Category Archives: Must-haves

Sweet Roasted Tomatoes

So plane travels used to be for watching crappy-yet-oh-so-distracting movies, stuffing your face with horrible-yet-oh-so-distracting food, while drinking your tomato juice. Bref, planes used to be your own little space, where one could do all the horrible stuff one is not supposed to do past the age of, say, 12.

But here I am, with my new MacBook Air, a flawless wi-fi connection, low-calorie vegetables dips and organic roasted almonds. Where is the fun all gone?  So I have no choice but respecting my newborn healthy resolution and catching up on my blog.

And what a better topic than tomatoes to combine all the issues at stake here:

  1. Like the vast majority of the population, I drink tomato juice only when flying;
  2. In case you hadn’t noticed, tomatoes are healthy. Because it is a vegetable (oh, sorry, a fruit), it is light and you can eat a lot of them. Also, it has a lot of vitamin C;
  3. And it is definitely one of my must-haves. Fits into my blog.

The only problem I have is that tomatoes are tasteless. I mean, not in general. Just lately. And this dates back to before I moved to this wonderful country. Yes, even in my douce France, good tomatoes are difficult to find. Usually rare and expensive. And the sad thing is, one tends to forget the taste of good tomatoes after a while.

Luckily for you, I found a nice solution. Nice nice nice. Very happy about it. Granted, it certainly does not replace a nice ripe juicy tasty tomato. But it certainly does the trick. I roast them: put them whole in the oven (250F), on a baking sheet, with a little drizzle of olive oil, thyme, salt & pepper.   For two hours. Or longer if you want. Let them cool a little, peel them, get rid of the seeds. And there you go. Nice tomatoes, to use in salads, sauces, gaspachos, whatever you like.

Granted, this does not make a tomato juicy tasty and fresh. It tastes different. And this does not prevent you from selecting organic tomatoes, and decent looking ones. But still. It works well in the following salads I tried:

  1. Tomatoes + roasted peppers* + mozzarella di buffala + scallions + basil + salt + pepper + olive oil + balsamic vinegar;
  2. Tomatoes + roasted peppers + potatoes (be careful, don’t cook them too much or it will turn out mushy) + salt + pepper + pitted black olives + scallions + parsley + olive oil + balsamic vinegar;

* One day I will have to spread my love of roasted peppers too. Red roasted pepper, that is.

Bacon, Bacon, Bacon

IMG_0381Did you notice how PORK was on everybody’s mind these days? Well, unless you leave in a cave, you should have. What with the swine flu, pork cheeks, pork butts, Little Giant’s Swine of the week, Park Slope Pork-Off, not to forget my Pork Shoulder of course, David Chang’s love affair with pork. Et j’en passe.

I have to say that this is actually to my liking. I love Pork. For many reasons:

  • it is cheap
  • it reminds me of my father (the venerable man was infatuated with pork, especially pork chops)
  • it is versatile
  • and it is cheap
  • also my mother (who grew up in a farm) told me that pigs were very nice pets and she would always have a pig following her around all day long (that is, before the poor animal was slaughtered).

And, like a lot of people, one of my favorite cuts is BACON. Why? Well, for the afore-mentioned reasons. The good thing about bacon is that it is a cheap and a quick way to give that soup this smokey flavor it lacked. Or to turn regular pates au fromage (the French version of the Mac&Cheese) into some sort of carbonara.

One of the problems I faced when I emigrated here though, was that bacon was not cut to my taste. Or rather, packages were so huge I was always afraid bacon would go bad. And I hate to throw food away. So I found my own little trick: I freeze it, and slice it while it’s still frozen (this way I can put the rests back in the freezer). See the picture: it’s cool, he? OK, I guess that doesn’t really work when you want your slices of bacon for breakfast. But I don’t usually do this. It’s not in my culture.

So what do I do with bacon? Pretty much everything:

  • Soups: I always add a little bacon in my soups – to give it that extra flavor of meat, fat & smoke. Granted, it is not as good as throwing the bone from the roast, but it’s pretty close. (I have the most joyful memory of a soup made by my then-best-friend’s-mother when I was a kid in the Lot (merveilleux Lot, country of melons and asparagus), cooked in the antic fireplace (and, no, I swear, I am not making this up) where she threw the rests of the night before’s roti. That was memorable. It could also be nice to add a little bacon to your chicken stock (because yes, you HAVE to make your chicken stock yourself, no excuse).
  • Add bacon to your pasta – to turn it either in carbonara (see for example my Baby Spinach Carbonara), or to your Bolognese sauce.
  • And of course, bacon is good with eggs. Very good even. Particularly in Quiche Lorraine I must say. Or any form of quiche you may think of.

Last but not least: I would advise AGAINST buying the cheapest bacon you could find. You know I am cheap. So I tried. But it was gross, let me tell you. I could barely find the bacon once I had sautee it. So please buy the good stuff. Also, when I sautee bacon (especially for Quiche Lorraine), I usually get rid of the fat before adding any other ingredients.

Lemon mi amore

Le citron c'est important

Le citron c'est important

You are going to think that I am flaky, unreliable even: still no luck at Momofuku Ko. But that’s also because I still didn’t manage to be there at 10:00 am on the dot. I was there at 9:58 – and then something happened and next thing I know it’s 10:10 am already and Momofuku Ko is all reserved for the next week.Oh well.

I already shared my love for flat-leaves Parsley. Wonderful Parsley. And with Parsley comes Lemon, often. Lemon is indeed another one of my must-haves. I am wondering whether I shouldn’t have started with it actually. For when I am out of lemon, I am not the same. Really. A little bit like when you are out of salt. Or when you get the filter in the coffee machine in the morning, add water…and then realize you are out of coffee. Well, you get the picture.

Lemon does wonder in the kitchen. It’s cheap: I got 5 for 2 dollars at Union Market the other day (and Union Market is not really known for being cheap). You can keep them forever in the fridge (which means that you CAN buy 5 lemons). And here is an idea of all the nice things you can do with them:

  • the obvious: la vinaigrette. I use it all the time instead of vinegar – I find that vinegar is usually not good if you are not willing to pay the price (don’t get me started on fake balsamic vinegar). So my usual vinaigrette is as follows:
  • 1 measure of olive oil+ 1 measure of lemon + 1 measure of water + salt & pepper
    + 1 handful of parsley

    Yes: water. Because it’s light – but wet also. Likewise, I use lemon in mayonnaise, but also in any sauce, cream with yogurt or cream cheese or both.

  • the less obvious: did you know that lemon is a thickener? That’s why I often use it in pasta sauce (see for example my Baby Spinach Carbonara). Not only does it thickens the sauce, but it’s also light (unlike corn starch) and it can give the sauce a little twist which I like.
  • also less obvious: in soups. I like to finish off a vegetable soup with a little lemon juice. It’s actually a trick I learned from my sister’s Hungarian husband (not only does he play a gazillion instruments, but the guy can cook too AND il a de la vigne (he bought a vineyard, yep).

Note that I also like lime – great in salsas of course – but also in vinaigrette when summer comes (which has yet to happen on my part of the world). And of course, there are also recipes entirely centered around lemons, including one of my very best favorite desserts: la tarte au citron meringuee de ma maman (my mommy’s lemon pie with meringue). Too bad I can’t bake, otherwise I would have shared it with you.

Oh – and one big caveat: please don’t use store-bought lemon juice. Please. It tastes like plastic. And what, you are so lazy you can’t squeeze the lemon with your hands? Your hands are so delicate you can’t use one of them as a colander to prevent the seeds to get into your vinaigrette? Please.

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Parsley mon amour

In an ideal world, I would select all the recipes I want to make during the week, and build my shopping list based on these choices, and then go shopping. Well, thing is, I am pretty lazy . And I usually think of what I am going to cook AFTER I go to the grocery store. And of course I can’t be bothered to go back to the grocery store. (Although I am planning on using tastyplanner.com some day and see if that helps)

img_0230How can I even cook – let alone cook good stuff if I don’t shop accordingly ? Well, that’s – among other things – because I heavily rely on my must haves, some key ingredients which I would add to almost every single dish – and couldn’t cook without.

First of: Parsley. Granted, I haven’t posted a lot of recipes yet, but I am pretty sure parsley is almost in all of them. I always use flat leaves parsley. Never could understand why you would use the curly kind –  it’s gross.  Parsley goes pratically everywhere:

  • Salads & salad dressing : I usually add Parsley to almost every salad dressing I make. Also, it is a good replacement in case Spring comes in, you have tomatoes, goat cheese/mozzarella (di buffala, please) or feta cheese, some black olives, lemon. But hey, you don’t have basil. Well, use parsley instead. Or, you have these great avocados, so ready to be transformed into a nice tasty guacamole but hey, no cilantro. Well Parsley will do the trick. Why not, you would ask, use basil in a tomato-mozarella salad and cilantro in a guacamole? Don’t get me wrong, I love basil & I love cilantro. But I remember so many occasions where I would buy this big, great bunch of basil…and end up throwing half of it because it went bad. Mind you, what about doing a pesto with this? And you would be right – could be the topic of another post.
  • I have the nicest childhood memories of poelee de cepes in the Fall. OK, might be difficult to find cepes here (and ridiculously expensive) but sauteed mushrooms with parsley and garlic is always a delish. If you want to make it into an omelet that’s good too. And you can even throw in a little bacon if you wish (bacon is another must-have-of-mine).
  • Oh – and what about fresh green beans with crushed garlic, olive oil (or butter) with parsley? Or green peas for that matter.
  • I also love to add parsley to my pasta (see my Baby Spinach carbonara recipe for example).

Anyway, you get the point. I find it difficult to find an aromatic herb easier to use than parsley. Not that parsley should be the only herb in your fridge. But still, it’s a pretty good one to have.

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