February 29, 2008

You've Gotta Love These...


Guess we'll be watching our step from now on. Pin It

Photo du Jour

The work of stone carvers never ceases to fascinate me. Pin It

February 28, 2008

A South African Feast in the South of France

Our most recent World Food Evening took us on a sensory journey to the aromatic and zesty cuisine of South Africa.

We all brought a dish, as usual, and shared a wonderful meal that included Prawn Cakes with a spicy Cilantro Sauce, a deliciously curried Bobotie served with Apricot Blatjang and Tomato and Onion Salad, and finally a Coconut Tart for dessert.

soft, fragrant prawn cakes

crunchy, onion salad

I'm so disappointed that the photo of the Bobotie was blurry. By the time the main course comes around, I either forget to take photos or don't pay close enough attention to get a decent shot. It was a fabulous dish, full of spices, meat and fruit, then topped with a egg custard and baked. What an amazing melange of flavors!
The recipe came from BBC Good Food magazine. I've added an "American translation" to some of the British terms. (believe me, sometimes it's necessary!)

  • 2 slices white bread
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 25g butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1kg packet lean minced (ground) beef
  • 2 tbsp madras curry paste
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 3 cloves
  • 5 allspice berries
  • 2 tbsp peach mango chutney
  • 3 tbsp sultanas (golden raisins)
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 300 ml full-cream milk (whole milk)
  • 2 large eggs

1. Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. (350F) Pour cold water over the bread and set aside to soak.
2. Meanwhile, fry the onions in the butter, stirring regularly for 10 mins until they are soft and starting to colour. Add the garlic and beef and stir well, crushing the mince (ground beef) into fine grains until it changes colour. Stir in the curry paste, herbs, spices, chutney, sultanas (golden raisins) and 2 of the bay leaves with 1 tsp salt and plenty of ground black pepper.
3. Cover and simmer for 10 mins. Squeeze the water from the bread, then beat into the meat mixture until well blended. Tip into an oval ovenproof dish (23 x 33cm and about 5-6cm deep)(9-10 inches and 2-3 inches deep). Press the mixture down well and smooth the top. You can make this and chill 1 day ahead.
4. For the topping, beat the milk and eggs with seasoning, then pour over the meat. Top with the remaining bay leaves and bake for 35-40 mins until the topping is set and starting to turn golden.
Serves 6

A new addition: a challenging quiz to make sure we get more out of the evening than recipes and great food! We all loved it and I believe it is to become a World Food Evening tradition from now on.

Thomas was happy to nibble on his mommy's necklace.

Our next gathering will be a swanky Manhattanesque Cocktails and Hors d'Oeuvres soirée. Pin It

Photo du Jour

Oh la la!

And yes, they were shared with friends. I couldn't have eaten them all by myself!

(well, maybe I could have....) Pin It

February 27, 2008

A Cheese Field Trip

As I sat on my friend's terrace nibbling a bit of rich, buttery Comté under warm, sunny skies last Saturday, I realized just how far I've come from my pastry chef days.

You see, I had just been offered dessert, a colorful selection of cassis, cherry or apple tartlettes, and politely declined each and every one. I was happy to just sit there and work my way around the abundant cheese platter they had placed on the table.
I actually chose cheese over dessert. My how things have changed!

So, it should come as no surprise that I will go pretty far out of my way to discover a new cheese shop or to visit a small cheese producer.

My sister is also a cheese enthusiast so while visiting her in California we decided that a little field trip to The Cheese Shop in Carmel was in order.

The Cheese Shop - Carmel

Carmel is only about 45 minutes south of her home so we jumped in the car one morning and drove on down.

the selection was impressive

It was a warm, welcoming and friendly place with shelves crammed with cheese, wine and gourmet foods from around the world.

They happily offered a taste of any cheese you were interested in. And we took full advantage of that!

We finally made our choices and purchased some wine, bread, chocolate, a piece of creamy Fourme d'Ambert, some sublime Humboldt Fog, an aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Brie de Meaux and a very special Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse.

It was a very successful field trip!

The Cheese Shop - Carmel
Carmel Plaza (lower level)
Ocean and Junipero
Carmel, CA 93921

Finally...the cheesiest photo ever! Pin It

Photo du Jour

A big, fat bumblebee - taken near the beach in California.

Our neighbor, the beekeeper, was telling me that our early spring-like weather is confusing our local honeybees. C'est catastrophe, he said. Pin It

February 26, 2008

Le Pic de la Calabasse and Pérail du Larzac

Pérail du Larzac and Le Pic de la Calabasse

This week's Fête du Fromage consisted of Le Pic de la Calabasse and Pérail du Larzac.

Le Pic de la Calabasse was sublime!
This fromage de montagne is named after the 7,000 foot peak, la Calabasse, in the mountains othe Ariège Pyrénées. Le Pic de la Calabasse is an artisanale, unpasteurized cow's milk cheese that is aged for at least four weeks in wooden molds. Its flavor is similar to, but a bit more pronounced than Bethmale. The cheese is pale gold in color and very smooth and buttery. It has a mildly tangy aroma and nutty, fruity and slightly salty flavors that melt in your mouth. Its flavors would be perfectly complimented by a glass of light red wine.

The Coopérative Fromagère des Bergers du Larzac produces the round Pérail du Larzac. It is made from the unpasteurized milk of sheep that are raised on the limestone Larzac plateaux in Aveyron. This is a lovely little cheese with a creamy, velvety texture that was both sweet and slightly salty. We absolutely loved it!
 It was so smooth and easy to savor, especially spread on some French bread and accompanied by a glass of Saint Chinian red.

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Photo du Jour - Citrus

A display of wonderful and wacky citrus fruit at la Fête de la Bigarade* last weekend.

* bitter orange Pin It

February 25, 2008

Photo du Jour

Frolicking in the flowers.

Did I mention just how perfect the weather has been? Pin It

February 24, 2008

Pasta With Spinach and Chickpeas

The combination of nutty chickpeas and rich, earthy spinach is one of my favorites!

I made this up last week when we were in dire need of a trip to the grocery store. Everything was on hand, either in the pantry, fridge or freezer.
It was quick and easy and super satisfying.

Pasta With Spinach and Chickpeas
serves 4

3 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1 - 15 1/2-ounce can chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 - 10-ounce package frozen leaf spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
12 ounces short, fat pasta
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Over medium heat, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in heavy, large nonstick skillet.
Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.
Pour chicken broth over the onions and garlic and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
Add the garbanzo beans and spinach and boil another minute.
Transfer spinach/onion mixture to large bowl and add drained pasta.
Drizzle with remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and the grated Parmesan and toss well.
Serve. Pin It

Photo du Jour - Mimosa

February is when the little, golden, pom-pom flowers burst into bloom on the mimosa trees. Pin It

February 23, 2008

Photo du Jour

Fred the cat lives in New Orleans. He's rather, well...um, round.
And he likes to sit up like this, which I find very endearing.

Yes, he has a slight thyroid problem. Yes, he is on medication for it. Pin It

February 22, 2008

Meme Time - I've Been Tagged

Being that I'm back from "vacation," I can finally get around to doing this meme that I was tagged for a couple of weeks ago by Amy at We Are Never Full.

I first heard from Amy when I wrote about Rachel Ray. Not big fans of Ray-Ray over there at We are Never Full. She has written some hilarious posts about her perky nemesis!

On to the meme...


1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 random and/or weird things about yourself.
3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Sounds easy enough.

Seven Random/Weird Things About Me:

1. I loathe grating cheese.

2. From a very young age I used to tell everyone that I was going to be an Entomologist when I grew up. I still regret not following my dream...

3. The movie Friday the 13th, which I saw on my 13th birthday birthday slumber party thanks to the newest invention of the early 1980's- Cable TV, scared the living crap out of me. I looked under my bed every night for years afterward, expecting to find Jason there to kill me.

4. When I was 18, I once spent five days eating nothing but Lucky Charms cereal. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. For five days. I must have been on the biggest sugar high!

5. I adamantly refuse to use Starbuck's stupid coffee lingo. Not that I have the opportunity (thankfully) to do so very often. It is a large, dammit, not a venti. And you know what really bugs me, now that I'm on this rant... they use all this pretentious, Italian inspired language, then when you try to order a ristretto,* they didn't know what you're talking about!

6. Stationery, pens and paper products are my secret vice. New Orleans has a fabulous, little shop, Papier Plume, filled with gorgeous writing instruments, blank books and paper. I could spend hours in there along with my other favorite, Scriptura, which specializes in cards and stationery.

7. I love listening to frogs and toads singing and croaking.

Blogs I'm Tagging:

Jeanne at Cook Sister!
Aimee at Put Your Flare On
Lisa at Homesick Texan
Polly at Polly-Vous Français?
JenJen at Milk and Cookies
Ms. Weasel at La Belette Rouge
Camilla at Enlightened Cooking

Hope you all can join in and share some of your weirdness!

*a short, "restricted," more concentrated shot of espresso Pin It

Photo du Jour

The neighbor's garden gate. Pin It

February 21, 2008

Photo du Jour

Looking up at Saint Louis Cathederal and the Louisiana State Museum in Jackson Square on my last day in New Orleans. Hard to believe it is already two weeks since I left! Pin It

February 20, 2008

Fatigue Got the Better of Me...

Jet lag, I curse you!

Vinisud, an enormous, three day exhibition of Mediterranean wines and spirits in Montpellier took place Monday, yesterday and today. I tried so hard to get into a decent nighttime sleep schedule so I would have the inclination to drive three hours and taste wine all day.
No such luck.
(obviously, sleep is very high on my priority list!)

I'll just have to wait until Vinisud 2010.

Luckily I've been invited this Friday and early next week to help taste and choose the Minervois wines to be sold at the Chai le Port Minervois.

It will be a mini Vini. Pin It

Photo du Jour

Across the street from my sister's house.
Pretty gorgeous, huh? Pin It

February 19, 2008

La Fête du Fromage - Vacherin du Haut Doubs (a.k.a. Mont D'Or)

On today's menu. #fromage #MontdOr

This cheese is one of France's most succulent wintertime treats.

Vacherin du Haut Doubs has been produced for over 200 years high in the Alps, in the Franche-Comté. It was previously called Vacherin du Mont d'Or by both the French and the Swiss, who each claimed that they were the first to produce it. In 1973 Switzerland quietly laid legal claim to it. Then, to add insult to injury, in 1983 they began producing the cheese from pasteurized cow's milk!
Sacré bleu! The French were forced to call the cheese from their side of the border either Mont d'Or or Vacherin du Haut Doubs.

Most French cheese is produced during the summer months, when the animals feed on sweet, summer grasses, so this cheese is unique in that it is produced from the unpasteurized milk of the Montbéliard and Simmentaler cows during the winter months, when they graze on cold weather vegetation and grain. AOC guidelines state that the cheese may be produced only between August 15 and March 31.

Grab a spoon!

Breaking through the moist, thick, wavy rind with your spoon reveals a creamy, beige interior. The flavor is mild, yeasty and subtly infused by the spruce wood box in which the cheese ripens. Warming Vacherin in the oven only improves its flavor, bringing out the richness of this cheese.

So get your spoons ready to scoop up some of its runny deliciousness, and pour yourself a glass of Côtes du Jura, Beaujolais or Chardonnay to enjoy alongside.

This is truly a fabulous seasonal cheese, so get some while you can.

Pin It

Photo du Jour

Hot salametto from P.B. Molinari & Sons. The flavor was surprisingly and pleasantly similar to the sopressata that my grandfather used to make. Pin It

February 18, 2008

Photo du Jour - Spring is in the Air

Les primevères- primroses.
Early signs of spring are everywhere! Pin It

February 16, 2008

Krewe of Saint Anne Photos

The Krewe of Saint Anne had so many wonderful costumes and characters to photograph!
I thought I should share some more of the 70+ pictures I took that day.

Click on any to enlarge.

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I'm finally home!
And other than having to endure the baby sitting behind me that was screaming his head off and kicking the back of my seat for 3 of the 10 hours on the flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam, all went well.

Husband, dogs and cat were all happy to see me and I was happy to see them after three long but wonderful weeks with friends and family.

Now jet lag is kicking my ass. Pin It

February 14, 2008

Photo du Jour - The Coffee Maker

I don't think a more perfect machine has ever been invented. I hate to say goodbye... Pin It

Memories of Childhood Awakened by a Peanut Buster Parfait

The Peanut Buster Parfait.
The perfect mixture of salty peanuts combined with sweet, hot fudge and cold vanilla ice cream. Such a simple and wonderful thing.

Ok, I know this is not the height of gastronomic sophistication, but I do love it so!

My sister and I (secretly) ran over to Dairy Queen this afternoon while my niece was at a friend's and my nephew was at school. We each ordered one and absolutely every bite was sublime. Pin It

February 13, 2008

Moules Marinières

This is one of the easiest recipes.

Plump, juicy mussels in a white wine, garlic and shallot sauce. Plenty of French bread to soak up the sauce. A glass of the remaining white wine.

Moules Marinières
serves 4

extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
3 pounds live mussels, rinsed and debearded just before cooking
handful of chopped fresh parsley
black pepper

Warm the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium low heat.
Sauté the shallot and garlic until translucent.
Add the wine and boil until reduced slightly.
Add the mussels, cover, and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels open, then cook for an additional minute.
Remove from the heat, evenly divide the mussels among 4 shallow soup bowls, sprinkle with parsley and black pepper, and pour the cooking juices over all.
Serve immediately. Pin It

February 12, 2008

Photo du Jour

Yesterday we drove to Moss Landing to buy mussels at Phil's Fish Market so I could make moules marinières for the family. As we passed a little inlet my niece spotted three otters bobbing in the water!
Pin It

February 11, 2008

Italian Food

I'm not Italian by blood. But I am Italian by osmosis.

You see, I'm adopted. And my adoptive parents, who picked me up at the orphanage when I was a tiny six weeks old, are Italian on one side and English on the other. I have to say that the Italian side was much stronger and more gregarious than the English side, thus I feel more Italian than English.

My dad's parents are 100% Italian, both from Calabria, down in the "toe'' of Italy. Have you ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Well, my family's gatherings and weddings were eerily similar. Just call them My Big Fat Italian Weddings and you've got the idea.

Yesterday my dad flew down to visit us at my sister's house and it has been a cooking and eating frenzy since he arrived. Last night I made spaghetti all'Amatriciana for dinner, then this morning the meatballs were being mixed up by 9 a.m., with the final few finishing up their cooking about 11 a.m.
Just in time for brunch. Which consisted of meatballs in sauce, sprinkled with Parmesan, and bread.
It was heaven.

my oldest nephew, mixing up the meatball mix

brunch - meatballs with bread to soak up the sauce

After a third of the meatballs had been eaten and we were all regretting that we had enjoyed so many at our stomach's expense, my dad spied a pile of baking potatoes and decided that we should make cavatelli. Cavatelli is the Calabrian dialect for gnocchi. It is something that I grew up eating on holidays and visits to my grandparent's house. It was always a special treat and my grandma taught me how to make her cavatelli many years ago, but since then I've never taken the time to make it.
Today I had the opportunity.

Three generations of us, with grandma constantly being consulted on the phone, all made a huge batch of cavatelli.

dad making the dough

my sister and oldest niece making pasta

the dough before it is formed into the correct shape

my youngest niece learning how to make the pasta

the rolled out cavatelli

the cooked cavatelli with sauce

I feel very lucky to have grown up with both my Italian and my English parents. But I must admit, the food from the Italian side is much, much better! Pin It

February 10, 2008

Photos du Jour - The Beach

I've always love the little sandpipers darting around.

Pin It

Photo du Jour

The beach today was amazing! So sunny and warm. I couldn't have asked for a better day on my birthday. Pin It

February 8, 2008

Goodbye New Orleans...Hello La Selva Beach!

Yesterday I said goodbye to friends in New Orleans and traversed the country, finally ending my trip in San Jose, California where my sister picked me up to drive me to her home in La Selva Beach.
Yes, my sister lives a mere quarter mile from one of California's most beautiful beaches. Sometimes I think we both lead charmed lives, location wise.
This little beach town is just south of another charming little beach town, Capitola-by-the-Sea, on Monterey Bay.

I'll be spending the week with my wonderful sister, my fun and fabulous brother in law, my four amazing and very lovable nieces and nephews and my dad has booked a ticket to come down from Spokane to see us too!
It's going to be a great week. Pin It

February 7, 2008

Cinderella Came To Mardi Gras...

but Prince Charming was obviously too drunk to notice.

Pin It

February 6, 2008

Photos du Jour - Krewe of Saint Anne

I just have time this morning to post a few pictures from yesterday. The Krewe of Saint Anne Parade was a whirl of color and characters, as usual.

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