Saturday, December 29, 2012

The roles we have in life... and a savory cranberry tart

I’ve been thinking of the roles we play lately. Or rather, the roles we have in our life.

There’s this man, he runs a workout studio I go to. This guy is what I would call “cool”. Will Smith cool. He’s in his 40’s, family man, athlete, business owner, and I always marvel at how seamlessly he’s able to go from one role to another with complete grace and ease. He can be a role model and teacher to kids and also gently flirt with young women in his class, dance and have fun carefree like a teenager, and be in charge of his business and people working for him. He’s man, father, brother, husband, teacher, boss, role model, boy, athlete, dancer, friend, buddy, mentor, trainer... He’s all of those things and at the same time completely himself. I don’t know him personally and know nothing of his private life, but he always struck me as one of the most balanced people I know.

I think there’s this direct link between the roles in our life and how balanced we feel. When one role overwhelms all others for long periods of time, I tend to feel stuck, frustrated, limited and somehow lacking. As a mom, I know I'm not alone in that longing to have time to step out of that role, even for five minutes, to have an adult conversation, to be spontaneous and carefree, to finish a cup of coffee. 
Because we are not one thing.
We are so much more complex than that. Embracing our multiplicity is the way to truly be ourselves. Our humanity has so many facets, all deserving to be expressed in some way. We are not just mothers and fathers. We are not just our jobs. We are more.
This has been a new way to look at my life, which has geared me away from harsh self-judgment, to give way to a detective-like, or explorer-like, perspective: looking for the roles I want in my life, the ones that make me happy and fulfilled, that reflect what profoundly matters to me, and finding creative ways to fill in those roles.

I started on this train of thought recently as I was walking back home with the stroller and Pablo sleeping in it, after having purchased a few knick-knacks for my food styling experiments. The holidays were coming, I was thinking of my holiday menu. And it hit me. Right there, in that moment, I was feeling like a mother, walking with my child getting some needed sleep, but also like a blogger and writer, thinking of this post, like a food stylist and photographer (in training!), thinking of how I would use my new props. Like a cook, thinking of tweaking some recipes. And looking forward to being a good friend and host during the holidays - one of my most cherished roles, little matters more to me than being a good friend to those I love.
That was a good walk. I felt grounded, myself.  

I want to be all those things (and a few others). They are all part of me. I think of a bridge. It can't be held by one pillar, can it? It's held by many pillars. Those roles are our pillars. Nurturing them helps us not fall apart at every blow life throws at us. They give us balance, and strength.

I also think this is crucially important as a model to my child. Having no other role in life than that of his mom, wouldn't be good for him (or me). I want many pillars for him. I want him to see that we can have many facets in life, pursue different roles that ring true to us, and which may evolve over time. That’s what makes us who we are. I guess that’s why I hate labels with a passion. “He’s shy”, “she’s studious”, “he’s rambunctious”, etc. We are all those things at one point or another. We are not just one thing. This idea is both grounding and freeing. I hope to impart some of that sense to my son so that he may learn it perhaps with a bit more ease than I have. 

So instead of resolutions this year, I’d like to think of the roles I want reinforce, or improve in two thousand thirteen, and the ones I want to lessen. New roles I want to build, too. I hope to find the courage to step in roles that I may not be so comfortable in, as well. It seems a more realistic way to achieve that "happy new year" everyone wishes us, rather than resolutions I’m bound to fall short on.  

One of the roles that has become such a wonderful, fulfilling part of my life, a labor of love really, is this blog. Actually, it has been a great way to combine many roles I’ve been longing to express for a long time. That’s the thing about expressing. You just want someone out there to hear you somehow. And if there’s just one person reading these lines, it’s immensely worthwhile. So thank you.

Now... just a little bit about this recipe. This was an experiment I had to tweak a few times until I got the dosage just right. I got some fresh cranberries in a CSA delivery and wanted to use them in something else than sauce or muffins. I’ve also been wanting to experiment with duck fat in pie crust since I started to look into pie crust recipes around Thanksgiving (starting with this cornmeal lard pie crust recipe on Local Milk). That’s how this savory tart was born. It’s a nice combination of sweet, tart and savory. Half pie, half quiche, it makes for a nice brunch entree with a salad.

It’s not the "whip-up at the last minute" type of dish. More a “I’m in the mood for slowing down, being in the moment and cooking for good friends” type of dish. We need those in our lives, once in a while. To stop and smell... the savory pie.

Our years are never just happy, are they? So I'd like to wish you and your loved ones a fulfilling new year with moments of true joy; may you find ways to express many facets and roles in your life.


Gorgonzola cranberry tart in a duck fat crust

Inspired by the awesome cornmeal lard pie crust from Local Milk + invaluable lessons in baking from Cannelle & Vanille

Serves 6-8

Prep time: 30 mn + 90 mn rest time for crust
Cook time: 45 mn

Age for babies: 12 months+ for the eggs.

For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter (cut into 1/2" pieces)
2 tbsp cold rendered duck fat (cut into 1/2" pieces - stick in freezer 10 mn before starting crust if possible)
2-3 tbsp ice cold water

For filling:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced, stems removed (keep some of the "fuzz" for garnish)
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 cup of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
one pinch of salt
one pinch of sugar
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
2 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
2-3 oz crumbed Gorgonzola (or other blue cheese of choice)

In a large bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal and salt. Pour in a food processor (or do by hand if you prefer), and add in the butter and duck fat. Pulse until the pieces of fat are about the size of peas (do not overmix, as this will affect the chemistry of the gluten and the crust will end up very crumbly... learned this the hard way).

Put the mixture back into the bowl, and slowly add the ice cold water, tbsp by tbsp, working it into the dough by hand, until it comes together (add the water very progressively, harder to fix if you put too much than too little). It will form a ball, albeit somewhat wet and greasy.

Place dough on plastic wrap, form a disc 4"-5" across, wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Dust a surface with some flour. Roll the dough to the size of a 9-inch pie pan.

Fill a 9-inch tart mold (glass works well) with the dough, pressing on the sides. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for another 30 mn.

(For pie crust questions and fixes, I found this very helpful article on Food Science.)

Preheat the oven at 375°F. Take the pie crust out of the fridge, cover with parchment paper, and place dry beans or rice as pie weights (unless you actually have pie weights!) so the crust doesn't swell while baking. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

In a sauté pan over medium heat, put the olive oil, fennel, onion and thyme with a pinch of salt, and cook until tender and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir. Add the cranberries and the pinch of sugar, and stir, until they all pop. Remove from heat and set aside.

Warm up the cream (without boiling it), remove from heat and place the rosemary sprig in it. Cover and let steep 10 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream.

Let the pie crust cool for a few minutes. Then spoon the fennel-cranberry mixture into it. Add the crumbled Gorgonzola on top, and pour the egg-cream mixture over the filling.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until custard is set (knife comes out clean).

Serve warm, with a salad. We served it with romaine lettuce in a creamy vinaigrette (3 parts heavy cream / 1 part vinegar, salt & pepper.)

(Leftovers can be served the next day, but the tart does taste better reheated in the oven for a few minutes).

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Roasted capon, celeriac puree... and merry Christmas to all

Concluding this week's holiday recipe marathon, after some holiday hors d'œuvres, a sunchoke chestnut vanilla soup, a first course of scallops and avocado chaudfroid, sharing here the recipe I'll be using on Monday for a roasted capon with chestnut apple sage stuffing, and a celeriac goat cheese puree to go with it. I know it is late in the game and everyone probably has their menu planned out, but who knows, maybe it can inspire someone out there still looking for ideas.

I had been planning to post this earlier, and have been working on a post about the roles we play in life, and what they mean. But it looks like I will be sharing those thoughts after Christmas.
Why, you ask?

Because of caramel.

Yes, tonight, instead of philosophizing, analyzing and writing, instead of being cerebral, I made caramel. And let me tell you, boy was it therapeutic.

Life hasn't been particularly easy on me these past few days and weeks. This has meant a good deal of time spent in my head. So tonight, when for a few minutes, I found myself fully in the moment, in the glorious butter-bubbling-in-melted-sugar moment, I forgot all the rest. I can't remember if I've ever made caramel. I didn't really know what to expect. I was following a very trustworthy recipe by Beth from Local Milk, and I let myself be guided, without trying to predict how it would turn out. And that, I suppose, is the reason why it turned out great.

In stressful moments, I will have to plunge myself back into that moment in time, vigorously stirring the bubbling butter and cream into the caramel, watching it take shape under my hand. I am thankful for these moments where the world and my life make sense. Tonight, it gave me some much needed inner calm.

I shall have to remember that also on Monday. Preparing a big 6-course dinner for 12 people has made me stress out in the past. It has made me lose sight of what matters: togetherness and connection with friends and family, thankfulness for all we have, warmth and hope for the year to come, and of course, that Christmas magic in the eyes of Pablo when he looks at the tree, or listens to Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, or tries to picture Santa coming down the chimney. I will have to swirl all that into my caramel experience to keep it close in my head on Monday, so I may enjoy not only the dinner, but all the preparations leading up to it. Times ahead may be tough, but that night will be good, even if I were to burn the capon I'm going to tell you about...

So. Capon. What is it exactly? To put it bluntly, it is a castrated rooster that has been fed a diet of milk and porridge (more info here). It is considered a luxury meat in France, and definitely a holiday favorite. Its meat is gamier, juicier, more flavorful than chicken, and can be very tender if roasted correctly, because of the high fat content.

This is a fairly easy recipe with the stuffing, and the celeriac-potato puree complements it nicely. Hope you get to try it and tell me what you think!


Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas, with all the warmth and love and magic of the season. I am always immensely thankful for everyone of you reading these words.

Buttermilk capon with chestnut, apple & sage stuffing

Serves about 8
Prep time: 30 minutes + brining time from 3-24 hours
Cook time: 2h30
Age for babies: 8-10 months because of the variety of ingredients.
1 6-7 lbs capon
2 1/2 quarts of cultured buttermilk for the brine
4 slices of thick cut smoked bacon, chopped
7 oz ground veal (or pork if veal isn't available)
1/4 cup minced Italian parsley
6-7 sage leaves, minced
1 onion, minced
2 cloves
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
7 oz of cooked chestnuts (best to use the pre-cooked ones in a jar or vacuum sealed)
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
2 slices of stale white bread, crust removed (I use buttermilk)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
Salt & pepper
The brine, to do the night before, or at least 3-4 hours prior to roasting:
Place the capon in a large pot and immerse it completely in buttermilk (try to use a pot where the capon is snug so you need to use less buttermilk to submerge it.)
Cover with plastic wrap, and store 3-4 hours, or overnight.
The stuffing:
Heat the milk and soak the bread in it. Chop the chestnuts.
In a frying pan, melt the bacon. Remove the bread from the milk and squeeze it.
In a food processor, mix the bacon, the ground veal, onion, shallot, garlic, and cloves. Add the chestnuts, apple, bread, parsley, sage and egg. Pulse a few times. Add salt and pepper.
And the roasting:
Remove the capon from the buttermilk brine. Put the stuffing inside the bird, and close it up tight with kitchen string. (If you have leftover stuffing, place in a buttered baking dish, and you put it in the oven with the capon at about the 2 hour mark, so it bakes for 30-40 minutes).
Place the capon if possible in a deep ovenproof pot or Dutch oven. (You can use a roasting pan, but I found that the "high walls" of a Dutch oven help keep the meat very moist and tender.)
Add 10 tbsp of water to the Dutch oven, and place it in the cold oven.
Roast at 400°F for 2 1/2 hours, basting often throughout.
Remove the bird from the oven, and let it rest 5 minutes before carving.
I simply pour the cooking juices into a gravy boat (reheating them if necessary), as an "au jus" to pour over the puree if desired.

Celeriac & potato puree with goat cheese

Serves 6-8
Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 30 min
Age for babies: 6-8 months (you can make a baby version of this puree by substituting the heavy cream with formula or BM. Skip the salt as well. When you make your puree for grown-ups, just set aside a little bit of the mashed celery/potatoes, add a little goat cheese, milk to desired consistency and blend well.)
3 celery roots, peeled and diced
3 Yukon potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz fresh goat cheese
Salt and pepper
Place the celery root and potatoes in cold salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 25 minutes, until tender. Drain.
Mash the celery/potato with a potato masher. Then, adding the heavy cream slowly, with an electric mixer, beat the puree until you obtain the desired consistency. Add the goat cheese, and beat again.
Reheat over low heat until hot enough. Add salt & pepper to taste. And a drizzle of truffle oil can't hurt either...
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Friday, December 21, 2012

A scallop avocado dish... and ramblings on yin & yang

Contrast has been on my mind recently (among many other things, it's pretty crowded up there!). It is such a key concept in the universe, isn't it. As babies, contrast is the first thing we distinguish in the world. That's why a baby will look at your hairline or eyebrows, because he can see the contrast. It is the way we learn, by contrasting things from one another. I see Pablo figure things out this way every day. That's how our brain makes sense of the world (or tries to). Contrast is also what makes a beautiful photograph. Contrast of texture is what makes a perfect bite (for some reason, a bite of crunchy asparagus, warm rice and melt-in-your-mouth salmon sushi comes to mind). Cultural contrast is what gives countries, cities, families, all their richness.

I think contrast is also where gratitude and acknowledgement come from. We can only be truly thankful for the good things in our lives, if we have also allowed ourselves to acknowledge our pains, needs, frustrations and resentments. Perhaps contrast is just a fancy word for life's ups and downs. It's life's duality. Yin and yang. Life and death. Past and present. Something and nothing. These things cannot exist without each other.

Encountering this idea so often, in parenting, in photography, in cooking, in learning, I'm beginning to realize understanding this is the necessary step to acceptance. And acceptance, the necessary step to serenity and inner balance and peace, things I have been longing for, for a long time. Wisdom would be to embrace all of life's contrasts, to learn from them, to savor them the way we would savor that bite of asparagus salmon rice, or a beautiful image.

It's the holidays, so I think of these things. Things I don't have, wish I had in my life. Things I do have and am thankful for. What this year has brought me, what it has taken away. But instead of thinking of it as have/have not, or win/lose, or success/failure, I'm trying to think of it as the dual flow of my life. And I'm going with the flow.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this, is this idea of contrast and duality in your mind's eye, or do you function differently in your life?

What brought on these thoughts today is this very festive dish which is my mother's creation. She used to make this for dinner parties when I was little. And the very key to this dish is the hot and cold contrast between the chilled avocado dressing and the hot seared scallops ("chaudfroid" is a culinary term for that contrast). It really doesn't work without that. This makes a lovely first course for a smaller dinner party, I hope you'll get to try it some time.

Tomorrow... posting recipe for our roasted capon with apple chestnut stuffing...

(And since this week is a mini-holiday recipe marathon, if you haven't already, go take a peek at some holiday appetizer ideas here, and check the recipe for my sunchoke chestnut vanilla soup here.)


Chaudfroid of seared scallops and avocado

Recipe by my mom

Serves 4

Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 5 mn

Age for babies: 12 months and up, since this is shellfish

12-16 scallops (depending on their size)
4 avocados (2 of which should be very very ripe)
1/4 cup chives
1/4 cup fresh tarragon and Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil + 2 tbsp for searing the scallops
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Some mâche (or baby spinach or arugula)
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp butter

Mince the chives. Chop finely the tarragon and parsley.

In a food processor, mix the herbs, the 2 ripest avocados, oil and vinegar. Salt & pepper to taste.
Cover with a plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Shortly before serving, place the mâche on the serving platter. Slice the 2 remaining avocados and place over the mâche around the platter. Cover with plastic wrap to keep the avocado from browning.

Rinse the scallops and pat them dry.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a frying pan over high heat. Sear the scallops, about 3 mn on one side, and 1 mn on the other side, using tongs to turn them over.

Place the hot scallops on the bed of mâche and avocado, spoon the chilled avocado mixture over the scallops and serve immediately.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sunchokes, chestnuts, vanilla & truffle... all in a day's soup

Day 2 of my mini-holiday recipe marathon here. If you missed my post with 4 holiday hors d'œuvres recipes yesterday, cheese puffs, goat cheese mousse and tahitian poisson cru await right here.

I have been obsessed with soups lately, they're easy, they're delicious, they're nutritious. Such a comfort food. And it's a great way to use seasonal produce. Pablo has really been loving them, having now become proficient at eating them with a spoon on his own (with some minor collateral damages, of course...). Every time I've heard him say "Mmm..." while gulping down a homemade soup, I've felt as if I was witnessing the very process of his brain and body associating soup with comfort and goodness. Sense memories being formed before my eyes. With a soup I made. Enough to warm a mother's soul.

If you're looking for soup inspiration, check out some of my recent favorites here, here, here and here.

Soup is also a great way to experiment with cooking without taking too much risk. For example, I am a fairly novice baker, and am always a bit nervous about experimenting and changing cookie, cake or dough recipes. But soups are much more forgiving and easy that way.

This particular soup was really fun to experiment with. We are big fans of plain sunchoke velouté (sunchokes are also called Jerusalem artichokes in some part of the world, by the way), but adding chestnuts gives it a sweetness that evokes winter, with a touch of exotic from the vanilla and coconut milk, and a hint of luxury from the truffle. It's a lovely holiday first course. Though I have a feeling we will be making this soup regularly after the holidays as well. And I think Santa will prefer this soup to the proverbial cookies this year!

Back tomorrow for our third holiday installment: my mother's signature dish of scallops with avocado sauce, another great first course for a smaller dinner party.


Sunchoke chestnut velouté with vanilla and truffle oil

Prep time: 25 mn
Cook time: 25-30 mn 
Serves 6-8
Age for babies: 8-10 months

2 lbs sunchokes
1 cup chestnut puree*
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 vanilla bean
¼ cup coconut milk
1 tbsp black truffle oil

*You can buy already made chestnut puree, or buy chestnuts in a jar and puree them, or you can make it from scratch. For a great guide on how to roast them, go to this post by Will Cook for Friends.
Peel the sunchokes (yes, their gnarly shape makes this task somewhat tedious...), and cut them up.  Split the vanilla bean.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the shallot over medium-heat (don’t let it brown).  Then, place the sunchokes in the pot, and cover with hot water so that the water level is 2 inches above the sunchokes (about six cups of water). Scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean and stir them into the water, place the bean in there too.

Cover, bring to a boil, lower heat and let simmer about 25 minutes, until the sunchokes are tender (test with a knife like you would a potato).

Remove the vanilla bean, and mix the soup with an immersion blender or in a blender until very smooth. Add in the chestnut puree, coconut milk and truffle oil, and blend again.  Add salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made ahead up to this point, and refrigerated for up to 2 days).

Reheat gently over low heat before serving. Serve in bowls, with a twist of freshly ground pepper on top, and a drizzle of truffle oil, if you're so inclined.
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Four holiday appetizers... and countdown to Christmas


Christmas Eve is less than a week away, and I have quite a few holiday recipes to share and so little time to do so! Finally done with work, I can fully abandon myself to the Christmas spirit.

First, I'm very flattered to be included (actually, not me, my watercress soup!) in a post for a vegetarian Christmas feast by my wonderful fellow blogger Jacqueline from Tinned Tomatoes. Check it out for some awesome ideas!

Can I just say what a shameless Christmas nut I am? To give you an idea... you know that song, "All I want for Christmas", that Mariah Carey version from Love Actually, the one that has been playing non-stop in department stores, malls and Starbucks for the past three weeks? Well, I admit it, I just love that song. Can't get tired of hearing it. Just puts me in the Christmas spirit, makes me want to get up and dance and be silly and festive and joyful... I'm slightly embarrassed to admit this, but not really. When I hear that song, I want to be in the moment, recklessly in abandon in the Christmasy moment, with the tree, Santa, stockings, gifts, friends, songs, good will and hope. So be it.

If Christmas means all those things and so much more, it is also indelibly associated with cooking in my mind. I couldn't visualize Christmas without days in the kitchen, elaborate meal plans, dishes piled up in the sink, running out of plates, glasses and silverware, both ovens going and guests salivating, savoring, or happily digesting with full bellies...

So... I've listened to that song a few times while preparing this post, and I am pumped up for Christmas, and ready to (finally!) share our culinary plans for the holiday. Maybe it can spark some last minute ideas. Look for back-to-back posts this week:

Wednesday night - Recipe for chestnut sunchoke soup with vanilla and truffle oil
Thursday night - Recipe for a hot and cold scallop dish with avocado dressing (my mother's signature dish, a great holiday appetizer for a smaller dinner party)
Friday night - Buttermilk brined capon with chestnut apple stuffing, celery root puree

I am always thrilled to host a Christmas Eve dinner, which is always kind of a big deal for me. My mother and I cook it together, and the menu is usually a mix of traditional French Christmas dinner and recipes I want to experiment with. So here's our menu this year:

Chestnut sunchoke soup with vanilla and truffle oil
First course
Oysters and clams on the half shell
Foie gras
Second course
Roasted capon with chestnut apple stuffing, served with a celery root goat cheese puree
& kabocha puree made by my good friend Elleni from Deer Eats Wolf.
Cheese & Salad
Cheeses and mâche endive salad with pomegranate seeds and fresh herbs (Christmasy colors),
with homemade spelt sourdough bread from Mummy I can cook!
Yule log (brought by guests), accompanied by this

As gifts, I will be making this coconut bread from A Baker's Daughter and these awesome black sesame cookies from Nami at Just One Cookbook, as well as some lavender olive oil madeleines (hoping to share that recipe this weekend.)

But first things first. Today, I wanted to share four holiday hors-d'œuvres recipes, which I picked because they give a good variety, sure to please every palate.
Starting with Tahitian poisson cru, for an exotic bite, a short escape to the tropics between Christmas songs. We brought back this recipe from our trip to Tahiti a few years ago, it also makes an excellent lunch.


I found some tiny crimson apples recently and decided to adapt the baked apple and goat cheese millefeuilles recipe I blogged about recently. The tiny apples baked in individual parcels make an awesome Christmas hors-d'œuvre, looking like a tiny gift to open, and can be picked by the stem and devoured in one scrumptious bite!

Then, I decided it was about time I use the French Laundry cookbook that's been sitting on my shelf for the past few years, untouched. It's always intimidated me a bit, but I figured when it came to the classic French Gruyère gougères (like a cheese puff of sorts), Thomas Keller couldn't lead me astray. They are so delicious, I hope you give them a try.

Finally, also inspired by the French Laundry cookbook, sharing this very easy and delightful goat cheese mousse, a definite crowd pleaser (and kid pleaser too.)

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Tahitian poisson cru

Recipe from the friendly Tahitians of Moorea and Bora Bora
Prep time: 25 mn.

Serves 4-6 as a dish, abt 20 appetizer bites

1 lb of sashimi grade tuna
5 limes
1 tomato
1/2 English cucumber
1 carrot
1/2 large onion
3/4 cup coconut milk
Sea salt

Cut the fish in small bite-size pieces and put them in a bowl with lightly salted water.

Squeeze the limes. Then drain the fish and pat dry. Place the fish in a bowl and pour lime juice over it. Let it marinate at least 10 minutes (the lime "cooks" the fish, like a ceviche).

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables: wash and dice or slice the tomato; peel, seed and dice the cucumber; peel, wash and finely grate the carrot; peel and mince the onion.

Drain the fish, discard the lime juice, and put the fish back into the bowl. Mix in the vegetables.

Pour the coconut milk, stir and season to taste.

Serve chilled.

Goat cheese mousse canapés

Recipe lightly adapted from The French Laundry cook book by Thomas Keller
Prep time: 15 mn
Serves 16 canapés
6 oz fresh goat cheese
5 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
Salt & pepper
Parmesan crisps, crackers of choice, or blinis
Place the goat cheese in a food processor and mix. (It may be smooth or crumbly at that point).
Pour 1/4 cup of the cream through the feed tube and mix until smooth. Add the cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste.
(Can be refrigerated for 2-3 days, let stand at room temp for half an hour before using)
Place a tablespoon of mousse on a Parmesan crisp, a cracker or a blinis. 

Gruyère Gougères

Recipe from The French Laundry cookbook by Thomas Keller
Prep time: 25 mn
Cook time: 35 mn
Makes 2 dozens approx (depending on size you choose)
1 cup of water
7 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp kosher salt (not sea salt)
Pinch of sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
5 oz grated Gruyère
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven at 450°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or Silpats if you have them).
In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter, salt and sugar, and bring to a boil. Add the flour all at once, reduce the heat to medium, and stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes, until mixture forms a ball and moisture has evaporated. (For me, the ball formed much faster than that, but you keep cooking for 2 full minutes anyway.)
Transfer the mixture to a bowl, beat with an electric mixer for 30 seconds at medium speed (you can do it in a stand mixer if you have one, I don't and the hand mixer worked fine.)
Add 4 eggs and continue to mix until completely combined and the batter is smooth and silky.
The batter should form a soft peak with a tip that falls over. (If it's too stiff, beat in the white of the remaining egg, check again, and if necessary, add in the remaining yolk.)
Mix in 3/4 cup of Gruyère and add the pepper.
Thomas Keller of course does this with a pastry bag and pastry tip. I didn't have that, so I just used a cookie scoop to put the small mounds of batter on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle the top of each gougère with the rest of Gruyère.
Place on a lower rack in the oven, and bake for 7-8 minutes, until they puff a bit, then lower heat to 350°F and bake for another 20-25 minutes. When the gougères are done, they should be light golden color. When you break one open, it should be hollow, the inside cooked, but slightly moist (see picture above).
Serve preferably warm.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pablo's menu this week

Our poinsettia outside is turning red, the rain is coming, the tree is up, and our noses are running. It's officially holiday season in our family. I will soon be sharing some holiday appetizer ideas, as well as our Christmas dinner menu. In the meantime, I am in the mood for SOUP! As you will surely surmise from this week's menu... 

If you haven't had a chance to check out my guest post on Karen Le Billon's blog, for ways to rethink the approach to family meals French-style, it's right here.

Also sharing some images from our CSA delivery this week. Love to see beauty in the things this earth has to offer.

Radicchio lettuce, mushroom, baby bok choy, and Washington grown chestnuts

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: Italian truffle cheese, Gorgonzola, Petit Basque sheep's milk cheese.

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: Avocado, tomato & potato salad
Main course: Sardines, baby bok choy puree
Goûter (4pm snack) - Grapes


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Lamb's lettuce salad
Main course: Raclette (melted cheese over ham & potato)



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Tomato, hearts of palm and quinoa salad
Main course: Ground beef patty with pan-fried eggplant

Goûter - Apple compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cream of fava beans with fresh cheese and feta, inspired by My Little Fabric
Main course: Shrimp and soybean threads with a soy ginger lemon sauce, baked in a parcel, over rice.


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber in tarragon yogurt sauce
Main course: Smoked salmon & green beans 

Goûter - Apple blueberry compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green asparagus soup
Main course: Buttermilk chicken and roasted rosemary carrots



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots French-style
Main course:  Pan-fried veal liver with broccoli puree

Goûter - Apple pear compote

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grilled artichokes with shallot vinaigrette



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cauliflower & green beans salad
Main course: Ham and vegetable noodles

Goûter - Kiwi

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Sunchoke velouté
Main course: Rosemary lamb chops with cannelloni beans


Lunch - OUT
Goûter - Tangerine


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Chestnut butternut squash soup*
Main course: Hot Tofu from Nami at Just One Cookbook


Lunch - OUT

Goûter - Apple blueberry compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Fennel, shallot potato soup inspired by Cannelle & Vanille
Main course: Pan-fried duck breast with vegetable jardinière

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Guest posting today!

I always thought it was impossible to be in two places at the same time... and today, the blogging world proves me wrong!

I am thrilled to have the baked apple & goat cheese millefeuilles I blogged about recently featured among 13 holiday favorites at The Empowered Momma. You should definitely go check out this list before you lock your holiday menu!

And... I am also very honored to be guest-posting on Karen Le Billon's blog, about ways to rethink your approach to kids' meals French-style, with two delicious recipes based on a four course meal served in French schools. So follow me to learn more!

Tomato mozzarella, vegetable jardinière and chicken fillets sauce chasseur, recipes here
I guess this week is off to a good start. Hope yours is too!

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pablo's menu this week... and a little comparison

This week started strong! I had the honor of being mentioned in Karen Le Billon's latest post, talking about the food recommendations for babies and children, made by the French equivalent of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Société française de pédiatrie.  If you haven't had a chance to read it, you should go check it out here. Very enlightening!
On a somewhat related topic, Pablo and I were looking through his picture books, which we have both in French and in English. I thought the food sections of the two picture books were interesting to compare... Here's a look.

Obviously, this is a non-scientific informal comparison, just for fun, as the two books don't have quite the same format and presentation... Nevertheless, I found interesting:
- The quantity of foods shown
- The kind of foods: while the American book wouldn't dare include anything considered too indulgent, such as cookies or pie, the French doesn't have a problem with it. The little character even says "Yum" at the chocolate cookies, and the text at the top says, "'Yum, I love chocolate cakes', says Nina who loves to eat [best equivalent for 'gourmande']. What about you, show what you love to eat." This reminded me of the study Karen Le Billon talked about, where most Americans, when shown a chocolate cake, think "calories" and "guilt", whereas the French (with their very low rate of obesity) think "celebration" and "pleasure". If we recognize that a sweet treat is a wonderful thing in moderation, maybe our children won't be tempted to binge on the "forbidden" later on...
Interesting also how the only vegetables portrayed in the French are a lettuce and a jar of peas. I guess they went with what they thought children liked the most, while the US book went with what they thought children should like the most... Ah, those shoulds never get us anywhere, do they? Acknowledgement, on the other hand...
- As an illustration on how the French are usually intent on teaching children about food, flavor, etc., the little "game" on the bottom right of the page, consists of asking the child to show one sweet food, and one savory food on the page. (In the same vein as the Semaine du Goût...)
What are your thoughts on this?  Would love to hear them.
Now... let's get down to business. The business of what we're eating 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: 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).


Lunch - OUT.
(Went to SanSai Japanese Grill, very good options for kids. Pablo had some steamed rice, edamame, shrimp tempura - took out batter - tomato cucumber salad and cabbage salad.)

Goûter (4pm snack) - Banana


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots and leftover Watercress sorrel soup
Main course: Turkey breast in creamy mushroom sauce, with ratatouille



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Smoked salmon with baby bok choy puree

Goûter - Apple compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Watercress persimmon chick peas salad from Deer Eats Wolf (had it last week, was so good we're doing it again!)
Main course: Soft boiled egg with ratatouille


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Watermelon radish, hearts of palm and avocado
Main course: Tahitian poisson cru*

Goûter - Apple blueberry compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Apple & goat cheese millefeuilles
Main course: Lamb chops with delicious looking spinach flan from Rachel Eats



Appetizer / Finger Foods:  Cold potato and green beans salad
Main course:  Steak tartare*

Goûter - Apple pear compote

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Endive salad with walnut vinaigrette
Main course: Trying the smoked trout with apple celeriac soup from Cannelle & Vanille



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Quinoa salad with mint, tomato, cucumber and shallots
Main course: Ham with veggie noodles

Goûter - Kiwi

Appetizer / Finger Foods: White asparagus in yogurt tarragon sauce
Main course: Tofu, and a vegetable crumble*


Lunch - OUT
Goûter - Tangerine


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cream of zucchini soup*
Main course: Braised ham-wrapped endives au gratin


Lunch - OUT

Goûter - Apple blueberry compote


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Raw beet and watermelon radish salad with citrus dressing
Main course: Oven roasted pork ribs with blue potatoes

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Salmon-wrapped leeks au gratin... and 7 reasons why Pablo loves good food


Steering away from my philosophical ramblings a bit here... onto parenting ramblings! As Pablo is hitting that challenging age of the "terrible twos", which actually are known to start around 18 months, I wanted to give a little recap on where he's at with his "education of taste" so far.

Generally speaking, he's at the stage where we hear a whole lot of "non" (French style of course!) throughout the day, there's a lot of testing of boundaries, of button-pushing, a lot of curiosity about how far a power struggle can really go... A fascinating process really, especially if you look at it like a scientist making chemistry experiments. That seems to be the way Pablo looks at it, intrigued at what he can do, what he can get away with, what power he can have over others (annoying them, making them upset, or happy, etc.) That being said, that power can be scary to a toddler, so that's when those reassuring boundaries come in.

A recent challenge was when Pablo discovered one of his many superpowers: taking off his bib in the middle of the meal. I had originally established a rule that we must wear a bib and sit in the high chair to eat. When he discovered I was annoyed when he was taking off his bib, he started doing it repeatedly, very early in the meal, and would push me into a power struggle. I fell in that trap a couple of times, and then realized the error of my way. A power struggle was making the situation worse, AND it was ruining my meal (a sacrilege to the French!) as I would get upset. And he wouldn't eat anymore anyway. So I thought, OK, just go with a simple, calm consequence. So the next time he took off his bib mid-meal, I said nonchalantly, "Ok, you are done with eating? Fine by me." (If he's hungry, he'll eat better at the next meal...) And I let him leave the table, while we continued to eat our meal. The first couple of times I did this, he was pretty surprised, and hung out near us, trying to get our attention. After about 4 times, he stopped taking of his bib during the meal. Now, at the end of the meal, he points to it saying "maman" with his sweet voice and signing "please", to ask if he can take off his bib, I ask him if he's finished eating, and if he's not, we go on with the meal. If he is, so be it. Let me tell you I was relieved this worked! I guess both Pablo and I learned a valuable lesson on that one...

The really good thing here though, is that Pablo remains an excellent eater, happily eating lots of different vegetables (and other foods) at every meal. He has not focalized his testing and resistance to boundaries over the actual food he eats. And I do think that is, at least in part, because of the "toolbox" of strategies I've followed since day one of solid foods (around 4 1/2 months), and some of the positive food associations I have tried to nurture. So I wanted to share some of those strategies here, in case someone might find them useful... In no particular order:

1. Variety, novelty, curiosity

Introducing as many different kinds of foods, vegetables, herbs and spices from the very start. By 18 months, there were very few things Pablo hadn't already eaten. Also trying new foods has become a habit for him, nothing unusual about it (we still try new dishes on a regular basis). I always make sure he tries, and I make tasting something new playful and fun, by being silly with it, telling him it will tickle his mouth (and his curiosity, and hopefully his fancy!). The point is to make it an exciting fun experience.

2. No assumptions, keep the faith

When he seems to reject a food (spitting it out), I remain nonchalant about it, and reoffer it several times over the following weeks, confident that he will most likely enjoy it eventually. There's nothing so far he has consistently rejected. I have noticed many times it's not that he doesn't like the food, but rather that he feels like eating something else on his plate. And sometimes he will chew a food, and then spit it out, which tells me he probably likes the taste, but is unfamiliar with the texture. (This happened with endive salad, he used to chew and spit. But instead of concluding he didn't like it, I kept giving him a few pieces when we would eat them, and he now swallows the whole thing. Took him a while to become familiar and comfortable with the texture.)

3. No "one more for Mommy"

I have made a big effort to avoid any emotional association to food, except that it's a pleasurable sharing experience. I try not to offer him food to comfort him, or reward him in any way. Also we try to never imply that he should eat to please us (if we did, what happens the day he specifically wants to displease us?), hence the no "one more for mommy" rule. Trying to remember that young children are in tune with their body and what it needs, if we let them listen to their body - which also led to...

4. Baby's boss... of his body

Letting him decide when he's had enough (and letting him feed himself as much as possible). I offer a variety, he chooses how much he wants to eat, as I always feel confident that he can make up for a lighter meal at the next meal. I found he really enjoys having a couple of different things on his plate, and pick one, then another, discerning the difference. Probably helps build a positive association between food and a feeling of independence and self-confidence, too.

5. Eating together

We do eat together as a family 95% of the time, and we all eat the same thing (following the French four-course meal format). Eating is a time of togetherness, another positive association.

6. Food for the senses

Keeping eating, cooking, and food in general, playful, introducing fun rituals, letting him touch food with his hands and explore it in a sensory way (taste, smell, touch, even hear: the crunch of an endive or the pschh of chicken browning in olive oil). Within reason of course.

7. "Non, non" to snacking

No snacking. Pablo eats 4 meals a day, 3 + 1 afternoon snack. It doesn't even occur to him to ask me for a snack, since he's never had them. He is fine hanging from 8 to 12 or 1pm, and then until 4-5 pm, then 7:15pm. This insures that he has a healthy appetite when we sit down to eat.

So... Pablo's "non" have not (perhaps yet?) landed on the food. We shall see how things evolve, Pablo may very well start refusing to eat anything but pickles, or noodles, at 2 or 3. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, though I am committed to stand by my strategies above to get me through it.

Now, one of the new dishes we tried recently, is this recipe found in a French cooking magazine grabbed while waiting in line at a French supermarket last September.  The cover intrigued me, "Our best recipes, for less than 1 Euro per person". It turned out to be a great resource for delicious, easy and affordable family recipes. I blogged about their savory herb custard a few weeks ago. These salmon-wrapped leeks were really delicious and an original variation on the classic baked endives and ham.

I hope you get a chance to try it, and in the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts, anecdotes and your own strategies to help your children eat well...  


Salmon wrapped leeks au gratin

Adapted from Best Of Gourmand Magazine

Serves 4

Prep time: 25 mn
Cook time: 35 mn

Age for babies: 10-12 months, cut up in very small pieces.

8 slices of smoked salmon
8 medium leeks
1 stem of fresh dill
3.5 oz grated Swiss cheese
2 tbsp butter

For the béchamel sauce:
3 tbsp butter
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp flour
1 pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Wash the leeks, and cut the green part, leaving only the whites. Make an incision lengthwise to wash them while keeping their shape. Steam for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the béchamel: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and stir to obtain a "roux" (brown mixture). Pour the cold milk, then the heavy cream and bring to avoid, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Preheat the oven at 400°F. Wrap each leek in a slice of smoked salmon.

Place the salmon wrapped leeks in a buttered baking dish. Pour the béchamel sauce over them.

Sprinkle with the Swiss cheese, and bake for about 15 minutes.

Wash the dill, remove the stem. Sprinkle over the gratin when it comes out of the oven. Serve hot.

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