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