Dec 27, 2012

Bonkers Banana Bread

I have yet to come across someone who loves banana bread as much as M does- this guy is a serious die-hard fan! Consequently, every time we see each other (which is usually a few times a year) there's a somewhat unspoken rule -which now feels like an unspoken expectation- that I'll make him banana bread. Throughout the years I've played around with base recipes so that each bread is a bit different then the prior one (you know, so things don't get boring) and this year was no exception. The only exception is that I feel I've made my best version of banana bread to date. It's an absolutely naughty bonkers one full of mashed up ripe bananas, extra crunchy peanut butter and whiskey soaked golden raisins! Fragrant, moist and with a fruity sweetness, it becomes even more delicious if you can give it an extra day (after having it baked) to enjoy a first slice. My personal thing has been to wrap up the baked, cooled down cake and leave it overnight on the lower-most shelf of my fridge, allowing the flavours to ripen up and do their magic...   

Dec 17, 2012

Chocolate Crinkles

In continuation with the holiday baking madness, here is a recipe I make year after year without fail- they are just too damn good to miss a year of! Chocolate Crinkles: a cheerful chewy gooey chocolate cookie with an almost brownie-like texture. Or alternatively, in my imaginary world,  chocolate confetti that has fallen from the sky to merrily roll in sugar dusted snow. Yes, this cookie does trigger whimsical thoughts in mysterious ways...

Dec 13, 2012

Caramelized Coconut & Ginger

Listen up people. In December, everything is very straight forward. There's no rocket science here and no need to complicate life more then it already is. For that in the festive month of December, thou shall bake, eat, share and blog about cookies 


(goodness that came out like something straight out of a religious book now didn't it )


Anyway. The truth of the matter is that you just need to take a look at all the culinary magazines and websites out there and you'll come to realize there is one item that hijacks the food pyramid and indeed you guessed right, it is cookies- "holiday cookies" to be precise. 

Dec 8, 2012

Classics: Gingerbread

It's that time of the year again. Time to be merry, jolly, shimmer in silver and gold...Whatever it is you make "that" time for, I'd like to think that cravings for the taste of gingerbread is one of them. However the real question is: are you team bread or cookies? I have a theory that us humans fall into two camps when it comes to this gingery delight -bread or cookies- with a third deviation of both. Me? I am some odd statistic of team bread, with fluctuating drifts to cookies. Either way, gingerbread is a tradition that fortunately just doesn't get boring, year after year. So to kick off the holiday baking season (and to use that bottle of molasses!), what better then a recipe for this sweet spiced classic! 

Dec 5, 2012

Oreos & Milk Cookie

"Oreo, Milk's Favorite Cookie". Damn right it is, at least we can all agree on that one. So what's this post about? Let me explain the context to you. So lately I've been hooked on the awesome new food show Mind of a Chef, narrated by Anthony Bourdain and featuring the very cool David Chang (he does indeed come off as very cool) and some of his crazy gang at Momofuku along with other personalities from the culinary scene. 
For those of you who have been watching the show, you know there is along with all the interesting food talk and insights, a refreshing dash of madness which probably explains Chang's genius. Anyway, so what happens when you overdose on the show? You end up having wacky dreams that involve pots, pans, flavours, textures....all sorts of stuff. With that said, the secondary effect that I experienced was dreaming of trying to capture something so nostalgic, so quintessential and relatable to most people's childhood: the sweet memory of dunking Oreos in milk. When you have a dream like that, it's one where you want to wake up and remember every detail of it! 

Dec 3, 2012

Blackberry & Rosemary Infused Vinegar

Homemade always results in a good feeling. Cakes and cookies and stuff, ya, that's nice and all. But some homemade things make you feel extra special, as if you were suddenly granted some superpower and thus automatically becoming the coolest cat on this planet. Know what I mean? I'm talking about homemade yoghurt, cheese (does labneh count?), jam, Nutella, or your favourite grocery store biscuits for instance. Or take a look at the courageous Matt over at Wrightfood, who has made all sorts of charcuterie (chorizo, hello!) Someday, I'll give prosciutto a try... but until then, I've got more homemade tricks up my sleeve. Vinegar for instance.  Something that always comes in handy in the kitchen. 

Nov 30, 2012

10 Things

I don't think I've ever walked into an empty kitchen. I mean, literally- an empty one with absolutely nothing in the fridge or closets. 

Everyone, I believe (or assume at least) has some sort of kitchen staple lying around at any given moment. 
Today, you won't get a recipe, but a little sneak peak into ten items I always have in my cooking space. This excludes of course the absolutely essential ingredients of salt, pepper, olive oil and onions. Instead, these are ingredients that I discovered throughout the years, that have always proved to add a dash of magic to any dish. In a nutshell, they are additions that make cooking an even more enjoyable moment for me and that often stir curiosities as friends and family ask what that little mystery ingredient is. 

ONE: Mahlepi. 
This is one incredible ingredient, particularly in baking. Mahlepi is a staple in most Middle Eastern & Greek cuisines. You'd never guess it's ground kernels of cracked cherry seeds. My grandmother used to typically use mahlepi in her traditional Easter cookies. I loved it's intriguing taste so much, I'll often sneak some in to most of my baking recipes. 

Nov 27, 2012

The Perfect Steak

By the way, that pink stuff you see is fig-rosemary mustard. Delicious!

The Perfect Steak. When I wrote the title to this post I wasn't sure if I should make it come off as a statement or a question, "The Perfect Steak?" or "The Perfect Steak". Hmm, well enough of my random ramblings and let me just get to the point. 

In life, one has ambitious shiny goals and aspirations. As a child up till adulthood, we dream. Ride a bike, learn how to swim, kiss your classroom crush, learn how to fly (wishful thinking), travel the world, learn a new language, run a marathon, run for president, write a book, have a romance with a superhero (Batman would be my choice), be the next Steve Jobs, so on and so forth. 

Nov 23, 2012

Pumpkin-Ginger Soup & Mussels

This dish is so, so appropriate right now. Here are three good reasons why: 

1) If you celebrated Thanksgiving, you're likely stuck with leftovers. I'm hoping pumpkin is one of them

2) It's a superb time to be eating mussels. When I lived in France, my poissonier would tell me "les moules se mangent pendant tout les mois en 'bre' " which means that all months that ended in 'bre' were the best time of the year to buy mussels. Septembre, Octobre, Novembre, et Decembre. Additionally, it's now or never to be cooking with the other key ingredient here, pumpkin.


3) Brrr, it's getting cold. Soup. Enough said. 

Nov 18, 2012

Parsley, Walnuts & Parmesan

I have an aunt who makes the most incredible pasta- ever. It wasn't so much about the pasta in itself but rather the flavour combination she used. Enjoying dishes with a Ragu alla Bolognese, Marinara or Carbonara sauce were staples that I relished on countless times and did not evoke any sense of surprise. They were like, let's say, a classic red Ferrari  But one day, as a child, my aunt invited us over for a casual dinner and on the table was sitting a large generous dish of pasta with parsley. Tons of fresh chopped parsley that she often topped off with crumbled feta or diced halloumi cheese. Seeing all that parsley in a pasta dish was, at the time, something new for me. I was curious, and within my first bite my tastebuds were simply blown away. The clean crisp bright taste of parsley was stupendous. It was like a green Ferrari,  unexpected and different. I enjoyed it tremendously that whenever she'd have us for dinner, I'd beg for her to make it again. 

Nov 17, 2012

Orange, Vermouth & Scallops

Elegant, refined, slightly sweet and ever so versatile. Scallops are most certainly among my all time favourites. I distinctly remember the first time I had ever tried a scallop- which was many, many years ago. I'd like to think, too many years ago actually. Interestingly enough, I recall it was during the same time period when I also first tasted mussels. At the time, the mere sight of both items - I shall admit, at that young tender age of mine- kind of grossed me out. As much as I grew up with a healthy exposure to various types of foods, as much as there was something that was offsetting about scallops and mussels. "Try some, it's deliciooouuus!" my mother would tell me in her adorable accent. "You don't know what you're missing out on (of course, I was always missing out on "something"), try one at least!". How could I say no to my darling mom- everything she had ever cooked was always superb. What else explains my love for food and wanting to spend endless hours in the kitchen? And so my friends, what started off as a "bite" turned out being several bites which in turn unraveled into a perpetual obsession with scallops. She was right, they are not only deliciooouuus- they are succulent! I spent the rest of my day like a fool with a grin on my face, as I gladly welcomed this new tasty discovery of scallops into my life. 

Nov 16, 2012

A Very Merry Hot Chocolate

It's not Christmas yet, not even Thanksgiving...but heck, it's never too early to enjoy a homemade cup of hot chocolate. The fact that it's actually cold enough to wear a chunky knit scarf coupled with a pitch black sky kicking in as of 6PM is a totally legitimate excuse to indulge in what might be the most comforting drink in the world! 

Now I, personally, typically enjoy my hot chocolate with either a pinch of cinnamon or coffee. But with the holiday season just around the corner, what would be more fitting then a luscious chocolate beverage laced with cool, sweet swirls of peppermint? 

With the flavor addition figured out, the real question however is how does one typically make hot chocolate? 

Nov 11, 2012

Chocolate, Red Wine & Cinnamon

I realized I get feelings of anxiety when I know that there are certain ingredients lying around in my kitchen -namely eggs, butter, sugar- and not doing anything about it. It's particularly worse when it's just ONE egg sitting in my fridge. You see, typically, I use my eggs in pairs, or at the minimum two when baking. So one, on it's own, creates a sense of disequilibrium in my mind and the only way to re-establish any sense of balance is by using it. Can anyone relate, or am I just strange? Would it make more sense if I gave the example of let's say, seeing just a spoonful left at the bottom of a Nutella jar (pot of ice cream works too) and deciding to 1) build up superhuman courage and leave it in there or 2) decide, what the heck, I might as well eat it and get it over with once and for all! That's exactly my issue, but with the one-egg-sitting-in-the-fridge situation. 

Nov 9, 2012

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Almond Cakes

For many in the NY/NJ area, the last few days - and even weeks- have been rough. We were hit by Hurricane Sandy on the night of October 29th, 2012. An unexpected visit from Mother Nature which, in a matter of hours, transformed neighbourhoods and the lives of many. In the worst hit areas, homes and cars were nearly washed away, crushed for some.  Millions were left without power, hot water or any internet and phone connection to communicate with their loved ones. The consequence was waking up in a world we had not quite recognized. With the approaching winter and a cold breeze in the air, each day felt endless, with permanent questioning...  when will that lamp post turn on again? When will these streets look like they once used to be? Will I be lucky to find a power socket to charge my phone? What about the elderly, or those with babies? 
And slowly, with each day, the most important question became: how can we help fix this- in any way or form? 

Nov 8, 2012

Obama Cookies

6 November 2012.
The world (or I suspect, a good part of it) is watching the US presidential elections. I am not an American myself, but I am following the race to the White House, watching the number of votes allotted  for each candidate add up, with observed peaks of suspense once states like Florida or Ohio are mentionned. It is late on a Tuesday night, around 11PM or so, and the verdict drops, finally. Obama has been re-elected, 44th president of the United States of America. 
Many are happy, some are sad and a few might had been surprised. Me? I had been a spectator all along, but of course- like everyone else- have my own opinion. For the sake of keeping things clean, I prefer not to discuss my political beliefs on this blog. Swirl & Scramble is first and foremost a recollection of my kitchen musings, and not a political platform. 
But exceptionally, and truly exceptionally, maybe once every four years, politics and food can mix. It happened to be, that shortly after the elections, I was inspired to make an Obama cookie. Not a sugar cookie with Obama's face drawn in, but one with a taste that, I felt, captured the president's profile. 

Oct 20, 2012


Do you have some chocolate, rum and crushed toffee bits on hand? If yes, you might want to try this cake which is sinfully rich! Each bite feels just like a cake with a river of chocolate and a candy bar crunchy crust. To be consumed in absolute moderation... if your sweet tooth can handle it! 

Oct 11, 2012


As I mentioned a while back, over the last two years living here in the US, one very noticeable difference from Europe is the pumpkin madness that kicks in every October. Everything starts or ends with "pumpkin", in one way or form. This national attachment to the orange gourd squash is something I find very entertaining yet terribly endearing. 
So of course there are the usual suspects: pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin lattes, etc. Then seasonal cupcakes, scones and cheesecakes spiked with pumpkin. And then, there's the spread known as pumpkin butter- which quite frankly I had never heard of before moving stateside. 
On that last thought, I started to think of pumpkin jam. How come we don't see much of that, and most importantly: are we missing out on something really good over here?!

Oct 9, 2012


I would suppose that, if one had not slept for 48 hours straight, the thought of baking would be considered as a bad, very bad idea. But that's a general statement, and consequently not applicable to 100% of the population. Which brings me to justify -and feel less guilty- for allowing my (sometimes) impulsive brain to decide that whisking sugar and eggs may just very well be a good, very good idea...after hours of sleep deprivation. Yes, the mind is a wonderful thing isn't it. 

Oct 1, 2012


There's a saying I once came across that says "the days are long, but the years are short". I would have to agree- although sometimes it feels like "the days are short, and the years are shorter". I do experience days where I realize twenty four hours is just not enough! 

As for now, well for starters... we're already in October...which means there are just three months left to this year. Goodness gracious, unbelievable. Another thing is that it's been just over two years since I moved to the US. And if there's one thing I realized- coming from a life spent in Europe- is that pumpkin is a national obsession over here. Especially around this time of the year... 

Sep 29, 2012


Oh boy, I have been in baking/cooking hibernation haven't I? It really has been too long- but with the hot and terribly humid weather we've been having for the last few months, being near a flaming oven or stove was the last thing on my mind. 

Anyway, everything in it's time right? And so I'm back, and the first baking bug of the season has bitten me

Apr 24, 2012


I have a list of food items that make this world a better place, and Nutella is without a doubt one of them. Mais oui, what did you think! Of course I have a list of world peace foods, and I know you have one too- admit it
So anyway, there has been a jar of Nutella hanging out in my kitchen and I have been eyeing that jar everyday waiting to put it to good use- and eating it straight out of the jar was not an option (as much as I would had liked to do just that). 
But then I had a Paula Deen moment y'all: butter is her excuse to make everything taste better and mine is that a dollop of Nutella does just the same thing. 

Apr 16, 2012


I still remember what lunch time as a lower school kid was like. We'd proudly carry around our lunch boxes, sit around a table and unlock those magical metal cartoon themed-boxes (this was the late 80s, very early 90s) to see what mom had packed for us that day. Having been in American/International schools, I distinctly recall my friends pulling out things like, let's say, cute peanut butter & jam sandwiches (and sometimes, the sliced bread was crust-less) whereas I would be there with a gigantic pita bread rolled up and generously filled with hummus or labneh. You did not want to pick a fight with me, because I might had been able to knock someone's head off with my pita sandwich. Yes, I was that kid. And while you were eating Oreo's for dessert, I was nibbling on dried fruits. 

Apr 14, 2012


Molecular gastronomy- I think it's something you either love or hate. I don't swear by it, but after all, science and food kind of work hand in hand so there is always something to learn. The theories behind this discipline is quite fascinating actually. Unfortunately however, what's discouraging is that a lot of recipes call for ingredients or equipment that I feel only a chemist in a laboratory would have access to. I mean, where am I supposed to find me some calcium lactate gluconateSo when I came across a phenomenal mousse au chocolat recipe by "the" molecular gastronomy godfather Hervé This that called for just chocolate, water, ice cubes and five minutes I knew I had to give it a try ASAP (for goodness sake, I was having sleepless nights over this recipe- so I had to get it out of the way!)

Apr 5, 2012


When I lived in Paris, I never had to think twice about what I wanted to drink (alcoholic drink that is): it was either wine or champagne. I was never the girl holding a cocktail in her hands. Yes, you can call me boring, but I always enjoyed playing the olfactory game of choosing between a red (pinot noir or syrah?)... or maybe a white (sec or fruité?) In the summer, it was always a ro of course. And then for a euphoric kick, obviously the choice was champagne. 

But then it all changed once I found myself on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Apr 1, 2012

15 MIN ZAATAR (or anything else) HOME MADE CHIPS

Aaah I love making things that I would typically buy ready-made from scratch, like delicious Digestive Biscuits or Nutella ... and I know there are a bunch of recipes circulating around to home made versions of Twix, Reese's Pieces and all types of other processed foods. And so recently, I gave a go to a most iconic processed food item- chips! Chips, crisps, whatever you want to call it, are becoming a guilty pleasure of mine but every time I pick a bag up at the grocery store and read the amount of sodium on the label... I am simply terrified! It really is the salt, more then anything else, that freaks me out in ready made chips (I mean, hello water retention, bloat!)

Anyway, fortunately there's a solution to this sodium disaster- home made chips...and in less then fifteen minutes! Here's how it goes:

Mar 27, 2012


Real quick, before I forget....
I've been wanting to share two DIY cool things I randomly played around with a while back...

Cutlery that says it all...
Get spoons + metallic permanent market + delicious words = sweet messages on dessert spoons. Make them for yourself, or for another sweet tooth in your life. Eating ice cream suddenly becomes a whole lot more fun!

Although I never ever eat canned soup, I admit that I definitely have a thing for the iconic Campbell's packaging.

Funky pen holder for less then a dollar...  
Buy canned food item (with a really cool label design). Empty out contents. Wash and spray insides with an anti bacterial multi-purpose cleaning spray (you want to get rid of any residual food smells). Dry well. Fill with pens, pencils...

Mar 25, 2012


The incredible thing about home baked goods is not just in the feeling of personal satisfaction it can lead to- but also the magic it creates when left on a counter for others to enjoy. I like to think of it like sprinkling edible fairy dust all around you. Just leave a plate of cookies for friends & family to indulge in... and watch how it brings smiles to people's faces- even if just for a few seconds... It works like a charm. 
So my latest edible fairy dust were these delightful pecan, orange and cocoa cookies that I made not too long ago during one of my "free-style" spontaneous baking session and I am proud to say they taste- and smell (the orange zest, aaah!)- spectacularly nice. Wouldn't it be so selfish of me not to sure the recipe with you? 
Sometimes I don't know what looks better- the cookie dough or the baked cookies! Mmm

Recipe for Pecan, Orange & Cocoa cookies:
1+1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 orange, zest only
1/2 cups (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. 
Whisk butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract until fluffy for about 2 minutes. Add the flour, cocoa, cinnamon orange zest, baking soda and salt, mix well. Finally finish off with the toasted pecans. Drop spoonfulls on a baking tray and bake for 9 minutes. 
*To toast pecans: place nuts on a pan over med-high heat for 3-4 minutes. They're ready when slightly darker in colour and infuse a lovely nutty scent.
*If you're not in a hurry, place cookie dough in the fridge for at least 3 hours (and up to 24 hours) before baking.

Jan 6, 2012


The holiday season is such a great excuse to stuff yourself with all types of delicious foods....and just when you think it's about to come to an realize there's one last thing to devour: a generous slice of a Galette des Rois. Mais oui, the food marathon is not over yet... at least not in the French tradition, where it is typical to enjoy the genius combination of puff pastry and frangipane on the day of Epiphany. Even if it's a 'seasonal' type of patisserie, I know many who wouldn't mind enjoying a slice all year round (ah yes, you know who you are!) - and that would certainly include myself. Because the truth is that, finalement, the simple nature of a Galette des Rois is addictively scrummy yummy, tout simplement! There's a warm, wholesome, comforting type of pleasure biting into it's golden buttery flakey crust and the rich creamy frangipane interior. The classic version is typically made with an almond flavoured frangipane, but  there's always the exception as each year the pastry chefs in France demonstrate their creativity and interpret the galette in an array of flavours. This year, I did not stray away too much- just a little- with a pralinoise frangipane, which is a beautiful caramel-like based marriage of hazelnuts and almonds. You'll see that the recipe for frangipane is super easy and is great not only in a Galette des Rois, but a fabulous addition to fruit tarts and other flakey pastries.
You can make the puff pastry from scratch, or buy it ready made (nothing wrong with that!)
The first step: roll out the puff pastry
Spread out a generous layer of frangipane
Mmmm...frangipane close-up, definately the best part!
Roll out a second layer of puff pastry, place on top of the frangipane, seal the edges and brush with egg yolks or milk. A little tip: pull out the galette five minutes before the end of it's baking time and sprinkle with icing sugar before placing it back in the oven. This will help give it a nice shiny appearance.
Voilà- servez vous! Finger licking good!

Recipe for Galette des Rois

Puff pastry:
If you make it from scratch, understand that the portions are for each 100gr of flour add 50gr of butter, a pinch of salt and drops of water if necessary. The butter should be cold (you can place it in the freezer before) and the dough should not be overworked. Before rolling it out, it's best to leave the puff pastry to rest in the fridge for a few hours. Alternatively, you can buy ready-made puff pastry (and that's not considered cheating by the way!) 

Pralinoise Frangipane:
The general rule for frangipane is for each 100gr of ground almonds you will need 100gr of butter, 100gr of sugar and 2 eggs. A pralinoise frangipane however is a combination of almonds and hazelnuts:

50gr almonds
50gr hazelnuts
100gr sugar
100gr butter, melted
2 eggs
1 egg yolk (or milk)

Prepare a tray lined with greased parchment paper. Place the sugar in a pan, place over heat. Just when it starts to melt and develop a nice caramel colour, turn off the heat and add the almonds and hazelnuts. Continue to cook for a few minutes, then transfer onto the tray and cool for about an hour. The result will be a hard type of brittle. Break into pieces, place in a mixer and grind into a fine powder- this is your 'pralin'. In a bowl, mix the powdered pralin and butter. Add the eggs and mix well. 

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Roll out a first layer of puff pastry. Spread a generous layer of pralinoise frangipane. Cover with a second layer of puff pastry. Brush with egg yolk or milk. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden.

*If the thought of using all that butter in the frangipane frightens you, you can substitute half of the butter with apple sauce instead!