Friday, August 27, 2010

Zucchini Prelude

Zucchini is one of those words I just never feel like I spell right.     Is it the double cc's?  The silent h?    It has a nice ring to it though... a little Italian I think.  

My date night in Paris had me thinking.   It may have been the steak frites, but I started thinking that in my wedding preparation zealousness, I may be depriving my little household of iron in the form of meat.   Red meat.  

My fascination with quinoa, barley and all other kinds of whole grain goodies has me delving pretty heavily into the world of vegetarianism again.    I have gone through several phases of this in my life, the current entry prompted by a recent study of Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" which, as far as I'm concerned, should be required reading.    I am not 100% ready to make the full switch yet, but I like to think I've been practicing for the good of our health.

As a result, things like steak are typically reserved for date night.   In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that on any given night out, my fiance will order something involving red meat.  

So, between the reflecting on the fantastic steak frites in Paris, the need for a date night of the at home variety and the end of summer approaching, I decided it was time to indulge in one last summer steak.  

But first, we must get our veggies in.  

The prelude to our fabulous steak dinner, which is coming, I promise, was a simple vegetarian first course built upon, you guessed it, zucchini.   Zucchini.   (I just like saying that).

This one's easy, fun to assemble, colorful, light and fresh and makes for a fabulous first course, perfect for preparing one's palate for the totally indulgent and mouthwatering steak to follow.    

Zucchini Garlic Herb Cheese and Roasted Tomato Roll-Ups
Serves 2-4
2 medium size zucchini
1 cup grape tomatoes
Garlic Herb Cheese Spread (I used the light version of Alouette)
Olive Oil

Start first by roasting the tomatoes.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Rinse, dry and add whole grape tomatoes to an oven proof dish.   Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.   Roll the tomatoes around in the dish to cover them.      Roast in oven for 45 minutes to an hour.     Remove from oven and cool.

Tomatoes (pre-roasting)

While the tomatoes are roasting, prepare the zucchini.   Slice both ends of zucchini.   Standing upright, slice zucchini lengthwise into 4 or 5 long slices that would be suitable for rolling.   Drizzle lightly with olive oil.   Sprinkle with salt and pepper.   Set aside.

Prepare your grill.   I used an indoor grill pan for these and it worked perfectly.    Heat to high temperature.   When ready, grill zucchini slices, 2-3 minutes on each side (depending on thickness).    Remove from grill.   Set aside and let cool.

Zucchini (post-grilling)

When zucchini and tomatoes have cooled, it is time to start assembly.    Lay one zucchini slice flat and spread with a thin layer of garlic herb cheese.    Drop one tomato at the top of slice and begin rolling, tucking in a tomato every layer or so.     Continue with each zucchini slice until all have been rolled.   Set aside until ready to serve.    

Ta-Da!  (easy!)

Stay tuned for the meat and potatoes portion of this delicious date night (at home)!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Musee Carnavalet

I have to admit, on my last two days in Paris, I did a fair amount of window shopping.    I was trying to soak it all in before I headed back home.  

On my final Sunday, I spent an afternoon wandering around through my neighborhood, Le Marais, doing just that.    I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but Sundays in Le Marais are lots of fun.    It is really the only area that is truly 'open' and therefore attracts quite a few people.    It is a fabulous neighborhood for wandering, people watching and just killing time.   I loved poking in all of the sweet little boutiques,  stopping at cafes, sitting in parks and watching the world go by.   To me, this is Paris.   It feels smaller and more comfortable to me.   I love it here and would stay again in a heartbeat.

After spending a fair amount of time browsing the fantastic shops, I ran into the entrance of a museum that I had wanted to visit, but never really made time for.   Unexpected finds are truly the best!

The Musee Carnavalet is right in the midst of this shoppers heaven and is a perfect place to duck into for a break.    The museum houses collections of paintings, decorations and other symbols showing the evolution of historic Paris.    The rooms are fun to wander through, even if you get lost like I did.   I particularly enjoyed the paintings of a much older Paris.    Provided context and meaning to a lot of the sites I had been visiting.  

I have to say though that one of my favorite spots was the courtyard garden.   It was cool and felt very calming.   A nice place to sit for a little break on a busy day.  

I'd recommend a visit if you are in the neighborhood.   You could spend hours if you are really interested in the history of Paris, or much less if you just want to enjoy the gardens and a brief tour of the rooms.   The advantage is that this museum is free if you skip the temporary exhibits!  

The visitor entrance is located at 23, rue de Sevigne.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ode to Madeleine(s)

My first born child will be named Madeleine.    Madeleine Sophia.    Or Sophia Madeleine.  

Or something altogether different if she shows up as a boy instead.  

Are baby names like weddings?   Do little girls dream of these and compile lists of their favorites?   I did.    Well, on the baby name part anyway.   Somehow I missed dreaming about planning my wedding.   I know, that doesn't seem quite right when I say that out loud.   Oh well.  It is fun to fantasize about what might lie ahead.  

So in honor of my (potential) future, I'm dedicating today's post to the Madeleine.   We are moving away from the baby arena and on to the sweet delicate french cake of the same name.   I have to confess that while in Paris, I never once had a madeleine.  I saw them.  I knew of them.  I just never had one.  

In fact, given this background, I certainly didn't think of purchasing a madeleine pan while compiling my lists of must have things to bring home from Paris.    My list had all kinds of other things, but not this.     It turns out that on one of my shopping afternoons at the Place du Madeleine, poking around all of the amazing gourmet shops, with dreams of filling my luggage with all kinds of french treats, I had a sort of a reality check.

First, I remembered the hassle of flying into Paris with my severely overweight and therefore, expensive, luggage.   Then, I had a vision of arriving in customs and being peppered with questions about bringing in live fruits and animals and things from the farm.   In my vision, I panic, which is immediately seen by the officer who yanks me out of line and demands that I open my suitcase right then and there.    I am surrounded by sniffing dogs.   I am no longer in fear of things like underwear popping out, but now of strawberry jams, delicate honey's, french teas and all types of other things that will probably have me somehow banned from returning to the country.

Yes, I have a little anxiety issue.    Regardless, I just wasn't willing to take the risk.

Which made me a very sad customer.    

Which also brings me back to the reason for this post, the madeleine.  

While perusing Fauchon, one of my favorite shops, with all of its hot pink and black gorgeousness, I run across a table of pans.   Tucked away in the back.   In vibrant silicone.    And there it was, a sweet, hot pink, mini little madeleine pan.  

Just the perfect size for my suitcase.   Flat, flexible, and non-edible.   Definitely not from the farm.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  

I am happy to report it made it back in tact and it produces the sweetest little cakes you've ever seen.   I know they are supposed to resemble scalloped edges, but whenever I see these, I think kitty paws.    They are so cute.   Light as air.   Fluffy.   Perfect tea time treat.

This recipe is minimally adapted from the fabulous version found on 101 Cookbooks.  I added honey to my version which gives these a beautiful and very light honey lemon essence.  


1 and 1/2 sticks unsalted butter with extra for greasing the pan
3/4 cup all purpose flour
4 eggs
pinch of salt
2/3 cup sugar
zest from a large lemon
1 and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1/4 teaspoon honey (I used lavender scented)
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Begin by clarifying the butter.    Melt the butter on medium low heat.    Stir regularly for about 15-20 minutes until butter turns a little brown and has a nice cooked aroma to it.    Solids should be floating on the top.    Strain solids from butter and allow the butter to cool in small dish.   Set aside.

While butter is cooling, prepare your pan.  I used a mini madeleine pan, silicone version.    Butter and dust with flour.   Shake excess flour from pan.    Set aside.

In large bowl, beat eggs and pinch of salt for about 3 minutes until appears light, foamy and doubles/triples in volume.    Slowly begin to add in the sugar, while continuing to beat the egg mixture.   Whip this at high speed for another 2-3 minutes until creamy.

Fold in the lemon zest, honey and vanilla.   It is important to maintain the volume and air in the egg sugar mixture as this is necessary for the cake to obtain a sponge like airy texture upon completion.  

Gently fold in the flour just until incorporated.   Do not overmix.  

Spoon out filling into prepared pan.    Try for about 2/3 full.    

Place pan in oven and bake for 7-8 minutes.  (Longer for larger version).     Immediately remove from pan to cool.  

Dust with powdered sugar after cooling.

A few lessons learned that I'll pass along to you.   It is really easy to overfill these.   If you do, they will rise up over the top and connect to the other madeleines which completely destroys the dainty effect you are trying to achieve.   Be patient as filling them.   There is no rush.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Date Night In Paris - Part Three

My date night is drawing to a close... a final late night walk along the Seine with a long awaited stop at the Louvre to view the lights at night.  I was not disappointed.     It truly was a magical evening.

Thank you all for staying with me on this journey!  

All good things must come to an end though and over the next couple of weeks I will begin wrapping up this trip and moving on to what is probably the most difficult part, sharing with you my motivation behind it all, figuring out what I've learned and what I will take away with me as I move on to the next phase of my life.    I guess maybe the fun part is just beginning when you think of it that way!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Date Night in Paris - Part Two

Leaving dinner, I began the now familiar and contemplative walk down to the Eiffel Tower.    There are some experiences that can't be described adequately with words, so I will share with you some images from this magical evening.

Standing before the tower, lit up in it's evening finest, will forever live in my memory.  Although I've been here many times before, something about this particular night allowed something to change in me that I've been striving for on this trip.   For just a few moments, I felt a sense of peace and calm.    Any struggles past or present were erased and all I could see ahead of me was a sparkly and hope filled future.  

On this night, I started to get excited to head back home.  

From here I began the long walk home along the Seine where I stumbled upon Part Three of my Date Night in Paris.  

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Date Night in Paris - Part One

I've never been one of those people who were super comfortable going out by myself for an evening on the town.    I've managed it once in awhile, but really only when necessary.  

I had to get over this pretty quickly when traveling by myself through Europe.    Because, really, there wasn't much of an option.     As soon as I hit Rome, and left all of my superb ship dining companions behind, I learned that it was going to be me, myself and I for quite some time and I better start enjoying it.

At first I was a little apprehensive.   I'd bring along lots of goodies to keep me occupied during dinner.   My little bag would be full of journals and guide books and other interesting reading material.

Once I did that once or twice, I realized I was kind of missing the point.  

I really wanted to grow on this trip, push my comfort level, expand.    I wasn't going to do that with my head buried in a book.    So, I changed my approach and started taking myself on little solo date nights.    Kind of fun getting all prettied up and heading out not knowing what the night would have in store.     Things opened up for me at this point and I had a blast meeting lots of people from different parts of the world.     An eye opening experience.

I will say that dining solo in Rome was easier than in Paris.     Perhaps I was more comfortable in Rome, but it always felt more relaxed.     Paris kept me on the edge of my seat quite a bit.   Besides, I found that although there seemed to be a lot more solo diners in Paris, they kept to themselves quite a bit more.  

On one of my last weekend's in Paris, I planned a special evening out.    A date night... with myself.    I hadn't had steak frites since I had arrived and decided that this was the night.    Found a recommendation somewhere for a fantastic spot, le Relais de l'Entrecote, that really only had one thing on the menu.   Steak frites.    This came with a yummy walnut salad and a choice of wine and dessert.    Other than that, the only thing you need to do is tell them how you want your steak cooked.    Pretty simple.

There are several locations throughout Paris and the lines out the door can be long.   If you go, go early or you will wait.    I ended up getting (very) lost on my walk over, in the rain, and having to stand outside for quite awhile.    Even that was fun as the people surrounding me were a pleasure to talk with.    The place has a convivial, relaxed feel in a very french way.     Traditional, pleasant service.   The food was fabulous.   There is this amazing sauce on the steak.  I have no idea what is was, but it was really really good.   The fries were fantastic as well.  

(PS - I apologize for the quality of this picture.   The soft romantic yellow light inside didn't help the photography situation.)

I had a wonderful time on my last real date night in Paris.    The conversation at dinner was a lot of fun.  I felt at ease and very comfortable with my new found ability to actually enjoy dining solo.    I should say, that like in many spots in Paris, the tables were literally on top of each other, so engaging with others is definitely part of the experience.     I would go back to this place in a heartbeat next time I am there, especially on a non solo date night as the food would be right up a certain someone's alley.   Just a fun spot.

But the night isn't over yet.  

Here's just a little taste of what's to come.   Definitely one of my most memorable evenings on this trip!   It is also a good thing that I ate a decent amount at dinner as little did I know I'd be out walking the streets of Paris until the wee hours of the morning.    

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blueberry Boy Bait

Anyone else out there in a relationship with a workaholic?

I can't be the only one.

My then boyfriend, now fiance, soon to be husband falls squarely into this category.    It is all very admirable and I respect him greatly for the care he puts into his profession, however, I've also learned that sometimes I need to employ special tactics to lure him away.

Sometimes it takes really REALLY special tactics.     The big guns.

Like last summer.    I ran across a special girly lotion called Blueberry Boy Bait.   Interesting name, right?   I read a little and found out the lotion was based on a special recipe by the same name.    Created in 1954 by a young girl in the Pillsbury Bake Off junior division who recognized the special effect it had on young men and named it accordingly.

Well, sold, seems like this might do the trick.   I added yet another bottle of pretty girly lotion to my collection in the already overflowing cabinet.   Yes, I have a lifetime supply, in probably every flavor imaginable.  I know I am not alone in this either.

Flashback to last year.  Late summer evening.   John's working in his kitchen on the laptop.   I proudly prance into the room all lathered up in my special boy bait.  

"What's that smell?"

"Me!  Don't you love it?"

"Um.   No.   Gross."

Crushed I tell you.   That lotion never saw the light of day again.   It is hidden in the back now, buried under other goodies awaiting a true dermatological emergency.

Needless to say, the story stuck with me and when I ran across the recipe recently from Smitten Kitchen, I sensed it was time to give it, hopefully, a more successful shot.    I've been good on my no sugar, minimal carb diet all week in preparation for this attempt.    The blueberries have been resting in the fridge since Thursday.

Last night, we're making dinner.  

John says, "I am going to put blueberries in my salad."


I think the hint worked.    I received a one line email from him from work today asking if he should pick up ice cream after work.

He thinks I am making pie.   Little does he know, I'm making Boy Bait.

Here's the recipe, adapted from Smitten Kitchen's version who modified the Cook's Country magazine who adapted it from the original boy baiter in 1954.

Blueberry Boy Bait  (serves 12)

Cake Ingredients
2 cups plus 1 tsp all purpose flour
1 tbls baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks softened butter (yes, two!)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup fat free milk (original recipe calls for whole or even buttermilk, but this was all I had)
1 1/2 cups blueberries (original recipe calls for 1/2 cup, fresh or frozen, but we reallllly like blueberries)

1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Use a 9x13 glass pan.   Butter sides and bottom.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, blend together softened butter and the two sugars.    Blend for about two minutes.    Add one egg at a time, blending until incorporated.    Add 1/3 of flour mixture and blend.   Add 1/2 cup of milk and blend.   Add another 1/3 of flour and blend.   Add final 1/2 cup of milk and blend.   Add final 1/3 of flour and blend.   The mixture should be light and creamy and fluffy at this point.

Toss blueberries with teaspoon of flour and gently fold into the large bowl.    Be careful to leave the blueberries in tact or you will dye your batter prematurely.

Carefully spread mixture into the your greased pan.  

Mix topping and sprinkle all over top.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes.    Cool for 15 minutes.   Eat warm or at room temperature.

PS - It worked.   

Early this evening.    I hear the garage door open.   The suspense is killing me.    Shoes on the floor.    I tense up a little bit. 

"What's that smell?"

"I made it for you."

"Really?   It smells amazing."

"Wait until you try it."   (I can say this because I've already eaten several scraps that conveniently broke away.)

And the rest is history.   He loved it.   Boy bait worked. 

This is one fabulous recipe.   A keeper.   As a bonus, it is edible at any time of the day. Seriously.   Bon Appetit!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wine Tasting in Paris

Remember when I told you about how much fun I had with our very passionate chef Andrea in Rome?    I like to think I had a similar kind of experience in Paris with Oliver.

No... not what your thinking...  but it did catch your attention, right?

This experience is of the wine tasting variety.   What better place to learn about French wines than in Paris?     It didn't take me too long before I discovered O'Chateau and based on the tripadvisor reviews, I signed up immediately.

I had already discovered the joys of drinking wine in Europe given the six weeks of practice that I had behind me.   I'll admit it was of the inexpensive variety as I became really good at living on a college student's budget.    Before you judge, the inexpensive variety in Europe is actually somewhat drinkable.

(Have I mentioned that I'd love to live in Europe?)

Back to the class.  It was time to obtain a little bit more of a sophisticated education on the topic.    Signed up for a two hour class one evening.   Meandered over to its location on a side street near the Louvre where I was greeted by a very attractive French man who led me through the back courtyard area and down the winding staircase into the dark cave.     A long table set with glasses.   Intimate lighting.    Very soothing atmosphere.    Doesn't it look romantic?

Relatively small class.   Primarily Americans.   Mostly there for the same reason I was, to learn about wine in a fun and relaxed setting.  

Olivier, our sommelier, was absolutely fantastic.    Entertaining, knowledgeable, seriously funny and did I mention he was cute too?   He took us through a wonderful grouping of wines in all varietals, stopping to explain the basics as well as some advanced topics.  All in a very approachable and down to earth way.  They are not stingy with the wine either.   Generous pours and seconds available for anything you wanted just a little bit more of.   Time flew by.   A great memory of my time in Paris.

Here's where I am a little disappointed in myself.   Well, a lot, really.    I know that I tend to 'lose knowledge' as these events progress.   Wine does this with my memory.   To ward this off, I took copious notes.   Like two pages worth.   Back and front.   Details.  Serious details.   I wanted to impress you a little with some of my new found knowledge.

Now ask me where this amazing educational material is today.  

That's right.  I have no idea.   Probably sitting in some trash heap outside of Paris.   Sigh.

Well, I guess I will just need to go back.

You should go too.   You'll love it.   Light, entertaining, fun and maybe you'll learn something too.   Plus, if you are lucky, you'll meet some interesting people and enjoy a lovely evening in a Parisian wine cellar drinking good wine.  

By the way, O'Chateau offers all kinds of wine experiences.   Next time I go, I think I'll try the champagne cruise on the Seine, but there's also classes with chocolate or cheese.    All perfect pairings I think!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Market Day

I have a dream.   A recurring vision.   Of myself at age 85.

This is normal, right?

In this vision, I am a completely adorable shrunken version of myself.   I happen to be living in one of my three favorite cities.   New York, Paris or Rome.   (Leaving my options open.)

Every morning while John rests in 'his' chair drinking tea and reading one of his many newspaper subscriptions, I prepare for the highlight of my day.    I pick out one of my loveliest and most elegant outfits from the tiny closet, dress, put on my pearls and small heels, pack my tiny and devoted dog into my bag and leave our apartment for our daily adventure.

I walk, of course.    This is my daily exercise.   I love to breathe the city air.    My little dog is content to look around at strangers from his perch.    We are happy.  

I walk to the market down the street.   Each day, the same one, at roughly the same time.    All of the guys in the stalls love me of course, because I am sweet and adorable.

I look at everything and buy very little.    I pick up fruit and smell the bottom.   I caress the vegetables when no one is looking.    I buy some radishes, a tomato, maybe a lemon or two.   I pick up a fresh baguette (the Paris version of the dream) and throw it in the bag, alongside the produce and the dog.    It is fine, I am old, I have no fear of germs anymore.

I watch myself in the glass in store fronts as I return home.  I see myself as a vibrant young woman.   My dog yips a little bit as his reflection.   We both return home happy.     John greets us, "Hi dear.   How's mommy?   What did we find at the market today?"

And this is a little sliver of my vision of our life at 85.    I can dream.

Flash forward to present, or the not so distant past.    Another overcast late Sunday morning in Paris.   I am lucky to be staying in Le Marais where things are actually open on Sundays.   I decide to hang in my neighborhood and wander around when I ran directly into the Richard Lenoir market.   Truth be told, I was actually following a set of google directions that were to take me to one of the most loved creperie's in the city when I discovered this little gem.

This is just like the market in my dreams, although, much bigger than I envision, but same concept.
It was incredibly crowded but  the diversity of it all was fantastic.   Young, old, every possible thing you could imagine buying at a market, stuff everywhere.   Crazy place, but awesome.    So much fun.  

But I was hungry and crepes were on my mind so I eventually went back to my trail.   You can imagine my disappointment when the place was closed.   Sundays are so confusing here.   I should have checked before I left.   I have to say, it was definitely worth it though ... sometimes the best things in life are the unexpected stops along the way.

If you'd like to visit the market, it is open Sundays and Thursdays from 9am to 1pm on Boulevard Richard Lenoir in the 11th.   Right near the Bastille.  You won't miss it.   Enjoy!