Ann Mah - food and travel writer | Ann Mah

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.)

Topics: Tuesday dinner | 49 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.

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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 »

Fortune’s Kippers in Whitby, England

By Ann | September 9, 2015

Fortune's Kippers, one of the last independent kipper smokehouses, in Whitby, England

Fortune's Kippers, one of the last independent kipper smokehouses, in Whitby, England

Fortune's Kippers, one of the last independent kipper smokehouses, in Whitby, England

If you’re a Yank like me, kippers are only something you’ve read about in P.G. Wodehouse novels. But when I traveled to Whitby, England — a seaside town on the east coast of North Yorkshire — to research this article on Bram Stoker and Dracula, I was delighted to visit one of the last independent kipper smokehouses in England.

Fortune's Kippers, one of the last independent kipper smokehouses, in Whitby, England

“Kippers are herring that have been split, brined and cold smoked,” says Derek Brown (pictured above, left) who, together with his brother, Barry (above, right), continues Fortune’s Kippers, a family business begun in 1872. The oily fish were once bountiful in the North Sea, and smoking was a way of preserving them without refrigeration. 

During Whitby’s 19th-century fishing heyday, small smokehouses dotted the town, and ran along the coast. But when Yorkshire herring fishing died out in the late 1970s, the smokehouses followed. Fortune’s is one the last independent smokehouses in England, and these days they use fish from the Northeast Atlantic, frozen at sea. “It’s easier because the supply is constant,” says Derek. “During our busy season” — around the Christmas holidays — “we just ring up and request an extra delivery.”

Fortune's Kippers, one of the last independent kipper smokehouses, in Whitby, England

The fish are defrosted overnight, split, gutted, cleaned, and then placed in a salt water brine for forty minutes. “It’s just salt and water. No seasonings,” says Derek. The fish are then hung in the 90-year-old smokehouse (photo above—it’s the black structure to the right of the cottage) for 18-24 hours.

Fortune's Kippers, one of the last independent kipper smokehouses, in Whitby, England

Inside the smokehouse (photo above), three different fires cure the fish. “The first dries them out,” says Derek. “The second is a heavy fire. We use oak shavings and it burns through the night. If needed, a third fire finishes them off for the color.”

Fortune's Kippers, one of the last independent kipper smokehouses, in Whitby, England

Industrially produced kippers are often dyed orange. “If they’re made in the traditional way, the longer you smoke a kipper, the darker it gets,” says Derek. But it’s a fine line between achieving a golden color and overcooking. “You maintain the oil of the fish by not smoking it too much.”

Fortune's Kippers, one of the last independent kipper smokehouses, in Whitby, England

Kippers are traditionally a breakfast food (they’re especially popular on Christmas morning), eaten simply with bread or butter. “They can be eaten cold,” says Derek. “But they’re better heated up. Fried or grilled,”(that’s Brit-speak for broiled) “or jump them in boiling water.” The latter method is known as a jugged kipper and the doyenne of British food, Delia Smith, describes it thusly: “All you do is remove the heads, then fold the sides of the fish together and pack vertically in a tall warmed jug. Now pour in enough boiling water to cover the kippers, put a lid or plate on top of the jug, and leave them in a warm place for 6 minutes. Then drain and dry them with kitchen paper, and serve on hot plates with a knob of butter to melt over each fish.”

Fortune's Kippers, one of the last independent kipper smokehouses, in Whitby, England

Along with whole and fileted kippers, Fortune’s also offers kipper pâté—”kipper filets and double cream, prepared by my niece” says Derek—which is smokey and delicious on rye bread. They sell only from the shop and don’t ship, but if you are lucky enough to visit Whitby (which is worth a visit), they’re open seven days a week. Word to the wise—get there early. When they sell out of kippers, they close up for the day.

Fortune’s Kippers
22 Henrietta Street
Whitby, England

Topics: Dining Out and About, England, Voyages | 9 Comments »

Farmer’s market pasta

By Ann | August 27, 2015

Farmer's market pasta, post on

In theory, I love the Farmer’s Market — all that bright, locally grown fruit and veg, bursting with peak ripeness… ooooh shopping there makes me feel so virtuous. In practice, however, the Farmer’s Market kind of stresses me out. I never make a list or meal-plan before I go, because that seems to defeat the concept of “cooking with the season.” Ten minutes into the market, however, I’ve spent an unholy sum of cash with only a sack of small plums and a novelty basket of fresh chick peas to show for it. (Btw — fresh chick peas? Totally not worth it.)

Happily, my friends, I’ve discovered the most wonderful, virtually-no-cook meal to make with all the farm-stand produce — and it’s delicious, fast, and low-effort to boot. This pasta combines the best of summer vegetables — tomatoes, corn, zucchini — into a dish that I’ve been making weekly. It’s so easy, I hesitated to write about it here, wondering if it even counted as a recipe. My husband convinced me that it is. It is! Here’s what you do:

Farmer's market pasta -- post on

In a baking dish, combine tomatoes (cherry, or chunks of heirloom), some zucchini batons, a crushed garlic clove, olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 350ºF until the zucchini is tender and the tomatoes have relinquished their juices, about 30 minutes.

Farmer's market pasta -- post on

Farmer's market pasta -- post on

Meanwhile, cut the kernels off an ear of fresh corn. If your corn is young, sweet, and tender (as it should be this time of year) you can scrape it in raw. Cooked is also fine. Anything goes! Boil a pot of water. When the vegetables have a few more minutes to roast, start cooking your pasta. When the vegetable are tender, remove them from the oven and stir in the corn kernels. The vegetables are flexible, by the way, happy to wait on the counter for the pasta to finish cooking.

Farmer's market pasta -- post on

Drain the pasta — reserve a cup or so of cooking water — and add it directly to the baking dish of vegetables. Stir to combine, adding dashes of pasta cooking water if necessary. (I usually find that the tomatoes are juicy enough.) Taste and season with salt and pepper. You can also stir in a chunk of butter, if you’re feeling devilish. Serve immediately, passing Parmesan at the table.


You guys, that’s it! (As I said — not sure if this actually constitutes a recipe :) Like all of summer’s best food, the season itself is really the star. I hope you enjoy the end of it and I’ll see you back here in a couple of weeks!

Topics: A year in a French market: Summer, New York City, Recettes | 17 Comments »

Tiger salad

By Ann | August 18, 2015

Tiger salad / lao hu cai. Recipe and post on

I’m not usually one for food trends, but suddenly everyone in New York was talking about fried chicken sandwiches. When I realized that my workspace was a few blocks away from the very source, a friend and I broke for an early lunch — only to find the place closed for the day.

I’m not going lie, I was a little annoyed. Changing the hours without notice? That sort of thing happens all the time in France, but I expected more from New York. Fortunately, the inconvenience led to a happy discovery. Scrabbling around for a quick lunch, we ended up at Xi’an Famous Foods, where the dumplings are plump, rustic, and served without ceremony on styrofoam plates. In an instant, I was transported back to China.

Tiger salad / lao hu cai. Recipe and post on

Tiger salad / lao hu cai. Recipe and post on

Along with lamb dumplings and spicy cold noodles, we tucked into a fresh pile of “lao hu cai,” or tiger salad. I hadn’t thought about it for years, but this is one of the homestyle Chinese dishes that I loved the most during the four years I lived in Beijing. It combines cilantro for fragrance, slivered bell pepper and cucumber for crunch, scallions and chiles for bite. To the artistic Chinese eye, the different shades of green form stripes that look like a tiger’s coat (hence the name).

Tiger salad / lao hu cai. Recipe and post on

Tiger salad / lao hu cai. Recipe and post on

Tiger salad / lao hu cai. Recipe and post on

It felt so incongruous to be chowing down like a “ge men’r” (that’s Chinese for duder) amongst the tattoo parlors of St Mark’s Place, that when I got back to my desk, I checked out tiger salad on Google. It turns out that in the eight (!) years since I left Beijing, lao hu cai has gone the way of facial hair and become hip. You guys, they’re making it with kale. [Insert crying emoji.]

Anyway. When I got home that night, I seized upon the bunch of cilantro wilting in the bottom drawer of my fridge and proclaimed myself a tiger eater. First, I texted my friend Lee — my former fellow cohort in the Beijing expat magazine trenches — to verify my memory of the salad. Then I started chopping. The result is below. If you try it, the transformation to ge men’r is 100% guaranteed :)

Lao hu cai / tiger salad. Recipe and post on

Lao hu cai / Tiger salad
Serves four as a side dish

This recipe is a wonderful way to use up large quantities of wilting cilantro. If your herbs are too droopy, completely submerge them in cold water for 10 minutes or so, and they’ll perk right up. When dressing the salad, use the tiniest drops of oil and vinegar — be sparing — you can always add a drop or two more. If you douse the leaves, the salad will turn soggy.

1 bunch cilantro
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 cucumber
1-2 green onions
1 serrano chile (or to taste)
Sesame oil
Rice wine vinegar

Remove the tougher stems from the cilantro. Cut the pepper and cucumber into 1/4-inch strips. Thinly sliver the green onions and the chile. Toss the vegetables together. Add a tiny drop of sesame oil and toss so that the leaves look shiny — they should just barely glow. Add a pinch of salt and drops of rice vinegar and sesame oil. Taste and correct seasonings, adding tiny dashes of salt, vinegar, and oil as necessary. Do not overdress!

Topics: Free of gluten, New York City, Recettes | 4 Comments »


By Ann | August 10, 2015

Ratatouille bolognese - post on

I’m a big believer in traveling via food — fork traveling? — so when my lovely friend Kristin Espinasse posted a photo of a delectable-looking dish of braised meat and summer vegetables, I ran to the market so I could recreate it myself. She called it “ratatouillaise” and it’s a hybrid of that quintessentially summer stew, ratatouille, and Italy’s beloved export, bolognese.

Kristin lives in Provence, which is one of my favorite places, the region where we enjoyed six years of happy holidays, renting the same house in the village of Bonnieux. I used to spend the mornings meal planning and marketing, followed by lunch at a local café, a long, lazy afternoon by the pool, cocktail hour, which edged into cooking dinner, and the joy of touching all that beautiful local produce. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

A few years ago, the house we used to rent was sold, and now Provence is only a memory. I keep a lavender pillow on the bench in my entry hall and when I brush against it, the fragrance is like a time machine, sending me back to the days when vacation meant simply throwing a bathing suit in a bag and hopping on a plane (and not worrying about nap schedules, toddler jet lag, if prune juice is available in France, etc. etc. etc. :)

Ratatouille bolognese - post on

With the days long and bright, what better way to revisit my beloved Bonnieux with this dish that sings of hot sunshine, cicada calls, and sprigs of thyme springing from garden cracks? Kristin was inspired by a recipe from Yvon Kergal, an artist, bon vivant, and mutual Facebook acquaintance who lives in Le Cannet des Maures. To prepare my version, I first read this article from Felicity Cloake, which explores several ratatouille methods, and then devised my own.

Ratatouille bolognese - post on

Ratatouille bolognese - post on

The key to an authentic (exceptional?) ratatouille is that all the different vegetables are cooked separately, then combined and cooked together slowly. Though tedious and time-consuming, Felicity Cloake notes that this makes the difference between “creamy soft vegetables,” with an “intense, almost jammy sauce that sings of the sun,” and “just plain vegetable stew.” So, yes, I scalded the tomatoes, roasted the red peppers, and teased away all the clinging bits of skin.

Ratatouille bolognese - post on

Ratatouille bolognese - post on

As Yvon recommended, I peeled the eggplant and courgettes in stripes, then cut them into small tronçons, or chunks. (I did not salt the eggplant because I live on the wild side don’t think it makes a difference.) I sautéed these two vegetables in generous splashes of olive oil before adding them to a Dutch oven.

Ratatouille bolognese - post on

Ratatouille bolognese - post on

The dish has two secret (and untraditional) ingredients — a generous drizzle of honey, which heightens the tomatoes — and a dash of something spicy — I used harissa. Herbs, sautéed onions and ground beef join the vegetables in the covered casserole before it’s placed in the oven for a slow simmer. In the photo above, you can see the “raw” state — the vegetables still bright and crunchy. After a couple of hours, they turned soft and creamy, rich with a deep, meaty savor. Paired with couscous, this made a superb Sunday dinner — with leftovers for another weeknight meal (over pasta or soft polenta). The best part? It leaves your house smelling like a summer kitchen in Provence.


Adapted from Yvon Kergal, Kristin Espinasse, and Felicity Cloake

The word “ratatouillaise” is a hybrid of ratatouille and bolognaise (spelled the French way). Kristin says it’s “apparently valid in Scrabble, though no other definition is found.” Whatever the case, it’s synonymous with delicious :)

Serves six

Olive oil
2 red bell peppers
3 onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
2 lbs tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 large zucchini, peeled in stripes, and cut into 1.5-inch chunks
3 small eggplant, peeled in stripes, and cut into 1.5-inch cubes
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon harissa
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper

Cut the red peppers in half and remove the seeds. Line a baking sheet with parchment pepper and arrange the peppers on it. Roast the peppers at 400ºF until their skins have blistered, about 20 minutes. Peel the peppers and slice them into thin strips.

In a large Dutch oven, heat a tablespoon of oil and sauté the onions and garlic until they’ve softened and start to turn golden. Add the ground beef, breaking up the chunks with a wooden spoon. When the meat has cooked, stir in the tomatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a (separate) sauté pan, warm a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high flame, and then add the zucchini and a dash of pepper. Don’t overcrowd the pan — cook in batches, if necessary. Sauté the zucchini until gently softened and starting to turn brown, about five minutes. Add the zucchini to the meat mixture. Repeat with the rest of the zucchini, then the eggplant cubes. Add them to the meat mixture. Stir the red pepper strips into the meat mixture, along with the honey, harissa, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and 1.5 cups of water.

Bring the mixture to a boil on the stove, then cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook the ratatouillaise in the oven, stirring every half an hour, until the vegetables have collapsed and everything is “bien confit” (well reduced) — about 2.5 hours. If too much liquid remains, uncover the pot for the last 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.

As Yvon says “Voilà , ayé … A vos fourneaux et bon app’ .. Bizzzzzzzzz!”

Ratatouille bolognese -- post on

P.S. Read more about my love for Provence here.

Topics: A year in a French market: Summer, Free of gluten, Recettes | 24 Comments »

Rustic tomato tart

By Ann | August 3, 2015

Tomato tart / tarte aux tomates. Post and recipe on

The other day I did The Right Thing, visited my local Greenmarket, and bought a couple of tomatoes. Heirlooms being heirlooms, and New York being New York, they set me back about $8—so I really wanted to use them in a special way. For a few days, they sat on the kitchen counter, growing dangerously sloppy and sweet. And then the weekend rolled around and I finally had time to make a tomato tart.

For years, I’d been eyeing a recipe from the Once Upon a Tart… cookbook, which has some of my favorite recipes for bean salads, cold soups, and cookies. The book sprang from the popular Soho café of the same name, and the authors/owners pay tribute to a French grandmother with a tarte aux tomates à la Provençale. A traditional French tomato tart doesn’t use custard; instead you simply brush pâte brisée with mustard, add a thin layer of grated cheese, and another of sliced tomatoes, before baking in a blistering oven. The result is light, simple, summery.

Tomato tart / tarte aux tomates. Recipe and post on

Tomato tart/ tarte aux tomatoes. Recipe and post on

Because I can never leave well enough alone, I noodled around on the internets until I found another tomato tart, this one from David Lebovitz. His version tops the tomatoes with fresh goat cheese, a drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of herbes de Provence. Inspired by both tarts, I decided to go au pif and use the parts of each recipe that I liked best, as well as the ingredients I already had on hand.

This meant pre-baking my crust, draining the sliced tomatoes, using grated Gruyère, and a sprinkle of dried thyme and oregano instead of herbes de Provence. As a final flourish, I drizzled over a slow trickle of honey.

Tomato tart / tarte aux tomatoes. Recipe and post on

I had a little scrap of pastry dough leftover, so I rolled it out to create a mini, free-form galette. (I wanted to see if pre-baking the crust was necessary — it’s not.) Everything got popped in a very hot oven until the pastry turned golden, the tomatoes wilted and the juices began to bubble. As it turned out, my mini-galette baked up just as golden and crisp as the other, with the honey melting into a subtle sweetness that made the tomatoes taste like pure sunshine.

Tomato tart / tarte aux tomates

I loved my tomato tart but for one problem — it disappeared way too quickly. And so, a few days later, I made another — this one entirely free-form — using Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for galette dough. Because I didn’t use a tart pan, or prebake the dough, my third tart came together even more quickly than the first, which is good news if you want to eat this in a hurry (and you do! You do!).

Tomato tart / tarte aux tomates. Recipe and post on

Tomato tart / tarte aux tomates
Adapted from David Lebovitz and Once Upon a Tart…

Serves 6
Note: Feel free to experiment with different cheeses and herbs — fresh mint and basil would be lovely, for example. The tart tastes best warm or at room temperature, and is very transportable, as I discovered when I trundled it to Brooklyn the next day.

1 recipe pâte brisée (see below)
1-2 large ripe tomatoes
Dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated Gruyère (or another hard cheese)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1-2 tablespoons honey

Cut the tomatoes into even slices and drain them in a colander. Prepare the tart dough (see below).

Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

When the oven is hot, remove the tart dough from the fridge, and spread a thin layer of mustard over the base of the pastry, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border around the edges. Allow the mustard to dry for a minute or two. Scatter over the cheese, half the herbs, and a grind of black pepper. Arrange the tomatoes, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle over the rest of the herbs, another grind or two of pepper, and drizzle the honey. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the tomatoes have shriveled and the pastry is golden.

Pâte brisée
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

1  1/2 cups (200 grams) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick, 115 grams) butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/4 cup ice water

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and use your hands to rub it into the flour, until you’ve broken the butter into pea-sized lumps. Using a fork, stir in 2 tablespoons of ice water. Pinch a bit of dough — it should hold together; it it doesn’t, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Lightly knead the dough until all the water has been incorporated and a dough has formed (I do this right in the mixing bowl). Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disk, and roll it between two sheets of parchment paper to roughly a 12-inch diameter. Place the dough in the fridge to rest while the oven heats.

Tomato tart / tarte aux tomates

Topics: A year in a French market: Summer, Recettes | 24 Comments »

Recipe roundup

By Ann | July 27, 2015

Bucatini all'amatriciana. Post on

Oh, hi! I know, I disappeared there for while. Was I on vacation? Nope. I’ve been here in New York, sweating it out on streets that smell like garbage, locked in a routine of métro-boulot-dodo that allowed me to make a great leap forward with my new novel… but offered no time for blogging. But even though I haven’t been able to document my kitchen activity, I have been cooking and discovering some wonderful recipes from ye olde internets. I’ve been wanting share my new favorite recipe links for a while, if only to gather them all in one place so that I can stop Googling every time I want to cook. Ready? Here we go:

Bucatini all’amatriciana
Ever since I discovered how to cook this Roman classic (pictured above), our Saturday family lunches have become so successful. My friend Mike from the blog, Squared Meals, says “this is the first dish that got [his] kids really excited about food” — and if you ever meet his adorable, corkscrew-curled, three-year-old, identical twin girls, they will tell you that their favorite thing to eat is “bucatini.” My method combines Mike’s recipe with the one found in Elizabeth Minchilli’s fantastic book that I keep banging on about, Eating Rome. In complete defiance of Mike and Elizabeth, who both sternly call for guanciale, I use bacon (sorry, guys); once it’s rendered I add a drizzle of olive oil to the pan to sauté the onions. The sauce requires a long simmer until the tomatoes and onions disintegrate, but from there the dish is a snap. I usually serve half the sauce right away, mixed with half a pound of bucatini, and save the rest for a midweek dinner.

Hummus pancakes
These savory pancakes are kind of like a cross between falafel and socca, made from a base of chickpeas and tahini. The recipe comes from the lovely Dorie Greenspan, who suggests serving them as a festive first course, drizzled with tahini mayonnaise and topped with a simple salad. I liked them that way, but I absolutely loved the leftovers as a brown bag lunch. I warmed a couple of pancakes in the office microwave and slid them into a toasted pita with sliced avocado and cheddar. You could make a batch of these for the freezer, and keep them on hand for lunch or dinner emergencies.

DIY Shake Shack burger
It depends on your preferences, but me, I’m a thin-patty, salty, smushy, American cheeseburger kind of girl. Honestly, my heart belongs to In-N-Out, but here in New York, Shake Shack fills the void. Alas,  our outpost is slightly too far for convenient takeout. Well, praise be to the burger gods, this recipe from Smitten Kitchen gives precise steps to make your own “smash-style” burger at home. Friends, I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the best burger that I have ever cooked: savory, with a chewy, rough-textured crust, and a juicy medium-rare center that soaks the bun. It’s so good, I don’t even care that my stove ended up covered in greasy spatter, or that my forearms are still healing from hot oil burns.

Chocolate syrup
IF your almost-two-year-old finally gives up the bottle, only to go on a milk strike, and IF you decide, in all your parenting wisdom, to entice her back to the cow juice by making chocolate milk. But IF you don’t want to give her high-fructose corn syrup — because you’re already feeling plenty guilty about starting her day with chocolate — THEN you MIGHT like Food52’s recipe for homemade chocolate syrup, which is rich and chocolatey, easy to make, calls for ingredients that are probably already in your pantry, and stores well in the fridge. This is all completely hypothetical, of course.

Ancho [insert bean here] tacos
This recipe turns cooked lentils into taco filling, with the addition of a sautéed onion, some hot sauce, and the Post Punk Kitchen’s homemade taco seasoning (which is just a mix of spices you probably have in your cupboard). But the true secret is, you can use any type of bean—I regularly substitute a can of black beans, which I crush in the pan with a potato masher. I also skip the tomato paste, because I never seem to have any on hand. Here’s how I make a fast, healthy, taco dinner: 1) Prepare the beans. 2) Cut up an avocado. Crumble some fresh goat cheese. I don’t even use a serving plate—I simply “arrange” these latter two items on a cutting board. 3) Warm two corn tortillas directly on the gas flame. 4) Dollop 1-2 tablespoons of the bean mixture on the tortillas, add a slice of avocado, some goat cheese, a splash of Cholula hot sauce. 5) Fold and eat. Repeat.

Yeast waffles
After I got a waffle iron for Christmas, I futzed around with a few recipes but once I discovered this one from The Kitchn, I abandoned all others. These crisp waffles have a lovely, round, malty flavor. They’re made from a yeast batter, which rises overnight, so you have to plan in advance, but they’re are worth the extra effort. If you follow the recipe in the link, the waffles will have a chewy, crunchy, dense texture. But one Friday night — after a lively happy hour with friends — I threw this batter together… and accidentally left out an entire cup of flour. The next morning, the batter looked strange and thin, but my dad convinced me to make the waffles anyway. Lo and behold, they turned out remarkably crisp and light — even better than the original recipe! To make the waffles MY way, follow the recipe but use: 2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar.

Spicy cilantro-mint chicken kebabs
I’m always looking for recipes that use a great quantity of herbs at once because I buy delicate bunches  for one recipe and they turn black and slimy before I can use them for another. This recipe from Mallika Basu blends cilantro, mint, onion, ginger, garlic, and some other stuff into a spicy pesto-like marinade that she slathers on chicken thighs and drumsticks before baking. But I don’t like dark meat, so I made chicken kebabs. I plunged cubes of chicken breast into the marinade and left them in the fridge all day. That evening, I threaded the cubes onto skewers and cooked them in my grill pan. I’m not sure if it was the high heat, or the long marinade, but it was some of the tenderest, tastiest chicken I’ve eaten in a long time.

What are you cooking this summer?

Topics: Links, New York City, Recettes | 10 Comments »

Five tourist scams in Paris—and how to avoid them

By Ann | July 20, 2015

Top 5 tourist scams in Paris—and how to avoid them

A couple of years ago, my handbag was stolen at an autoroute rest stop in the Ardèche. It happened in an instant: I got up from the table to fetch a napkin, a woman tapped my friend on the shoulder, distracted her with a few scattered dollar bills—poof!—the bag was gone. I lost my passport, cell phone, camera, the keys to the rental car. My pride. The things were quickly replaced. But it took a while for my confidence to return.

Christophe Gadenne of Safety Scouts discusses the top 5 tourist scams in Paris—and how to avoid them

Ever since that incident, I’ve been curious about travel scams. Recently, I spoke to Christophe Gadenne (pictured above), a former Paris policeman and the founder of Safety Scouts, a free web series of short videos aimed at preventing tourist crime and fraud. “Working at a precinct in Paris, I met so many victims,” he said. “I wanted to do something to help them.” He began producing short videos, each one focusing on a specific crime, as a way to educate travelers. “Most tourist scams are surprisingly simple and relatively easy to avoid,” he says. “The best way to detect and avoid them is to be informed about them before someone tries one on you.” Today, he reveals the top five tourist scams in Paris and how to avoid them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Topics: Paris | 10 Comments »

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