20 April 2012

The Attack of the Zhu Zhu Pets by Edgar and Marcel

Marcel, Marcel, wake up! Hopie's away again. We can write to our dear readers on the blog again! I bet they miss us.

Enough to pet us? Or give us tuna?
All right. Hello? Anyone there?

Yes, hello dear readership this is Mastermind Edgar.
This is Marcel!

Hopie is doing a theater writing workshop with her company's loyal audiences in the center of France...
She likes them better than us. I bet she's giving them tuna right now.

...and then taking a show to another city she calls Lyon.
Lion? She's going to pet other cats??
So we're back to update our fans.

Tell them about our new toys!
I told you Marcel, those toys are not for us. They're for our humans.
But they squeak and roll around on the floor and look good to hunt! I know they're for us.

No Marcel, they're silly human pets called Zhu Zhus.
Other pets? Competition??
Exactly, Marcel. They are not to be played with. They must be eliminated.

Like we eliminated that evil leather chair?

Yes. We ripped it to shreds to show who was boss. We will do the same with these Zhu Zhu creatures.
But Edgar...
Come to think of it, they're...kind of scary. I think I might rather curl up under the bed.

Don't be ridiculous. We must rule in this house.
Or...we could take a nap in the humans' underwear instead.

Marcel, come back here!
No! If there's no tuna, I'm taking a nap!

Marcel! Excuse me, dear readers, insubordination calls. I must go. Until next time...

13 April 2012

Mongolian Salt Tea (Guest Post by Magdalena)

My youngest sister Magdalena (aka Future Master Baker) is currently spending a semester abroad in Siberia. I know, I know, I was skeptical too but if you have a good pair of boots, it's apparently a stunning place to be. You can read all about it on her blog Voluntary Exile. One of the great things is that she gets to go to places like Mongolia for spring break! So now, here she is with a special guest post about her culinary experiences there:

Hello, readers of Hopie's Kitchen. I was recently in Mongolia, where I was lucky enough to sample some unique Mongolian dishes, so Hopie asked if I would write about it a little.

There were three Mongolia-only drinks I wanted to make a point of trying: Mongolian tea, fermented mare's milk (called airag), and Chinggis brand vodka ("Chinggis" being the more authentic Mongolian spelling of "Genghis", as in Khan). I didn't get a chance to try the second, and I can't tell you how to make the third, so I guess tea it is.

Mongolians call their tea "süütei tsai", which literally means "milk tea". I find this a bit misleading, because the key feature of the tea is not the milk. It's the salt. My host mom in Russia tells me that Mongolians drink their tea with milk and salt because the mixture provides both protein and electrolytes, which they need for long days of the nomadic herding lifestyle. However, it's popular enough to be found all over the place in Ulaanbaatar, where the closest thing to herders I saw were the policemen trying desperately to control the terrifying Mongolian traffic.

Every non-Mongolian I've met talks about this tea as something horrifying that is an "acquired taste". Maybe there's something wrong with me, because I acquired it on my second sip. I found this tea so intriguing and oddly addictive that I couldn't believe the recipe was so simple—I was sure there was something else giving it its flavor. But it's really just three ingredients.

Magdalena assures me that, yes, this is a group of yaks.

Start with some loose tea. Any black tea will do. Boil some water in a saucepan, add tea leaves, and steep to your desired tea strength.

Next, add milk. The water-milk ratio in Mongolian tea is about 1-1, so add a lot. Just tell yourself you're making yourself strong for a long day of sheep-herding.

Instead of stirring, Mongolians will take a large spoon, lift some of the mixture out of the pot, and let it splash back in. This makes the milk light and frothy. I guess you could always just stir with a whisk, but why would you do that when you can pretend to be in a Mongolian ger, making your süütei tsai over the fire?

When the mixture is starting to boil again, take it off the heat and stir in some salt. This part is tricky, because the amount of salt really makes or breaks this beverage. I tried in vain to find a recipe that provided a concrete amount, so that I would have an actual proportion to go by, but most recipes for Mongolian tea say "add salt to taste." I don't know about you, but the amount of salt I usually prefer "to taste" is none.

Just start with a little bit, and gradually add more until it hits the perfect balance. Too little salt, and you won't taste a difference at all; too much, and it will just taste salty. Just enough, and you won't even be able to tell what the unusual ingredient is—it'll just give your tea a slightly enhanced flavor.

Made right, this tea has a rich, smooth taste. "It reminds me of caramel, but without the caramel part," I remarked the first time I tried it. ("I have no idea what you're talking about," my friend responded.) It truly does add up to more than the sum of its parts, so even if you are one of the apparently many people who don't love this tea as much as I did, it's worth a try. Be a little adventurous, like Chinggis Khan, who adventured out to defeat the enemies of the Mongolian empire, or like J. Enkhjargal, the architect who decided to build a 131-foot statue of Chinggis Khan in the middle of the Mongolian steppe.

03 April 2012

Delicate Champagne Cocktail and Parmesan Tuiles

I made these champagne cocktails for a party this weekend and I am so enchanted with them that I'm using writing this post as an excuse to have another one...you know, for inspiration. So let me be inspired: there's something fruity going on with the grenadine syrup (and, especially for French people, something that reminds you a little bit of being a kid again), something smooth and sweet with the pear juice, something citrus-y and a tinge bitter with the Grand Marnier, and then something absolutely decadent with the champagne. And it doesn't have to be good quality champagne. I'm using cremant d'Alsace which is about a third of the price and just as yummy in this cocktail.

Just perfect for the beginning of party with friends, or for an after-work drink, or for a romantic evening. Delicate and fun enough to toast the warm weather and the return of spring.

Speaking of spring in Paris, even though I live in an area where winter is not too harsh and snow does not keep us inside for months at a time, spring has brought Parisians outside. They come to the parks. They sit at the outdoor tables at cafés and watch people go by. They put away their fondu pots and start thinking about lighter foods.

Simple Champagne Cocktail
(per cocktail)

1 frozen raspberry
1 Tbsp grenadine syrup
1 Tbsp pear juice
1 Tbsp Grand Marnier liqueur

Put the raspberry in the bottom of the glass. Measure the grenadine and Grand Marnier on top and then pour champagne over it until the glass is full. It layers prettily but the taste is better when you stir it (carefully so the champagne doesn't bubble over).

These Parmesan tuiles (a sort of thin appetizer wafer) are also perfect for spring parties. Not to mention, they go perfectly well with this champagne cocktail. So, since I've been a lazy blogger lately, this time you get two recipes in one post.

Parmesan Tuiles
(makes a good plateful)

25g of flour
100g of Parmesan
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 Tbsp sesame seeds

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Heat a frying pan on medium heat. When hot, spoon about 1 Tbsp of mixture into the pan and spread thin, almost like a tiny pancake. You can probably do this three or four times in the pan until you run out of space. The Parmesan will melt and when it seems all melty on one side, carefully flip the tuile and cook it on the other side, all in all only a couple minutes. Remove from frying pan and let cool on a rolling pin to give them a nice curved shape. Repeat until you've used all the Parmesan mixture.

Happy spring parties! And happy Easter!