Thursday, February 28, 2013

Leek & chive flan... & searching for life's poetry

A few years ago, I read Eat, pray, love, and was struck by a Balinese story/tradition she describes in the book (and I am paraphrasing from memory here): that each one of us is born with four invisible “brothers” to help us and guide us throughout our life and whom we need in order to be happy. In any difficult situation, you can call upon any of these four brothers for help. They are intelligence, friendship, strength and poetry. 

Children are taught this from an early age, and it’s such an immense gift, these four essential and amazing resources to get through life’s trials. A toolbox for the soul.  

So, I must admit I have a favorite brother... I have a real soft spot in my heart for poetry. How does one practice, or experience, poetry in one’s life? It’s not about reading Baudelaire cover to cover (as lovely as that may be). It goes further than that. 
I know when I find something, a moment, a blog, an image, a smell even, poetic, but it’s quite difficult to describe or define why.  I guess it’s something I find beauty in, but a grounded, real sort of beauty, with a touch of lightheartedness. Poetry is soft to me, it’s gentle. It’s warm, like one of Pablo’s hugs or a kiss in the neck. It’s light, like a child running after a feather. It’s moving, like a grandfather and grandson holding hands. It’s embedded in the preciousness of the present moment. It’s the kind of joy you experience with your eyes closed and a smile on your face. 

A giant breath of poetry came into my life when I had my son. And another nice warm breeze of it, when I started this blog. I wanted to open up my mind's eye to the poetry around me, so I could share it with my son and here. It felt like I started practicing and experiencing poetry on a daily basis. Because children and food are poetic to me. I realize that’s what I’ve been writing about here – or trying to. In our busy lives, the kitchen and the table are places where we can find, and share, poetry. The body feeds on food, the soul feeds on poetry, and cooking, savoring, enjoying good food can provide both.
When I discovered the world of food blogs less than a year ago, I fell in love with the blog Cannelle et Vanille. The crisp beautiful images, the gentle, evocative writing, the very nature of her posts struck me as so poetic. So enriching. I was just in awe (and still am) of the beauty Aran Goyoaga creates and shares there.

And her recipes are not only my favorite kind of recipes (especially the savory ones), but they have been flawless so far, and I’ve tried many of them and have learned a lot thanks to her blog. So I was very thrilled to receive her book, Small Plates & Sweet Treats, as a Christmas gift, and have found so much inspiration there. Today, I’d like to share my very simple rendition of her amazing leek and chive flan recipe.  
I blogged about a chive and parsley custard, and an artichoke custard, and have been a big fan of vegetable custards recently. They are so light and delicious. They are awesome for entertaining and never fail to impress. And they are just great for children. For moms out there trying to introduce new vegetables or herbs, this is an awesome way to do it. Pablo always enjoys having his own little cup.


I have to say this particular flan/custard is my favorite so far. The combination of flavors is just perfect. We served it as our vegetable first course along with watermelon radish, which we eat French-style, sliced with butter, salt & pepper on it.

Do you find poetry to be essential in your life? Where are you able to find it?

Leek & chive flan

Taken pretty much word for word from Small Plate & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga
Serves 4-5, depending on size of ramekins
Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 25 mn
Age for babies: 10-12 months because of the eggs.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium leeks, white and light green part only
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 oz fresh goat cheese
3 eggs
2 tbsp of chopped chives
Preheat the oven at 325°F.
Cut off the dark green ends of the leeks. With a knife, make a lengthwise incision and wash leeks well under running water. Then chop.
In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and 1/4 tsp of salt. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, until the leeks are soft but not brown. Add the chicken stock and cook another 5 minutes.
Transfer the leeks/broth to a blender. Add the coconut milk and goat cheese and puree.
Strain the mixture through a sieve into a mixing bowl, using a rubber spatula (this is really necessary as leeks tend to be stringy).
Whisk the eggs together and pour into the leek mixture, add the chives, 1/4 tsp salt and whisk together.
Pour the custard base into ramekins or oven-safe cups.
(Note: I used cups with different heights, which affected how long they needed to cook. I would stick to fairly low ramekins so the cooking is even. If you use deeper cups, make sure to test doneness all the way to the bottom, as the top may be set but not the middle... Guess how I found this out ;-))
Place the ramekins in a baking dish and pour about 1 inch of hot water in the baking dish (for us, that was about 1/3 the way up the ramekins).
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until it's set. (Check with a knife or toothpick, it should come out clean.)
Let cool, and serve lukewarm or room temperature. Aran suggests serving it with smoked salmon and a Greek yogurt garnish (will have to try that next time.) We served it accompanied by watermelon radish.
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  1. Yum. These look great and perfect for introducing new veggies, as you said. I want to try this one.
    Also, thanks for the radish pictures. In LeBillion's book she talks about how French kids eat radishes w/ salt and pepper, but I couldn't figure out HOW. Sliced! I just couldn't picture it. Now I get it. Thanks! I'm hoping for radishes from our garden so we can try it. :)

    1. Ah yes, glad the radish is helpful. You would slice this type of radish, watermelon or black radish. For the small round red radishes (or breakfast radishes being the kind we get most in France), you just make two incisions half way through the radish at the top, insert a sliver butter inside, sprinkle with salt and pepper and take a bite. I should post a picture of that too one of these days... :-)

  2. Another beautiful post Helene. I can't believe how grown up Pablo is looking. He isn't a baby any more. They grow up way too fast *sigh*. I am rather excited by that watermelon. I have never seen that before. How goregous! What is the taste and texture like?

    1. Thank you so much, Jacqueline... Yes, I hope you get to try these watermelon radishes, they're very lovely, basically the same consistency as a black radish, less "spicy", on the sweeter side, nice and crunchy, and so pretty :-)

  3. The pictures lately have been stunning! What is that beautiful blue cup in the first picture? Thanks Helene!

    1. Thank you so very much, my photography and foodstyling are definitely a work in process and I have much to learn! The blue cup is actually a recycled ceramic yogurt container from the French brand "La Fermiere". I happened to find the yogurts in a French store in San Francisco a while ago. Works nicely for custards! :-)


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