30.1.11

Street food and kindness in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv in late spring is hard to beat. (It makes sense; aviv is Hebrew for spring!)  Take a stroll down the waterfront promenade and take in the smell of saltwater mingling with falafel,  the rhythmic sounds of matkot being played on the sand, and the impossibly blue, sparkling Mediterranean sea stretching as far as the eye can see. And nothing beats a Tel Aviv sunset. One moment, you're sipping your Goldstar, staring out at the water, and suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a fierce red orb is lowering itself into the ocean. The sky erupts in color to match. And your heart sings.
Tel Aviv may not be the place to go if you're looking for religious or historical landmarks. But it has so much to offer, from incredible nightlife to diverse and wonderful food, not to mention the beach, the shops....Tel Aviv is a lively, modern, exciting city. And pulsing through all this is the essential spirit of Israel. 
One of my favorite parts of Tel Aviv, is of course, the Carmel Market. (שוק הכרמל, or Shuk HaKarmel ) What a glorious place! In Israel, nearly every city has a shuk (an open air market). Produce in Israel is really amazing, so these markets are really a treat. But that's far from all. The shuks tend to sell everything, especially in Tel Aviv. Fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, olives, sweets galore, fresh squeezed juice, Israeli pastries, nuts, spices, and jeweled rows of dried fruits that go wayyy beyond what one usually imagines (dried kiwi, anyone?) It is a feast for the senses, and overflowing with personality.
One of the biggest treats in the Carmel market, in my opinion, is a humble little "street food" type place right in the middle of the market. It is fabulous. I wish I remembered more details, but alas, I do not know what it is called, or realllly where to find it, I'm sorry, but it's a small enough market and if you set out to find it, you will. It was right next to the olive stand pictured above. Anyway. 
The sandwich that I ate (quite a few times actually) in the Carmel market is one of the best things I have ever eaten. Meat (either chicken, lamb or both- clearly I chose both) is cooked on a large griddle with onions and...you know, that could be it. It's just perfectly cooked and beaaauuuutifully seasoned. It's juicy, flavorful, savory, and served on a fresh ciabatta roll or in pita, and I'm pretty sure there was hummus in there, but I'm not positive. I think what really seals the deal is the condiments and toppings offered. Tahini sauce is a must. And then there's this orange colored sauce, and I have no idea what it's called or what it's made of ("Go to this place...not sure where it is..and eat...well, I'm not sure what exactly is in it...." Bear with me.) The orange condiment is something I saw all over Israel, at falafel and shawarma shops. It's sort of spicy and really intensely seasoned.  It tastes frigging amazing on meat. That's all I know. If any Israelis could help me out here, I would be very pleased to know the actual name!
Moving on. This past spring, Lisa flew out to Tel Aviv from France, so she could travel with me in my last month in Israel. One of our absolute best friends from back in America, Chloe, called me out of the blue one evening and told me she was coming to Israel...in three days! She had gotten off the waitlist for a trip, and we figured out that we were all set to be in Tel Aviv at the same time. Chloe's group was set to go to the Carmel market on the same day that Lisa and I arrived back in Tel Aviv from visiting a friend in the North. Serendipity! We went to meet her, and were happy to find out that she had a couple hours of free time to just hang out with us and catch up. Lisa and I hadn't eaten, so we went to get those delicious meat sandwiches. We asked Chlo if she wanted one, but she said she'd already eaten. She tried our sandwiches, however, and it was obvious that she was starting to maybe have second thoughts. Before she could go order her own, however, an Israeli man in his sixties walked up to our table, and with a smile, handed her a sandwich. He had heard and watched us, and went and bought her a sandwich. She thanked him profusely, and he just put a hand over his heart and smiled at her. It was a random act of kindness and love, and to me, it represents what I've come to know as Israel. Wherever you go, people are warm, welcoming, and immediately treat you like family.  During my six months in Israel, I always felt that vibe. People would offer help when I didn't even ask for it; giving directions, offering rides, helping us foreigners hail taxis or find the right bus...everything. I remember taking a bus down to my kibbutz, and being so worried that the driver would skip my stop and bring me straight to Eilat...I told one person, and soon the entire bus was telling me "Your stop is next!" and even reminding the driver for me in Hebrew. Or, my friend, an American who's moved to Israel, got sick last year and couldn't afford the medication she was trying to buy. When she walked out of line in tears, the entire queue of people behind her starting yelling in protest and collectively insisted on buying the medicine for her. This is normal. Or...I sent out a couple of couchsurfing requests, and the people who couldn't host me, instead of just politely saying they weren't available, would offer me instead to stay with their parents, or friends, or invite me along on the trip that was preventing them from hosting! It was unbelievable.


I hope this story inspires you to maybe do something similar. I know when I was traveling, it really touched me when people went out of their way to do something nice for me because I was foreign.   It's such a small gesture, but when you're traveling, the littlest things really do make a difference. I will never forget the strangers who went out of their way to do something nice for me, and I really hope that I can do the same for others...

27.1.11

Steak Pie: A Tale of Two Countries

I first tried steak and ale pie at the Jubilee market in Covent Garden, London. It was early December, and there were many outdoor food stands to choose from. (I'll be honest here and say I have no idea if this was for Christmas, or just a regular occurrence.) I was visiting American friends who were studying in London for the semester, and while they were in class I decided it was in my best interest to take the tube, get off somewhere random, and wander around, hopefully finding something interesting. My tube stop happened to be Covent Garden, probably because I am a theatre dork and recognized it as where Eliza Doolittle sold flowers in My Fair Lady
I bought myself an individual steak and ale pie, and it came in a little box that said "warning, tasty!" I took a bite and was suddenly warm and happy. Savory beef stew surrounded in pastry? Genius. Why is this not popular in the USA??? We have chicken pot pies, which are awesome, but steak. Steak pie. I ended up buying myself a cup of mulled wine to celebrate, which made the afternoon even more successful.
England both bid me farewell and then re-welcomed me to cold weather. A few days after my jaunt in Covent Gardens, I got on a plane to Israel. Once I got down to my kibbutz in the desert, winter was a faint memory.  I spent a very hot summer in western Europe, and then landed in northern England in August. I was shocked. The air was crisp, woodsy, autumnal. I needed a sweater. I couldn't believe it! Just that morning, I'd been sweating in Barcelona. I was also shocked to be hearing English spoken all around me for the first time in eight months. It was a thrill to understand every word. I eavesdropped with sheer pleasure. The Campbells are picking you up from the airport? Great!  Furious that the Ryanair people wouldn't just let the extra kilo on your checked luggage slide? I've been there! And yes, I agree that 35 euros for a Hannah Montana doll is ridiculous, no matter how much your five year old seems to disagree. ("It isn't 35, it's 34.99!")

Anyway, at this particular time, England was just a layover for me. I met up with Anna, and the next morning, we flew to Dublin, Ireland and immediately after landing, got a bus to a tiny village called Durrow.
We spent two incredible weeks staying in Durrow. Not only was it beautiful, so green and fresh, but the people we met were amazing. We stayed with a lovely family, originally from Dublin, who own a bakery and cafe called the Gallic Kitchen in Abbyleix.  Anna and I were so lucky, because we were able to help out in every step of a farm-to-table process. We harvested fruits and vegetables (lots of spinach and blackberries, but also zucchini, rocket, and the sweetest green peas I have ever tasted). We also got to help bake, cook, and run the shop. And did I mention how welcoming and fun the family was? 

The evening we arrived, exhausted from a long day of traveling and still unused to the cold, we were thrilled to see a fire roaring in the hearth, glasses of red wine being poured for us, and a steaming lasagne being put on the table. For a backpacker, this is a dream come true. A warm and smiling couple welcoming us into their home, two adorable children excitedly showing us their brand new school uniforms, and a year old golden retriever at my feet. I could have stayed in Durrow forever.
The Gallic Kitchen serves so much delicious food. Really out of this world desserts (the raspberry nectarine crumble, pictured below, still tantalizes my thoughts), wonderful lunch items and snacks, good quality coffee...
pieeeeesssss!

Seriously, if you ever find yourself passing through Abbyleix, check out The Gallic Kitchen. You will be greeted with a smiling face, good food, and a nice little glimpse into the Irish countryside.
I was very excited to be reunited with my beloved steak pie in Ireland. The steak and Guinness pie was wonderful and I definitely enjoyed it a few times while in Durrow! 
So anyway, last night I decided, in the spirit of keeping warm (we are now having weekly enormous blizzards in Massachusetts), to make a steak and Guinness pie. I used a Jamie Oliver recipe  (more on how much I l admire and respect Jamie Oliver in another, future post) that I found online, and made a few small alterations (and for all I know, the recipe I found online also altered it, so perhaps it's a  far cry from Mr. Oliver's original recipe). It was spectacular. I was so happy with how it turned out. 
Steak and Guinness Pie 
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Ingredients
1 1/2 lbs stewing beef (I used chuck), chopped into cubes
2 tbsp flour
Butter or oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
Fresh rosemary, bay and thyme  
28 oz can chopped tomatoes
2 1/2 cups Guinness
Puff pastry 
1 egg, beaten
 
 Preparation  
 Season the beef with salt and pepper. Be generous! Coat in the flour so it's no longer sticky. In a large pot (I would suggest a braising dish or a large casserole, such as Le Creuset), heat your fat of choice. (I tend to go for butter in a dish like this, and add a little bit of an innocous oil such as sunflower or grapeseed to make sure it doesn't burn) Toss the meat in and brown it.
Add a liiiiiittle more fat if the beef hasn't rendered anything, just so the vegetables won't stick.  Add the onions first, and cook for about a minute. Then add the other veggies. Throw the herbs in there too. (Obviously if you don't have fresh, use dried, but I am literally obsessed with the smell and flavor departed by fresh bay leaves, and I recommend that if  you see that in the store, that  buy you it.)
Let everything soften up for a few minutes, and then add the liquids. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and let simmer. Meanwhile, take your puff pastry out of the freezer so it can defrost. 
The recipe I read said to let the beef simmer for two hours, but after a little over an hour it was really reduced and I took it off the stove. Perhaps my heat was a little too high? Anyway, taste it and if it's thick and savory, you're good to go. Remove the bay leaf, and season once again if you please, although I found that it had loads of flavor on it's own. (But I still added a little salt and pepper for the principle of the thing) 
Heat your oven to 375 (190 celcius). Transfer your beef stew to a large, ovenproof dish of your choice, or into mini pie tins.
Sprinkle some flour over your counter and put your pastry dough down. Sprinkle with a little flour and roll out so it will fit over your dish. Press the dough over the top (or tops, for mini pies) and squeeze the edges. Brush with the beaten egg. Gently score the middle of the dough, and pop in the oven. Cook for roughly 45 minutes.

Lucky you! 

23.1.11

Tomato Rice with Zucchini

When I was on kibbutz, a friend of mine from Argentina told me about a dish from his grandmother. It was called red rice (or arroz rojo) and was essentially rice cooked in tomato sauce. It sounded delicious and I was intrigued....
Now fast forward to a lazy and humid Sunday in Montpellier, France. I was sharing an apartment with my friends Lisa and Anna, and we were trying to figure out what to do for dinner.  On a Sunday, most things are shut down. The grocery stores are closed by noon... I've been kicked out of one on a Sunday morning. This particular Sunday, we were determined to cook, despite not having an enormous selection of ingredients sitting around. We had rice, an onion or two, some garlic, yellow squash, cans of tomato puree that we bought accidentally (thought it was just plain tomatoes)....
Laurel leaves

I remembered the red rice that I'd heard about months before, and we set out to make our own version. Riz Rouge! We cooked the rice in a mixture of tomato puree and water with some cubed squash. Lisa's Latin teacher gave us loads of laurel from her garden, so we threw that into the pot, along with some lovely herbes de Provence. It tasted lovely, although we completely overestimated how much rice to use, and ate leftovers for days. In fact, a few days later,  we brought it on a day trip to Sete and mixed in little pieces of jambon crue (fantastic cured ham...you know how I feel about charcuterie.)
I made a version of this tonight. I was going to pretty much recreate it exactly, but when I saw that I only had arborio rice, I changed it up a little. I was really pleased with the results. I definitely recommend you make it!

Tomato Rice with Zucchini 

 This is a recipe that is simple, fun to make and reallllly tasty. I happened to find my favorite kind of zucchini- the little light green ones- but any zucchini (or yellow squash!) will do. And then, just leaving the store, I spotted a white wine dried sausage. Clearly that purchase was made, and I stirred some little chunks of it into the finished rice. So good. If you happen to have some salami or charcuterie, use it! It adds a really nice salty element.  I cooked the zucchini first on it's own for a little before introducing it to the tomatoes and rice, but it's probably not necessary.  

Ingredients
1 cup arborio rice
1 28 oz can pureed tomatoes
3+ cups chicken broth
Butter
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups zucchini, cubed
Herbes de Provence  
1/2 cup cured ham or dried sausage, in chunks (optional)
Hard cheese, grated (optional)

Preparation
In one medium sized pot, add the entire can of tomato puree. Thin out with the chicken broth, stir well, and bring to a boil. (This should be on the back-burner)
Meanwhile, in a large pan, melt butter and add onions and garlic. Cook. Enjoy the smell...butter is a wonderful thing. 
Meanwhile, put the zucchini in a medium pan and cook gently with butter. Don't cook them fully, just let them soften up with the butter a little. 
Add the rice to the onions. Stir to coat everything, and then add a ladle of the hot tomato mixture. Stir constantly. The rice will absorb the tomato sauce. After it absorbs one ladleful, add another, and just keep stirring.  
About halfway through, mix in the zucchini. Continue the process until the rice is cooked al dente and there is a thick, creamy sauce binding the rice and vegetables. You may not end up using all of the tomato mix - save the leftovers for soup.
Take off the heat and incorporate the meat, if using. Season with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence. Top with cheese, if you'd like.

Bon Appetit!

19.1.11

Shakshouka

Shakshouka has got to be one of the easiest, cheapest to make, most satisfying and tasty meals out there. It's a North African dish that has become extremely popular in Israel, where I first tried it. It is perfect food. Maybe make a chopped salad, get some nice pita bread, and done. Piquant but not too spicy, creamy from the egg without being cloying, savory...I am in love with Shakshouka.
Now, you could make countless versions of this. It is eggs simmered in tomato sauce. However, I am partial to the way it was introduced to me. With matboucha. Matboucha is Arabic for "cooked salad". It's a tomato, pepper, garlic sauce that is generally served cold and with everything. And it is delicious with everything. I have an Israeli friend whose family comes from Morocco. I went to both her house and her grandmother's house and ate matboucha with my lunch many a happy afternoon. It is so good on a plate with some leftover chicken, rice, hummus and Israeli green olives.   My recipe for matboucha, and subsequently, shakshouka, may not be 100% authentic, as it's sort of a combination of lots of recipes that I've seen in the past few years.   I can absolutely attest to it, however,  as I make it quite often. When I was couchsurfing, this was a fabulous meal to make for my hosts because many people haven't tried it, but I've never met anybody who wouldn't eat it again! 


Shakshouka


Ingredients
 1 large onion, diced
4-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 chile pepper (as always, use less if you want it less spicy, and try it first!), diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 28 oz can or box of chopped tomatoes
4 eggs
Olive oil

Preparation
  Make the matboucha: gently heat olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions and garlic and let sweat. Don't fry them! Just let them get soft and aromatic. Add all of the peppers, and then the spices.  Let it cook down for a bit, and then add the tomatoes. Give it a stir, let it cook gently. It should still have a fresh taste to it. (You should want to eat it cold or hot!) Perhaps add some water (not too much) and let that cook. Season with salt and pepper. There will be a slight sheen on the top- that's okay.
 Now, you have two options. You can take that off the stove, let it cool, and put in a tupperware container to eat as a condiment. Or you can continue on and make shakshouka:
 
Crack four eggs in the pan, evenly spaced out. Cover the pan and simmer. I usually "baste" the egg whites with the matboucha .When the whites are fully set, your shakshouka is ready. Season the eggs. Eat immediately. I suggest some pita bread to sop up the sauce. If you are making this recipe, I am jealous of you. Enjoy.

16.1.11

Athina's Chicken

Before this past May, I didn't know very much about modern Greece. Obviously I'd learned about it's incredible history, I'd read the myths, I'd enjoyed meals at the occasional Greek restaurant. That was pretty much it.   And yet, I was drawn to it. I wanted to go. My mental image of the country, patched together with snippets from travel articles in my old issues of Gourmet and the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's Carey, conjured up a romantic notion in my mind. Turquoise water, warm nights, bright stars... Greece sounded enchanting.


And how. Lisa and I decided to go together in May. We spent most of our time in Rhodes, one of the Dodocenase Islands. It was a splendid place! It's laden with all sorts of exciting and insanely fresh food.
Seafood plucked directly from the sea, lemons as big as my hand, and fragrant green olive oil as far as the eye could see. Restaurants were constantly surprising us with free treats as well; semolina honey cake, ditalini pasta with lentils and tomato, hot fluffy pita bread, even carafes of white wine.

We were in the
country for ten days and as magnificent as it was, it wasn't nearly enough time. I think to really see the country, one would need to travel for ten years. Let's take the islands, since I unfortunately didn't go anywhere in the mainland. According to Wikipedia, there are 6,000 Greek Islands, out of which  227 are inhabited. Madness! 

Rhodes was a great place, but what really made our visit special was our amazing Couchsurfing host, Athina. A native Greek who moved to Rhodes in her early thirties, Athina was one of the best people I met while traveling. She's funny, smart, and incredibly generous. She was not only a perfect host, but she even suggested for us to go to Nissyros, a tiny nearby island, and set us up with friends of hers when we arrived! (More on Nissyros in another, future post.) We stayed in her beautiful home, tucked into the labryinth-like streets of the "old town".
Athina was working a lot when we came, but she still found time to teach Lisa and I how to play the hand drum, bring us out for delicious meals, introduce us to her friends, and most important, sit around her living room with us, laughing over stories, and glasses of red wine or café frappé. 
I did a food interview with Athina and it was great. We talked for over an hour and I learned a lot about Greek cuisine and cooking.  It's a very simple and healthy cuisine, with clear flavors of fresh ingredients. As she put it, "You can taste the flavor of a tomato when you eat a tomato." I loved that.  She also gave me lots of recipes. I intend to try all of them, and will write about them, but let's start with this one. It has all the hallmarks of traditional Greek cuisine; It's simple, easy, and tastes fantastic. This is also excellent the next day, maybe even better. The tomato and chicken flavor each other so nicely, and the cinnamon adds a lovely depth.

Athina's Chicken with Tomatoes 
Okay, I know it's not the prettiest dish. Try it anyway.
Athina didn't specify measurements, so if you feel like fiddling around with it, be my guest, I also added the oregano for fun. Don't be tempted to cut the onions instead of grating them! Not only is it easier on your eyes to grate them, but it changes the structure of the dish. The onions practically melt into the background, giving you a creamy sauce! Also, I used canned tomatoes, but if you live somewhere warm where you can get fresh tomatoes that taste of something, by all means, go ahead. I haven't tried it with fresh, but if you do, let me know how it turns out!

Ingredients
1 chicken, cut into parts
Olive oil
2 onions
1 big glass of white wine (you can use vinegar instead, but use much less) 
1 tsp cinnamon 
1 tsp Greek oregano 
28 oz can chopped tomatoes 

Preparation  
In a large braising pan, heat enough olive oil to fully coat the bottom. Grate the onions directly into the pan and add the chicken. Season with salt, pepper, cinnamon and oregano. Cook the chicken, turning once or twice, until it is white, but not cooked through. 
Add the wine and cook for four or five minutes. Add the tomatoes and around a cup of water- not too much! Bring to a boil and lightly season once again.
Let everything cook for while. Stir sometimes by lightly shaking the pan. The sauce will become creamy and delicious and the chicken will be crazily tender. It could very well be the best chicken recipe I have.

This dish is wonderful with orzo and a simple salad.

Enjoy, friends. And as always, let me know if you make it!

12.1.11

Spaghetti alla Carbonara....and SNOW.

I woke up this morning to this:

I knew it was coming. Boston declared a snow emergency last night, the bakery were I work was closed ahead of time (hence my sleeping until 11:30!), schools are closed. Snow days are the best. I haven't had snow like this in my life for years. I spent my junior and senior years of college in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where it certainly snows, but not like this. And in both the winter prior to and following my time in Santa Fe, I was living on two different Kibbutzim in the Arava Desert of Israel. No snow.  So now, after four consecutive winters in the desert, I am returning to my roots. The American northeast. Brrr. 

I hate winter, but I love snow like this. It's beautiful and special. 


On a blizzardy day, it seems there is nothing to do but cook. Even my sister, who lived on her own for 3 months without a cutting board, made delicious cookies during the last nor'easter that hit Massachusetts. 

Here is what I made for lunch today:


Spaghetti alla Carbonara

This dish is great for a cold wintery day. It's rich, filling, warming, fast, and it is very likely that you have all the ingredients on hand, which is important when you can't get out of your driveway! 
This is a recipe I have made countless times, especially when traveling. This past June, I spent a month in Italy with my friend Anna. We did a work/housing exchange at a farmhouse bed and breakfast in Umbria and collected fresh eggs every morning. What a fabulous difference the farm-fresh eggs made in a dish like carbonara! The eggs really are the star of the dish, so make sure they are fresh. They needn't be from this morning, but I wouldn't make carbonara with eggs that are about to expire.
After my month in Italy, I returned to Montpellier to spend a month living with my friend Lisa. I took a long overnight bus back to France with an enormous wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano in my purse, per her request. We made spaghetti alla carbonara and ate it out of the bowl as we caught up on what we'd each done over the last month. In France, we used lardon, which were conveniently cut up into little cubes for us. 

I am going to give the measurements for the carbonara I made today, which made an enormous bowl enough for two people to share.

Ingredients
Half a pound of spaghetti
Olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 egg
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more to finish
Milk
Half cup diced pancetta or bacon

Preparation

Boil water for the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a smallish pan. You don't need a lot of oil, since the pancetta will render plenty of fat. Add the garlic, onions and pancetta and let cook, stirring occasionally.

When the pasta comes to a boil, add a hearty amount of salt, and then the spaghetti. Tend to the bacon and onion mixture. Don't be afraid to stir the pasta using the same spoon you're using for your bacon. 

Break open the egg, pop into a small bowl, and add a good glug of milk (or cream if you're feeling particularly decadent). Whisk in the cheese and beat it all until smooth.

By now, the bacon and onions will be ready. If the pasta isn't cooked yet, keep the bacon covered and warm. 

Now comes the part that requires speed and concentration. When the pasta is ready, drain it, reserving a some cooking water in an extra cup in case you need to loosen the sauce. Immediately return the spaghetti to the pot it was cooked in, and add the bacon mixture, including all the fat it rendered. Toss with the pasta so it's well coated with the fat, and then quickly add the egg mixture. Stir it into the pasta and watch as it transforms into a silky, creamy, delicate sauce before your own eyes. The hot pasta is cooking the egg! 

(If it seems dry and sticky, add some of the pasta water. If it seems runny and uncooked, you can verrrrrryyy carefully heat it for a hot second- but be careful or you'll end up with...eggs. I would suggest even holding the pot a few inches above the flame of your stove, tossing a few times, and then removing it.)

Transfer to bowls and add salt, more parmesan, and a good amount of black pepper. 

Enjoy the food and if you're getting snow today, enjoy that as well!  
 
 

10.1.11

Pâte à Tartiner à la Noisette

Well! This was a big experiment and it was much more difficult than I imagined, and nearly ended in complete failure. But it didn't! It's good to remember how a cooking project gone wrong can be turned around. Persevere and succeed, my friends!

Today I attempted to translate a recipe from a French cooking magazine, (Vie Practique) and make it. Pâte à Tartiner à la Noisette is a chocolate and hazelnut spread; pretty much Nutella. I chose it as my first translation project because it looked "easy". Ha! Oh well, I learned.
Now, perhaps the French speakers out there will struggle with this less than I. I used a French-English dictionary and Google Translate  to figure the words I didn't know (which were many; my French is pretty bad) and I'm sure there were some discrepancies. Here is my translation: 


Okay, so here is my actual journey making it....


   Pâte à Tartiner à la Noisette
                                        

A few notes before we begin: I could not find powdered hazelnuts. I'm sure you can find it here in the US, but it must not be very common. Hence, this recipe will tell how to make it, but if you can find it, simply skip those steps and jump ahead in the recipe. Lucky you! Also, the original recipe calls for vanilla sugar, which I saw lots in English and French kitchens, but not so much here in the States. It's wonderful, I very much recommend you make some! Just add a split vanilla bean to an airtight jar of sugar. It will be fragrant and still subtle enough to be used in anything that requires sugar. Finally, the original recipe asks for 150 grams (over two sticks!) of margarine. I used butter instead, because I think margarine is disgusting, and I also recommend you reduce the amount by a little; during the "failure" stage of cooking this, it separated and I drained off heaps of butter. Two stick should be plenty.

Ingredients

1 heaped cup of dark chocolate
1 cup powdered hazenuts, or 1 scant cup whole hazelnuts
1 can sweetened condensed milk 
2 sticks butter 
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
2 teaspoons hazelnut oil 

Preparation

First, make the hazelnut powder. Preheat your oven to 350 and toast the hazelnuts for about 10 minutes. Slide them into a clean dishtowel and vigorously rub them so their skins slip off. Some stubborn skins will remain on; ignore them. The idea is to get most of them off. 

 Put the skinned hazelnuts in a coffee-grinder or a food processor. I was worried it would turn into a paste, so maybe I didn't grind them as finely as I could have. But let it become a powder.

Put the oven at 410. Take hazelnut powder, and then tip it all onto a small baking sheet or a ovenproof dish. Spread evenly and pop into the oven. Let it toast for about 8 minutes. (By the way, this smelled incredible)

Make a double boiler: heat a medium pot with about 2 cups of water and when it's come to a boil, put a heat proof mixing bowl on top of it. It should be big enough that it sits on the pot without you needing to hold it. Throw the chocolate and half of the butter into the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until melted and smooth.



 Add the rest of the butter, the almond powder, the vanilla sugar (or just plain sugar, and a splash of vanilla extract), the condensed milk, and the hazelnut oil. 

Stir constantly until it is smooth and thickened, but not for too long. The recipe says 10 minutes- that proved to be way too long for me. 

(Here comes the part where I thought it was all over...)

So, I took it off the stove and it was all separated, curdley looking,really dark and gloppy, sticky and was one unappetizing mass. I was really bummed, because it was going to be for the blog and I really didn't want my third blog entry to be something that got ruined, especially since I paid 12 dollars for a stupid bottle of hazelnut oil, etc. etc. (Yeah...expect to see a lot of hazelnut oil in the next few weeks)

So I made myself a cup of tea and was feeling sorry for myself, and suddenly it hit me: water! I poured some of the hot water from the kettle into the mess of chocolate and stirred with all my might. It was like magic. It suddenly looked like Nutella, smooth and brown and creamy. I was exhilarated. I threw it back over the heat for a minute or so just so it wasn't super watery and then poured it into glass jars, let them cool for a bit, and sealed it. 

Chocolate hazelnut spread! Hurray! It doesn't taste like Nutella, but I mean, it isn't Nutella. And besides, Nutella isn't French, it's Italian. But it's lovely, chocolately and has a nice hint of hazelnut. Would be nice on some soft bread, crepes, iced cream, or, let's be honest, with a spoon. It also would make a nice gift.  So try it out, and remember: MISTAKES CAN USUALLY BE FIXED!! Such a good thing to remember.


7.1.11

Saucisse Sèche: a love story.

Today we're going to talk about one of my favorite things in the universe. 
Saucisson sec at the Marché des Arceaux in Montpellier, France
I love dried sausage. I just love the flavor. It's heavily seasoned, often garlicky and always salty. (Fun fact; the world saucisse comes from salsus, which is Latin for "salty")

I suppose I ate dried sausage occasionally before, but I didn't truly grasp what a beautiful thing it is until I spent an extended amount of time in France. I truly think it is the perfect food. I mean, unless you're a vegetarian. But I am decidedly not and I probably never will be because of how much I love dried sausage. In fact, when I interview people about food, I always ask them what item would be on party table that would make them exclaim “Yay!" I got lots of answers; ice cream, cupcakes, good cheese, tacos... I was realizing today, that my own answer is probably a good charcuterie plate. Aaahhhh, and with a few gherkins and some  nice green olives?? Best. BEST.
  
In France, I was in heaven because there are so many flavors to choose from. I mean, look at the pictures! All those options. Walnut, hazelnut, black pepper, herbes de provence, chèvre. Chèvre!!!! That is goat cheese flavored dried sausage, people. I mean...we bought blueberry saucisson once. Sounds weird, and I guess it was, but it was so delicious. The ultimate sweet and savory. And who doesn’t love sweet and savory? 

A vendor at the Marché des Arceaux helps us pick something out

 Anyway, my reason for posting this is to inform everybody about mmmaybe the best, dreamiest sandwich in the entire world. It is as simple as it gets and yet irresistible. The dried sausage and butter sandwich. Thank you, France.

I discovered it by accident, and I still remember it clearly. I was leaving Paris, at the hectic Gare du Nord. I was broke and bought the cheapest sandwich I found. I believe it was called “sandwich campagnard”. (Countryman’s sandwich) It was 2 euros, and was a half a baguette, generously buttered and laden with slices of rosette, a fantastic type of saucisse from Lyon. And that was it. I was in love. Three magical food items all in one handy sandwich for the price of a bottled water. The quality of French butter and bread compliment the savory rosette so well; creamy, salty, chewy, crunchy all at once.

After  that fateful afternoon, I ordered many a rosette and beurre sandwich. It sort of became my transit meal, I guess as a nod to the day we met.   Some places serve them with cornichons (gerkins), such as Paul's lovely Sandwich Savoureux.  I made them too! Before a train ride or a flight, I easily could make my own version using whichever saucisse I had on hand. And let me tell you, I always had it on hand.

For an easy, at home version of this, Trader Joes sells delicious Columbus Salame products. Try a sausage butter sandwich! See for yourself....


5.1.11

Welcome to my BLOG!

 I'm Gabby, and this is my blog. 
I decided to write a food and travel blog because they are my biggest passions. I recently returned from about 13 months overseas (mostly in Europe and Israel) where I did everything I could to be around food. I volunteered on farms, in kitchens, and homestays where the lifestyle was often based around cooking and food production. I also ate every single thing that interested me and wasn't ridiculously expensive. 
I made a lot of amazing friends from lots of countries during my travels, and I made sure to "interview" all of them about their favorite foods and cultural dishes. I learned a lot! 
Now it's time for it to all come together. Hence, this blog. I intend to recreate things I tried, learn to make things I heard about from my friends, cook recipes I collected while overseas, and of course, try new things and be creative in my kitchen!
I hope I can make lots of interesting and delicious recipes for other people like me, who love to see the world through their tastebuds!

That said, let's get started! Incidentally, this recipe has nothing to do with the places I've traveled. I just love making this soup. I made it up, sort of by accident a few years back and it's perfect for a cold day when you can't really be bothered to go shopping (such as  it was yesterday here in Boston). It can easily be made with canned black beans, and dried chile powder can be used instead of the fresh.  I always keep overripe bananas in my freezer, so that helps too! (In this case, the more ripe the banana, the better the final product)

                                                             Black Bean Banana Soup


Ingredients

*1 tablespoon oil (I used a blend of peanut and grapeseed for this particular recipe, but go for what you have on hand)
*2 carrots, diced
*2 onions, diced
*2 cloves garlic, minced 
*2 ribs of celery, diced
*1 chile pepper, diced (use more if you want it more spicy and less if you want it less! No two chiles are the same, I always take a little taste before throwing it on the stove)
*3 bananas, diced
*30 oz. cooked black beans, rinsed
*1 litre vegetable stock or broth
*A few avocado chunks, to garnish
*Lime wedges, to serve

Preparation

In a large pot, heat oil. Add carrots, onion, garlic and celery. Let them sweat out for a bit, stirring occasionally, so they become aromatic and soft, but not brown. Add your desired amount of chile pepper and let that soften up for a bit. 
Once everything is soft, add the bananas! Give it a stir occasionally, but you don't need to stand over it. After a few minutes, it will smell amazing and you will know the bananas are heated through. That's when you can add the black beans. Stir it all to incorporate, and then add half of the vegetable broth. 
Use a hand mixer to blend it all together (or use a blender in batches), and let it thicken a little bit.  Add the rest of the broth. 
Season liberally with salt and pepper.
Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over, and avocado chunks on top. (I love avocado with anything remotely spicy....) 

(PS: As an afterthought, I also grated some manchego cheese on top of it, and I imagine queso fresco would go nicely as well...)

Enjoy!