Oct 30, 2007

Pashmak & ice cream- something worth trying!

The fantastic thing about icecream is that there is absolutely no season for eating it. At least that is the case for me.

Many many times I've eaten delightful ice cream in the middle of the winter, sitting in front of the chimney wearing multiple layers of clothing...wishing that I was on a beach in Brasil instead...sigh. Like now for instance, it's getting colder each autumn day, but that is not stopping me from eating ice cream. It just puts me in a good mood, I can't help it!

Despite that it's a "year-long food" for me, I do however have flavour preferences depending on the season. For instance, now in autumn, I would much rather prefer chocolate- dark and bitter chocolate. Or one of those cake-y tart-y becomes ice cream flavours transformations (tarte tatin, creme brulée, cheesecake, etc). While in summer and spring, it's a lot more of "berry" ending flavours- strawberry, raspberry... and fruits like mango and kiwi.

Anyway, all this to say that ice cream is great with pashmak. Now what on earth is pashmak? Pashmak is cotton candy. Well, it looks like cotton candy, but it doesn't feel or look the same. I guess there are multiple names for pashmak- persian fairy floss, or in other parts of the Middle East it's called "ghasl el banat" which literally means "girl hair locks"... hmmm, but the translation is not so great in English. But for now, let's call this cotton-candy from the Orient: pashmak. And this is what it looks like:

Ah the glorious packaging, yes, a striking ressemblance to cotton pads packaging. But what is in there is SO GOOD. How can I explain that this stuff is SO FREAKIN GOOD! Well, if you like nutty flavours, then your chances of pashmak-appreciation is high. It's basically made of sugar and sesame oil, sometimes flavoured with vanilla. In some countries, it comes with pistachios sprinkled on top. In anycase, it is very different from the Western World cotton candy. Silkier and with a somewhat luxurious-gourmet edge, it differs in taste, look, and feel. Whenever I am in the Middle East, I bring some back (or I ask a friend/family to bring some back for me). The one in the above photo is from Iran.

My most recent discovery however is using pashmak as a topping for ice cream. I have no idea if that's something common to do, but for me it was a premiere, and a delightful surprise. First, it looks pretty on ice cream. Second, the contrast in textures in one's mouth is an experience of it's own (I should had put this as first!). Third, it's something different, and different is always a good way to impress family and friends. Fourth, it's the most affordable plane ticket for your tastebuds- another way to explore the world's tastes and cultures. If those reasons aren't good enough, then I don't know what is! In anycase, I hope people will try this interesting combination out- I promise you, you won't be dissapointed!

Oct 24, 2007

Fancy Figs

I love figs. I think they are the one of the most beautiful sensual lavish fruits that exist. A pure delight for me. If Eve was tempted by an apple, then I wouldn't be able to resist a ripe juicy fig. Not only are they delicious, but they contain exquisite colours that one is literally eating with the eyes. And the smell, mmmm the smell! It is so peculiar, feminine, elegant and fresh. Figs are synonymous with excitement on many levels- and not too long ago, I was excited to do something with those figs that had been lying in the kitchen...before someone eats them all and they dissapear!

As for each time, I take a few minutes to observe every shelf, drawer and corner in the kitchen to see what ingredients are available to match up with these figs. I found some pistachios, dark chocolate, shortcut pastry, and ouh some fig jam! Perfect. But I needed to add that "odd" ingredient that I always love including in my recipes. Then I heard the tea closet calling for me... and there it was: rose buds! (rose buds we use in our tea or infusions). What on earth I was going to do with them, I had no clue, but I knew there was some potential!

Then the idea came when I was rolling out the shortcut pastry. Why not "flavour" the pastry? With the rose buds? I went ahead and tried that out, fingers crossed that it would taste good in the end result. Bud by bud, I cut off the stem section and carefully peeled each rose petal off. They were dry but of a beautiful colour and smelled wonderful, in that same elegant way as figs do. Once I had enough petals, I sprinkled them on the shortcut pastry and mixed them in.

With a cutter, I then formed circles in what was now a rose-shortcut pastry and in the oven they go. While those pink-spotted circles were baking, I cut the figs into quarters, chopped the pistachios and dark chocolate and pulled out the fig jam near me.

Ten minutes later...

I assembled everything together, as you can see below:

The shorcut pastry first, some fig jam brushed on top so that the fig could then "stick" on top. The last touch was the crushed pistachio-dark chocolate mix that gently rained down on the figs and painted them with some colour.

My tasters tested these out first, and I then followed (I always taste after the others have, out of habit). With every bite, I truly enjoyed the different flavours and textures that went together so well. I thought to myself these would be perfect with champagne for a fancy aperitif. Something to look forward to.

Oct 22, 2007

Not your usual Apple pie

Apples. Such a basic common fruit, yet amazingly popular. To me, apples are almost like bread, or water. Something that every household has. A key ingredient to many classics: apple crumble, apple pie, apple cake, apple juice, candied apples, apple compote, vinegar, Calvados...just some examples on the top of my head. Apples come in different colours and slightly different shapes, with an array of smells and tastes. And it's only 50kcal the apple (and plenty of health benefits)- which is great for our waistlines. I don't think I realized the glory of apples until I started writing about it...as I am now.

One of the things I enjoy doing is taking classics and adding a crazy touch to it...like a crazy classic. A recent classic I worked on was apple pie. I had different thoughts running through my mind, but I couldn't settle down on one... All these ingredients-ideas were travelling through my brain without a destination to reach... it was just one big mess in my head. Until it finally came. I knew what I was going to do- and the best part was that I already had all the ingredients!

My base ingredients were apples (duh!), shortcut pastry, and nougat. The pastry went in the moulds, the apples were sliced, the nougat was melted.

Once pastry and apples were in the moulds, I gently poured over a thick layer of the melted nougat. I covered the moulds with some aluminium and then placed them in the oven for a few minutes, so that the apple part would bake. During the second half of the baking time, I removed the aluminium, and in those minutes, something fabulous happens to the nougat. It blends with the apple juices and makes it's way inside the shortcut pastry. The result is a wonderful unexplicable texture and smell to what is no longer a conservative apple pie.

When the pies were ready, I realized something was still missing. Maybe a scoop of vanilla ice cream? Ya, but that was also very classic. But what if it was accompanied with some caramel sauce? Hmm... deja-vu. But what if I added a mix of spices into the caramel sauce? Yes! No we're talking. What was I going to add though? I went through the spices-shelf, with my fingers rapidly keeping those with potential and those without. Very spontaneously, I decided to incorporate a mixture of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger into my caramel sauce.

When I took out the apple pies to my appointed tasters (a special circle of family & friends who hold the responsability of testing and commenting on my food) I presented to them dishes of what they thought was a classic, until I started to explain: apple & nougat pie, vanilla ice cream and caramel & 4 spices (with the spices sprinkled on the plates as well). I wished them bon appetit and anxiously waited for their remarks and observed the expressions on their face. Without wanting to sound full of myself, I have to admit that these apple pies were a success! Something I will make again without hesitation.

Oct 21, 2007

Macarons, earrings and lipstick

One of my dreams when I was a kid was to become a fashion designer. I've been drawing and painting since a very young age. Most of what I've done however was sketching clothes I dreamt of wearing. My mother has kept a book I had at the age of eight, where I drew page after page princess dresses, skirts, shirts, accessories, etc... Anyways, I kept drawing throughout my life, and still do...the only thing is that I didn't become a fashion designer. Don't ask me why, the reason is too long and complicated.

These days, one of my fashion fetiches are shoes! My collection just doesn't seem to end..

Anyway, I've also always loved food and cooking. I come from a family where the women love to cook (and dress up) and chat over their coffee sharing recipe secrets. I especially remember childhood memories, sitting on the balcony, and listening to my grandmother talk about her amazing dishes with such modesty, when she truly knew that her food was simply the very best. All my life I have been captivated with the beauty of fashion and food. I love things that are beautiful and that require passion and talent.

In the last few years, I've started to enjoy capturing these lovely things through photography. I am definately not a pro- but practice will hopefully make perfect.

So I live in Paris, and what better place to live in if one loves fashion and food? Some foods are very pretty and photogenic however: macarons for instance. Macarons are gorgeous, stunning, precious...like jewels! I am always surprised at how these sweet delights have become cult objects, and the inspiration world famous patissiers have in constantly finding ways to surprise us with new tastes, colours, feelings...

I've been having this idea of photographing macarons with jewellery, makeup...things that some women may find pleasure in...in the same way macarons give us pleasure yet in a different way.

I do admit that the above image is a bit kitsch-looking, but I may have purposely wanted my first attempt of a macaron-jewellery photo to look that way...and maybe also a bit dramatic.

My second attempt was to keep that drama element, but in a more...romantic way I guess? Placing rose petals with macarons illustrated delicateness, and (fake) diamonds it's uniqueness. For these first photos I've used chocolate macarons, but I do have many ideas that I'd like to try out. Something more colorful, pop, energetic, vibrant, fun! To be continued...

Tasting summer

Oh no! I can feel it coming...winter is approaching, and anyone who knows me knows very well how much I can't stand the winter cold, having to wear fifty layers to keep warm, wearing socks in bed (I hate that, but I have no choice when it's freezing out there!), waking up earlier then usual to pour water on the car windows as they're covered with a thin layer of frost, having a conversation with a friend outside and seeing our breath carrying our words and floating away in the air, touching my nose and feeling an icecube instead...and the list goes on and on. For I am, by nature, a summer girl. My birthday month is June, I was born in a mediterranean country (Greece), my family are all from scorching hot countries (Egypt,Greece, Syria), and the best feeling in the world is feeling summer on my skin. That feeling is priceless for me. It's what gives me energy, joy and a love for life.

Luckily, I can recreate summer in my very own kitchen. That is the beauty of food. It allows you to cook up memories, relive past holidays, and let's your senses travel... in my case...to Greece, where I spent my summer vacation.

Mykonos & Paros...islands that took away all the Paris-stress and tension...

...and the signature white stones that let your soul unwind...

I printed all my holiday photos and posted them on my wall at home and in the office, so whenever it was grey or rainy outside, I could turn to these visual memories and smile.

Of course there are some foods that speak summer: strawberries, peaches, cherries, mangoes...but my favourites in the hot months of July or August are lots of greens. Huge plentiful generous dishes of green things: zucchini, spinach, snap peas, artichokes, etc. They are just so wonderfully refreshing and speak "health"- to help me catch up with the chocolate overload I do over the winter...

This however has got to be a salad I adore. I absolutely love the peppery taste of the roquettes combined with grilled artichokes, the finesse of a mature parmesan, and a touch of almond crunchiness. So many people may consider salads to be boring, but I've always found them to be colourful dishes full of tastes and textures...without the bloated feeling you can get after a cooked dish (I don't like generalizing however, because some cooked dishes do not make you want to go to sleep right after).

Not only does this salad tingle my tastebuds with summer memories, but it also leaves place for something sweet!

What better to finish my Greek daydreaming with coffee and kourabiedes. Kourabiedes are Greek almond cookies, heavily dusted with icing sugar...they are crunchy, and then just melt in your mouth...Typically, they are eaten during the festive Christmas season, but we have them at home pretty much all year when we want to recapture mediterranean memories...

To me, this is the real beauty of food- the magical ability that takes you away to different places of the world and different moments of your life..with the most basic act all humanbeings share: eating.

Oct 16, 2007

Cooking Romance

Ah what the heck. I'm not exactly much of a "romantic", and I wouldn't classify myself as one if it's based on the stereotypical image of lalala doobeedoo waiting for prince charming on his white horse, petals of red roses, candles, bubble baths, chocolates and champagne (although I wouldn't object to chocolates and champagne).

However I do find a lot of inspiration in the people I have strong feelings for. A lot of cooking inspiration I mean. What I'm trying to say is that people I "love" give me kitchen inspiration. It's like creating an edible reincarnation of that one person you have strong feelings for. Is this making any sense? Maybe I should use some examples.

These cherries for instance:

When I made these, I was adding emotional tags and adjectives to each ingredient. Here's my thought process:
Cherries: red (duh!) (red for passion and love though), juicy (mmm), sensual...
Dark chocolate: aphrodisiac, smooth, velvety, rich, deep...
Hot pepper: spicy (ouh la la)
But dark chocolat + hot pepper = a spicy flaming hot aphrodisiac!
Sesame seeds: crunchy (and maybe unconsciously the seeds are a reminder of something else...hint hint) (man do I have a dirty mind!)

When eating these divine cherries, the result is interesting as the different tastes are revealed quite seperately, at different moments...which is what I loved the most, and which is why I will definately make these again.

Another one of my cooking romances was this cake I baked not too long ago. I thought the cherries were maybe a bit too "girly" and not enough to fill a hungry man's stomach... as a rich cake would.

What would go into the cake though was a love potion of spices: cinammon, nutmeg and ginger. Some cherries for some red-love colour and juiciness, and loads of melted chocolate to finish off.

When the batter was ready, I closed my eyes and approached to take a sniff and let it's alluring scent run to my brain and take me away to a land of imagination...passion..and fantasy. These thoughts lasted for a couple of seconds, when I knocked back into reality to remember that the cake wasn't done until I actually baked it.

And so the batter went into the mould, with it's dark curves and curls, waiting to enter the hot oven where it's enticing ingredients could live a moment of passion in the (oven's) heat of the action.

30 minutes later...

My cake was ready, warm in my hands and exuding plenty of love and tenderness. I had my first bite before it cooled down, and accompanied it with some fresh cream. It's taste was gentle, yet with personality, torrid and sentimental... and with every bite I remembered the person who had inspired me to bake this cake in the first place...

P.S: Next time, I plan to pull out the ginger from the cake, and use it in the cream instead!

Oct 15, 2007

One of my favourite flavour trios

A few months ago, late late at night, I ran down to the kitchen and started to experiment around with some ingredients... I was in the mood for something sweet...but tangy at the same time... rich...but refreshing too...and something pretty to look at of course!

So there I was mixing coconut, white chocolate and lemon together...and what I made were truffles that smelled and tasted of these three key ingredients:

I left them in the fridge to cool, and the next day I told as many people as I knew to taste them! TASTE THEM AND YOU BETTER TELL ME THAT THEY'RE DAMN GOOD!! OR ELSE...!muahahahaaaa devil laugh.

Euh..ok nevermind that (the anxious thoughts that usually run in my mind as someone is opening their mouth to take a bite of something I've made).

So to my surprise, these little truffles of mine were quite a success and there were many oooohs and aaaahs to the flavour combination of coconut, lemon, and white chocolate together.

A couple of months later, I wanted to use these same ingredients and try them on something else, which led me to this:

Soft, ultra moist...things...hmmm...their texture is half way between a sponge cake and brownies...so I don't really know what to name them! Let's just call them minis...because it sounds cute. And cute is good.

I could had also tried this with lime, and used the zest to decorate with the grated coconut...that could had looked nice visually! (green and white sprinkled on top, imagine that)

Next time, I'm recycling this idea...but replacing white chocolate with dark! To be continued...

My first post!!

So I guess I am back blogging... hoping that this time I won't forget about it and abondon this activity that lets me communicate my love for food...to the whole entire virtual world out there! Fingers crossed... here's a first post...*holds breath*.

Here I go.

Have you ever had a fetiche for a certain ingredient, or rather ingredients? An ingredient that will always put a smile on your face each and every time? I do. I have many favourites, and to most of them I am emotionally attached. For instance: basil. Fresh basil of course. How I love rubbing basil leaves between my fingers and enjoying it's scent on my skin... But I also love basil because it is my emotional attachment to Italy (which is by the way, a country I dream of living in one day). Another ingredient I love: balsamico. I could almost drink that plain! (and yet another "Italian fantasy" of mine). Sun dried tomatoes! Estragon! Grilled almonds! Olives! REAL feta cheese! (all this reflecting my mediteranean origins). The list of favourites is long...

But there are also cherries (which brings us to the subject of this post)! Oh yes how I love cherries! And ricotta! smooth creamy ricotta that reminds me of sweet cannoli Italian memories... mamma mia!

So not too long ago, I decided to make a cherry-pistachio crumble, accompanied with creamy ricotta.

Since we didn't have any proper summer this year in France (the weather was truly crap, except for a couple of weeks in April), I am finding myself using many "summery" ingredients in my baking... as a way to relive summer in my own very way...in a different way...in a "kitchen way"?

Cherry-pistachio combinations are fantastic (just as cherry-almonds are too). And, let's not forget: their colours complement each other beautifully, fabulously!. This adds a twist to classic crumbles (or "conservative crumbles" as I like to call them) and is a beautiful finish for almost any kind of meal, and all tastes (unless if you hate cherries...but I don't know anyone who does'nt like them!).