Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pablo's weekly menu... and some poetry too

Among the wonderful little joys of the week I like to share here, there's receiving our CSA delivery, and there's receiving the poems from the Writer's Almanach with Garrison Keillor in my inbox every night. In these busy times - the fact that I'm posting the week's menu on Wednesday morning tells you a little bit about my week... Better late than never! - I find sanctuary in reading a few lines of poetry every day. Like exercising for the soul. A breath of fresh air through my brain. 
Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment,
it has so much to do in the world.
Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won't even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.
(Excerpt from "Any Morning" by William Stafford)
 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: Blue cheese, Gruyere, Mushroom Brie.

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: Tomato & hearts of palm
Main course: Grilled shrimp with leeks.

Goûter (4pm snack) - Kiwi


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Carrot butternut squash soup inspired by Deer Eats Wolf blog
Main course: Chicken livers salad with raspberry vinaigrette (one of my mom's classics!)



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Lentil shallot salad
Main course: Sardines and green beans

Goûter - Grapes (from the Sherman Oaks Farmer's Market)


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber in yogurt tarragon sauce
Main course: Oven-roasted pork tenderloin with country-style mustard sauce, with cauliflower gratin


Appetizer / Finger Foods:  Leftover lentil shallot salad
Main course: Sauteed scallops with avocado sauce* (my mother's signature dish, soon on the blog for holiday meal ideas!)

Goûter - Pear mango compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Watercress persimmon chick peas salad from Deer Eats Wolf.
Main course: Lamb chops with peas and carrots jardinière


Lunch - OUT

Goûter - Apple pear compote

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leek whites with vinaigrette
Main course: Chicken basquaise



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Ham with veggie noodles

Goûter - Kiwi

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichokes in vinaigrette


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Quinoa and crudités salad
Main course: Beef patty with broccoli puree
Goûter - Grapes


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Endive salad
Main course: Soft boiled egg, caramelized onions & apples from Food Loves Writing


Lunch - OUT

Goûter - Apple blueberry compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Watercress sorrel soup
Main course: Trying the Salmon Tartare from Taste Food Blog.

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cheesy squash casserole, and some acknowledgements...

This Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, and I hope you and your loved ones were able to celebrate in one way or another, the things you are grateful for in your lives.
I wanted to share this yellow squash casserole that has been my contribution to the Thanksgiving meal we go to, for the past few years, and every year, it is a hit. I realize I probably should have posted this a week ago, but I figured this is a vegetable dish you can make for a family meal (makes great leftovers) or other holiday celebrations. When I discovered American cuisine, I really fell in love with casseroles, not unsimilar to the French gratins which are definitely a comfort food for me.
In French, the translation for the word “grateful” is “reconnaissant”, which literally translates into “acknowledging” or “recognizing”. It’s an interesting nuance, emphasizing that before you can be grateful for anything, you must acknowledge it. It’s the process phase of gratitude, as opposed to the result.  That’s been on my mind lately, this idea that life is nothing but process. So I wanted to make some acknowledgements, simple, with no buts. No caveats. Just some fundamentals I sometimes take for granted.

Today, I acknowledge...

that I am alive, my body functions, my heart beats, I can breathe, I can walk, I can perceive the world with my five senses;

that I love;

that I am loved;

that I can take care of myself;

that I can feel and share joy;

that I can survive hardships and sorrow;

that I live and embrace my two cultures;

that I can learn and improve;

that I can express what I think, and how I feel;

that I can see beauty and feel awe;

that I can see ugliness, and move on;

that I can nurture;

that I can make things to nourish myself and the ones I love;

that I can share my journey here with you.


Two Cheese Squash Casserole

Inspired from Southern Living May 2004

Serves 8-10

Age for babies: 10-12 months as long as baby has had every ingredient previously.

Prep time: 25 mn
Cook time: 10 mn + 40 mn

4 lbs yellow squash, peeled and sliced
4 tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup + 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (I use whole wheat)
3/4 cup + 1/2 cup Pecorino cheese (may be substituted with Parmesan)
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup minced fresh Italian parsley
8 oz of crème fraîche (or sour cream)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp garlic salt

Preheat the oven at 350°F. Grease a large baking dish with butter.

Boil a large pot of water and cook the squash in boiling water for 8-10 minutes, until just tender.

Drain the squash. Line a colander with a kitchen towel and put the squash in it, squeezing gently to drain the extra liquid. Let drain for 5 minutes.

In a large pot (I use a round Dutch oven), melt 2 tbsp of butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté 5 to 6 minutes until tender. Remove from heat. Stir in squash, 1 cup of breadcrumbs, 3/4 cup Pecorino, the cheddar, chives, parsley, crème fraîche, salt, pepper and eggs, stirring every time you add one ingredient.

In a small sauce pan or in the microwave, melt 2 tbsp of butter. Stir together melted butter, 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup Pecorino and garlic salt. Sprinkle mixture over the top of the casserole.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until golden on top.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chocolate hazelnut flourless cake... and happy Thanksgiving!

It's the day before Thanksgiving. Stateside, everyone is busy getting ready for the holiday... including myself. So I will make this one short... and sweet. Very sweet indeed.

No pumpkin, no pecans, no pie or cream. Just pure chocolate goodness.

I had bought some hazelnut butter to make chocolate hazelnut pots de crème from Cannelle & Vanille (delicious, by the way), and wanted to find other ways to use it.

This flourless cake is remarkably healthy as far as desserts go, with very little sugar, and we found it was a perfect balance of chocolate and hazelnut. Pablo, who has more of a weakness for cheese than a sweet tooth, did enjoy licking that bowl thoroughly!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving, and being ever so grateful for every one of you reading these words, wherever you may be.


Chocolate Hazelnut Flourless Cake

Inspired from a recipe found on this French blog
Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 20 mn
Age for babies: From 12 months, as a rare treat, though I didn't give Pablo chocolate until 15 months.
3.5 oz dark chocolate (70%)
3/4 cup unsalted, unsweetened hazelnut butter
3 tbsp milk
3 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp potato starch (or corn starch)
4 eggs (4 yolks, 3 whites)
Preheat the oven at 350°F.
Mix the hazelnut butter with the milk, warming it for about a minute in the microwave.
Melt the chocolate either in a hot water bath or in the microwave with 1 tbsp of water.
Mix the hazelnut butter and chocolate together, let cool.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar, add in the potato starch. Then incorporate the egg mixture into the chocolate-hazelnut cream. Mix well.
Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold them in gently with a rubber spatula in the chocolate-hazelnut mixture.
Pour the mixture in a buttered cake mold or individual molds.
Bake for about 20 minutes if in a square cake mold (7-9 minutes if in smaller individual molds).
Let cool, and enjoy!

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Baked apple & goat cheese... and rethinking the meaning of perfection

It occurred to me recently that this period of my life, though I experience it now as complicated, and somewhat overwhelming, struggling to find balance, to find time, constantly juggling, dealing with uncertainty, learning to be more grateful, more in the moment... this period of my life might just be the one I will remember the most fondly when I'm 80 (if I get that far.)

This has happened to me before: to look back on certain times of my life with great fondness, when I know I didn't consider myself "happy" or "satisfied" at the time. Conversely, times I do remember thinking were fairly happy, sometimes escape me completely, as if meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Youth is relative, and youth is blind to itself.

So I try to capture this thought and stay with it: what if this time of my life, right now, turns out to be one of the happiest, when all is said and done? That could potentially be depressing, as I could think, "This is it?" "That's as good as it's going to get?" "That's not the picture I had in mind".

And there's the rub.
That freakin' picture we have in our minds of what life, and people in our life, are supposed to be like.

Or... I can hang on to that image of myself as an 80-year-old woman, smiling back at this time of my life with great fondness. And I can actually listen to her.

She's telling me this time is rich, with all its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, its wonders as a new parent, a new blogger. This time is complex, a bit stormy, definitely no flat sea around here. But I think 80-year-old me would smile and say, "Who wants a flat sea of a life anyway?"


Sometimes my expectations, my stresses, the whirlwind of life, make me forget her, and her wisdom. But if I can just reach out to her in those moments, she will teach me to be grateful for this time. The good thing is, I'm starting to really hear her voice now. Instead of hearing the voice of 10-year-old me telling me what my life was supposed to be, I am starting to hear the voice of 80-year-old me, telling me there's no "supposed to", telling me life is so much more than that. Setting me free to actually live my life and know myself as I evolve and grow.

There's a sentence at the end of A life, by Guy de Maupassant, translated here from French by yours truly:

"Life, you see, is never as great nor as bad as we think."

There's a way to understand that sentence that is not as depressing as one might first believe. Life is just not what we think it's going to be. And that doesn't make it a failure. It's okay. I wish I'd known that earlier. But I know it now.

So what brought on this philosophical debate in my brain, this Ghost of Helene Past, Present and Future of sorts? A recipe for an apple goat cheese millefeuilles. Of course it is.
(Millefeuilles is just a fancy name that means 'a thousand leaves', typically a dessert, a Napoleon, but also used for anything with multiple layers.)

See, when I saw this recipe in a tiny French recipe book called "Papillotes" (a series of recipes, savory and sweet, all cooked in parcels in the oven), I looked at the picture, and set out to make it, because frankly, apple and goat cheese, how could I go wrong? In my head, it looked just perfect.

I am learning that I've been getting the meaning of "perfection" all wrong. We say perfection can't be reached when we can't make life fit in with the picture we have in our head. When that picture is in fact much too narrow and simplistic to do real life justice. Perfection is everywhere. Life is perfect, by its very existence. Our expectations, ever so limited, narrow-minded, blind-sided, one-dimensional, are what is imperfect, though they may serve a purpose for us, like dealing with our issues.

So, making this millefeuilles, I certainly was reminded things never go the way you think. The apple wasn't perfectly shaped. The goat cheese was a pain to slice thin, it got chalky in the middle and fell apart. But determined, I moved forward. Sometimes a "what the heck" attitude gets you through stuff where you head might not.

And the result was... delicious. Not like the picture, in the book or in my head. Not "picture perfect". But "life perfect". Because I made it. Because I shared it. Because the contrast of semi-crunchy apple and half-melted goat cheese is scrumptious. It was a highly satisfying three-in-one salad/cheese/dessert course (in the framework of the typical four course French family meal).

What can I say, another life lesson in the kitchen...

A quick note about cooking "in a parcel" in general, called "en papillote" in French (i.e. cooking a hermetically wrapped preparation in the oven). It's a great and easy way to cook a whole range of foods. Not only does it protect natural foods from too much heat, but it also cooks à l'étouffée, meaning the foods cook in their own steam, infused with all the flavors and scents from the spices and condiments used. It's both a quick and gentle way to cook, which helps preserve a lot of vitamins. On top of it, it is so much fun. Pablo was just delighted when I presented it like a "surprise package" or a "gift-wrapped treat on a plate". We opened it, and he went "wooow" when peeking at its contents and inhaling the delicious scents. I have been quite obsessed with this method of cooking recently, and will be sharing many more recipes in the near future.

Apple & goat cheese millefeuilles (napoleons) with honey and walnuts

Inspired from Papillotes by Martine Lizambard

Serves 2

Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 15-20 min

Age for babies: It's just baked apple and goat cheese basically, no reason why a 10 month old can't try this, if you think he/she can handle the apple, as it is softened but still a bit crunchy. Do skip the honey if you give before 12 months.

1 apple, washed and dried
6 slices of aged goat cheese*
1 tbsp soft butter
2 handfuls of lamb's lettuce (or other lettuce), washed and spun dry
A few walnuts
2 tbsp honey
2 tbps vinaigrette
Oven-safe parchment paper
Kitchen string

*Note about the goat cheese: I recommend using an aged goat cheese for this (though not very old, it should still be soft in texture), as opposed to fresh goat cheese. I used "bûche" here (found at Whole Foods in the US). Otherwise, I have fallen in love with the cheeses made by Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery, you could use any of their aged goat cheeses. (I have found some of their products in Whole Foods, though not consistently). I hear Laura Chenel also has a "Cabécou", which you might be able to find and would work for this.

Slice the goat cheese (make 6 slices, ideally the slices are slightly larger than the circumference of the apple).

Slice off the top of the apple (where the stem is), then core the apple. Slice the apple into six pieces.

Preheat the oven at 350°F. Cut 2 square pieces of parchment paper, and butter the center of each one.

In the center of each parchment paper square, place three slices of apple, and three slices of goat cheese, alternating. Gather the corners of the parchment paper, and close the parcel hermetically with kitchen string.

Place in a baking dish in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. (The apple will soften but remain somewhat crunchy).

Meanwhile, in a salad bowl, toss the lettuce, walnuts and vinaigrette. Put the salad in two serving plates.

Remove the parcels from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before opening.

Deposit them delicately on top of the lettuce. Drizzle with honey.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Pablo's menu this week

Back on track with posting the week's menu, as I had to skip posting it last week for dire lack of time...

Some of the things on my mind this week:

- Thanksgiving and what I'll bring to the big family meal... My usual squash cheesy casserole, and thinking of green tomato pie after hearing about it on NPR this weekend. Or a leeks mushroom bread pudding I just found here. What are you guys cooking?

- Time. Lack of it. Being in the moment. Being thankful for the moment. That sort of thing... Wanting to get away from constant dissatisfaction. A beautiful post on this here.

- How much I love my son when he gnaws on a lamb chop with pure delight, or dances to La Bamba. Those small moments of joy make it all worthwhile.

- Soup. I'm obsessed with soup. And butternut squash. Just a subcategory of my general obsession with good food.

Sharing some images from the Hollywood Farmer's market... and on with the week's menu. Hope it can help spark some ideas for your family!


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, Goat Gouda, Gruyere.

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 & main course: Crab mixed vegetable salad (with corn, green beans, cooked cauliflower, tomato, cucumber, carrots.)

Goûter (4pm snack) - Apple


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Zucchini, mint & feta salad
Main course: Buttermilk chicken found on Life is Great, with cheesy polenta



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Broccoli & baked potato puree
Main course: Chicken liver salad with raspberry vinaigrette

Goûter - Grapes (from the Sherman Oaks Farmer's Market)


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Hearts of palm & tomato
Main course: Oven-roasted pork tenderloin with country-style mustard sauce, with a parsnip gratin with Gruyere and thyme from the recently discovered Feasting at Home blog


Appetizer / Finger Foods: French-style grated carrots (recipe by Karen Le Billon here)
Main course: Ham and vegetable noodles

Goûter - Apple & pear compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Butternut squash, celeriac, parsnip and apple soup found on the blog Inspiring the Every Day - inspired indeed by the use of all seasonal produce.



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green beans, cauliflower, potato salad with Italian parsley & basil
Main course: Shrimp in ginger soy marinade cooked in parchment paper*

Goûter - Kiwi

Main course: Trying the Agedashi Tofu from Just One Cookbook, with rice and peas



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Turkey breast cutlets in creamy mushroom sauce, with vegetable jardinière

Goûter - Banana

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leek whites in vinaigrette
Main course: Steak, and vanilla bean kalamata olive baked potatoes* (very excited about this intriguing recipe I just found in one of my French cookbooks, will be sharing soon!)


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Avocado 
Main course: Prosciutto, baby bok choy puree
Goûter - Pear & apple compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green lentil and shallot salad*


Lunch - OUT

Goûter - Grapes, berries


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Carrot ginger soup with carrot greens pesto from Deer Eats Wolf blog
Main course: Braised leeks wrapped with smoked salmon*

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Warmth, inside and out, and watercress sorrel soup


Someone asked me recently what was the common denominator among my friends. What was the thing I sought out and was most attracted to in others? It surprised me how quickly the answer came to me: inner warmth. Life certainly has its shares of cold winter days, where one feels lonely, or inadequate, or hopeless, or lost, or irate. Sometimes there are Chernobyl days where you feel all of those things at the same time! (Read: meltdown). The warm, cashmere-soft, inner flame of friendship is what might get me through those winters. Even if life is too hard to reach out to those friends explicitly. Just knowing the very existence of those human beings. Knowing they're in my life. Knowing they are my village. So warm, a moment of carefree laughter with them, even in my darkest hours. When I think of friendship, I imagine myself rubbing hands very close to a fireplace, comforted by the warmth in every part of my being. 


Inner warmth. I can tell right away if I sense it in someone, but I can't exactly pinpoint what it is. A bunch of things, I suppose. To be open-minded, generous, nurturing. To be mindful of others, attentive, interested, genuine. To be observant, engaged. To want to connect and share. Something like that.

I guess inner warmth, and all its components, is also what I want to bring to the world.  To my son. To my loved ones. To this blog.

Thinking back on my childhood, that sense of inner warmth and friendship is very much associated with meals. The "special" meals my mother would make. Or let me make. Whether it was for the two of us, or for a group of friends.

And one of my winter favorites, was the soupe verte, the green soup. Another example of how amazing simplicity can be. I have been obsessed with soup lately, perhaps needing to feed that inner warmth and keep that flame going. And on a winter night, with family and friends, whether they are there in person or in spirit, this is a soup to warm and nurture the body and soul.


Watercress & sorrel velouté (soup)

Serves about 6

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 45 min

Age for babies: I started this very young, 4-6 months. You can make a puree version, steaming two handful watercress, sorrel (optional) and 1 small potato, and mixing adding water or milk to obtain desired consistency.

2 bunches of watercress, washed thoroughly, stems on
1 handful / bunch of sorrel leaves, washed, stems on
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt & pepper
Dollop of crème fraiche* or yogurt (the liquidy euro-style kind, I really like Bellwether Farms sheep's milk yogurt)

Place the potatoes in about 6 cups of cold water, with a pinch of salt.

When the water is boiling, throw in the watercress and sorrel (leaves and stems).

Let simmer 30-40 minutes.

Blend thoroughly with an immersion blender until very smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a spoonful of crème fraîche or yogurt, if desired.

*About the crème fraîche: this is basically French sour cream, much less sour than American-style sour cream. Some stores sell it, but if you want to make it, it is very easy. Take 1 cup of heavy cream (preferably organic from grass-fed cows, raw, or pasteurized, but not ultra pasteurized) and leave it out until it's room temperature. Add 2 tbsp of cultured buttermilk (that can come from the fridge), and stir with a spoon. Cover and leave in a semi-warm place (like the oven with the light on) from 12-24 hours. It will thicken a bit, you might see bubble from the cultures. It will not be as thick as sour cream, still very liquidy, but a bit thicker than the heavy cream. Put in the fridge a few hours, and it will get firmer. You can keep about a week in the fridge.

Variation: You can make this a watercress only soup, simply skip the sorrel.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

French lemon tart... in memoriam

Today’s your birthday. I call you, you’re playing with the kids. You’re picking lemons, to make a tarte. You love making that lemon tarte, and we laugh because it's the fifth week in a row you've made it. We’re excited about tonight’s meal, a new restaurant, it will be fun. You wonder what dessert will be. You do have a seriously sweet tooth. Do you remember how you ate all 12 madeleines I brought you at the maternity hospital? 

Later, we meet for our weekly hike.  We talk about our children, their hair, their mischiefs, their tantrums, their giggles. About our families. About Barbara and the opera. About the children's book you want to write. We talk about food, about last week’s meal, last year’s meal. We talk about morning light over LA. We talk about being tired. About how hard marriage can be. About past struggles and future travels. Not very much about future struggles.  

I tell you about my blog. You love the idea, you’re so supportive. You’re excited about it for me. I love that about you, you take on other people’s joys and make them your own.

We talk about tonight’s plan. Our children spending an evening together, growing up together. We laugh at the thought of being two old ladies, having the same conversation.


That day is a figment of my imagination. It’s unfair. I fume. Why couldn’t I get that day? Why did this happen? How in the hell is it possible? I want to scream. I don’t know to whom, so I don't. I hate that you’re gone. Should have been me. I hate that good things have happened since. I hate that good things come out of tragedy. It wasn''t supposed to turn out this way. You bailed on me. I'm pissed.


What if it had been me? Less people would have gotten hurt. What if circumstances had been different? If I try to be as good a friend as you were, as open and giving as you were, as good a mother, sister, daughter as you were... If I learn to share other people’s joys as genuinely as you did... maybe then you won’t be gone, somehow.


You are gone. We will not grow old together. I listen to songs that make me think of you, with a lump in my throat. You meant more to me than I meant to you. Terrible things happen. They will happen again and again. Nothing will ever be the same. Time passes, fades things away. Details we desperately hang on to, to keep our head above water and not drown in sorrow. There’s that lump in my throat again. Sometimes it’s so heavy it goes right down to my heart, pulling me down to darker depths.



You are gone, and you are with me, every day. I go through the motions of beating sugar and eggs, pouring butter, squeezing a lemon. Putting the tarte in the oven. It’s strange. You went through the same motions in your kitchen, while kids were playing nearby, a long time ago.

Wonderful connections and friendships have occurred since you left us. Amazing generosities and moments of true joy. It does seem terribly unfair it had to happen that way. But I am grateful for them. You’ve taught me a lot of things. Mostly unknowingly. But your final lesson is the most important of them all. Never take life for granted, and cherish those you love. Nothing else truly matters.

With a heavy heart, I think of you today. I shall have a slice of my ever imperfect tarte au citron. Perfection doesn’t exist. If it did, you wouldn’t be gone.  With every bite, I am thankful for all you have brought into my life.



Tarte au citron - French lemon pie

Serves about 6

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Cook time: 25 mn

Age for babies: 12 months above, because it is very sweet.

1 1/2 cup pastry flour
1/2 cup + 1/3 cup butter + a bit to butter the pie pan
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 egg
The juice of one lemon

Preheat the oven at 375°F.

Place 1/3 cup butter in a hot water bath to melt it (a ramekin in a pan with water will do - or in a pinch, melt in the microwave).

Meanwhile, make the dough (pâte sablée) mixing the flour with about 1/2 cup of soft butter. You can do this by hand or with a food processor (with dough blade). Add 1 or 2 tbsp of water to get it moist enough to form a workable dough.

Butter the pie pan (I used three smaller ones, you can use a larger one, 7 inch diameter for example).

Spread the dough in the pie pan(s) using your finger to even its thickness throughout. (Use some flour on your hands if the dough is a bit sticky).

In a bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg, until it's white and foamy.  Whisk in the 1/3 cup melted butter, and the lemon juice.

Pour the lemon mixture into the pie pan(s) with the dough. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the crust is crumbly. Put another 5 minutes in the broiler to brown the top. (Note: the lemon filling will remain very soft and almost liquidy. It firms up some when it cools down).

Let cool, and enjoy with some mint tea and good company.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Oxtails in coconut milk... and the art of slow living


Sitting at my dining room table with my pile of cookbooks, I make the menu for the coming week. My mind is racing, there's work, deadlines, tonight's dinner, swim class, gym class, the bank, the store... It's already 6 o'clock, where did this day go?

Then I grab a cookbook from the pile, Art of the Slow Cooker, and the tagline reads: "Good things come to those who wait." Oh, crap. That's right, I've got to slow down, focus and enjoy the present task, the rest will get done. Somehow.

Time, time, time. Such a precious commodity. Seems to become even more precious (and rare!) when you have children. Life can be such a juggling act sometimes, a whirlwind, a whoosh. It's scary, gives me vertigo. I have to pull on my own reins and stop to enjoy the present moment. A few seconds cheek to cheek with my son. Looking at fesh produce at the farmer's market. Enjoying a meal with friends and family. Notice the beauty of a blue sky. Of a white sky. November is upon us, Thanksgiving around the corner, so it's pretty a good time to be particularly aware of things we're grateful for. The big, and the little things.

In these moments of stress and struggling to get everything done, time somehow becomes the enemy. How crazy is that? Time is our life. Time is our present. Time is all we've got. When we're out of time, well... that's it. Time should never be the enemy. It is our most precious possession. So in these whooshy whirlwind-of-life moments, I try to remember that, in a screeching-tire-smell-of-rubber brain moment. And I look down at what's in front of me: oh yeah. Crock pot recipes.

I discovered the time-saving wonders of the crock pot a few years ago. I talked about how to get organized for a sit down meal in my Anatomy of a French four-course family meal, and the crock pot sure makes that much easier. Spend 20 minutes early in the day for a little prep, and when dinner time comes, serve and enjoy! You only have the vegetable starter to think about, like this one. Or this one.

This is my favorite crock pot recipes (this crock pot recipe book, by the way, is worth checking out, so many wonderful, easy yet fine cuisine recipes in it). This dish is so exotic tasting and delicious, makes great use of these spices you may have lying around in your cupboard. The meat is so tender, the sauce so "parfumée", as the French would say, literally "perfumed", meaning complex with many flavors and scents to it. Yet there really isn't anything complicated about the recipe. It's one of those dishes that gets a lot of "wows", yet I never feel I should get much credit given the simplicity of it. Somehow the simple process of marrying these ingredients with time brings a wonderfully complex chemistry of flavors in the plate.

Hope you give it a try and the time of one scrumptious bite of this dish, your life can slow down just a little bit and precious seconds can be enjoyed for all they're worth.


Oxtails Braised in Coconut Milk, with coconut Jasmine rice

Inspired from Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss

Ages for babies: I would say 12 months and above, because of the myriad of spices and ingredients. The meat is very very tender and very easy to gum down for a baby with few teeth.

Serves 6

Prep time: 20 Min (Given the long list of ingredients, I recommend prepping and measuring all the ingredients first)
Cook time in crock pot: 4-5 hours on high, 8-10 hrs on low

1/4 cup flour
1 tsp of kosher salt or fleur de sel
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground allspice
6 large pieces of oxtails (12 oz each) - the author of the book says you could use veal or beef shanks if you couldn't find oxtails, but I have not tried it.
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp of finely chopped ginger root
1 cup beef broth
3/4 cup fat free or light coconut milk
1 cup diced tomatoes, drained of their liquid as much as possible
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
Some fresh cilantro for garnish

For the coconut rice:
2 cups of Jasmine rice
2/3 cup coconut milk
1 1/3 cup water

Mix the flour, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin and allspice in a medium mixing bowl. Roll the oxtails in the spiced flour mixture until they are coated on all sides. Remove and pat off excess spiced flour (reserving that spiced flour). Add the turmeric to the flour mixture and set aside.

In a deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat. Brown the oxtails on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to your crock pot.

Add the onion and carrots to the skillet and sauté over medium heat until brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds, stirring often. Add the reserved spiced flour mixture, and stir to coat the vegetables. Stir in the broth, coconut milk and tomato, and boil, stirring often, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Tuck the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, and bay leaves around the pieces of oxtail, and pour the sauce over the meat in the crock pot. Cover and cook for about 4-5 hours on high (or 8-10 hours on low).

About 20 Min before dinner, cook the rice with the proportions of water and coconut milk indicated above.

Serve some rice on a plate, place the oxtail on top and pour some sauce and carrots over the meat. Enjoy!

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