Summertime – Grill Time

As summertime kicks into full gear, it marks the migration from the kitchen to the grill.  Who wants to heat up the house with a hot stove!

One of my favorite things to do on the grill is fresh vegetables.  Now that many are coming into season it’s time for making the most of them on the grill!  I got quite a few zucchini in my last two CSA shares and there is nothing better than slicing them on the diagonally into thick pieces, rubbing them with some olive oil, and throwing them on the grill.  My other favorites are bell peppers, eggplant, asparagus, onions, mushrooms and even tomatoes.

Once I cut them into grill ready pieces, I take a sheet or two of paper towel and my favorite olive oil and rub them all down.  Not too much olive oil mind you, you don’t want flare ups.  But enough to get grill marks and add that delish flavor (plus it keeps them from sticking to the grill!).  I grill them to the color and texture I like then remove them from the grill into a bowl.  I add salt and pepper and – balsamic vinegar to them.  It couldn’t taste better!  I sometimes add a little more olive oil and if I’m feeling really crazy, I sprinkle them with fresh ground parmesan cheese.  Oh la la la la as they say in Paris.  Tres magnifique!!!

These veggies make the perfect side dish for any meal.  The rainbow of colors and the flavors create a visually exciting dish that people can’t wait to eat.  And the pieces are big enough that if there is a particular vegetable that someone doesn’t like, they can pick around it.

Another  great example is simple is delicious!  AND the fresher the vegetables the better.  When using few ingredients, use the best you can find.  It makes a huge difference!

I can’t wait for corn to come into season!!!

Bon appétit!

Fresh Ingredients – Better Flavor and Nutrition

Since my return to the US from my all too short stay in Paris I have been obsessed with the freshness of the ingredients I’m cooking with and eating. One of the many aspects of eating in Paris is the culture of shopping daily at the open markets. Buying the food directly from the farm as fresh as it could possibly be purchased. This not only makes a huge difference in flavor, it also makes a huge difference in nutrition.

Farm Fresh

Fruits and vegetables that are purchased in US grocery stores are minimally a week old. This of course depends on how far the food has to travel and how long it is kept in cold storage. In that time we are lucky of 40% of the nutrients from that food is still there. Many of these fruits and vegetables are grown by single source farmers, meaning farmers that only grow one crop – like corn, a practice that can render the soil deficient of nutrients necessary for healthy plants. This means that it becomes necessary to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The bottom line is that our mega farms are producing food that is less nutritious and has more chemicals being used in its production.

The good news is there are more and more restaurants that are adopting the Farm to Table principle. Chefs working with local farmers to get the products they would like to cook with in their restaurants. This not only includes produce; it includes dairy, grains, and livestock. It is exciting to see farmers and chefs working together and talking to each other about how food is grown or how livestock is fed. The farmers know what the local chefs will buy and therefore are more willing to adopt organic practices to produce more wholesome food. More nutritious and with no chemicals! Imagine how much better it tastes. There is a noticeable difference AND it’s better for you!

Another exciting trend, one which I have recently joined, is people buying CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares from local farmers. This is an exciting win-win concept where people in the community buy fresh fruits and vegetables for the season from a local farmer in advance. As an individual or family, you are guaranteed fresh and organic fruits and vegetables weekly and the farmer knows how much to plant and grow to support the community it serves. Win-win!

A Caprese Salad I made with fresh heirloom tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and basil.

As a person who loves to cook this has been an exciting way to challenge myself. Each week I get a large bag full of fresh veggies, herbs, and fruits. I never now exactly what I will be getting so when I get a pound of Swiss Chard for example, something I haven’t cooked with before, I get to explore websites for recipes and try things I have never cooked before. Of course if there is a vegetable or fruit I don’t care for it can make a lovely gift to a friend or neighbor but so far I’ve used everything I have received.

The farm where I purchased my share here in Delaware, Highland Orchards, also has their own farm fresh eggs. The difference in the taste and freshness of these eggs is very noticeable to me both in eating them for breakfast or using them in my baking.

Another added benefit is that these community-supported farmers are growing many different crops on their land. Through crop rotation, this also ensures that the soil is abundant with nutrients that the plants need to grow in a healthy way. This means that chemicals aren’t necessary because the plants are healthy enough to fight of disease and pests and are in turn more nutritious for us when we eat them.

One of the basic principles of good cooking is to use the freshest and best quality ingredients you can find. Buying fresh ingredients from local farmers is one of the best ways to accomplish that. As our grocery stores have made many fruits and vegetable available all year long, we have moved away from the concept of seasonal cooking. Cooking with an ingredient when it is most fresh and ripe also makes a huge difference in flavor and nutrition.

In fact there are produce items, such as tomatoes, that are available in grocery stores all year round. There are friends of mine that don’t even know when tomatoes are naturally in season. I don’t mean that tomatoes shouldn’t be available all year round. In many cases, I’m glad they are. But there is a HUGE difference in flavor when the delicious Jersey tomatoes are in season and purchased fresh from the farmer and buying the “tomato-on-the-vine” in the grocery store.

I learned a great deal from watching several documentary films, most of which are available to stream on Netflix. Documentaries such as Food Matters, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, The Gerson Miracle, and Food Inc. have taught me a great deal about the food we are eating and the nutritional value of that food. I recommend checking them out for further information.

In the meantime, check out your local farmer’s markets and do a Google search for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in your area. It will make a huge difference in your cooking and your health!

A bientôt mes amis!

On Cooking

Studying at Le Cordon Bleu Paris

Cooking is one of my life long passions. I find that it feeds both my artistic soul as well as my scientific interests. The art of cooking, in creating a masterpiece that is both visually and gastronomically appealing is a thrill. At the same time, one cannot be completely successful in the kitchen if the scientific aspect of cooking is not understood. The way leaveners are activated, the smoke point of oils, the way flour can be overworked to develop too much gluten, the point at which whipping cream becomes butter, all these things and many more must be understood and practiced in order to produce the best quality meal as possible.

My passion for cooking first came to me from my mother. She was a home economics teacher and a fabulous cook. At age 7, my family moved overseas to Tripoli, Libya, where my parents taught in the American school. Living in a place where there are no “fast food” establishments or even a pizzeria, my mother was left with the daunting task of having to prepare all of our meals. I loved watching her in the kitchen, the way she improvised when certain ingredients were not readily available to us in the stores or when she just didn’t have it in the house. My mother saw recipes as a starting point from which to launch her creativity, a suggestion of how to prepare the dish that she would then make her own. On the occasions when we would travel outside of Libya and go to delicious restaurants, she would study the meals we had, try to determine all the ingredients, so she could recreate them once we were home and couldn’t return to the establishment easily to have the dish again. Our shopping trips would always include the exciting adventure of trying to find items like oven proof bowls to make French Onion Soup or heatproof glasses to recreate Irish Coffee. I know it was an extra burden on my mom to cook ALL the time for us, but she made it fun and delicious. And best of all, she taught me how to cook so I could help her – a task that I loved to do and have all my life. I wasn’t so crazy about the cleaning up part, but you have to take the good with the bad. Thank goodness for dishwashers!

One of the best things about growing up overseas was my exposure to so many different types of cuisine. I can remember my first taste of wienerschnitzel in Germany, the first time I tried Calamari in Greece (I thought they were onion rings), and the first time I sipped French Onion Soup in Paris. These experiences helped to shape my palette and my appreciation of all types of food and preparation methods. It was a priceless education, which I feel lucky to have had.

The great thing about this passion is that I never stop learning more about it. Through college as a Food and Hotel major I learned to hone my technique and about cooking for large groups of people. As a breakfast Chef in a restaurant in college I learned the pace of a professional kitchen and getting orders out timely, hot, and delicious. I’ve had side businesses such as catering and cake decorating and through it all I learn more and more. I’ve been inspired by teachers, my friends, meals I’ve had, professional Chefs and TV personalities like Ina Garten, Tyler Florence and the infamous Julia Child.

The all time pursuit of my dreams has been this trip to Paris and taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. I have learned so much in the past 5 weeks that I can’t even put it into words. I definitely want to return for more. Not only have the classes been a learning experience but the restaurants, cafes, patisseries, and the boulangeries of Paris have inspired and educated me. It has been so exciting to see the items that we learn to cook in class in the pastry shops and I always think to myself, I can make that now!

Cooking is a personal thing for each person. Some people I’ve met find it difficult, some find it a chore or task that must be done on a daily basis, others see it as a hobby or a profession. Whatever cooking means to you, I hope you can find the joy in it, whether you think you’re good at it or not. I have a friend who LOVES to sing. She’s not very good at it and she knows it’s not her strong suit. She always apologetic about singing around me but I don’t care that she’s not a very good singer. I love to see the joy on her face and the happiness it brings her when she sings. Learning to cook can bring the same joy to a person and it’s my goal on this blog to help you learn how to cook and to have a good time at it!

In honor of National Chocolate Covered Peanut day, let’s make something easy and Delish!

Chocolate Covered Peanuts

1 bag of Chocolate Chips (12 oz)

1 bag of Butterscotch Chips (6 oz)

1 heaping tablespoon peanut butter (creamy or chunky – it’s your creative choice)

1 pound Peanuts (or cashews, almonds, whatever you like)

Pour Chocolate and Butterscotch chips into a heat proof bowl. Melt chips either in microwave or over a double boiler. When chocolate mixture is completely melted, remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and the nuts. Spoon out chocolate covered nuts onto waxed paper or parchment paper. Let cool till set and hardened. Enjoy!

A bientôt mes amis!

Audience Participation


Delish Restaurant Food!

Bonjour mes amis!
I have been a trainer/teacher for much of my career and one of my favorite things to do in a class is create opportunities for participation. It’s usually a lot of fun and the great thing – we all get to learn! So here goes…

I’ve been in Paris now for 4 weeks. As I’ve said before I’m having the time of my life but there is something that is difficult. Deciding what restaurants to try! There are sooooooo many. I’ve read guide books, foodie recommendations, even my girl Ina’s Barefoot in Paris has great recommendations. I’ve also had some recommendations from fellow bloggers – Thanks – or rather Merci Becoming Madame!! What I find is that anyone who has been to Paris has a favorite or two – or more.

So my idea is… If you have a favorite restaurant or 3 🙂 in Paris, respond to this post with a comment and tell us all about them. There is no limit to the number you can recommend! Please include as much info as possible such as name of restaurant, type of food served, location, what Metro stop is nearest, etc and why you love it. In a week or so I’ll compile a whole list and post it. I’ll also try to sample as many as I can and give my 2 cents.

I look forward to your recommendations as does everyone following this blog!

Thanks in advance for your participation!!
A bientot!

Making French Macaron

The days results...

So… One of the classes I was most looking forward to taking when coming to Paris was a class on making French Macaron. They can be tricky to make so I wanted to learn all the secrets and tricks from the Professionals! Imagine my disappointment when I learned that the class being offered at Le Cordon Bleu was full. I wanted to cry! I’ve been on the waiting list for 4 weeks now but all the same I had to do something about it!

Some of the students at Le Cordon Bleu mentioned to me that there are many other cooking schools in Paris (duh – I should have thought of that!) and they may offer the same course. So a few quick Google searches and Voila! I found an alternative. My first choice was Alain Ducasse who is a major Chef here in Paris. He offers cooking courses through his culinary empire but… the classes at his school are only offered in French. – Merde! My French isn’t good enough for that yet…

Next, I found La Cuisine Paris! Their school is located in the Marais right near my friend’s apartment. They have a macaron class AND they had an opening!! What a BLAST I had in this class! It was taught in English only to my surprise, could be that only English-speaking students signed up. Our teacher, Chef Jenny, is an accomplished Pastry Chef who is American and did her training in Boston. She married a Frenchman and is now living in Paris. She has worked in many fabulous pastry shops here in Paris – including the famous Ladurée, known throughout Paris for the “best” macaron. She is such a good teacher, funny and personable, she had great stories for us, as well as fantastic tips and techniques.

The other students in the class ranged from college students studying in Paris to tourists, as well as residents of Paris new and old. We all seemed to click together and the atmosphere in the class was just fantastic.

We made two flavors; milk chocolate passion fruit and white chocolate raspberry. YUM! We worked in groups to prepare the ingredients. My group had the Milk Chocolate Passion Fruit filling so we set out to make it. As soon as the passion fruit puree started heating up, the room was filled with its delicious aroma and everyone started commenting on how good it smelled. We poured the boiling passion fruit mixture over the milk chocolate chunks to melt it and then added pieces of butter as we whisked it all into submission. Filling two pastry bags with our result, we tied them off and put them in the fridge to cool and set.

We used the Italian meringue method to make our macaron, which means you pour boiling hot sugar syrup into egg whites that are mixing in the stand mixer. You could do this by hand as well but it’s a little challenging. The glossy whipped meringue is then folded into a paste made of ground almonds, powdered sugar, egg whites (unbeaten) and coloring. This is a tricky stage because if you over mix it and deflate the egg whites, the cookies will spread too much when you pipe them out so you have to be very patient.

Our batter came out perfectly under the guiding eyes of our teacher. She showed it to the other half of the class saying, “this is the perfect consistency for your batter.” We all high fived each other in our group…

Piping out the cookies into perfectly shaped and even disks is another challenge. Once they are backed and cooled two of these pillowy cookies will sandwich a delicious filling so there has to be a perfect match for sandwiching. After some practice, we got it down. We even made some heart shaped cookies as Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. You’ll see in the pictures that we even combined the two different colored batters to make bull’s eye macaron.

Baking the shells is the final tricky step. If you undercook them, they deflate and are so sticky that it’s impossible to get off the parchment paper. If you over bake them, they crack and fall apart. Thankfully with our expert Chef’s guidance, our shells came out perfectly and the last step of letting them cool to fill them was under way.

French Macaron are a bit tricky to make but the results are heavenly and worth the effort.

Now one of the biggest secrets of French Macaron making is that you shouldn’t eat them right away. They should be refrigerated for at lease 24 hours to develop their flavor and texture. You can eat them right away but they will be dry and not as delicious. My 24 hours is almost up and I can’t wait to dive into them tonight!!

So even though I was disappointed in not being able to take the class at Le Cordon Bleu, it still all worked out in the end. I had a fantastic learning experience, some awesome macaron to take home with me, I made some new friends, and I had an experience at a different cooking school here in Paris – ce magnifique!

Bon Appetite mes amis!

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Cooking with Champagne – you’re gonna love it!

The word champagne makes most people think FUN, party, celebration, romance, giggle, kiss, Woo Hoo!! Just the sound of the cork popping makes your eyes open wide and your heart fill with happiness. Cooking with champagne is even more exciting!

One of the classes I attended this past week was for food of the Champagne region of France. The only place from which sparkling wine can legally be called Champagne according to the French. Every dish in the menu has champagne in it and let me tell you – each is absolutely FABULOUS!

Leek and Chaource Cheese Tart

The starter is a Leek and Chaource Cheese Tart. Chaource cheese is also from the Champagne region and looks like a thick brie cheese. It has a stronger flavor than brie but not quite as strong as camembert cheese. The tart is made with a short crust pastry which is pre-baked slightly. Leeks are diced and softened in champagne and butter then they line the bottom of the tart shell. The cheese is sliced and fanned out over the top of the leeks beautifully leaving gaps for the filling. The filling is made with eggs and heavy cream and poured over the top just to come to the top of the cheese. Once baked it is creamy, yummy, delish! – and when you eat it the cheese oozes out to add to the creamy texture of the filling. When I tasted it in class I made the “mmmmmmm” sound much to my embarrassment as I saw the other students look my way with amusement.

Sole Fillet and Whiting Mousseline with Champagne Beurre Blanc

The main course is Fillet of Sole stuffed with a Whiting mousseline. It is rolled into a pipe shape and poached in stock or in water then served with a Champagne Beurre Blanc sauce. Beurre blanc is a heavenly white butter sauce usually made with butter, shallots, white wine and vinegar. In this case, it’s made with champagne. The milk solids from the butter get suspended with the acids from the champagne and vinegar which creates a thick and creamy texture. A little fresh champagne is added to the sauce just before serving so there is fresh flavor and some effervescence. Let me just tell you, I am not usually a fan of fish. I could eat this dish EVERY day!! It’s that good. The sweetness from the butter and the cream balanced by the acidity of the shallots and the champagne along with the slight effervescence and the saltiness from the fish stock creates a taste sensation in your mouth that is transformational. OOOOO la la la la la la as they say in Paris!

Champagne Sorbet

For dessert we have Champagne sorbet scented with lemon and orange accompanied by orange scented Madeleines – VERY French and VERY tasty. A light, tasty perfect ending to a fabulous meal. And yes, there is some champagne in the Madeleine batter.

I often use champagne when I’m cooking at home. Sometimes I open the fridge to grab some white wine to add to a sauce or roasting dish; even to vegetables I’m sautéing. Many a time I have grabbed an open bottle of champagne instead of the white wine and I have always been please with the result. Now I know at least ONE of my friends is saying, “leftover champagne?! Quell dommage! Who would have leftover champagne!!” It does happen from time to time… Try it – you’ll love it!

Happy cooking my friends!!