Sunday, May 31, 2009

A very happy marriage

Everyone knows strawberries were made for champagne. But, who knew that dark chocolate with hazelnuts shares the same fate? Last night, sipping Domaine Chandon blanc de noir sparkling wine, with hints of strawberries, dark chocolate, and hazelnut lingering in my mouth, I knew these three were meant to be. I did not expect the dark chocolate and the hazelnuts to marry with the the sparkler, but oh my did it ever. Somehow the the sweetness from the strawberry, the slight bitterness from the dark chocolate, and the toast of the hazelnut complimented and enhanced the dry, but fruity flavor of the wine. A (surprisingly) perfect combination.

The procedure:
Step 1: take a bite of a strawberry
Step 2: while there is still a touch of strawberry on your palette, take a bite of chocolate
Step 3: with hints of chocolate and hazelnut in your mouth, sip your champagne
Step 4: sit back and let the goodness wash over you

I think it is important to have a dry or dry-fruity sparkler for this. I do not think a lighter, fruity sparkler (Prosecco or Cava come to mind) will be able to stand up to the chocolate.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Roasted Vegetables and Me

I have recently fallen in love with roasted vegetables: zucchini, squash, peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, carrots, the delicious list goes on. I have been using them a lot in pasta dishes. But, I recently got to thinking: where else could roasted vegetables take me? Apparently, to lunch.

My new thing is buying a bunch of zucchini or squash from Trader Joe's, roasting them up, maybe adding a few peppers or mushrooms, and eating these roasted vegetables on sandwiches. Its nice because one batch gives me lunch for a whole week.

On the menu today: hummus, roasted red peppers, roasted zucchini, avocado, and Emmental on lightly toasted Multi-Grain bread. Tomorrow? The combinations are endless: hummus, pesto, Dijon, aioli; any kind of cheese you can imagine (Gruyere, Gorgonzola, feta, goat, cheddar); any vegetable you have, want, or need (roasted bell pepper, fresh bell pepper, avocado, carmelized onions, tomato, sun-dried tomatoes...). So, from me and my new lunch date, a recipe for roasted zucchini and peppers.

Roasted Zucchini and Peppers
6 zucchini, cut length-wise into thirds or quarters
1 red pepper, cut length-wise into 1/4 inch strips
Drizzle of olive oil
Sprinkle of salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence*

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence. Roast 25-30 minutes, turning once.

*Herbs de Provence is a pleasant mix of lavender, fennel, basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, mint, chevril, savory, and other herbs. I think it adds a nice depth of flavor.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A taste of Philly

When Emmanuelle and I lived in Philadelphia, we would often stop at the Metropolitan Bakery, pick up some millet muffins, and enjoy them while sitting in Rittenhouse Square. A little sweet, a lot of crunch: a perfectly simple, perfectly delightful muffin. I was recently in Philadelphia and a visit to the Bakery inspired me. So, voila: Millet Muffins

(Please note the new Le Creuset Ovenmitts!)

(Don't you adore how the millet looks?)

Millet Muffins (Metropolitan Bakery recipe)
1 cup millet
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt (the larger crystals really do enhance the flavor experience)
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 c unsalted butter, softened
1 c brown sugar packed

Preheat oven to 375. Butter 12 1/2 c muffin cups.

On a baking sheet, toast millet completely in one layer until lightly golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Cool millet completely.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the millet. In another small bowl, stir together eggs, milk, and vanilla. Set aside. Cream well the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Alternately, beat in the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Do not over beat. Spoon batter into prepared cups, and bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20-25 (*see below) minutes. Cool muffins 5 minutes before turning out.

The muffins came out splendidly; I just had one for breakfast. Every now and then you get a hint of the kosher salt, which is a pleasant addition. *I baked them for 20 minutes, and while not overdone, next time, I might start testing them around 18 minutes. I find muffins get dry easily, so over baking does them no favors.

A side note:
I think creaming butter and sugar for at least 2-3 minutes makes a big difference. At that point, the mixture gets light and fluffly, not just combined. Emmanuelle, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this step of the baking process.

A bientot!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Spring is in the air... at least somewhere

While the temperature is approaching triple digits out here, I recently had the chance to wander around Central Park with Emmanuelle in all its Spring-glory. The tulips and daffodils were in full bloom, robins were hopping around: it was like we were in a Disney movie. So, in honor of a season that still exists on the East Coast, a recipe for pea soup.

Fresh Pea Soup (from A Beautiful Bowl of Soup by Paulette Mitchell, a birthday gift from Emmanuelle)

2 Tablespoons canola oil
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1/2 c finely chopped onion
1 leek (white part only), halved lengthwise, rinsed, and cut into 1/8 inch slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 16 oz bag frozen baby peas
2 carrots, cut into 1/8 slices
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons sugar
dash of freshly grated nutmeg (freshly grated is worth it)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, leek, and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vegetable stock and peas. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, steam carrots in a covered steamer over boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes. Puree the pea mixture and the milk with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in carrots, sugar, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Stir gently over medium heat until heated through. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Possible toppings: Parmesan cream (1/2 cup sour cream, 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, 1/4 tsp pepper), just Parmesan, mozzarella and basil (this one is very nice), herb croutons, or (and this was one of my favorites) crumbled pecans.

This is a delicious, light soup. It is easy to make and the color is simply stunning. And, it looked especially splendid in my orange Dutch Oven. Get ready for something beautiful...

Speaking of Dutch Ovens, Emmanuelle can weigh in on this point, but I think a Dutch Oven is an absolutely crucial item of equipment for any kitchen. We did a lot of research this Christmas on Dutch Ovens. She has a red Lodge, which I hear she loves, and I was able to find an orange Le Creuset at Marshalls for an unbelievable discount. I find especially for soups and sauteeing, nothing beats the Dutch Oven. And, oh my, aren't they pretty?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


While I admit Emmanuelle is correct that I used to eat cereal (peanut butter Puffins?) for dinner, let's not forget all those times she would squeeze spicy mustard on lettuce (endive?) and eat it (sans plate) for dinner. Oh how times have changed! And what a lovely change it is!

Below I have included Ina Garten's recipe for Eggplant Gratin from Barefoot in Paris and Giada's Spicy Green Bean and Kale Recipe from Giada's Kitchen.

Eggplant Gratin (this is the recipe, halved)
Olive oil
2-3 Japanese eggplants, sliced 1/2 inch thick (these are nice because they require no salting and are not at all bitter)
1/4 cup ricotta
1 egg
a splash of milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper.
1/2 cup marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Heat olive oil until almost smoking. Add eggplant and cook, turning once, until they are evenly browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, eggs, milk, 1/4 c parmesan, 1/8 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper.

In a ramekin or gratin dish, layer eggplant, 1/4 c parmesan cheese, salt, papper, and 1/4 cup marinara. Next, add a second layer of eggplant, more salt and pepper, the ricotta mixture, and a tablespoon of parmesan on top.

Bake for 10 minutes, lower heat to 375 and bake for another 20 minutes or until the custard sets and the top is browned. Serve warm.

That's the recipe we followed, roughly. We may have done an extra layer of eggplant and ricotta, if I recall correctly.

Now, onto delicious greens:
Spicy Parmesan Green Beans and Kale
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion sliced
1/4 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (we used TJ's haricot verts)
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (we decided next time to add more)
1 bunch of kale (1/2 pound), rinsed, stemmed, and corasely chopped
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tablespoons greated parmesan

Warm the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, green beans, salt, and pepper, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and continue cooking until the green beans are almost tender, stirring once or twice, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and kale and continue cooking until the kale has wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and the Parmesan cheese. Toss to coat and serve immediately.

The meal was completed by a 2002 Chateau du Courneau Margaux, courtesy of my father. A well-balanced bordeaux to round out a warm and comforting meal.