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Before we begin, if you’re squeamish about your meat or have a moral aversion to what butchers do you may want to avoid this entry.

 

Sunday, I finally had my quail. We ordered them on Thursday and being super excited I planned and dreamed the rest of the week for what I was going to stuff them with and prepare as a side to these little birds. Saturday night I was ready. I instructed the husband as to what I needed at the market when he went to pick them up the next day. I went for my morning Sunday run and when I came home, I walked in the door and said, “Les cailles?

“Yup,” the husband said.

Quail or caille are very little birds of mostly bones and a meat that is somewhere between white and dark. Each one was under 200 grams. They were delivered all tied up with their little limbs packed close to their bodies. I took them out of their wrappings and cut away the string and then I saw something shocking.

Heads.

 I called to the husband, “My cailles still have heads on them.” I should have expected it. We hadn’t specified to the butcher to prepare the birds for me before we picked them up. But it was unexpected and very alarming. Not only did they have their heads, but this also meant that my quail also still had all their little organs inside, fully attached.

 

Have you ever prepared a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Did it have it’s head? Never in my life have I had to clean out a turkey, quail, or any bird, let alone decapitate one. Of course, you can buy a turkey that hasn’t been – shall we say – emptied, but usually the organs are detached from the body and wrapped up separated for use or for discarding. I stared down at the little heads, thankfully, their eyes didn’t seem to be staring back.

 I grabbed my very big meat knife. Took a deep breath. Then another deep breath. And then – Off with their heads!

 

And out with their organs. It was disturbing. But I feel like I’ve hit a milestone in my amateur chef-ness. I have decapitated an already dead animal.

With that out of the way, I had to prepare my stuffing. I kept it simple and traditional for the first time around. Mushrooms in cream with garlic onions and some herbs.

Roasted Quail with Creamy Mushroom Stuffing

  • 2 quail of about 200 grams each
  • 350 grams wild mushrooms (cèpe, girolles, morels, chanterelles etc)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 75 ml heavy cream (or about 4 tablespoons)
  • olive oil
  • chicken broth or stock
  • sage
  • thyme

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Clean your quail out of any organs. Set aside.

I really recommend yellow onion here as the yellow onion has a buttery scent and attack when it first hits your tongue – perfect for this type of stuffing. Mince your onion, garlic, celery. In a heated frying pan with a little bit of oil, cook over medium heat until the onions and garlic are fragrant, a minute or two. Add your mushrooms. I used frozen mushrooms which took about 10 minutes to cook and mix with the rest of the veggies. Add your heavy cream and herbs and mix until everything is warmed and fragrant. Salt and pepper to taste.

Keep warm but set aside while you prepare the quail.

Prepare a medium size casserole dish for roasting your quail the way you would roast a turkey. I simply put a little chicken broth at the bottom. No more than ¼ cup. Rub a little olive oil, salt and pepper into the quail.

Stuff the birds full of the stuffing and wrap up so that the stuffing can’t fall out while baking. I tied the legs of my quail together, but didn’t go any further than that because I didn’t have a needle to sew them shut. Careful when you stuff your quail because they are slippery from the oil and easy to squeeze – stuffing falls out everywhere if you squeeze too hard. This isn’t your typical stuffing either. There’s no bread, obviously, and though the cream will thicken as it sits, it doesn’t stick like traditional stuffing. So take care when you fill your birds.

With a basting brush, rub stock over the birds and then put in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes until bird is fully cooked and the skin is golden brown. Baste every 5-8 minutes or so for optimal moisture. Remember that these are birds just like chicken or turkey, but they do tend to have a bit of extra tenderness to them.

Serve immediately with extra stuffing. I added a handful of chopped walnuts to the stuffing.

As a side we had sweet potato “hash browns” which I’m only calling hash-browns because I cooked them in a pan with onion, garlic, and parsely instead of roasting them. They added a colorful and comforting texture to the plate as well as having a sweet taste that off-set the savory quail.

So how were they, the birds? Perfect. Quail, when roasted right have a moist, tender flesh with a buttery flavor. It’s not like the dark meat of the turkey – softer, lighter, a bit more wild, which went perfect with the wild mushrooms and cream.

Don’t like quail? No problem.

Strawberries have arrived! We had a very warm winter and with it came an early spring and the first strawberries are here. We had them for dessert sprinkled with lemon juice and tiny sprinkling of sugar and basil. Light, fresh and sweet. And no heads in sight.

Sometimes it’s the little things in France that give me pause. For instance, binders here have four rings, not 3 or 5. And they open separately. The two on top are connected, but not connected to the two on the bottom. You have to snap open both if you want to remove or add a page. It’s convenient so that papers aren’t falling out everywhere when you open up the rings, but I always forget. I start wondering why the paper is resisting movement and then I remember, “Oh yeah, French binder.”

At one of the companies where I teach outcenter, there are horses behind the office. No one really knows what they’re doing there. I’ve asked, because I can see them from the window. Once in a while I see someone come and feed them, but most days they just stare into the office window watching me teach. Today, one of them wouldn’t stop whinnying. Perhaps it knew I was carrying a batch of cookies with me to take into the school.

Not all of these cookies were the same. Two dozen had been colored green for the St. Patrick’s Day party we are having today. The other two were my own personal cookies. Ones I threw together and into the oven an hour before going to work.

I didn’t have eggs, but I was craving cookies. Could I make a good “vegan cookie” with what I had in my kitchen? I’d never made a successful vegan cookie before, but then again, I’d never taken the vegan cookie thing seriously.

But I turned on my Kindle and started flipping through Veganomicon until I found her Chewy Chocolate Raspberry Cookies. Instead of butter and eggs to hold the cookie together they use canola oil (no shock there) and raspberry preserves (shocking!).

What an amazing idea. Preserves for flavoring and binding a cookie. I didn’t have raspberry confiture in the house, but I did have confiture de citron – lemon that is, and decided to do what I could to satisfy my cookie craving without eating the cookies I had promised for work, or being late for class.

And while I don’t think these are quite vegan, they come as close as I’ll ever get.

(Almost) Vegan White Chocolate Lemon Cookies

Adapted from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

  • ½ cup of lemon preserves or confiture de citron
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (all purpose is fine too)
  • ½ cup cake flour or farine fluide*
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • White chocolate chips, about 50-60 grams

*I’ve been experimenting with baking cookies with farine fluide, which has a consistency close to cake flour. It’s not necessary and 1 ½ cups of all purpose flour would work fine, not to mention was the original recipe.

 

Combine your wet ingredients: sugar, preserves, vanilla, and oil in a large mixing bowl. Stir together with a spoon or fork.

Once blended add your baking soda, then salt. Sift together your two flours and add to the wet batter a third at a time, mixing together with a fork.

The last third you make have to finish by hand, kneading and mixing together until you get a homogenous dough.

Add your white chocolate chips and mix together.

Roll into small balls, place on a lined cookie sheet and press down a little until you get small discs.

Bake at 180°C for 10 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Serve.

I’m pretty sure it’s the white chocolate that cancels out the “vegan-ness” of these cookies. There’s milk in there after all. But whatever. I made “vegan” cookies in 20 minutes and made it to work.

The texture is there. Chewy: check. Soft: check. Lemony: check. Honestly, olive oil would have been a fabulous replacement for the canola – and I’ll be remembering that for next time. A really excellent cookie that doesn’t leave me lacking in the cookie comfort department. Everything that a cookie needs to be, they are. Even the husband liked them and didn’t say anything about their lack of eggs and butter. He said, – and I quote – “They were good, I taste lemon.”

Get ready for this weekend. I’m stuffing and roasting quail.

Today was the first day of the year that it was warm enough to eat on the balcony. I didn’t make anything special for it as it was “leftover day,” trying to get rid of all the random stuff in our fridge to make way for more leftovers. I wish that I could portion things properly – like pasta. I know that I can make food and freeze it, but I have this thing about microwaves…

But I digress.

I had my lunch, which was roasted vegetables, tomato, homemade hummus, a slice of Itchebai cheese, and a hunk of crusty bread. Tomato soup. Crystal Light, courtesy of la famille who toted 6 packs of the stuff across the Atlantic at my request. Definitely a leftover day.

What is Itchebai cheese you ask? Well, it is French. Think cheddar with a Swiss twist.

This Christmas someone gave us a box set of small cookbooks on classic French cuisine by Larousse. What is Larousse? Obviously you’ve never had to buy a French dictionary. I was interested in making some sort of fruity pastry for dessert today and turned to the dessert volume for inspiration.

I’ve seen clafoutis in boulangeries here, in the pastry section, looking rather cake-like and fruity. Normally they are done with prunes or cherries. I had neither in the house, but I do have a package of frozen berries and pineapple. The husband is not a fan of fruits rouges.

While, the ones I saw in the shops looked like cake – clafoutis is rather like a flan that has been thickened with flour. Deceptively cake looking, but not cake like. Though I had seen it, I had never tasted, nor baked it, but there’s a first time for everything and if I’m going to live in France and study French cuisine, I better start cooking.

Clafoutis aux (Fruits Rouges ou Ananas)

Adapted from A l’heure du dessert, Larousse:

  • 150 grams berries*
  • 150 grams pineapple chunks*
  • 3 eggs
  • 70 grams powdered sugar
  • 200 ml milk
  • 30 grams flour

*as I mentioned above, cherries or prunes are the most common fruits added to clafoutis, but use any fruit you like. It’s all good.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. If you want to serve this in individual portions break out the ramkins, otherwise find a small size cake tin for four.

If you’re using frozen fruit; which is what I did, you might want to defrost them now. In the meantime, whisk your eggs together in a good size mixing bowl. Add the flour and sugar and whisk again until incorporated. Add the milk and mix until you have a nice, smooth, and fluid batter.

Put your fruit in the bottom of your cake tin or ramkin. There’s no need to grease them.

Pour the batter on top of the fruit.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool and serve.

The original recipe supposedly serves 4. I halved it, but used three eggs instead of two, and it still served four. I guess I like smaller desserts than the editors of Larousse.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, when the egg batter pushed its way down to the bottom of the pot and forced the fruit to the surface, which created a layered effect I wasn’t expecting.

While I don’t love flan, and clafoutis is not your typical rich, buttery, creamy, French pastry, this was something I could eat again. Not too sweet, comforting, mixed with the tart berry.

Next time I see one in the local bakery I’ll buy it to see how I compare to the professionals, but for now this French classic has won me over with it’s ease and adaptability if nothing else. I sound like an advertisement. Dinner’s just about ready so it must be the hunger talking…

In order to re-educate my brain’s attitude toward food, there was something else I needed to do besides eat mostly soup for the weekend. That was clean my kitchen. Any good cook from amateur to three star knows the importance of keeping the workspace clean. I’m pretty good at these things, my kitchen is usually pretty clean, the surfaces wiped and to the eye that isn’t looking hard enough, things seem to be in order. Until you open a drawer:

Or rather a box.

We live out of boxes. They’re nice boxes. Meant to be lived out of. But they are boxes nonetheless and they can get messy. It’s not just my spice box that was a wreck, but my pasta box, my baking box, my canned goods box. Now don’t get confused. I can tell you what’s in all these boxes. I know everything we have in the apartment food-wise. I can name the six different types of flour I have. Nothing is forgotten, it’s just strewn about.


I had to reorganize. Call it kitchen feng shui if you like. It had to get done. So I reorganized and now everything is lovely.


I’ve been continuing to work with mindful eating. It’s only been what – 36 hours? – but I find it to be a very pleasant experience. It reminds me of the way a sommelier would taste that perfect wine she’s been dreaming of all her life. In my case, a nice 1999 Chateauneuf. I’ve been sticking to my soup theme with a few rice cakes or a bit of bread. I do find that I appreciate the color of soup, the aroma of soup more.

Another important factor, I’m finding is taking more pleasure and giving more mindfulness in preparing the food.  Usually reheated from a big batch I made earlier. Even that can be pleasurable experience.

But tonight I’m going to try it with a real meal that I have planned. Nothing too spectacular. Just a pasta with lots of green veggies and a bit of tuna.

And then I will have a brownie. But these brownies aren’t just any brownies. There’s no flour, very little sugar, no milk, butter or cream. Each one has 120 calories (or less if you cut them smaller like I did – rather by accident)

They are made with beans.

You heard me. Beans. The recipe comes from Baker on the Rise and who doesn’t love healthy sweets? I couldn’t wait to try them.

Only one problem. I cannot find black beans ANYWHERE in Provence.

So I used red beans.

And olive oil because I didn’t have canola.

I like to hand chop my chocolate. Once you get the hang of it, there is something incredibly satisfying about chopping chocolate. I don’t know what it is, but it’s the crunch underneath the knife and the weight of your hands. Maybe it’s the tiniest miniscule pieces of chocolate that are wafting up my nose and into my mouth without me ever knowing…

Who can say if these would be good or not? I put them in the oven with apprehension and waited. I Skyped with my mom. It’s her birthday. Happy birthday Mom!

I even waited for the brownies to cool before slicing one and eating it. Mindfully of course.

It was fabulous. So moist and soft. Chocolatey and even the texture was perfect. There is no way to know that there is no flour in this recipe. If people don’t know they’ll just think you’re a master at soft brownies. The only drawback is that the brownies don’t really puff up when baking but had I used a smaller pan and had a thicker layer of brownie it wouldn’t have been a problem. To the eye, if you concentrated on the thickness, they were a bit lacking. In taste they were dark, bitter chocolate with sweet nibs of the chocolate that melted in your mouth. They were amazing.

Wish me luck for tomorrow. I’m preparing my soups and breads for the day and planning my pauses throughout the day to sit down and enjoy a meal.

And I really do have six different types of flour: buckwheat, whole wheat, all purpose, multi-grain/cereal, fluide flour, and corn flour.

First of all, have you found me through the keyword search “je mange french meaning teeth?” or have you come here from “french mange?” If so, let me know because I’m dying to know why you are putting these particular words together into Google. Especially the first.

I’ve been over doing it lately. Food wise, work wise, writing wise. Pushing, always pushing. We all get into that mode, the one where you think you’re behind on life and have to race to catch up. When I get like that, I tend to explode. I drink too much, go overboard on the sweets and feel sick the next day.

Also, I’ve been over doing it on the food. Not eating too much mind you, not unhealthy, but with the recipes. I’ve been thinking about food, dreaming about food, obsessing about food, making more and more elaborate recipes.

I need to slow it down. I need to slow it down and remember the simple things. Simple flavors and tastes. A simple dish can have it’s own grace and warmth and make me remember it’s ok to take a break.

Brioche, anyone?


I used this recipe: Panini al Latte and found that the dough came together wonderfully. It was tacky, smooth, soft, I loved the feel of it when I was done kneading.


Brioche. It’s just bread with milk instead of water. A little extra sugar, a little butter. And so comforting. The husband has been asking me to make it for weeks. I couldn’t resist this weekend, just wanting something soft and warm and easy to adapt. Eat it with honey, Nutella, jam, peanut butter, paté, foie gras, olive spreads, tapenades, make it into pain perdu (French toast) when it starts to get old.


It’s a French breakfast staple, found in every bakery, everywhere. And it’s just nice.


But that was dessert and we’ll get to the final result in a moment.

I needed dinner first. And I’ve been craving salmon.


It’s not often I have a fish craving. Usually such things can be satisfied by a tuna sandwich or tuna salad with pasta or rice or something. But canned tuna wouldn’t do here. I wanted salmon, plain and simple.


Baking salmon in parchment paper is a wonderful way to keep the fish flesh juicy and flavorful and quick too. Bake for 15 minutes (NO MORE!) at 220°C with a bit of garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon, and basil. Easy and quick.

Fresh basil is impossible to find in France outside of summer. Believe me, I’ve looked EVERYWHERE. Either by it frozen or wait. I used frozen.


Serve with some pasta tossed with spinach and freshly shredded cheese. Or not freshly shredded. Whatever works for you. Top with olive oil and lemon. Garlic and more basil. So simple and so comforting. The perfect dinner for a Saturday night watching Man vs Wild with the husband.

Seriously. I have to turn away when he eats bugs or pees into his container. Oddly, I’m perfectly fine with the skinning of rabbits.

Anyway, then it was time for dessert.


I have so many brioche and they smell so delightful. That’s only half the batch. See the husband’s hand at the bottom right? He couldn’t wait. They smelled that good.

Just a teaspoon of Nutella on a warm brioche makes the perfect end or beginning of the day. When the brioche is warm, the Nutella melts so sweetly.

We all know there is nothing better than fresh, warm bread. There’s nothing better, nothing simpler, than a sweet, warm brioche.

There’s a stereotype about couples who have their first baby. Their house becomes a “baby zone.” Baby toys, baby food, baby medicine, baby blankets, baby paraphernalia everywhere. That hasn’t happened to our house. But it has turned into a cat zone. My desk is piled high with prescription cat food and medicine, cat toys are everywhere, two food bowls, back stocks of litter and food piled in the corner. Cats on the bed, cats on the couch, cats on the table. I found a cat in the garbage area under the sink this morning while making pizza.
Ok, so we have two cats, not twenty, but in an apartment of 45 square-meters that’s enough to turn it into a cat-zone.


Dumpling is doing well. She has an infection in her mouth and is on antibiotics, but she’s eating (very) well and seems to have gained a bit of weight.  She likes to sleep with us at night and is very curious about what we are doing, and especially what I’m cooking. She needs to learn some manners though as she has a few bad habits such as scratching on everything and climbing everywhere.
Pistou is recovering. In fact, he seems to want to play with her, but she doesn’t seem to understand the game. There’s been a lot of nose touching and sniffing and there’s still apprehension, but things are looking promising. We still aren’t sure if we will keep Dumpling once her fostering period is up, it depends a multitude of things, but at least for now she’s settling in and we’ll be able to turn her into a friendly, sweet cat that can be in a multitude of homes.

Did you hear about the Costa Concordia? Last October the husband and I took our honeymoon on that boat, cruising to Savonna, Naples, Palermo, Tunis, Palma, and Barcelona. We had a big suit and balcony and loved every second. I also saw it docked in the harbor of la Seyne every so often, when it was too windy to dock in Marseille, bringing back happy memories. So it was sad for us to see this huge ship leaning on its side, half submerged in the sea.
I felt like singing Nearer my God to Thee but then I remembered I’m not religious and this isn’t the Titanic.

Anyway, today was rather productive. I got up early and started an apple pie before going out for an eight mile run around the harbor where there were no cruise ships docked today.

My fruit bowl is overflowing again and my smoothie drinking can’t keep up with it. So pie it was. Plus I’ve never made a pie before.
That’s right! This is my first apple pie EVER.


Apples and lemons and salt and sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg draining in a bowl. Let it sit for a few hours and let strain it through a colander to get your liquid base.


Add butter and boil it.


I didn’t make my own crust. One thing at a time. This is an organic pate brisée which is less sweet than many pie crusts but oh so buttery.


Add your apples.
Add your liquid.
Bake at 225°C for about 40 minutes.
Turn your head away when you open the oven. I think I burned my face.



I sat outside on the balcony with Pistou, who needed his outdoor time. There is a cat in that photo, I swear.


I worked on the still unfinished novel for a bit, guarding the door from the outside, while Pistou roasted in the jardiniere.


Dumpling isn’t allowed outside to go play yet.
The novel was going badly for a time, but I believe that it has picked up again. I managed 2000 words in 90 minutes and got somewhere with the story. That’s progress. Redoing the outline for the end was the best idea I’ve ever had concerning writing and I always hate to outline. When it’s done, I’m having a party. BTW: Do you live in Argentina? Or did you once live in Argentina? If so I need you.
After working on the novel I needed a break so I made granola. But that’s an entry for another day.

And I promise I’ll stop talking about my cats.

Also, if you’re wondering about the lack of a top on my pie, it’s not something that is often done in France. Pies have no crusty tops. And one thing at a time. I’ll do a top next time around.

Guess what? You can now follow me on twitter @WriterHolly. I have no idea what I’m doing with it, so you’ll have to bear with me for a few weeks or months while I get the hang of it, but please join my internet voyage of 140 characters or less.

Today was a day of discovery. It all started last night when I purchased Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz for my Kindle.  Now, I’m not a vegan, I’ll never be a vegan. I love ice cream and cheese far too much to go vegan. It’s just the way it is. But as I mentioned before, I’ll always love vegetables, beans, and legumes over meats and I’d been looking for a recipe book that would give me some new ideas. I was hesitant at first to buy this book, because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to adapt many of the recipes for vegetarian cooking (sorry Ms. Moskowitz – I can’t help it) but after reading through many of the recipes, I realized that most of them are very adaptable and the ones that aren’t seem tasty enough to try as is. And that’s what I did tonight.

But first, a discovery of a different kind.

For a while, the husband has wanted to try this:

Stevia, it’s a natural sweetener that has 0 calories. Unlike sugar and unlike Splenda. I think it’s from a flower. (Don’t quote me on that though) Apparently you can bake with it too. So today, I set out to try my cookies.

This was all the Stevia I needed according to the recipe on the Stevia website. See the butter? See the Stevia? Wow. I thought.

I ended up with the stiffest, blandest dough ever. So I added 2 tablespoons of milk and another teaspoon of Stevia. Now I had less stiff, but still bland dough. I considered that maybe the Stevia would sweeten up in the oven so I baked a test cookie without the chocolate I was planning to use.

Well, they were NOT cookies. I’ll need to work on that. What I did get, however, was the nicest and quickest milk biscuit I’ve ever seen.

So I added some cheese to rest of the dough and popped them into the oven.

The husband, though a bit surprised about the cookies, was also pleased by these. He told me not to forget the recipe so I could make them again. Quick, easy, and next time I’ll use more salt and leave out the Stevia.

  • 115 grams butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups flour

Combine. Cook at 180°C for 12 – 15 minutes.

Onto dinner.

For my Veganomicon trial run I chose one recipe to make as is and one to change around. The first was her Snobby Joes – basically sloppy joes made with lentils rather than beef.

I’m not going to post the recipe as I’m sure Ms. Moskowitz has it copyrighted – as well she should – and really, just buy the book. It’s worth it (and I’ve only made two recipes).

It started with all of these ingredients though.

And ended up like this.

Served on a corn bread roll.

While I think my chile powder must be way more spicy than hers (I had to scale it down ALOT), it was still an absolutely delightful, low fast and tasty dish. The husband and I both enjoyed it. I loved it, and even though I halved the recipe there was still plenty to freeze for another meal later in the week. An excellent consistency, good flavor, filling and hearty. And vegan!

The other recipe – the one I changed – was her Tomato Zucchini Fritters. I changed some of the spices – because I didn’t have mint or dill in the house – and used thyme and rosemary instead – more Mediterranean than Greek. Then instead of tofu, I used an egg and cheese.

But I mixed and baked them according to her recommendations (again scaling the recipe down to serve two).

And the result was a nice vegetable side dish (with cheese) to go along with our Snobby Joes. I should have used a different bread for my homemade breadcrumbs – buckwheat bread is a little strange as a breadcrumb – but they were lovely all the same. Very flavorful and a nice twist on the classic zucchini fritter that I’ve made in the past.

I’m thrilled by this book so far. There are some great recipes in there and most of them are not supermarket scary – even the ones she doesn’t have listed as supermarket friendly. Obviously, it’s easier for me as I won’t mind changing things around to be non-vegan, but it has amazing recipe ideas that I can’t wait to try.

2012 I’ve promised myself, is going to be a year of discovery. Discovering good food, French, a possible new career, and furthering my writing. But I’ll leave the writing aspect of this blog for a later date after I get the writing page up and fully functioning. Happy New Year!

I went to bed on the 24th of December full, tipsy, warm, and thinking that after spending all day cooking and baking, I’d be completely uninterested in doing so again for a few days – at least until my vacation begins on the 28th.

So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning and my first thought was “I need to bake cupcakes.”

I mean really? I had other plans this morning. Like sleeping late, having a big cup of uninterrupted coffee. And most importantly working on the novel which is always on my mind these days. So much so that I’ve started dreaming about it at night.

All the same, there it was; the overwhelming urge to make cupcakes. I wasn’t even hungry and the thought of food was making my stomach cry out in protest or at least a nice long run first. But I’ve been wanting to try cooking a sweet with olive oil for quite some time and despite all my better intentions, I couldn’t resist.

These olive oil and cranberry cupcakes are moist, fluffy and a perfect way to get rid of that baking craving. The oil is not overwhelming but just an after taste that I am dying to try again, mixing with other flavors that will deepen the taste.

Adapted from Joy the Baker

  • 1 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • handful of dried cranberries
  • 1 tsp of lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 200°C and grease your cupcake tin with olive oil.

In a large bowl pour in the salt, baking powder and soda, and sugar. Sift in your flour and lightly whisk together. In a smaller bowl, whisk together lemon zest, egg, olive oil and milk with a wire whisk until blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing together all the while with a wooden spoon until just combined. Add in a handful of cranberries and stir again to make sure they get into the batter, but be sure to not over mix. Obviously, you could add the cranberries earlier to the dry ingredients, but they were a last minute addition on my part.

Pour the batter into your cupcake tins and bake about 15-20 minutes or until cooked through and lightly browned on top. Add glaze while cupcakes are still warm and let cool.

I used Joy’s glaze as well – the same recipe as her page except I used lemon extract instead of almond which I didn’t have. Simple and easy.

This recipe was to make six cupcakes, but I had some left over batter so I made two cupcake-cookies with what was left. Ideally I should have paid attention to how much batter I was spooning into the mold so my cupcakes would have come out the same size, but details details…

For the rest of the day, I plugged away at my novel. If you’re a writer, or know a writer, or even an avid reader, you’ll know that characters tend to take their lives onto themselves and seem to run away with your imagination like hijacking a vehicle. Well, my narrator has done just that. She won’t stop talking, detailing every little thing that happened to her. The closer I get to the end, the harder she hangs on, making sure that I don’t miss a beat, a moment, a second.

…and it’s going to take a while to tell you about it.

In France, there are two meals traditionally served during the Christmas holiday. The first is dinner on Christmas Eve, the second it Christmas lunch. They are long meals starting with mis-en-bouche and foie gras and sweet wine, going on to appetizers, main courses, cheeses, desserts, coffee and then chocolate. If you really love your sweets and live in Provence, at the traditional Provençal table thirteen desserts are served representing Jesus Christ and his apostles. They’re actually not all terrifying creams and sugars. Many are simple fruits and nuts, light cookies, small slices of pain d’épice, but it’s still a daunting task to get through a four or five course meal twice in less than 24 hours.

And then at the end when you wake up on the 26th, you realized in horror that the whole thing is going to be repeated on the 31st December and 1st January.

This holiday week, I am not stuffing myself beyond capacity, thankfully. We, the husband and I, had one slow and indulgent holiday dinner on the 24th that was more than enough.

It started with cleaning the apartment. Like most Europeans, we have a small living space, the beauty of which is that it’s quick to clean. The ugly side is that it’s just a quick to make a mess of. No matter, once we cleaned, the husband decorated. Then we set down to the five hour task of preparing our dinner. Make yourself comfortable folks, because this is going to be a long, photo-filled meal.

Our menu was both traditional and non-traditional. Of course, there was foie gras. There are hundreds of various ways to serve foie gras, most of them involving some sort of sweet sauce or jelly. But we kept it simple with homemade bread and a glass of sweet and spicy hypocras.

I’ve mentioned hypocras before. It’s been around for longer than the medieval era, I believe, but it’s often branded as a medieval aperitif. As I’ve been in a medieval frame of mind lately, it was the perfect opener to dinner, and it’s complex flavors blend well with the foie gras au naturel.

Next up was the appetizer – very non-traditional. I wanted something, one course, where vegetable was the main ingredient. So I came up with roasted pumpkin, roasted shallots, roasted garlic, topped with dried cranberries and gorgonzola.

It was easy to do – only had to wait around for the roasting – and simple yet very tasty. A very nice autumn and slightly American touch to my French Christmas.

There was a pause while we waited for the main course to finish cooking and heating. Bread and butter cleaned our pallets.

Along with our wine selection for the night. St Emilion 2005 Grand Cru Chateau Faurie de Souchard.

A wine with a very round, acidic taste, with hints of berry. It’s strong, but not overwhelming like many of the older Bordeaux. We might have been able to let it mature for another few years, but it was good as is and went very well with our main course…

To many people, I’ve been talking about this main course all week. It was something the husband and I dreamed of since the autumn arrived and our butcher told us he’d have this particular game in stock. A dish I first tasted at Table du Vigneron, and despite always preferring vegetables to meat, I instantly fell in love.

Daube de sanglier – or boar stew.

For those of you not familiar with a daube, it’s very close to beef bourguignon. Marinated in red wine and herbs and vegetable for 24 hours then slow cooked over a low fire for at least five hours until the boar inside is close to melting.

Boar is an extremely dark meat that turns almost black after being cooked for so long in a strong red wine, but don’t let that stop you. The sheer wildness of the taste, the depth of the flavor, it has a nutty taste to it, a woodsy taste to it, that quite frankly is like nothing else I’ve ever tasted.

We served our daube de sanglier with potato gnocchi – not homemade. I was going to make fresh taglietelle but after all the baking, roasting, mixing and cleaning, I was wiped and the pre-prepared gnocchi was too tempting to pass on as a short cut.

Warm, comforting, perfect for the windy day that had descended on the Var. At the end of cooking your boar add a touch of flour to create the most perfect gravy to drizzle on top of the gnocchi. We wiped our plates clean with more bread, and then took a break, waddling over to the couch to digest a bit and relax in the evening.

Cheese followed. Langres on the left. A very strong, but soft cheese that is similar to Epoisse. Any strong cheese, as smelly as they may be is a lovely way to enjoy the last sips of a find red, and I can never resist on any occasion.

On the right is a blue cheese that I have no idea of the name of. However, when I went to the Fromagerie in Toulon and asked the man behind the counter what he had in a blue he dragged out the whole wheel of this cheese from the shelf behind him and started singing it’s praises. Made in Alsace, exclusively by women, it’s the only naturally blued cheese left in the world, according to the fromager. Most blue cheese are done naturally, but given a little bit of – help you could say – to encourage them to mold faster, therefore they are available for sale to the public faster. This cheese however, is apparently not, and you can actually see it in the color of the mold culture and the way it has grown on the slice. It’s a bit darker and in a clump rather than all over the place in long, wildly grown veins.  After listening to his monologue, I couldn’t resist and this was our second cheese for the end of the evening.

Finally, came dessert. Homemade apple sorbet with salted caramel and speculoos cookies.

This was the only semi-failure of the evening. I think I added too much water to the sorbet mixture and it tasted more like frozen apple sauce than sorbet. However along side the hardened caramel and cinnamon cookies, it was a refreshing way to finish the meal.

The next day was spent sleeping late (for me), a fabulous run where the sky was clear and the sea completely calm, the Mistral having blown itself out the night before, and of course writing. The novel has quite a ways to go yet, and I’m determined to get as much done as possible on my vacation next week.

But that’s not all. I woke up on Christmas day and my first thought was “I need to make cup cakes.”  That’s a story for another day.

Hope your holiday was as filled with warmth, good cooking and fine wine as was ours!

Do you ever have moments when you’re so enthralled in your work that you do stupid things like stick your finger in your ear or pick your nose (hey, when you have to pick, you have to pick – just not in public) or make weird beeping noises to yourself and yell at your computer-

Only to look up and see your super cute student looking at you through the classroom window?

Yeah. I had a fabulous day.

He really is that attractive. That smile with the dimples…

Anyway.

I should be writing. No really. I should be writing. I’m behind about 2000 words from where I want to be tonight. But I never celebrated my 50K. I never made apple pie, or pumpkin ice cream (though I don’t know how I would as I don’t have an ice cream maker) or anything savory. I didn’t have the time.

But tonight, I’m wiped, I’m out of steam, my head is a muddled mess of characters and settings and prose, etc. Sometimes I write sarcastic things into the narrative that my characters would never say. Clearly I need a break. I need to celebrate. I need to clear my head and dope myself up on sugar.

I need cookies.

And these are my most deadly cookies yet.

Dark chocolate Nutella, cocoa powder, oatmeal, cereal flour, dark chocolate chips.

They’re amazing.

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup cereal flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons Nutella
  • 1 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • dark chocolate chips
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt.

Cream butter and sugar as normal. Add egg and cocoa powder, mix well. Add 2 tablespoons of Nutella. Mix well.

Add all your dry ingredients, flours, oats, powders, salts. Mix together until its well blended. Add your last tablespoon of Nutella and your chocolate chips. Mix one last time, quickly on low speed. Just enough to combine everything but not blend the Nutella in, you want a little bit of a swirl.

Spoon onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 180°C (350°F) for 11 minutes.

 

When it comes to the flour, I know cereal flour is a strange choice – I mean really, who wants seeds in their cookies? But it’s good. Not only does it add a great crunch, but the cereal flour is slightly salty, added to the bitterness of the cocoa, the amazing sweetness of the Nutella and chocolate. There are so many rich, complex flavors here. I had to step away from the kitchen and lock myself in the bedroom just so I’d stop eating them and write this entry.

 

Melty chocolate goodness with salt and bitter cocoa, warm just out of the oven.

And in case you’re wondering I’m at 55,000 words.

Tomorrow I have a 1 hour wait at the train station in the morning and the afternoon. Not to mention the 20 minute train ride. I was going to buy a pastry, but now I have cookies – and plenty of time to write.

Also, yes that is my computer right next to the mixing bowl. I told you it was covered in flour.