Feb 28, 2008

Geranium & Lemon infused Shrimps

The word « geranium » probably makes most people think of a beautiful innocent looking flower. But in my family, geranium is also a kitchen staple. Indeed, the leafy parts of the geranium flower is probably one of the most fabulously fragrantly favourite plants I know of. In cooking, dried geranium leaves can do wonders and I particularly enjoy adding them to fish and seafood. It has a kind of flowery, lemony, very very refreshing taste. Try rubbing some dried geranium leaves between your fingers over a grilled or poached salmon filet and wow your tastebuds away…I ensure you, it is so worth a try. I also use them boiled in water as an infusion, similarly to how people consume chamomile as a soothing hot beverage. I probably wouldn’t be surprised if there are hundreds of delicious ways to use geranium leaves… (below: what dried geranium leaves look like)

So I thought I would share a dish I experimented around with, including a bit of geranium magic with shrimps over a bed of spinach tagliatelle and a drizzle of a zesty lemon cream. It’s easy to make, full of taste and probably a good choice if you want to impress a special someone!

Recipe for geranium & lemon infused shrimps:

Ingredients (for 2 people):
  • 10 Shrimps, big juicy and tasty
  • ½-1 teaspoon dried geranium leaves (depends on how flavourful you want it to be)
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • Olive oil

How to make it:
In a bowl, marinate the shrimps into the lemon juice and dried geranium leaves and some olive oil. Allow to rest for a few hours, not too too long though. Bring a pan over heat, add a drizzle of olive oil and then place the shrimps, cook as you would usually cook shrimps. Make sure to cover pan with lid at one point while lowering heat so it can suck in all the flavour from the lemon-geranium mix. Recommended to serve with tagliatelle (boiled, and then cooked with spinach mixed in- it’s not spinach tagliatelle, it’s actually cooking spinach leaves with the tagliatelle), and serve with some heated cream (whisk it super well right before serving, so that it has that foamy type texture) and some miniature diced lemon peels.

P.S: the orange-brick coloured line on the plate is created by dipping a sponge into powdered saffron mixed with a dot of water, and then using the sponge to “paint” over the plate.

*First illustration image is retrieved from Wikipedia/search for "geranium"

Feb 25, 2008

Dress up your salad with olive oil and...

Big salads and desserts- that is what a perfect meal is to me ! If I eat out, most of the time I’ll have a big leafy dish followed by a rich big fat luscious dessert- and the latter is something I refuse to miss out on, there needs to be something sweet to end my meal. So being the big salad girl I am, variety and interesting ingredients becomes key whether it be through new vegetables, a topping of delicious cheeses or seafood, or…an experimentation with dressings which becomes the essential final touch for salads. Yes a simple mixture of olive oil and lemon juice is nice, balsamic even nicer, but sometimes you just want a change! So the other day as I was strolling through a home/kitchen deco shop (I can spend hours in these kind of places!) a set of decorative test tubes captured my attention. As they were located in the home section, I assumed one could use them instead of vases for flowers and what not…but for me, I knew that what was going in there was olive oil…and not plain olive oil! I made my purchase, rushed back home, and immediately started experimentation. Here are some suggestions:

Intense olive
This one is probably my favourite one as I’m very much of an olive-y person. It’s simple to make- pull out your mixer and blend some olive oil with green olives (remove the seeds before!). Blend away and then mix with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Tastes great with mesclun, parma ham, sundried tomatoes… something along the lines of Mediterranean flavours. It’s also delicious enjoyed simply with some bread or pasta and nothing else!

Ginger & Papaya
For something sweeter, dice up some candied ginger and papaya and add to the olive oil. Perfect for salads that contain shrimps or diced slices of cheeses- I’ve always loved fruity-cheesy combinations.

I’ve mentioned zaatar before in one of my previous posts. It’s a Middle Eastern mix of thyme, oregano and sesame. I placed a few pinches in a mixer with olive oil to obtain a flavourful dressing. This would probably go best with grilled haloumi or slices of smoked chicken on a salad.

Pistachio & Cranberry
Crush some pistachios, dice some dried cranberries and throw them in a mixer with some olive oil. Not only does it taste great, but also provides some beautiful colours to brighten up any dull salad! I recommend this with chicken but also with some tasty green asparagus .

Feb 23, 2008

Jazz'd up chocolate ice cream

It's been a while now that I've been wanting to get a hand on some golden dragées...which can either be almonds with a coloured sugar coating or candy coated chocolates in the shape of almonds. Typically, these are brought out for weddings or baptisms, but I find them so pretty I thought it wouldn't hurt to just use them in everyday desserts...

So I went hunting around looking for golden ones, and eventually found Martial dragées (http://www.dragees-martial.com/) which is probably one of the biggest dragées makers in France. When I was selecting what colour to choose, I saw that each had a different meaning...just like flowers! Pink meant joy, Green was hope, "Caroline blue" is elegance, Red is love..of course..and Gold is brightness. That is what I was looking for, something that would add some brightness and razzle dazzle to dessert. And dessert turned out being a home made chocolate & spice ice cream (recipe below). I have an ice cream machine since quite some years now, used to use it all the time but unexplicably have been ignoring it this last year... Nonetheless, an ice cream machine never betrays and nothing beats home made ice cream!

Recipe for razzle dazzle chocolate & spice ice cream:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 125 g sugar
  • 1/2 liter of milk
  • Vanilla
  • 60 g dark chocolate, melted
  • Pinch of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg (quantities depend on your personal taste)
  • Golden dragées (or whatever colour you like)

How to make it:

Mix the egg yolks, melted chocolate and sugar in a bowl. Bring the milk, spices and vanilla to boil. Pour the boiling milk over the cold egg/chocolate/sugar mix while stirring. Return to heat and continue to stir until the cream starts to thicken. If you have a thermometer, the mixture should not go beyond 82-85 C. Boiling must be avoided at all costs! Remove from heat and stop cooking process by placing pan in cold water. In a mixer, crush the dragées only for 2-3 seconds and use add 2/3 of it to the ice cream mixture (keep the remaining 1/3 for decoration). Place mixture into an ice cream machine for the amount of time indicated by your machine. I strongly recommend that the ice-cream be eaten the same day as it is made- fresh and delish!

Feb 21, 2008

A little bit of this and a little bit of that...eating the Middle Eastern way

Well some of you may know that my origins run down to Middle Eastern and the Mediterranean parts of the world, of which many culinary specialities are similar with lots of shared typical ingredients. I grew up eating away on these regional dishes, but having grown up in places like Switzerland and France, I've also become accustomed to more Western cuisine. The French approach to food has particularly affected me in a positive way, but from time to time it's nice to go back to "the roots" and enjoying traditional generous plates such as taboulé or delicious dips such as hoummous- both of which I've included the recipe at the end of this post!

And as in my previous post, where I shared some photos of a not-too-well-known "mshalalé" cheese, I'm also including a photo above of a Middle Eastern mix called "Za'atar", which is basically thyme, oregano and sesame seeds. There are many uses for za'atar, but the most traditional, common and basic way to enjoy it is dipping a piece of fresh bread into olive oil, and then into the za'atar. Popular belief says that za'atar is good for your brain, making it stronger and "smarter"...the reason why plenty of students tend to overdose za'atar around examinations period! Whether this belief is true or not is something I cannot confirm...

Now that we're almost onto the recipe part, I would just like to point out that for the hoummos, I'm actually sharing a recipe that went down from my grandmother, to my mother, and now to me! It truly makes the best hoummos that I've tried so far...sometimes I am just shocked with the hoummos served out there at Middle Eastern restaurants or ready made ones sold at food shops! It's just too stiff, too dry, too liquidy or the tahini taste is overwhelming...and I just happen to be very attached to my family's recipe of this well-balanced creamy version of hoummos!

Recipe for hoummos gourmand:

  • 250 gr cooked/boiled chickpeas and some few extra chickpeas for decoration
  • 125 gr tahini
  • 125 gr yoghurt (or fromage blanc)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Dab of butter + pinenuts (or blanched almonds)
  • Cumin

How to make it:

Put the chickpeas, tahini, yoghurt (or fromage blanc which for me personally gives a creamier texture) salt and lemon juice in a mixer. Mix until creamy and set aside. In a pan, heat a dab of butter and add pinenuts (or blanched almonds) until they become a golden toasted colour. Remove from heat immediately. Place hoummos in your serving dish, drizzle with olive oil, decorate with the pinenuts (or almonds) and the chickpeas, sprinkle with cumin and enjoy! Hoummos can be enjoyed simply with bread or as a dip for kibbé, kebab, shish taouk...whatever pleases your tastebuds really!

Recipe for super healthy traditional taboulé:

  • 1 bunch of flat parsley
  • 1 bunch of fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon boulghour (and if you really cannot find any, then replace with couscous)
  • 1 lemon (juice of)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

How to make it:

Finely chop the parsley and mint leaves and place in a big salad bowl. Finely dice the tomatoes and add to bowl. In a small cup, place boulghour and cover with boiling water for about 1-2 minutes, then drain and add the now tenderized boulghour to the salad bowl. Follow with the lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Mix everything well and serve over a bed of ultra crunchy lettuce leaves.

Feb 18, 2008

Cheese & Cake- let's be random today!

Well, this time instead of focusing specifically on a recipe, I thought I would share a maybe not-so-well-known food item. A cheese actually. A cheese that goes under the name of "Mshalalé" which literally means "brades/braded" and originates from certain countries of the Middle Eastern region (around Lebanon, Syria and Jordan).

As you can see, the cheese comes in a tighlty held braded shape, and to eat it you must unbrade it first to obtain seperate strands (as shown below). Traditionally, this cheese is best enjoyed drizzled with olive oil, Nigella seeds, olives, Arabic bread and a cup of black tea. I actually received this cheese from relatives who were in the Middle East... along with plenty of other food stuff! Very typical in my family, you travel with 2 suitcases- one for your personal belongings, and the other empty to be then filled with plenty of gifts and food items to give away upon your return! Maybe it's also a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cultural thing...

Anyway, so apart from cheese, this weekend I whipped up a birthday cake for a chocaholic (like me) and it would had been a crime to make a cake that was not brown and containing tons of chocolate! The cake was a first-time experimentation with blends of caramel (with fleur de sel, I love the sweet-salty combination), crunchy praline and rich chocolate ganache. It turned out to be delicious, rich but also light (I assume the mousse balanced out the richness from the ganache), and was devoured so quickly that I only had the opportunity to obtain one decent photo..the one below! Recipe can be found below.

Recipe for chocolate cake with caramel & fleur de sel mousse:

Ingredients for the chocolate cake:
  • 4 eggs
  • 100 g butter + 100 g dark chocolate, all melted together
  • 120 g sugar
  • 90 g flour
  • Baking powder
  • Praline for decoration

Ingredients for the chocolate ganache:

  • 50 g liquid cream + 100 g dark chocolate

Ingredients for the caramel mousse & fleur de sel mousse:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 240 ml milk
  • 240 ml cream
  • 20 g sugar
  • 100 gr sugar (for caramel)
  • 2 tbspoon water
  • 3-4 gelatine leaves
  • Fleur de sel salt

Making the chocolate cake:

Preheat oven to 180C, th4/5. In a bowl, mix the eggs and sugar. Add the melted choco/butter. Follow with the flour and baking powder, mix batter well and pour into a mould. Bake in oven for 45 minutes. When ready, remove from oven, let cool and slice in half horizontally.

Making the ganache:

Place pan with liquid cream on a med-high heat. Let cream heat but not boil! Remove from heat and add chocolate until it all melts into a rich ganache! Make sure to mix well so that texture is smooth with no bumps. Set aside, let cool but do not let it harden (best to leave the ganache for the very end).

Making the caramel-fleur de sel mousse:

Boil the 100 g sugar, fleur de sel with water to prepare the caramel. When ready, remove from heat. Boil milk, then remove from heat, and add the caramel into it. In a seperate bowl, soak gelatine leaves with water for 5 mins, then remove leaves and drain them. Add the gelatine into the cream/caramel mix. On the side, beat liquid cream with 20 g sugar until it thickens like a whipped cream, and add this to the general mix stirring slowly.

Assembling the cake:

Use a cake mould that fits your cake's dimensions (you can use the same one that went into the oven) and place on the bottom the first cake slice. Follow by pouring a layer of the caramel mousse, and cover cake on top with upper layer. Place in fridge for 3 hours. Then use melted ganache (still liquidy, but not too hot) and pour over cake now removed from mould so that ganache can cover sides as well. Sprinkle with praline. Place in fridge for another hour until ganache and mousse are perfectly set.

Feb 11, 2008

Something salty this time!

There are a couple of things in the culinary world that I absolutely ADORE- chocolate, risotto, and seafood. These undeniably make it in my top10 list of favourite foods, because there is just something exceptional beyond just great taste. Eating such foods sends my tastebuds off to a different planet. It also happens to be that risotto and seafood together is one of my favourite combinations. There is so much versatility to a dish composed of both items, and it is almost always a crowd-pleaser! This time, I've made a risotto topped off with wonderful scallops cooked in a divine orange-saffron sauce, and garnished with orange rinds. If your mise-en-place is ready beforehand, that really helps in not screwing up timing and serving temperature- which is essential in these kind of dishes. And in continuing with my previous post, I do recommend this dish for upcoming Valentine's Day!

Recipe for Risotto & Scallops cooked in Orange-Saffron sauce (yes I know, my recipe titles are not that original!)

Ingredients (quantities for 2 people):
  • 125 g arborio rice
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 25 g parmesan
  • 20-30 cl hot bouillon (of your choice, I used vegetable bouillon here)
  • 1 small cup of dry white wine (warm, as a cold wine "shocks" the rice)
  • 8 scallops
  • Juice of 2 freshly squeezed oranges (and keep some peel on the side for the rinds)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, saffron, pepper corn

For the risotto: In a deep pan, heat the olive oil and add the onions, until they become a golden-translucent colour. Then add in the Arborio rice and salt and allow to lightly fry. After 2-3 minutes, add the wine and keep stirring. Once the wine has cooked the rice, add a first ladle of hot bouillon, turn down heat, and allow rice to simmer. Continue adding bouillon gradually until rice is cooked (takes about 18mins or so- just taste to see when it’s ready). Remember to keep stirring so that the rice doesn’t stick at the bottom of the pan. Once ready, remove from heat and add parmesan, stir with a wooden spoon- you should usually start noticing a wonderful creamy texture here!

For the scallops: heat a bit of olive oil in a pan, then add the scallops (that have been previously seasoned with salt) and cook the scallops over high heat for 1-2 minutes. Once they gain colour, bring down heat to medium and add the orange juice, rinds and saffron. Cook for about 3 minutes on low-medium heat, and just before serving, bring heat back up so that the orange-saffron sauce thickens.

Serve risotto with scallops on top, garnish with orange rinds (optional- but I can tell you it tastes great with the risotto!) and pour over with the orange-saffron sauce. If you have some red peppercorns, rub some grains in between fingers and sprinkle the obtained flakes over dish.

P.S: For the risotto, recipes usually call for butter instead of olive oil. I rarely use butter when cooking- but if you would rather use butter, then replace the olive oil and for extra richness add a dab of butter or cream when adding the parmesan!

Feb 9, 2008

Sweet Heart!

It was just inevitable- I gave in for some Valentine's Day themed baking! I've always found VDay to be a bit too "commercial" and more of a marketing-coup then an actual day for lovers... but I'm telling myself I should try to be a bit less cynical. Nonetheless, I do admit that I absolutely love all the food stuff that comes out for Feb 14th, and this year there is plenty of interesting creations from the biggest chocolate and pastry names out there. Remind me to include a post with interesting love-ly food finds!

As a first baking trial, I went with something rather classic: lots of chocolate, delicious raspberries and some interesting ingredients such as ginger and nutmeg. I honestly did not have this in mind at the beginning, but I was just naturally drifted into a "classic" direction...and anyway, chocolate and raspberries just happen to be some of the greatest ingredients for romantic occasions! Fortunately however, and by total coincidence, I found an interesting kiss-shaped object the other day as I was on a therapeutic shopping spree. The red plastic kiss was actually in the kid's section, but once I saw it I absolutely knew that whatever it was originally meant for, well, I was transforming it into a dessert mould that would contain tons of delicious chocolate textures and coloured with raspberry "lipstick". To find out exactly what went in there, read the recipe!

Recipe for Sweet Heart!:

Ingredients for the mousse:
300 g chocolate
45g butter
5 eggs
90g sugar

Ingredients for the chocolate base:
100g dark chocolate
100g butter
100g sugar
2 eggs
50g flour
Baking powder
50g chocolate chips
20g-40g diced candied ginger OR 1teaspoon nutmeg. (The quantities depend on your personal preference).

Other ingredients:
Raspberries, bitter cocoa, powdered pistachio

How to make it:

  • For the chocolate mousse: Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie. Once melted, add the butter, mix and remove from bain-marie. Crack the eggs in 2 seperate bowls- one for the yolks, the other for the whites. For now, whisk the yolks and add them to the chocolate. Whisk the whites like for a meringue (until the peaks become stiff) while adding the sugar little by little. Now add the whites to the chocolate mix (which contains the yolk) and delicately mix everything with a spatula. Place in fridge for 3h minimum.
  • For the chocolate base: Preheat oven to 180C. Melt the chocolate and the butter, and then set aside. In an empty bowl, place the sugar and the eggs and mix well. Then add the choco/butter, mix well. Add the flour, baking powder, chocolate chips and the candied ginger OR the nutmeg. Mix batter well until smooth, place in mould and bake for 25min. Pull out of oven and let cool.

Assembling the desserts:

  • Pull out your verrines or moulds. In the bottom, place a layer of the chocolate cake/base. Then add a thicker layer of the mousse. Finish off with either bitter cocoa or powdered pistachio and decorate with raspberries. Enjoy!

Feb 5, 2008

Food news!

I have just found out that Ladurée have started an online boutique! Hurrah! The link is www.laduree-boutique.com and you can buy all their delicious wonders with a few simple clicks, from macarons to "art de vivre" items (candles, etc).

In terms of edible treats, there are macarons, chocolates, confiseries and an epicerie for champagne, jams, teas, etc. The selection is quite extensive, and as for the macarons you cannot literally choose each and every flavour. They come in "classic", "fruity", "degustation" and "insolite" themes from boxes that contain 18 to 55 pieces.

In the art-de-vivre department, what I would personally most be lured into buying are the candles. The list of scents is simply divine: brioche, marron glacé, licorice, chocolate & orange... mmm! Almost mouthwatering! I can assume that these must be fabulous because I already have the Ladurée Sephora soap box and once you start sniffing, you simply cannot stop! The smells are addictive, and it is indeed extremely tempting to start biting into the soaps...and maybe the candles too I would guess!

The delivery seems to be very dynamic as they offer options to deliver within 2 hours of your order, or 24h with an online tracking option of your delivery- just as good as Amazon.com!
But what's better (and this is really the luxurious added value here) is the "white gloves delivery" option which means the Ladurée delivery man (or girl?) will come knocking on your door in elegant attire and white gloves! My goodness, this is the summum of chicness... very very far away from a pizza-man styled service!
With all this said, I think the online boutique is a wonderful idea, combining tradition and modernity...but what seems interesting is that it's launch happens to be a few days away from Valentine's day. A coincidence, anyone?

Feb 4, 2008

Chocolate with a very fruity twist!

My goodness it has been a while since I last posted something here! The truth is that I have been terribly terribly busy- I don't even have proper time for myself! As a result, it's had a direct effect on my cooking and baking...which has significantly decreased in the past weeks... and I sincerly hope that the cooking/baking curve goes back up in full force soon!
Until that happens, I'm pulling out a fruity little tartlet experimentation I had done a while back. Puff pastry, diced mangoes and chocolate with a passion fruit exotic taste just seems to perfectly coincide with Paris' current grey and dull weather. It's amazing how food can just bring plenty of sunshine into your life!
The tartlets are very easy to make, but what's interesting is the chocolate part. People always say you should use good quality baking chocolate, Valrhona and company... (which I do use) but sometimes you want chocolate with interesting tastes- like passion fruit. So to simplify life, as I was strolling through the chocolate aisles, a sudden idea pops into my head as I stand in front of the Lindt "Sensation Fruit" collection- specifically the Passion fruit flavoured one.

First off, the packaging is divine- joyful, colourful and with elegant golden rims and prints adding a touch of luxury to the supermarket world reflecting a slight "masstige" influence. Secondly, and most importantly, this chocolate tastes very good. So far I had eaten it in generous cubic shapes, but I hadn't used it in baking however. And so all of a sudden I thought to myself why don't I try melting this stuff as it would probably give a beautiful taste to a chocolate based dessert? Which is exactly what I did.

While melting it in a bain-marie, it's tropical fragrance diffused throughout the kitchen corners, providing a very enticing ambiance with chants of island birds and flowers in between my pots and pans. Fortunately besides it's delicious scent, the passion fruit taste remained in melted form. The chocolate melts easily, the only issue is that you really need to be mixing it well as it can easily have a lumpy texture. I melted the chocolate with cream like when making ganache. It became the base of the tart, which was then topped off with mango and mint leaves. A delight that's easy to make and can be ready in minutes!

Recipe for mango-chocolate-passion fruit tartlets:


  • Puff pastry or short cut pastry (maybe the latter is more advisable!)
  • Liquid cream 1 unit
  • Passion Fruit flavoured chocolate 2 units (always double the Q of liquid cream)
  • Mangoes, diced
  • Mint leaves

How to make it:

  • Bake the pastry in small tartlet moulds until golden and well cooked. When ready, take out of oven and let cool
  • Prepare the ganache by heating the liquid cream of medium-high heat. Do not let it boil!
  • Then turn off heat and add the chocolate. Mix continuously until there are no lumps. Set aside for a while until it becomes less "liquidy".
  • Pour the ganache into the base of the tartlets and top off with diced mangoes and decorate with mint leaves.