Monday, October 29, 2012

Pablo's menu this week

A week where one makes homemade raw butter and crème fraïche is by definition a good week! It certainly made ours. It was so easy (and fun, might I add) to make, and so much better tasting than anything store bought. If you want to give it a try, I used this video as a guide for the butter, it was perfect.

My butter in its cheesecloth cocoon...

I found the crème fraîche recipe (though it's so simple it really doesn't qualify as a recipe) here. Berries dipped in that crème fraîche are beyond this world. And we're making my mom's cream of watercress soup this week just to be able to put a dollop of that raw crème fraîche in there!  And as a Halloween treat, we might just make the fruit trifle from our trip to Normandy, mixing some of that crème with homemade plain yogurt...

Other highlights included a visit of the San Diego Hillcrest Farmer's market (where Pablo tasted local live sea urchin and loved it; we also found some tiny Japanese turnips I'm looking forward to cooking this week), and a roasted beet and purple potato tatin from Cannelle & Vanille blog, which was just outstanding.

Sharing a few more images, and our menu for the upcoming week... Hope it can spark some ideas for your family!

Roasted beet and purple potato tatin
Produce from the San Diego Hillcrest Farmers' market

Cheeses of the week: Following French tradition, I always offer a little bit of cheese at the end of every meal, between the main course and dessert. Rotation this week: Creamy Italian Blue cheese, Chives brie, Truffle triple cream, and we can never get away from the goat cheese (and have to sing the French song that goes along with it every night, "Ah biquette biquette"...!)

Desserts: At lunch, I offer a fruit yogurt (or plain yogurt with fresh fruit), but at night, I prefer sticking to plain yogurt (regular homemade* whole milk, sheep’s milk, goat's milk and Greek yogurt for extra protein) to avoid too much sugar before bedtime.

If you would like a particular recipe on the menu, feel free to contact me! (I marked with a * the recipes that will be the topic of upcoming posts).



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green bean salad
Main course: Tofu with kale puree

Goûter (4pm snack) - Mango compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Zucchini & mint salad, radishes
Main course: Pan-fried veal liver with yellow cauliflower



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Yellow cauliflower, tomato & potato salad
Main course: Shrimp with fava bean puree

Goûter - Passion fruit, berries dipped in home-made raw crème fraîche!


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cream of watercress (my all time favorite when I was a child!)
Main course: Lemon roast chicken with parsnip puree, recipe found on The Food Dept. blog

WEDNESDAY - Happy Halloween everyone!
Trying to go with the orange theme here... :-)

Appetizer / Finger Foods:  French-style grated carrots (recipe by Karen Le Billon here)
Main course: Mixed chicken salad with lots of veggies (corn, peas, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, hearts of palm, jicama, green beans...) - a good way to use leftover chicken and veggies.

Goûter - Apple & pear compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Roasted butternut squash & coconut soup inspired by The Lovely Pantry
Main course: Steamed turmeric sole "en papillote" (cooked in wax paper pouch)



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Hearts of palm & tomato salad
Main course: Ham with veggie noodles

Goûter - Kiwi

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Japanese cucumber salad from the wonderful Just One Cookbook blog
Main course: Leg of lamb steaks (pan-fried), with carrot, Japanese turnips & fresh peas jardinière



Main course: Sardines with broccoli & baked potato puree

Goûter - Banana

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leek whites in vinaigrette
Main course: Chicken Basquaise (We made a large batch last week, and froze two large portions for future busy - or exhausted - nights!)


Lunch - Eating out!
Goûter - Persimmon


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Savory herb custard (will experiment with sage this time)
Main course: Black pepper beef with 8 spices from Mummy I can cook blog, with steamed baby bok choy



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Avocado & orange tomato
Main course: Smoked salmon with creamed spinach

Goûter - Grapes, berries


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cauliflower, green beans, blue potato salad
Main course: Oven roasted pork ribs with rutabaga

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fava beans, guineafowl... and life lessons in the kitchen

Finding balance in life is just so darn (for lack of a worse word ;-) difficult. There I am, with that picture in my head telling me what my life should be, could be, would be if... if what? If it wasn't what it is? But it is what it is. All French existentialism aside, I'm realizing more and more how that's just no way to live. Who cares what life is "supposed to be"? According to whom? Bottom line is, I often do care. Too much. It's annoying, I can't shake it sometimes. Waiting for when life will be what it's "supposed to be". Meanwhile, life is now, moving along, regardless of shouldas couldas wouldas.

So... how do fresh fava beans come into that picture, you ask? 

Well, fava beans have helped me this week.

Thanks to this blog and my renewed passion for cooking since Pablo was born, I have been really excited to eat seasonally. I blogged about the joy brought by heirloom tomatoes a couple of months ago. More recently, I have been going to farmer's markets or grocery stores like one goes on a treasure hunt. "What am I going to find that's fresh, local, seasonal, and hopefully organic?" Eating/cooking seasonally and being open-minded and eager to discover whatever the seasons bring you, has been one way to live in the present, and be grateful for what it has to offer.

Once again, life lessons in the kitchen... If I can teach myself and my son to go into a store - and into life - with as few expectations as possible, but with an eager open mind and a desire to learn, take in, discover, explore... if I can teach him how rewarding that can be, and that may just be the secret of happiness in life, then I will be content.

So this last week, it was fava beans the present season brought us, and boy were we grateful.

In France, fava beans are in season in the fall, but I read in the US, they can be in season in the spring and summer. Have you seen them around in your area? From seeing them appear for the first time at Whole Foods the past couple of weeks, I assume they grow in the fall here. We ate some in Normandy in September and Pablo loved them raw as well as cooked. Yes, they are a bit labor intensive, as you have to shell them, and peel their outer skin (shelling and peeling is a cool activity kids can help with!), but I hope you will believe me when I tell you they are so worth it! They just don't compare to their dried counterparts.

So when my friend Christelle in Normandy mentioned this super simple, yet delicious recipe using the fava beans she often gets in her CSA delivery this time of year, I was sold.

Guinea fowl, named pintade in French, is a very common type of poultry most French families consume regularly.

In case you're wondering what a guinea fowl looks like...
It is as easy to cook as a chicken, but does have much more flavor. It is fairly small usually, and rarely feeds more than 4-5 people. If you haven't had it before, and you have an opportunity to find it, you should give it a try. (In LA, I found it at the poultry stall at the Farmer's Market). This recipe could be done exactly the same way with a regular chicken (or any type of poultry), but the fava beans are better complemented by a meat that has a stronger flavor.

Did I ever imagine I would be one day writing about guinea fowl and fava beans? Definitely not. And here I am, loving every minute of it. Throwing the shoulds out my kitchen window, and focusing on what's right there, in front of me.
Have you found something unexpected and seasonal recently that you were excited to cook and try? If not, on your next trip at the market, would you be willing to pick one unfamiliar seasonal produce and experiment with it in the kitchen? 
What life lessons have you learned in the kitchen?

Roasted guinea fowl with fava beans

Recipe by my good friend Christelle in Normandy, merci Christelle!

Serves about 4

Ages for babies: This is so simple, it can be given at 6-8 months as a puree, adding some of the cooking juices to obtain desired consistency. After 8 months, fava beans make a perfect finger food (like all beans).

Prep time - 30 minutes (shelling and peeling the beans does take a while... a great activity for meditation, relaxation, or chatting with a good friend!)
Cook time - 45-50 minutes

1 guinea fowl
4 lbs fava beans in pods (yields about 13 oz of cooked beans)
Olive oil
Fresh thyme
Italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt & pepper

In a Dutch oven, heat some olive oil at medium-high heat and brown the guinea fowl on all sides.
Sprinkle with thyme leaves, parsley, salt & pepper.

Add 1 1/2 cup of hot water, cover and simmer over low-medium heat for about 35 minutes, checking from time to time there's still a little liquid in the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, shell and peel the fava beans, by removing the outer skin (see pictures above), so you're left with the darker green bean. (*You could do the shelling/peeling ahead of time, dramatically reducing the prep time on the day you make this).

When the guinea fowl has been cooking for about 35 minutes, add the fava beans in the cooking juices with the guinea fowl, cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the beans are tender.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Chard ribs au gratin... good for you, or just plain good?

So here it is, Food Day. I have been debating what recipe to share on this festive occasion. Or should I say, on this educational health-oriented day? Should it be something fun? Or something healthy? What if I told you my hope is that, when you read “Chard ribs au gratin”, you will forget how healthy or good for you it might be, and think, “Oh how fun and delicious!”? Therein lies the topic of this post. And perhaps of my blog as well, and one of the most fundamental differences between the French take on food, and the American take.

Food Day is an awesome initiative (more info on it here), self-defined as a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. I’m so glad they described it first as a celebration of food, but it does have a definite, and admirable focus on health and nutrition. Out of curiosity, I went on the French website for “La Semaine du Goût”, the French version of Food Day, except it’s a full week and the literal translation is “Week of Flavor”. Here’s how they describe their main objectives (in that order): 

-          The education of taste, of consumers, and children in particular.
-          The diversity of flavors
-          Transparent and educational information on food products, their origins, the means of  
 production, and their specificity
-          Raise awareness about professions and know-how in the food industry
-          The pleasure of savoring food
-          Encourage food behaviors and consumption that fit with a durable, balanced lifestyle

Notice how the word “health” isn’t mentioned once?

I was chatting with a French friend last week, about the challenges of finding the time and motivation to exercise (one of my biggest challenges at the moment!). He was telling me every time he tried to exercise as a “duty” or obligation, doing an activity he didn’t enjoy doing, it never lasted longer than a couple of weeks. He was only able to exercise regularly over a long period of time, making it a true habit, when he found something he really loved doing, something that gave him pleasure (in his case, spinning and hiking).
A few days later, I heard on NPR a discussion on whether or not to ban energy and caffeinated drinks for children. And an expert mentioned that educating children about how bad those beverages are for them, did very little to deter them from consuming those beverages. In short, children don’t really care if something is good or bad for them. In fact, something "bad' might have the opposite effect on some children, and motivate them even more to have it! (And vice versa for "good for you" items). 

Then I remembered the study Karen Le Billon mentions in her book and blog on different cultures and their view of food. When shown a picture of a chocolate cake and asked what it made them think of, most Americans responded, “calories”, “guilt”. Most French responded, “celebration”, “pleasure” (while the rate of obesity is much lower in France, and children consume a lot more vegetables than in other countries). 

You probably have figured out by now where I’m going with this… I contend that pleasure, fun and enjoyment are very powerful forces for durable behavior changes, while restrictions, a sense of duty, obligation and guilt are a sure bet to excess and rebellion. 

Talking to children explicitly about health and nutrition concepts can be helpful, but I think it’s limited. First you can only do it when kids are at least 3 or 4. But teaching kids about food and balance can start much much earlier, and in a much more fundamental, visceral way in those formative first three years (that's not to say it can't be learned also later on, and even as an adult. The brain is very malleable and adaptable that way!) I really think the concept of "good for you" is extremely abstract to children and young people. Perhaps it requires a grasp of your own mortality to understand it. It just isn't an good motivator. Pleasure, fun and enjoyment are the best, most durable, efficient tools to help kids build healthy eating habits and have a balanced diet. (Interestingly, the French always seem to emphasize "balanced nutrition" over "healthy nutrition".)

The point is not to ban chocolate cake and other so-called “unhealthy” treats all together (which may lead to binging and making that food all the more attractive for being "forbidden"). Those foods are not so unhealthy if had once in a while. It’s all about finding balance, and making healthy foods a source of fun and pleasure, by nurturing, developing and educating children’s tastes and palates.

So I say let’s not hide vegetables with sweets (forget the apricot banana spinach pouches!), and show our kids how delicious vegetables can be. Because they really are. Let’s not say, “Eat your broccoli because it’s good for you”, but “eat these rib chards au gratin because they’re yummy. They taste good, and they’re colorful and fun.”

 Introducing the fun component is pretty easy with children, especially babies and toddlers, they can be so curious and open-minded. Here are some of the ways I’ve tried to wire-connect “fun-pleasure” with “(good) food” for Pablo:

- By example. We really enjoy planning, shopping for, cooking and eating our meals, we talk about it, we get excited about it. He definitely feeds off on that.

- By letting him play with his food (within reason). Especially from 8 months on, letting him experience food in a sensual, tactile way, different textures, colors. I let him eat with his fingers to nurture an interest for what’s in his plate, and a discerning palate. Now he's starting to find that eating with a fork and spoon is very fun too. Phew!

- By nurturing his sense of smell, getting him to smell herbs, dishes, produce, fruits. Smell is a huge part of the sense of taste. I get all excited about smelling a cheese or bread, and so he does too…

- By having him participate in growing some things we eat. I mostly have herbs for now, but plan on doing much more gardening of veggies with him as I learn more about gardening myself.

- Talking to him about the origins of food, and taking him to the countryside to see it, or show him in books. He knows apples, pears, oranges come from trees. He knows milk comes from cows, fish from the sea, etc.

- By having him help with simple kitchen tasks. He had a blast recently shelling peas and fava beans, tasting them raw.

- Using fun family food rituals (from my childhood, or new made-up ones)

- Talking to him about what foods feel like in his mouth. If he tastes something very tangy, we do the “tickle in the mouth head dance”, he giggles and asks for more…

Do you have other ways to make food fun and enjoyable? Let me know in the comments! I’m always looking for new ideas.

So I leave you with this dish from Southern France, which caught my eye a few months ago. I love the look of rainbow chards, but never quite knew what to do with the colorful ribs. This is definitely a good example of making something that is healthy and looks pretty, but doesn’t taste like much on its own, taste delicious.



Chards ribs au gratin

Adapted from La bonne cuisine du Comté de Nice by Jacques Médecin

Serves about 4 as a side dish

Prep time: 5 mn + 10 mn
Cook time: 1 hr + 5-7 mn

Age for babies: 8-10 months, makes a good finger food cut up in small pieces (it's very soft when cooked)

1 bunch of rainbow chards
1 onion (peeled, left whole)
3 garlic cloves
1 small bunch of Italian parsley
1/2 bay leaf
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
1 anchovy fillet
2 tbsp flour
Olive oil
Grated cheese of choice
Salt & pepper

In a large pot, put 2 quarts of water with 1 garlic clove (whole), the onion. Tie together (or place in a small cloth bag) 1/2 of parsley, bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme, and add it in. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, "peel" the ribs. First separate the ribs from the leaves. (Recipes abound for chard leaves, you can boil the leaves for about 10 minutes in a large pot of water, drain well and eat either hot, creamed, or cold with vinaigrette, or you could try the rainbow chards cod brandade I blogged about.)

An optional step is to take the strings out of the ribs, as follows: take the stem, break it so the hollow part goes inward, and as you pull, you will see the strings, remove them with a small knife. Keep doing this every few inches on the stems to remove most of the strings. See the picture above to get a visual on this.

If you choose not to do that, just cut up the ribs in 2-3 inch pieces.

Then finely chop the remaining parsley and set aside. Mince the 2 remaining garlic cloves.

Put the rib pieces in the broth for 10 minutes, and drain. Discard the onion and herbs.

With a mortar and pestle, grind together the minced garlic and anchovy fillet.

In a small saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil with 2 tbsp of flour, stir with a wooden spoon until you obtain a "roux" (brown mixture). Add the garlic/anchovy paste and 4 tbsp of minced parsley. Mix well.  Add 2 ladles of the broth used to cook the ribs, and let simmer on low heat, stirring often, until you get a thick sauce.

Place the ribs in a baking dish, pour the sauce over them, and sprinkle a bit of grated cheese (Swiss or Parmesan).

Broil for 5-7 minutes, until golden on top.
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Pablo's weekly menu : 18 months and a solid appetite!

Halloween, squash and pumpkins, scarecrows and hayrides, apples and pears... Autumn is in the air, in its own strange Southern California way... An eventful week past, en route for another! I'm in a bulletpoint kind of mood tonight ;-), so here it is:
- Finally launched a Facebook page, follow it and "like" it here if you're so enclined...
- Thrilled to be on the raw milk bandwagon, in part thanks to very informative sites, here, here and here, shared by Shanna at Food Loves Writing. I also found raw cream at the Hollywood Farmer's market, and will be making homemade raw butter and crème fraîche tomorrow!
- Found fresh, local fava beans, sunchokes and English peas on the same day at Whole Foods... You can imagine my excitement.
- Visited our CSA Farm, had a walk and picnic amidst beautiful orange groves and humongous avocado trees, Pablo picked out a pumpkin and carved it for the first time (well, with a little help)...
- Realized getting our organic basket delivery every other week is a little bit reminiscent of Christmas, with vegetables! When the "veggie fairy" magically drops a box full of produce on our doorstep, Pablo gets almost as pumped up as I do!
- Had the most fantastic soup ever. Seriously, you have to try it.
- Had a fabulous German meal with our friends from Gopher Springs Farm, and one thing is certain: Pablo likes veal Vienna sausage and sauerkraut.
- Finding ways to get Pablo to eat pears. He doesn't seem to be too fond of them... yet. I need to be creative and offer it to him in different ways. This could be one.
All right, sharing some images and moving on to this week's menu.
Our CSA delivery this week... Vibrant veggies that looked like they were just picked.
A picnic and a walk amidst orange groves near Fillmore, CA
It's fall, but it is Southern California... still so warm, we're lucky to still enjoy gorgeous organic heirloom tomatoes
Cheeses of the week: Following French tradition, I always offer a little bit of cheese at the end of every meal, between the main course and dessert. Rotation this week: Creamy Italian Blue cheese, Camembert, Goat gouda.

Desserts: At lunch, I offer a fruit yogurt (or plain yogurt with fresh fruit), but at night, I prefer sticking to plain yogurt (regular homemade* whole milk, sheep’s milk, goat's milk and Greek yogurt for extra protein) to avoid too much sugar before bedtime.

If you would like a particular recipe on the menu, feel free to contact me! (I marked with a * the recipes that will be the topic of upcoming posts).



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leeks, hearts of palm & tomato salad
Main course: Tofu with kale puree

Goûter (4pm snack) - Banana


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Vegetable noodles
Main course: Ham, with baby bok choy puree



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber in yogurt tarragon sauce
Main course: Beef patty with rainbow chard ribs au gratin*

Goûter - Grapes, passion fruit


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Guinea fowl with fresh fava beans, and chard leaves puree*



Main course: Sardine and creamed fava bean with cumin tartine*

Goûter - Apple & pear compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Sunchoke velouté
Main course: Chicken Basquaise



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Trying the beetroot & blue potato tatin from Cannelle & Vanille
Main course: Prosciutto and lamb's lettuce salad

Goûter - Blackberries


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Endive & promegranate seed salad
Main course: Oxtails braised in coconut*, with Jasmine rice
(A great crock pot recipe, we were supposed to make it last week and had a change of plans.)

FRIDAY - Pablo's 18 months today :-)


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cold (cooked) zucchini, mint & feta salad
Main course: Veal liver with green beans (with garlic and Italian parsley)

Goûter - Persimmon


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Roasted butternut squash & coconut soup inspired by The Lovely Pantry
Main course: Dover sole fillets with quinoa

SATURDAY/SUNDAY - Out of town to visit relatives... we'll have to see what good things we find to eat!

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Friday, October 19, 2012

It's all about the herbs... and a savory custard

First I wanted to thank everyone for the wonderful response and feedback to my four-course family meal post, I'm so happy if it can be useful to families. We're all in the same boat of wanting our kids (and ourselves while we're at it) to eat well and healthy!

Speaking of which, I wanted to share this amazingly simple custard recipe. These basic ingredients made into a savory custard, result in a delicious, subtle appetizer. I would think this would be a great way to get picky eaters to try herbs.  This is one of those "It looks fancy, but it really isn't" French recipes.

I am a big fan of herbs, and a big believer in introducing them to children and babies very early on. (I must have started around 6 months for Pablo, adding one new herb at a time to his purees). Their subtle taste brings out the flavor in dishes and enhances it, not to mention their high vitamin and mineral content, so we use them a lot, not only in cooked dishes, but in our salads as well (for example, I add 4 or 5 different kinds of chopped herbs to our plain butter lettuce salad, with a shallot and some vinaigrette. Delicious!)

I started a little herb garden of my own last year and it has been such a pleasure to go pick our fresh herbs for cooking. It's also so much easier to be able to use just the quantity you need and have it always handy (the herbs I buy at the store always seem to go bad before I can use them all...) The herb garden has been a wonderful way to get Pablo involved. He helps water them, he smells their different fragrances, even takes a bite sometimes. (I'm thinking of devising a "scent guessing game" when Pablo is a bit older, with different herbs, to get him to recognize the smells.)


The idea is to make herbs fun, interesting and familiar as early as possible. Well, this custard is certainly one way to do just that. We made it twice in one week it was so good, and so easy to make.
I hope you give it a try, and tell me what you think! And it would definitely be fun to make the same custard experimenting with different herbs. 


Savory Herb Custard

Recipe inspired from the Best Of edition of the French magazine Gourmand.

For 4 custards

Prep time - 10 minutes
Cook time - 40 minutes + cooling time

Age for babies: 10 months and above, because of the whole eggs. This is a great way to expose baby to the subtle flavor of herbs.

1/2 bunch of Italian parsley
A good handful of chives
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
3 eggs
2/3 cup of milk
2/3 cup of heavy cream
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven at 300° F.

Peel and mince the garlic clove. In a saucepan, pour the milk and cream, and add the garlic. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.

Wash, dry and chop finely the parsley and chives (I used a small Cuisinart to do the chopping for me).

In a bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Slowly pour the milk/cream/garlic mixture into the eggs, while whisking. Add the herbs, a pinch of salt & a dash of pepper.

Pour the custard into oven-safe ramekins or jars. Place the ramekins in a deep baking pan, and place the pan on the oven rack. Add enough hot water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins, to cook in a water bath.

Bake about 40 minutes until center is set (see if a knife comes out clean).

Remove from the water bath, let cool and serve lukewarm or at room temperature.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Anatomy of the French four-course meal

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “It’s about the journey, not the destination”. I was recently asked to give a sort of “practical guide” on the logistics of the so-called four-course meal as most French families eat it. And that expression encapsulates what the French-style family four-course meal is all about. I wanted to really delve into the subject, as I am really excited that more and more people are interested in it. Forgive me, as this is a bear of a post with few pictures, but I hope you will enjoy the "journey" as it were, and will find some of it useful and practical for your family. My aim is to share my experience, and start a conversation... So I very much look forward to your feedback, comments and ideas on this.


It appears more and more people in the United States are trying to adopt the French style of eating, given recent studies showing very low rate of child obesity in France compared to most other developed countries. Two very insightful books have triggered or increased this new found interest for the French take on food and kids’ food education: Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, which touches on food but also talks more generally about the French take on child rearing. And French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon, an insightful and extensive analysis of the way the French approach food and food education for their children (the “éducation du goût", as the French call it,  the “education of taste”, the very topic of this blog). Both books were very enlightening for me. As they both rightfully point out, the French aren’t very self-aware about their own practices. I was very much raised in the French tradition of the four-course family meal and have been eating this way since childhood without giving it much thought. Yet the way my mom instilled in me the love and appreciation of good food, the pleasure of cooking and savoring, the love of variety, is one of the things I cherish most about my childhood. Meals were always meaningful bonding times in our household. Dinner parties were festive occasions to connect with friends and share the pleasurable experience that is eating.

Now that I have my own child, instilling that same “foodie spirit” has been a priority for me, and at a very young age. Exposing my son to as many foods (variety, textures, flavors) as possible before age 2 is one crucial component. The other crucial component is the family meal. Even though being a freelancer isn’t always easy, I am very fortunate to be able to work from home, and thus have, most of the time, three sit-down meals with my son every day, with the help of my wonderful mom who looks after Pablo when I work. And especially now that Pablo and we eat the same things, we thus eat as well as Pablo, and are on the same 3 meals plus one afternoon snack a day schedule. I really have seen the benefits of it myself as an adult. I don’t feel hungry throughout the day, very rarely snack, and eat a whole lot more vegetables than I did when I was a young childless adult with “looser” eating habits.

So our family meals are composed of four courses, with 1/ a vegetable starter, 2/ a main course usually with protein and starch, 3/ simple lettuce salad and cheese, 4/ dessert.

I tried to break it down in a practical way here.



The four-course meal really only works if there isn’t too much snacking during the day. If the kids just snacked an hour before dinnertime or throughout the day, they may not be hungry to eat a full dinner, nor motivated to try new things. The four-course meal “paradigm” only works provided you come to the table hungry. The French don’t get panicky at the thought of their children being hungry. They have an expression that calls hunger a “bonne maladie” (a good illness). There’s nothing wrong with being a bit hungry and have the patience to wait for dinner time. So if you’re trying to establish the French style meal in your household, limiting snacks definitely is a necessary shift to be made as well.
The other precondition for the four-course meal to not turn into a giant hassle, is that everyone eats what is served and on the table. There’s no cooking special dishes for different family members. Everyone has to taste. Of all the things being served, even a picky eater will like at least one thing (if you’re trying to get a child to try new things, I would try one new thing per meal, served with other known things the child enjoys).

It is also important that everyone eat each course together. If someone is finished with the starter before the others, he can wait a few minutes, tell a story, talk about the flavor, smell, texture of the foods, for example.

(Karen Le Billon describes in detail the French "food rules" in her book and blog, I highly recommend both as great sources of information and tips on the topic.)


I have found that the main concern of most American moms I met was to get their kids to eat more vegetables. It seems to be taken for granted in the US that kids will innately dislike vegetables. Even my pediatrician was somewhat surprised that Pablo ate vegetables of all colors easily and thus didn’t need to take a vitamin supplement. The big advantage of eating this way, is that you get to eat the vegetables first, when you are most hungry.
So after you fill up somewhat on vegetables, you’re more likely to have a smaller or more reasonable portion of the main course.
When you get to the cheese, you’re almost done with dinner, and that small portion of dairy fat helps give you the satiety feeling to hold you over until the next meal.

The simple taste of sweet at the end of the meal seems to be just a reminder that eating is, and should be, a pleasure.

A very important benefit of the four-course meal is that it makes you pace yourself, and eating slowly (and chewing sufficiently) is key to portion control. A French doctor was telling me that when you eat slowly and really chew your food, your stomach shrinks and you need less food to feel full (more scientific information on this here). Plus it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register that your stomach is full, so this way, you can really listen to your body's cues in terms of the quantity of food you eat. This is why French families end up eating less food in more time than other cultures, as you have to wait a little from one dish to the next. And by the time you get to dessert, you just have room for a taste of sweet, not two huge servings of cake.

The other benefit of the four-course meal is to instill the art of anticipation. So much more positive than “patience”, isn’t it? You’re not “hungry”, you’re “in appetite”. You enjoy the actual process of the meal, rather than try to get it over with as soon as possible. I find that these are important lessons I want to teach my son, not just about food, but about life in general. Learn to enjoy anticipation. Take the time to be aware of your body and what it feels, learn delayed gratification.



Here are the specifics of the four-course meal in our household.

The Vegetable Starter

Option #1 - Cooked vegetables eaten cold with vinaigrette

This is very convenient, as you can cook or steam vegetables ahead of time, and stick them in the fridge for the next 2-3 days. A couple of times a week, we cook (boil or steam) two or three vegetables, like green beans, potatoes, a whole cauliflower, leeks, artichokes, zucchini, asparagus (green or white). We put them in containers in the fridge for easy starters. We make a large batch of vinaigrette to last a few days (olive oil, red wine vinegar or lemon, salt, pepper, a dash of mustard). On busy nights, we just look in the fridge, and mix and match. Sometimes we will have only leeks with vinaigrette, other times, make a salad mixing a few different veggies. I always try to add some fresh herbs, whatever we have on hand (I’ve really appreciated growing my own for this purpose).

Option #2 – Raw vegetables with vinaigrette

This is what the French call “crudités“. One of our favorites is the tomato / cucumber salad (we might add feta or fresh mozzarella to it, or go for the authentic Greek salad with added bell peppers). Grated carrots are another favorite. Others: hearts of palm, beets, radishes (which we eat with just a bit of salt and butter, whole. Very much a fun finger food beloved by French children).  This is another easy starter you can throw together in all of 10 minutes (grating carrots might take a bit longer, but we make a big batch and eat it over the course of a couple of days.)

Option # 3 Vegetable soups, hot or cold

Soup is great. It’s healthy, it’s convenient, it’s comforting. Once a week, we spend a little extra time to put together a vegetable soup (either following a recipe, or a French friend told me he just throws in whatever vegetables he’s got on hand, with onion, herbs, let simmer, mix and there you go…)

We made a lot of variations of gazpachos this summer, always making a batch that would last a couple of days. For hot soups, just reheat, add a touch of cream or yogurt in it, and serve (the French mostly blend their soups). As Karen Le Billon describes in her book, this is a great strategy to get kids to taste new vegetables they might be resistant to try otherwise (a single vegetable soup or puree blended with some potato is perfect for that purpose.)

Some of our favorites are watercress soup, sunchoke velouté, cream of celeriac or broccoli, carrot ginger soup… I am looking forward to experimenting more with hot soups this winter.

Option #4 – Make it fun!

One thing my mom did when I was a child, which added to the fun of the starter, was to put a couple of options on the table, so I felt like I could choose and sample, like a mini “buffet”. So we can have a cucumber salad in yogurt tarragon sauce, as well as a small bowl of radishes. Sometimes, we splurge with a few slices of saucisson (dry salami). For Pablo, since he’s about 8 months and eating finger foods, we put 2 or 3 veggies on his plate, say leeks, tomatoes, and hearts of palm. We’ve watched him really enjoy choosing and discerning the flavors. Sometimes, he’ll gobble up the tomatoes first, and sometimes, it’s the leeks.

In the same spirit, a couple of friends in France told me one of their strategies was to do “veggie buffet night”. They put a bunch of vegetables in little bowls with toothpicks, with some healthy dips. It’s fun, a change of pace, and very festive. Dipping makes everything taste better, doesn't it? A great way to get kids excited about eating vegetables.


The Main Course

Ours is usually composed of protein (meat, fish, tofu, legumes…) and a starch/grain or other vegetable. At night, we may choose a hearty soup (say with lentils, or beans) with bread as the main dish, preceded by a salad.

Option #1 – The kind that cooks quickly.

We pan-fry a lot of things, whether it is sole fillets, leg of lamb steaks, beef patties, which only take a few minutes to cook. We usually serve that with boiled potatoes (white, blue or sweet), rice, quinoa or vegetable pasta as starch. We cook the starch 20 Min before dinner, and then just keep it warm, then we prep the meat or fish to be cooked in the pan just before sitting down to eat the starter. We savor the starter, then take a little break to go cook the meat or fish, and serve it with the starch.

Option #2 – The kind that takes a bit longer, like a roasted chicken, a casserole, a gratin, a roast, a stew.

We prepare it about 1 hour before sitting down for dinner (most often, I do easy recipes taking about 15-20 Min to prep, and then 1 hr to simmer or so (such as the chicken Basquaiseroasted duck, Cornish game hens…) Dishes cooked in the crock pot are a great option as well. In that case, as we sit down with the starter, we may put the hot dish on the table to cool off a bit while we enjoy the starter, and then serve.


Salad & Cheese, the optional third course

The French usually enjoy a plain salad after the main course to help digestion. It’s not a mixed salad with lots of things in it, it is a plain lettuce salad with vinaigrette (I like to add a shallot and some fresh herbs to it). The lettuce can vary from butter lettuce, to delicious lamb’s lettuce (“mâche”, if you have a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s near you, they sell it), endive, or any other kind of lettuce. We prepare this before the meal, and set it on the table (with the vinaigrette at the bottom, tossing it just before serving) so it’s ready to go. I know it feels strange to have salad after the meal, but you should try it some time, it really helps digestion and is a great palate cleanser.

A small piece of cheese can be served with it or right after it. The fat in the cheese helps trigger the satiety feeling in the brain. Of course, I never knew that growing up, I just knew I really enjoyed concluding my meal with a piece of cheese! (Pablo seems to prefer that to dessert as well).



On busy week nights, I rarely “cook” or make a dessert, that is mostly for special occasions. Dessert is most often a yogurt (can be cow, sheep or goat’s milk, regular or Greek Yogurt, often plain with just a sprinkle of sugar, or with fruit), or a piece of fruit. Simplicity is key.

For sample meal ideas, check out some of Pablo's menus.


So let me walk you through it. Let’s say tonight’s main course is one of my mother’s specialty, chicken Basquaise.  We eat around 7pm.

At 6pm, whoever is cooking starts the Basque chicken. Prep time is about 15 minutes. Cooking time about 50mn to 1 hr. By 6:20pm, the chicken is under way in the Dutch oven… and we can deal with bath time, picking up toys, etc.

At 6:45pm, we start getting dinner ready. I open the fridge to see what vegetables we have. We cooked a cauliflower and some green beans yesterday. I toss together some cauliflower, green beans and cherry tomatoes, drizzle some vinaigrette. I grab some marinated olives too.

I take a whiff of the chicken, because after all, life's all about smelling the roses dinner. A great way to be “mis en appétit” (literally, “put in appetite”). Anticipation is key to enjoyment. As Pablo walks (toddles rather) into the kitchen, we show him and have him smell the aromas. Dinner is going to be fun.

I grab a bag of mâche (lamb’s lettuce), give it a quick wash. I pour some vinaigrette in the bottom of a bowl, throw the lettuce in, add salad servers and put it on the dining room table. (If I have an extra 5 minutes, I cut up a shallot and add some parsley, or chives, or basil, or all three.)

Now I set the table: I put everything we’re going to need, so I have to get up as little as possible during the meal. Besides the obvious plates and silverware and napkins (I often put a small plate for the appetizer and a larger plate for the main course, but that’s extra dishes and not an obligation), a jug of water (we only drink water at dinner, no juices or sodas), whatever serving spoons we may need, salt and pepper, butter, bread (only eaten as accompaniment to soak up some vinaigrette or with cheese, and in reasonable quantity, definitely not as an appetizer!) We keep a few different kinds of cheese in a Tupperware, I put it on the table too (on an inspired night, I might present them nicely on a plate or platter). The cauliflower green beans salad I've just prepared, and the olives (as the fun sidekick starter!)

It’s 7pm, time for dinner. The chicken is done, we set the hot Dutch oven on a table mat on the table. And we sit down.

We enjoy our cold vegetable salad, Pablo loves asking for more olives.  Then we put the smaller plates aside, and serve the chicken Basquaise. Everyone soaks up the juices in their plate with a bit of bread.

We toss the salad, and whoever wants some can have some. I always try to give a few leaves to Pablo, he seems to really enjoy the tangy vinaigrette and chews on the leaves forever. That is, until the cheese is offered… for Frenchie Pablo does love his cheese! Everyone picks which cheese they want to try tonight.

Then, (and technically, that is the first time of the meal I have to get up from the table), everyone chooses what they want for dessert (if they want one.) I bring a couple pieces of fruit, and some plain yogurt sprinkled with a bit of sugar.  No choice is give on the main course, so it’s nice to have that little flexibility for dessert.

Dinner usually takes about 45 minutes. Meal summary: about 10 different kinds of vegetables, some dairy, some protein, some starch/grain (bread in this case). And a happy family with full tummies!

The important is to look at it as a moment of connection, relaxation, enjoyment, conversation and laughs.


See? The four-course meal is much simpler that it seems! Just a matter of being a bit organized. Here are some of the things we do to help us stay organized:

- Make a meal plan for the week (I usually post it on Sunday nights on the blog). It helps get a good variety of foods and vegetables throughout the week, to try new recipes, to make shopping easier, to balance out nights with quicker/easier dinners, and nights with a bit more cooking depending on the time I have. Last minute meal planning often leads to quick options like pasta or processed foods, which is fine once in a while in a pinch, but not what I want on an everyday basis.  (Even on a crazed night where dinner has to be improvised in 5 minutes, a first course could be cherry tomatoes and hearts of palm, and the main course, canned sardines, a slice of ham or warmed up tofu with vegetable noodles.)
- I am a big fan of farmer’s markets. I try to go on the weekend and pick up whatever is local, organic and seasonal. It helps me compose the meal plan. Otherwise, we try to shop 2 or 3 times a week, so we cook the foods as fresh as possible.

- Twice or three times a week, whenever we have time, we cook two or three vegetables to eat cold during the week.
- Sunday night (or once a week) if possible, we make something that takes a bit longer (a hot soup or gazpacho, grated carrots), to cover a couple meals in the week.

So... there you have it. Are you tempted to give it a try, or still skeptical? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Pablo's menu this week...

Here's Pablo's (and our) weekly menu, and a few images of produce that inspired us this past week.
Welcoming fall, and seasonal ingredients. What are you cooking this week?
Cheeses of the week: Following French tradition, I always offer a little bit of cheese at the end of every meal, between the main course and dessert. Rotation this week: Truffle triple cream, Danish Blue, Goat brie (and Babybel when we eat on the road)

Desserts: At lunch, I offer a fruit yogurt (or plain yogurt with fresh fruit), but at night, I prefer sticking to plain yogurt (regular homemade* whole milk, sheep’s milk, goat's milk and Greek yogurt for extra protein) to avoid too much sugar before bedtime.

If you would like a particular recipe on the menu, feel free to contact me! (I marked with a * the recipes that will be the topic of upcoming posts).



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrot salad
Main course: Sardines with pan-fried eggplant

Goûter (4pm snack) - Pear


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Quinoa & mixed crudités
Main course: Cream of chicken, sorrel and watercress*



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber in yogurt tarragon sauce
Main course: Smoked salmon with boiled rutabaga (served with just a bit of salt & butter)

Planning on making this wonderful looking whole wheat bread from Fig & Fauna blog

Goûter - Passion Fruit


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichokes with vinaigrette
Main course: Oven roasted pork ribs with the caramelized apples & onions recipe from Food Loves Writing



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Tomatoes and hearts of palm
Main course: Prosciutto with green lentil and shallot salad

Goûter - Grapes


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Butternut, leek & potato soup with Swiss, apple & sage loaf from Cannelle & Vanille
Main course: Soft-boiled egg



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leek whites with vinaigrette
Main course: Chicken livers salad with raspberry vinaigrette (one of my mom's specialty!)

Goûter - Coconut rice pudding*


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Lentil & shallot salad
Main course: Shrimp with soy and ginger sauce, cooked en papillote



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cauliflower & white bean salad
Main course: Beef patty, with chard ribs au gratin

Goûter - Apple compote


Main course: Goat cheese spinach risotto


Lunch - Fall tour of our CSA farm, Farm Fresh To You!

We'll pack a picnic, including some camembert sesame muffins and a salad.

Goûter - Apple and blackberry compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Vegetable noodles
Main course: Dover sole fillets with chards & potato puree


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green beans & cauliflower salad
Main course: Leeks, ham & Morbier cheese tart*

Goûter - Grapes


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Yellow beet salad
Main course: Oxtails braised in coconut*, with roasted carrots and Jasmine rice (a great crock pot recipe I will be sharing soon!)

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

For the love of peas in a pod...

Working with what you've got. And marvel at the beauty of simple things. Two lessons that apply to life and to cooking. Never before had I realized the many valuable life lessons that can be learned, or rather practised, in the kitchen. Working with what you've got... well, that's never been an easy one for me. I saw this quote recently that says it all: "What screws us up most in life, is the picture in our head of how it's supposed to be." Funny how well this applies to cooking, isn't it? Trying to follow a recipe religiously and match some perfect picture in a cookbook just never seems to work. It's a skill, to be able to trust oneself enough to let go of the picture in your head, and follow your gut. If that skill can be practised - and taught - in the safe environment that is the kitchen, all the better.

This recipe came out of both these lessons. I have been in Los Angeles for 15 years and had never before seen fresh English peas for sale. Maybe I just wasn't looking. But imagine my thrill when I saw them for sale at the Farmer's Market last week.  And the simplest recipe was the only way to let their perfection shine.

Shelling fresh peas really takes me back to my childhood in France. Their peculiar smell, the fun of shelling, of opening the pod and discovering those plump little green pearls inside. Eating a few raw, just because. Seeing Pablo go through that experience with us here, and gobble them up raw, made my soul smile.

Speaking of souls smiling, I wanted to share an excerpt from a wonderful French book translated into English under the title We Could Almost Eat Outside - An appreciation of life's small pleasures by Phillipe Delerm. It is collection of short stories, one of which is called "Helping shell peas". You can read the whole thing here, but here's a teaser:

Soon an invisible metronome will lull you into the cool hypnotic rhythm of shelling peas. The operation itself is deliciously simple. Use your thumb to press down on the join and the pod instantly opens itself, docile and yielding. For reluctant peas who disguise their youth with shriveled skin, use the nail of your index finger to make an incision that will rip open the green and expose all the moisture and firm flesh beneath. You can send those little green balls rolling out at the push of a finger. The last one is unbelievably tiny. Sometimes, you can't resist crunching it. It tastes bitter, but fresh as an eleven o'clock kitchen where the water runs cold and the vegetables have just been peeled - nearby, next to the sink, naked carrots glisten on the dish towel where they've been left to dry.

There's a lot to be said about fresh peas, vs. frozen or canned. They just don't compare. So sure, you could go with that can of peas and carrots in your pantry, or, should you be lucky enough to come across some fresh peas in the pod, you could make this simple dish, and believe me, you will savor the difference with every bite.


Fresh peas and carrots jardinière

Recipe by my mother

Serves 4

Age for babies: I would give this at 6-8 months pureed, and 8-10 months for a great finger food.

2 lbs fresh English peas in the pod, shelled
1 bunch of new carrots, peeled and sliced
12 pearl onions (4 red, 4 yellow, 4 white, peeled but left whole)
2 or 3 leaves of butter lettuce
3 sprigs of thyme (remove stems, use only the tiny leaves)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, left whole)
1 oz butter
Salt & pepper

Melt the butter in a pot (don't let it get brown). Throw the peas in the warm butter and stir until the peas have become bright green.

Then add the sliced carrots, pearl onions, lettuce, garlic cloves. Add salt and pepper and stir.

Add 1/2 cup of warm water, cover and let simmer on low heat for 35-40 minutes. (Check that there's enough water during cooking, there should always be a bit of water at the bottom, if not, add another 1/2 cup of hot water.)

It goes very well with meats like lamb or duck.

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