Sunday, November 6, 2011


As American as apple pie and Kim K., the cheese cake is essentially curious deliciously rich, and can be made into a favorite late Sunday afternoon treat. Well, inspired by Jaque Pepin, I made this quintessential cake today, as our one year was taking his nap and our five year old was busy fighting enemies on naboo: Simple: 4 eggs, 4 packets of cream cheese, some lemon juice, some vanilla, and a cup of sugar... bake for an hour and stop. Let it rest for a while. Unmold. And dress. I used apricot jam as master Pepin likes, and also added cognac. Go heavy on the lemon rinds, since the smell and taste was just flagrant.
I liked it a lot. Enjoy (make sure you go heavy on the apricot jam).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Essential Pepin is in!

I just picked up the latest from Maestro... A culmination of 60 years of cooking in a beautiful collection of his best recipes... with a DVD of instructions: how to make chocolate leaves, and how to put an apron on, and.... I love Pepin and look up to him. I learned A LOT from him. In fact, to relax, I usually go to YouTube and watch some of his KQED episodes... I really do. You go Jacque, and for many more years of health and cooking shows....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes Okido Style

Yes, it is that time of year where you see tons of beautiful orange pumpkins sitting around anywhere you look. Apart from being aesthetically pleasing to look at, a pumpkin is a good -in fact great- source of yummy things. The top on mind -blame my upbringing- is the seed... pumpkin seeds: roasted and salted make a wonderful snack and perfect accompaniment to a good ale. There is also that thick orange skin -or is it fat, or muscle- that you can make pumpkin stuff out of: pumpkin pies, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin kibbeh, -and in our family- pumpkin PANCAKES! Ever since we got that okido issue, we -meaning all of us- have been hooked on it.
The recipe is below (pics to follow). Please make it, and make it often.

Thanks Okido issue 6:
Ingredients: 1 cup of flour, 2 tbsp of brown sugar, 1 tsp of baking powder, 1 tsp of cinnamon (or other mix of spices), 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of pumpkin puree, 1 egg, and 2 tbsp of oil (I usually skip).
What to do: Mix above ingredients together. Warm a pancake pan on medium and drizzle with very little oil (you do this the first pancake only - no need for oil afterwards), and make pancakes. Serve immediately with syrup.yeahhhhhh

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paris, O Paris...

This is a brief post about what we ate on our recent lovely trip to Paris. We have made it to unbelievable restaurants, sampled amazing chocolates, saw beautiful art, walked romantic streets, and just had a great time. The restaurants we ate at are all in the nouveau French cuisine where the emphasis is on fresh, local, healthy,... and amazing.

Arriving to our hotel, we head immediately to lunch at Ze Kitchen Gallery... a funky and hip restaurant in St. Germain right a block from the Seine.

The appetizers we chose were a play on raw fish. These dishes to me are as good as the fish you get, and they were wonderful (with a unique presentation): Asian flavors, mixed with slightly sweet and crunchy peels of cucumber, some radishes marinated green papaya and mango. Dora had the (raw) sardines, tomato and a ginger like sauce. It is slightly challenging to eat raw sardines as the fish is a little tough.

Trout from Banka....

Desert... Chocolate sorbet, Giandua on macademia cookie with a "dried" sugary mint leaf...

The entrees were somethings else. Dora had the cod fish... cooked to perfection with some type of miso sauce and again amazing presentation. I had the rabbit which was braised in the oven and then (I think) sauteed with pesto wild mushroom... Finally, for desert, we shared a Giandiua chocolate masterpiece on some macademia cookie... a perfect ending to a beautiful lunch. Overall, we felt the restaurant, although the food was super delicious, in some way overdid the Asian/French fusion somehow too much. The trout was the most memorable dish, and I would come here just to have it, but the rest, apart from looking pretty (paris style), did not really come through and shine.

The next day, all rested after a long evening of strolling along the streets of the Latin quarter, we head to the Louvres in the morning and then take the train to Rue Varonnes for a fabulous lunch at Septime! WHAT AN AMAZING TREAT... perhaps the best meal we had in Paris (may be anywhere??) The restaurant is unassuming and simple, more like a bistro, in a friendly neighborhood. It does not have the snobby feel of Ze above, but nonetheless very elegant and inviting. The menu is simple: we ordered the "Carte Blanche:" four dishes and wine... (it was difficult to get a reservation here as I called many times more than a month ahead... they only answer the phone right before each sitting... go figure that one out).

The first dish we got was this Tomato dish below.... I have never had a salad as good... an Ode to the Tomato: the grainy white you see is tomato granita, various pieces of heirloom with thin slices of some radish, sprinkle of fresh ricotta, all drizzled with some magic sauce. Wow. I still remember the taste of this when I close my eyes, and if I had to summarize my trip to Paris, it would be this salad: what was it, crunchy and fresh, amazing flavor, cold granita was just the key as the temperature added an aspect of freshness, warm house-made ricotta, and finally the drizzle some sort of oil citrus magic... Bravo to the chef for creating such a SIMPLE combination that elevates the tomato to a front and center masterpiece... Wow.

Tomato, ricotta....

Next, we had the "merlu de ligne" ( a line caught Hake fish -same family as cod) lightly lightly seared and mixed together with among other things a courgette -zucchini- sliced in half and lighly cooked stove top with some slight caramelization ---- WOW. I have never had a zucchini taste so good. The bubbly sauce is made out some boiled ham sauce... I mean this was a total grand slam.
Merlu de ligne
cochon Iberique

The third dish is a meat dish and  out comes this porc "iberique" (from Spain) where the restaurant had the porc farmer eat exclusively a diet of certain mushrooms, and nuts. The meat is seared lightly, covered with a cabbage leaf, also lightly seared with a little aromatic salt, and then all drizzled with some olive oil sauce... I mean this was just pure bliss. Again, as in the above dishes, no fancy acrobatics hide-behind-some-sauce meat, fresh raw and let nature do the work for you. This restaurant is easily at the very top of its form, kicking on all cylinders.
Finally, there was the desert: simple, (cold) chocolate ganache, with an orchestra for the raspberry: a sorbet with a hint of mint and lemon, fresh berries, and all sprinkled with deep frozen raspberry crumbs.

This restaurant represents I think the finest example of this nouvelle cuisine Francaise: simple execution based on 1st class ingredients (they are obsessive about the ingredients - soil, geography of the farm, what the animal eats, where the zucchini comes from....), and fresh. None of the old guard saucy and heavy French, but a more youthful reinterpretation of an illustrious culinary tradition. This is my favorite meal of all time...

Bye Bye - Adios.... (in front of Septime -can I live here???)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

There's A Pizza War

And lucky for us, we're living on the front line. When we first moved to North Beach, we ate at North Beach Pizza about once a week- it's a block away, has friendly service, and beautiful pizza. We soon realized that by walking an extra two or three blocks, we could also enjoy the classic, Golden Boy Pizza, or the new kid, Tony's Pizza Napoletana. Talk about hard decisions! Nikos stands by North Beach - once he finds something he likes, he's difficult to budge. I, on the other hand, although enjoying North Beach for its feel-good atmosphere and always-consistent pizza, and appreciating Golden Boy for it's no-nonsense, pizza-in-hand-with-beer-at-the-bar attitude, have a soft spot for Tony's (if we can ever get in). It's pricier than the others, but I don't mind paying for the top-quality ingredients. Tony Gemignani (a bit of a celeb in the pizza world: he's won a pizza "world-cup", has been on Food Network, etc etc) is passionate about each pie that goes out. Sitting 10 feet from the 900 degree wood burning oven (there's also a domed gas brick oven and a NY flat top gas brick oven), I've watched Tony expertly assemble ingredients imported from Napoli ("the pizza capital of the world") for his award-winning Margherita (he only makes 73 a day) and then slowly shift the pie in the oven, constantly moving it around until it's perfectly done. Another star is his Cal Italia with asiago, mozzarella, gorgonzola, sweet fig preserve, and prosciutto (almost a dessert pizza). Because they don't take reservations, it's almost impossible to get in on a Friday or Saturday night, so it's best to go for a late lunch/early dinner around 4 or 5. Or you can swing by North Beach or Golden Boy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Yogurt Soup: Perfect!

Yes, you read it correctly, Yogurt soup.
It is one of those things that go well with cold weather, feeling happy, cozy moments, lazy Sunday afternoons, etc.

What: 2 lbs of yogurt (use at least 2%)
one clove of garlic
a pinch of rice
a tablespoon of cornstarch
some salt
dried mint

Put the yogurt through a metal strainer directly in the pot. Force it through with a spoon. Add to the pot the cornstarch that was mixed in a small cup of water. Place pot over medium heat and STIR, and STIR and STIR. After 5 minutes add the salt and the rice, and KEEP STIRRING until you see bubbles, or it has started boiling. This will take about 20 minutes (yes you need to stir this whole time). Then, you can turn to low heat and keep it on until rice is cooked.

Fill a bowl, sprinkle some crushed dried mint on top, and ENJOY!

(of course in Lebanon, you would eat this soup with many things in it - my favorite is Shish Barak or Lebanese Raviolis - which are meat filled little ''hats'' ... but that is for another day)....

Saturday, October 31, 2009

PIES, etc

So, I have been making some of the pies from David Lebovitz's blog (boy am I so jealous - living in Paris, and blogging about food there). Anyhow, I made two pies: the almond Chez Panisse Pie, and the Quince "Easy" pie. I loved both. DAvid is really good, and has a good palette.

The almond pie was my favorite. It is crusty, rich in flavor, and just delicious. It is a bit tricky to make. The texture is heavenly: The top is this crackly caramelized almonds bathed in sugar and cream (need I say more), but sitting on top of a thin film of simple pie crust which is slightly chewy. The Grand Marnier comes through, along with the pungent almond smell. I love it .

The second pie will be my every other week jam pie. It really is simple to make: just mix flour, butter and baking powder, add the almond essence (do NOT forget this!), lay the dough in the pie mold, put your favorite jam, cover with dough leaves, sprinkle with sugar, bake. Done. He also calls for adding a third of a cup of corn flour.
I like that a lot, for texture especially. I used the last remaining Quince jam I had on one half, and the other half I filled it with apricot jam (both my mother's). Wow. I eat a piece for breakfast lunch and dinner.

So, go bake a pie for halloween tonight. Trust me, it will make you smile.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Hey, it is the fall here in the Midwest. A special time with beautiful colors, and smells. The markets are full of local apples (mostly from Michigan), and all apple-centered products, like apple donuts, and apple pies, and apple cider, and apple songs, and even apple festivals (we went to the Long Grove one). I have been seeking comfort these days at our local Japanese restaurant, in love with their Udon noodles in hot aromatic broth and tempura fried vegetables. What a simple dish, yet it is so satisfying and warm with the vegetables dressed in this beautiful crackly cover. I have also picked out some fresh white beans from the market, another warm and cozy dish: boil them, cut some tomato some vinegar and oil, some onions, basil and mix. Pure comfort. Go out there and enjoy the leaves before the dark days of winter arrive!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Harvest time . . .

In Napa!

And the best part of it all. . .

We left with a bottle of Domaine Carneros 2005 Brut Vintage Cuvée- fabulous!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fun Stuff

In the last week, I made fun little things that looked and/or sounded good. I know they would taste good. So, first, from Smitten Kitchen, I tried the breakfast bars. I used both fresh raspberries and blueberries. They were good, just exactly as I had expected though. I do like the earthy oat flavor, but for some reason, I thought they were a bit too sugary...
I also made the fabulous no-knead bread. I was a bit disappointed since I repeat the SAME recipe everytime and the bread is inconsistent: this time it looked great, but did not get the holes.... in the middle (I added 3 oz of beer to the mix for flavor, and that is definitely recommended).

On the other hand, I did some simple Macaroons (I am not sure why, I just happened to be in a coconut mood, and had just bought some flakes for my weekly homemade granola mix - thanks nytimes). So, I did these for the first time, and I was blown away. Simple, elegant, very tasty (healthy too-just egg whites - no milk of any kind, butter or oils) and looked great especially the ones dipped in chocolate and pistachios!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Say Cheese!

One of the many treats of walking through San Francisco's Ferry Building is stopping by Cowgirl Creamery cheese shop (the actual creamery is located about an hour north of the City). The staff is very helpful and very knowledgeable of the array of cheese, which they bring from over 200 producers in the U.S and Europe (Cowgirl produces just under 10 of their own). They also don't push you to overbuy, and they let you taste anything you want! We last tried a gorgeous Spanish Mahon Reserva and a Greek (of course!) Mt. Vikos feta, which was possibly the best we've ever had. I can't wait to go back and try a few of Cowgirl's signature cheeses- or maybe we'll just take a road trip up to the creamery and see how they make them as well!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

With flowers in my hair and great food in my mouth.

I'm sorry for the long long delay since my last post- there were vacations, and moving, and no internet... but all along, the happy food never stopped. I'll begin from my most recent happy foods and slowly work back in time...

Life has taken me to San Francisco. If you mentioned San Francisco to me about 10 years ago, I would think immediately of cable cars and Rice-a-Roni. To my great delight, it has ohh so much more. We settled into an overpriced, and undersized one bedroom right below the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. It's a couple blocks to North Beach, and a few more to Chinatown. As you can imagine, there's great food all along the way.

Most people say everyone living in North Beach has their favorite Italian restaurant, and Niko and I, though still trying things out, are already leaning towards Ideale on Grant Street. If you go on a Friday night, you'll probably be seated at the bar for about 20 minutes before getting a table. You won't mind though with the reasonable wine prices, and the upbeat atmosphere - you may even learn a word or two of Italian between the waiters and the owner running back and forth to the kitchen. It definitely beats sitting in the front of a restaurant, completely forgotten (which has happened to us at more than a few other Italian places in North Beach). Some of my favorites are the prosciutto e pera - prosciutto wrapped around bosc pears and mascarpone, and the spaghetti alla chitarra - homemade spaghetti with scallops and garlic in a white wine and tomato sauce. It's simple, tasty Roman food.

Another great little spot is Cafe Divine on Stockton. Overlooking Columbus Park, it's one of my favorite places to go to get a glass of wine (and perhaps a cup of soup on those extra chilly San Francisco summer days) and people-watch.
Their desserts are a bit pricey, but if you're really wanting something sweet, they deliver. I recently tried the "Cloud Nine Cheesecake", topped with a sour cherry drizzle. It was delicious.
They also do a great breakfast. I tried their spinach, goat cheese, and sun-dried tomato scramble. Although the eggs were good, the best part, by far, was the fresh, flaky, cheddar and scallion biscuit served along side.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Taste of MY Chicago: The GCM Annual BBQ in the Park

The annual event was yesterday, and what do you know, I learn something new about the culinary food
in my city. I have never been to this and it is the BEST food fest I have EVER attended. I will explain.
It is an outdoor bbq of sorts on behalf of Chicago's premier farmers market, the Green City Market which
is held Wednesdays and Saturdays in the Park part of Lincoln Park. So, the farmers's famous customers, i.e.,
the TOP restaurants in the city hold this all out cooking showdown with literally the top restaurants
there: rick bayless(above), naha, Vie, spring/custom house, blackbird/avec, Spiaggia, Nomi, 4 seasons,
primehouse, Eve, Hot Chocolate, Mado, North Pond, Fox and Obel, and the list goes on (check out he official list here).
It is an all-you-can-enjoy evening of elk, goat, beef, turkey (amazing turkey from Paul Virant... WOW),
wonderful TROUT, and local cheeses. It is the feast of feasts where everyone walks around with a constant
smile on their face and full hands: a beer in one, and a sample in another. The beauty of it was that EVERY dish was
prepared using ingredients from local farmers: the beef, the greens, the pork, etc,.... It was a festival honoring
our local produce, our local meats, and dairys, and our local unmatched microbrews (3 flyods from hammond, two brothers
from downstate, goose island) and of surprisingly Illinois wine (???). I loved it all. I enjoyed all of it and every dish
I had was better than the one before it (except for the cold Kohlrabi soup).
I cannot wait till next year's. p.s.: Some of these chefs are really

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Grilled Pizza? Yes, please invite me over when you throw one on

I just saw a recipe from Martha's (something) about making a pizza on the grill. Really simple, it says: 1) get dough and shape it like a pizza, 2) brush both sides with olive oil, 3) throw it on the Weber for 4-5 minutes, flip it, 4) top it with your ingredients, and Voila! We put (like the recipe suggested) fontina cheese, and then when it came out, fresh arugula with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. It was AMAZING. I really liked the charred pieces of dough with the crispy edges, and the elegance of it. Plus, the arugula added a nice bite with its slight bitterness and the muted taste of the fontina. And of course, is there anything better than dough, salt, and cheese, all warm and gooey? No there is not. This is just another way to enjoy pizza that is simple, quick and guaranteed to beat almost all of your local delivery options (add Italian ham on top of the arugula next time).