the very first

IMG_1664I have hesitated for a long time in deciding whether or not I want to post recipes on this site. I’ve been back and forth about it, over and over again. There are a lot of recipe blogs out there. Some good and some bad. The good ones make me feel inspired to cook, but maybe a bit intimidated when it comes to actually writing about cooking, and the bad ones? Let’s just say that the bad ones leave me feeling like maybe the world doesn’t actually need another. I realized something though. No matter how many recipe posts I read, good or bad, I keep coming back for more. I am always on the lookout for great new recipes, and after reading so many I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of exactly what I think a great recipe is.

For me, it has to be simple. Too many ingredients or steps or overly complicated procedures and I’m out. And I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who feels this way. Plus, I find fussy food to be really unappealing. The food I love tends to be rustic and comforting and maybe even a little rough around the edges. Healthy and wholesome are always good. Anything deep fried or frosted in buttercream is kind of too far outside of my everyday diet to be truly useful.  Also, I think I a great recipe needs to be impressive and not because it’s fancy or full of strange ingredients, but because it over-delivers relative to the amount of work and effort that it takes, because the ingredients come together in that elusively perfect way that makes the final product so much greater than the sum of it’s parts.

The first recipe I’m posting is all that and then some. It’s one of my absolute all-time favorites. I made it the very first night that P and I slept in the apartment we live in now (after hauling boxes and furniture all day long – I swear it’s that easy), and I’ve made it about a gazillion times since. Not to mention that it’s the perfect time of year for it, with the nights getting cooler and the last of the summer produce still hanging around. It’s dead simple, totally versatile and at the same time, kind of elegant. Exactly the way I think a recipe should be.

Roasted Eggplant with Chillies and Thyme  (adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender)

In his book, Nigel Slater mentions that you could serve this as a side or a main course. To me, it’s always been a main course. The flavors are sort of bold and mellow at the same time, and I really think they deserve to stand on their own. It definitely needs starch though. I’ve served this with pasta, brown rice, polenta, quinoa and of course on grilled bread and all have worked fabulously. I imagine that it would taste good with just about any grain you could think of – pearled barley, faro, maybe even millet. Feel free to experiment.

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  • 1 large firm eggplant
  • 3 or 4 small tomatoes (not heirloom, something meaty like dry-farmed early girls or san marzanos) or a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 fresh red chile (chili flakes or dried chiles work in a pinch)
  • 6 branches of thyme
  • olive oil
  • parmesan cheese

Cut the eggplant into chunks and place in a colander. Sprinkle over a truly generous amount of salt and leave to drain for about 30 minutes

Preheat your oven to 425. Pat the eggplant dry with a paper towel and place in a baking dish. Cut the tomatoes and pepper into rough chunks and add to the eggplant. Smash the with the side of a knife and throw that in too. Dice the chile up finely and add that as well. Finally, add the whole thyme sprigs to the pan and toss the whole thing around with generous amount of olive oil (I would say 3-4 tbsp at least. Eggplant needs a lot of oil in order to get all soft and squishy, which is kind of the whole point of this dish).

Place the pan into the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes. Toss it around a bit every once in while, but not too much. You really want to let everything roast and caramelize together. You’ll know it’s done when all the vegetables are kind of mushy, but nice and brown and toasty at the edges. Serve over bread or grains or pasta dusted with a handful of parmesan cheese.

last year in paris…

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When we first returned from our trip to Paris last September, I was not quite sure what to think of it all. It was my first trip to Europe and my first trip overseas, and as such, the flight was the longest I have ever taken and in all honesty, slightly traumatic. I was fried, burnt out, exhausted and confused. Unlike most other people I know, Paris would not have been my first choice for travel and it was only on P’s adamant recommendation (not to mention his generosity in purchasing my ticket) that I found myself there. That’s not to say that I didn’t want to go, just that it wasn’t my idea, and in this case I think that’s an important piece of the puzzle.

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P’s attachment to Paris was established long before I ever came into the picture when he visited at 18 with his high school sweetheart and her family. Not really expecting much he found himself overtaken with immediate and complete adoration for the city, a reaction I’ve heard is not entirely uncommon. He returned a year later to study music as an exchange student and spent a year there, falling in love, having adventures, getting drunk and all the other things people do in their early twenties. For him, it is that place. I was nervous to go there with him, afraid that I could never compete with his memories and that I’d be a disappointment, to him and to the entire city.

Of course he told me that I would love it. Everyone told me that I would love it. How could I possibly not love it? We actually went to a dinner party the night before we left where, I kid you not, every single person there had been to Paris except for me and all of them insisted that I would absolutely, positively love it. As the evening went on and everyone had more to drink, their insistence began to take on an almost frantic tone and I found myself feeling overwhelmed. What if I didn’t love it as much everyone seemed to think that I must? You can see where this is going, right?

The entire trip I kept questioning myself, “Have I fallen in love with Paris yet? Am I falling in love with Paris now?” And of course, I never really did. Who can possibly fall in love under such an odd kind of pressure? The trip had it’s moments, but at the end of it all I returned home feeling slightly bewildered and disappointed in myself for not having been blessed with the good taste to be head over heels for Paris.

So I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when a few months ago, out of nowhere, I was hit with an unexpected and insatiable desire to be in paris NOW. It was as if my memories of the place had somehow slipped through a crack and I was suddenly seeing them without the filter of all that pressure.

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One of the things that disappointed me most about Paris on that first trip was how dirty it was. I’ve seen a million movies and photos and read countless blog posts on the subject, yet I somehow managed to convince myself that Paris was some quaint, provincial village. A postcard and not an actual place. When I got there I was entirely unprepared for just how big and gross and city-like it actually was. Now, of course that’s the thing that I miss most. If cities are like living, breathing creatures with a mind and personality of their own than Paris is perhaps the most alive of them all. You can feel it’s heart beating in every corner, every alley, every subway car and it’s that feeling, that pulsating aliveness that I’ve found myself craving so much lately even though it’s almost one year later and I still barely understand it all.

Some moments from that trip that stand out in memory for me:

– The first morning we ventured out around the area where we were staying and got pastries at Max Poillaine. A small chocolate torpedo cake and an apple turnover. I was still quite groggy from the flight, but I remember the taste of those pastries as clear as a bell. They tasted like butter, sugar, flour and little else. The chocolate tasted like chocolate and the apples tasted like apples. Pure, simple, perfect.

– That first night we had what ended up being my favorite meal in all of Paris. Again we stayed close to our apartment where we found a small bistro called Le Petel. It was tiny, cozy dimly lit. I had truffled asparagus ravioli and a superlative creme brulee with raspberries hidden in the bottom. The waiter was overjoyed when we ordered a bottle of Julienas to go with our meal. “Nobody ever orders that bottle,” he told P in french, “but it’s the best one on the list.” When we left, I forgot my sweater on the back of the chair and he came running out of the restaurant and flagged us down to return it to me. As we walked home we could see the eiffel tower all lit up through the trees. Magic.

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– Leaving Sacre Coueur we found ourselves slightly lost on a winding, little, tree-lined street with beautiful apartments and charming little shops. If I moved to Paris, that’s where I would want to live, although I have no idea where it actually is.

– P insisted that I must eat pizza in Paris, not because it’s any better than the pizza we have here, but because they serve it with this chili-infused olive oil that he is absolutely addicted to. We settled on La Brasciola, which was packed, but as warm and friendly as could be. They served us olives at the bar while we drank a bottle of rose, and after devouring our pizza and antipasto, we ordered the best affogato of my life. It nearly made me cry it was so good.

– One sunny afternoon we went to berthillon for ice cream. As we sat eating it by the seine, a small older gentlemen wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase came and sat down on a bench beside us. I watched him pull a small box out of his jacket which contained an elegant little chocolate pastry. He ate slowly, savoring every bite, clearly enjoying himself and when he was done he packed the box up neatly, picked up his briefcase and was gone as quickly as he came. I loved that man. I still do. That’s the type of thing you would never, ever see in a city like New York or San Francisco. Businessmen taking a break from their day to enjoy a chocolate pastry by the river, what could possibly be better or more parisian than that

 

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Of course now that this is all occurring to me we are in the midst of opening our own store with little time and even less money and so it appears that a trip to Paris is not in our cards, at least not in the near future. I hope that means that when we do go back it will only be better for the waiting. I hope that next time, I’ll be ready.