Ann Mah - food and travel writer | Ann Mah


By Ann | November 16, 2015

Washington Square Park

Yesterday, the Tricolore flew in New York’s Washington Square Park and we stood for a while watching it flutter. I wish I had some words of wisdom to add about the recent events in Paris, but the truth is, words have felt empty these past few days.

Like the rest of the world — my friends, and neighbors in Paris — perhaps, like you — I’m in shock. I’ve been asking myself what I can do — me, just a regular person, an ordinary Francophile — and then I read a blog post by my friend Elizabeth Minchilli. She writes: “While I can’t give comfort or advice to friends who live in Paris to go on about their daily life fearlessly, I can give you a push to not give up on Paris if you were planning a trip there. Or, if you weren’t planning a trip there, maybe you should?”

So, yes. That is what I will do. Remember why I love Paris. Encourage you to remember why you love Paris. Is it the shatter of that first buttery croissant you eat upon your return? Standing on the Pont d’Alma and watching the boats float beneath you? The array of oozing cheese at the fromagerie?

Yes, yes, it’s all of it.

Paris, à bientôt.

Topics: Paris | 9 Comments »

Three new Paris restaurants

By Ann | November 4, 2015

Creature of habit that I am, when I’m in Paris, I usually stick to my favorite places. Visiting the same spots is comforting, the owners know me (or I recognize them), and that makes me feel like a local. But when I was recently gifted with almost six weeks in the City of Light, I knew I had to “profiter” (as they say in French), or seize the opportunity (as we say in English) and try a few new Paris restaurants. Here are three of my favorites:

New Paris restaurants - post on

New Paris restaurants - post on

New Paris restaurants - post on


Opened by critic’s darling, Bertrand Grébaut of Septime, this is a seafood-centric spot, with a lot of counter seating and a no-reservations policy. Consider yourself forewarned — the voices you hear here will not be French, neither the customers, nor the staff. If this doesn’t bother you — and why would it? Paris is an international city, after all — you’ll be charmed by the pretty plates and their fresh combinations. A friend and I popped in here for a late Sunday lunch, lingering over the paper menu of small shared dishes. I won’t bury the lede — my favorite was the fried “merlan colbert,” a whole whiting, butterfly fileted, breaded, and deep fried, served with its teeth bared (€21). The flesh, flaky and fine underneath crisp coating, was lifted by the bright punch of a cornichon-studded tartar sauce. I also liked a first course of raw tuna slices, elegantly entwined with roasted red peppers, basil, dill, and soft nuggets of faisselle, or fresh, milky cheese (€14). The marinated mackerel with mirabelle plums, pumpkin seeds, and sarriette, or summer savory, was less successful for my palate, with the oily power of the fish overwhelming the delicate fruit (€12). But if (like my friend, Anna), you like mackerel, you may love this dish (she did!). The bread here deserves special mention — crusty, with a satisfying crumb, and earthy buckwheat chew.

Clamato is a fresh, festive spot, perfect for a date à deux — preferably with someone who likes to share plates and trade tastes.

New Paris restaurants - post on

New Paris restaurants - post on

New Paris restaurants - post on

Salt Restaurant

My friend, Erin, discovered this new restaurant on her way to work and though we have a tradition of crêperie dates (or maybe I made that up?), she convinced me to meet her here for lunch. Salt opened this summer, with the kitchen run by Daniel Morgon, a British chef who has spent time in Japan, Sweden, Denmark, and Italy. The €19 lunch formule (entrée + plat, or plat + dessert) allowed us to sample most of the menu. For a first course, we ordered pigeon, speared with a bay leaf stem, grilled rare, and draped over a giblet sauce, the type of rich, deeply flavored emulsion that reaches into your heart and tugs a little. The other first course (no photo) was a light and sparkly hand-cut mackerel tartar mixed with avocado and ginger vinaigrette. Main courses also bridged late summer and early fall. Autumn beckoned from a dish of tender pork shoulder, poached and then roasted succulent, paired with celery root puree and girolle mushrooms. Meanwhile, summer lingered in the lightly smoked filet of haddock, floating in a verdant pool of chive dashi broth, delicate and deceptively deep flavored.

Bright flavors, clever combinations, beautiful plates, an honest expression of craftsmanship and care. What a lovely, unexpected discovery!

New Paris restaurants - post on

Le Triangle

Before the photo above was taken, I — along with friends Camille and Nick — had consumed one bottle of red wine, one bottle of Champagne, and one small jar of goose pâté. So, yes, the photo is blurry and our spirits were high at this jolly microbrasserie/gastropub, one of Camille and Nick’s favorite spots in Paris. The team behind this spot has roots in Québec, Vietnam, and a few haute kitchens of Paris. They brew their own beers in this very spot (!) — I liked the IPA, as well as the Stout — and have created a menu of small plates with attitude (in a good way). We shared housemade thick-cut potato chips dipped in chive crème fraîche, and then tucked into a plate of teriyaki pork, sautéed at high heat until the edges caramelized. We also shared pigeon, some other savory dishes, and — at some point — tiramisu… but, folks, it was, er, late, and my memory is weak. We had fun, though!

Details of this evening are hazy but the feelings surrounding them gleam with crystal clear positivity. This is a jolly spot with terrific beer and good food that hits the magic balance of bon rapport qualité prix.

80 rue de Charonne
75011 Paris
01 43 72 74 53

Salt Restaurant
6 rue Rochebrune
75011 Paris
01 73 71 56 98

Le Triangle
13 rue Jacques Louvel Tessier
75010 Paris
01 71 39 58 02

Topics: Dining Out and About, Paris, Voyages, Where to eat in France | 6 Comments »

All about Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun cheese

By Ann | October 29, 2015

All about French brie cheese - post on

A few weeks ago, driving from Epernay to Paris in the middle of a typhoon (well, that’s what it felt like anyway), I saw the signs for Meaux and made the impromptu decision to stop. I told myself it was for Road Safety — but as the town of Meaux is synonymous with cheese, I was gleeful to have the excuse to learn more about one of my favorites.

In the town center, I parked and popped into the local Office du Tourisme. I love these places — they’re almost always a friendly source of maps, tips, and other information. They directed me to the Fromagerie de Meaux Saint-Faron, a cheese producer on the outskirts of town.

All about Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun cheese - post on

I had visions of farmhouse cheesemaking, complete with checked cloths, wooden buckets, and straw mats, but let’s be honest — those days are long gone. The Fromagerie Saint-Faron is a medium-sized producer, adhering faithfully to French hygiene regulations, which means the ambiance is a little industrial and sterile. The self-guided tour features windows that peer onto the factory floor, and signs in French and English.

The factory produces Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun, which are soft cheeses, made from raw cow’s milk, and originating from the general Seine-et-Marne area. They differ in subtle ways of production (which I’ll discuss below) but one of the most obvious is their particular home area. As dictated by the Appelation d’Origine Controlée, Brie de Meaux can be produced in a larger region than Brie de Melun.

All about French brie cheese - post on

At the fromagerie, the process starts when the milk arrives and is divided by region. The AOC requires Brie de Melun’s milk to be separated from the milk of the greater Brie de Melun territory. The milk is “ripened,” or fermented, for fifteen hours; both Meaux and Melun have their own specific cultures, “part of the cheese plant’s secret recipes,” said the sign.

All about French brie cheese - post on

The ripened milk is then heated and coagulated with animal rennet. And this is where the differences begin:

Brie de Meaux coagulates for 30 minutes. The curds are then cut into cubes and scooped (along with the whey) into molds with an instrument called a “pelle à brie,” or Brie shovel. A skillful scooper is essential to achieving a fine, uniform texture.

Brie de Melun coagulates for 18 hours. The curds and whey are stirred together until smooth and homogenous, and then scooped into molds.

All about French brie cheese - post on

All about French brie cheese - post on

The cheese remains in the molds for 20 hours, which allows the whey to drain from the curds. The drained curds are then salted and sprayed with Penicillium, which forms a white bloom on the surface of the cheese. The cheeses then proceed to the cave d’affinage (cheese cellar).

In the cave (where it was too dark for photos), Brie de Meaux ages in two stages. The first stage lasts a week and ensures that the white bloom develops evenly; the young cheeses are called “blanc de sel,” and are turned twice. The second stage lasts four to seven weeks. As the cheese ripens, it’s turned twice a week — until the end, when it becomes too delicate.

Brie de Melun is also ripened in two stages, albeit more slowly. The first stage lasts two weeks; the second ripening stage occurs over five to eight weeks.

All about French brie cheese - post on

The final step of the process is perhaps the most distinctive for the two Bries.

Brie de Meaux is sold at three stages of maturity. 1) Half matured (four to five weeks); 2) Three-quarters matured (six weeks); 3) Fully matured (eight weeks). As the cheese ages, the white rind develops faint red streaks, while the interior turns increasingly creamy, thanks to a process called proteolysis.

Brie de Melun is also sold at two stages. 1) Three-quarters matured (eight weeks); 2) Fully matured (nine to ten weeks). When fully ripe, it also develops red streaks on its rind, and the cheese has a stronger flavor.

All about French brie cheese - post on

All about French brie cheese - post on

In the factory shop, I picked up a wedge of each cheese, as well as a couple of triple-cream Bries. Back in Paris, four friends and I enjoyed a decadent evening of cheese, bread, and salad. After extensive tastings, we found the Brie de Melun stronger and saltier than that of Meaux, with a crust that stung a bit on the tongue: “Ca pique,” said my friend, Alexis. The Brie de Meaux was creamy and milder, while the triple crème were almost too creamy (if such a thing is possible :)

Fromagerie de Meaux Saint-Faron (no website)
Rue Jehan de Brie / Zone Industrielle Nord
77100 Meaux
tel: 01 64 36 69 44

Independent visits €4, with dégustation

Topics: Cheese, Paris | 13 Comments »

Thai green curry

By Ann | October 25, 2015

Chicken with Thai green curry - post on

On Friday, my friend, Lee, and I visited a Thai grocery store in New York’s Chinatown. It’s called Bangkok Center Grocery and I’ve been wanting to go there for ages, after reading this article.

Bangkok Center Grocery, New York City - post on

The friendly woman behind the cash register advised us on the ingredients — the place has an entire WALL devoted to curry pastes; it’s mind-boggling — and I came home with green curry paste, lime leaves, Thai chiles, basil, and those adorable little golf-ball-sized eggplants.

Thai green curry - post on

I’d been putting off a trip to Chinatown because I never have enough time, but I have to admit that it’s such a treat to have Thai ingredients in my pantry again! This afternoon, I made one of my favorite recipes — Thai green curry with chicken and loads of vegetables, laced with coconut milk and enough chiles to perk up a Sunday evening. I found this dish via my friend, Jennifer, and it’s everything you want in a home-cooked meal — spicy, quick, nutritious, and so delicious you’ll be licking your bowl.

Find the recipe here!

Bangkok Center Grocery
104 Mosco Street
New York, NY 10013

Bangkok Center Grocery - post on


Topics: A little post, Links, New York City | 4 Comments »

The sweetest street in Paris

By Ann | October 22, 2015

The best sweets of Rue du Bac - post on

The Rue du Bac is one of the loveliest streets in Paris — and thanks to a recent avalanche of renowned pâtisseries and chocolatiers (including Jacques Genin, Philippe Conticini, and Patrice Chapon) — it’s also one of the sweetest.

teatime in paris
(Photo: Courtesy of Lindsey Tramuta)

Today pastry expert and author Jill Colonna — whose charming new cookbook, Teatime in Paris, cracks the code on making Parisian pâtisserie at home with fast, easy recipes for teacakes, eclairs, cream puffs, macarons, tartlets and more — rounds up six of her favorite treats. (And if you’re interested in my Rue du Bac picks, I wrote about them in this article.)

La Grande Epicerie - photo from La Grande Epicerie
(Photo: Courtesy of La Grande Epicerie)

La Grande Epicerie

“This is Paris’s equivalent of London’s Harrods,” says Jill. “I love popping into their buzzing food hall with tempting stands of the best of world cuisine and French local specialities.” She raves about their “classic opéra, decadent but light” — a cake featuring layers of coffee-syrup-soaked almond sponge, chocolate ganache, and a chocolate glaze. Also, “their tarte au citron (lemon tart) is so beautifully decorated with meringue resembling a snow-capped forest that’s great inspiration to try the look at home with a piping bag.”
(38 Rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris, tel: 01 44 39 81 00)

Angelina mont blanc - post on


“I particularly love this store in rue du Bac — even if it doesn’t have a tearoom — since it’s much less crowded than the one in rue de Rivoli,” says Jill. “They’re perhaps famous for their classic Mont-Blanc” — a dessert featuring chestnut purée, whipped cream, and meringue — “and hot chocolate but I particularly love their Saint-Honoré, with its traditional caramelised vanilla-cream filled choux buns nestling on top of a puff pastry base, and finished off with a swirl of Chantilly cream and glistening with gold leaf.”
(108 Rue du Bac, 75007 Paris, tel: 01 42 22 63 08)

Pâtisserie des Rêves Paris-Brest - post on

La Pâtisserie des Rêves

“This is the original boutique where pastry chef Philippe Conticini started the Rue du Bac pâtisserie shop mania,” says Jill. “It is a perfectly pink pastry shop of dreams with its oversized upturned glass bells presenting the most pristine creations, many of which are there to evoke sweet childhood memories. My favourite pastry remains the Paris-Brest, with its more designer bicycle wheel shape to resemble that of its creation in Maisons-Laffitte for the Paris-Brest cycle race in 1910. Cut into the praline and choux and you’re in for a memorable tasting surprise.”
(93 Rue du Bac, 75007 Paris, tel: 01 42 84 00 82)

Jacques Genin pâtes des légumes - photo credit: Lindsey Tramuta
(Photo: Courtesy of Lindsey Tramuta)

Jacques Genin
“This is a brand new store opened after the popularity of his tea salon in rue de Turenne. It’s a patisserie that resembles more of a museum,” says Jill. “I could simply lunch on his rhubarb jellies alone — they are so addictive and bursting with fruit! His vegetable jellies are worth trying too. My favourite is a cucumber jelly, even if it’s coated with sugar, you can imagine just how refreshing it is during a heatwave in Paris. I recently was completely foxed by his dark chocolates with capers.  You heard me right. Capers! But do you know? It totally works and it sums up Monsieur Genin’s cheeky spirit!” Jill also recommends the mango and passion fruit caramels.
(27 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, tel: 01 53 71 72 21)

Chapon chocolat mousse


Patrice Chapon is one of the rare French chocolatiers to roast his own cocoa beans. “He goes out to the cacao plantations himself, he is passionate about making his chocolate from bean to bar, so we can appreciate not only the end results but the origins of the chocolate,” says Jill. His Rue du Bac boutique features “an impressive line-up” of single-source chocolate mousses.”It’s difficult to decide which one to take away. The Peru Mousse, for example, is made from the Trinitario bean, with notes of dried fruits, caramel and a hint of apricot and rounded finish…”
(69 Rue du Bac, 75007 Paris, 01 42 22 95 98)

Acide macaron - photo from Acide
(Photo: Courtesy of Acide Macaron)

Acide Macaron

“It’s a little bit off the “beaten Bac track” since the boutique is at completely the other end of the street, nearer the Seine,” says Jill. “I love what pastry chef Jonathan Blot does. I would thoroughly recommend tasting his macarons, which are all given names such as Edouard (pistachio & orange blossom) and Jean-Paul (salted butter caramel), which are my favorites. My daughter, Julie, has always been tickled pink that she has her own bubble-gum macaron! Chef Blot doesn’t just make macarons; his pâtisserie is worth the detour too. One of his latest creations is a yuzu tartlet with a strawberry and rose confit finished off with a lemon thyme cream and decorated with strawberries.”
(10 Rue du Bac, 75007, Paris, tel: 01 42 61 60 61)

Of course — if a trip to Paris isn’t in your immediate future, you can mix and match the recipes in Jill’s new book to crate a tartlet base filled with rose pastry cream, finished off with a mascarpone cream, and decorated with a sprig of lemon thyme and fresh strawberries. (Buy a copy here :)

For more Paris pastry tips, recipes, and beautiful photos, visit Jill’s website.

Topics: Paris, Where to eat in France | 9 Comments »

Stuffed delicata squash

By Ann | October 17, 2015

Stuffed winter squash - post on

This is just a little post, because I’m excited about the lunch I just made. These winter squash halves are stuffed with bread, cheese, and other good stuff (bacon, garlic, cream…), then baked in the oven until golden and crusty. I used delicata — “the best squash,” said the lady at the Farmers Market — but acorn, butternut, or pumpkin would all be wonderful. This recipe, from The Kitchn, is like Dorie Greenspan’s Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good, but in miniature form.

Stuffed delicata squash - post on

Stuffed delicata squash - post on

Here’s the clever part of the recipe: Once you’ve packed the stuffing into your squash boats, nestle them upside down in a baking dish lined with parchment paper. (I’ve started lining everything with parchment paper to prevent sticking; it’s my new life motto.)  With the squash flipped upside down, the flesh cooks faster and the stuffing sears golden, crunchy, and delicious against the hot surface of the baking dish.

Stuffed delicata squash - post on

You guys, this was SO good! The stuffing had crunchy bits and steamy pockets, offset by the chestnut sweetness of the squash.

Find the recipe here.

Bon weekend!

Topics: A little post, A year in a French market: Autumn | 15 Comments »

Visit to Naples

By Ann | October 15, 2015

Visit to Naples - post on

I had been to Naples once before, for a few hours, on our honeymoon, twelve years ago. We hurried across town in a taxi, from airport to ferry terminal, where we boarded a boat to Capri. The taxi driver took one look at our drawn jet-lagged faces, our shiny new wedding bands, our eager American smiles and proceeded to cheat the hell out of us. What can I say? He saw an opportunity and he seized it. And so, when I received the opportunity to visit Naples for a few days this summer, I was at once excited and apprehensive. Excited because of the food, the museums, the Italy. Did I mention the food? Apprehensive because I was a woman traveling alone, in a notoriously shady city that had outfoxed me once before.

Visit to Naples - post on

I packed with care, leaving my camera, wallet, and engagement ring at home. I borrowed a friend’s travel pouch, stuffed it with a modest amount of cash, and strapped it on beneath my clothes, never mind that it made me look five months pregnant. I kept loose change and two credit cards in a ziplock baggie. I carried a tote bag turned inside out so that no one would see the English words printed on the side. I obsessed over these precautions — but the minute I spied Naples from the air, eyes bleary from the 6:30am flight — I felt a jolt of pure excitement. A whole new city filled with food discoveries! All I could think of was pizza.

Visit to Naples - post on

Pizza was my first meal — a “marinara,” with no cheese, all tangy sauce, fragrant garlic, and soft, soggy center. As we ate lunch, my friend, Paola — native Napolitana, professor at the local university, and fellow former Beijing expat — told me about her city. Later, she led me on a tour of narrow streets, pointing out her favorite restaurants, shops, and churches, spending generous hours helping me to orient myself, even though she was leaving on a business trip the next morning. Thanks to Paola, I saw an entire ancient Roman shopping street unfurl before my very eyes, beneath the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore. I gazed at the stark, shadowed figures of a Caravaggio at the Pio Monte della Misericordia. I learned that the cracked façade of an unassuming building can hide a spectacular modern apartment: cool Mediterranean terracotta floors, glossy Italian fittings, and a sun-splashed terrazzo shaded by a lemon tree, an olive, a kumquat.

Sfogliatella in Naples - post on

Sfogliatella in Naples - post on

Thanks to Paola, I discovered the most delicious sfogliatella — this kind is called “riccia,” which means ruffly — crunchy, baked layers wrapped around sweet ricotta perfumed with cinnamon and candied orange peel. She told me to visit Pintauro, on the via Toledo, a tiny pasticceria with very odd hours. Every time I passed (which was at least twice a day) they were closed. On my last morning, I arrived at 9:30am, but the riccia were still in the oven. (Have I mentioned that I do not speak Italian? A lot of Napolitanos speak English, and my French went a long way, but I still communicated mainly by pantomime.) I went for a walk around the block, returned fifteen minutes later, and held this beauty in my hand, the pastry’s heat almost unbearable. I devoured it on the street.

Pizza fritta in Naples - post on

In fact, there was a lot of eating on the street, by tourists and locals alike. Like the pizza fritta at Sorbillo — a round of dough dabbed with tomato sauce, buffalo ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, and cicoli (“pressed cakes of fatty pork,” says Wikipedia), folded into a half moon and deep fried. The result was blistering hot, greasy enough to soak a double paper wrapper, and yet surprisingly light, the dough at once crisp and chewy. When you receive your dangerously hot bundle, there’s a ritual juggling from hand to hand, as you let it cool enough to raise it to your lips. Is it ready yet? Ouch, no. Is it ready yet? Ouch, no. Is it ready yet? YES. Molten ricotta sears your mouth; filaments of mozzarella fly through the air.

Fritti in Naples - post on

Naples is famous for its fried snacks, sold from street-side stands that look like money-laundering fronts — they display no food — because they cook everything at the last minute. I entered the Friggitoria Vomero just as school had let out for lunch, walking straight into a crowd of ravenous, screaming schoolchildren. I almost fled in terror, but I held my ground in the name of research, even though it took me a few panicked minutes to figure out the system: Pay at the cashier first. Then move to the counter to receive your fritti. The kids pressed around me like feral foxes, waving and shouting at the woman behind the counter to fill their order. She moved with calm efficiency, unbothered by a scene that I dubbed “Lord of the Fries.” (Ba dum bum.) On the sidewalk, I ate a potato croquette, an arancino rice ball, and a zucchini blossom (total price: €1). The latter items were a little too cold and I realized too late that I should have been more strategic when ordering, choosing not my favorite foods, but rather the items that had just emerged from the fryer. Next time.

Sfogliatella frolla in Naples - post on

I learned a lot from my mistakes. Standing at the counter of a café, I ordered a sfogliatella with my espresso. After an incomprehensible exchange (on my end) with the barman, I received a warm pastry that I later discovered was the Other Sfogliatella. Called “frolla,” this is like a soft shortbread cookie filled with the same sweetened ricotta mixture as its frillier sibling.

Visit to Naples - post on

One rainy afternoon, I visited the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, one of the most famous museums in the world, stuffed with a collection of ancient artifacts: marbles, bronzes, mosaics, and more. I had dreamed of visiting this place ever since our honeymoon day trip to Pompeii, and I (and about a hundred French tourists) wandered the galleries in a blissful sweat (there was no air conditioning; the place was stuffy as hell).

Visit to Naples - post on

At one end of the museum, I found a gated room called the Gabinetto Segreto, or secret cabinet, where I was surprised to discover quite an eye-popping collection… let’s just say that’s not a gherkin in the photo above… those cheeky ancient Romans! Seriously, the objects here reminded me of that movie Super Bad, sort of relentlessly, hilariously thematic.

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My only regret of the whole trip is that I didn’t eat clams, especially since I kept seeing them for sale. But the one night I decided to splurge on a nice meal, my restaurant of choice was fully booked. Instead, I drank wine at the outdoor Enoteca Belledonne, and ate more pizza fritta for dinner, which ended up being kind of a perfect evening after all.

Visit to Naples -

Before I left town, I made sure to pick up a corno, a charm in the shape of a horn, meant to ward off the evil eye and bring good luck. You see them everywhere in the historical center, hanging in bright strings that resemble dried chile peppers. I bought two and tucked them safely inside my anonymous tote bag.

As I headed to the airport in the backseat of a taxi, I finally allowed myself to relax. I had made it through three days and nights in Naples, without getting pickpocketed or rooked (that I knew about). I think my cab driver must have seen me heave a little sigh, for when we pulled up to the curb, he tried to tack an extra €6 onto the fare we’d already negotiated. But I held firm, and we ended our transaction with a smile. What can I say? He saw an opportunity and he seized it. Naples will always be Naples. 

Visit to Naples -


–For clear information on Naples taxis, visit the blog Napoli Unplugged. In short, there is a fixed rate to travel from the airport to the historical center (and vice versa), but you must ask for it when you get in the car. (Learn how to say “tariffa predeterminata.”) If you want a receipt, you have to ask for it at the beginning of the trip (“ricevuta“). Know your rights. Be firm.

–Many cafés, bars, and food stands in Naples have a particular payment system. 1) Order and pay at the cashier. 2) Make sure to collect your receipt. 3) Show this receipt to the barman, fry cook, what have you. 4) Collect your goods.

–For restaurant and wine bar advice, visit Gillian’s Lists and Katie Parla. Trust me on this.

Topics: Voyages | 14 Comments »

Tuesday dinner with Hillary Davis + giveaway!

By Ann | October 6, 2015

One-pot pasta niçoise from Le French Oven by Hillary Davis

For years, I’ve been in love with my Le Creuset cookware. (I have two.) I use them to braise stews, meatballs, soups, ratatouillaise…  :) But I’ve also often wondered how to deploy them in other ways. Lo and behold, I was delighted to discover Le French Oven by Hillary Davis, a new cookbook completely devoted to the cocotte (aka Dutch/French oven). (And, psssst — I’m giving away a copy! Find out more at the bottom of this post.)

Le French Oven by Hillary Davis - post on

Hillary is a food journalist, cooking instructor, mom to a Pomeranian pup named Fez, and the author of four books. In Le French Oven, she pens an ode to enamel-coated cast iron cookware, with recipes for all seasons, as well as tips for purchasing and maintaining. Today, Hillary shares her weeknight cooking secrets, and a recipe for one-pot pasta Niçoise…

Photo courtesy of Hillary Davis

Photo courtesy of Hillary Davis

On the importance of toast:
I always manage to have a really good sourdough or country bread around. So my favorite quick meal is to make a tartine (the French word for open-face sandwich). I look to see what’s in the fridge or pantry. If I have cold chicken leftovers, I’ll spread mayo on the bread, top with lettuce and tomato and thinly sliced chicken and more mayo, with a generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper. If I have great tomatoes, it will simply be a perfect summery tomato and mayo tartine with a grinding of sea salt.

One-pot pasta Niçoise from Le French Oven by Hillary Davis

One-pot pasta Niçoise from Le French Oven by Hillary Davis

On cooking fast meals:
I concentrate first on making what I call a flavor bomb. It usually starts with me opening a can of tuna and dumping it in the food processor. Then I might throw in 4 to 5 cloves of garlic, kosher salt, some Dijon mustard, half a bottle of capers, a can of anchovies. It all depends on what I have around, but the intent is to make a highly flavored paste.

On how to deploy the flavor bomb:
I toss it into spaghetti, slather it into an omelet, add olive oil and use it as a salad dressing or to make a chicken salad. I think flavor first, then create the meal from that.

One-pot pasta Niçoise from Le French Oven by Hillary Davis

One-pot pasta Niçoise from Le French Oven by Hillary Davis

One-pot pasta Niçoise from Le French Oven by Hillary Davis

On cooking in the French oven (and only the French oven):
In my newest cookbook, my recipe for Niçoise pasta uses a technique for cooking pasta in a French oven. First, you cook the pasta in wine and chicken stock rather than water to produce a much more flavorful pasta. Then, you make a flavor bomb from tuna, anchovies, hot pepper flakes, and garlic. Once the pasta is cooked, you mix it in just before serving.You can cook the pasta all at once in the French oven and carry it to the table to serve from. This is a true one-pot meal that is quick and delicious.

One-pot pasta Niçoise from Le French Oven by Hillary Davis

One-pot Niçoise Pasta / Pâtes à la Niçoise
Adapted from Le French Oven by Hillary Davis

Serves 6

*Note from Ann: In this clever recipe, everything cooks in the same pot — you don’t even need to drain the pasta. (Californians take note! This is good drought cooking :) Tuna and anchovies get blitzed in the food processor to create a rich and savory sauce. I was initially dubious about using so many strong flavors, but the white wine and lemon juice offset any fishiness. “Personalize this recipe by creating your own version of a flavor bomb, or by simply stirring in a jar of marinara sauce at the end,” says Hillary. “Quick and simple.” In the summer, she suggests making this recipe in the French oven, then chilling it in the pot and serving cold.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 5-ounce cans tuna, drained
4-5 anchovy filets
5 large cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 pound uncooked fusilli, medium shells, or short rigatoni pasta (or any dried short pasta)
3 cups dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper

In a food processor, blend the tuna, anchovies, garlic, mustard, olive oil, and lemon zest. Hillary calls this paste a “flavor bomb.”

In the French oven, warm the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the pasta, wine, stock, hot pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the pasta is cooked, about 7-9 minutes.

Stir the tuna-anchovy paste into the pasta. Add the lemon juice. Cook over low heat, stirring continuously, until the pasta and sauce are creamy in texture, and everything has warmed through.  Add the parmesan, stirring until the cheese is melted and well-blended into the pasta, adding dashes of lemon juice, chicken stock, or water, as needed. Stir in the tomatoes and basil. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.

One-pot pasta Niçoise from Le French Oven by Hillary Davis

*Le French Oven by Hillary Davis Giveaway!*
Hillary is giving away a copy of her book to one lucky reader!
To enter:
1. Leave a comment below with your favorite slow-cooked dish.
2. For an extra entry, follow Hillary on Twitter (@MarcheDimanche), tweet the following, and leave a comment to let me know: I’m entered to win Le French Oven by @MarcheDimanche from @AnnMahNet. More info: 
3. For an extra, extra entry share this post on Facebook. Leave a comment to let me know.

The contest ends Tuesday, October 13, 2015. A winner will be selected at random and announced here. Good luck!

For more about Hillary, visit her blogTwitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

One-pot pasta Niçoise from Le French Oven by Hillary Davis

(Non-food photos from Hillary Davis.)

UPDATE: The winner, chosen at random, is Karen Wirima. Thanks for playing, tout le monde!

Topics: Tuesday dinner | 62 Comments »

Savory zucchini, mint + goat cheese cake

By Ann | September 25, 2015

Zucchini, mint, and goat cheese savory cake - post on

The other day I had some friends over for a drink. Normally, I’d unscrew the top off a bottle of white, rip open a bag of potato chips and call it a day ;) But these weren’t just any friends — they were food bloggers. I wanted to go the extra mile.

A couple of weeks earlier, I’d made a savory Roquefort pecan cake to serve at a birthday picnic, and so I had the itch to create another — one perfumed with late summer’s beckoning flavors: the glut of zucchini, the voracious bushes of mint, tangy goat cheese. (My friend Jenny also inspired my subconscious.) I cobbled together a recipe based on Les Cakes de Sophie by Sophie Dudemaine, a fun cookbook devoted to the savory cake. My “cake salé” baked as I rifled through the liquor cabinet, mulling over cocktail ideas.

Savory zucchini, mint, and chèvre cake - post on

Savory zucchini, mint, and chèvre cake - post on

Savory zucchini, mint, and chèvre cake - post on

When the timer went off, the cake looked and smelled delicious — golden with blistered cheese — but as soon as I pulled it out of the oven, I knew something was wrong. For one thing, the loaf pan felt like it weighed about forty pounds. I let the cake cool, and when I sliced into it I found a dense, wet, heavy interior — more like bread pudding than the fluffy, courgette-threaded cake of my dreams.

Alas, time was running short. My guests were due to arrive in a few minutes. I had no time to make another cake, or even run to the store to buy an extra tube of Pringles. So, I pulled a Julia Child — “never apologize” — zipped my lips shut and served it. As we sipped ginger-mint margaritas and chatted about the state of olive oil in 2015 (which, I learned, is dire), my mind kept churning over the recipe — what went wrong? How could I fix it?

Savory zucchini, mint, and goat cheese cake - post on

The batter was too wet, I decided. So, a few days later, I sat down to rejigger the recipe, drastically reducing the amount of liquid. When I finally had the chance to bake another cake, voilà — it was delicious. Moist and tender, with a light crumb, studded with chunks of chèvre and perfumed with fresh mint, this cake makes a lovely cocktail snack, or a light meal paired with a green salad. Best of all, the recipe comes together quickly, and you can feel confident it will work!

Savory zucchini, mint, and goat cheese cake - post on

Savory zucchini, mint, and goat cheese cake - post on

Savory courgette, mint, and goat cheese cake

Butter and flour for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups (160 grams) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup (100 grams) Comté or Gruyère cheese, grated
1 cup (150 grams) zucchini, grated
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
7 ounces (200 grams) fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Butter and flour a 9-inch metal loaf pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Add the eggs, oil, Comté cheese, zucchini, and mint, stirring to combine. Gently fold in the goat cheese, making sure the crumbles don’t disintegrate. Pour the batter in the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes. If the top starts to brown too much, cover loosely with a piece of tented aluminum foil and continue baking. Cool on a rack for twenty minutes before slicing.

Topics: A year in a French market: Summer, Recettes | 16 Comments »

Paris with toddlers

By Ann | September 18, 2015

Paris with toddlers - post on

We recently spent two weeks in Paris with Lucy, aged two. Admittedly, our vacation could have been subtitled “The playgrounds of Europe” :) But we also made many wonderful discoveries of toddler-friendly activities, restaurants, and shops, and I’m delighted to share them with you today…

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Toddler activities in Paris - post on

Jardin du Luxembourg

This is the Grand Fromage of all playgrounds: enormous, rubber-floored, full of climbing structures, and nestled into one of the world’s most beautiful parks. You have to pay to enter, which seems a bit crazy at first, but the space is well-maintained and packed with fun stuff (my photos don’t do it justice). My favorite thing about this playground — and all Paris playgrounds — is that they’re divided by age. The brightly colored equipment (slides, climbing gyms, rocking horses, seesaws, and more) are for little kids, while the dark green jungle gyms and zip lines are reserved for bigger children. Playing on age-appropriate equipment not only prevented me from hovering on the brink of a heart attack (as I do in New York), it also built Lucy’s confidence, reduced frustration, developed her independence and motor skills. I loved watching her figure out how to use the equipment, while also feeling confident that success was within her grasp.

Paris with toddlers - post on

Il étais une fois

We popped into this adorable toy shop during a sudden rain shower, and Lucy was immediately transfixed. While many of the toys are those you’d find anywhere else (because that’s the world we live in now), everything is thoughtfully selected and beautifully displayed. There are also darling Eiffel Tower knick-knacks and souvenirs. If you really want to spoil your kids, bring them shopping here after a visit to the Luxembourg Gardens, a short walk away, and then have an early meal at Pizza Chic (see below).

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Happy Families

This space near Beaubourg advertises itself as “Le 1er lieu pour parents heureux” (the number one place for happy parents), with a café, workshops (art, yoga, dance — for kids and adults), beauty salon, spa — and two indoor play spaces, one next to the café (free), the other with childcare (paid). On a desperate rainy day, we came here for lunch. Our table was right next to the free play area — which was minute, more like a child cave — but Lucy enjoyed romping there and the kind staff didn’t mind that we took our time to order. (The place was also virtually empty, which probably helped.) I enjoyed my simple lunch of salad and quiche; Lucy tolerated the mashed potatoes and ham; we both loved the dessert of fromage blanc au coulis fruits rouges. With high chairs, kid utensils, plastic cups, a huge bathroom with changing tables, ample stroller parking, and a patient staff, this is the kind of kid-friendly place you don’t usually find in Paris. And though the free play space is tiny, on a rainy day, we weren’t quibbling. (Sidenote: I found it amusing that Happy Families also offer sessions with a shrink, career coach, podiatrist, or sophrologist — while your kid is tucked away in the babysitting area.)

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on

Manège 1913 (Carousel 1913) in the Champ de Mars

This is of the last old-fashioned carousels in Paris, and it’s been delighting children in the Champ de Mars since 1913. Built by Limonaire, a company famous in the Belle Epoque for amusement rides and street organs, the carousel still operates from an old-fashioned, man-powered mechanism, turned by a hand crank (as you can see in the video above). The kids sit astride their horses, each with a “baguette” (stick) in hand, and as the manège turns, they try to spear the brass rings that dangle from a box. It’s all extremely charming, and rather eccentric. Note: Right next to the manège, there’s an enormous double-sided playground, almost as good as the Jardin du Luxembourg — and free!

Paris with toddlers - post on

Paris with toddlers - post on


Paris restaurants are notoriously unwelcoming of kids, but we had several lovely lunches out. We used the strategies covered in this post, and especially heeded the number one rule: Go early. Here are our favorites:

Pizza Chic

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I love this place (as evidenced by posts here, here, here, here, and here). As the name indicates, it’s quite chic — with a bobo clientele and pristine white tablecloths — so I was nervous to bring a two-year-old. But we arrived as soon as the doors opened (12:30pm), sat at a lovely window table with a banquette, and our pizza appeared minutes after we’d ordered. It was as delicious as ever, especially my favorite, the pizza carciofi. The Italian waitress even stopped by a few times to chat with Lucy, just because she likes kids.

Little Breizh

Though tiny and cramped, this place lives up to the general crêperie reputation for kid-friendliness. Their savory galettes are hearty and delicious, bursting with ham, cheese, egg, mushrooms cooked in cream, or leeks cooked in butter. (As well as andouille de Guémené! Beware!) Lucy preferred her galette plain, and since buckwheat is so wholesome, I didn’t worry about malnutrition :) And, may I say that a crêpe au caramel beurre salé is a wonderful bribe treat for a toddler who has been patient all morning? We loved Little Breizh so much, we ate here twice.

Café Varenne

I had serious doubts when we set foot in the old-fashioned dining room of this traditional bistro. Turns out, they were completely unfounded. The owner immediately whisked away our stroller, and seated us at a window table, adding a beautiful rattan high chair for Lucy. We enjoyed a very correct (if pricy) meal of salade au chèvre chaud (€14.90) and cod with ratatouille fait maison (€19), and the waiter proposed a special plate of ham and frites (€10) for Lucy, which she loved. (Well, she loved the fries #keepingitreal) The food appeared immediately, and we all felt very civilized to be dining in such an elegant spot.

Do you have any tips to add or addresses to share? I’d be grateful for your advice!

Jardin du Luxembourg
75006 Paris

Il était une fois
1 rue Cassette
75006 Paris
01 45 48 21 10

Happy Families
5 rue du Cloître Saint-Merri
75004 Paris
01 40 29 89 99

Manège 1913 (beware: website launches music)
Champ de Mars
Corner of Avenue Charles Risler and Avenue Pierre Loti
75007 Paris

Pizza Chic
13 rue des Mezières
75006 Paris
01 45 48 30 38

Little Breizh (no website)
11 rue Grégoire de Tours
75006 Paris
01 43 54 60 74

Café Varenne (no website)
36 rue de Varenne
75007 Paris
01 45 48 62 72

Topics: Kids in Paris, Paris | 14 Comments »

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