Wednesday, March 31, 2010

DIY Play Kitchen for Hanae and Luca

Is it in the genes or are they just mimicking our own behaviors? Hanae and Luca are really into cooking. We baked a quatre quart cake and a quiche lorraine with Hanae the other day. She did so many things on her own that I was impressed. Luca always wants to watch what we are doing and loves banging on pots and pans (well maybe that makes him a musician more than a cook...).

They do a lot of pretend cooking as well and we would love to encourage that. We shopped for play kitchens for a while but were either disappointed by the quality and look of the toys (the plastic ones) or horrified by their price (the wooden ones).

Right around the same time our friends launched a brilliant parenting website called Parents Guild. It is a community site that works much like Wikipedia, with its content being added by users. Questions are asked and answered by parents (and grand-parents, etc.) in a very friendly and honest way. One of the questions that came up was how to find a play kitchen that would be "gender neutral" (most play kitchens are pink or girly one way or another). Several links were posted showing DIY projects and that's how we got inspired to build our own kitchen...

It was a lot of fun to plan the design and the execution was a lot easier than we had anticipated. This is the kind of project that will keep evolving with new accessories but it is already functional and our chefs have been busy...

The table, wood board (sold as-is), pot hanger and stainless steel cookware are from Ikea. The "sink" is a cake mold from Smart and Final. The faucet and various screws and hooks are from Lowe's. The curtains' fabric is from Eddie's Quilting Bee (Sunnyvale). We reused the plastic stove and utensils that the children had received as birthday and Christmas gifts.

The project cost us around $90 total but it could have been cheaper (we bought everything new...). If anyone is interested I can give step-by-step instructions... Let me know.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Herbes de Provence

When we first moved to the US (10 years ago already...) we came unprepared, that is without a very essential ingredient: Herbes de Provence. Getafix (a.k.a. Panoramix, the famous druid in Asterix's village of invincible Gauls) knew better and always had mistletoe (gui) in his pockets to prepare his magic potion. Herbes de Provence must be as widely used in France as ketchup is here. They are such a great addition to any grilled meat, fish and vegetables. They flavor baked dishes as well as stews. It's just hard living without them. So we looked for Herbes de Provence in gourmet stores but at the time all we could find was a mix of herbs that didn't smell or taste anything like what we were looking for. The mixes were either very bland or had the wrong kinds of herbs – we even found a mix that had lavender flowers in it and was just unusable. So the next time we went to France we brought back a jar of the true stuff. Ten years later things might have changed but we still bring our herbs back from France and I thought I'd share what's in the mix.

Well as it turns out not all Herbes de Provence mixes are equal there either (of course!). I recently bought a fancy glass jar (Ducros Label Rouge) with herbs that are certified grown in Provence, France. The ingredient list goes as follows:
  • Rosemary (romarin) – 26%
  • Savory (sariette) – 26%
  • Oregano (origan) – 26%
  • Thyme (thym) – 19%
  • Basil (basilic) – 3%
I also have a not-so-fancy plastic jar in my pantry (also by Ducros, which is a McCormick company since 2000) which ingredients are:
  • Savory, rosemary (25%)
  • Wild thyme (serpolet), marjoram (marjolaine), oregano, basil, thyme (7%)
Although this second mix looks more complex, with more herbs, the percentages don't total to 100... which means either there is something else in the mix (hay? :-)) or hopefully they just made a mistake. Oh and we don't know where the herbs were grown and with what kind of quality standards...

Lastly, my Larousse de la cuisine cookbook indicates that Herbes de Provence are made of:
  • thyme, rosemary, bay leaf (laurier) and savory.
I guess the best would be to make one's own mix with one of the above list of ingredients. Keep in a dry and dark environment.

[Update (04/08/2010)] Here is the official site for the "Label Rouge" certified Herbes de Provence (all in French... sorry). Also see my comment to this post.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Happy birthday to me

There is always a good reason to bake a chocolate cake. I followed my favorite recipe (that you can find here) but used ramekins (6 of them) instead of a cake mold. I didn't butter the ramekins or line them with parchment paper; I just poured the dough right in. I reduced the baking time to 10 minutes. We ate the mini-cakes in the ramekins, which saved us the risky unmodling I described in my earlier post.
I used 6 of the 9.7 ounces of a Scharffenberger's 62% cocoa semisweet chocolate baking bar.

Other birthday celebrations included a delicious Southern lunch in the city with a dear friend plus cheese cake on Union Square, a just as delicious and fun Vietnamese dinner with more dear friends (at Xanh in Mountain View), an amazing day-after tapas lunch with Pierre (at Joya in Palo Alto), and Hanae singing "Happy Birthday to Maman" and telling me I turned 2.