Sunday, December 29, 2013

Continual Learning: Food Network Style

One of my favorite hobbies is watching Food Network and expanding my culinary knowledge via the shows. My three favorite shows are:

Iron Chef America

Next Iron Chef


Watching professional chefs cook with expert narration (especially by Alton Brown) can be very instructive. It is also a great way to learn about ingredients not commonly used in the average home kitchen. In order to remember everything I've learned, I've started compiling a Culinary Dictionary using Google Docs, so I can add new terms whenever I watch a cooking show. Here are some of my recent additions:
  1. Sabayon: is a type of dessert "foam", made by whipping together egg yolks, sugar, and a sweet wine (like Moscato).
  2. Cava: a Spanish sparkling wine; what Champagne is to France or Prosecco is to Italy.
  3. Dacquoise: a cake made from layers of almond and hazelnut meringue, buttercream, and often ganache. 
  4. Pistou: a French sauce made with basil, garlic, and olive oil. It differs from its Italian cousin pesto, which is made with the same ingredients and pine nuts. 
So far my culinary dictionary has reached 264 entries. As soon as I think I've got every possible food term in my dictionary, they'll give a new ingredient to the contestants on Chopped that I'll have to add it. At this rate it will never be finished!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Morning Brunch: Raspberry Compote

This Christmas morning, I told my mom I wanted to cook a nice brunch for my family. I ended up making Quiche Lorraine (à la Julia Child), with bacon and toast on the side. To accompany the toast, I wanted to try cooking something that I'd never made before– raspberry compote.

I'd seen chefs make a simple syrup on my favorite TV show, Chopped, a thousand times before. So I figured I could use that technique to make a simple syrup compote from raspberries, sugar, and water.

This was my method: I took a cup of frozen raspberries and mixed them with about two tablespoons of water, then put them in the microwave to thaw. After, I put the raspberry mixture in a sauté pan on low heat. Once the mixture started to steam a little, I started slowing adding in a cup of sugar while stirring.

I let the compote simmer until it had reached the consistency I wanted (taking about 8 minutes on low heat). Once the compote was done, I put it in a glass jar and stuck it in the fridge for five minutes so it would thicken a little.

Finally, it was the moment of truth– I spread my compote on a slice of toast, and took a bite. It ended up being absolutely delicious!

This compote was very quick and easy to make, and the recipe can be adapted for other fruits. But for those of you who don't have as much of a "wing-it" attitude about cooking as I do, here's an actual recipe for simple syrup. Happy Cooking!

UPDATE: For the sake of culinary clarity, I'd like to rename this as a "compote" rather than a jam. While the two terms are similar, jam refers to a sweet fruit jelly made with gelatin; whereas a compote is a simple syrup cooked with fruit.

A Wine and Cheese Tasting

The other night, I had a mini wine tasting at J. Gilbert's with my good friend, Fatima. As a fellow foodie (albeit a much more experienced one) and wine lover, I asked Fatima to choose the wines for us. We ended up trying two whites and two reds, accompanied by a cheese and charcuterie board.

Our wines:
  1. J. Lohr 2011 Seven Oaks Cabernet (Paso Robles)
  2. Tierra Divina 2009 Malbec (Argentina)
  3. La Crema 2012 Chardonnay
  4. Kim Crawford 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)

The flavors in wines are often compared to fruits. For example, a wine might be described as "the perfect combo of cherry, boysenberry, plum and chocolate flavors." (Taken from a Barefoot Merlot description). But having a fairly inexperienced palate, I always thought those comparisons were ridiculous. I mean, wine is made from grapes, why would it taste like cherries?!

However, when I tasted the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and swished it around my mouth, I was immediately hit with the taste of grapefruit. Fatima explained that New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs often are redolent of grapefruit, thanks to the unique soil (aka terroir) that the grapes are grown in. She also said that I may not have been drinking good quality wines, which would explain why I never tasted the fruit. Luckily for me, the Kim Crawford Chardonnay has a score of 91 from Wine Spectator.

It also helped that our wines were paired with a beautiful cheese and charcuterie board.

Our cheeses: (From Cato Corner Farm)
  1. Womanchengo (similar to a young Manchego)
  2. Vivace (like a combination of Gruyere and Italian Provolone)
  3. Dairyere (a firm washed rind cheese in the style of Gruyere or Comte)
Our charcuterie:
  1. Prosciutto di Parma
  2. Rosette de Lyon Salami
  3. Hot Coppa
  1. Cornichons
  2. Pickled onions
  3. Dijon mustard
  4. Grilled Bread
  5. Peppers

It was a great meal– full of delicious wine and scrumptious edibles. But more importantly, it was shared with a dear friend, allowing us to connect over our mutual love of food.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Restaurant Review: La Petite France Café

After reading Mastering the Art of French Eating (that I mentioned in my last post), I had a serious craving for French food. Upon consulting Yelp, I found a French café in West Hartford that looked like the perfect spot. So I grabbed my best gal pal, and we made our way to La Petite France Café.

Immediately accosted with the scent of freshly-baked croissants, I felt as if I'd stepped back to a certain café I liked in Toulouse, with its mismatched chairs and authentic feel. Upon examining the menu, I decided on crêpe complète (a crêpe made with buckwheat flour, Swiss cheese, and ham; topped with a fried egg). My friend got quiche lorraine (a quiche made with Swiss cheese and bacon).

My instagram of our meal

The owner of the café, I found, is from France. It was amazing to be able to eat authentic French food in West Hartford, Connecticut. In fact, I was so delighted with the café's fare that I took home a handful of croissants and two types of macaron– pistache and vanille

If you like French food, or simply want to have a delicious breakfast or lunch, I would highly recommend checking out La Petite France. Happy Eating!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review: Mastering the Art of French Eating

The late Julia Child is, without a doubt, the figurehead of American francophiles who also love food. Her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, has inspired thousands of cooks worldwide to try their hand at French cuisine. 

One such cook (and fellow American expat in Paris) inspired by Julia's enthusiasm for all things French was Ann Mah, the author of Mastering the Art of French Eating. She found herself stationed in Paris with her Diplomat husband; another striking similarity to Julia Child's circumstances. However, when Ann's husband was unexpectedly relocated to Iraq, she was left to navigate the myriad of culinary wonders in France alone. 

The fruit borne from Ann's solitary sojourn in Paris is her novel, Mastering the Art of French Eating. I flew through this book– absorbing page after page of sumptuous food writing. Included at the end of every chapter are recipes from various regions in France. Two of my favorites (that I can't wait to try cooking) are:

Salade Lyonnaise

Soupe Pistou

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who's interested in France, food, or travel. Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Christmas Wishlist

Clockwise from top left:

  1. Sephora Intensive Instant Moisturizer: I have really dry skin, so this moisturizer is perfect for me (especially in the winter). Also, it's non-comedogenic, so it doesn't clog pores.
  2. J. Crew Necklace: This necklace makes a statement, but is understated enough to wear to work.
  3. Diptyque Baies Candle: These are a little pricey as far as candles go, but I've wanted a Diptyque candle forever!
  4. Jo Malone Grapefruit Cologne: Jo Malone perfumes are the best. This scent is surprisingly feminine for a "cologne", but is musky enough to live up to its name.
  5. J. Crew Ankle Boots: A necessity for winter workdays.
  6. Le Pain Quotidien Cookbook: French cuisine and bread. Need I say more?
  7. Molton Brown Pink Pepperpod Lotion: This lotion smells amazing, and would be perfect to put on my desk for reapplication throughout the workday.

My Christmas Wishlist

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Gift Guide for the Traveler

Having traveled a little bit myself, I've picked out a few essentials that would be perfect for a jet-setting gal pal. Clockwise from top left:

1. A big, floppy hat (perfect for keeping the sun out of your face)
2. A "holds everything" tote
3. Wayfarer sunglasses
4. Comfy flats (a must-have for walking around)
5. A notebook (to jot down your favorite places)
6. A sturdy strap for your camera

Happy Traveling!

Christmas Gift Guide for the Traveler

Sunday, December 15, 2013


To me, cooking and eating go hand-in-hand. By cooking, you can appreciate the time and effort that went into making a delicious meal; by eating, you can learn what properly cooked food tastes like. I'm not talking about ostentatiously elaborate dishes you'd find at a pricey restaurant– oftentimes, the best meals are made simply with fresh, quality ingredients.

For me, the question usually remains of what to cook. So, to help me with my "Baker's-block" (if you will), I like to download menus from top-rated restaurants to find inspiration. It's especially helpful to look at the ingredients and combinations they use– like endive (a bitter leaf often used in salad), roasted pear, Roquefort (a blue cheese), and walnuts.

Dinner menu from Le Parisien in NYC

Recipes aren't necessary to use these menus; it's all about the inspiration. Because, really, where else would I get the idea to make a roasted artichoke salad with cherry tomatoes and lemon tarragon vinaigrette?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Gift Guide for the Foodie

I'd like to consider myself an amateur foodie, but I don't go too crazy when it comes to food. The most adventurous things I've had were in France– duck, pâté, tartare, and escargot. However, I can boast a near-perfect winning record in the "Food" category in QuizUp. Which makes me a foodie, right?

So here are my Christmas gift picks for the foodie in your life. Personally, I'm hoping to see the Silpat baking mat under the tree this year... it's made from woven glass fibers and coated with a layer of silicon. Nothing sticks to a Silpat.

Happy gift-giving!

Christmas Gift Guide for the Foodie

Monday, December 9, 2013

Finding Balance

As Christmas approaches, I've stopped to wonder about how important material things are in my life. It's not hard to get caught up in the holiday consumerism that is thrown at us through every medium possible. Not a day goes by when I don't get at least five emails advertising sales and promotions; and I'm inundated with similar advertisements on TV, radio, and online.

Too often I fall for the heedless marketing (I can't help it when I'm presented with a great sale!). But Christmastime is especially dichotomous because not only is it the season of consumption; it is also the season of giving. This doesn't just apply to those who celebrate Christmas... winter is the time of many religious holidays that celebrate love, family and friends, and gratitude.

In this spirit, I've called my enjoyment of material goods into question. Is it wrong of me to like nice perfumes, pretty necklaces, and gorgeous shoes? When there are those in the world who have nothing– literally nothing–  how can I own so many nice things in good conscience?

Then I realized that guilting myself over my material possessions wouldn't do any good either. Completely avoiding anything that brings me enjoyment won't help others who are less fortunate. Instead, it is important to find balance in life. You must do things that make you happy– whether it be shoe shopping or getting a manicure– and do things for the benefit of others. You can't live entirely for yourself, but you can't live entirely for others, either. There has to be balance; and this is achieved through moderation.

So this Christmas, I plan to do things for my own enjoyment, but also to bring happiness to others.... to receive presents, and to give them.

:) Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!

My mom & I enjoying each others' company (and our dog Scoutie's company!) before we open presents Christmas morning (2012)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christmas Wishlist: Wine Tasting

I was so lucky to have had the chance to take wine tasting classes in Toulouse, France. Not only did my group get to taste local wines paired with local cheeses, we also learned how to analyze the pairings.

Here I am analyzing "les Jambes" (the legs) - an indication of the alcohol content of the wine.

Although the technique of pasteurization was developed in France (by Louis Pasteur), French cheeses are not legally required to be pasteurized. While this decreases their shelf life, it allows the cheese to retain its full flavor and body. 

In general, soft cheeses (such as Brie and Camembert) are paired with white wines, whereas hard cheeses (such as Parmesan and Asiago) are paired with red wines. As a rule, the stronger the flavor of the cheese, the stronger the wine should be that is paired with it.

I found this book on Pinterest, and thought it would make a great Christmas present for any wine aficionado or foodie. It can be found here on Amazon. 

Happy Tasting!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Find of the Day: Unwined Candles

Not only are these candles made from repurposed wine bottles, but they come in yummy scents like Cabernet,  Champagne Pear, White Zinfandel, and Sangria Punch. But really, I think the name "Unwined" says it all. 

Available on Etsy here.