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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.

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One of the best things about having my family here is that I get to cook for people other than myself and the husband. Don’t get me wrong, I like cooking for myself and the husband, but we will eat pretty much anything. Tonight, in fact we just ate out of the fridge. Cold soup, cold cuts, cold lemon slices, cold red bean brownie. It was a light dinner, recovering from a HUGE lunch, but we were still standing up in front of the fridge, eating with the door open.

La classe.

There are some things out there that I like to call gourmet comfort food. Pasta – regular pasta with fresh tomatoes and onion and garlic – that’s comfort food. Cappellini is my favorite. This is pasta that is comfort food with a zing. Fresh, homemade ravioli with peas, smoked and diced ham, garlic, basil, Parmesan and a hint of lemon.

The original recipe comes from Joy the Baker. I cut back on the olive oil, added the ham, ignored the tomatoes, etc. The modifications are key for me, but she gets the credit for leading the way.

The above photo is how I test the pan to see if it’s hot enough. I could always, I don’t know, wait patiently until I know it’s hot enough, but there’s no fun in that.

I added about 150g of lardons fumés which I can only translate as smoked diced ham. I’m not exactly sure of what it is other than you usually cook it à poêle and it can be a little greasy. The salt and smokey flavors of this particular ham add a layer of flavor to the peas, basil and garlic. I wouldn’t call it a depth, because there’s nothing deep about it – it’s right there: Bam! Salty, smokey ham! But then the freshness of the vegetables kicks in and leaves you feeling light and refreshed.

So it has that comfort element mixed into something with a delicate base.

Putting together ravioli can be done alone, but it’s so much more fun, or at least more efficient with help.

I like to call this one 6 hands, 24 ravioli. Mom was taking the photos. Some days I wish we had more workspace.

The husband is the king of making ravoli look good. At least he works with what he has. I can do the base – the dough, the filling – but don’t ask me to plate it pretty.

Not only is it fun to cook for others, but we worked together. We made a mess of the kitchen – flour everywhere, but that’s par for the course with pasta. We had a general good time. Or at least I did; I hope everyone else did. I don’t usually get all sentimental but there’s little better than comfort food with a twist. But sharing it with your family makes it extra special.

The family has arrived. By that I mean my mother and sister. They, and the husband, pretty much constitute my intimate family. I have cousins, aunts, uncles, a grandmother, in-laws as we all do, but I’m bad about keeping in touch with them.

That’s neither here nor there I guess because France is a long way away from the US and I’m the only one who went back to the old continent.

It’s also vacation for me. At first, I was going to be nice and work and make my students happy. Then I realized that my family had spent thousands of dollars to come and visit me and the least I could was tell my students to take a hike for 10 days. This, to no one’s surprise, leaves all of us with more time to explore, eat, and cook.

On the menu for the week:

  • Sunday lunch at Table du Vigneron
  • Three days, two nights in Nice with a quick trip to Monaco
  • Plenty of restaurants in Nice
  • A visit to the Puyricard factory (see previous entry on Valentine’s day)
  • A dinner with the in-laws featuring Filet mignon de Pork – Wellington style, chocolate and lemon tart
  • Homemade pea pesto ravioli
  • and anything else I feel like cooking up

Yesterday had it’s own introductory meal. My sister and mom have both been to France before, several times each. Nevertheless, we had to do something classic for them. The husband and I went through a myriad of options including Cassoulet -too fattening and heavy, Raclette -we don’t have a raclette set, Lamb -we couldn’t decide what to do with lamb, Boar -not the right season. The husband wanted cheese. This is nothing new. He always wants cheese.

So we went with a mont d’or. Mild, creamy, brie-like cheese with white wine baked in the oven for 30 minutes.

Serve with potatoes, vegetables, ham, and fresh baked bread.

We had two Mont d’or because one is never enough. Everyone ate their fill and then some.

Today, we broke out the sugar and made fudge.

My mom is the Queen of Fudge. No joke. She makes the best fudge of so many different flavors, always perfect, smooth, soft, fondant. Last year she tried to send me some for the holidays, when she normally makes it but it arrived two months late and was hard and moldy – completely ruined. This time we had an action plan. She brought the ingredients and made the fudge here.

Lots of sugar – at least a kilo.

A jar of fluff.

I think the reason why my mom’s fudge is so good isn’t the ingredients, but the fact that – as she says “I like stirring.” And if you’ve ever made fudge, you’ll know how much stirring it takes.

Stirring.

And then came the butterscotch. Why make chocolate when you can have butterscotch with chocolate on top?

This was a group effort. One to stir, one to add the butterscotch chips and one to take photographs.

Pouring it into the pans and adding the chocolate was also a group effort.

As was licking out the pot in the end. We love our fudge.

This is just a taste of what the week is going to bring. We’re all loosening our belts and enjoying a vacation together.

It’s snowing again. And again, I’m not pleased. In fact, it’s freezing all over France. Only here in the Var has it risen above freezing and only then by 4 degrees. It would be an ideal day to spend time with a mug of homemade hot chocolate in my hands, gazing out the window with a wistful expression, remembering my childhood of snow days, snow angels, snowball fights, snow igloos and massive snow suits.

But that’s not happening this weekend. Not the hot chocolate part anyway. This weekend it’s all about the soup.

I’m into week 4 of quitting smoking. It’s not going so well. I hate everyone and have a lot of time on my hands to do it. I know that seems odd. I smoke and run. A cigarette for every kilometer.

I have another confession to make. And it’s pretty serious. Sometimes I go a little nuts on the sweets. And by a little nuts I mean a binge. And by a binge I mean a real binge. The one where you eat 24 cookies in 5 minutes without ever tasting anything. After that I eat a pint of ice cream and then a bar of chocolate. Time Elapsed: 12 minutes. It’s a bad food relationship and it’s been happening a little too much lately.

These two things combined create one very upset digestive system and a very unhealthy mentality towards food. Did you see the Mindful Eating article in the NY Times on Thursday? Though I do consider myself a Buddhist, I’ve never been a very good one. My mindfulness and meditation practices are pretty awful.

But since quitting smoking, I’ve found a need to snatch any moments of meditation where ever I can. See: Be Here Now from NPR for some tips on short meditation. It’s not perfect, but anytime you can take the time to “quiet your mind and open your heart” as Jack Kornfield says, you’re helping yourself in all sorts of positive ways.

What better way to renew a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food and cooking by practicing mindfulness while I eat?

Mindful eating is not a diet, or about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough. Or that it really needs some salad. ~Jeff Gordinier; NY Times 

When I binge, I don’t actually taste anything. I couldn’t tell you if those almond butter cookies I made yesterday were good or not. If they tasted different than peanut butter cookies or if the white chocolate I put inside added anything in texture, taste, pleasure. The same with the handful of Brazil nuts I ate after. I still don’t know if they were salted.

This weekend, then, it’s about two things. 1) A bit of a liquid diet to go easy on my digestion. 2) Learning to slow down and re-focus my brain and do things more mindfully – in small chunks of course because these things take lifetimes – but especially to be more mindful of my eating and my food.

This is where the soup comes in. When was the last time you tasted soup? Really tasted soup? All the textures, the tastes, the way it slides around your tongue, your mouth and then down your throat. It’s an intense experience if you have a good soup. It could be something as simple as leek soup with a twist of ground pepper. The bite-burn of the pepper, over the leek’s soft twang. When the leeks are puréed they are mushy – as all purée is – but there’s an interesting consistency, not thick, not thin. Almost like a thin oatmeal. Comforting.

Comfort foods are necessary when it looks like this.

There are lots of soups on the menu. Some homemade, some store-bought. Leek soup, Carrot and sweet potato soup, roasted vegetable soup with tahini (recipe below), tomato soup, lentil soup, zucchini soup. I’m stocked on soups.

And lemons. Got to clean out that liver.

Don’t get worried here. I’m not trying to starve myself. Though almost all of my soups are under 150 calories, I’m eating a bowl every 2 hours and keeping myself up around 1200 calories. I am allowing myself a bit of homemade focaccia bread or rice cakes as the mood strikes me.

Spiced Roasted Vegetable Soup with Tahini

based off of Babaganoush Soup by Sprint 2 the Table.

  • 1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 100 g Eggplant sliced
  • 100 g Zucchini sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 100 g red onion
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 tblspn EVOO, divided
  • 1 tblspn Sesame Tahini
  • 1 lemon slice
  • 500mL Organic vegetable broth

And a whole lot of spices. But we’ll get to those.

First preheat your oven to 200°C. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper put all your veggies except the tomato. Keep the garlic in their skins. Drizzle with the olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, turning everything halfway through. Take out of the oven when fully roasted, let cool and remove any blackened skins.

In the meantime boil your vegetable broth in a large pot, slice your tomato and add to the pot. Reduce to simmer. Add the roasted vegetables and cook for 10 minutes at a simmer so that the flavors have a chance to blend together. Add the other tablespoon of EVOO.

Then add your spices. Here are the ones I used all in ¼ or 1/8 teaspoons:

  • ground cumin
  • ground cinnamon
  • ground ginger
  • tumeric
  • cayenne pepper
  • ground nutmeg
  • ground cloves
  • ground black pepper

And add your tahini and lemon. Let simmer for another 5 or 10 minutes. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy with a bit of homemade bread. Enjoy it with mindfulness – every last drop.

Spend the day relaxing, reading, catching up on sleep. Like I’m doing with the cats. We’re all on the couch staying warm together.

I’ll be updating on my journey in Mindful Eating later on in the week. Try the experience with me. For dinner, lunch, or breakfast – or even during a snack – tomorrow turn off the TV, sit down comfortably and spend a good 20 minutes concentrating on what you’re eating. The texture, taste, smell, look. Enjoy it from all sides and experience your food.

There is something completely unacceptable happening in Provence this weekend. It’s worse than chilling a 20 year old Château de la Tour. Worse than mixing a good Epoisse with tomatoes and onions. Worse than clam ice cream.

It’s snowing.

No, really. It’s snowing. Big wet flakes coming down from the sky covering trees and cars.

I grew up in New England, so you’d think I’d be okay with this. But I’m not. At all. After living in Phoenix for four years I got used to the happy times of heat and bright sun all year round and never wanted to leave. I thought I’d have something similar in Provence. It is, after all, a Mediterranean climate.

Nevertheless, there it is. I got up this morning, made my morning coffee and oatmeal and opened up the blinds. I was bringing my oatmeal to the couch, when I saw it. My expression was horrified, a terrified, disgusted gasp escaped from the deepest parts of my belly. The cats sat up on their hind-legs and pressed their paws to the glass. Snow.

The husband and I had plans to go to the market and buy some items for the weekend and cat food for the cats – who eat like horses – and so we bundled ourselves up at 10am and set out.

On the way back we were discussing what to have with the lamb and red wine we had purchased and I suddenly remembered: “We still have a can of Cassoulet in the house from L’Esprit du Vin.” Lamb was forgotten. Red wine wasn’t. Cassoulet was on the menu.

Cassoulet. White beans, goose or duck, sausage from Toulouse, slow cooked in duck or goose fat.

It’s direct from the producer. I added tomatoes and onion, to which the husband said “you know there are no tomatoes in cassoulet.”

“They use tomato paste,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“So, I’m adapting it. I’m using a small dice.”

“Ok, I just wanted to be sure.”

There are also carrots in cassoulet, but I omitted those because I knew the husband would complain about my vegetable obsession.

Anyway. Into the pan it went over low low heat. The fat melts and heats up quickly becoming such a thick, wonderful sauce. With a glass of red wine it is truly winter-stick-to-your-ribs food. Comfort food. Perfect for watching the snow out the window and Iron Chef on the computer alternately.


We drank a Crozes Hermitage, 2007 made of only syrah grapes. It was a simple purchase from the supermarket. A light wine but with a full-bodied fruity flavor that worked well with the soft, subtly of the white beans without anything being over powering. Not a complex flavor, no oaken-tones or rosemary and herbs like you find in many Côtes du Rhone, but it was a delightful taste.


It went well with the cheese that followed the meal. Because on a day like this you have to make a holiday of it and have cheese.


And ice cream. Vanilla and Nutella ice cream with fresh strawberries. I found these at the market, coming from Spain, and while I try to only buy French produce, Spain – as I’ve reminded the husband – is not that far away – and I couldn’t resist this touch of summer in the midst of winter. Ice cream might not have been the warmest option in the middle of snow, but I can never resist ice cream. And warm coffee with a piece of chocolate soon followed.


Curling up on the couch with a belly full of cassoulet and red wine and cheese is the way to spend a snowy Saturday. The emergency of this sudden and horrific change in climate has been averted and I have dealt with it admirably, if I may say so myself.

February 2nd in the United States is all about waking up some poor, snuggly groundhog and showing him his shadow. Or not depending, on whether or not you like ski season, I guess…

In France, February 2nd has it’s own name: la Chandeleur, also known as Candlemas. It has to do with the Virgin Mary and Jesus and before that it supposedly had to do with asking the fertility gods to come back and bless the various barbarian tribes of Europe.

Far from being a religious celebration, the French have forgotten all about the Virgin Mary and Jesus and instead, February 2nd has become all about the food. Much like everything else in France. I think that’s what I like about the French. It’s always all about the food.

From bars and cafés to gourmet restaurants, February 2nd is where we all sit down at the table – or stand around the stove – and eat crêpes.

What can I say about crêpes that hasn’t already been said? Other than if you haven’t had one, make them immediately. They aren’t pancakes because they are too flat and thin and they aren’t pannenkoeken for kind of the same reason and because they are French. Pannenkoeken I’ve been told are encouraged to puff. It would be a crime to puff a crêpe.

There are two types of crêpes that can be served today. Sweet and savory. Both are easy to make, but require a different set of ingredients. This meant I had to make a mess of my kitchen.

Some of you out there might have plenty of space to work with. I don’t. I live in an Ikea-sized apartment. The kind you see set up as an example of small living spaces. We’re still setting up.

Anyway. First get out your crêpe pan. It’s thin, flat, and thin. My crêpe pan was inherited from the husband’s grandmother and is rather small, but that’s alright. It just means we get to layer our crêpes in the end.

Prepare your savory:

Makes 8 crêpes

  • 150g Buckwheat flour
  • 1 egg
  • 375ml water
  • ½ tsp salt


Buckwheat flour or sarrasin has an essential color, flavor and texture that is important to the savory crêpe. It’s just that much better than all purpose flour because it’s thinner and more wheaty in taste. I  have no idea what to call it – wheaty seems good.

Anyway, whisk your ingredients together. Set aside.

Prepare your sweet:

Makes 8 crêpes

  • 125g flour (see below)
  • 30g unsalted butter, melted
  • 25g – 30g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 120ml water
  • 120ml milk


There are other batter recipes out there, but this is the one I used and it came out lovely. A word on the flour – I used farine de fluide which supposedly exists as fluid flour in English speaking countries, but I had never seen it until I moved here. It’s very, very fine. I might see if there’s something else I can do with it other than crêpes because I have so much of it now, but anyway, if you don’t have farine de fluide, all purpose works fine.

Mix everything in a bowl, whisk together. Set aside. In the meantime, do your dishes. And prepare your toppings. People recommend letting your batter sit for an hour or two, but I let it sit for 30 minutes and it was perfectly fine.

You can put practically ANYTHING on your crêpes. Seriously. Take your pick. I’ve seen hamburger crêpes, chicken curry crêpes, cheese filled crêpes, lamb crêpes, whatever. I decided on an egg with veggies and some aged gruyère. The husband had an egg with ham.

This was my first time handling the crêpes entirely on my own. The two years previous the husband did the cooking and flipping. It was a stressful moment.

The photo is blurry, but I still thought it a neat shot.

The thing about crêpes is: for the perfect one you want the batter to be completely even on the pan, and as thin as you can possible get. You want to be able to almost see the black of the pan under your batter.

I kind of failed that so my crêpes are a little thick, but that’s alright. It just means they took longer to cook and were slightly harder to flip.

Pile your toppings on your crêpe. Make a little sandwich with the savory ones. It’s delightful.
Crêpes are designed to be enjoyed one at a time, made one at a time standing over a stove top. So it’s the type of thing you eat standing up. Enjoying a glass of cider. The husband was in charge of that. Pajamas are par for the course.

Anything goes for the sweet crêpes too. There’s the crêpe suzette which is set on fire and lots of fun. But we wanted to keep it simple. Crêpes with powdered sugar are the easiest, simplest option, but even better is Nutella.

The husband made a smiley with his.

What else is there to say? Crêpes are wonderful, adaptable, easy, and fun. And I get to use the ^ hat accent on my keyboard over and over and over.

Enjoy your February 2nd and all of your coming weekend with some crêpes and cider. On Sunday enjoy them with Nutella because the 5th is World Nutella Day. I’m still not sure what I’m doing… maybe I’ll go with what a friend suggested and just break out a big spoon.

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.

    Have you ever watched Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares?

Here it’s called Cauchemar en Cuisine and the Ramsay version plays on Sundays – British and American versions – from about 5 – 7:30 with the type of dubbing where you can hear the English being spoken under the French. The type they use for newscasts. It drives my crazy.

The husband and I love the show. It’s one of those reality TV guilty pleasures where you know half of it is staged but you can’t get enough.

So you can imagine my delight when M6 began their own French series of Cauchemar en Cuisine, complete with their own version of Ramasy in the guise of Philippe Etchebest. That link is in French by the way. He’s a two starred chef and former Rugby player.

Mr. Etchebest is far tamer than Ramsay, but that’s not too surprising. Nor is it surprising that in the program’s first season, I haven’t seen one dirty, disgusting kitchen. I think the French are too self-conscious for that. However, what I did see on Tuesday night when I sat down to watch my new favorite program – at least until Top Chef saison 3 begins next week – was a fabulous recipe idea.
Imagine this:  
Roasted garlic
butternut squash
aged Parmesan
1 wonderfully poached egg
a sprinkling of sage

Equals the perfect way to spice up butternut squash soup.

The original recipe called for cèpes – a type of wild mushroom, croutons, egg, and a Parmesan chantilly. The original recipe used an entire stick of butter and an entire cup of heavy whipping cream.

So unnecessary.

The original recipe didn’t have garlic. Mine does and it’s fabulous.

Roasted Garlic Butternut Squash Soup with Poached Eggs and Parmesan
Inspired by Phillipe Etchebest

  • 1 garlic bulb, separated into cloves
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, chopped into cubes. The squash I used was about 1/3 the size of a normal squash. When I weighed it after peeling, seeding, cubing, it was just under 500 grams.
  • ½ white onion diced
  • 2 tblsp Olive oil
  • 2.5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 eggs
  • 40 grams of aged 24 months, Parmesan


First the cheese. When I cook with Parmesan I go all out. Trust me and spend the money on the cheese. Aged Parmesan cannot be beat in texture and taste. Salty and tart, it piques on the tongue and leaves a pleasant, sharp after taste that is better than any cheddar.

Preheat your oven to 200°C. In a baking dish separate your garlic bulb into its cloves and toss with a bit of olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 40 minutes or until very mushy and tender.

In the meantime, prepare your soup. In the bottom of a large pot heat up the olive oil and cook the onion over high heat for about 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Add you squash and broth. Bring to a boil. Stir, add salt and pepper, cover and simmer until squash is completely tender.

Foggy soup goodness.


When both garlic and squash are cooked, and the garlic has cooled down enough so you can remove the skin, pour everything into a blender and blend until smooth. Add some sage. Pour back into your pot, cover and keep warm.

Slice up some Parmesan, set aside.

Now the hard part. Poaching an egg is easy, but difficult at the same time. It’s not just about cooking the egg, but getting the look. Making sure you don’t crack the yolk, that there’s enough of the white to form a nice base around said yolk. Putting it in and taking it out of the softly boiling water without destroying everything.

I recommend this website as a guide: How to Poach an Egg.  It covered the basics pretty well.

While your egg is poaching, ladle your soup into the bowl, have the Parmesan ready, because this needs to be served immediately.


Take your egg out of the water and gently lay it into the soup. Top with Parmesan. Serve.

Honestly, I knew the Parmesan would work but I wasn’t too sure of the egg. Eggs taste like eggs. This we agree on. And the addition of the egg to this soup added flavor and texture. Though the taste of an egg is simple, layered with the soup and cheese it was like eating a complex, wintry breakfast.

So I served it with homemade home fries. They were yummy too.
Thanks to M. Etchebest (pronounced Etch-eh-best) for his fabulous idea. Who knows what happened to the restaurant he was trying to help, but he has made this little American amateur extremely happy.

Wednesday, I purchased the ultimate tool in smart cooking. Something the husband had been complaining about the price of, something he kept telling me we didn’t have the counter space for, something that we really, really needed. It’s the thing EVERY chef has, amateur or professional.

The scale. Sorry about the blurriness, I think I’m drinking too much coffee.

What made me break down and finally buy such a thing when I’d apparently getting along without it?

Cat food.

Pistou is getting fat. Soon Dumpling will be, if she continues to eat the way she is. They needed to have their food intake monitored (just like I do). And we all know how important a good scale is to proper baking and even a proper diet. Yes, cup are alright, ounces are OK, but grams are precise. I’m a convert to the metric system.

Apparently Chinese New Year is sometime around now? Sorry to my Asian friends but I’ve never paid much attention Chinese New Year. I have enough to keep track of being of Jewish-descent and living in a Roman-influenced world. Honestly, I don’t need another calendar to keep track of.

I could say that I made these spring rolls in honor of the Chinese New Year but that would be a lie. I made them because I wanted to, because for some inexplicable reason I went out on Monday and bought rice paper.

I made three different rolls. Here’s a list of the ingredients for all three in no particular order.

  • Cabbage
  • carrots
  • onion
  • peanuts
  • smoked tofu
  • diced chicken
  • avocado
  • radish
  • bell pepper
  • soy sauce
  • sesame oil
  • ground garlic
  • ground ginger
  • rice paper wrappers
  • chopped basil (I used frozen, but fresh is best)

Don’t be daunted by the list of ingredients, it’s super easy to prepare.

Steam the carrots, cabbage and pepper. You can steam the tofu too if you like. Or marinate it along side the chicken in soy sauce. Dice your onion, slice your avocado, etc.

I’m not going to give you the measurements of what I used, because it would be a little strange as I made two dumplings with veggies and tofu, two with chicken, cabbage, and onion and two with veggies, chicken, and avocado slices. There was far more cabbage than anything else. You can arrange them however you like.

I overstuffed these, as I have a tendency to do, so we had with 6 dumplings (3 each) and 1 left over filled with random veggies. This really doesn’t pose a problem – who doesn’t love overstuffed stuff? – except that the a few of the rolls fell apart in the steamer. Live and learn.

With a blend of sesame oil and soy sauce on the side these were a lovely dinner treat. The husband declared them a success, even enjoying the one with smoked tofu. The lightly steamed vegetables allowed for a soft crunch, heavy on the flavor of carrots and cabbage which I honestly find comforting during these cold winter days. What makes these “spring rolls” for me is the addition of basil. I know it’s common in Asian foods, but I have often found that combining winter vegetables like cabbage and carrots with basil – which is strictly a summer thing here and near impossible to find in winter – fuses the flavors of the two opposing seasons. This way, you’re eating your way to spring, long sunny days, and warm(er) weather.

It was 56 degrees here on Wednesday. Also, spring rolls are really hard to photograph.

This is spelt. It’s a dark, ancient grain that you can boil and eat like rice. It has a lovely wild and nutty flavor and is, I’m sure, rich in something that I’m not aware of. But ancient grains are good for you.

This is merguez. It’s a spicy sausage made with lamb. Yes, these particular merguez come from my butcher in la Seyne.

Last night I combined them to make a nutty, spicy, heady (think a deep red wine) stuffing to go in roasted peppers.  Ideally you could use any meat for this, but the merguez gives it an extra depth.

  • 1/2 cup dry spelt
  • vegetable broth
  • 2 merguez sausages
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 coeur de boeuf tomato (hot house?)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Garam masala
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put spelt in a medium sauce pan with 3X as much vegetable broth (So around 1 1/2 cups). Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and let simmer for 25 minutes.

In the meantime, slice the bottoms off of your peppers and clean out the insides. Set aside. Mince the bottoms of the peppers for use in the stuffing. I sliced about 1 1/2 inches off of my pepper, but they were pretty big. Also, I know normally you slice the tops off, but these peppers in particular, were not able to stand up on their own on their bottoms, but they could stand up by their tops – work with what you have.

Mince your onion and garlic. Dice your tomato. Heat olive oil in a pan and sautée the onion and pepper about 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic and merguez. Let the merguez cook for about 5 minutes and then take out to slice up. When you take the merguez out, add the tomato in its place and let it cook down. Dice up the merguez (which will probably still be uncooked but that’s fine) and throw back in the pan. Add your garam masala, salt, pepper.

When the spelt is done, add everything – liquid included – into the pan. Mix. Let everything simmer for another 5 minutes so the flavors blend. Then stuff your peppers. Add any remaining liquid or filling in the bottom of the pan to give the peppers a broth to baste in. Bake in the oven at 180°C for 40 minutes or until peppers are soft.

They’re a nice twist on simple stuffed vegetables, hearty and easy to make. A delightful, healthful meal that is not too spicy but has a little kick.

In Dumpling-Pistou news: Dumpling has a mouth problem, we think it’s either infected gums or rotten teeth. But the people from the refuge are afraid to take her away because she doesn’t eat when she gets upset and she’s already too, too thin. Who would have thought there’d be someone too thin in this house.

Pistou however, walks up to her when she’s sleeping in order to sniff and inspect. He’s still in shock, but he is also currently crying in the bathroom – a return to his bizarre drama queen ways…