Mar 19 2018
Family dinners are always an important time for the Younans household. Jacinta is grateful to have grown up with a cultural diversity that includes great homemade food.
Meet Jacinta – a personal trainer who also teaches reformer Pilates, runs mindfulness workshops and coaches women with body image issues to help them overcome their struggles. Her coaching process is based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), *an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, United States in the 1970s. NLP’s creators claim there is a connection between neurological processes (neuro-), language (linguistic) and behavioral patterns learned through experience (programming), and that these can be changed to achieve specific goals in life. (*source: Wikipedia).
Jacinta: I’ve been interested in eating well & keeping my body healthy for as long as I can remember. I spend a lot of time working out. I do strongman class once a week which I absolutely love. There is something about lifting heavy weights which I find almost therapeutic and meditative. My mind goes quiet and my focus is solely on moving the weight. Growing up, we would have family dinner around the table every night, so meal time was always an important time for everyone in my house. I feel really grateful to have grown up with a cultural diversity that includes great homemade food.
My mum is Australian but she cooks the best Lebanese food I’ve ever tasted – what a woman! My dad grew up in a village in North Lebanon. I had the privilege of visiting it earlier this year and seeing what remains of his childhood home. Food is a really important part of the culture in Lebanon and in my Dad’s village you can get a sense of how much time and effort goes into cultivating the land and preparing dishes to share with family and friends. A lot of Lebanese food you get in restaurants here isn’t authentic, mainly because the real stuff can take quite a bit of time to prepare.
Me and Mum decided to make stuffed zucchinis as well as the lamb and rice dish because this is what was served to me (amongst other things) at a tiny outdoor restaurant in my dad’s village earlier this year. The zucchinis were grown in their vegetable garden. I can imagine my dad eating similar food when he grew up, and I think it is something that is common in many mediterranean cultures – the Anthropologist in me loves that!
The grey zucchinis are perfect for this dish as they are much more firm to have the stuffing in. You can use the scooped out flesh for an omelette – nothing goes to waste!
Who: Jacinta Younan
Home is: Wherever I decide it to be, so right now it’s Sydney
Family origin: My dad is Lebanese and my mum is Australian
I can’t live without: I’m pretty sure if you cut me open I’d bleed green tea
Occupation: Personal Trainer and body image coach
Dream Job: Whatever inspires me over time
Currently I am obsessed with: Self-development and NLP
Childhood taste: Mangoes! Hot summer days spent in the pool, rollerblading around my neighbourhood and eating mangoes
I will always have in my pantry: Organic Eggs
I learnt to cook from: My mum. Who isn’t even Lebanese but cooks the best Lebanese food I’ve ever tasted – what a woman!
Currently I’m listening to: Maya Jane Coles, Jamie XX and the original Blade Runner soundtrack
One day I must visit: My dad’s village was the top of my bucket list, but now that I have done that I think South America is next for me. I have never been1
Go to meal: Eggs on toast. Quick and easy when I’m in a hurry
I am really good at: Eating. I eat a lot. It’s a skill
The unforgettable meal: Chateaubriand at Hawksmoor in London
My piece of Sydney: Sunday breakfast at Bar Zini in Pyrmont
Guilty pleasure: Cheese & crackers
Who does the dishes: Whoever didn’t do the cooking
Another favourite by the Younans, this lentil and basmati side dish that’s cooked over low heat for a while with caramelised onion was really really flavoursome and easy to make!
Place 1 cup of brown lentils in a saucepan with salt and 3 cups of water. Bring to boil over high heat. Add another cup of cold water and boil for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile heat oil in a frying pan over high heat and cook 5 large brown onions that have been finely chopped, stirring regularly until they are caramelised and golden.
When onions are golden, remove them from oil and place into the saucepan with the lentils. Add ¾ cup rice and cook over low heat until water has been absorbed and the lentils and rice are tender/cooked through.
Love the stock fat separator gadget used here, such a clever thing and make for a healthier broth.
You can’t have a Lebanese luncheon without a home made tabouli.
Above is green beans cooked with caramelised onion on low heat for couple of hours. The result is super soft and really tasty beans. Perfectly caramelized onions are secret to Lebanese comfort dishes.
Prepare 2kg of green beans by cutting the ends, breaking in half and washing thoroughly
. In a large saucepan, caramelise 3 large finely chopped brown onions in some olive oil, stirring regularly. When browned/caramelised, turn down on low heat and add beans to the saucepan. Add salt to taste and continue to stir until beans are tender. Takes about 2-3 hours.
I had a great afternoon watching Jacinta and her Mum doing their magic in the kitchen. The Lebanese luncheon was such a delight and I have cooked these recipes a couple of times now. Give it a go for one of those dinner party you will host. Most of the dishes can be prepared well in advance and can be a fun activity to do with your family members.
Lebanese Lamb Rice Pilaf
Ingredients - Serves 6
- 1 lamb shoulder with bone
- 1 large brown onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stick of celery
- 3-4 tbs of Baharat spice mix
- 1 tbs black peppercorns
- 4-5 cinnamon sticks
- 1 cup roasted almonds
- 2 cups long grain or basmati rice
- 1 cup frozen peas
- Salt to taste
- Put lamb, onion, carrot, celery, mixed spice, peppercorns and salt into a large saucepan on high heat. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 4-5 hours. The longer you cook the more tender the meat will be.
- When cooked, remove the shoulder and strain stock, removing the fat from the top of the stock. Discard the fat and the vegetables from the stock, put the strained stock aside.
- Meanwhile, put two cups long grain rice (washed and drained) and one cup frozen peas into a saucepan. Pour four cups of the lamb stock over the rice, cover the saucepan and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until stock is absorbed and rice is cooked (about 15-20 minutes).
- While the rice is cooking, remove the meat from the bone and break into pieces.
- To serve, put rice into serving dish, arrange meat on top with the roasted almonds. Can also garnish with chopped continental parsley to taste.
Lebanese Stuffed Zucchini
Ingredients - Serves 6
- 10-12 medium sized grey Zucchinis
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 chicken breast, chopped finely (can also use lamb)
- ¾ cup of basmati rice
- 1 medium onion, chopped finely
- 1 cup finely chopped continental parsley
- 1 cup finely chopped mint
- 2 medium tomatoes – finely chopped
- 1 tbs ghee, melted
- 2 tbs Baharat mixed spice
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Wash the zucchinis and cut off the tops. Gently scoop out the flesh, being careful not to break the skin. Rinse again well and drain the hollowed out zucchinis
- Mix together all the ingredients for the stuffing in a bowl. Fill each zucchini by about ¾ with the mixed stuffing (try not to ‘pack’ the stuffing too tightly as you need to allow for rice expansion) .
- Place zucchinis in a saucepan. Mix 4 tablespoons of tomato paste with enough water to cover the zucchinis. Bring to the boil and then simmer until cooked (about 45mins-1 hour).
Mar 1 2018
The perfect accompaniments by the perfect hosts
Here’s Part II of our beautiful Sunday with the Cojans in Fontainebleau last spring and their most kind hospitality. We arrived around 10:30am and Isabelle had put together a variety of snack bowls in the living room. It was my first taste of French breakfast radish and it was one of the most amazing things I have ever tasted! Crisp, sweet and with a bite to it. The cherry tomatoes were also unbelievably sweet and tart at the same time. Maybe it’s just me, but I love the idea of serving bowls of baby vegetables as a snack.
For lunch, Isabelle started making her mum’s recipe of Gougère and Jean-Pierre was preparing his signature strawberry sherbet (with their home grown strawberries picked in the summer by the grandchildren and frozen for storage) for dessert.
Gougère is a baked savoury choux pastry made of choux dough mixed with cheese. There are many variants such as using Gruyère or Comté cheese but here Isabelle used grated Emmental cheese.
One of the crucial step of making a succesful dough is to keep stirring on the stove top on low heat. The dough gets thicker and harder to stir – great arm exercise before stuffing your face with these delicious pastries!
Who: Isabelle & Jean-Pierre
Home is: Fontainebleau (60km south of Paris), France
Family Origin: Isabelle: Vendée (Western France) ; Jean-Pierre: Paris
I can’t live without: Isabelle : Hiking shoes ; Jean-Pierre : A camera
Occupation: Isabelle: University Professor (Geology) ; Jean-Pierre: Aerospace executive (soon to retire)
Dream Job: Isabelle: Geologist! ; Jean-Pierre: Mine!
Currently I am obsessed with: ???
Childhood taste: Isabelle: Strawberries ; Jean-Pierre: Rhubarb jam (and pies)
I will always have in my pantry: Chocolate, saucisson and cheese!
I learnt to cook from: Mum (both of us) ; Grandma (for Isabelle)
Currently I am listening to: Isabelle: birds ; Jean-Pierre: mostly classical + jazz
One day I must visit: Isabelle: Planet Mars ; Jean-Pierre: Antarctica
Go to meal: ???
I am really good at: Isabelle: Dreaming ; Jean-Pierre: Sherbets
The unforgettable meal: Isabelle: Le’s dad soft shell crab ; Jean-Pierre: Seafood platter & king crab
My piece of Sydney: Isabelle: Bondi to Coogee walk ; Jean-Pierre: Taronga zoo
Guilty Pleasure: Chocolate! (there are 2 kinds of people: those who do not like chocolate and those who love chocolate among other things)
Who does the dishes: mostly Isabelle, Jean-Pierre somewhat, the sushi/pizza outlet exceptionally
You all should definitely try make this at home, the smell of it coming out of the oven is unbelievable! Isabelle’s Gougère had that cheesy crunch on the outside and pillowy on the inside. We had it served here with romaine lettuce and cherry tomatoes. Simple and tasty.
A little bit of background about the wine chosen for this dish. Jura is a mountain range shared by France and Switzerland. It culminates at about 1800 m altitude, the crest line being the Franco-Swiss border, it is quite reknowned for cross-country skiing and is the coldest part of France with winter temperatures hitting regularly at -30°C.
Anyway, Jura produces a nice original wine. It is not a prestigious wine but a regional one, light and pleasant to drink (and quite affordable, which tends to become difficult these days for a good wine). Red wines typically use local grape varieties called “Trousseau” and “Ploussard” not found in other regions. They can age 3 to 5 years. The region also produces decent whites using mostly Chardonnay, and another local grape called “Savagnin”. The latter is used to make a world-unique, extremely full-bodied white wine called “Vin Jaune” which can age as long as 100 years!
Gougère is from Burgundy and Franche-Comté, which are 2 neighboring regions to Jura.
In Burgundy, Gougère is generally served cold when tasting wine in cellars, but also can be served warm as an appetizer.
Everything was delicious and complimented each other. I don’t usually drink because it gives me an awful headache especially from the red wines I tried in Australia. But the Arbois-Pupillin was delicious, easy to drink and didn’t cause me any headache! It was truly one of the most unforgettable meals I’ve ever had. Thank you again Isabelle and Jean-Pierre! Looking forward to having you back in Sydney soon.
Ingredients - Serves 6-8
- 250ml water
- 75g butter
- 125g flour
- 125g Swiss cheese (Gruyère or Emmental) 100g in small cubes and 25g grated
- 4 eggs
- salt and pepper to taste
- nutmeg (optional)
- Bring water, butter, salt and pepper to boil. When it swells (like boiling milk would do), adding in the flour and nutmeg slowly.
- Remove from the stove and stir. The dough should be quite thick, otherwise add more flour.
- Back to the stove. Reduce the moisture in the dough by stirring continuously (and fast) on medium low heat for about 3 minutes. The dough must form a ball and not stick to the saucepan.
- Remove from the stove again and let cool for about 6-8 minutes.
- Add the eggs one by one until all mixed in well into the dough.
- Save a bit of yolk from the last egg for coating the dough. Once all the eggs have been added, mix in the cheese cubes.
- Divide the dough in portions of 2-3 tablespoons on a greased baking tray and coat with the remaining egg yolk.
- Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake for 30-45 mins. The dough will triple in volume. The crust must be golden and somewhat dry otherwise the Gougère will rapidly deflate once out of the oven. Remember not to open the oven while baking!
Ingredients - Serves 8-10
- 500g fresh strawberries
- 200g white caster sugar
- 30ml water
- a few drops of vanilla extract or one fresh vanilla beans
- juice of a lemon
- Prepare the sugar syrup. Bring to boil the water, sugar and vanilla for 3-4 minutes until fully transparent. If you have a sugar hydrometer, bring the syrup to 19°Baumé. If too low keep boiling, if too high add water. The density of the syrup is key to the sherbet texture.
- In a food processor/blender, blend the strawberries and lemon juice until it’s become smooth puree.
- Pour the strawberry puree into the cooled syrup while stirring. NOT the other way round as it might get the sugar to crystalize.
- If you have time leave the mixture in the fridge for a few hours.
- Then pour the mixture into an ice cream maker. Machine with a built-in compressor will produce the best results in terms of texture.
Jan 31 2018
Once upon a time in a quaint town of Fontainebleau, France…
May 2017, It was a long time planned holiday and finally we arrived in Fontainebleau. Our most delightful host the Cojan family, showed us around the city and hosted beautiful lunches and dinners. We spent a couple of weekends there soaking the beauty French spring had to offer, from the colourful blooms to the tastiest fresh produce I had ever experienced!
We played Toad in the Hole game, the French version which is called Jeu de Grenouille. This particular one belonged to these children’s great great grandfather. What a great family heirloom!
It was a warm-ish spring day and our host Thierry decided to cook up an Aussie BBQ. He is married to an Aussie girl and had spent some time living in Sydney. Everything was super simple to prepare, the secret ingredient is having the freshest good quality produce. I can’t emphasise that enough. There was no marinating involved, just a bit of butter to moisten the eggplants, wrap the garlic bulbs in the foil to seal the flavour and a generous squeeze of lemon juice and sea salt to taste and Voila!
After our long lazy lunch, everyone played a bit more in the backyard. The kids explored every corner and saw bumble bees and really huge slimy snails. Then we decided to check out the annual plant market in the the city square.
And of course, a trip to Fontainebleau won’t be complete without a visit to the forest. So enchanting and full of interesting boulders. It’s my husband’s dream playground. He was super psyched when our then 2 year old girl decided to climb every rock she chose.
I hope you enjoy this way overdue post. It’s been almost a year since I took these photos and today writing this post make me want to go back there again asap. There’s one more post I have on the recipes from the Cojan family, stay tuned 🙂
BBQ Sea Bream
Ingredients - Serves 6-8
- 3 medium size sea breams
- 3 big eggplants halved
- 6 corn cobs
- 3 garlic bulbs
- handful of field mushrooms
- Halved the eggplants and score the flesh in diagonal lines then brush with melted butter and a touch of sea salt.
- Wrap the garlic bulbs in aluminium foil.
- Place the fish in the BBQ holder with scales on for easy peel when it’s cooked.
- Place everything in the BBQ for about 10 minutes.
- Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon juice and sea salt.