Paris Vacation – part 4

Apologies for the delay in posting the next installment. I am almost 100% recovered from my elbow surgery, don’t have complete range of motion yet but every day is a little better.

While we were in Paris, we found out there was a Christmas Market going on, on the Champs Elysees. It’s like the Art & Wine festivals or Harvest festivals we’ve been to in the US, with lots of vendors from all over selling their wares, many of those were food items that had us drooling!

It was here that I had my first (of only two during the whole trip) Nutella crepes:

One of the vendors was selling these HUGE tiles of chocolate of all percentages – milk, dark, bittersweet, etc.

Several vendors were selling churros. Except they’re called by a different word in French:

So, um, this is a word we Latin people use for uh, something else. Two something elses, in fact. Females have them, and you wear a bra over them. As much as I wanted some churros, I could not muster up the courage — or the straight face — to go and order some.

Speaking of straight face . . .

I did order macarons from a vendor that had just about every flavor you could think of. We were having friends over to cook us a meal and we were providing the dessert.

In that box are salted caramel macarons, vanilla, double chocolate, orange cream, and Nutella. SO GOOD. I think I ate three of them before our friends arrived. MY BAD.

The meal our dear friends F & B cooked for us was a raclette. This is a traditional dish where melted cheese is poured on top of cooked potatoes, meats, and vegetables. In our case, the potatoes were steamed, then sliced, and we had a variety of charcuterie.

It was one of the best meals I’ve had in my life. The cheese was perfectly smooth and you just mix everything and eat it — or at least I did. We do not, as a habit, have huge meals consisting of potatoes, meats, and cheese, but that is changing, my friends, because I plan on trying my best to recreate this dish and making it our splurge meal. Good thing we will soon be somewhere with a reputation for good cheese. (More on that soon, I know you’re getting tired of hearing me say that)

And no, there are no more pictures because I was too busy stuffing myself.

Ukrainian dinner

Steve’s coworker and her friend came over last night to cook a wonderful Ukrainian dinner for us. I had met them a couple of months ago at the appreciation event for Oracle Open World, which Steve’s company attended. There was food galore, drinks for all and some skinny guy singing:

Our new friends decided to share their culinary expertise and make delicious, traditional food for us:

They treated us to borscht and Russian salad – which in Russia/Ukraine they call
Olivier salad, after the Belgian chef who invented it in Moscow. I love hearing about the origins of names of food, in Peru we also have something called “ensalada rusa”, i.e. Russian salad, which was very, very similar to what we enjoyed last night. Also, because you need to know this ;D nutmeg in Ukrainian is muskatnyy̆ horikh and in Spanish it is nuez moscada. Muskatnyy̆ moscada, similar word roots.

The borscht was, for me, the highlight of dinner. It was so fragrant, so complex in taste, so full of texture, that I’m sorry to say Steve isn’t going to find any of the leftovers when he gets home tonight. We also had some roasted chicken drumsticks made by Steve (our oldest LOVES drumsticks), all-American apple pie, and I made some cupcakes, which we decorated with the colors of the Ukrainian flag in honor of our wonderful guests/cooks.

So thank you, gracias, and spasybi to our Ukrainian friends, for a wonderful evening and amazing food!

Yummy doughy goodness

My husband sent me a recipe he found online, a couple of weeks ago, to make pretzels just like the ones sold at the Auntie Anne’s stores. We had everything at hand and gave it a try:

Steve kneads the dough:

The lovely things in the oven

The lovely things out of the oven:

The lovely things ready to be eaten

I have to say this is one of the rare copycat recipes that I have tried, that actually gives you a product resembling the original. These pretzels are DE-LI-CIOUS!!! This is actually the second time we have made them in the past month because they turned out so yummy the first time. The biggest “tip” we can offer is the one in the recipe itself, to roll out the dough super thin because after you shape it into a pretzel, it will puff back up, but either way the pretzels taste so good.

Given that neither of us is a baking or a breadmaking expert, and that we’ve made this twice with delicious results both times, I’m going to vouch for this recipe as a good one, so if you’ve been wanting to make pretzels at home, I’d give this one a try.

Rachel Khoo times two

My latest girl crush and cooking inspiration is Rachel Khoo, star of The Little Paris Kitchen, a show documenting her cooking adventures in a tiny kitchen in the Belleville district of the French capital. The Little Paris Kitchen was also the name of the smallest restaurant in Paris, a table in Rachel’s apartment where she delighted many guests with laid-back food, as she says, “as Parisians cook and eat.”

I recently got her book and have been drooling over the delicious recipes included. and was planning on attempting one when suddenly, our stove died. The oven, to be more precise. We had had problems with the microwave before and since it was all one unit, once the oven died, we decided to replace it.

Here is our old range, a.k.a. Carol Brady:

Two levels, just like Carol’s haircut 😀 dependable, but showing its age. Also, not having to do with Carol Brady at all, but apparently ti was also illegal, since the microwave and stove were too close together, which meant we could never stir a pot of pasta in the back, and there was a gap between the top of the microwave and the bottom of the cabinet, which was built for a modern-sized range and microwave.

Once we took out the range and microwave and slid in the new stove, a.k.a. Rachel Khoo II 😀 a little detail became clear:

When we re-painted the kitchen last year, we decided not to paint behind the range unit because “it’s not like we’re ever going to move it”. Mm-hmm.

Instead of painting, though, we decided on a decorative touch, using something I had seen at Lowe’s and had been wanting to try:

We did not want to cover the entire perimeter of the kitchen with these tiles, but instead, just add a little pop of sparkly goodness (and cover up all that red!). My awesome husband did all the installing, although we will be having an electrician run a new line for the microwave since it uses more wattage than the old one.

I am so looking forward to making recipes from Ms. Khoo’s cookbook on our new range. Easy, affordable, laid-back, no-pressure French cooking? Count me in! And let’s just hope the refrigerator doesn’t decide to kick the bucket any time soon!

The “Chopped” Project

I love competitive cooking shows. My favorite is MasterChef; it is one of the few shows my husband and I make a point to watch together, but sometimes I’ll catch a few episodes of Chopped. If you haven’t watched it, the premise is that you compete by making the best use out of a mystery box of ingredients. I decided to have my own little Chopped project, competing against no one but myself, in order to use up some ingredients in my pantry.

The list included: Rolled oats, au gratin potatoes, quinoa, lentils, Italian style bread crumbs, tikka masala curry sauce, mango nectar, and Moroccan spice mix (ras el hanout). Nothing earth-shattering, but I wanted to use some things that had been sitting in the pantry for a few weeks and add some variety to my usual meal rotation.

Next week I will share the meals I made to use up my ingredients – I hope your weekend is a wonderful one!

Weekend Bloggy Reading

Pesto / Pistou / Green Stuff!

Today I am sharing with you my mom’s easy-peasy, yummy-in-your-tummy, pesto recipe.

Just like her rice pudding recipe, which I shared a couple of weeks ago, her pesto recipe is super easy to make.


1/2 cup water
2 bunches spinach, stems removed
1 bunch basil, stems removed
1 cup olive oil
1 round queso fresco, in a medium dice
salt to taste

How to:

The main issue I used to find was that the spinach and basil would end up a compact little puck at the bottom of the blender, so now I add the water first, then half a bunch of spinach, and blend. Once that is blended, add the other half of the bunch, and blend. Add half of the oil, add the bunch of basil, and blend. Add the rest of the oil, half of the remaining spinach, and blend. Finally, add the diced queso fresco, the rest of the spinach, and blend. Taste and add salt as needed. Queso fresco is salty on its own so I wait until I’ve added it before I add any salt. And you’re done!

I like to freeze my pesto in baggies since this makes enough for about 3-4 meals. I like the spinach in this sauce not only for the nutritional content, but also because basil alone ends up tasting really medicine-y to me.

You can use this sauce on your favorite pasta, like a pesto sauce, or as the French use their pistou, in a soup. In Peru we add it to a hearty soup and call it menestron. Sound familiar? It is derived from the Italian “minestrone al pesto”, proving once again that in the world of cooking, cultures influence each other endlessly.

I hope you enjoy this recipe – it is simple and quick to make and so delicious!

Arroz con Leche

I foresee so many double-workouts as soon as my mom leaves.

We had some family over on Wednesday night and mom had made her super easy, super yummy, rice pudding. The good news is that everyone loved it. The bad news is that she taught me how to make it.

I am so screwed.

To make it, all you need is:

1 1/2 cups rice
2 cups water
1 can evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 can condensed milk

That’s it! Start cooking the rice in the two cups of water. When most of the water has been absorbed, add the evaporated milk and vanilla extract. Once the rice is fully cooked, add the condensed milk and stir until combined.

At that point, divvy it up in some ramekins or whatever small bowls you have. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top and add raisins. Now, I’m a purist and don’t like raisins so I eat it warm off the stove, but you could add something like pecans or walnuts, or even candied orange peel.

This makes about 6 – 8 servings.


Our common ground

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” — James Beard

My dear friend M decided to start a monthly tradition — a dinner party at her house, just for her girlfriends, where some new or interesting food would be prepared. The first time she made Thomas Keller’s fried chicken, from his Ad Hoc cookbook. My goodness, it was divine.

I volunteered to cook Peruvian food for the next dinner, M & I came up with a plan, a menu, and we split the cooking duties.

M knocked it out of the park with her cebiche (that’s how we spell it, btw):

It is raw fish marinated in lime juice for a few hours, served with sliced onion, sweet potatoes, corn and lettuce. So good! In Peru we also drink the milky marinade that is left, called “leche de tigre” or “tiger’s milk.”

I made some chicha morada (I am so sorry if you are Puerto Rican, my cousin who lives there told me what that means over there!) which is a refreshing drink made from purple corn:

We also had fried plantains, but I got no pics of those. Probably because each batch I made was gone by the time I was done setting the next batch in the skillet 😀

Nothing Peruvian about this, but how cool is this aerator?

A fellow Peruvian was one of the guests and she brought some dessert (more on that later) and ingredients to make the national drink of Peru, Pisco Sour:

She brought her own recipe but there are many similar ones out there, such as this one from Epicurious.

My compatriot also brought a Peruvian flag:

At this point a couple of people looked at my skirt and went, “aaaah.”

The ladies (except the momma-to-be, of course) get ready to toast with their Pisco Sours:


The main dish was Lomo Saltado, a quick stir-fry type dish that is, to me, the definition of a comfort meal. I made both beef and chicken versions:

The ladies helping themselves:

I was glad to see dishes coming back pretty empty ;D (the big pieces are leftover corn cobs):

But the best part, according to me, was dessert.

I made lucuma ice cream, and had to make two batches because if I had made just one it wouldn’t have reached M’s house intact. Lucuma is a fruit native to Peru, and the ice cream made with this fruit is the most popular flavor in Peruvian heladerias. I have heard the flavor described in many different ways, but the one I agree the most with is somewhere between a sweet potato and vanilla. In fact the texture of the ice cream is very much like a vanilla bean ice cream.

But we did not stop at one dessert – see those round cookies next to the ice cream? Thanks to our Peruvian guest, we also had alfajores, yum yum.

Alfajores, as I mentioned the last time I had them, are a dessert of Arabic origin, brought over from Spain. It is a sandwich type cookie made with shortbread dusted with powdered sugar and dulce de leche in the middle. As with many foods, the sandwich cookie is something enjoyed in various forms throughout the world, but the alfajor is definitely a favorite of mine. If you ever have the chance to try one, please do!!!

I hope you have enjoyed this little culinary experience – Peru’s cuisine is so varied that just talking about the dishes of northern coastal Peru, where my family is from, would take many, many posts, but I hope to have shared a little bit of my enthusiasm for the food of my homeland.

Weekend Bloggy Reading

Cookbook Review: Chloe’s Kitchen

When I learned that a Vegan chef had won an episode of Cupcake Wars, I must admit I was intrigued.  I have dabbled in vegetarianism and veganism a few times but always fall back to my carnivore ways.  My husband and children are usually less-than-enthused by veg dishes and I end up demoralized and go back to our usual fare.

HOWEVER!  I went through the aforementioned chef’s website – – and her recipes seemed very doable and accessible. I’m already very familiar with non-dairy milks because of my son (and my own) lactose issues, so I decided to purchase her new cookbook and give some of her recipes a try.

The first one was a Bolognese sauce for my pasta-addicted household. Yes, we love our carbs over here. My oldest usually likes his pasta with just a little butter, but when he saw my husband eating his pasta with the delicious bean-mushroom based sauce, he asked for some. And then some more. My youngest cleaned his plate with no problem, and so did the rest of us. I liked that the texture of the pasta wasn’t slimy like when I try to make a Bolognese sauce with faux meat. Score 1 for Chloe, and for me!

The next recipe I tried was Chloe’s Fettuccine Alfredo. Now, my husband LOVES his Fettuccine Alfredo so I knew he might not be ok with a substitute sauce for one of his favorite dishes. He has been very good at trying new things, since we made a vow on January 1st to eat healthier. For the most part, we have kept our promise. Keeping it real here, he loves pizza and ice cream and I love chocolate, but I figure if we’re eating well most of the time, a little indulgence here and there isn’t a bad thing. So I made the vegan Fettuccine Alfredo and, out of the corner of my eye, watched him eat it. He loved it! The sauce was very creamy and flavorful, and I liked that I can get the ingredients at my regular store, unlike the ingredients for some other faux-cream sauces I have seen.

I have not been compensated in any way for this post; I am just super happy to have found healthier versions of some favorite recipes. If you’re looking for new, flavorful recipes to try, give Chloe’s Kitchen a try!

Our 2011 Thanksgiving

Our thanksgiving lunch went beautifully; Steve and I planned, made lists, set up a schedule, and with some help from our family, we had a great time.  I printed the menu and set it up in the dining room:

My father-in-law showed up early — he was in charge of the turkey — and also helped out with the rest of the cooking. He and my oldest had a blast peeling potatoes:

Soon my boy was a potato peeling expert!

I had told my husband that I’d seen (can’t remember where!) an idea to use a wreath as a centerpiece and he came up with this:

Isn’t that cool?

Soon the rest of the family showed up and we started doing the oven-revolving-door dance. Dishes would go in, in twos and threes, and something yummy would come out. Soon our dining room table looked like this:

This was about half of the food we made. The wine took up one of the hutches ;D and the desserts people brought took up another.

Here is some of my wonderful family.

The little cups hold the butternut squash bisque, which was DELICIOUS – Steve made it from scratch and I am so happy there is some left over, because I’m having some of it for lunch!

One of my favorite moments was when we all shared what we were grateful for and my oldest said he was grateful for “the colors of autumn”, I thought that was so unusual and sweet.

I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful, and if you don’t celebrate it, then I hope today is a great Friday and I wish a wonderful weekend for everyone! I’m going to leave you with the menu we had for our Thanksgiving Lunch.

Weekend Bloggy Reading