Sunday, November 22, 2015

Autumn wonderland & roasted pepper hummus

Autumn - the most colorful season of all!  But so underestimated.  People tend to prefer Summer - because of vacation time and good weather; Spring - because of life awakening after a long sleep; or even Winter - because of the magic of snow, winter sports and cosy fireplaces.  Autumn is seen as the grey, rainy, useless time in between, when we have to go back to school or work, when the days become shorter, and when we give in to the Autumn blues.

I couldn't agree less!  Not convinced?  Just look at those pictures!

In my book, Autumn really is the most beautiful time of the year.  Or at least - it has the potential for it (forget the rainy days for a moment).  On a sunny Autumn day, I take every opportunity to leave the city and explore nearby parks or forests to soak in the colors.  A few weeks ago I went to see the beautiful Château de Courances and its surrounding park, which left me speechless for quite some time (and trust me - this is quite unusual for me).  The colors and sights where so ridiculously beautiful, that I was jumping up and down like a little kid and running around with my camera from one place to the other to capture as much as possible.  I knew the castle would be pretty, but I only saw pictures of it taken during Summer time - and the Autumn colors really exceeded my expectations. 

The hummus I prepared today mirrors Autumn colors, thanks to the lusciously red roasted peppers.  Hummus is so versatile - once you have a good base you can add many different ingredients to customize it according to your favorite flavors or whatever you feel like eating that day.  I am a big fan of this roasted red pepper version, because of the smoky sweetness that goes so well with the earthiness of the chickpeas.  But you could also do lime and coriander, roasted garlic, basil pesto, spicy chilli, curry and ginger - and so much more.  Many people also like to mix in a tablespoon or two of thick Greek yoghurt, which lightens the hummus and makes it fresher (I like to do this on hot days, when you're not so hungry and prefer light food).

The key to success is a good base recipe.  Feel free to experiment with it, to find what works best for you - surprisingly enough, it's not easy to get it right the first time.  I think it's really important to use (i) dried chickpeas instead of canned - taste is so much better, with little effort, except for some prep work; (ii) good quality tahini - beware of the ones with additives or that taste bitter; (iii) good quality olive oil - it's taste will be really recognizable and distinct in the hummus, especially when drizzled on top, so make sure to use a good one.

What works for me is adding more tahini and less olive oil - I just love tahini, and when hummus is thick and earthy.  I sometime replace tahini with pure almond butter (or  pure walnut or hazelnut butter) - so delicious and gives it a slightly different twist.  Piece of advice: be careful with the lime/lemon juice (I often found hummus to be too sour).  Add less at the beginning - taste, and see if it needs more.  Play with the ingredients and have fun with it.  It's also good to leave it in the fridge overnight - the flavors will be much more pronounced the next day.

Once your hummus is ready - there are a million ways to serve it.  The classic being of course: as a dip for vegetable sticks (I love it with carrots, peppers and cucumbers -- but celery stalks, radishes, cherry tomatoes or other veg would work just fine).  I also like to put in on bread or in wraps - it is a great vegan substitute for butter or cream cheese.  Pair it with tomato and red onion - absolutely divine!  It's also great as a sauce - you can make it a bit thinner for that purpose - and eat it with falafel or quinoa and mung bean patties, for example.

So easy and versatile - no more store-bought, just make your own perfect hummus!


  • 3 red peppers
  • 1 cup of dried chickpeas
  • 4 tablespoons of tahini (I tend to add more)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • juice of 1 lime 
  • olive oil (sometimes I use grilled sesame oil to enhance tahini flavor)
  • salt & pepper

  • Soak chickpeas overnight.  Change water, and cook according to package instructions until soft (approx. 45 minutes).  Adding salt to water will slow down the cooking - I suggest not to add salt at all at this stage.  Drain chickpeas and let cool.
  • Slice peppers in half, remove stems and pips. Grill in oven for about 30-40 minutes, until skin is black.  Put in ziploc bag, seal properly and wait for about 10 minutes (longer is even better).  The locked-in steam will help loosen the skin.  Roll the bag with your hands, squishing the peppers (again - to help remove skin).  Open bag, peel off skin (should be easy by now).
  • Pulse chickpeas and peppers; add tahini, garlic, lime juice (try half of it first), olive oil to taste (I don't add a lot -- 2 tablespoons -- and prefer to add more tahini; but feel free to triple this amount of olive oil if you wish), and season with salt and pepper (plenty of pepper!) to taste -- BLEND!  Taste and add more tahini, lime juice, garlic, olive oil, salt or pepper, if necessary.
  • Refrigerate and serve cold; tastes even better the next day when flavors fully blend.
  • I absolutely adore it on toasted revolutionary bread, with tomatoes and red onions!
Bon appetit!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Simply: flapjack!

Simplicity.  In a way the synonym of perfection – an equilibrium of just enough of what you need, yet without even a smidgen of excess.  Elegant, refined and complete; and yet not burdensome, tiring or overwhelming.  Simplicity is seemingly so easy, logical and self-explanatory.  Yet often extremely difficult to achieve – not to mention master.  

The paradox is as follows.  On the one hand, it is very difficult to achieve something that is simple, yet refined and sophisticated.  Something that says it all and that makes sense once you say it, watch it, sing it, paint it, show it, eat it etc.  You run the risk of overdoing it, because you have so much to say and you want to do things "properly" - so you lose sight of keeping it simple.  On the other hand, once you get there - it seems so obvious.  Why haven't I thought of this before?  It all makes sense and yet is so simple!  How could I not have seen it from the start?

I am still learning the art of simplification.  Somehow it does not fit with my character; I can most certainly appreciate it, but it does not come naturally to me.  When painting, cooking, writing etc. I always want a maximum of emotions, colors, flavors, adjectives, sensations.  I instinctively want to submerge the recipients in a pallet of experiences and dazzle them, I want to cover all possible routes, I don’t want to be forced into making choices.  

I am not saying my instinctive baroque-ness is bad: it has its good sides for sure, and I don’t intend to fight it.  But sometimes it pays to make choices and go for simple solutions. It is soothing and makes you feel light.  By nature, I am a mixture of an artistic, romantic soul and a reasonable, logical thinker who likes order and maths - so I often crave simplicity and embrace it to the best of my abilities.

Simple recipes are great.  Not only are they easy and quick, allowing you to save time and energy.  They also tend to produce really good food, where a particular flavor, texture or quality is very pronounced - because it is not "disturbed" by other flavors, textures or qualities.  There is no distraction; it's clean, pure and simple.  

Often this concerns recipes for "classics".  New York-style cheesecake - plain and simple, no added toppings, fillings or sauces.  Basic brownies - all-time favorite, no fuss.  Doesn't that sound better than triple-caramel cheesecake with a brownie base, meringue top, vanilla cookie filling, and raspberry-cream sauce? (just writing about it makes me feel nauseated).

Flapjack recipes are a perfect example of simplicity.  A small number of ingredients, very easy prep, no need for special equipment, skills or a lot of time, no fuss.  Yet the end result is fantastic.  A chewy and moist bar, with this earthy oats-flavor, spicy sweetness of golden syrup, buttery lusciousness and incredible richness of dried fruit and nuts.  Very nutritious - but don't get fooled: this is not a fitness bar!  Flapjacks may be packed with vitamins and nutrients, but for sure are equally packed with calories!

The simplicity of the recipe does not mean you're bound by constrains and have to stick to certain flavors.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to choosing what you add: almonds, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, sesame, coconut, raisins, currents, figs, plums, apricots, orange peel, cranberries, chocolate (dark, milk or white - chopped inside or melted and drizzled on top).  Pick whichever ingredients you like and add to the basic recipe, for a customized flapjack.  Of course you can choose all of the above, but we'd be seriously drifting away from the concept of simplicity praised by me in this post - so please don't...


INGREDIENTS (8 flapjacks):
  • 300 g oats
  • 110 g cane sugar
  • 120 g butter
  • 75 ml golden syrupu 
  • 90 g (chopped) dried fruit or nuts of choice (I used cranberries and almonds 50:50)
  • 100 g of dark chocolate, melted au bain-marie (optional)
  • Melt he butter, sugar and golden syrup over low heat.  Don't let this come to a boil.
  • Mix the oats and dried fruit/nuts in a bowl.  Add the butter mixture and stir thoroughly (if you wish with your hands).
  • Line a baking tin with parchment paper (I used a round tin, 24cm in diameter; you could also use a square one 20cm x 20cm).
  • Put the oats mixture in the tin and press firmly with a spoon, evening it out and making sure it's packed tightly.
  • Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180ºC for about 25 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and slice when still hot.  Let cool; decorate with melted chocolate if using.
Recipe adapted from Dorotus' blog: Moje Wypieki.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Figs... and a sunny good-bye to Summer.

Swooooooooosh!!!  And Summer is over.  Technically, at least.  Luckily the weather has been pampering Parisians lately, allowing for a mild, warm and sunny transition into Fall.  At daytime you still get fooled into thinking it's vacation season by the hot days, cloudless blue sky and liberating feeling of wearing short sleeves and sandals.  But the chilly mornings and Fall colors -- slowly yet decidedly starting to dominate parks and gardens -- tell you change is on its way.

I moved to Paris nearly a year ago and have been falling more and more in love with the city every day.  Summer in Paris was nearly idyllic.  Despite the continuos tourist invasions, the city slows down significantly, takes a step back, relaxes and breathes in the vacation spirit.  I quickly learned to avoid the crowded tourist spots, and explored what the warm weather had to offer in this amazing place.  Picnics in small, secluded parks, drinks on charming terraces, sunbathing near the Seine or water fountains, warm evenings watching the Eiffel Tower twinkle in the dark, while picnicking on the grass with good wine and amazing baguettes.  I miss these days already...

Another thing I enjoy so much about Paris are little shops and markets.  In particular those selling fresh fruit and vegetables.  They offer an abundance of seasonal, local produce, packed with color and flavors.  Being a big veggie/fruit enthusiast, I missed that so much before moving to France, and couldn't be happier after having found it here.  I also learned to "eat by the season", and started buying whatever was "in" at the time.  And so came the sweet and fresh strawberries, juicy cherries, mouthwatering watermelons, ripe plums and most recently -- FIGS.  

I have always been a fan of figs - both dried and fresh.  But I've never had such delicious, flavorful and beautiful fresh figs as the ones I bought here.  So as you can imagine -- I found my food heaven.  At a close-by market, they sell both purple and light green figs - the purple ones are my favorite kind.  Once you cut them open, you discover an exquisite deep-red treasure, elegantly lined with a white hem.  Their taste is sweet and refined, and complemented by a unique texture.

Taking advantage of the good weather and delicious figs, I prepared this quick fig and goat cheese salad and went out for a picnic in the park just next to my house.  The salad is very simple and has a great combination of flavors.  I love pairing figs with goat cheese - this is a perfect match.  Adding pine nuts, a crunchy and fresh salad mix, and honey-lime-balsamic dressing works as the ideal background for the two stars of the dish.  We paired it with a fresh, buttered baguette -- and a lazy Sunday afternoon, enjoying the sun, nature and life.  

Tempted to try it out too?

  • 8 large fresh figs
  • Small roll of goat cheese (approx. 100 g) - rather firm than soft
  • Package of salad mix (e.g. arugula, lamb's lettuce, radicchio)
  • 60 g pine nuts
  • 3 tbps walnut oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 tbsp liquid honey
  • 1 tbsp crema di balsamico
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Salt & pepper (optional).

  • Wash and dry lettuce.
  • Wash and cut figs in 4, add to the lettuce.
  • Cut goat cheese in large-ish chunks.  Add to salad.
  • Toast pine nuts in a dry pan (watch out they don't burn).  Add to salad.
  • Prepare vinaigrette: whisk oil, balsamico, lime juice and honey together.  Season to taste and add more of whichever ingredient you think it needs to taste.
  • Drizzle vinaigrette over the salad, toss lightly but thoroughly.  Serve immediately, with bread and white wine.

Bon appetit!