Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sauteed Zucchini 

My Mother loves her veggie garden. She may love it even more sending me home with the fruits of her labor.  But each time I leave Santa Barbara with a bag full of her goodies, I have NO idea what to do with them?!  Ultimately, I end up researching recipes online to find the best and moreover, most simple executions.  Tonight was mission zucchini.  I roast asparagus and brussel sprouts nightly but most other veggies require much more thought. I wanted to saute my veg for once and this turned out to be super tasty.  What helped a lot was my handy new mandolin.  Mind you, I have had it since Christmas and never removed it from the box until mission Zucchini!  I can't believe how easy it was to get super thin slices and can't wait to julienne carrots etc.  But I digress per usual...

  • Slice 2 zucchinis into thin 1/8" slices with a mandolin, otherwise slice with a knife as thinly as possible. Knife skills varying :)
  • Heat 2 TBSP EVOO, 2 diced cloves garlic, dash red chili flakes and dash sea salt over medium heat.  Brown garlic for about a minute and add the zucchini.  Lower heat to medium-low and cover pan -- turn zucchini midway through cooking and cook for about 10 minutes. Zucchini should be tender. Add salt if needed and perhaps some parm. Such an easy and healthy side dish to any protein. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Simple Pasta with Tomatoes and Basil

I got home from spinning tonight and realized I had nothing figured out for dinner and I was starving. I remembered that my Mom had sent me home from Santa Barbara last weekend with tons of produce from her veggie garden. So, I decided to whip up a simple pasta with scallions, garlic, EVOO, egg noodles, basil from my little veggie garden and my Mom's cherry tomatoes. I have to say, this was divine. I am not a huge pasta eater, it is just so loaded with carbs but these noodles are Italian egg noodles so contain way less glutton, if any at all.  It was quick, fresh and yummy. Here's the recipe:

Rinse the cherry tomatoes, removed stems and cut them in half -- about 2 cups worth serves 2

2 TBSP of EVOO, dash Maldon salt, 2 cloves of garlic diced & 1 diced scallion. Simmer for one minute until garlic starts to brown. Add tomatoes. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Begin boiling the pasta water -- add lot's of salt to water, this is always a MUST.

Start cooking your pasta-- I used half the box which serves 2. Remove tomatoes from heat, add basil and let sit.

Drain pasta when it's cooked to al dente and add to the tomato mixture. Add another TBSP of EVOO and a bit if cracked pepper. Stir and perhaps add a bit of parm and some cracked pepper flakes ala yours truly. YUMMERS! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

L'Atelier de Joel Robouchon -- Meal of my life.

It happened on a balmy Spring night at a small little restaurant in the heart of St. Germain called L'Atelier. It was an experience that I will never forget. Each patron is sat at a bar surrounding the kitchen; it is performance art -- the art of creating very fine cuisine. The best of the best preparing food that brings it's patrons to tears.  My neighbors were a lovely couple from Sydney, who, like me, love food. We sat together for over three hours conversing as if we had known each other for years. The food and the company created a symbiotic alignment of food and new friends... food truly has the power to transcend. No matter who you are with or where you are in the world, we are all alike in our appreciation for how good life can be.  Because words cannot properly define my experience that night, I will let the highlights of this ten course extravaganza say it all... OH MY!

What we saw as we dined -- the gorgeous kitchen.

First course: Crab Royale. Looks as pretty as it tastes.

Caviar avec creme fraiche. Yes, this was life changing.

Egg at the bottom, morelles and a bit of foam -- oh lala

Red mullet. We never get fish like this in LA!

Asparagus soup

Not to forget the wine. I had to do the pairings, I mean come on. This was my favorite.

Quail, Robouchon's infamous mashed potatoes covered in shaved white truffles.

Dessert: This was ALL edible --Chocolat Araguaini, glace au grue de cacao, biscout Oreo.
NO idea what this all means as it was en francaise.
But... Oh. My. God. It was glorious!

I don't think I will ever have a meal like this again and I constantly remind myself how lucky I am to have had this experience. As I sit at my desk at work, I daydream about this night -- pinch myself! Good food, for me, is most often found in a great burrito, amazing cheese or a piece of great toast even. I don't crave fancy food.  But I really appreciated the love that went into creating this glorious meal and moreover, how uniting food can be. I will be forever grateful for this memory and remind myself often that this wasn't a dream; that it happened one night in Paris. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

This is the easiest veg that I make. I love roasting all my veg but this is by far my favorite. All you will need is a pound of brussel sprouts, preferably fresh from Farmer's Market, some good EVOO, Maldon salt and cracked pepper.  I like to cut each sprout in half to ensure that it gets cooked all the way through. Then I throw them into a bowl and drizzle about 2 tablespoons of EVOO over them and a few pinches of Maldon or sea salt and mix together.  Then arrange them on a roasting pan and crack some fresh pepper on top. I cook them for 8 minutes in a preheated 400 degree stove.  Then I like to turn them over and cook them another 3-4 minutes.  This allows for evenly browned leaves. So healthy and so good! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Septime, Paris


I had read countless reviews of Septime, all overwhelmingly positive.  Moreover, Septime is fresh off the heels of making it on the list of the top fifty restaurants in the world -- sliding in at number forty nine: http://www.theworlds50best.com/list/1-50-winners/septime/.  Here is a quote from the link as it describes the food style and aesthetic of the restaurant better than I can:

This bijou bistro in the 11th Arrondissement in Paris is home to head chef Bertrand Grebaut's spontaneous and delicate cooking style that plays on his experiences with Alain Passard as well as his travels through Asia. The dining room is understated, creating a blank canvas on which Grebault works his magic, and the service is straight-forward, friendly and knowledgeable, mirroring the simplicity of much of the restaurant's cooking.

There is no set menu.  As you can see from the photo above, the menu is called "Carte Blanche."  This is becoming quite commonplace in Parisian dining.  As you are greeted by the very polished and knowledgeable waiters, they inquire about one's food allergies.  Then you are at the mercy of the chef.  It isn't until each course lands on the table that each dish is revealed. I loved that element of surprise.  And they do the same with wine; the sommelier keeps an eye on your glass and refills it with something new that pairs nicely with your next course. So, you don't necessarily have to pair wine with each course but rather as you go.  It is truly an experience.  And at fifty five euros this is steal. I'm sure this is only an added obstacle to snatching the tough reservation. 

First course:
Veal tartar with fava beans, anchovies, dehydrated citrus, grapefruit and drizzled in white wine.  Oh my.  This dish sounded a bit  adventurous even for me but the way the flavors all worked together was mind boggling.  Alone, each component would not have taken on such an effect. Together, what an unbelievably complex dish of seemingly unlikely pairings.  This dish was served with a white wine from Venteto. It was orange in color and apparently made like a red wine and served cool, not cold. It worked so well with the citrus, veal and anchovies.

Second course:
Artichoke served three ways: pureed heart, crispy leaves and roasted leaves served with grapefruit slices.  This was a nice and light course to break up the more distinctive flavors of the first one.

Third course:
Mullet topped with lardon, grilled white asparagus topped in a steak jus.  What a complex dish. The lardon over the fish gave it an added richness and the steak lent the dish an added flavor component. It tasted rich but then went down very lightly. Tres unique!

Fourth course:
Young lamb served very rare with baby turnips.  This dish was divine. Lamb can have a very gamey taste but this was the least gamey lamb I am yet to try. The dish was served with a glass of red from Puglia which was spicey and rich.

Fifth course:
The dessert was a lot more simple in that it was a pollen ice cream served with granola. It was light and exactly how I like to finish a meal. The pollen ice cream almost had a citrus-like flavor more sorbet-like than ice cream. Simple and perfect.

Three hours at a table of one on a bustling Friday night at one of the hottest restaurants in Paris could have been intimidating and alienating but I never felt alone.  The wait staff were so kind and patient with me. They had no problem switching over to English when my eyes went cross-eyed in French confusion.

* I made this reservation on lafourchette.com.  It's the Opentable.com of Paris.  It's amazing.  Make two months in advance and keep checking back if you fail to secure a reservation.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Paris: Travel Tips

I spent all of six days in Paris and won't pretend to be any sort of expert.  But through my travel research I found many websites and blogs with invaluable advice for any trip to Paris. To me, planning and researching a trip abroad can be (almost) as amazing as the actual trip itself. It requires hours of studying photos, reading reviews and emailing various hotels and restaurants. Every time I visit a new website it's like taking a quick trip; it's escapism.  And it's particularly exhilarating when I'm traveling somewhere new.  Since it was my first trip to Paris, everything I read about was that much more colorful in my mind.   But the trip so far exceeded those daydreams.  I am so grateful to not only enjoy doing the "work" involved in planning my trip but that my research led to what I like to call the trip of my dreams as well.

Tip 1:
Do your research on hotels and restaurants.  I am a huge believer in Tripadvisor.com.  I want to know what people's past experiences are. I realize that every once in a while a wonderful hotel will get a rotten guest so I always take a bad review with a grain of salt.  I also like being referred to hotels and restaurants by people I know or even people I don't know but trust as travelers/ eaters. For this particular trip I found my hotel on Goop.com.  Yes, I know. Gwyneth Paltrow can be completely out of touch when it comes to we "lay" people. But she does have exquisite taste. During one trip to NYC I ate completely off her restaurant guide and loved every one of them.  And when I saw that she recommended a small, affordable boutique hotel in the heart of St. Germain in her Paris blog posting, I went straight to Tripadvisor.com to read the reviews and then booked it. *On the flip side, if you really like a hotel or have any hiccups with it, it is great to visit Tripadvisor.com and write a review. It's like returning the favor to your fellow travelers.

Tip 2:

Plan well in advance.  If you are taking a trip to somewhere as far away as Paris, chances are you book it at least six months in advance. Most of the restaurants I visited were really tough reservations.  I started my reservation "campaign" about four months in advance.  I was only unable to secure one reservation.  Otherwise, I really took the time to work with each restaurant.  I ranked my restaurants in order of what I wanted to go to the most. First on that list was a Joel Roubouchon restaurant so I emailed them first. Once I locked that down I attempted the next restaurant and gave them my available dates so that they could work with me.  And on and on.  Unfortunately, OpenTable.com isn't in Europe yet but they do have a site called http://www.lafourchette.com/.  I was able to get a very tough reservations through the site.  And when you don't have international cell service to phone the restaurants, online reservations are very welcome.  I would get a crazy weird high after locking each reservation down. And that wasn't even the best part.  Little did I know what was to come...  (more on the food in another blog entry).

Tip 3:

Know what you want in a hotel.  Do the same thing you would in making a wish list for buying a new home: what is important to you in finding a hotel to suite your needs?  When it came to finding my hotel in Aix, I really wanted a pool.  After the hustle-bustle of Paris, it was really important that I get some R&R by the pool.  Equally important was it to find a hotel within walking distance to town.  Because I was alone, I didn't want to rent a car.  I also LOVE walking. During those daydreams whilst planning my trip, I envisioned myself sitting by the pool and then walking to town for dinner.  And that is exactly what I did.  What made my decision so easy was that there was only one hotel with a pool and was also within walking distance of town, Le Pigonnet, where I ended up staying.  Done and done!  And because it was a little more expensive than I had planned, I was able to save up for it having planned the trip so well in advance. 

Tip 4:

I'm a geeky foodie.  Reading about restaurants and chefs makes me giddy. I can forget a person's name within two minutes of  meeting them but I never forget the name of a chef at any given restaurant. Everyone who knows me knows that Anthony Bourdain is my God. And when it comes to finding great restaurants, Anthony Bourdain is my go-to source for finding them.  His mantra is eat like the locals do. Avoid American chain hotel restaurants. Eat at the mom and pop spots. Since he has been to most major cities in the world for his TV shows and has had to do a lot more of the travel research than I have, I really trust him and his crew. Every show he has ever done whether it be No Reservations, The Layover or most recently, Parts Unknown, has a bog entry. Not only does he list the names of all the restaurants but the hotels and unique sites to visit as well.  Mind you, those sights will never be the Eiffle Towers or the Arch de Triumphs.  Think really, REALLY obscure. Here are two links to his the Paris blogs for No Reservations and the Layover respectively:
http://www.travelchannel.com/tv-shows/anthony-bourdain/travel-guides/paris-1?cat=all&page=2 & http://www.travelchannel.com/tv-shows/the-layover/travel-guides/40-hours-in-paris?cat=all&page=3

Tip 5:

Visit FoodandWine.com.  Here are two great links regarding Paris eats: http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/paris-travel-guide-paris-restaurants  & http://www.foodandwine.com/restaurants/list/ile-de-france-paris/page/2.  Food and Wine magazine has been around for a long time.  I don't know who is responsible for finding the restaurants in the various cities but I have used their restaurant guides for years.  My Summer trip last year was to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I was given the task of reserving restaurants every night.  The first thing I did was to Google FoodandWine.com/ Santa Fe.  Most of our reservations were sourced from Food and Wine and they were all excellent.  For this Paris trip, I was surprised to find that a good portion of those that were on Anthony Bourdain's blogs were also on Food and Wine. There is a good chance that wherever you are going, the city will have a blog posting by either Tony B or Food and Wine or both. 

Tip 6:

Join the emailing list for TheParisKitchen.com.  They offer invaluable advice on eating in Paris.  Just last week they posted about the Do's and Don'ts of eating in Paris.  How I wish I would have known the real rule of thumb about tipping in France.  I honestly had no idea what to do about tipping at restaurants and put change down several times at very high end restaurants, apparently this is a huge no-no.  Here is a short excerpt from that posting which was written by actual restaurant employees:

"DON’T leave small coin change as a tip unless you are in a coffee shop. It is insulting.
Forget all the conflicting tipping information out there. DO leave a 10% tip in cash on the table before leaving if you enjoyed the overall experience, because the team shares what you leave."

They also talk about the hottest restaurants of the moment and often have interviews with those chefs and where those chefs like to eat which is always fun to read about.  I mean, don't you want to eat where the best chefs in Paris eat?!

Tip 7:

Go to the restaurants that are the hardest to get into for lunch or at off times.  The one reservation I could not secure was at Le Comptoir which is pictured up top. It is notoriously the hardest reservation to get in Paris.  It requires a stay at the hotel attached or booking at least six months out. They really did try to work with me which I appreciated.  If you are unable to secure a reservation then go to the restaurant at an off time.  I happened upon Le Comptoir on my last night in Paris at around 4p and easily got an outside table.  That's all it took for me to feel like I had "been" to Le Comptoir. It may not have been the famous $45 week night -- prix fix tasting menu, but it was still pretty damn lovely. 

Tip 8:

Leave a few nights free for the concierge to book restaurants for you.  Chances are that if you are staying in a decent to nice hotel, they are going to have connections and be accustomed to discerning traveler's tastes.  My trip to France included four days in Aix-En Provence.  After having studied and researching so much about Paris, I really wanted to know very little about slower paced Provence.  I didn't have a single reservation in Aix.  And one of my very favorite meals came from a restaurant recommended by my hotel called Chez Mitch.  Your concierge will know about off the beaten path restaurants.  There are going to be nights where you don't feel like dressing up and doing a five course tasting menu and want something a little less fussy. Those are the perfect nights to consult the experts on quaint and locals only.

Tip 9:

Grab a map and do the sights on foot or via the metro.  I'll never forget the day that I walked ten miles round trip to Le Sacre Coeur.  It was the first day with no rain and the streets were slick and the sun was shining.  All I had was my map and my tunes.  I strategically planned my route whilst in bed with coffee and set out for my journey after an enormous omelet  at CafĂ© Flore. I happened upon an area that was so un-Paris-like to me.  I am so glad I was able to see such a different side of the City of Lights -- the darker, more gritty side. I was also able to see most every tourist spot on foot.  How often do you get to run by the Eiffel Tower or through the Luxembourg Gardens in the pouring rain?!

I feared the metro for my first four days in Paris. Since I had to take it to Roland Garros for the Open, it was time to come head to head with my fears.  Figuring the metro system on my own was no small feat but once I did it felt like I had conquered Paris.

Do things that challenge you or take you out of your comfort zone.  Isn't that what traveling is all about? 

Paris, Je t'aime

I had dreamt of going to Paris since college -- experienced such massive French wanderlust that I even became semi fluent in French over the course of those four years. I'm not sure if I was Parisian in a former life but there was something that really intrigued me about France.  I pictured myself living a' Paris, having that quintessentially French way of life. Well, I never made the move... But I did finally get to Paris, fifteen years post-college. After a several months of refresher courses in French, a great deal of planning and restaurant research and I was on my way.

It was my first solo trip ever and It was the perfect country to conquer on my own. I wanted to see and do so much and I didn't want anyone holding me back. I could walk fifteen miles in a day if I wanted to. Or have dinner reservations set most every night. I didn't have to sacrifice my own needs for someone else's, a reality of traveling with anyone.  This was MY trip. A well travelled colleague of mine gave me an article about traveling alone upon my return from France.  I really love one particular paragraph and wanted to share it: "Let me dispel a few myths. You will be lonely. No: you won't. My solo travels in Paris have brought many perfect hours of being alone but not a moment of loneliness.  People who depend on other people are often in hiding from themselves.  Two and a quarter million people live in the City of Light: you will see many of them and you will pass them in the street, but when you see Notre Dam in the dark and walk home and perhaps stop to have a drink in the Marais, you can feel that the only thing that is missing from your experience is the common dependency on someone to distract your attention.  You are living without it. You are on vacation." I cannot imagine a more perfect way of articulating how I felt as I floated around Paris.  And I truly felt like I was floating on my dream-cloud. 

I've had two framed posters of Paris that have moved with me between different homes and work places over the years.  They now hang on the wall in front of me at work.  Little did I know that I would capture almost exactly the same two places on my journey, they are the two photos you see here.  And they are taken in almost the exact same places the photographer had captured. I didn't plan this. I guess the photos are so ingrained in my mind that they overtook my hands and my camera.  But as I stare at the photos now, they mean something so completely different: they are symbolic of a very transformational experience for me.  They are reminders of what it means to realize a dream. 


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Poor Girl's Seafood Cobb ala' Gwyneth Paltrow

Ok, here is my latest obsession: GP has a recipe for a similar salad in her cookbook, "My Father's Daughter" only hers is made with lobster so I am calling this the Poor Girl's version (me) as I am using shrimp instead.  I've been using her chive vinaigrette recipe on every salad I have made since the holidays and it's incredible.  Last night I discovered that I prefer the chive vinaigrette sans chives so I guess now it's just a vinaigrette.  She also suggests using duck bacon but where the hell am I going to find that?!  So I opted for another poor girl's ingredient, turkey bacon from TJ's.  This is so easy, so healthy and so incredibly delish.  Here is the recipe, serves 4:

  • 2 bags butter lettuce from Trader Joes’s
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 8 pc. cooked turkey bacon cut into thin strips or julienned
  • 1 lb. shrimps, tails removed & cut in half , I use Whole Foods pre-cooked & wild caught, I also squeeze some lemon on the shrimp before serving

Vinaigrette from Gwyneth’s cookbook, recipe makes about a ½ cup:

  • 1 tsp Dijon
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ¼ C plus 2 tbsp EVOO
  • Salt and pepper to taste
I divide the recipe by 1/4 if it's just me and use about two tablespoons of dressing. And if you want more protein, go ahead and slice up a hard boiled egg! I'm sure tomatoes would be great too -- I just don't happen to like them in salads.  Beware, it's addictive!