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Gone fishin’

By Ann | August 1, 2014

lighthouse

Happy August!

It’s officially cucumber time and I’m taking the  month off from blogging. Instead of fishing for fish, I’ll be fishing for words—I hope to use this time to make some serious progress on my new book.

As I’m not actually going anywhere,  I’ll still be doing LOTS of cooking at home. If you’re curious about my kitchen, please stop by on Instagram :)

Enjoy the rest of the summer! See you in September!

Amitiés,
Ann

(Lighthouse at French River, Prince Edward Island, Canada.)

Topics: Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

Veggie spaghetti with shrimp

By Ann | July 29, 2014

shrimp with kale and tomato sauce

If you’re a regular reader, you probably know I’m fascinated by home cooking—not elaborate food, but rather the quick weeknight meals people throw together after a long day at work. Today I’m delighted to welcome Jane Grey Battle, age 10, who shares her fast, healthy—and award-winning!—recipe for Veggie Spaghetti with Alabama Gulf Shrimp.

Grey (as she’s called, despite the info in the links :) recently represented her home state of Alabama at the Kids’ State Dinner at the White House. She was one of 54 young chefs honored as winners of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a recipe contest linked to the first lady’s Let’s Move Campaign. Recipes had to include each of the four food groups: vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy—with fruits and vegetables composing about half of the plate. The contest received over 1,500 entries from around the country.

I’m thrilled to talk to Grey about her winning dish and afternoon at the White House!

Jeff Elkins for Epicurious

On entering the contest:
My mom and dad encouraged me, because I love to try different foods. Our family cooks together a lot. We’ll all decide on a meal and get our own part or job. It’s very fun and the competition was sort of like that except I was creating the meal. Honestly, when we first sent the recipe, I didn’t really think I had a chance—it’s just one of those things you do for fun.

On creating her dish:
My dish began with a meal that we cook frequently—an Italian capellini dish with dried red pepper. As a family, we watch cooking shows. One of our favorites is called “Chopped.” I approached the new recipe like that—substituting healthy options for unhealthy, which is the reason we used spaghetti squash instead of pasta.

On the rigors of recipe testing—and tasting:
After cooking [the dish] seven or eight times we realized that we weren’t a hundred percent sure of the cooking times! So, we did it all over again, one last time. I pretended like I was “Rachael Grey” and talked like I was on TV, which helped as I wrote the final recipe down while my mom cooked it. I owe a lot to my family. They were right there beside me. My sister and I pretended we were judges on “Chopped” when we tasted the different versions of the recipe!

On learning the good news:
In May, we found out that the recipe was a finalist. Waiting was very nerve-wracking. I was at camp when my mom got the email about winning the trip to DC. My whole family knew before I did. Just as we were loading my camp gear in the car alongside two of my best friends, my sister showed me the letter. I squealed and hugged my friends. They were so excited with me, which makes for a really good friend. It was probably the best twenty seconds of my life. I jumped up and down and hugged everyone in sight.

Jane Grey Battle and Sam Kass

On visiting the White House:
It was just so weird to be in the White House and be able to sit on the couch and to be treated as a guest. Michelle Obama spoke and President Obama made a surprise visit and spoke for a few minutes. I got to meet and be interviewed by the White House chef, Sam Kass (photo above). He’s awesome and really smart. We visited the White House garden. I saw Benjamin Franklin’s fig tree! The day went by like a blur.

On meeting the First Lady:
We all walked through a line where we got to meet and take our picture with Michelle Obama. She’s the tallest woman I’ve ever met!

ohio alabama 2

On the best parts of the experience:
I met a girl named Abigail Cornwell from Ohio (photo above). We are pen pals now. Also, when we returned to Birmingham and got off the plane, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Crawford, was standing there. She is one of my favorite teachers and I thought that was the best ending I could ever have to the trip.

shrimp

Veggie Spaghetti with Alabama Gulf Shrimp
Adapted from Jane Grey Battle

Note from Ann: I loved the bright, warm flavors of Grey’s dish, as well as her lightening-quick method for cooking the spaghetti squash. I have to admit, however, that I substituted fresh oregano because my grocery store was out of fresh basil! In the height of summer! (#foodcrimes) I also used smoked paprika instead of chiles de arbol. I can’t wait to try this again, as written.

Serves four

1 large (or 2 small) spaghetti squash
Olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt
Pepper
Handful of fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade (or fresh thyme, or oregano)
24 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 1/2 cups kale, destemmed and chopped

Pierce the squash with a fork in several spots. Microwave the squash on high for 15 minutes, in bursts of 5 minutes, or until the squash feels soft. Allow to cool for several minutes—it will be hot! Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Using a fork, scrape the strands of squash into a bowl. Season lightly with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

In a large sauté pan, warm 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sugar; season with salt. Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Decrease the heat to low, add the herbs and chiles and continue cooking for 8-10 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly. Add the kale, increase the heat to medium, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the kale has wilted. Stir in shrimp and cook until the shrimp are firm and pink, about 5-6 minutes.

Divide the spaghetti squash between four plates and spoon over the sauce and shrimp.

(Second photo by Jeff Elkins for Epicurious. Third and fourth photos from Brooke Battle.)

PS Listen to an interview with Grey on NPR!

Topics: Free of gluten, In the news, Recettes | 7 Comments »

Homemade ricotta

By Ann | July 22, 2014

homemade ricotta

If I finish all my weekend cooking projects, I often say: “Hmm, maybe I’ll make a peach pie.” (Or a batch of financiers. A pot of black beans. A pint of ice cream. You get the picture.) To which my husband will say: “Please, NO, you’re doing too MUCH, you need to REST.” It’s become a household joke because while he does not think I’m a delicate flower, he does want to avoid a Sunday evening featuring a sink full of dishes, sticky counters, and an irritable wife with sore feet.

So last Sunday afternoon, when I suggested that I “whip up” a batch of homemade ricotta cheese, he looked at me like I was insane—especially since I had just finished ripping my hair out over a quiche that turned out raw in the middle, which I ended up finishing off in the microwave. (#keepingitreal, guys! :) But then he left unexpectedly for work, and I was left to dabble with my cheesecloth and lemons, bottles of milk from grass-fed cows, and Claudia Lucero’s delightful new book, One-Hour Cheese.

One Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero 2

Claudia moved to Portland, Oregon in 2006, with a dream of owning a plot of land and growing her own vegetables. Pickling, preserving, and cheese-making soon followed—as did a business of DIY cheese kits, which she sells via her website, Urban Cheesecraft, and Williams Sonoma. In her wonderful book, she shares tips, recipes, and step-by-step photos for simple cheeses that can be made in one hour or less—fresh varieties like paneer, haloumi, or cottage cheese. “All of the cheesemaking techniques shared in this book are based on traditional methods,” she writes. “You will heat milk, add coagulant, drain, mill, salt, and press curds just like humans have done for thousands and thousands of years.”

pot of milk

cheesecloth

meyer lemon ricotta from one hour cheese

Ricotta is one of the easiest cheeses to make. It starts with a pot of milk and cream, and a hit of acid, either lemon juice, or vinegar. (Admittedly, this is not technically ricotta, which is traditionally made with leftover whey, not fresh milk, but let’s not split hairs.) Heat the liquid and acid until coagulation occurs, drain the curds from the whey in fine cheesecloth, salt, and eat. C’est tout. Easy, right?

I did all these things, hovering over the pot as I took the temperature of the milk at regular intervals. I thought I saw curds forming, but when I drained the liquid through the cheesecloth, I found no curds at all. Just lots of expensive milk swirling down the drain.

Gloom. Frustration. Despair. Frantic googling. No real answers. The next day, I called Claudia to see if she could help. Here are her tips:

Don’t dump out the pot:
“You might be frustrated, and I don’t blame you,” she says. “Walk away for a while, but whatever you do, don’t dump out the results. Put the whole pot in the fridge for a day if you have to. Take a breather. Surprise results can almost always be saved and turned into something delicious.” (Too late for me, I had already dumped out the pot.)

Check the milk:
Make sure you’re not using ultra-pasteurized milk. “This form of milk has been heated at a higher temperature than pasteurized milk. All the good bacteria are killed along with the bad, and the milk’s protein and calcium have been weakened,” says Claudia. Though it CAN be used “in a pinch” for “loose, acid-coagulated cheese like Meyer Lemon Ricotta,” she doesn’t recommend it. Instead, “look everywhere on the jug to find UP, UHP, of Ultra-Pasteurized and then steer clear.”

Check your thermometer:
The milk needs to heat to 190ºF so “make sure your thermometer is accurate,” she says. “Fill a cup with ice and pour just enough water in to cover the ice. Dip the thermometer into the icy water for about 30 seconds. The temperature should read very close to freezing temperature (32ºF).” As I live in a magical land without home ice-makers (New York City), I employed a similar method, but in boiling water (212ºF).

Add more acid:
“If you use lemons, one of the things that happens with fresh citrus is that some are more acid than others. Squeeze an extra two tablespoons of lemon juice,” she suggests. “If the milk isn’t coagulating, mix in one tablespoon, very gently. It should take affect within one minute. If not, add another tablespoon.”

Use your cooking smarts:
Even if you’ve triple-checked your thermometer, don’t rely on tools alone—use your eyes and nose. “At 190 degrees, the milk is almost at boiling, so it should be foamy, with steam rising from the pot as well as little bubbles forming around the edge.”

Double up the cheesecloth:
“Why not go ahead and double it?” she says. “The finer the holes, the better! With 90-thread count cheesecloth, it’ll drain really slow, but catch all the curds.”

cheesecloth and colander

So. Armed with Claudia’s advice, I went to the grocery store and purchased new dairy products. Double-lined my colander. Checked the thermometer. Squeezed my extra lemons. I was ready to go.

Except, this second batch ALSO didn’t coagulate. I tried adding more acid. I used up all the lemon juice and in sheer desperation threw in a tablespoon of red wine vinegar. I lowered the heat; I raised the heat. I googled. I asked for advice on Facebook. I emailed Claudia. My husband came home to experience the full spectrum of my cooking emotions. I could barely talk to him, I was so wrapped up in the drama on the stove.

Finally, in utter frustration and disappointment, I turned off the heat and walked away. My husband washed the dishes as the pot of milk cooled on the stove. And guess what? Forty-five minutes later, he gave it a gentle stir and said, “It’s coagulating.” And it was! Like magic! It was easy-peasy from that point, folks—just a little draining, squeezing, and salting, and I felt like a cooking genius. Tra la la! This morning I woke up, ate fresh lemon ricotta on toast, and all was right with the world. Tonight I tackle homemade mozzarella! (Ha ha.)

fresh lemon ricotta

Homemade lemon ricotta
Adapted from One-Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero

Makes 12 ounces

Claudia uses Meyer lemon juice in her recipe, but I just used the ordinary kind. Even though I added the extra lemon juice and a rogue tablespoon of red wine vinegar, my ricotta tastes lovely, not sharp, but suffused with a fresh, bright flavor.

2 lemons (for 1/4 cup lemon juice + 2 tablespoons extra, if needed)
1 quart (4 cups) whole cow’s milk, not ultra-pasteurized
1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream
Salt

Special equipment:
Cooking thermometer (I used a candy/frying thermometer)
Fine cheesecloth

Squeeze the lemons, strain the pulp, and measure out a 1/4 cup of juice (plus 2 extra tablespoons, if you think you’ll need them).

In a large pot, combine the milk, cream, and lemon juice. Heat over a medium flame. Watch the pot and monitor the heat, stirring every few minutes to prevent a skin from forming on the milk’s surface, and to prevent the milk from sticking on the bottom.

When small curls of steam begin to rise and the milk starts to look foamy, begin checking the milk temperature. Claudia says curds will form rapidly as the milk reaches the target temperature, but this didn’t happen for me. Never mind. When the temperature reaches 190ºF, turn off the heat. Allow the pot of milk to cool undisturbed so that the curds can separate from the whey—they need privacy! Claudia waits 10 minutes, but I’d suggest 30-45 minutes. (I think my lack of patience at this point was the problem on my first attempt.)

Meanwhile, double-line a colander with cheesecloth. Place a bowl under the colander to collect the whey. (Even though I ended up tossing my whey, collecting it first helped me see that it appeared clear and free of milk solids—that it was, in fact, whey.) Use a ladle to pour the curds and whey through the cloth.

Drain away the whey until the curds look like creamy, smooth mashed potatoes, about 15-20 minutes. Gather the four corners of the cheesecloth and gently squeeze the cheese. The ricotta will continue to dry out in the fridge, so I’d suggest leaving it slightly moister than you’d like. Add the salt and stir minimally for creamy ricotta. Enjoy immediately, or chill for a firmer texture.

ricotta toasts

Final tips
Here’s some extra advice from my Facebook page, frantic web searches, and Claudia:

Be patient:
“It took a lot longer than my recipe said it would,” says Debbie. “The milk has to get to a certain temp and takes a while. Similar to making paneer,” added Pat.

Switch the order:
“I boil the milk first and then add acid after I turn off the heat. Try that!” says Priyanka. “[It's] so much better than anything you can buy at a store.”

Read up on the science:
Casein proteins, denatured whey, what?! This post from UCLA’s Science and Food blog (go Bruins!) takes each step of the recipe and offers a scientific explanation.

Experiment with different acids:
What’s the difference between lemon juice, vinegar, and buttermilk? What about draining for five minutes, 20 minutes, or two hours (and overnight)? Serious Eats tries all the methods, with great photographs to illustrate.

Enjoy it on everything:
“Try mixing it into risotto,” says Claudia. “Use it as a pizza topping. In lasagna. Experiment with half your batch and add herbs, cracked pepper, seeds, dried fruit…” And if you want a luxurious texture, “add a splash of cream just before serving.”

And for next time…

Reuse your cheesecloth:
“I absolutely wash and save the cloth,” says Claudia. “Rinse it in cold water right away so the curds come off. Let it air dry and then I throw it into the bin with my kitchen towels until I have a full load—I dry it in the dryer, too. You can also wash by hand with hot water and soap and just hang it to dry. If it shrinks up, just wet it before lining your colander and it should stretch beautifully.” 

Topics: Cheese, Cooking the Books, Free of gluten, Recettes | 12 Comments »

Stir-fried tomatoes and scrambled eggs

By Ann | July 15, 2014

stirfried tomatoes and eggs

Last week, I went to Chinatown for the first time in years and when I turned onto Mott Street, I barely recognized it. There were single-source coffee shops and brunch-menu bistros. Nail salons. Vintage clothing boutiques. A few blocks further, I spotted some familiar sights: bins of dried shrimp and mushrooms spilling onto the street, tanks of fresh crabs, a couple of old ladies haggling over a pile of dragon eye fruit. And also tourists snapping photos of the local color? Dear Chinatown, please don’t turn into the next Lower East Side. Xie xie.

I went to Chinatown because I’d decided to cook up some jiachangcai, or homestyle Chinese food. Usually when I crave Chinese food, I eat out because Chinese dinners are multi-dish kinds of meals and lately I’ve been a one-pot kind of cook. But I’d been craving a dish SO simple, SO homestyle I’d never seen it on the menu outside of China: stir-fried tomatoes and scrambled eggs.

stir-fried tomatoes and eggs

This most humble of dishes uses only a few ingredients: tomatoes and eggs. Scallions and ginger. Salt and sugar. Maybe if you’re feeling fancy, minced garlic and a drizzle of sesame oil. It’s tangy, sweet, and savory, with a sticky sauce that sinks into a bowl of rice creating hot, satisfying, delicious mouthfuls. It’s peasant food. Comfort food. Bachelor food. Akin to a plain plate of spaghetti and tomato sauce, most Chinese people can cook it without a recipe—and I’d wager that a large percentage of them have eaten so much of it, they hope to never see it again.

I discovered this dish while living in Beijing and working at an expat magazine. (Curiously, despite a childhood of Chinese food, I never ate this growing up.) My colleagues and I enjoyed daily lunches at cheap neighborhood dives, feasting on an array of salty, spicy dishes. The memory of that food—fresh from the wok, glistening with oil—still makes my mouth water. Xihongzhi chao jidan—as this dish is called in Mandarin—was part of the daily parade, one of my favorites.

But back to my trip to Chinatown. I didn’t need any special ingredients to cook this dish and I certainly didn’t need to make a special trip to the Chinese supermarket. But as I said, Chinese food is at its best a multi-dish affair and if you’re making one dish, you might as well make two. I decided that this Sichuanese celery beef would round out the meal, which meant hunting down a jar of fermented-bean-and-chili-paste called la doubanjiang. I found it at New York Mart, a newish supermarket that’s like a wonderland of Asian food, where I also picked up a five-pound sack of rice, two mangos, and a bottle of Chinkiang vinegar. And now my pantry is so well stocked, I can throw away the take-out menus! (Just kidding.)

tomatoes

Chinese stir-fried tomatoes and scrambled eggs
Serves two as a main dish with rice, or four as part of a meal with other dishes

5 large eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
3 scallions, white parts only, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
5 medium tomatoes, cut into a large dice
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
Salt
2 teaspoons sesame oil

Beat the eggs until smooth. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add half the scallion, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the eggs and scramble them, forming large curds. Remove the cooked eggs into a bowl. Wipe out the skillet.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining scallion, ginger, and garlic, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Sprinkle over the sugar and salt. Cook until the tomatoes have softened and started to release their juices—they should be soft, but not completely disintegrated into a sauce. Return the eggs to the skillet and heat through, stirring gently once or twice to combine. Add the sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with white rice.

PS Thanks to my lovely friend Lee Ambrozy for help with this recipe.

PPS New York Mart
128 Mott Street
New York, NY 10013
212-680-0179

PPPS I’ve finally found a great Chinese restaurant in New York City. It’s called Café China and I’ve eaten there twice and am officially in love with the mapo tofu, shredded pork (yuxiang rousi), and Sichuan spicy fried chicken (Chongqing lazi ji)… I’m hungry just typing this.

Café China
13 E. 37th Street
New York, NY 10016
212-213-2810

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

Zucchini pancakes

By Ann | July 8, 2014

courgette pancakes

As I type this, a storm is turning the sky ash grey and wild, with bursts of thunder echoing across the canyons of midtown Manhattan, and flashes of lightening flickering along the East River like a dying fluorescent bulb. Rain is beading on the windows, sheeting across the tiled floor of the neighbor’s roof deck. My husband is at a work event; the baby is asleep in her crib. An hour ago, a mosquito landed on the tender flesh of her upper arm and then flitted away before I could decide whether or not to try to kill it. Black rage filled my heart.

It is summer, folks—summer in the big city—and our early June vacation means we’re here for the steamy duration. It’s the season I dislike the most for its cloying humidity; it’s the season I love with all my heart for its produce. The other day I bought a bunch of kale the size of a small sheep for two dollars. There are melons as sweet as candy, local blueberries in the grocery store, and ears of corn still to anticipate. And then there are the courgettes.

I ate almost everything as a kid, but courgettes (zucchini, squash—call them what you will) were my bête noir. They tasted like earwax to me (not that I have firsthand knowledge of the flavor of earwax), much like cooked carrots taste soapy, and grape jam carries a whiff of the dental office. Even as an adult, I like courgettes only in dishes where I can’t really taste them—soupe au pistou, for example, or this grilled recipe that chars the hell out of ‘em, or zucchini bread with chocolate chips, which is an idea I can really get behind.

This recipe for courgette pancakes comes from The Barefoot Contessa At Home (which I think is my favorite of her books) and it definitely falls into the category of “hidden vegetables.” If you’re experiencing a zucchini glut (though I think that comes later in the season, right?) it’s a great way to use up a stray pound or two. I’ve tried a few zucchini pancake recipes, and this one is the best—there’s no tedious squeezing of excess liquid, just grate and go. The pancakes turn out tender, light, and fluffy, with no weird gumminess in the center.

The other great news about this recipe is that kids like it, too—if my anecdotal evidence of one 10-month-old (!) baby girl bears any weight. When I gave her these savory pancakes, she ate a short stack—the first food I’ve cooked for her that she really, truly loved.

courgette pancakes IG

Courgette/zucchini pancakes
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten

3/4 lb zucchini (aka courgette, about 2 medium)
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6-8 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional, depending on how salty you like your food)
Freshly ground pepper
Olive oil for frying

Grate the courgette into a mixing bowl using the large holes of a box grater. Gently stir in the onion and eggs—I find that the more I work the mixture, the more unwanted liquid is released from the courgettes, so be delicate. Stir in 6 tablespoons of flour, the baking powder, salt (if using), pepper, and cheese. If, at any point, the batter becomes too thin from the liquid released by the courgettes, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time.

Heat a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat and warm 1/2 tablespoon oil. When the oil is hot, lower the heat to medium, and drop spoonfuls of batter into the skillet. Cook the pancakes until golden brown—about 2-3 minutes on each side. Repeat with the remaining batter.

midtown after the storm

And, just for fun, here’s midtown Manhattan after the storm :)

Topics: A year in a French market: Summer, New York City, Recettes | 18 Comments »

Oyster fishing on Prince Edward Island

By Ann | June 30, 2014

Malpeque oysters PEI

When I packed my bags to research an article on Prince Edward Island last month, I had two things on my mind. 1) Anne of Green Gables (more on this soon), and 2) Oysters. Harvested from the deep, moody waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the island’s Malpeque variety has been famous for centuries—even Queen Victoria was a fan, importing barrels to England—prized for its delicate flavor and clean, sweet finish. Interestingly, the island’s oysters have also been fished in the same way for centuries—brought up by long-handled tongs that are powered by human strength alone. I was thrilled to learn more about the island’s native oyster from Phyllis Carr, who owns Carr’s Shellfish, a local seafood purveyor, with her husband, Robert. And the next day, on a bright, clear morning, I visited Carr’s oyster beds with fisherman Philip Buote—and attempted a bit oyster fishing myself.

Malpeque oysters PEI 2

On the Malpeque oyster:
Though the northwestern end of the island is called Malpeque, “all oysters found on PEI are considered the Malpeque variety,” says Phyllis. Oysters start out as spat, tiny shellfish about the size of a quarter that attach to a solid surface, like a larger oyster. “It’s illegal to bring in spat with mature oysters. They have to be completely cleaned off on the boat and put right back into the sea,” says Philip. It takes four to seven years for an oyster to reach maturity—that’s about three inches long. “Oysters like a hard bottom surface,” says Phyllis. “But the bigger they get, the more room they need to grow. The best oysters grow slowly, without crowding.” Malpeques are sold in three sizes: small choice, large choice, and extra-large choice.

oyster fishing pei

oyster fishing pei 2

On wild oyster fishery:
The island’s oysters are fished from the wild, using a 15-foot dory and a pair of long-handled oyster tongs that end in rake-like teeth. The fisherman leans over the side of the boat and drops the tongs into the water, closing them at the bottom of the bed to capture a small quantity oysters mixed with mud and seaweed. He then drags the closed tongs up through the water and deposits the cache on the prow of the boat. “Oyster tongs are the only legal way to fish oysters on public water in PEI,” says Phyllis. It’s “very labor intensive,” slow, and painstaking work—each load collects only a few oysters—requiring strength and agility. “A public fisherman spends eight, ten hours out on the water every day, dredging, sorting, dredging.” says Philip.

In case this is all hopelessly confusing, this video explains it better:

 

On oyster bed politics:
Prince Edward Island’s landscape is defined by the gulf—the water not only surrounds the land, it also reaches into it in narrow inlets and ponds, creating clean, cold pools that oysters love. Many of these areas are considered “public water,” says Phyllis, and fishing them “is strictly governed, requiring a fish-specific license,” which is limited, expensive, and hard to obtain. The island also has oyster beds—called “leases”—which are bodies of water rented from the federal government. Carr’s maintains five leases. They buy oysters from fisherman on the public water, and transfer the shellfish to their beds at Stanley Bridge, where they grow plump and clean.

On working the leases:
During the summer, Philip heads out in the dory once or twice a day to fish the leases, and turn over the beds. “In the warmer months, the leases need to be worked everyday to maintain them,” says Phyllis. Winter brings a dormant period. “We don’t work the leases then,” she says. “Everything freezes over from December to March,and when the water gets very cold, the oysters lock their shells and stay closed.”

On the best time to eat oysters:
Though enjoying shellfish only in months with an “r” is “kind of a myth,” says Phyllis, she thinks the “fattest, best quality oysters” are found in October, November, and December. “Oysters hibernate—like bears,” she says. “They fatten up during the warmer months, and hibernate during the winter.” In March and April, “they’re coming off their winter sleep so they’re getting thin and weak, waiting for the warm water to feed.” By autumn, they’re plump and delicious—just in time for the holiday season.

Just for fun, here’s what happened when I tried oyster fishing:

Ann Mah oyster fishing PEI

Ann Mah oyster fishing PEI 2

Ann Mah oyster fishing PEI 3

Did I catch anything?

Ann Mah oyster fishing PEI 4

Me and “my haul.” ;)

oyster fishing PEI 2

malpeque oyster PEI

Back inside, Philip shucked two fresh oysters for me and I ate them right away, straight from the sea. They were briny and delicate, the ocean-temperature flesh sweeter and warmer than oysters served on a bed of ice. Fishing and eating them was one of the best moments of my life.

(Photos of me snapped by Philip Buote.)

Topics: Voyages | 11 Comments »

Dining out with kids in Paris

By Ann | June 24, 2014

Dining out in Paris with kids

Paris restaurants don’t have a reputation for being very kid friendly, so before my most recent trip—my first with baby in tow—I wondered whether I’d be able to eat out with my nine-month-old daughter. Our first lunch at a neighborhood café was not encouraging. We were seated at a corner table with the baby parked in her stroller directly beneath the door of a refrigerator. Every few minutes, a waiter opened the fridge to grab one of the carafes of water cooling within. The glass bottle passed right over the baby’s tender head while the head waiter barked: “Fais TRES attention au bébé!” (Be VERY careful of the baby!) The waiter would shoot me a look that screamed “You are in the way!” and the fridge door would slam shut. When the baby began squawking, we bolted our food and beat a hasty retreat.

After this experience, it seemed likely that we wouldn’t eat out in Paris as a family for the next seventeen years. But after I canvassed a couple of Paris parent friends, we tried again, and again, several times—and found each meal easier than the last. I’ve combined their suggestions with my tips for dining out with a baby in Paris. I’d love to hear your recommendations, too—please leave them in the comments!

baby in paris café

Choose wisely—I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Parisians are very child friendly. But not in restaurants. It’s important to pick the kind of place where kids are welcome (I offer a few addresses below). Casual spots like cafés, bistros, or non-French places like pizza or Chinese food are good choices. Only you know your kid’s limits, but personally I would avoid everything else with a baby. “I see the most kids in Asian restaurants, not traditional French restaurants,” says my friend Erin, mother of Felix, 4, and Lucie, 2. Another alternative: “Crêperies are definitely known as family friendly places.”

Eat early—French people are creatures of habit—they like to eat at the same times—that is, one o’clock for lunch; eight o’clock for dinner. If you show up at a restaurant early, you’ll catch the staff before the rush, and there will be few other customers to disturb with baby squawking. “The very best thing is to go immediately at 12pm or 7pm,” says Erin. “Make sure you’re the first people served so the kids aren’t waiting forever.”

But not too early—Paris restaurants keep rigid hours; most aren’t open before 12pm or 7pm. If you’d like to eat outside those hours, look for a place that offers “service continu”—continuous dining service—usually a café. Fair warning: the best food in Paris is not usually found in places with service continu.

baby with baguette

Don’t expect kid accoutrements—High chair? Crayons? Kid’s menu? Fuhgeddaboudit. “I’ve never been to a restaurant that has a high chair available or that could easily accommodate our own portable high chair,” says Claire, mother of Theo, 21 months. Restaurants for families do exist, “but they’re chain restaurants,” says Erin. I brought most of the baby’s food from home, and gave her a chunk of baguette from the bread basket to keep her busy.

Case the joint in advance—Don’t just show up with the stroller, expecting to be seated. Scope out the restaurant in advance to see what kind of space they have. Pop in and ask if they’d mind accommodating kids and/or a stroller. “If they’re reluctant to welcome kids, it’s almost always a space issue,” says Erin. Paris real estate is expensive; most restaurants are tiny. “My father-in-law is in a wheelchair and when restaurants see us coming with him and the stroller, they’re like, ‘Forget it!'” says Claire.

Find an outdoor café— “I usually try for a restaurant with ample outdoor seating and  sit at the end where I can pull up the stroller,” says Claire. Pedestrian streets like rue Montorgueil or rue Cler offer a large choice of cafés with wide terrasses—though they also attract heavy smokers. We had lunch in one café on rue Cler, which offered ideal seating—lots of room for the stroller, we were outside so didn’t have to worry about baby yelps—but the food left much to be desired.

Goûter is good—I’ve noticed children are more welcome at goûter, or tea time, the four o’clock hour when French people like to eat sweets. I’ve even spotted kids in chic salons de thé like Jacques Genin or Angelina. Otherwise, picnics are an obvious choice for families of young children—plus you have an excuse to buy lots of different types of cheese!

Bottom line—After several lunches with the baby (we never tried dinner since she goes to bed too early), and talking to several friends, my conclusion is that dining out in Paris with young children is not common. But it is acceptable, if you choose the right kind of place and right time, and if you’re considerate of the staff and other customers. In other words, maybe it’s not so different from anywhere else?

Paris restaurant with baby

les deux abeilles with baby

Where to eat with kids in Paris

Les Deux Abeilles
189 rue de l’Université, 7e
tel: 01 45 55 64 04
At first glance, this cozy tea salon does not seem kid-friendly—space is tight, voices are low, and there are crisp, white tablecloths. But they offer continuous service from 9am-7pm, which means you could eat super early without worrying about being a nuisance. I love their savory tarts, hearty salads, and gorgeous cakes.

Café Suédois à l’Institut Suédois
11 rue Payenne, 3e
tel: 01 44 78 80 20
This is a charming little lunch/tea counter at the Institut Suédois with housemade soups, bread, cakes, and even elderflower cordial. Best of all, there’s lots of seating in the spacious courtyard. There’s no table service here—just order at the counter and ferry the food yourself. They were kind when we rearranged the chairs to make room for the strollers (and we also spent several minutes replacing everything when we left).

West Country Girl
6 Passage Saint-Ambroise, 11e
tel: 01 47 00 72 54
Even though I said crêperies were family friendly, I would avoid one of my favorites, Breizh Café, because of the aforementioned space issues. West Country Girl is a good alternative, with excellent galettes in a less touristy (and populated) part of Paris. Admittedly, I have not been here with a stroller. But I have eaten an early, mid-week lunch here and the dining room was practically empty.

Pizza Chic
w 13 rue de Mézières, 6e
tel: 01 45 48 30 38
I love their pizza. But this restaurant is as chic as its name indicates. I have, however, seen older kids (aged seven and up) dining here—early. There are also a few sidewalk tables, which could be possible for an early meal with a stroller. However, wild horses couldn’t drag me to bring the baby to eat at this restaurant during regular service, either indoors or out.

Happy Families
5 rue du Cloître Saint-Merri, 4e
tel: 01 40 29 89 99
This center near Beaubourg offers everything from a kid-friendly café (with high chairs and simple meals), dance and music classes (for kids), meditation sessions (for parents :), as well as a beauty salon, massages—and babysitting. I haven’t been here yet, but it sounds great for a rainy day.

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

Topics: Dining Out and About, Kids in Paris, Paris | 21 Comments »

My Paris walking tour with La Cuisine Paris

By Ann | June 12, 2014

tour la cuisine paris 2

Three of my favorite things are Paris, walking in Paris, and food. And so, when Jane of La Cuisine Paris and I started planning my Paris popup tour, I couldn’t wait to hit the ground. And even though it rained on the day of my tour—comme une vache qui pisse (as they say so charmingly)—my stalwart fellow food lovers and I enjoyed a delicious (albeit damp!) afternoon.

E Dehillerinjpg

I wanted to offer insights into Julia Child’s Paris, and so one of our first stops was her favorite cookware shop, E. Dehillerin. Julia described herself as “a knife freak, frying pan freak, and gadget freak,” and it’s easy to imagine her wandering the narrow aisles, admiring the giant whisks and rolling pins, and asking the seasoned salesmen for advice. Two photos of Madame Child still hang above the register and one of the clerks said he’d met her in 1986. The shop has been open since 1820, and it’s still targeted mainly to professionals, which means its prices are listed before tax—hors taxes—unlike most retail shops in France.

au pied de cochon

We stopped outside Au Pied de Cochon, which is the only restaurant I know of in France that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The special dispensation for extra hours was granted in 1947, after several lean war years. I like to imagine Julia squeezing into a narrow booth, digging into a gratinéed bowl of soupe à l’oignon after a frosty, wee hour visit to the market at Les Halles (which used to be located just across the street).

rue montorgueil la cuisine paris tour

rue montorgueil

Stohrer

We also visited Stohrer, one of Paris’s most venerable addresses, opened in 1730. When Louis XV married Marie Leszczynka of Poland in 1725, her pâtissier accompanied her to France in her retinue. Five years later, he opened this pâtisserie—and allegedly invented baba au rhum in the same spot. More recently, Le Figaroscope named Stohrer’s éclair au chocolat the best in Paris—a pronouncement that I don’t entirely agree with. Nevertheless, we bought a couple just to make sure :)

la cuisine paris tour

andouille de guéméné

pâte de campagne

The rain, by the way, finally stopped somewhere between the charcuterie and the fromagerie, just in time for us to squelch back to La Cuisine Paris for a decadent dégustation. On the menu: andouille de Guéméné, a tripe sausage from Brittany, which—I’m proud to say—was sampled by every single member of the group. We also tucked into rillettes of goose and of pork, rabbit pâté, foie gras, several types of cheese, and more, accompanied by a spritely white wine.

mastering the art of french eating

book signing

The afternoon ended with a book signing (every author’s favorite activity :) and then I was sad to say au revoir. I enjoyed meeting such a curious, enthusiastic group and loved introducing them to tripe sausage (among other things). My thanks to La Cuisine Paris for a lovely afternoon—I hope to do it again soon!

tour la cuisine paris

If you’d like to create your own walking tour of Paris:

E. Dehillerin
18-20 rue Coquillière, 1e, Paris
tel: 01 42 36 53 13

Au Pied de Cochon
6 rue Coquillière, 1e, Paris
tel: 01 40 13 77 00

Stohrer
51 rue Montorgueil, 1e, Paris
tel: 01 42 33 38 20

Or visit La Cuisine Paris for one of their wonderful walking tours, excursions, market tours and/or cooking classes.

(Photos that include moi thanks to Jane at La Cuisine Paris.)

Topics: Mastering the Art of French Eating, Paris | 16 Comments »

Paris pop up tour!

By Ann | June 2, 2014

sacre coeur

I’m excited to announce that I’m leading a special Paris pop up tour next Tuesday, June 10, with the delightful cooking school, La Cuisine Paris!

I’ll be hosting a gourmet afternoon visiting a few of Julia Child’s favorite haunts, as well as a selection of wonderful food shops. We’ll shop for some of France’s finest delicacies, from fromage to foie gras, andouillettes (for the daring) to pâtisserie! Along the way, you’ll learn a bit of history of some of France’s most iconic dishes.

The tour will end at La Cuisine Paris where we’ll tuck into our treats and chat over wine!

Please join me for:

–Insights and visits to my view of Julia Child’s Paris.

–A walking tour and tasting of France’s finest, including a visit to the charcutier, fromager, pâtissier, et plus!

–Each participant will recieve a signed copy of my new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating!

For more information, visit La Cuisine Paris. There are only a few spots left!

*UPDATE: The tour is sold out! Thanks for helping to spread the word, tout le monde!

Topics: Mastering the Art of French Eating, Paris | 7 Comments »

Weekend cooking/ weeknight eating

By Ann | May 30, 2014

asparagus

broccoli rabe

As you might have guessed from my Tuesday Dinner series, I’m fascinated by what people cook during the week—not fancy food, but the fast, ordinary meals prepared after a tiring day of work. Ever since the baby arrived, I’ve developed a new strategy. Instead of grocery shopping one meal at a time (I now think of those days and laugh), I cook large quantities during the weekend and reheat during the week. What I lose in spontaneity, I make up for in speed and peace of mind.

On the internets, people’s lives have a tendency to look glossier than they really are. (Surely this explains the email I received after this post appeared, from a reader accusing me of being a trust fund baby.) The truth is this: I try to get a home-cooked dinner on the table about 70% of the time. Do I enjoy cooking every night? No. Sometimes I’m so tired I wish I could swallow the balanced-meal-equivalent of a pill, and collapse into my pillow. But I try to eat at home most nights because I care about the food we eat, I don’t want to weigh 1,000 pounds, and I pinch pennies like everyone else.

Today I’m sharing my week’s cooking routine: what I prepared one weekend, and then how we ate it during the course of seven days.

asparagus broccoli rabe

chicken tetrazzini

What I cooked:
Over the weekend, I steamed a pound of asparagus, sautéed broccoli rabe with chili flakes and garlic, boiled up a pot of quinoa and couscous for packed lunches, and prepared a chicken tetrazzini casserole. (I also made some baby food.) My husband cooked a pot of chili.

chili

What we ate:
Sunday – Turkey chili, basmati rice, cheddar cheese, and pickled red onions (made the previous week).

chicken tetrazzini

Monday – Chicken tetrazzini, reheated at 350ºF for an hour until golden and bubbly.

pb sriracha toast

Tuesday – Peanut butter/ sriracha toast, sauteed broccoli rabe. (Note: husband ate chicken tetrazzini, but I’d had an enormous lunch.)

chili 2

Wednesday – More turkey chili, basmati rice, cheddar, avocado, and pickled onions.

salmon donburi

Thursday – Japanese-style donburi bowl. Salmon (cooked this way), avocado, asparagus, broccoli rabe, pickled red onions, black sesame seeds, and dashi broth over sushi rice. This is one of my favorite meals, but it’s only fast if you’ve cooked the vegetables in advance.

burrito

Friday – Vegetarian burrito from Chipotle. We get take-out once a week and I look forward to it.

Saturday – Dinner out with friends (delicious Korean food at Hanjan). Drank a martini and forgot to take pictures (sorry).

asparagus

A few observations:

–We eat a lot of food in bowls!

–My late-night food photography needs work (sorry about those #struggleplates :)

– Not pictured: the asparagus and broccoli rabe also appeared at lunch, atop of quinoa, with sliced turkey breast and cherry tomatoes.

– The rice cooker is my best friend–it produces perfect grains every time, with no pot watching. I’m not sure how I survived so long without one.

– Though we didn’t dip into our freezer this week, I rely on it most weeks.

I’d love to hear about your weekly cooking routine!

Topics: A year in a French market: Spring, New York City, Tuesday dinner | 8 Comments »

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