Zucchini & Mozzarella

I’m back in Paris!  Much to my dismay, the city is a ghost town in August.  I’m on a perpetual search for an open boulangerie!
Fortunately, C welcomed me with open arms and full refrigerator.  I needed to crank out a light, simple dinner one evening.  I found inspiration in two staples: zucchini and fresh mozzarella.  I picked up a trick by using a vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini into transparent ribbons which develop charming cross-hatching when hit on a grill pan.  Tossed with a healthy dose of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, salt & paper, and a chiffonade of fresh mint from the garden, the zucchini ribbons are sensuously silky while showcasing the nutty quality of zucchini I often forget.  The ribbons are elegantly presented piled high topped with a crown of sliced fresh mozzarella.

The first time I made this dish, I was a little quick to over-season with too much lemon juice and the half-hearted addition of shaved cornichons.  C, my taste tester, had no words for the dish; something was off.  Surely he thought it was too acidic.  I’m realizing I have a taste for strong flavors.  However, at the same time, anything can taste like lemon juice!  But when food is prepared well, it should taste like a celebration of whatever it is.  I have challenged myself by living out this French food philosophy.  Furthermore, with respect for good ingredients, even a meal inspired by the remnants of a fridge can be wildly satisfying.  Now if only I could find that baguette…

JUST ZUCCHINI & MOZZARELLA for 2

2 medium zucchini, sliced thinly with a vegetable peeler

1 ball fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for grill pan

1 teaspoon fresh mint, sliced finely to a chiffonade (roll up leaves like a cigar and chop finely)

salt & pepper to taste

1.) Heat a grill pan over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon oil and twirl pan until it is well-covered with oil.  Add zucchini to the grill pan, being careful not to overlap the slices.  Flip slices after 10-15 seconds when light grill marks appear.  When both sides have nice hatching, place in a bowl.  Proceed by grilling the rest of the slices, adding more oil to pan as needed.

2.) When all the slices have been grilled, toss with lemon juice, the tablespoon of olive oil, mint, salt, and pepper.  Pile zucchini high onto serving plates and top with several slices of fresh mozzarella.  Serve as a first course or with baguette for a light lunch.

Ring them bells! Another worthy food fad is soon to hit New York City! Laduree is opening an NYC location. My French colleague and I shrieked for joy when we read the first signs of speculation on Yelp several months ago! And thanks Vogue Magazine for confirming that an outpost of the hailed macaron bakery will be opening soon, nestled into the appropriately posh address of 864 Madison Ave (between 70th and 71st). It’s been a long-time coming; there are locations in just about every other city with Starbucks.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of a enjoying a macaron from Laduree, eating one is like eating the heightened, pure essence of the said flavor (Raspberry! Vanilla! Pistachio! CHOCOLATE!), in an elegantly crispy exterior matched with the utterly sensuous creamy interior. I carefully transported an assortment of 12 to my parents in Turkey. After each meal, we ceremoniously ooooo’d and ahhhh’d, taking small bites of each flavor and passed them around like a peace pipe.

The Laduree NYC ironically opens August 22nd, which is the day I am moving back to France.

Goodbye, New York. But please accept my parting gift.

Cassoulet

When I moved back to the States, I was awfully thankful to have moved back to a food-centric city like New York.  It certainly helps having a distraction from all I left behind in France.  But these days, I’ve been eating on dime.  Fortunately, I recently started working in a sleek little tapas restaurant, which gives me enough culinary thrills to make it through with my weekly pot of beans at home.  (Pickled ramps do wonders for my morale!)  Nevertheless, I had a bag of dried beans lying around (gulp) and had the ambition to recreate a rustic French dish by the name of cassoulet.  It is a slow-cooked stew of white beans with the hearty addition of various meat parts, which can include duck legs, sausages, and pork pieces.  I have never actually made this dish for myself.  But like most time-starved French home cooks, a delightful version can be found in the prepared food isle at the local Monoprix in Paris.  But this time around, I was nostalgic for some French comfort food this rainy week in New York.  Although I had aimed for a traditional meat-centric version, I was discouraged my local Greek bodega does not carry any of the duck fragments traditionally used in the recipe.  So I took the challenge to make it sans meat, which turned into a tasty abomination of the classic.  Since I had the luxury of an afternoon off, I was hoping to cook it slowly until it attained the same silky hearth of my fond food memory of the dish.  And I was quite pleased with what I came up with!  As soon as the thyme hit the sautéing carrots, celery, and onions, France was all up in my face.  It made me nostalgic for the sunshine in the South of France and the lazy nights C would reheat a jar of this French favorite.  I’d recommend to serve with baguette, but that’s one bit of nostalgia still to be satisfied…

1 16oz. bag of white beans, soaked in water overnight and drained

1 medium red onion, chopped

12 oz. chopped carrots

1 cup chopped celery

2 tomatoes chopped finely

5 stalks of thyme tied together with string (bouquet garnis)

1 handful chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

zest of 1 lemon, minced

1.)  Sautee onions, carrots, celery, salt, and pepper for 8 minutes until caramelized and tender.  Add chopped garlic, thyme, and tomatoes.  Stir until fragrant.

2.)  Add the soaked beans and 5 cups of water to the mixture.  Let come to a simmer.

3.)  Cook over a low heat for 60-90 minutes until the beans are soft and the broth thickens.  Add more water if needed.

4.)  Pull out thyme bouquet.  Stir in lemon zest and parsley.  Season to taste!  And enjoy!

1 Part Tomatoes+1 Part Red Peppers

There’s nothing like a soon-to-be mother-in-law!  Fortunately, as of now, I’ve only good things to tell.   When I moved to France, I quickly learned that Sunday was the ultimate day of relaxation.  I mean a ‘watching 3 movies, not moving the couch’ type of Sunday.  And thanks to France, I was finally able to train myself to do this without feeling a drop of guilt.  When I started seeing C, I learned Sunday was the ultimate day of family, too.  Whenever we weren’t glued to the couch or scavenging for food after noon, we were more than likely on our way to his parent’s place in the 15th arrondisement.  C’s mother is a very striking beauty.  She’s impeccably preserved with radiant, olive skin and dark tresses.  Only her slow walk gives away the fact she’s in her early 70s.  She’s a retired primary school teacher.  Thankfully, she speaks clearly and simply enough for both a 4h grader and a barely bilingual Americaine like me to understand.  And she just adores her son.  She beams when she sees him and buys him a chocolate basset hounds every Easter and is quick to pull out his childhood photos.  But I knew she finally warmed up to me when she whipped out the vegetables just for me!  And plenty of them! Carotte rappe with just a touch of olive olive, cucumbers simply dressed with vinegar, and the most beautifully sumptuous red pepper and tomato salad/confiture/thing you must try at home!

So, it’s just a kilo of tomatoes and a kilo of red peppers.  It’s that easy.  They are scorched on either an open flame or in the broiler until their skins are completely black and pull away from the flesh.  From there, wrap them in a papertowel and wrap in a plastic bag until they cooled. Remove the skins and slice into strips.  From there, place the sliced peppers and tomatoes into a skillet with some olive oil and let them slowly concentrate until they morph into their own sauce.  Add a little water here and there to keep them from sticking to the pan and to continue the caramelizing.  After about 45 minutes-1 hour, you are left with is just the silkiest and smokiest thing that has ever come out of 2 kilos of vegetables.  The sweetness of the peppers mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes brilliantly.  With the necessary addition of baguette, you’re set for a terrifically light lunch or first course.  Or reserve a little for your omelet the day after.  Or place on top of a crostini with a little goat cheese for an elegant hors d’oeurves.  But from my experience, the salad won’t last long enough to consider sharing.

From this day on, I still haven’t seen this little salad anywhere else! Unlike the Thai chicken wraps or the Mexican tortilla soup my family has adopted as our own family recipes from the supermarket periodical aisle, I can assume this recipe is one of those time-treasured Marseillaise recipes made in C’s family for at least a couple of generations.  And nothing can taste as good!  Not even a molten chocolate Martha Stewart recipe from my family recipe vault.  Enjoy.

White by Wang

I got a little too hasty after Tuesday’s posting.  After following up on visa paperwork in the morning, I had a little time to kill before work.  Where else could I celebrate the wedding excitement other than David’s Bridal!  Now for those readers overseas or those not familiar with David’s Bridal, it was the epitome of middleclass, Midwestern elegance in my 5th-grade mind. Growing up in the city of Chicago, David’s Bridal had the mystique of something only found in suburban strip malls.  Although I am a chick, I am not the type of girl who has obsessed over planning my wedding since the days I thought David’s Bridal was haute chic. Hence, that’s what inspired my first stop on the wedding trail.  As someone with no budget, no set date, and no idea of what I am seeking out in a wedding dress, I figured I would start my search generically at David’s Bridal.

And generic is more or less what I got.  However, Vera Wang is producing a very urbane and modestly priced collection for the bridal chain, White by Vera Wang.  Every designer has attempted to design for the masses these days; last time I checked, she was unfortunately designing mattresses at Kohl’s.  But thanks to Vera, I didn’t need to try on any pieces from the strapless taffeta graveyard surrounding her collection at David’s Bridal.  I tried on a very demure ivory, v-necked, a-line gown with appliquéd lace on net. And heck, at $800, if I had money, I might be able to afford it!  The second gown was an ivory, one-shouldered, drop waist satin gown with a cascade of organza “flanges”.  This was definitely more in my world.  Although this dress was a little more formal than the modest courthouse affair our big day might become, I learned a few things from the experience.  I want to look more fashion than bridal!   And I never knew it before, but ivory is much better on me than white.  All things considered, although I had a pleasant trip to the bridal factory, my heart belongs to all things vintage!  And the search must go on!

En Vue de Mariage

Although I had initially set out of the make this a bi-coastal New Yorkaise/Parisienne food blog, my interests are slowly moving more permanently overseas.  My boyfriend and I have started the process of getting hitched Parisien style!  And a process it is!  Before I can start gushing about boutonnières and Jordan almonds, like all things French, there is an endless stack of paperwork that needs to transpire before the wedding plans can begin.  At this rate, I’ll need a notarized letter to get the handful of rambunctious Kaneloses into the country for the wedding. Although there’s a bevy of ‘How to Marry to French Guy!’ and ‘Yikes, I married a sexy Frenchman’ websites, none of them spell out the actual process.  Falling in love is the easy part.  Not to put a damper on the exciting prospects ahead by being so damn practical, but I will try to consolidate the months of the process into one whirlwind blog.  But I promise it will be much more amusing than French bureaucracy alone.

So in brief, I moved to Paris weeks after college graduation!  It was my way to learn a new language and escape the inevitable recession.  I worked as a jeune fille au pair; the domestic right of passage for any wide-eyed expat girl!  More on that later.  When I wasn’t blow-drying this small child’s hair or cutting her chicken cordon bleu into small pieces, I was out-and-about in the fine city of Paris!  Just months before I had planned to return to the States, I met C at my favorite little indie bar in the 11th arrondissement.  There was beer in plastic cups and the Smiths were in the background.  It was love at first sight.  But more on that later.  After two years of togetherness and several periods of long-distance, we are ready to take the next step to be together!  And that’s where you find me here now pondering out loud how to get Sarah Burton to design my wedding gown…

Barley Risotto…An Accidental Delight

Continuing my post-France cleanse, I’m still attempting to be a vegan as much as possible, give or take the Girl Scout cookies that have miraciously popped-up in New York City these days.  Nevertheless, being a veggie has not been as restricting as I have always imagined…although I do get a few groans from friends when making dinner plans.  Although I often lack the discipline to resist those delectable afternoon Tagalongs, being a vegetarian has challenged me to explore new ingredients and think creatively about all those stockpiled beans and whole grains in my cupboard.  Needless to say, let’s talk about barley!  Plus or minus the mushroom barley soup of my childhood, the grain was more or less foreign to me.  I picked up a Goya bag of it from the market, cooked it up, and was hooked.  It can be mixed with soymilk milk and sugar for breakfast, mixed in with soups, or as a perfect addition to a chopped salad.  And it’s a nutritional powerhouse!  Amino acids!  Fiber!  Antioxidants!  And let’s not forget that it has a similar texture of pasta!  What’s not to love?

This afternoon, I had planned to do my own take on the classic mushroom and barley medley by just cooking the barley as instructed and giving it depth by adding sautéed mushrooms.  I started by sautéing the mushrooms with shallots and onions.  In the meantime, I had some homemade vegetable stock simmering away next to me.  To my chagrin, I had all the components of a risotto at my fingertips.  Since barley has the same rounded shape as Arborio rice, why not give it a try as a risotto?  I threw the barley in with the nicely caramelized vegetables and added a half-cup of broth.  I stirred the bubbling barley mixture until the liquid evaporated then added another half-cup of the broth.  Continue stirring in the broth one half-cup at a time until the barley plumps up and the risotto begins to develop a creamy texture.  But be prepared to stir; elbow grease is the only fool-proof ingredient added to risotto.  I added a splash of red wine to give it a touch of depth and sweetness.  And added a little brightness with a handful of chopped parsley and a small squeeze of lemon juice.  And top it off with a handful of parmesan cheese (controversial for a vegan, but necessary for a risotto) and a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.  And voila!  Your accidental dinner is done!

Presque-etarian

So I am back in NYC after a two-week trip to Butterville.  Don’t get me wrong, I love that I have the ability to pick up and return to France whenever I can.  But after returning to New York from my hiatus vacation to Paris, my bod is barking for some detox.  Mind you, I strive for clean living and eating in my homeland. I have subsided off of a lentil-heavy, poverty-inspired diet over the past few months in New York.  But as soon as my feet touch the ground and are accessible to a boulangerie, there is no turning back.  But this time around, there was a bit of a change…

C, Monsieur Meat & Potatoes himself, recently picked up on the organic, pro-veg trend.  Halleluiah, I say!  I am not a vegetarian, but I strive to be.  A presque-etarian, if you will.  But there were countless dinners for C where I would shellac, layer, and roast vegetables in all their seasonal glory only to hear post-dinner about his need for meat.  The ultimate expression of his transformation was when he suggested we try out a macrobiotic restaurant, which was recommended to him by a friend.   Now I don’t know much about macrobiotics, but I do know it’s crunchy and something Gwenyth discusses in Instyle Magazine.  From the limited menu, we both ordered the veggie bowl.  It arrived as a sephia color wheel of lentils, vegetable porridge, seaweeds, and grain cakes.  Sadly, it lacked texture and all the color and life that make vegetables so exciting for me to prepare and enjoy.  C so generously spooned most of his dinner onto my plate and I knew that this dinner’s final destination would be McDonald’s.  Sure enough, we wrapped up the evening sitting side-by-side as I enviously watched him happily eating his McNuggets wishing I hadn’t filled up on millet cake.  Nevertheless, we are taking small steps towards culinary compatibility!

Previous Post

I never tasted panna cotta until about a year into Paris, in the early ‘wining and dining’ days of my courtship with C.  After a beautifully prepared Italian dinner at Swan et Vincent, a neighborhood restaurant in the Bastille quartier, he ordered panna cotta for dessert.  It came to our table humbly in a ramekin with a veil of raspberry coulis.  But its simplicity was a marvel!  It had the luxurious texture of a proper pudding, but with an absolutely pure taste of cream, milk, and vanilla bean.  Panna cotta is to pudding as gelato is to ice cream.  Panna cota and gelato showcase the flavor of their ingredients without being weighed down with eggs.  And luckily, for the humble home cook, this makes it a lot easier to make, too!

I hold no grudges against animal hooves, but the inclusion of gelatin in recipes always intimidated me a bit before making this.  But much like quinoa or fennel, it was just a matter of time and a good recipe to take away any culinary fear!  A basic mixture of cream, milk, and sugar is heated until warm enough to melt good-quality dark chocolate and the softened gelatin.  If you are more vanilla than chocolate, the chocolate can easily be replaced with a halved and seeded vanilla bean.  The mixture is poured into individual cups and chilled.   I do not know who I am quoting when I say this (too much Saveur Magazine), but the finished panna cotta should have the ‘wobble of a woman’s breast’.  And remember, respect for quality, pure ingredients will leave you with an exceptional result every time!  Enjoy!

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