mercredi 31 décembre 2008


Happy New Year 2009!

I am looking forward to finishing 2008 and starting the New Year with the view of blue sky and green-blue ocean and listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the sandy shore.
Yesterday we went to the beach at Cheburna where seashells are gather and can be picked up by the handful.

What better way to start the new year than with one of México's most famous drinks, a Margarita, even if you are not in sunny México?
I have learned that the real Margarita is not the frozen variety prepared in most Tex-Mex type restaurants (known in Progresso as a cruise ship slushy) but is made in a cocktail shaker and served over ice. To order here, it is a Margarita con rocas y con sal (o sin sal if you prefer not to have the salted rim).

There are many varieties of tequila available here ranging from harsh tasting to smooth. The true tequila is made from 100% agave. The smooth tasting ones are "reposado".  I prefer Margaritas made with golden tequila to the ones made with white or silver tequila.

Serves 1

1 lime wedge
Sea Salt, ground
60 mL (2 oz) tequila
25 mL (¾ oz) Controy (or Cointreau)
30 mL (2 Tbsp) limejuice
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) simple syrup or sugar
Lime slice for garnish
Ice cubes

Rub rim of a glass with lime wedge, then swirl in salt to coat rim. Combine remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously and strain into prepared glass over ice. Garnish with lime slice.

vendredi 26 décembre 2008

Sablés au citron

I decided to bake Christmas cookies this year and I can tell you they were a hit. One of the most popular was a new addition to my collection, Sablés au citron. I have eaten these crumbly, buttery, shortbread like cookies in Normandy where they originate but this is the first time that I made them. In Normandy, sables come in many flavours but my favourite flavours are lemon and caramel.

Sablés au citron (Lemon Sand Cookies)
Makes about 16 cookies

250 mL (1 cup) flour
125 mL (1/2 cup) ground almonds
60 mL (1/4 cup) sugar
15 mL (1 Tbsp) grated lemon rind
125 mL (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2 eggs, separated

In bowl, combine flour, almonds, sugar and lemon rind. Cut in butter (using pastry blender or 2 knives or pulse setting of a food processor) until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in egg yolks to make a moist crumbly mixture. Form into a ball and knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F).

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 5 mm (1/4”) thickness. Cut into 8 cm (3”) rounds; place on lightly greased baking sheets. Brush tops with lightly beaten egg whites. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until very lightly browned. Let cool slightly then transfer to a metal rack to cool completely.

jeudi 25 décembre 2008

Summer Salad

In México, the array of fruits and vegetables available never ceases to impress me. The best part is that they are fresh and ripen to the proper consistency and taste. We have been stocking up on mangoes, papaya, peppers, chiles, limes, watermelon and other fresh produce. There are so many ways to serve tomato, chile, onion, cilantro and lime. Salsa fresca is a basic combination of these served with tortilla chips or as a side dish. Varying the amount or type of chile pepper will change the heat of the salsa. This combination makes a wonderful marinade for fish and shrimp or beef. Avocados are plentiful here and so easy to make into guacamole or to slice or dice them to add to omelettes, salads, fajitas, shrimp cocktails to name a few. When we feel like a light meal, I make this tasty and nutritious salad using whatever vegetables are
on hand. You can add tuna or shrimp to make this a hardier meal.

Summer Salad
Serves 4

500 mL (2 cups) mixed salad greens
2 medium beets, cooked and sliced or cubed
2 avocados, flesh only, sliced or cubed
125 mL (1 cup) cherry tomatoes, halved
4 hard boiled eggs, quartered
Vinaigrette (olive oil, limejuice, freshly ground black pepper)
Cilantro sprigs, chopped

Arrange salad greens on plates; top with beets, avocado, cherry tomatoes and egg. Drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with cilantro.

Suggestions for other additions:
½ cucumber, cut into chunky cubes
6 radishes, sliced
½ green pepper, julienned

dimanche 14 décembre 2008

Mexican Breakfast

This year I am spending the holidays in Mérida, México. The weather is glorious - sunny and warm during the day and cooling in the evenings to be perfect for sleeping.  The Christmas festivities are well underway.

What better way to start off the vacation but to have my favourite breakfast of fresh fruit and yogurt?  This colourful platter is combination of papaya, banana and raspberries.  Just add a squeeze of lime juice.

dimanche 7 décembre 2008

Black Fettucini with Scallops in a Lemon Cream Sauce

Scallops are one of my favourite foods. They have a delicate flavour and are tender if not over overcooked. I like them seared quickly over high heat so they are slightly carmelized. A few ways scallops can be prepared are: served plain with a sprinkling of lemon or lime, used in a seafood combination, paired with pasta or served on the shell as Coquille St. Jacques (with a cream, onion and wine sauce covered with cheese and broiled).
For a dramatic presentation, the white of the scallops pairs well with black (squid ink) pasta.
This recipe combines scallops, black pasta, lemon and cream.

Squid Ink Fettuccini with Scallops in a Lemon-Garlic Cream Sauce
Serves 2-4

500 g (1 lb) large scallops
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
45 mL (3 Tbsp) butter
2 cloves garlic, minced or very finely chopped
60 mL (1/4 cup) white wine
250 mL (1 cup) heavy cream

Zest and juice of 1 lemon
15 mL (1 Tbsp) Italian parsley or cilantro (coriander leaves), finely chopped
500 g (1 lb) squid ink fettuccini (fresh or dried)

Clean the scallops by removing and discarding the roe and small muscle. Dry scallops on paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear scallops on both sides (about 3 to 4 minutes per side), and remove to a plate. Reduce heat to medium; add garlic and sauté until soft and fragrant (about 1 minute). Deglaze the pan with wine, increase heat to high and reduce the liquid by half. Add cream and simmer until thickened. Season salt and pepper, add lemon juice, stir, and reduce heat to medium-low. Meanwhile, cook fettuccini in boiling water until al dente. Return scallops to the skillet and sprinkle with parsley or cilantro. Drain pasta and add to sauce; toss until well coated. Increase heat to medium high and cook for 1 minute more to heat through. Serve immediately.

dimanche 16 novembre 2008

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

A fall alternative to pesto made with basil is one made with roasted red peppers.  Roasting brings out the sweetness and a richer flavour in the peppers.  I prefer to roast peppers on the barbecue but have also done it under the grill in the oven.  I tried over the gas element but found that that was too much trouble.  The skins should be blistered and blackened for the best flavour and ease of removal. 
For this recipe, I also roasted the garlic which makes it milder in taste.   Roasted Red Pepper Pesto makes a great sauce for pasta.  It can also be used on pizza, as a spread for bread or crackers or as a dip for vegetables. 

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

3 medium red peppers, quartered, seeds and membranes removed
3 unpeeled cloves of garlic
60 mL (1/4 cup) olive oil
1 small red chile
30 mL (2 Tbsp) pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped

Grill peppers, skin side up, until skin blisters and blackens. Smash garlic cloves with the flat blade of a large knife. Add to peppers for last 5-10 minutes. Peel skin from peppers and garlic. Place the peppers, garlic, pine nuts and chile in a food processor. Turn on and add the olive oil in a steady stream and process until smooth. Add cheese and process until smooth. Remove to a bowl.

dimanche 9 novembre 2008

Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry

It has been a few years since I made stir fry dishes on a regular basis.  
The secret to stir fry cooking is to prepare everything in advance - chop and measure out the various ingredients.  Woks are designed for hot and fast cooking.  They do not hold heat like other pots and casseroles.  Each ingredient will added according to how much time it needs to cook.  The cooking time is short so  you have to be prepared to add the next item or the first one(s) will be overcooked.

Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry 
Serves 4

700 g (1-1/2 lbs) beef, cut in thin strips
125 mL (1/2 cup) mild chile sauce
15 mL (1 Tbsp) lemon zest
60 mL (1/4 cup) lemon juice
60 mL (1/4 cup) water
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
15 mL (1 Tbsp) oil (vegetable or peanut)
250 mL (1 cup) broccoli florets
30 mL (2 Tbsp) fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped

Marinate beef strips in chile sauce in a glass or ceramic bowl for 3 hours or overnight.

Heat oil in a wok over high heat until almost smoking; add beef and stir-fry until browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Heat remaining oil in the wok; add garlic, chile and lemon zest; stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broccoli, lemon juice and water. Cover and steam, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the broccoli is tender, about 3 minutes. Return beef and sauté until heated through. Garnish with coriander leaves.

dimanche 2 novembre 2008

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Muffins are no longer something that I make on regular basis but I do have some traditional ones that I like to make once or twice a year.  I like to make Blueberry Muffins when the tiny wild blueberries are available in late summer and Pumpkin Muffins in fall.  This year I cooked the pumpkin myself rather than buying it canned.   I bought a small pumpkin, removed the tough skin and boiled the pulp.  An alternative would have been to roast it in the oven.   The taste of pumpkin works well with many spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.  A combination of these are used in this recipe.   You can always substitute an equal quantity of the 4 spice mix for the individual spices.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Makes 12

430 mL (1-3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
160 mL (2/3 cup) brown sugar
7.5 mL (1-1/2 tsp) baking powder
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) baking soda
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) salt
5 mL (1 tsp) cinnamon
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) ground ginger
1.25 mL (1/4 tsp) ground cloves
1.25 mL (1/4 tsp) freshly grated nutmeg
60 mL (1/4 cup) chopped walnuts
60 mL (1/4 cup) raisins
2 eggs
180 mL (3/4 cup) cooked pumpkin
60 mL (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
5 mL (1 tsp) vanilla

Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F).

In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices; mix in walnuts and raisins. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin, oil and vanilla; pour over dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin tins ¾ full and bake for 20-25 minutes.

dimanche 26 octobre 2008


A typical Canadian weekend breakfast consists of pancakes with maple syrup, bacon, eggs, juice and coffee. It has been a long time since I had a full breakfast and I don't miss it but from time to time I do like to make plain pancakes from scratch.
I used to make these in an electric griddle but since that pan is in Canada and I have not bought a European one, I use either my non-stick or regular frying pan.

Basic Pancakes
Serves 3-4

375 mL (1-1/2 cups) all purpose flour
45 mL (3 Tbsp) sugar
7.5 mL (1-1/2) tsp baking powder
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) salt
375 mL (1-1/2 cups) milk*
45 mL (3 Tbsp) vegetable oil (or melted butter)
2 large eggs
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract (optional)

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl; beat in milk, oil and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients; stir to blend. Batter should be lumpy.
Heat a large skillet. Brush with oil. Pour batter onto skillet in 60 mL (¼ cup) measures taking care not to crowd the pan.

* Adjust the amount of milk to achieve the consistency of batter and thickness of pancake that you prefer.

dimanche 19 octobre 2008

Chile con Carne

Chile con Carne
Serves 6-8

30 mL (2 Tbsp) vegetable oil
1 kg (2 lbs) lean ground beef
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and membranes discarded, finely chopped
1 red or green pepper, chopped
2 – 425 g (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
60 mL (1/4 cup) tomato paste
430 mL (1-3/4 cups) water
15-30 mL (1-2 Tbsp) ground ancho chile (or other chile powder)
10 mL (2 tsp) dried oregano, crushed
1 mL (1/4 tsp) ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 - 425 g (14.5 oz) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Sour cream, shredded Cheddar cheese and green onion, for garnish

Heat oil in a Dutch oven, add onions, garlic and peppers; cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Add meat and cook, stirring, until browned all over. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, water, chile powder, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 40-45 minutes, stirring frequently. Add extra water if needed to bring chile to desired consistency. Add beans and cook for 10 minutes longer.
Spoon into bowls and serve hot.

dimanche 12 octobre 2008

Roasted Tomato Fennel Soup

We are a couple of weeks into the grape harvest here in the Moselle region. Farm machinery is encountered on the roads but luckily here, on the German side at least, they tend to move over to allow people to pass where possible. The road along the Moselle has a lot of turns and twists making it difficult to pass.

The mornings here have been very foggy and cool. So between the fog of the mornings and the major financial crisis, I have been thinking about comfort food in the form of soup. What could be better than vegetable soup to give the vitamins and minerals to survive the day?

I made a pot of Roasted Tomato Fennel soup. Roasting the vegetables give a more robust flavour. The end product looks like carrot soup but I can assure you that it tastes nothing like that. The wonderful anise flavour of the fennel marries well with the tomatoes. For an extra anise flavour you could add a touch of Pernod just before serving.

Oven Roasted Fennel and Tomato Soup
Serves 2

1 fennel bulb, cored and roughly chopped
3 tomatoes, quartered
1 carrot, roughly chopped
500 mL (2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F).
Roughly chop vegetables, place on a baking tray; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
Oven roast for approx. 10-15 minutes or until vegetables have softened. Place vegetables in a pot, add stock and simmer for 8-10 minutes; blend into a creamy soup.
Serve hot, drizzled with olive oil. Garnish with gremolata.

15 mL (1 Tbsp) fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, sliced
Lemon peel
Combine the ingredients on a chopping board and mince finely.

vendredi 3 octobre 2008

petit déjeuner français

The classic petit déjeuner français consists of café, croissant et jus d'orange.  Simple but iconic.  What could be better than sitting on a terrace watching Paris come to life than this?  Avoid the tourist places that charge a fortune unless it is a particularly good people watching location.  
Coffee has many names, styles and prices in Paris:

“espresso” can be a “café normale’, “serré” squeezed for a smaller but stronger amount, “elongé” elongated for a larger amount or “noisette” with a dash of milk.  “decaf” (silent “f”) is decaffeinated espresso.  

“café American” is the typical large North American cup of coffee

“café crème” is usually a mid-sized cup of coffee with steamed milk like a cappuccino and can be ordered as simply “un crème” or a “un grand crème” if you want a larger size.   Sometimes ordering a crème will result in a coffee with a plastic container of creamer and sometimes the English style of a separate jug of heated milk.  

“cappuccino” is not like the Italian version but one with a hint of chocolate and whipped cream.

“café au lait” is a large bowl of coffee with steamed milk.  Some places will bring you a “crème” and others a large bowl of café au lait at a price of up to €19.   My conclusion is that this is what Parisians drink at home for breakfast on the weekend when time permits and not something to order out.    

Sitting or standing at the bar is less expensive than sitting at a table.  Sitting on the terrace often incurs an extra premium but often worth it for people watching.  Unlike in Canada or the US there is not a time limit on tables and often it is more of a challenge to be able to get “l’addition” to pay and leave.

dimanche 21 septembre 2008

Tarte aux tomates

This weekend I decided to make a Tarte aux tomates (tomato pie).  To keep it easy and quick, I used store bought puff pastry.  While I have made my own puff pastry, it does take time and effort to go through the many steps to incorporate the butter to make the flaky layers.  

I rolled out the pastry into my quiche pan and brushed it with Dijon mustard, then added a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes and chèvre.  Topped it off with chopped fresh basil leaves and popped it into the preheated oven (200°C / 400°F) for 30 minutes.  

Ready for the oven: 

Out of the oven and ready to be served:

lundi 15 septembre 2008

Clam Chowder

Clam chowder is one of my favourite soups.  My preference has always been for New England style with cream over Manhattan style with tomatoes.  I have read recently that there is also a clear version of chowder made with broth that I hope to try out one day.

In Canada, I made Clam Chowder with tiny canned clams but in Paris, I bought clams on the shell and steamed them open before adding to the chowder.    In Luxembourg, I found cans of palourds, the larger clams, at the grocery store so decided to give them a try.  

A plate of "palourds et crevettes" from Normandy cooked and garnished with a lemon slice in a tasty starter course.   

Clam Chowder

Serves 2

1 slice of smoked bacon
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
250 g (1/2 lb) potatoes, thinly sliced or diced
15 mL (1 Tbsp) butter
375 mL (1-1/2 cups) milk
Approx. 250 g (8 oz) tinned whole clams
Freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper

Cook bacon in a large skillet. Add butter, onion and carrot and cook until onion is softened. Add potato and liquid from the clams; cover and simmer until potato is softened (about 15 minutes). Add water if the pan starts to dry out. Add milk and clams; simmer, stirring occasionally, until chowder is heated through. Ladle into bowls and season with pepper and cayenne. Serve immediately.

lundi 1 septembre 2008

Verrine de carpaccio de saumon

Verrines or single servings in small glasses have been around for a few years but are now beginning to hit mainstream.  I think it started as an interesting way to serve appetizers or desserts.  I have been intrigued by them since first seeing them served at a vernissage or art opening for one of my favourite French artists, Daniele Fuchs, in Versailles.  There were tables laid out with rows of Chinese soup spoons each filled with a mouthful of smoked salmon or devilled egg and little glasses of dessert type goodies.  Since then I have been searching for appropriate sized glasses and the right number of dinner guests to try out some combinations.  

I think the "keep it simple" principle works best.  These are small quantities we are taking about presented in artistic ways, if possible.  It is an ideal way to present a cold summer soup starter.  Or trios of desserts (a little sample of each).  The downside is having lots of glasses or spoons to wash but a small price to pay for art I think.  

In this example, I have just used salmon carpaccio mixed with lemon juice, scallions, olive oil, pepper, lemon zest and cilantro served in tiny vodka glasses and spoons.  The salmon could be replaced by smoked salmon.  This could also be served in layers alternated with chopped tomatoes or avocados. 

The limit is really your imagination.  

dimanche 24 août 2008

Penne and Peppers

I found a brightly coloured multi pack of peppers at the Auchan supermarket in Luxembourg and decided to give them a try in 
this quick and easy pasta dish.
The recipe can be varied by:
Replacing penne with fusilli (farfalle or bowtie) pasta.
Replacing fresh peppers with roasted peppers
Using different coloured peppers
Adding tomatoes
Adding parsley or chile peppers

In future, I will stick with regular red, yellow and green peppers. These exotically coloured ones lacked in flavour and texture for this dish.

Penne with a Trio of Peppers
Serves 4

400 g (14 oz) penne
30 mL (2 Tbsp) olive oil
1 red or yellow onion, sliced in strips
1 each red, green and yellow peppers, seeded and cut in strips*
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook penne in a large pot of boiling water for 8-10 minutes or until al dente. Drain.
While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add onion, garlic and peppers and sauté for 10 minutes or until tender.
Add pasta to the peppers and stir to mix. Season with salt and pepper; sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.

* Peppers can be grilled, peeled and seeded prior to slicing and adding to the onions. This will give the dish a slightly smoky flavour and the peppers will be easier to digest.

dimanche 17 août 2008

Red & Green Tomato Salsa

When I was about 8 years old we lived in Liverpool, Nova Scotia in a large house with a barn and gardens. In the summer we picked raspberries from a patch in our yard – we would go out with empty apple juice cans tied with string around our necks. We ate our fill of raspberries. My mother made jars and jars of raspberry jam with the bounty of the wonderful red berries.
At the end of the summer we had vines of green tomatoes. No one expected green tomatoes. After waiting to see if they would ripen to red, my father decided that they must have been a green variety rather than red ones that did not ripen. Undaunted, Dad harvested them and made Green Tomato Chutney. We had no recipe for it so he did what Dads do and improvised. I can’t say that I remember what it was like just that he made it.
Fried Green Tomatoes came to our attention in the wonderful movie of the same name. It is a southern US specialty that came about from the abundance of tomatoes and the need to pick some tomatoes early to prune the vines. In the southern US green tomatoes are available through out the summer, in the northern US and Canada they tend to be late ripening tomatoes left on the vine at the end of the summer and not a culinary treat.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Ouistreham and saw green tomatoes at the Marché. I bought a few to give them a try. Green tomatoes have a firmer texture more like young green peppers and a tarter taste than fresh ripe red tomatoes.
The green tomatoes reminded me of tomatillos, a green fruit covered with a husk used in Mexican cuisine. They are of the tomato family although not the same thing as green unripe tomatoes. I thought I would combine the red and green tomatoes to make a salsa that took advantage of the differences.

Red & Green Tomato Salsa
Makes 500 mL (2 cups)

1 chile, roasted, seeded and peeled, finely chopped*
2 medium ripe red tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 medium green tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
15 mL (1 Tbsp) freshly squeezed limejuice
15 mL (1 Tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix. Let stand 30 minutes for flavours to blend. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.

*Amount of chile to use will vary depending on the type and heat of the chile and how hot you like the salsa.

dimanche 10 août 2008

Summer Borscht

The high natural sugar content (higher even that carrots and corn) has placed beets in the forbidden category for many diets. However, upon further study, it seems that these earthy, good for you tasting beets are really good for you AND your diet as they can help cleanse toxins from the kidneys, gall bladder and liver. This is in addition to their potassium, vitamins A and C, magnesium, riboflavin, iron, copper, calcium and zinc content. Beets are a good source of fibre and contain antioxidant properties. The diet angle is that an overtaxed liver can cause a person to gain weight, especially around the middle, so anything you can do to assist your liver with the elimination of the toxins will help with losing weight. It is recommended to drink three to eight ounces of fresh beet juice each day. Maximum benefit is derived from drinking it in the morning, mixed with other milder tasting juices such as carrot, cucumber, celery, lemon or apple juices combined with freshly juiced ginger root.

My first introduction to borscht or beet soup was at Ratner’s Deli in Manhattan about 25 years ago. I am not sure that I tried it there but it made an impression on me so I bought their cookbook and made it myself. There are two versions of the borscht - one for summer and a heartier one for winter. I make the summer version and have tasted a winter version made by one of my friends.
Take care when working with beets as the juice can stain your hands, clothes, countertops, etc.

Summer Borscht
Serves 6-8

6 medium beets
500 mL (2 cups) chicken stock
30 mL (2 Tbsp) sherry or red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
30-45 mL (2-3 Tbsp) dill pickle juice
60 mL (1/4 cup) sugar, or to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Crème fraiche or sour cream
Several sprigs of fresh dill, chopped

Rinse beets and cut stems approximately 8-10 cm (3-4”) from beet. Place beets in a deep pot, cover with water, bring to a boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 50 minutes, or until beets are tender.
Remove beets and set aside to cool. Reserve approximately 1-1/2 litre (6 cups) of cooking liquid. Peel beets and dice into bite-size pieces.
Return beets and beet broth to the pan; heat over medium low heat. Add chicken stock, vinegar, lemon juice and dill pickle juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir until sugar has dissolved and borscht is heated through. Serve warm or cooled to room temperature, garnished with a dollop of sour cream and chopped dill.

jeudi 31 juillet 2008


A summer favourite of mine is bruschetta.  It is a  perfect aperitif accompaniment.  The bread can be grilled on the barbecue, under the oven grill or in the toaster/toaster oven.    The best bruschetta is simple - lightly toasted baguette or Italian bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with fresh tasty tomatoes and basil.  
A Spanish version is made by rubbing both garlic and tomato onto fresh bread but I prefer the Italian version.  My personal twist is to replace the basil with cilantro (fresh coriander) and brushing the toast with a little chile oil for a Mexican flavour.  
You can really personalize the bruschetta by varying the type of bread, thickness of the slice, herbs and amount of garlic.  

Bruschetta con pomodoro (Bruschetta with Tomato)
Serves 4

3-4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil leaves, torn in pieces
8 slices of Italian or crusty bread
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
90 mL (6 Tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil

Place the chopped tomatoes and shallot in a small bowl. Season with pepper; stir in the basil. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Toast or grill the bread until it is lightly browned and crisp on both sides. Rub one side of each toast slice with the garlic clove. Arrange on a platter. Sprinkle or brush with olive oil and spoon over the tomatoes. Serve immediately.

dimanche 20 juillet 2008

Zucchini Blossoms

I found zucchini blossoms in the marché in Thionville, France on Saturday. The vibrant yellow colour and the chance to make something so delicate and seasonal were irresistible. I brought some home. I have been eyeing them in my neighbour’s garden with envy. It is so rare to see them in markets since they are so fragile.
Zucchini is a vegetable that seems to multiply in gardens – a little goes a long way or you will be looking to give a lot of it away to friends and neighbours. Eating the female blossoms could be a good way to curb the population. Trust the Italians to come up with a way to use every part of the zucchini, even the flower.
Only use firm, fresh blossoms that are slightly open (the lighter yellow ones). Do not eat the darker spent (wilted) flowers. An example of how it is advantageous to get to know your marché merchants in France so that you will get the “good” produce. Male zucchini blossoms have stems and stamen; female ones are attached to tiny zucchini and have pistils.

I chose to deep fry the flowers coated in a light tempura batter. Maybe next time I will chose to stuff them.
To clean the flowers, use a damp cloth rather than rinsing under running water as this can damage them.

Zucchini Blossom Tempura

Serves 4

1 egg
250 mL (1 cup) ice water
250 mL (1 cup) all purpose flour, sifted
12 zucchini blossoms

Prepare the of zucchini blossoms by trimming stems and removing pistils or stamen; wipe gently inside and out with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or insects.
Beat the egg in a bowl; add ice water and stir to mix. Add flour and mix lightly (batter should be lumpy).
Dip zucchini blossoms in batter and deep fry until golden; drain on absorbent paper and serve hot.

dimanche 13 juillet 2008

Moroccan Beef Tajine

Moroccan cuisine is rich in spices. Cumin, coriander, saffron, chiles, ground ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and paprika are commonly used. The combinations are widely varied and each kitchen has its own secret blend (comprised of anywhere from a few to 100 different spices). Raz el hanout is typically a blend of cinnamon, turmeric, freshly ground black pepper, nutmeg, ground cardamom seed and ground clove that is used in couscous and tajines. In addition to dried spices, garlic, chiles and fresh herbs such as coriander (cilantro) and parsley are also commonly used. Harissa, a very spicy paste of garlic, chiles, olive oil and salt, is used during cooking and/or as a condiment on the side for those who want extra heat.

Thanks to my friends who brought me back some Moroccan spices from their trip to Marrakesh, I now have paprika, saffron, harissa dry mix and a blend of 4 spices (for grilled fish) to experiment with.

I decided to start with the paprika and made this spicy rich Moroccan stew. As I do not have a wonderful Tajine (a North African cooking pot with a dome-shaped top), I made it in a Dutch oven (large casserole). It tastes even better the next day. Serve it with the traditional couscous.

Moroccan Beef Tajine

5 mL (1 tsp) cayenne pepper
15 mL (1 Tbsp) paprika
15 mL (1 Tbsp) ground ginger
15 mL (1 Tbsp) turmeric
30 mL (2 Tbsp) ground cinnamon
10 mL (2 tsp) freshly ground black pepper
1 kg (2 lb) stewing beef, trimmed and cut into 5 cm (2”) cubes
2 large onions, chopped
60 mL (4 Tbsp) olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
800 g (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes
125 g (4 oz) dried apricots, quartered
60 g (2oz) sultanas or raisins
5 mL (1 tsp) saffron, soaked in cold water
625 mL (2-1/2 cups) beef stock (preferably homemade)
15 mL (1 Tbsp) honey
30 mL (2 Tbsp) cilantro, chopped
30 mL (2 Tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

Mix together cayenne, black pepper, paprika, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon in a small bowl. Place half of the spice mixture into a large plastic bag, add beef and toss to coat well. Leave in refrigerator overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F).

Heat half of the olive oil in a Dutch oven (or large casserole dish). Add chopped onion and remainder of spice mix; cook over gentle heat until the onions are soft but not coloured. Add garlic and cook a few minutes longer, until fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside. Heat the remaining oil; add beef and brown all sides (this might need to be done is several batches depending on the size of your pot). Add some of the juice from the tomatoes to deglaze the bottom. Return onions to the pan; add chopped tomatoes, apricots, raisins or sultanas, saffron, beef stock and honey. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven to cook for 2-2½ hours (until meat is tender). Garnish with chopped cilantro and parsley. Serve hot over couscous.

dimanche 29 juin 2008

Shrimp and Melon Salad

This weekend both melons and shrimp were on sale so I decided to make a summer salad. This is more of a throw together salad than one that has a recipe. The shrimp were pre-cooked which is sadly the most common way to find them here. From time to time, raw shrimp is available.

Fruit is a wonderful addition to green salads. I have recipes of salads using fruits such as strawberries, peaches, nectarines, figs and melons.

I marinated the shrimp with a little chile oil (olive oil infused with chiles), garlic, cumin powder, ginger and freshly ground black pepper. I placed the shrimp and melon balls on a bed of bibb lettuce leaves and drizzled with a vinaigrette of olive oil, raspberry vinegar and sugar.

mercredi 18 juin 2008

Beef Do Piaza

My mother had one small spice rack in her kitchen that contained tins of mustard powder, white pepper, mild paprika, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, marjoram, thyme, sage and a couple of others. Cinnamon was probably the most commonly used one for baking and mixed with sugar for cinnamon toast. As far as I knew, the paprika was only ever sprinkled over mashed potatoes for colour. Curly parsley was probably the only fresh green herb that we knew.

Today I probably have over 40 different herbs and spices in my kitchen. All these are necessary to prepare the different types of cuisine that I make. Indian cuisine is one of the most fascinating for its unusual blends of spices and herbs. It is not unusual to use a combination of 5-10 different herb and spices in one dish. Some recipes call for the spices to be dry heated in a pan first. Some call for the herbs to be cooked in the dish then added fresh to the completed dish as well for two different tastes.

Beef Do Piaza (Beef with onions cooked in two different ways)
Serves 3-4

2 large onions
20 mL (1-½ Tbsp) olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
7.5 mL (½ Tbsp) freshly grated ginger
1 mL (¼ tsp) chilli powder
7.5 mL (½Tbsp) ground coriander
7.5 mL (½ Tbsp) ground cumin
2.5 mL (½ tsp) ground turmeric
2 cardamom seeds, crushed
2 cloves
600 g beef, chopped into cubes
125 mL (½ cup) yoghurt
200 g can crushed tomatoes
15 mL (1 Tbsp) fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
15 mL (1 Tbsp) fresh mint, chopped
6 mL (¾ Tbsp) garam masala

Thinly slice one onion and dice the other. Heat half the olive oil in a large pan, add the sliced onions and cook until lightly browned. Remove onions from pan and reserve. Heat remaining olive oil and add the diced onion, garlic and ginger; cook, stirring until onions are lightly browned. Stir in spices; cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add beef and brown on all sides. Add yoghurt in about 4 batches, stirring well after each addition. Add undrained crushed tomatoes; simmer, covered about 30 minutes or until beef is tender. Just before serving, add reserved onion slices, fresh herbs and garam masala; stir until heated through.

lundi 9 juin 2008

Insalata Caprese

Summer means fresh tasty tomatoes and not the red globes that try to pass for them the rest of the year (those SHOULD be given another name). Even in summer real tomatoes are hard to find unless you are lucky enough to grow your own. Tomatoes and basil were meant to be together. This really is the taste of summer.

The first time I was had Caprese Salad was at my friend Jane’s home near Paris a couple of years before I moved there. This simple blend of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil with an olive oil and vinegar dressing has become a favourite in all its variations chez Jan. Jane is a fabulous cook and her version used “Vinaigre de vin aromatise noix” or walnut flavoured vinegar. It was such a fabulous new taste sensation that I had to import a bottle or two to Canada to impress my friends with my new secret ingredient. I did find it later in Toronto at one of the fruit and vegetable markets on the Danforth. My preference is the Maille brand (in Paris, buy it from Monoprix or other grocery stores rather than the Maille store on Place Madelaine for a better bargain).

Mozzarella is a semi-soft white cheese with a spongy texture. It is made from either cows milk or buffalo milk (mozzarella di Bufala). It is a cheese which can be found in un-pasteurized or pasteurized varieties. In Canada, think of Bocconcini, the small balls of mild buffalo cheese rather than the hard, stringy balls sold as mozzarella. Buffalo mozzarella has a softer texture and slightly stronger flavour. In Europe, mozzarella balls are packaged in plastic bags with whey or water.

The recipe here calls for tomatoes and mozzarella to be cut in rounds. It can also be made with cherry tomatoes – for this I suggest that you either cut large mozzarella balls into chunks that roughly match te size of the tomatoes or use the tiny mozzarella balls.

Insalata caprese (Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil Salad)
Serves 4

4 large tomatoes, sliced
400 g (14 oz/ 2 cups) fresh mozzarella, cut into rounds
8-10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
60 mL (4Tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
30 mL (2 Tbsp) balsamic or walnut vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Arrange the tomato and mozzarella overlapping slices on a serving dish. Decorate with basil. Sprinkle with olive oil and vinegar. Season with pepper to taste.

dimanche 1 juin 2008

Spinach and Mushroom Salad

Spinach is one of the vegetables that have an earthy “good for you taste”. Spinach’s claim to fame was as the force giving food of Popeye the Sailor Man. It seems that sometime ago a scientist published a report with a typo that gave spinach 10x its actual level of iron and perpetuated the myth that spinach would make you very strong. However, spinach is good for you - it is packed with vitamins and minerals (A, B9, C, E, magnesium, manganese and iron to name a few). Spinach can be eaten raw, stir fried or quickly steamed. Boiling will destroy some of its nutritional value. Store fresh spinach for a few days only in the refrigerator. Do not reheat cooked spinach.

The dressing for this Spinach salad can also be used as a dip for carrot, celery and cucumber sticks.

Spinach and Mushroom Salad
Serves 4

1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and dried
125 mL (½ cup) mushrooms, sliced
30 mL (2 Tbsp) Roquefort cheese
60 mL (¼ cup) sour cream or crème fraîche
15 mL (1 Tbsp) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, mash together Roquefort and sour cream; stir in lemon juice.
Remove any large stalks from spinach and tear into bite-size pieces. Place spinach, mushrooms and salad dressing in a large salad bowl; toss to coat well and season with black pepper.

Another blue cheese such as Gorgonzola can be used in place of the Roquefort.
Silver beet (chard) can be used instead of spinach.

dimanche 25 mai 2008

Penne with Julienne Vegetables

The last week of May is often cool and rainy then followed by a hot and sunny first week of June. I remember this because it is when the French Open tennis is played at Roland Garros in Paris. For the first time in 9 years I will not be living in Paris or going to watch the action in person. I will not have friends visiting so we can talk about tennis non-stop for two weeks. The live internet video feeds are not available in Germany or Luxembourg and I have no TV so I will not be watching the tennis action (unless I can figure out an alternative). I do, however, have e-mail and Skype access to my friends and we will be sharing our match predictions and other tennis gossip but without the advantage of the usual ‘inside scoop’.

As major tennis fans (and players), we usually go to Roland Garros during the first week to see the newcomers as well as to catch up with our old favourites. We get to see the early surprise upsets. We take this very seriously and plan our activities for every day of the slam – the draw is scrutinized and the order of play matched with our schedule. When our coach could not be in Paris, we would send our updates and get his input on which matches to be sure to see next (and why). We try to get in a match or two ourselves hoping that some of what we have seen rubs off on our own play.

This is also the time I year when I throw the most dinner parties. Some casual ‘drop by after tennis’ ones and more formal ones for days when we are not on-site at Roland Garros. Dinner comes with the understanding that it might be late if there is an interesting match that interrupts the preparation (as when the then unknown Frenchman with the brilliant blue eyes, Marc Gicquel, was playing a couple of years ago – delaying both guests and dinner). Sadly no dinner parties are scheduled for the next two weeks but that could change.

This quick and easy recipe could be made for an after tennis day.

Penne with Julienne Vegetables
Serves 4
30 mL (2 Tbsp) butter
125 mL (1/2 cup) julienne carrots*
125 mL (1/2 cup) julienne zucchini*
125 mL (1/2 cup) green beans, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
125 mL (1/2 cup) frozen small peas
125 mL (1/2 cup) chicken stock
250 mL (1 cup) light cream
60 mL (1/4 cup) Romano cheese, freshly grated (optional)
60 mL (1/4 cup) fresh Italian parsley, chopped (optional)
30 mL (2 Tbsp) fresh dill, chopped
Freshly grated nutmeg
375 g (3/4 lb) penne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook penne in large pot of boiling water until al dente.
Meanwhile melt butter in a large skillet; add carrots, zucchini, green beans and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Add peas and stock. Cover and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp. Reduce heat to medium-low; stir in cream, Romano, parsley, dill and nutmeg. Cook, stirring, until heated through (do not allow to boil).
Drain penne and add to the sauce; toss to coat well. Serve in warmed pasta bowls. Season with salt and pepper.

*julienne = cut into matchstick shaped pieces

dimanche 18 mai 2008

Rhubarb Muffins

I spotted rhubarb in our garden the other day and immediately had visions of being in my maternal grandmother’s garden. She had a rhubarb patch at the side of her house in Greenock, Scotland. Gran Blair treated my brother and me to rhubarb stalks and paper cones of sugar for dipping. Rhubarb is tart and the sugar made the green and red stalks edible. Quite exotic for two kids who grew up in Canada and had probably only ever eaten cooked rhubarb.

Rhubarb falls into the “Is it a fruit or a vegetable?” category. It is a vegetable that is used as a fruit. It is one of the 1st food plants ready to be harvested in spring, generally in April/May in the northern hemisphere. Rhubarb needs a cold winter period and only grows in colder climates. Rhubarb has huge green leaves and tall stalks. Only the stalks are edible.
Rhubarb is one product I don’t think about buying but rather picking it from the garden. My mother generally stewed rhubarb and served on its own or over vanilla ice cream or used it as pie filling. Rhubarb is often mixed with other fruit like strawberries or apples to offset the tartness. Rhubarb is great in jams, jellies, muffins, cookies, crumbles and other baked goods. Although I have never tasted it, rumour has it, that it makes a great sauce for poultry, venison and fish. Something I will have to try now that I have access to a supply in the garden.

Rhubarb Muffins
Makes 12
125 mL (1/2 cup) crème fraîche
50 mL (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
1 large egg
300 mL (1-1/4 cups) flour
250 mL (1 cup) fresh rhubarb, diced
80 mL (1/3 cup) brown sugar
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) baking soda
1 mL (1/4 tsp) salt

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F).
Blend together crème fraîche, oil and egg in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, stir together flour, rhubarb, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Stir in crème fraîche mixture. Drop into paper-lined (or greased) muffin tins. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until browned and firm to the touch.

lundi 12 mai 2008

Whole Grilled Fish

Temperatures have soared to 23°C in the daytime. The weather has been beautiful and sunny for a couple of weeks now in the SaarLorLux region. Everyone is wearing summer clothing. Last April and early May were like this too but then it turned cold, wet and miserable for most of the summer so we are taking advantage while we can. It stays light until 9:00 p.m. or so in the evenings and doesn’t cool off too much making for the perfect barbecue conditions

Canadians love to barbecue and eat outdoors - the season is short but that is probably what makes it so special. My Dad had a charcoal grill (barbecuing was a man’s domain after all - another reason it may have been popular as the mother’s got the night off from slaving over a hot stove). We had one of the simple round open ones and my Dad taught us how to pile the charcoal to get it started and to spread out the white hot charcoal when it was ready to cook over. When I left home, I bought a cast iron hibachi that served me very well for several years. It was ideal for grilling small quantities. In Paris, with nowhere for a barbecue, I had to make do with using my Le Creuset grill pan under the broiler. I used it many times for grilling “pavé de saumon” and steak. I would preheat the cast iron grill then add the meat or fish and replace the grill under the broiler. This way it cooks from both top and bottom. Convenient but not as exciting as an outdoor barbecue.

Here in Nittel, my friends burn wood in their brick barbecue pit. Wood gives a better flavour to the food but does require more skill to get it started, keep it going and have it last long enough to cook over. My favourite type of barbecue is a gas grill. In Canada, I had a large gas barbecue with a BTU thatallowed for winter grilling. I had a large patio however it was somewhat under equipped with lighting to permit winter grilling. These are great for parties but just remember to check that there is lots of gas in the tank so that you won’t run out half way though. It has been years since I grilled a whole fish on the barbecue. My very attempt at grilling fish was a salmon that I caught out fishing with my family in Victoria, British Columbia. My dad cleaned and scaled, froze and packaged it for my flight back to Edmonton, Alberta. As near as I remember, I stuffed it with lemon slices and herbs, wrapped it in foil and placed it on our hibachi. The neighbourhood cats were intrigued but the fish managed to escape their curiosity and made it to our plates unscathed. Delicious!One taste of grilled huachinango (red snapper) in Cancun and I fell in love with this fish. The lime flavour was so perfect, my friends and I were licking our fingers after picking the bones clean to make sure that we got every possible morsel. I have grilled it in Canada and it was good but not quite as good as the Mexican one. Happy Grilling!!!
Preheat the grill.Rinse the cleaned and scaled whole fish (use salmon, trout, red snapper, bass, sardines or sea bream). Pat dry (wet fish will tend to stick to the grill)Fill the cavity with lemon slices and fennel fronds or sprigs of other fresh herbs such as parsley, dill, rosemary, tarragon or thyme (or a mixture of these.
Cut small slits in the skin on both sides and rub with olive oil When grill is hot, throw on the fish and cook for approximately 10 minutes* per 2.5 cm (1”) of its thickest point. Turn the fish after 5 minutes. Be patient and don’t keep moving the fish around - this will cause it to stick. To test for doneness - press the tines of a fork into the thickest part of the fish - it is ready to remove from the grill when it hasslightly opaque flesh and milky white juice. The fish will continue to cook for about 5 minutes after it is removed from the grill

*Guideline only - this will vary depending on temperature,type of fish, type of grill, etc.

dimanche 4 mai 2008

Classic French Vinaigrette

Un Week-end à Paris

I spent the weekend in Paris to take advantage of the May 1st weekend.  Paris does have that “je ne sais quoi”.  At first glance it is dirty, noisy and crowded.  Walking around the city, you start to see its beauty.  It is a mix of the good and the bad.  My experiences over the weekend included both sides of that coin.  Here a just a few. 


After successfully checking in, the hotel re-allocated my room and I had unexpected visitors at 00:30 to the shock of both parties.  In the morning I went out for breakfast and returned to find that my room key did not work.  It took an hour to fix the problem.  On a positive note I got to keep the room for a 2nd night on a weekend when rooms were at a premium in Paris.

The new WiFi system that had been installed was not working when I checked in on Thursday.   The new system meant that the card I purchased for the old pay-for-use system could no longer be used.   I was assured that the technician would have the WiFi fixed the next morning – ah I have heard this line before.  Being a holiday weekend (although Friday was a “work day”) in Paris, it was still not working when I checked out on Saturday morning.  The solution - go to the nearby McDo’s and use their free WiFi service, which thankfully did work.


I went to the Mac boutique in the FNAC store, and got passed around like a hot potato and never did get an answer to my question.

I found a clothing store that carried my size and had pleasant service from a wonderfully helpful sales lady.

I went to the local marché – this is something I really miss about Paris.  Vendors who know their produce/products and are happy to explain them to you.  Beautiful displays of food that you actually want to buy.

You can probably find anything you want to buy in Paris if you know where to look.  It is a city full of shops with lovely window displays.     


I ate breakfast and lunch at a new restaurant, La Place, on Place Cambronne.  Nice decor, good food and nice clean toilets too.

Dined with a friend at one of the Greek restaurants near Place St. Michel.  As for the quality of the food - let’s just say I won’t be back there again.

By contrast, I dined with other friends at a Chilean restaurant.  The food and ambiance were impeccable.  I will go back and hopefully soon.

Walking around town

Walk around Paris without looking down at your peril.  There are many obstacles on the sidewalks to step in or walk into.  Seeing dogs do their business on the street does take away from the enjoyment of the scenery.  They are many beautiful buildings in Paris and it is worth stopping to look up.  No two buildings are the same.   

Clean toilets are a RARITY.  Living in Paris, one develops a list of where the good toilets are located and where the 3rd world ones are (for purposes of avoidance) in the various arrondissements.  What is the point of going somewhere to have a lovely dinner then be totally disgusted with the toilets?   As a woman, I cannot do as men do, an all too common sight, I might add, so this is important. 

Noisy and crowded or vibrant - I guess it is a matter of your mood.  One cannot look to carefully at Paris or it is too easy to see the faults.  Paris is a city for walking as there is so much to see.  The metro covers most areas so that you can get back home or to your hotel when you are all walked or shopped out for the day.

This is a version of the salad dressing that is served on many salads in Paris and one I make often.

Classic French Vinaigrette

1 small clove garlic, minced

60 mL (1/4 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice*

1/2 shallot, minced

2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

125 mL (1/2 cup) extra-virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake.  Taste and adjust ingredients.  Use immediately or cover and refrigerate.

* red or white wine vinegar can be used in place of lemon juice