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.