/* Variable definitions

Tasty Side to Life Tours Website

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Bunch Of Handy Cooking Tips

The last month I had a lot of food related work and learned heaps of new little tid bits of info that I'm dying to share. During the last few weeks I worked at a little Parisian bistro as a sous chef, I also had a cooking lesson with a Michelin star chef in Champagne, catered for a group of 25 in Paris and experimented with numerous meals chez moi.

Here are a few good tips for you of some basic things I learned!

1) Some of the best carrots grow in sand, not dirt. They are sweeter. The best known is the carotte de Creances which is grown in the sandy soil of lower Normandie near the town of Cotentin. They use special fertilizer or local seaweeds rich in sulfur and iodine. Another great sand carrot is just simple called the carrot de sable.

2) Carrott puree is a sweet and delicious pairing with fish instead of potatoes. Foam is achieved my a special tool like a hand blender. Buy one and you'll have very professional looking foam to finish your dishes :)

3) Cooking purple small artichokes in liquor with water or "a barigoule" is DELICIOUS! Blanch them in water and vinegar and then cook them in liquor, water, olive oil, salt, pepper, celery, white wine, lemon juice (to keep them from turning black). This sauce can be condensed down and used as a foam (the flavor is very nice and strong). Finish the sauce with fresh butter and then use a hand blender to create the foam.

4) Artichokes and licorice or fennel pair well.

5) When cooking asparagus steam them so you don't loose any flavor.

6) Use clarified butter. It doesn't burn!

7) A hint of acid in a dish mastered through a soft squeeze of lime is a nice trick to finish a dish. Try zesting some lime into a sauce just at the end. Be careful because lime zest blackens quickly so make sure to do it at the last minute

8) Martini blanc or Sweet Vermouth is a secret finish to a dish as well to add a hint of sweetness.

9) White asparagus should be cooked until they are limp, not crunchy like we like them in the states

10) Foie gras is not too complicated to make, especially if you make it with a salt process. Serve it on lightly toasted bread spread with a thin layer of chutney plated with a pinch of sea salt on the side of the plate and a pinch of paper. Top with a tiny edible flower and chive. Figs pair great with Foie Gras as well.

11) Rhubard is a great spring fruit. It's great with strawberries, some creme friache + whipped cream and a some shortbread served in a rustic preparation. When cutting strawberries always cut off the top of the fruit where it is white just after the steam. This is flavorless. Mint and berries are a great pairing for summer.

12) With FISH keep your pan not too cold or not too hot (too hot and you will draw all the water out of the fish) Seasoning is VERY important. At home we never season enough. Salt brings out flavor. You can't season things on the inside so you need to season it a bit more on the outside to have an nice amount of flavor.
When the fish hits the pan, and its the right temperature it "sings" a bit. Cook it very slowly and gently. This is a way of cooking now. Cuit a l'unilateral-maximum on one side and just finish on the other. Get a nice color by caramelizing the fish. Once it starts to sweat you will see little white glops on the side and this is how you get color! Don't use too much oil, the pan will caramelize it on its own. Touch a fish TWICE when you put it in and when you take it out. It will keep cooking when you take it off the pan so its ok if it's a little under cooked when it comes off. Always finish with a bit of fresh butter to add some flavor.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Champagne Tasting in a Tree House in France

Who would have thought a Champagne tree house could exist in the middle of the luxurious Champagne countryside? Well.. it does and its quite a site to see and something not to miss if you make the short 45 minute hope, skip, jump to Champagne from Paris.

Located in the middle of the mountain of Verzy ie the highest point of the Marne valley, 18 feet in the air, and not far from the lighthouse (yes there is no water but a champagne light house) and wine museum lies the Perching bar. It is actually located inside a tree paramours or adventure course in the trees called the "arboxygene" and reached by a wooden wobbly foot bridge. Yes, an adventure course also exists in the Champagne region just in case you want to get tipsy and strap yourself on to some wires and glide across the forest.

The tree house Champagne bar is designed in perfect architectural balance with nature. The bar is constructed of a soft light wood, held up by a huge Oak tree whose trunk lies just in the middle of the bar and has seats or shall I say "swings" constructed of rope and a light white plastic with an additional few lounge chairs lying around on the outdoor terrace. The view is beautiful and you can see for miles the rolling vineyards of Champagne. It is the perfect addition to a day in Champagne and a pretty unique activity to do when you're in the region. It's located about 20 minutes from Reims which is a 45 minute speed train from Paris. There are numerous trains everyday or you can visit the tree house when on a Champagne tasting trip where you can visit 3 small producers, have a michelin star lunch, see a farm, a cathedral and finish with this tree house! Email me at tastysidetolifetours@gmail.com or look on Tasty Side To Life Tours.

Entrance is 15 euro whether you are drinking or not and that includes 1 glass of Champagne. After that glasses range from 10-30 and they carry a few large producers and a few great small producers (Mumm, Bollinger, Louis de Sacy and Pehu Simonet.

Bridge to get there

Drinking while swinging.. pretty cool

The hotel replica which will eventually be designed next to the bar allowing patrons to literally crawl to their rooms and sleep in a cube

The whole 30th bday group!

The view is incredible
Perching Bar
Open Wed-Sunday 12-7:30pm

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Roasted Rack of Lamb with Mashed Potatoes, Walnut mint pesto and String Beans

My sis and I pulled this dinner together a while ago for her boyfriends uncle's birthday. The rack of lamb that we bought from the butcher at le Bon Marche was a parfait piece of meat and the butcher gave us super simple cooking instructions. Salt, pepper, mustard the lamb and then sear it quickly on both sides and into the oven for 20 minutes at about 180 celcius. We served this with very buttery, creamy truly french puree de pomme de terre, a bright and fresh nutty homemade pesto and simple green beans. This meal is classic and an easy one for entertaining. 

Mustard Rubbed Roasted Rack of Lamb with Velvety Mashed Potatoes, Walnut-Mint Pesto and Simple Green Beans 
A nice main course of melt in your mouth lamb, a creative pesto with mint (which complements lamb perfectly) and served with velvety, extra buttery mashed potatoes and a simple green. Pair with a Cabernet which is lamb's classic partner
Makes 6 Servings
  • 1 large rack of lamb enough for 2 pieces each person 
  • Salt and a nice fresh ground pepper
  • 4 Tbls Ancienne Mustard or Dijon
  • A few springs of rosemary
  • Walnut-Mint Pesto
  • 3 oz of silvered almonds
  • 3 oz walnuts
  • 1 Garlic clove (smashed) 
  • 2 cups of Mint leaves or about a 3 oz bunch
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3/4 cup of olive oil + 3 Tbls
  • 1 lemon
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • 3 pounds of large baking potatoes
  • 1/5 sticks of a good quality European unsalted butter
  • Fleur de Sel or nice sea salt
  • 1 cup of cream
    1. Season lamb generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Rub with mustard.
    2. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for 1.5 hrs. This will keep the meat succulent
    3. Preheat oven to 180. In a large food processor, pulse the almonds and walnuts. Cut the garlic in half and check to see if there is an inner green spore. If so REMOVE THIS, this little spore is what gives you bad breathe. It's a french trick!  
    4. Add garlic to the food processor with the nuts. Add the mint leaves, cheese and top with olive oil and process until smooth. Season with salt, pepper and a dash of the lemon juice. Taste. 
    5. In a large skillet, heat 3 Tbls oil until hot and simmering. Add the rack of lamb and sear over high heat until brown on all sides about 10 minutes
    6. Meanwhile make the potato puree. Bring a large saucepan of water to boil. Add the potatoes cut into medium sized chunks and cook for 20 minutes until tender. In a small saucepan melt the butter into the cream. Gradually whisk the hot mixture into the potatoes and season generously with sea salt. Cook over moderate heat whisking until hot. Reserve. 
    7. Transfer the roast to a large roasting dish. Spread some of the pesto over it and top with a few nice sprigs of rosemary. Cover with foil and place each rack on top of the other making a tight little package. Roast about 20 minutes until just cooked and still slightly pink. Let rest for 10 minutes and then slice. 
    8. Quickly chop off the pointy ends of the green beans and flash cook in a boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain, salt and reserve
    9. Serve on with a generous spoonful of mash, 2 slices of meat, a handful of beans and use a spoon to make a swoosh mark with the walnut-mint pesto.

    The Ikea beautiful table all set and ready to go

    Ahh peonies to set the entertaining mood

    A pretty cheese plate for dessert with sliced figs, strawberries, 2 hard cheeses, a chevre and some brie

    Dessert bought from the Bon Marche. A millefeuille, Tarte au citron and an apricot cake

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    Flying Lizards Money- cooking music

    Can't stop listening to this song from the blog Velvet Foxtail! I'm going to listen to it on repeat while I attempt to recreate the pistachio, strawberry, and saffron, cinnamon, orange eclairs I learned the other day at a French pastry class at the Ritz! Wish me luck. Photos to come soon.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Wine Poached Salmon Wrapped in Grape Leaves-Roasted Figs, Spinach and Rustic Italian White beans

    This beautiful and easy spring dish has the most light and decant texture. I love the consistency the salmon takes when cooked softly and slowly while delicately wrapped in grape leaves and simmering in white wine. The sweet brightness of the roasted figs pairs nicely with the spinach, big white Italian beans and salmon. I've made this a few times after trying a similar dish at Baker and Banker in San Francisco. This dish, with some oven fresh home made bread or popovers with dill butter is a dish I think you will enjoy. 

    If you can find grape leaves, the texture and flavor of the leaves can be irresistible and is the perfect product to wrap the salmon in. If you can't find grape leaves, or don't live close to Champagne vineyards where you can sneak in and pick a few leaves then a few large chard leaves will work. Buy wild raised salmon fillets if you can find them. Also, try cutting a tiny wedge of lemon and place it onto of the salmon before wrapping it in the leaves to poach. A white wine from Bourgogne or a Chardonnay would be a good match.

    Wine Poached Salmon Wrapped in Grape Leaves-roasted figs, spinach and rustic italian white beans
    A fast and easy spring dish that is beautiful, full of flavor + color, healthy and rich in texture!
    Makes 4 Servings
    • 4 Filets of Wild salmon Filets
    • Pinch of Sea Salt
    • 12 Organic Figs
    • 4 Handfulls of spinach leaves
    • 8 large Grape Leaves (or 4 large pieces of Chard)
    • 1 Lemon finely sliced
    • 2 cups White Wine (Bourgogne if you can find it)
      1. Gently wash and dry the salmon well. Season both sides well with salt and pepper. Top the salmon with a thin slice of lemon. 
      2. Boil the grape leaves or Kale leaves quickly for 3 minutes just to soften.
      3. Discard the water and wrap the salmon with the leaves, securing with toothpicks to create a nice little package
      4. In the same large skillet boil the water with the wine. Once the mixture reaches a soft boil add the carefully wrapped salmon fillets and simmer for 8-12 minutes, flipping carefully half way through
      5. Wash the figs and spinach. Steam the spinach for a few minutes until softly cooked. Heat the white italian beans in a stove top pan with a bit of the wine. Throw in a few thinly sliced shallots if you'd like or add in a dash of sweet vermouth while cooking. 
      6. Cook the figs in a pan over moderately high heat for a few minutes. Make sure they don't loose to ouch of their texture but just start to release a bit of their juices. 
      7. Check the salmon for doneness .Unwrap each filet. Discard the grape leaves. Turn the heat up to high and let the juices in the pan cook down a bit, creating a nice rich sauce. Add a tablespoon or two of creme fraiche if desired or a few tablespoons of butter. 
      8. Plate salmon resting on a small handful of spinach, a few figs next to the fish and some big white italian beans. Top with the sauce and a few sprinkles of fleur de sell and a grind or two of pepper
      9. Serve with Dill Popovers, a nice bottle of White Wine and a simple and light dessert!
      10. Serve on a perfect rustic presentation piece ie a wood cutting board

      Champagne Tasting Trip, France

      When in the country where Champagne is exclusively produced or the only legal place to call Champagne, Champagne ie France, you should do your best to squeeze in a trip to the Champagne area (just 45 minutes from Paris) and experience le gout du bien-etre!

      A few weeks ago I had the BEST time with a couple from LA who found me and my blog and company through a post I wrote for Chowhound (a foodie based US website for people who want inside travel tips)! Darren, ie the best chauffeur around and I lead them on a luxurious, exclusive and very relaxing champagne tasting trip. We had a phenomenal day filled with a Les Crayeres hotel pickup, Reims Cathedral viewing, Champagne tastings at various top small producers (one with a breathtaking Chateau), a 3 hr Michelin star lunch in the middle of the vineyards and a personal chef chat and one special dish prepared by the chef for them. This all ended with a stop and tasting at a foie gras farm along with a long nice chat with the farm hand!

      My clients day started at 9am at the beautiful Les Crayeres hotel (rated the best hotel in the world in 2005). The chauffeur and I met them for the start of our trip. To get going we made a quick pass at the Cathedral. Ahh, nothing like starting in the back gardens, admiring the perfectly manicured gardens and seeing the innate work. It really is an incredible structure and I think Dieu and Greg (now her fiance.. story to come) were very impressed by it. 
      Chagall stained glass
      After a quick tour of the Cathedral we were off to one of my favorite towns in Champagne (Rilly La Montagne) which is known for growing the best Pinot noir grapes. The first stop was at 10:30 and at a small producers Champagne house which was founded in 1872 with 11 hectares and vineyards that are filled with 60% Chardonnay grapes, 37% Pinot Noir and 3% Pinot Meunier. 

      Pointing out all the intricate sculptures on the facade
      I like this house because they actually one of the only in the region to harvest their champagne in oak barrels giving it especially interesting notes. The flavor is really like no other. Hints of cinnamon and spices that you usually don't sense. We tasted a few nice and different cuvees and had a little quick tour of the cellar and saw the barrels the Champagne was aging in. few weeks ago I had the BEST time with a couple from LA who found me and my blog and company through a post I wrote for Chowhound (a foodie based US website for people who want inside travel tips)! Darren, ie the best chauffeur around and I lead them on a luxurious, exclusive and very relaxing champagne tasting trip. We had a phenomenal day filled with a Les Crayeres hotel pickup, Reims Cathedral viewing, Champagne tastings at various top small producers (one with a breathtaking Chateau that used to owned by Madame Clicquot), a 3 hr Michelin star lunch in the middle of the vineyards and a personal chef chat and one special dish prepared by the chef for them. This all ended with a stop and tasting at a foie gras farm along with a long nice chat with the farm hand!
      Pinot Noir influenced Champagne
      The Tasting begins!
      After the first jolt of Champagne before noon I think everyone was feeling a little giddy. We were on to producer number 2! This second house my clients chose to add in a large producer and do one big corporate tour. I thought it was not a bad idea because I do think it's quite nice to see the huge, ancient tunnels of caves the big producers have. The small producers caves just don't compare to that special underground world :)

      So, off to Moet and Chandon we were and a 1 hr tour followed. Dieu and Greg said they liked it, but definitely could have just skipped it and just stuck to small producers. They were already missing the personal touch and limitless champagne. I hear this time and time again yet when people ask for a large producer I accept.  
      Moet and Chandon private garden 
      Moet private room for catered lunch
      Next we were off to lunch in the beautiful tiny village town of Vinay which is just 15 minutes from Epernay. Ahh a gorgeous hotel (Hostellerie La Briqueterie) with a beautiful terrace, a nice garden, a spa and a great 4 course tasting menu for 68 euro or 49 euro for lunch. The head chef, Michael Nizzero, cooked my clients a delicious lunch, came out and met them and even made them a special dish!! Too sweet of him. The food was impressive, the grounds are incredible and the staff are all welcoming. To say the least it was a good mid day break. 

      After lunch we drove another 20 minutes to another beautiful small town called Boursault. By small I mean a population of less than 100. This house, I knew was going to be a great surprise treat for my clients.   

      The small producer here just has the most incredible personality. His champagne is called Le Gallais http://www.champagnelegallais.com/ and he's so much fun and so real, honest and personable. He has 4 hectares of vines on the left bank of the Marne. His vineyards sit next to a castle originally built as a hunting lodge by Madame Clicquot. He produces 18,000 bottles a year on his land. At this house we got a bit dirty and went out in the fields to better understand the unbelievable manual process that goes into Champagne making.  We also walked all around the Chateau, looked at the vista, and had the entire Champagne making process explained to us as well looked at the barrels and production room. Next..the tasting!! Ahh notes of green apples and a bright and crisp flavor with no added sugar. My clients loved the 2004 and the Brut. It was truly great to have my clients see how passionate small producers are about their work. I think it makes buying that bottle and drinking it at home such a more personal experience!  
      The vineyard and current work explained to my clients
      The fake food which is grafted with the Champagne plant to protect it from animals
      Beautiful ancient green house
      Perfect place for a picnic, no?
      Dieu's favorite danger cave originally constructed by La Grand Dame
      The Yeast and Riddling process explained to Dieu
      He's won an award or two

      Ahh the tasting begins-notes of green apple and perfect balance of flavors with no sugar added to this brut

      Instant buds
      The day ended on a great note. Just a quick stop in Trelou at a foie gras farm with over 900 ducks where we sampled a few different types of foie gras, saw the huge open fields where the ducks where raised and talked about the farm and had lots of questions answered for us. We also got to play with an incredibly cute golden that I wanted to take home with us :) Ahh that was it. Time to drive the clients back to their 17th century Chateau which was once a dance hall for troops during WWI and wake up the next day and head back to Paris. 
      Foie Gras
      Graisse de Canard for cooking potatoes..
      All the cute ducks
      Best part of the visit playing with this guy

      All in all I think my clients, Dieu and Greg, enjoyed a great day of luxury. A perfect little 45 minute side trip from Paris complete with secret small producer Champagne purchases, local foie gras, incredible views of small towns and rolling hills of the region and a nights stay in a beautiful Chateau. 

      This was all followed by a walk on the "lovers" bridge in Paris. You know, the bridge where there are 1000's of lockets where people literally lock up their love! They went there b/c Dieu LOVED the idea of the bridge. Little did she know her boyfriend Greg was about to profess his love for something else... her.. and he wanted to seal the deal :) All of a sudden he bent down on one knee as she was attaching the lock to the bridge and proposed just a day or two after the Champagne trip!!! I'm sooo happy for them and absolutely can not wait to help them celebrate back in France one day!!!

      I can't wait to plan my next trip for tourists coming to France!! If you're coming to France and interested in a luxurious, exclusive + very authentic small producer trip to Champagne please email me. Tastysidetolifetours@gmail.com or look at my website www.tastysidetolifetours.com
      Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...