotten to meet her a couple times. She's hosting her first blog event this month, and it is hopefully going to become a monthly event. The event is Tasty Tools, and the first month's tool is the microplane.

I've had my microplane for a few months now, and it is amazing how much easier it makes grating and zesting. I use it for all my citrus zesting, but decided to go with a different approach for this event. I used the microplane to grate some chocolate to complement the pear in my french dessert: pear claufoti.
I learned to make this when I was in Paris, and it was so easy and tasty that I had to make it again as soon as I was home. I found beautiful pears at the grocery store, and used the Tcho chocolate I won on Blake Makes. The clafouti is a custard like treat, and it's not too sweet. Turns out it's a great breakfast, too!
I was going to use the recipe I got from A World in a Pan, but it called for creme fraiche, which I didn't have. So I went to the next best source, food blogs, and found Julia Child's recipe on Cooking with Amy. I am not sure I cooked mine quite enough, since it sunk in the middle, but it tasted great.

Julia Child's Clafouti
serves 6-8

1 1/4 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour
3 cups cherries, pitted
1/3 cup sugar
powdered sugar

In a blender blend the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour. Pour a 1/4 inch layer of the batter in a buttered 7 or 8 cup lightly buttered fireproof baking dish. Place in the oven until a film of batter sets in the pan. Remove from the heat and spread the cherries over the batter. Sprinkle on the 1/3 cup of sugar. Pour on the rest of the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about for about 45 minutes to an hour. The clafouti is done when puffed and brown and and a knife plunged in the center comes out clean. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, serve warm.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Paris: Part II

I am going to try to squeeze it all in here, because I want to get back to blogging about the stuff I've been cooking lately! So here are highlights of the rest of our Paris trip. Enjoy!

On our second night we decided to go out for a nice dinner. Originally we were thinking about going somewhere in the Latin Quarter, but we ended up asking our concierge for recommendations around our hotel, the Marriott in the 13th. He recommended La Girondine, a great bistro on Boulevard Arago. It was a fantastic meal, and felt more authentic then our original plan. We each had 3 courses, plus an aperitif and two glasses of wine. The menu ws around 30 euros each, including the drinks, and it was well worth it. Some highlights...

Joe had escargot for his first course, with a delicious creamy, cheesey sauce. This was the second round of escargot on this trip, and we now both officially like snails! (I never thought I'd say that!)

I love creme brulee, so having a trio of it for dessert was a no-brainer. One was pistachio, one was amaretto, and the third was original.

As someone who loves to cook, it seemed only fitting that I learn something about french cooking while in Paris. I found out about A World in a Pan from an online forum, and decided it was the perfect course for me. Laura has lived around the world, but has been living in Paris with her french husband for the last 10 or 15 years. She's a wonderful cook, and invites students into her home to learn a little about french culture in addition to cooking. I would recommend Laura's classes to anyone who wants to learn something about French cooking while visiting Paris.

Our instructor

Can you believe the array of carrots they had at the market that morning?

The fish (sea bass if I remember correctly) was steamed on a bed of leeks. It was a perfect example of authentic market cooking, because Laura was not sure of the exact menu until she saw what was being offered at the morning's market.

The pear claufoti was a perfect example of a simple french dessert. It was easy to make, and tasted delicious.

Before the cooking class, Joe and I spent some time on Rue Moffatard, an ancient market street. I was disappointed we didn't have more time to explore this area, because there was just so much to explore. There were tons of shops that were open and spilling onto the street, and delicious smells drifted out from each shop.
These were some of the fresh seafood offerings. The sea urchins (front row in the middle) were especially interesting to see. I found out later that you cut them in half and eat their mousse like insides with a spoon. Maybe that will be a delicacy I try on my next trip.

Eating macaroons is one of my favorite things to do in Paris, and this apple macaroon was one of many that I consumed. It was a very unique flavor, but I still think chocolate ones are my top pick :)

We were back to my parents in the Netherlands on Saturday, just in time for a delicious Easter meal. It was a perfect end to an amazing trip.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Paris Adventures

Paris is my favorite city in the world, and I have been fortunate enough to visit two times before this trip. This trip was special, though, because it was the first time Joe and I got to visit Europe together. Joe had also spent time in Paris on two other trips, so we both had already experienced the main museums and tourist sites. This left us plenty of time to experience the best of Paris-- side streets, intimate cafes, and more authentic Parisan life. It was a fantastic three days, and the following pictures are only a fraction of what we did. I tried to focus on food pictures, but couldn't resist throwing in a few extras!

Let me start by singing my praises for French breakfast pastries. I'd never eat like this at home (or if I actually lived in Paris), but when vacationing I can't get enough of the delicious pastries. It was perfect timing when the day before we left for Paris, I read about Clotilde's favorite pastry shop on Chocolate & Zucchini. It is a new shop owned by Philippe Conticini, and it's located on the Place du Marche Sainte-Catherine. When I researched it more, I found out Dorie Greenspan had also written about it in her blog, and I knew I had to go.

We found the square easily enough, thanks to the indispensable Paris Pratique map booklet, but could not find the actual pastry shop for the life of us. I was frustrated and disappointed, but also hungry for breakfast, so we decided to find plan B. Pastries were still a must-have, and we knew we were in business when we walked into Miss Manon, located on Rue Saint-Antoine. It was impossible to choose, but I finally settled on one of my favorite French treats-- the almond croissant. Unbelievable-- dense, perfectly sweetened, slightly eggy, and for sure enough to last me until lunch! So the pastry situation turned out quite well in the end. If you're ever in this area, be sure to stop and see the Place de Vosges, too, because it's one of the most gorgeous squares in Paris (at least in spring when it's not too full of tourists).

Crepes were a must have, and mine had to be filled with Nutella (see what I mean about vacation eating?). We ate them while walking along the river near the Grande Palais and Invalides.

At one point we ended up near the Opera and the huge department stores, so I insisted we check out the food hall in Galleries Lafyette. This was one of those time when I hate traveling, because I wanted to take everything home to cook an amazing meal. Seeing that we were staying in a hotel, I had to limit myself to drooling and taking a few pictures. I can't believe I missed this on my past trips, especially since I'd been traveling with my mom on the other trips and she's a huge foodie.

We seriously spent most of our money on food around Paris. Since it was a little chilly, there were numerous cafe visits. Cheaper then a museum, right? We had some "cafe"- aka espresso, and also "cafe creme", which is the same as cafe au lait. The cafe below was on a small street somewhere in the Marais area. When in France, you must eat as much cheese as possible. If you want to be authentic, it's eaten after dinner as dessert. We just ate it whenever we felt the urge, though. This plate was at another unknown cafe in the Marais. The blue cheese was amazing- tangy, salty, and just melt in your mouth good.

The second afternoon we decided to relax in the room for a while in order to have energy for our nice dinner that night. A baguette, some wine, and a delicious piece of morbier was a perfect afternoon snack.
This post is long enough, so stay tuned for Paris: Part II.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Still in Europe, still eating...

Markets in Europe are such a fun way to experience local culture. On our way home from Namur we went to the Sunday market in Liege. It was a huge and colorful market, situated right next to the Meuse river. Joe and I split up from my family, and just soaked up the atmosphere. Even after numerous trips to Europe, I still have that "I'm in Europe" moment on every trip.

This stand was full of Italian products, and we had to pick up some balsamic vinegar to take home.

We were very proud of ourselves after we used our rusty french to buy olives from this stand.

Frites are an important part of any visit to Belgium, and the mayo is part of the experience :)

These birds are sold alive, then salughtered at home. Kinda creepy if you ask me!

It killed me that I couldn't bring any of the produce home with me. I would love to cook with the veggies at these markets!


You need some espresso after a day at the market.

Eating my way through Europe...

Hello from the Netherlands! I've taken a lot of pictures in the last 5 days, so I thought I'd do my first Euro-Food post before it got out of hand. Joe and I are having a fantastic trip, and as we make our way to Paris tomorrow the food just gets better. I've been dreaming of crepes and brasseries for weeks now, so I'm eager to eat my way through my all time favorite city.

I'm going to focus on pictures more than words now, or else this post will be of epic proportions. Bon Appetit!

This is a cherry Vlaii. It is a fruit and crust dessert that is only made in Limbourg, where my family lives. Don't you love the cruncy sugar crystals on top?

Trapist Beer (9.5%!)


Our Belgian Feast

My parents took us out for a gourmet meal in the Belgian countryside. They eat well in Belgium, and our meal was no exception. If you're ever in the area, the restuarant was Le Pot-au-Feu in the town of Malonne. It's close to Namur, the capital of Wallonia, the french-speaking part of Belgium.

They started us with an amuse bouche, or a little starter to get your taste buds ready to go. The mussles were in a buttery garlic sauce, and the fried cheese on the right just melted in your mouth.

Since it's illegal in Chicago, I had to taste fois gras. It was rich, creamy, and decadent. The rasin filled aspic underneath wasn't my favorite thing, but it was a gourmet treat that I wouldn't find many places.

The rest of our group got this starter-- pot-au-fou with frogs legs and escargot. It was in a creamy sauce with the puff pastry on top, and was such a treat. I love frogs' legs, and was able to overcome my fears long enough to try the escargot, too. As soon as I managed to get the escargot into my mouth (a mental battle), I really liked it! Of course, anything's good in a garlic cream sauce :)

My sister was a little more freaked out when she tried the escargot! Hilarious!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A sweet treat!

I recently ran across a great food blog, Blake Makes. Blake and his wife Bridget live in New Orleans and use their blog as a place to share great food and ideas with the food blogging world. In addition to recipes and beautiful pictures, Blake also loves to give away food. He works with companies who want to get their name out to more people, and his giveaways offer great publicity to these companies.

One such giveaway involved Sucre, a lovely chocolate shope in New Orleans. I was lucky enough to win a box of chocolates from Sucre, and let me tell you, it was great! The presentation was beautiful, and they would make a great gift. If you check their website, it is full of descriptions and pictures, and you will most likely be drooling by the time you're finished looking. The best part-- you can order online.

The chocolates were delicious, and very high quality. I've had my share of good European chocolate (I'm in the Netherlands as we speak), and I have to say these are very similar to chocolates in Belgium. It's just another world from mass-produced American chocolates.

I had two favorites out of the assorted box. First, the meuniere, which is pictured above. I love all things french (or from New Orleans, I suppose?!), so the fleur-de-lis just called out to me. It had touches of brown butter, almond, and white chocolate, and was as delicious as it looked. I saved it for last, and savored every last little bite of it. Second, I loved the torrone. It's a kind of skinny stick of chocolate, and it's milk chocolate ganache with hazelnut creme and some kind of wafer. The wafer was slightly crunchy, which added great texture. I love chocolate and hazelnut together, so this was my type of chocolate.

The next thing I will order will be the French Macaroons. I loooooove macaroons, and they are not always easy to find in the states. The Sucre macaroons look amazing, especially with the chocolate covering. So, now you know what to send me as a gift ;)

Remember, they have a great website, so check it out!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Thanks, Oprah!

I Have lots to update, so I'm going to keep this to the point. I really like zucchini, and had some sitting in my fridge last weekend. I really wanted to do something new with it, and I settled on the idea of zucchini ribbons. So away to the internet I went, and this Oprah recipe is the one I chose to try. The recipe is for Zucchini Ribbons with Caramelized Spring Onions, but I just used regular onions since that's what I had in my kitchen. I've wanted to try a zucchini ribbon recipe for a while, so I figured this was the time to try. It was a tasty recipe, and a nice change from the sauteed zucchini I usually make.

The recipe is from Great Food in the May 2006 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

The caramelized onions

I used a vegetable peeler for the ribbons

The final product. I served it with boiled red potatoes, and a tuna sandwhich with an albicore tuna steak. The tuna was just pan friend with olive oil, salt and pepper. So tasty!

An Italian Treat

I love Cook's Illustrated. It's a magazine that really teaches you cooking skills, and I've learned a lot since I got my subscription a few months ago. I've been dying to make tiramisu for a few years now, so when I saw a recipe for it in Cook's Illustrated I knew I had to try it.

Still, something about tiramisu really intimidates me, so I saved the recipe and put it off longer. Last weekend, though, I was trying to determine a recipe to make for dessert when my in-laws came to dinner. I had the thought about tiramisu, but once again dismissed it. That is, I dismissed it until I saw an appropriatly timed post on Sugar & Spice, one of my favorite blogs for baking ideas.

It turned out to be a really easy recipe, and the results were delicious! I have no idea why I put this off so long, but I am glad I finally decided to try it. I will make this again, no doubt. The only things I did differently was to make half the recipe in an 8 x 8 pan, and to use Kahlua instead of run (Michelle's suggestion, and I happened to have Kahlua in my liquor cabinet). I've posted the original recipe below.

Tiramisu from Cook’s Illustrated

2-1/2 cups strong brewed coffee, room temperature
1-1/2 Tablespoons instant espresso granules
9 tablespoons dark rum
6 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1-1/2 pounds mascarpone
3/4 cup cold heavy cream
14 ounces (42 to 60, depending on size) dried ladyfingers (savoiardi)
3-1/2 Tablespoons cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed
1/4 cup grated semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (optional)

1. Stir coffee, espresso, and 5 tablespoons rum in a wide bowl or baking dish until espresso dissolves; set aside.

2. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat yolks at low speed until just combined. Add sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula once or twice. Add remaining 4 tablespoons rum and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds; scrape bowl. Add mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down bowl once or twice. Transfer mixture to large bowl and set aside.

3. In now-empty mixer bowl (no need to clean bowl), beat cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. Increase speed to high and continue to beat until cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1-1/2 minutes longer. Using rubber spatula, fold one-third of whipped cream into mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set mascarpone mixture aside.

4. Working one at a time, drop half of ladyfingers into coffee mixture, roll, remove and transfer to 13 by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. (Do not submerge ladyfingers in coffee mixture; entire process should take no longer than 2 to 3 seconds for each cookie.) Arrange soaked cookies in single layer in baking dish, breaking or trimming ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into dish.

5. Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers; use rubber spatula to spread mixture to sides and into corners of dish and smooth surface. Place 2 tablespoons cocoa in fine-mesh strainer and dust cocoa over mascarpone.

6. Repeat dipping and arrangement of ladyfingers; spread remaining mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers and dust with remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons cocoa. Wipe edges of dish with dry paper towel. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 to 24 hours. Sprnkle with grated chocolate, if using; cut into pieces and serve chilled.