Thanks inspirational van!

Thanks inspirational van!

The moment that you find a pigeon feather on your floor, see your open window, and realize that definitely, definitely, a pigeon has been in your bedroom today. 

The moment that you find a pigeon feather on your floor, see your open window, and realize that definitely, definitely, a pigeon has been in your bedroom today. 

You know you’re missing corn on the cob a little too much when you relate strongly to Teddy the porcupine. 

Goat Cheesecake with Spiced Grapes

I might be only person who could possibly create a cake out of a salad cookbook, but given that Patricia Wells’ new cookbook Salad as a Meal came out in stores yesterday, baking a cake seemed like a celebratory thing to do. 

For the past two weeks, I’ve been participating in the Salad as a Meal Challenge and blogging about recipes from the cookbook. And while it’s been fun, I asked myself how could I make this even more challenging? Or more specifically, how do I take a cookbook focused on fresh, healthy meals and make something decadent and over the top?

The answer: take a recipe for spiced grapes destined for a cheese plate and use it to top cheese…cake. Goat cheesecake. 

I made the grapes about a week ago and they’d been pickling in the fridge ever since. The honey and vinegar blend flavored with peppercorns and spices resulted in a complex, sweet and sour syrup that was a beautiful accompaniment to a sophisticated cheesecake. For the spiced grapes, you’ll need to get your hands on the cookbook, but for the goat cheesecake simply scroll below. It’s lovely on it’s own. 

Goat Cheesecake


18 graham crackers (approximately 2 1/2 cups crushed- digestive biscuits would also work nicely) 

6 tbs melted butter

2 tbs sugar 

16 oz. cream cheese (In Paris, I substitute St. Moret) 

8 oz fresh goat cheese 

3/4 cup sugar 

2 tsps good vanilla extract

3 large eggs, room temp 


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Grease a 9 inch springform pan and wrap the outside tightly with aluminum foil.

2. Melt 6 tbs of butter and set aside. In a food processor, pulverize the graham crackers into fine crumbs. Pour the crumbs (approximately 2.5 cups) into a medium sized bowl. Stir in the 2 tbs of sugar and then mix the melted butter until thoroughly integrated. 

3. Pour the crumbs into the spring form pan and press to form an even layer on the bottom and then continue to press along the remaining crumbs along the side walls of the springform pan. This recipe makes ALOT of crust so don’t be alarmed at how high up the crumbs go.  

4. Bake the crust for approximately 10 minutes at 350 degrees F so that it darkens and crisps up a little. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees F. Set the crust aside to cool while you make the filling. 

5. In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, goat cheese, sugar and vanilla extract together for a minute or two until thoroughly mixed. The mixture should be fluffy and slightly resemble buttercream frosting. 

6. Add each of the 3 eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. When properly mixed, it should resemble a large bowl of vanilla pudding. 


7. Spoon immediately into the parbaked crust. It’s really key that if you haven’t already, you wrap the springfoil pan tightly with aluminum foil as it keeps the water from leaking in. Take a large roasting pan and place the springform pan in it. Fill the roasting pan with water until it’s about halfway up the side of the springform pan. Bake at 325 degrees fahrenheit for 45 minutes. The cheesecake should still be slightly wobbly in the center when you remove it. 

8. Very, very carefully remove the waterbath from the oven and try not to spill almost boiling water all over yourself. Remove the cheesecake from the waterbath and allow to cool in the springform pan on a rack. 

If the crust is higher than the filling just cut the extra off with a knife and eat it. 

9. When fully cooled, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours. When ready to serve, remove the cheesecake from the springform pan and place on a cakeplate.

Serve alone, topped with your favorite fruit compote, or as I did, with Spiced Grapes from Salad as a Meal. I poured a thin layer of the flavorful syrup over the top of my cheesecake, halved all of the pickled grapes and arranged them on top of the cheesecake. It was a messy, sticky operation but whole grapes rolling around the top of a cake seemed like a disaster. Don’t add the syrup and grapes until right before serving as the syrup will soak into the crust otherwise. 

The result is a not-too sweet, tangy cheesecake with lots of crust. Best salad ever. 

Salad as a Meal Challenge: Marinated Artichokes

Homemade marinated artichokes from Salad as a Meal made a tangy addition to an Italian antipasto platter I put together for a party earlier this week alongside marinated olives, mushrooms, 36 month old parmegiano-reggiano with balsamic jelly, and a pigsworth of prosciutto. 

Lucky reader Camille will have the opportunity to make this recipe or one of hundreds of others from Patricia Wells’ Salad as a Meal as she won the giveaway from last week. E-mail me your address Camille to receive your copy! 

Salad as A Meal Challenge: Eggplant, Goat Cheese, and Tapenade Towers

Threw this together for a quick ladies luncheon over the weekend and this hearty salad ended up being much fancier than I was. Not that it was hard-I was dressed more or less like a vagabond. In my defense, I was headed out for a long walk in the woods, and the lady I was lunching with has been my friend since we were two so she’s seen just about every shameful outfit I’ve ever worn. 

So although the hostess was a bit disheveled, the salad was not. I suppose if you stack anything into a tower it looks more impressive. Patricia Wells calls this dish "Provence on a Plate", but since that doesn’t actually give you an idea of what it is- I’ve taken the liberty of renaming it Eggplant, Goat Cheese, and Tapenade Towers. Layers of warm roasted eggplant alternating with cool slices of tomato, fresh herbs, tangy goat cheese, and tapenade. It was delicious, and will be even more so come summertime when it’s actually tomato and eggplant season. 

Can’t offer you the recipe unfortunately, but for a chance to win the cookbook yourself go here or buy it here

A few notes on the recipe:

  • Don’t bother peeling the tomatoes. The slices hold up better with the skin on, it’s more fiber, and really, peeling tomatoes is a pain.
  • You’re supposed to make the tapenade yourself, but I just bought some from the Whole Foods salad bar and it worked splendidly. 
  • Forgot basil and substituted arugula instead- it worked beautifully! Very easy to tweak the herbs or cheeses in this recipe. 
Spiced Grapes and a Giveaway!


Just made spiced grapes from Patricia Wells’ new cookbook Salad as a Meal (out in stores April 5th). They have to pickle in the fridge in a sweet, tangy spiced brine for at least a week so stay tuned. 


I can’t publish this recipe unfortunately but I can offer you the chance to win a copy of the cookbook for yourself!


Leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite salad by Friday and I’ll use a random number generator to select a winner. So get to it salad-hungry people and comment away!

What’s your favorite salad???

Salad as a Meal Challenge: Patricia’s Cobb Salad with Birthday Bacon

After an epic journey through Italy and back to France that can only be described as special, I touched down in Boston this week just in time for my dad’s birthday. Stepped off the plane and I made…salad. 

Cobb Salad to be specific, from Patricia Wells’ new cookbook Salad as a Meal. It was easy to throw together after 7 hours on a plane, healthy, made up mostly of pantry staples, and it included bacon. 

Bacon is the smell of celebration in the Down household. Every holiday morning begins with bacon for my family (minus me). Slim Jim, as we call my dad, is usually a very healthy eater so Cobb salad with a celebratory side of bacon seemed like the perfect meal.  

The perfect gift in his opinion were two 12 inch shoe horns made from real horns. It’s unclear to me why anyone would need one massive shoe horn, much less two, but the heart wants what it wants. And clearly, he was thrilled. 

No endangered animals were used in the making of these ridiculous shoehorns.

Slim Jim might not be slim any longer after eating the nutmeg spice cake with rum buttercream that my sister made (3 sticks of butter in the frosting alone) but don’t blame me- I made salad! 

A few notes on the salad:

  • The dressing was a light lemon dressing that is so creamy that I was shocked at how healthy it is (just low-fat yogurt, lemon juice and salt). 
  • I did find the 4 oz. of Roquefort to be a bit overwhelming however, and I would probably cut down on the amount of cheese next time. 
  • Although the recipe calls for heirloom tomatoes, I used a cup of halved cherry tomatoes instead as they are far more flavorful and easier to find this time of year.  

My Cobb Salad: Iceberg, Tomato, Avocado, Bacon, and Blue Cheese

From Salad as Meal by Patricia Wells (with permission)

Robert H. Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood, is said to have invented this salad in the 1930s as a late-night snack for himself. No wonder it has remained an American classic. With the crunch of the iceberg and onions, the soft richness of the avocado, the saltiness of the bacon, the sweetness of the tomato, and the bite of the blue cheese, this salad has it all! And it is beautiful to boot.


2 1/2 ounces smoked bacon, rind removed, cut into matchsticks (3/4 cup)

1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped (4 cups)

2 ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1 large ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and cubed

4 ounces chilled blue cheese (preferably Roquefort), crumbled (1 cup)

4 small spring onions or scallions, white part only, trimmed, peeled, and cut into thin rounds

Yogurt and Lemon Dressing (See recipe below)

Coarse, freshly ground black pepper

1.In a large, dry skillet, brown the bacon over moderate heat until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to several layers of paper towels to absorb the fat. Blot the top of the bacon with several layers of paper towels to absorb any additional fat. Set aside.

2. In a large, shallow bowl, combine the bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, cheese, and spring onions. Toss with just enough dressing to lightly and evenly coat the ingredients. Season generously with pepper, and serve.

Note: Patricia recommends pairing the salad with a nice bottle of smoky-style Alsatian Riseling from the house of Leon Beyer, Trimbach or Hugel. 

Yogurt and Lemon Dressing

Makes about 3/4 cup

1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 tsp Lemon Zest Salt or fine sea salt (see recipe below)

1. In a small jar with a lid, combine the yogurt, lemon juice and salt. Cover with th lid and shake to blend. Taste for seasoning. The dressing can be used immediately (Store the dressing in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Shake to blend again before using.) 

Lemon Zest Salt 

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, preferably organic

1 tablespoon fine sea salt 

1. Combine the lemon zest and salt in the spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Transfer to a small jar and close with the lid. (Store sealed in the jar, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. After that, the lemon flavor will begin to fade.) 

Salad as a Meal Challenge!

“Have you ever actually eaten a salad as a meal?” My friend Paige asked me skeptically.

I can offer up a few previous entries from this blog as evidence (Exhibits A, B, and C) that I have been known to eat a salad here or there, but she had a good point. For someone who has been a pescatarian for 14 years, I manage to eat very few vegetables. I tend to be a “Dessert as a Meal” kind of vegetarian. After this year of sheer gluttony in Italy and France however, I could do to incorporate more salads into my repertoire. Greens have never seemed so dreamy!

That’s why I’m so excited to announce that I’ll be participating in the Salad as a Meal Challenge for Patricia Wells’ new cookbook, Salad as a Meal. I and 8 other bloggers will be blogging about our experiences with the cookbook for 4 weeks. Check back here on Ciao Down or follow me on Twitter (catherinedown) from March 21rst-April 17th for info on how it’s coming along, recipes from the book, and even for a chance to win a copy yourself!

How to Not Sell a Locked Bike in Italian

Carried my locked bicycle (since it could not roll) to the local bike shop in Colorno and attempted to sell it to the elderly man with 1 eye who works there. 
What I think I am saying: I didn’t steal the bicycle. The keys do not work because the lock has rusted over. I would like to sell my bicycle. 
What I am actually saying: I stole this my bicycle. The key do not function because of the red. I would like to sell.

Good shopkeeper with 1 eye: I do not understand you. (gestures to dirt on my knee and perhaps seeking an explanation for my crazytalk) You have fallen and hurt yourself? 
What I think I am saying: No I’m okay thank you. It’s okay.
What I am actually saying: No thank you. It goes well. 
What I think I am saying: I want to sell my bicycle.
Good shop keeper with 1 eye’s reponse: I sell bicycles. 
What I think I am saying: I have a friend who I will call so he can help translate. I will return!  I will return!
What I am actually saying: I have a boyfriend. I have telephone. I am a male who has returned! I am a male who has returned!

Good shop keeper with 1 eye: When? Where do you live?
Me: Via Milano. Gas station.
Walked home, google translated and wrote everything on a post-it like I should have the first time. Returned to the store.
He says “Ahhh! Slice.” One eyed shopkeeper slices off the lock.

Still wanted to sell him the bike but at that point could not possibly take any more of the man’s time or energy. 
What I think I am saying: Thank you very much. I apologize for my poor Italian.
What I am actually saying: A thousand thanks. I am sorry for the Italian poor.
Walked home cackling (let’s be honest-outright belly laughing at myself) in the freezing rain thus offering the good citizens of Colorno further proof that I am a crazy person. Sliced my finger open on the rusty gate. Decide to bake brownies for nice bicycle man.

I really am sorry for the Italian poor.

Arrivederci UNISG

Currently, I find myself alone in my little orange house in the Italian countryside. I left Parma two months ago to move to Paris, barely bothering to pack and leaving my room in complete disarray as I knew I would have to return for graduation and a proper goodbye.

And what a goodbye it has been. Complete with good friends,

(Photo courtesy of Miles Retuta)

confetti cannons,

a celebratory meat tower and gut busting lunch buffet (what else?),

(Photo courtesy of Miles Retuta)

and a graduate degree in Food Culture and Communications.

From here on out I’d like to be addressed as Master.

The confetti has settled (although I’m still picking it out of my hair), the cured meat wedding cake has been eaten, and the UNISG classmates who I’ve traveled with like a pack of puppies for the past year have all packed their bags and scattered back to their 16 different countries. I’m taking solace in my aloneness, in my good fortune to say a lazy, lingering goodbye to the place that has been my home for the past year.

My personal upheaval and maudlin goodbyes seem so trivial now as I watch with increasing horror the coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. A certain particularly charming chapter of my life here is ending, but not my life itself. There are thousands of people whose homes have just been swept away by a giant wave. Packing up one’s home and saying goodbye has never felt like such a luxury before.  

Ruth Reichl (via Orangette) recently posted that “in the face of ongoing disaster, it is also our moral responsibility to appreciate what we have.  That is why cooking good food for the people that I love is so important to me; in a world filled with no, it is a big yes…So eat a good breakfast. Be grateful for what you’ve got. Enjoy the sunshine while you’ve got it.  Then go out and save the world.”

I am researching the best ways to be useful amidst the devasation halfway across the world, but in the meantime, I’m heeding Ruth’s advice and appreciating what I have.

When I look at the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami, I realize I haven’t lost a thing. I’m headed back to Paris to fantastic, funny, smart, new friends. To stinky cheese. To adorable French cousins. To a future in food that is fulfilling.

With only a slight trace of sadness and in the words of my dear friend Linds: Arrivederci UNISG, I love you more than brownies. And that’s really saying something.

Butter, Butter Everywhere

Why yes, I do have 4 kinds of butter in my fridge right now. Nothing wrong with that (besides my cholesterol). The favorite of the moment?

Piment d’Espelette Butter from Jean-Yves Bordier.

I’ve been experimenting with a number of his butters (yuzu, seaweed, smoked salt, and demi-sel) and I’ve come to the very scientific conclusion that they are all awesome.

Still tweaking the recipe on this potato gratin with piment d’espelette butter and sheep’s milk cheese, but I can assure you that the Yuzu butter is equally excellent dolloped on top of a piece of fish as it is melted over roasted carrots.

Those of you in Paris can find his butter at La Grande Epicerie.

Those of you living abroad will just have to console yourselves by watching Jean-Yves Bordier lipsynch. Anyone willing to dance around with a giant slab of butter is my kinda guy.  

Not All Eggs Are Created Equal

Not all eggs are created equal.

This is the main lesson I took away from a summer spent working on an organic farm in France. I was 18 years old and and as far as I could remember, I had never eaten an egg willingly. I cracked the top off with a spoon and peered uncertainly inside the shell. The yolk was a dark, deep orange, completely unrecognizable compared to the pale yellow yolks of the eggs that came from my grocery store at home. Unlike the eggs at Stop & Shop, which magically appeared from who knows where, perfectly clean and packed neatly inside carboard cartons on the shelves, I was acutely aware of the origins of these eggs, having cycled on a rickety bicycle on country back roads to a nearby farm to gather them. I remembered all the work it took to get those eggs back to the farm safely, tentatively dipped a stick of buttered bread inside the shell, and took a bite.

It didn’t seem fair to call the farm-fresh egg and a standard grocery store egg by the same name. Eating that soft-boiled egg was a revelation. The warm and creamy yolk on a sliver of buttered toast was the first time I realized eggs were not just a rubbery and flavorless health food but something that could actually be eaten for pleasure.

It’s funny now that I use the word pleasure in association with my summer on the farm. At the time it had felt like anything but. Sure, we had eggs so fresh they were still warm from the chicken, but we also had Madame.

Lest you think I’m getting too romantic about my time as a farm worker in France, you should know that I lived with an absolute lunatic. Madame was mad as a hatter. After screaming at me for the way I put salad tongs in a bowl (one on either side, and not pressed together in a close embrace on one side of the bowl) or at another worker for taking too many slices of bread (she had the self control of a child!), she would end her tirades apologetically with the words, “My parents used to lock me in the basement. It’s why I am the way I am.” It explained a lot.

Besides the dreaded Madame, the cast of characters that summer included my best friend Willie, a gardener and an academic from California, a heavily pregnant British artist and a carpenter from South Africa who taught himself French and spent the summer searching for pattes d’éléphant a.k.a enormous bellbottoms. Tragically (or perhaps thankfully, depending on how you at it), he never found them.

We ate a lot of eggs that summer- folded into omelettes with gently sauteed onions or served with green salads with lettuces picked only minutes before, but none compared to that first egg.

I’ve found one that comes close though. Given that soft boiled eggs with soldiers (toast sticks) are traditionally a British food, it’s a dish I’ve only ever eaten in France. Chez Dumonet here in Paris takes the classic combo (called oeufs a la coque) and makes it fancy. There’s also none of this crack the top with your spoon nonsense, not when there’s a waiter who can do it for you tableside with some sort of contraption. The delicate sticks of toast are coated with black truffle butter and are perfect for dipping into the oozy, liquid center. Vegetarian dishes can be hard to find at some of the more classic Parisian restaurants so this blissfully simple dish was particularly pleasing. It’s only available during the all-too-short truffle season however…

Action shot by Katie Ricci

Chez Dumonet (reservations necessary)

117 rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th arrondissement

Metro: Duroc

Telephone: 01-45-48-52-40.

Open Mon-Fri lunch and dinner; Closed weekends.

#1 Paris

Paris. I moved to Paris. I finished off 2010 and my Master’s program in Italy with some sadness, but mostly excitement for my upcoming adventures in Paris where I will be helping out at the wonderful website and eating every pastry (preferrably involving chocolate) that I come across.

Sure you can’t throw a rock without hitting a hipster in my neighborhood, but it’s young, lively and all around charming.

As the sign on the bridge next to my apartment says, tout va bien se passer. Everything will be alright.

#2 Learning How to Say “Put Oil on and Come on Over” in Greek

I can now make sexual advances in Greek, sing about sausages and grandmothers in Flemish, and gesture like an Italian. When your classmates come from 16 different countries, you get used to being constantly surrounded by different languages.

I was asked recently what the best part about my experience in Italy was, and without hesitating I replied my friends. Sure it’s great that they teach me vulgar expressions in different languages, and yeah, it’s pretty amazing getting to take part in special events or traditions from other parts of the world like a Japanese tea ceremony.

Really though, the best part of my experience was spending each day with talented and excited people who share the same values and passions that I do who individually had worked very hard and sacrificed alot to be there. They inspired me, challenged me, and fed me.

I spent an entire year eating 3 incredible meals a day surrounded by people I love. What more could you ask for?