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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…
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.
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.
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’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.
Today is World Nutella Day. A day of chocolate hazelnut spread. A day of goodness. A day that should be celebrated by all.
I kind of stressed about what to make for World Nutella Day. There are soooooo many options but all of them seemed to be tried and true. I’m fearful of creating my own pastry recipes as I’m not a pastry chef and don’t believe – sometimes resulting in incredible fails – that pastry is a precise art.
So, let me tell you a bit about Nutella instead. It’s orginally Italian, though many people I know believe it to be French or Swiss. It’s manufactured by the Ferrero company. They also make chocolates called Ferrero Rocher and Kinder. If you’ve ever been to Germany, Switzerland or France, you’ve had a Kinder. They’re the chocolate eggs with toys in them. They have other types too, but Americans love the idea of the toy inside their chocolate.
I first had Nutella when I was an exchange student in Switzerland. My host mother set it out for me alongside a loaf of bread before she went to work. I got up, my first day in a new country and had a taste of hip-spreading goodness. And it was hip-spreading – I gained 15lbs in Switzerland.
But that’s not the point. What is important is that I learned about a wonderful and versatile dessert. Nutella can be used for all sorts of amazing recipes. Or simply enjoyed with a spoon out of the jar.
You can find all sorts of Nutella recipes on the World Nutella Day website. But let’s keep it simple. Here are some ways you can use Nutella to add that special, sweet indulgence to your dessert:
But wait: who could forget my fabulous 50k Oatmean Nutella Cookies? Not me. They were filled with chocolate, Nutella, cocoa powder, rolled oats and a multi-grain flour that gave these cookies a fabulous crunch. Make them right away.
Enjoy it in coffee or hot chocolate if you’re somewhere snowy and cold.
You can even make your own as I might be doing later – try this recipe for a bit of variation: Hazelnut and olive oil chocolate spread. If there’s anyone who knows how to make homemade Nutella it would be Juls, a Tuscan girl.
So there you have it. There’s not much more to say about Nutella except that it’s fabulous and today of all days is the day to indulge.
Happy Nutella Day!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.