Monday, December 23, 2013

NYE: Sparkle and Shine

This year has really flown by and this holiday season is coming fast with only 1 day for shopping left!  As I look back on 2013 I am so fortunate to have celebrated my first year of marriage, traveled through France and Italy (that post is coming soon, I promise!), and share my success and life with the people I love most.  This year I will be spending the holidays in California for the first time even though I've lived here for almost 11 years.  While my husband and I will be sharing an exquisite surf and turf dinner (check our Instagram for upcoming pics), I will definitely be missing my family and friends on the East Coast.

My lovely friends who I wrote about in November will be ringing in the New Year together...with all nine of their kids!!  I'm sad to miss the festivities again but am very excited to supply the recipes for their adult appetizers, the cocktail and a treat for the kids.  Last year my dear friend Erica from Conflicted Pixie helped us all in guiding us what to wear for the perfect Christmas Eve party while I suggested some great wines to serve.  This year she has out done herself and has found some beautiful, and always affordable, serving ware, glassware, and of course what to wear for this NYE.  Thanks to her my cocktail will be sure to sparkle in these glasses and my appetizers are bound to shine on these serving plates.  

So while they may be celebrating this holiday with their kids, they will be sure to do it in style!  Hopefully next year Greg and I will be able to join them and maybe we'll be adding to the kid count. 

Happy Holidays!

Baked Brie with Savory Fig Chutney

12.5 ounce brie round
4 fresh figs, roughly chopped (dried figs will work too)
1/2 cup fig spread 
1/4 cup roasted and salted pistachio nutmeats, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
French baguette or water crackers 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the rind from the top of the brie and dig out a small amount of the brie to make an indent.  Place the brie round in a parchment paper lined baking dish.  Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl add the figs, fig spread, and thyme.  Mix until all ingredients are well combined.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Pour the fig mixture on top of the brie.  Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes.  Sprinkle the pistachios on top and bake for another 5-10 minutes.  The center should be soft and the fig chutney should be hot.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.  

Carefully remove the baked brie from the baking dish using the the parchment paper.  Using the spatula carefully transfer the baked brie to a serving platter and serve with a sliced french baguette or water crackers.  Makes about 6-8 servings.

Sweet Potato and Chorizo Skewers with Roasted Garlic - Lemon Creme Fraiche Dipping Sauce

2 large sweet potatoes, washed and cut into 1 inch cubes or triangles
8 ounces dry cured Spanish chorizo, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 - 7.5 ounce container creme fraiche
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 garlic bulb, roasted and then chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
20-30 Small wooden skewers

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a small mixing bowl place the creme fraiche, lemon juice, and roasted garlic.  Mix until well combined.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer the creme fraiche dipping sauce into a small serving bowl and set aside.

Boil a large pot of water.  Place the sweet potatoes into the pot and boil for 3-4 minutes.  Remove the sweet potatoes from the pot and drain well.  Lightly grease a foil lined baking sheet with a bit of olive oil.  Place the boiled sweet potatoes on the prepared baking sheet.  Brush the sweet potatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, turning half way through, until crispy and turning golden brown.  

While the sweet potatoes are baking skewer the chorizo onto the wooden skewers.  Once the sweet potatoes are done remove from the oven and carefully skewer them onto the chorizo prepared skewers.  Serve hot with the creme fraiche dipping sauce.  Makes about 25-30 skewers.

Basil-Almond Pesto and Mascarpone Cheese Pastry Puffs with Sun Dried Tomato Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup almond-basil pesto
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
2 sheets pastry puff, thawed
1 - 8.5 ounce jar sun dried tomatoes in olive oil
4 small fresh tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
European Herbed Oil to drizzle
Wooden toothpicks

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

In a small food processor place the sun dried tomatoes with the olive oil in the jar and fresh tomatoes.  Pulse to combine.   Add the Greek yogurt, season with salt and pepper and pulse to combine.  Transfer the mixture into a serving bowl and drizzle with the European herbed oil.  Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl place the almond-basil pesto and mascarpone cheese.  Stir until well combined.  Set aside.

Roll out the puff pastry until it's about 11x14 inches.  Using a 2-1/2 inch square or round cookie cutter or ravioli cutter, cut out the pastries.  Place about 1/4 teaspoon of the pesto-mascarpone cheese mixture in the center of the pastry.  Bring up 2 opposite corners of the pastry and stick one toothpick in it securing it tightly.  Repeat with the other two corners.  Pinch any bits of the pastry together making sure the pesto mixture is tuck in tight.  

Place the pastry puff on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove the pastry puffs from the oven and discard the toothpicks and serve warm with the sun dried tomato dipping sauce.  Makes about 30-32 pastry puffs.

Sparkling Pear and Vanilla Bean Cocktail

2 cups Vodka (1.5 ounces for a single serving)
1-1/2 whole vanilla beans (1/4 of whole vanilla bean for a single serving)
1 - 32 ounce jar pear juice (I use R.W. Knudsen, 3 ounces for a single serving)
2-3 bottles prosecco
2 cinnamon sticks, plus extra for garnish

In a large airtight jar or container pour in the vodka.  Cut the vanilla beans in half and scrape the beans into the jar or container.  Then drop the whole vanilla bean in.  Stir to combine.  Add the pear juice and cinnamon sticks and stir to combine.  Marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.  

Making the cocktail: In an ice filled glass pour about half to 3/4 full of the pear vanilla vodka mixture.  Top with the prosecco and garnish with a cinnamon stick.  Makes about 10-12 servings.

Kids Corner

Because my Gingerbread Cookie Cocktail has been so popular this holiday season on Pinterest and the blog, I thought why not make it kid/non-alcoholic friendly.  Now my favorite cute kids can join in on the sparkly fun of ringing in the new year!

Gingerbread Cookie Ice Cream Float

1-1/2 quarts vanilla bean ice cream, softened
2 cups ginger snap cookies, crushed
1 six pack IBC Cream Soda

In a blender or food processor blend the vanilla ice cream and ginger snap cookies until combined.  Return the gingerbread cookie ice cream to carton and refreeze overnight.

Making the floats: In a glass (or plastic cup) scoop 1 scoop of ice cream into the glass and top with the cream soda.  Serve with a festive straw and spoon.  Makes about 8-10 servings.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Veggie Baked Eggs

This year, I made these veggie packed, baked eggs for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning.  I know, most of you think we are crazy to eat before eating some more.  However, it is proven that eating breakfast before indulging in a large meal will not only prep your stomach for the amount of food you will be eating, but also may keep you from piling up your plate with some unwanted (but oh-so-delicious) calories.  Also, it gave us cooks in the kitchen some energy to keep on cooking throughout the day.  

Veggie Baked Eggs

1 tablespoon butter
1 cup crimini mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon dry white wine
1/2 cup leeks, chopped (light green and white parts only)
1 cup curly red kale, chopped
5-6 large eggs
2-3 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a 1-1/2 quart baking dish with butter and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a small mixing bowl.  Add the milk and season with salt and pepper.  Whisk to combine.  Add the feta and stir to combine.  Set aside.

In a large pan melt the butter.  Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes until tender occasionally stirring.  Add the thyme and stir to combine and cook for another 1-2 minutes.  Add the wine and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed.  Add the leeks and cook for about 3 minutes, until tender.  Add the kale and cook stirring continuously for about 2-3 minutes until the kale has wilted a bit.  Season with salt and pepper.  

Pour the vegetable mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Pour the egg mixture on top and give it a good stir to combine all the ingredients.  Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes.  Makes 4-6 servings.

Notes:  My favorite thing about this recipe is that it is so versatile and lots of substitutions can be made depending on your taste.  Here are some additions or substitutions you could use.

Red or green bell peppers
Cheddar cheese
Breakfast sausage

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gourmet Gifts

'Tis the season of gift giving has arrived upon us.  For some have carefully pick out their gifts and have already wrapped them and put them under the tree.  While others are scurrying to finish up the last few people on their list.  And for those of you who are looking for a last minute, easy and inexpensive gift for that coworker, teacher or friend you almost forgot, here are a few ideas which are way more thoughtful and creative than a gift card.  Oh, and they also make great stocking suffers too!

Basket and oil bottle: T.J. Maxx, Spice jar: Ikea, Flour sack dish towels: Bed Bath & Beyond (no longer available).

Winter Blend Coffee

1-1/2 cups medium or dark roast whole coffee beans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole rainbow or black peppercorns

Place all ingredients into and airtight container.  Cover with a lid and shake to combine.  Grind and use when needed.

Christmas Candy Bark

2 - 12 ounce bags semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Nestle)
6 - .55 ounce Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, cut each cup into 8 wedges
3 - 1.4 ounce Hershey's Skor Bars, roughly chopped
1-1/2 cups Christmas red and green M&M's
1/2 cup premium quality white chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)

In a medium sauce pan, melt the semi-sweet chocolate chips over low heat, constantly stirring.  Pour the melted chocolate onto a 9x13 foil lined rimmed baking sheet and spread evenly to about 1/4 inch thick.  Sprinkle the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Skor Bar and M&M's over the melted chocolate.  Set aside.

In a small sauce pan over low heat melt the white chocolate chips constantly stirring.  Drizzle the white chocolate over the bark.  Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight until the bark has hardened.

When the bark is ready, remove it from the refrigerator and roughly chop into large irregular pieces.  Serve on a platter or wrap into small plastic bags.

Meyer Lemon-Basil Sea Salt

1 cup coarse sea salt
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 Meyer lemons, zested

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

In a small food processor combine the sea salt and basil.  Grind until the sea salt and basil are completely combined.  Add the Meyer lemon zest and pulse to combine.  Pour the sea salt mixture on to a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes until it has dried out.  Allow the sea salt to cool.  Once cooled enough to handle break apart the sea salt and store in an airtight container or spice jar.  Use as a finishing salt on fish, chicken or salads or simply use it as a seasoning while cooking.

Other Great Gourmet Gifts:
Infused oils
Wine infused compound butter
Five festive beers
Holiday wines

Monday, November 25, 2013

Friendships and Beets

I have to say I am extremely fortunate to be friends with a group of girls who I met in Kindergarten.  And when I say friends I don't just mean Facebook friends I mean real friends who I know I can always count on and trust.  Sure, I would say in the last almost 30 years we haven't always agreed but we have all seen each other through the tough times and triumphs of college, marriage, children, career changes, chasing dreams and simply life.  Of those five rare girlfriends that I have, I am proud of them and all of our accomplishments.  We have grown from six cute little girls who will always call Hershey, PA our home into a lawyer, a corporate queen, a writer, a children's photographer, a fashion guru and a dancer with a passion for food.  While I am living 3,000 miles away from them I think of them often and I am thankful for Facebook and other social media keeping us even better connected and updated on their cute kids, pictures of renovated kitchens, starting a new business and juggling it all at one time.  I am even more grateful for their continual support, creativity and inspiration.   

I was feeling a little out of ideas for this holiday season, especially after perusing through my Pinterest and seeing yet again another butternut squash recipe.  That was until my dear friend who I call the fashion guru, Erica (be on the look out for our new holiday joint post), sent me a lovely message through Instagram with this wonderful picture.  


I have a real love for beets and thought why can't it be a holiday side dish.  With winter squashes stealing the holiday show (yes, I'm also a lover of squash too) I thought it may be nice to see these red beauties paired with some fresh green beans and topped with a creamy creme fraiche dressing.  Besides, this side dish can be made a day or two in advance and doesn't take up oven space the day of!  This dish is perfect for me and all of my amazingly wonderful (and busy) girlfriends.

Roasted Beets and Fresh Green Bean Salad with  Creamy Creme Fraiche Dressing

16 ounces green beans, washed and trimmed 
3-4 medium red beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup creme fraiche
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Dash salt and pepper
1/4 cup pistachio nuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

First, prep the beets for roasting by placing the washed and dried beets onto a large piece of foil.  Drizzle the beets with the olive oil.  Wrap the beets in the foil and roast in the oven for 50 - 60 minutes until tender enough to poke through with a fork.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.  Once cool enough to handle peel the skin off the beets and slice into quaters.

In a small bowl combine the creme fraiche, whole grain mustard, yellow mustard, honey, and lemon juice.  Season with a dash of salt and pepper.  Set aside.

On a medium size platter place the fresh green beans and arrange the roasted beets on top.  Generously drizzle with the creme fraiche dressing.

Note: This dish can be served at room temperature or chilled.  The creme fraiche dressing can be made 1-2 days ahead and refrigerated.  Pistachios are also a great addition to this dish...I found this out in a later tasting, post photos.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Not Your Grandma's Mashed Potatoes

Yes, I am reinventing my Grandmother's tried and true mashed potato recipe.  Much like her, it has no flares.  It is simple, beautiful and always a crowd pleaser.  However, I thought why not try to embellish and "modernize" our family favorite (next to pumpkin pie) Thanksgiving side.

The smell of mashed potatoes during the holidays always takes me back to the many memories in my Grandmother's kitchen.  So much so that when Bath & Body Works released a candle that was buttered mashed potato scented my sister and I stood there in the store and inhaled the aroma for at least five minutes (or more).  We reminisced about our lovely "Gram" and how her house always smelled of the creamy buttery goodness.  To this day we still make her version(ish) every holiday season.

This year as I put a new twist on her mashed potato recipe I'm praying she's not rolling over in her grave and that she actually thinks is a great idea.  As I have admitted before I have an insane love for butter and I'm positive I get it from my her.  While I don't use it as a dip for my pretzels (yes she did this AND still had birdie legs) I do love to cook with it and I'm not afraid to use a whole stick, or more, in a recipe.

Will this be our new version of her recipe?  Who knows.  What I do know is that I am forever thankful for my Grandma.  For her love, kindness, and giving me a never ending passion for butter.

Roasted Garlic Browned Butter Mashed Parsnips and Potatoes

6-8 medium yellow potatoes, pealed and cut into large cubes
3-4 large parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks butter
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 bulb roasted garlic
1/4 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the potatoes and parsnips into a large pot.  Fill the pot with enough water to cover the potatoes and parsnips.  Boil on high heat until tender.  Strain the water and return the potatoes and parsnips back into the pot.  

While the potatoes and parsnips are boiling, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over low heat.  Stir continually.  The butter will first melt, then foam and finally brown.  Make sure to pay close attention as it is easy for the butter to go from brown to burnt quickly.  The process takes about 7-10 minutes.  Once the butter has browned remove the pan from the heat.  Add the 1 tablespoon of thyme and the roasted garlic.  Give it a quick stir just to combine the flavors.  Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cooked potatoes and parsnips.  Add the browned butter mixture and beat well to combine.  Add the milk and beat until desired smoothness is reached.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon the mashed potatoes and parsnips into a serving dish and garnish with the remaining 1 teaspoon of thyme.  Serve immediately.  

 Makes 8-10 our family, it only makes about 4 servings.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower and Leek Soup

When I think of fall I often think of cold crisp nights, leaves falling from the trees and yummy bowls of delicious soup for dinner to keep warm.  Then I remember that I moved 10 years ago to Southern California.  While we do have some leaves falling from the trees, have decorated the house with pumpkins, and even bought a few Bath & Body Works Autumn candles to keep us in the spirit, it's still 84 degrees today.  This however will not keep me from enjoying a warm bowl of soup full of fall flavors, even if I am wearing shorts and a tank top.

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year.  Although I miss the changing of the leaves I still can create my own Autumn ambiance at home with the smells of fall spices and foods creeping out from our kitchen and into the house to make us feel like putting on our sweaters.  

This roasted cauliflower and leek soup is a great alternative to your typical pumpkin or butternut squash soup for the fall and the holidays.  Not only will it warm your bellies and delight your senses, it's bound to be a wonderful starter to your Thanksgiving meal.  Oh, and don't forget the warm crusty bread for dipping!  I am always thankful for a good piece of warm crusty bread to dip.

Roasted Cauliflower and Leek Soup

1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large leek, sliced and chopped, reserve 1/4 cup for garnish
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 -1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped 
1/4 cup half and half (optional)
1/2 cup mild white cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of smoked paprika for garnish
Warm baguette (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour the olive oil coated cauliflower and garlic onto a large foil lined rimmed baking sheet.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a dutch oven or large sauce pan heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat.  Add the leeks and celery.  Saute for about 5-7 minutes until the celery and leeks are tender.  Add the roasted cauliflower and garlic and stir to combine.  Add the vegetable broth, thyme and sage and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and  simmer for 20-25 minutes until cauliflower is tender.

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth.  You can also do this in batches in a food processor or blender.  Add the cheddar cheese and stir until melted.  Pour in the half and half and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.

Place the reserved 1/4 cup of leeks on a small foil lined baking sheet.  Drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil over the leeks.  Roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes until slightly chard.  

Ladle the soup into bowls.  Garnish with the roasted leaks and a dash of smoked paprika.  Serve warm with a piece of baguette.  Makes 2-4 servings.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pumpkin Spiced Whoopie Pies

With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner I thought now would be the perfect time to share these lovely little desserts.   Thanks to my sister, Melissa, for creating this recipe, our family had the chance to really enjoy these delicious seasonal whoopie pies.  Making their debut on the dessert table at our beautiful cousin's wedding earlier this fall, without a doubt they will be returning to many more events and family gatherings this winter.  Pumpkin everything is a family favorite!

I don't know if I have ever expressed how lucky I find myself having a sister who shares in my passion for food and to top it off she's a baker!  I often feel that I fall a little short in the baking department, but with my sister's creativity, expertise, encouragement and support I feel pretty confident recreating her recipes.  This pumpkin whoopie pie is not only easy to make but will wow your holiday guests with the burst of pumpkin flavor and warm seasonal spices.  So in the spirit of a month full of giving thanks, I am thankful for my sister who continues to keep our holidays sweet!

Pumpkin Spiced Whoppie Pies

Whoopie Pie Ingredients
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2-1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
Dash of nutmeg
2 cups light brown sugar 
1 cup vegetable oil
2-1/2 cups pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Filling Ingredients
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon
2 cups confectionery sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium to large bowl whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.  Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl mix the brown sugar and vegetable oil using an electric hand mixer.  Add the pumpkin puree, eggs and vanilla.  Beat well to combine.  Slowly add the flour mixture beating well to combine and scraping the sides.  

Using a tablespoon or a small cookie scoop, place the batter on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes, depending on your oven.  Test the pies with a toothpick.  When the toothpick comes out clean remove from oven and allow to completely cool on cooling racks.

Making the filling - In a medium mixing bowl, mix the butter and cream cheese until well combined.  Add the cinnamon and vanilla extract.  Mix well.  Slowly add the confectionery sugar until well combined and is firm but still spreadable.  

Filling the pies - Pour all of the cinnamon cream cheese filling into a bakers piping bag.  Using a either a size 4b or 804 tip, pipe about about a heaping teaspoon onto the flat side of one pie.  Place another pie on top and sandwich together.  Repeat until all pies are used.  Note: You can also use a large plastic baggie and cut a small tip off one of the bottom corners to create a pipping bag.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Food Blogger Travels Part 1: France

View from the top of Notre Dame
Greg and I recently went on our honeymoon/first anniversary trip to France and Italy. We wanted to share with our readers our experience, our new love for Europe and most importantly the food we ate and where we ate at.   We begin with the first city we stayed in, Paris.

When Audrey Hepburn said "Paris is always a good idea" she was right.  I couldn't have fell more in love with a city than Paris.  The charm, the beautiful balconies, the shops, the markets, the boulangeries, the brasseries...oh, I could go on and on about the amazing things that this city has to offer.  While we visited the Musee du Louvre, Musee D' Orsay, Musee Rodin, took a boat cruise on the Seine River, we really indulged ourselves in the French culture the best way we know how, through food.

Jardin du Luxembourg

To start off, I can say that we both really enjoyed our relaxing time in the gardens, Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Tuileries.  The perfect bottle of Bordeaux, some cheese and a baguette made many of our afternoons.  Also, the delicious sandwiches filled with cheese, meats, tomatoes and lettuce sold at most markets and cafes were also a good pairing to our french wine in the park.  And yes, we drank from small plastic cups like everyone else.

Black olive baguette

Let's talk about the bread in France.  I don't think I've had bread that fresh where it is perfectly crusty on the outside and light, airy and soft on the inside.  We had bread everyday.  OK, I admit, at every meal.  We just couldn't get enough.  The formage (the cheese) was not only amazing but also intimidating to buy.  There were so many to choose from.  Greg and I popped into a shop one morning so we could take some with us on our train ride to Nice.  The cheese was beautifully displayed and smelled, well, stinky but delicious.  The woman helped us the best that she could since her English wasn't the best and my french was a little lacking in the cheese description department.   So we each just picked out a cheese that was reasonably priced (some were 45 euro!) and looked good.  We ended up with a "stinky" goat cheese, which Greg picked, and a creamy like brie with a salty finish which I picked.  Both were wonderful!
Delicious espresso.

Our morning coffee usually consisted of a shot of espresso.  This took a little getting used to since we Americans are so used to a full cup of coffee.  However, we were happy to convert to a new morning ritual.  We enjoyed stopping at any cafe in the middle of our day for a pick me up.

Enjoying our Croque Madame and Monsieur.

One of our favorite breakfast meals we had was in the Latin Quarter where we enjoyed a Croque Madame and Croque Monsieur with our espresso, followed by some mulled wine to warm us up from the chill in the air that morning.  Every cafe had such charm and warmth to it that we wanted to stop, eat and enjoy a glass of wine at all of them.  
Mulled wine

Having an aperitif is very popular in France and Greg and I did not skimp on this part of the culture at all.  We really enjoyed this time of the day, taking our time to sip on a great glass of red or refreshing rose along with some snacks before dinner.  As for dinner we indulged in these wonderful restaurants.

The man who shucked my oysters.
L'Atlas (11 Rue de Buci, 75006 Pairs, France):  We were fortunate to be in Paris during oyster season.  I had the freshest oysters from Normandy at L'Atlas and had the opportunity to watch them be shucked right in front of me!  Along with my oysters I also had an amazing french onion soup, the best Greg and I have ever tasted.  Greg enjoyed a steak and pomme frites (fries).  The service was slow at first but proved to be an amazing place with great people watching.

Les Crocs L'Ogre (81 Rue Bosquet, 75007 Paris, France):  This steakhouse was amazing!  I know I use that word a lot but it's the only word to describe this restaurant.  The food was so indescribably delicious that we actually forget to take pictures.  The service was wonderful!  Our server explained the menu to us in detail.  He also recommended a wonderful bottle of wine.  We began with our first steak tartare here which was so fresh and full of flavor.  There is also a butcher there inside the restaurant.  You have the option to choose your own meat for your entree and have it cut by the butcher.  However, feeling a little overwhelmed by that Greg chose the chef's special which was a fillet perfectly cooked.  Our dinner ended with a wonderful chocolate mousse and a complimentary liqueur, La Vieille Prune.  The server said the liqueur was to help with digestion.  It was strong and wonderful.  As far as digestion, we think it worked.

7eme Vin (68 Rue Bosquet, 75007 Paris, France):  On our last night in Paris we ate at this wonderfully quaint restaurant.  Without a reservation we had to wait for about 30 minutes, but with a glass of wine in our hand as we stood outside, we didn't mind.  We enjoyed the most exquisite buttery escargot and fresh oysters for a starter.  For our entree Greg had a beautiful beouf bourguignon while I had a very tender duck dressed in a sweet honey ginger sauce.  Both were beyond delicious.  We finished with a dessert and continued our evening with a bottle of wine under the Eiffel Tower.
Boeuf Bourguignon

Duck with sweet honey ginger sauce

The Gatsby (64 Rue Bosquet, 75007 Paris, France):  This swanky Parisian bar was great for a late night creative cocktail.  Greg and I both enjoyed the spicy bourbon cocktail the bartender made for us.  We were wowed with the lovely ginger, lemongrass, coriander (cilantro), gin cocktail that I would love to recreate.  This place is a must if you are looking for a local place to go for a non-wine drink.

French macarons.
After all of our adventures in Paris we traveled by train to Nice.  The train ride was wonderful as we saw the breath taking country side while sipping wine and eating our baguette and cheese we purchased in Paris.  While we unfortunately didn't get to experience some of the restaurants we had hoped to in Nice, due to the fact that they are closed Sunday and Monday, we had a wonderful time.  We climbed the Chateau for a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Nice.  Along the way we met an American woman Debi, who was checking out the city before her art students arrived for classes...yes I'm jealous she got to stay!  Check out her blog here.  We ate at the beach side cafes, indulged in macaroons and sipped on champagne as we watched the sunrise on our last day there.

Toast at sunrise in Nice.

France exceeded all of our expectations and has both of us wanting more.  More french bread, espresso, fresh seafood, exploring of the city, and leisurely days in the gardens.  Next time we go Greg and I want to stay in the country side and can't wait to experience the culture there.
Sunrise in Nice.