Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shopping at the Farmer's Market in Toulon, France

Yes, I'm in the south of France right now. It's one of the perks of being married to a French man I guess :) We have to visit the family every so often. My parents-in-law especially want to see their only grandchild, my 3 year old son.

It was market day today! In fact the farmer's market in town is in operation every day except Monday, I believe. My mother-in-law who lives here says to go on Tuesday since the produce is the freshest. Tuesday it is then! Rain or shine, the market must go. Today it rained but in a way that worked out well for us since we were running late and less people would be at the market outside. I don't want all the good stuff to be gone! :)

The farmer's market in Toulon is one of my favorite markets to visit. It's a good size with lots of produce, flowers, and some merchandise like clothing and bags. Today, I was shopping for some vegetables since I will be cooking for my parents-in-law. Besides fruits and vegetables, other great things to buy at the market are olives, cut flowers, spices, and kitchen cloths like aprons and table cloths. The flowers in particular are very cheap and nice.

Because the market is in such a central location, we usually like to continue walking and shop a bit downtown. It's also close to Carrefour, a big supermarket in France. If there is something we can't find at the market, we just go to Carrefour to get it. The other added bonus is that it's close to my grandfather-in-law's apartment. After we are done shopping we just walk over to his place and rest. Perfect! :)

I love the basket presentation!

All this for just over 3 Euros. Score!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Homemade Spinach Feta Ravioli

We must have eaten pasta three or four times this week. No, I'm not carbo-loading for another race. Thank goodness! We just had a lot of leftover pasta dough from last weekend's pasta making and I had to use it up. Just for your information, 1 1/2 lbs of flour and 7 large eggs makes a heck of a lot of pasta! Luckily the pasta keeps well and will last up to two weeks if stored properly.

My very first homemade pasta was cannelloni. My second pasta was last weekend's linguini. This is my third time making pasta and I decided to try ravioli. I went for the basic square kind since it was my first attempt at filling them. Next time, I might use a cookie cutter and get a little playful. I had no time this week to experiment much because of other work commitments.

As it turns out, it's actually very easy and fairly fast to make ravioli. The most time consuming part was rolling the pasta through the pasta maker. Once I finished rolling a strip, I would cut it into rectangles, fill each rectangle and then fold and seal it over into a square. I didn't bother covering the finished pasta. I just floured them well and worked fast. The squares I filled probably had sides measuring around 1 1/2 to 2 inches.

I started with a ball of pasta dough and it took me maybe 1 1/2 hours to prepare the filling, roll the pasta (to thickness 8), fill them, cook them, and create the sauce to serve it with. It was enough to feed the three of us for two days. But my 3 year old boy eats like half a person :) On first bite, it was instant love from both my husband and 3 year old. I liked it too :)

Homemade Spinach Feta Ravioli
Serves 5-6

1 lb of fresh pasta (homemade or bought)


300 g pack of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
180g of feta, crumbled
1/2 tsp dry dill (more if using fresh dill)
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Sauce and Flavoring

2 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions (or 1 large onion), thickly sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/4 cup reserved pasta liquid or water
4 g chicken stock cube, crumbled
1 tsp sugar
salt/pepper to taste

Mix filling well and set aside. Fill pasta with filling any way you like but be careful not to over fill. I had about 1/2 cup of filling leftover when I used all my pasta. Flour each ravioli well before stacking them. When done, cook ravioli in salted boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse.

Heat olive oil in large frying pan or wok. Fry onions until translucent. Add chicken stock cube, water, sugar and cook for a couple of minutes. Add tomatoes last. Add ravioli and coat well in the sauce and flavorings. Turn off heat and let it sit. Serve with a bit of Parmesan if you wish.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chocolate Tasting Class 101

I went to my first ever chocolate tasting at XOXOLAT. It was better than I expected and the chocolates are very good. The host was very knowledgeable and I felt like I learned a lot. To be honest I didn't know much going in. When I comes to chocolate, I know that dark is good for you and the higher the cocoa content the better it is for you. I am also somewhat of a chocolate snob because I have tasted a lot of fancy expensive chocolates in France. Nothing else compares. I have also worked with chocolate in baking and made sweets like truffles but I am interested in making things like chocolate bars themselves.

The two layer box of chocolates we got to take home :)

100% cocoa bar
XOXOLAT imports a lot of their chocolate, which they then use to make bars and other chocolates for their store. A huge part of their store actually sells their imported chocolate bars. When I first browsed through the shop, I thought everything was super expensive. It turns out that they only import and use the best stuff, that is anything fair trade or above (e.g. equitable, rainforest etc.). Their most expensive chocolate, which is also the best in the world according to the host, is Amadeus (something like that?) from somewhere in Tuscany. It's $19 for 50 grams. Wow! I ended up buying a 100 gram 100% cocoa chocolate bar for $11 for my Mother-in-law. It's even too expensive for me to eat!

We sampled a lot of chocolate, all of high quality and all with loads of cocoa. We started out sampling the cocoa nibs, then the 100% cocoa chocolate. I actually liked the 100% stuff. I thought it would taste horrible but it was just very strong cocoa in a very smooth bar of chocolate. Like I mentioned, I ended up buying one of the 100% cocoa bars at the end of the class :) The cocoa taste would linger in your mouth, which is how you can tell it's good stuff. Apparently, the pure bars have a lifetime of ten years. They don't really ever go bad. The chocolate notes fade over time but they don't ever go bad so don't ever throw them away!

As the class continued, we slowly went down in cocoa content by sampling 70%, 80%, then 75% cocoa bars and comparing the differences. If it's not cocoa, it's sugar so by sampling these we could see what a huge difference the introduction of sugar made. A huge difference! Then came the flavored chocolates like salt/pepper, blue tortilla chips/lime, saffron/pistachio, sour cherry/chilli, lavender, bacon etc. After that came the drinking chocolate in dark followed by milk chocolate. Anything after tasting dark chocolate was just overly sweet to me. I couldn't even finish my milk chocolate and it was only 50% cocoa. Yuck!

Needless to say, I had a cocoa overdose by the time the class ended. It was also extra dumb of me to gulp down a grande mocha cookie frappuccino just before going to the chocolate tasting class. What was I thinking?! In fact, I kind of felt nauseous from all the chocolate tasting part way through class. Omg.

I liked the class. It was a fun hour. I couldn't help but think what a great idea it was to host chocolate tasting classes inside the store. It helps promote your products too and who doesn't like to demo food before buying it? It's brilliant! I am now hugely inspired and can't wait to try my hands on making some chocolates :) I had no idea you could do so much with chocolate. If you like savory chocolates, the possibilities are endless. Our host says that chocolates paired with cheese are good. So are fruit with herbs and mushrooms too! They even have a bar with pig blood. Yikes! I'm a bit afraid to try that one :S

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Carbo-loading for a Half-Marathon

Tomorrow I will be running in the Vancouver half-marathon. I don't feel like I have trained hard enough but what is done is done. Now I just rest and hope for the best :)

It's only a half (or 21KM) so I only ate pasta the day before. I did cut down on sweets all week and I'm trying to take it easy on the fattening foods like cheese. This week I have also been feeling rather crappy with a sore throat so I have been drinking lots of fresh ginger tea with honey and taking Cold-FX. It's so awful! I just want to sleep and rest but instead I have to take the daily prevention Cold-FX and forced myself to run outside:(

Low fat high carbohydrate pasta

My husband and I like to run races. We've done quite a few now but we started in 2002 and we took three years off racing when we became parents. By now we kind of know what works for us. We always eat pasta the day before our race. We stay clear of the red meats and raw vegetables since they are harder to digest. We also drink a lot the week before our race day. Remember drink until your urine is clear! ;)

My last run was on Wednesday. Since then I have been relaxing, mentally preparing myself and fueling my body. I made myself energy bars in the form of granola bars. I will be snacking on these when I wake up race morning. For this carbo-loading round, I made fresh pasta this evening and served it with a simple homemade tomato sauce with dried mushrooms, onions, garlic, truffle oil, and ground turkey. That's simple for me! Lol. I didn't want to get too sophisticated since the homemade pasta was suppose to be the highlight of the meal :) I then topped the dish with a bit of Parmesan before serving. It was so delicious, I had to control myself from overeating! I think the turkey tomato sauce is a keeper and I should make this same dish every time we need to carbo-load from here on out :)

Alright, muscles are fueled. Body is super hydrated. Bring it! See all you runners at the start line at 7AM.
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