Monday, July 29, 2013

A sweet custard, a verrine, & our weekly menu

"How was your week?", people ask. But are they ready for an honest, full answer? 

Because for me, it was...

A busy week. Made of work deadlines, toddler activities, juggling writing, cooking, photographing between bath times, meal times and nap times. 

A grateful week, for the precious help of my mother and support of good friends. 

A stressful, anxious week, with the anticipation of big life changes and all the daunting effort, work and energy they require.

A flavorful week, rich with the bounty of summer produce and local farmers.

A hopeful week, with faith in the fruits of difficult decisions and doing our best in the present.

A sad week, for the helplessness felt in the face of the struggle, pain and suffering of loved ones.

An inspiring week, with lots of ideas and connections, things to express, to explore.

A tired, humbling week, longing for sleep and rest, a reality check that my brain and body cannot function non-stop. 

A joyful week, of reaping other fruits, the things Pablo has learned without my teaching, the awe and wonder of watching grow what I sowed. A spontaneous thank you, or gesture to share food, a rythm or a song, a new skill, a desire to help, a willingness to try new things, a wish to connect with others, and sprouts of empathy in his demeanor. 

Such are our weeks and lives, aren't they? Never just one thing. They are in our image, complex, mixed, impossible to define. Therein lies their beauty. They can't be labeled, or dismissed for being one thing, these nuggets, these increments of our lives. 

So with the acknowledgement of last week, ready or not, we begin a new one. With a sweet treat, and a menu, to get us on our way...


It has been a while since I've shared our weekly menu, and a while since I shared a dessert recipe, so I shall fix that with one post. Crème Caramel, which is basically a cold caramel custard, is a classic dessert in France. You can easily find it already-made in the yogurt section of any supermarket. All schools offer it once in a while for dessert to children (you know, French schools serving a daily four course lunch to children and all). It is a combination of such simple ingredients (milk, eggs, sugar), makes a great sweet treat.

I had made this incredible Lapsang Souchong tea caramel some months ago for an ice cream, and had been looking for a way to use what was leftover. Since 99.9% of the time, our desserts consist of cheese and/or yogurt and fruit, it had been sitting in my fridge. Well, it has now found its purpose!

And then I came across the photo of a verrine (pretty edible things presented in a glass, basically) on a French website, and decided to simplify it greatly to create an easy, yet delicious and crowd-pleasing dessert perfect for a summer (or any season really) afternoon, or for a dinner party. 

Smoked tea infused crème caramel, & a verrine of shortbread cookie, stone fruit, yogurt, and smoked caramel custard

For the crème caramel:

Makes 4-6 ramekins, depending on size (lower, shallow ramekins tend to set better)

Age for babies: 12 months and up with the honey, in very small quantity.  I gave this to Pablo for the first time at 27 months (and it was love at first taste!)

2 cups of whole milk
1 vanilla bean (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
3 eggs
3 tbsp honey (heat it up to make it liquidy if needed)
This awesome Lapsang Souchong caramel from Local Milk blog (of course, plain caramel will do as well.)

First, make the caramel (recipe here).

In a pan, combine the milk and vanilla (if using a bean, scrape the seeds off into the milk, and put the bean in the milk as well). Bring to a slow boil, cover, and remove from heat. Let the vanilla infuse for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Pour the hot caramel into the bottom of the ramekins, just enough to coat the bottom. It will harden and cool quickly. (*Note that I was able to keep this caramel covered in the fridge for a couple of months. I just reheated in the microwave to liquify).

Then, whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the honey and whisk until combined.

Remove the vanilla bean from the milk, (strain the milk through a fine mesh if desired), and pour the hot milk over the eggs, all at once, and whisk vigorously for a minute or so.

Pour the milk/egg mixture over the caramel in the ramekins.

Place the ramekins in a baking dish, and pour some hot water in the dish, so it goes up about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins.

Place in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until set. You will know when you tap on your baking dish, and the middle of the custards is no longer liquid (though it will giggle a little.) 

Remove from the oven and the hot water bath, and let cool. Then place in the fridge for 1 hour or more.

When ready to serve, place a plate on top of the ramekins, hold on to both and turn the plate over, shaking gently until you hear the soft "schlug" of the custard coming off the ramekin. Lift the ramekin, and pour the leftover caramel at the bottom of the ramekin over the custard. 

For the verrine:

Age for babies: Omitting the crème caramel, I would give this as an afternoon snack for example from 8-10 months (yogurt, cookie, fruit mixed together and set to rest for 1 hr, so the yogurt softens the cookie).

1 plain shortbread cookie
1 spoonful of plain (full fat if possible) Greek yogurt (this one is by far the best I've had in the US, by the way)
1 spoonful of European style, plain yogurt, with cream on top preferably
Seasonal fruit of choice: here I used plum and nectarine 
1 bite or two of crème caramel

In a small bowl, mix together the Greek yogurt and regular yogurt with some of the cream on top. 

At the bottom of a glass, break/crumble the shortbread cookie.
Add the yogurt, the cut up fruit on top, and then a spoonful of the crème caramel.

Note: You can make these ahead and leave them in the fridge until ready to serve. It gives the yogurt time to imbibe the cookie, which makes the whole thing even more scrumptious!!

And now, on to the week's menu:

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: Comté, Port Salut (cow cheese), and a lot of goat cheese these days, thanks to my collaboration with Vermont Creamery and the Kids & Kids campaign. (Have you been following the "Summer Goat Cheese Series"?)

DessertsAt 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 - Picnic at the park
Boiled leeks and potato salad, cherry tomatoes and cucumber sticks, hard boiled egg, Babybel cheese & plum

Goûter (4pm snack) – Crème Caramel (recipe above!) and lychees

Appetizer / Finger FoodsGolden beet warm goat cheese salad
Main course: Oven-roasted pork ribs, grilled eggplant


Lunch - Picnic out again
Spring pea & herb salad, cherry tomatoes, avocado, roast beef, cheese and plum or peach

Goûter - Lychees

Appetizer / Finger Foods: White asparagus with tarragon yogurt cream sauce
Main course: Duck breasts with braised radishes and cherries*


Lunch at the park 
Grated carrots French-style, sardine cottage cheese pea sandwich, cheese, fruit

Goûter – Nectarine

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main courseQuails eggs en cocotte with smoked salmon, leek and zucchini from La Tartine Gourmande


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cold zucchini with mint vinaigrette
Main course: Bison patty with endive blue cheese salad

Goûter - Grapes

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Trying this Yellow Tomato Corn Gazpacho from What's Cooking Good Looking blog
Main course: Pan-fried Dover sole, broccoli spinach puree



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber fennel slaw
Main course: Mushroom prosciutto tartine

Goûter - Peach

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichoke custard
Main course: Lamb chops with the herbed roasted carrots and pesto from Food Loves Writing


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Choice of leftover appetizers: grated carrots, zucchini, and/or cucumber fennel slaw
Main course: Soft boiled egg, simple ratatouille

Goûter - Plum

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grilled avocado with cherry tomatoes and herbs from Minimally Invasive blog
Main course: Clams in fennel shallot broth from Cannelle & Vanille


Lunch OUT

Goûter - Cherries

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green beans cauliflower herb salad
Main course: Slow-cooker chicken thighs with endive, yam, goat cheese gratin*

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  1. 'never just one thing' - so true. I mean, SO true. This is all of life, indeed.

    1. Hi Shanna, I'm so not surprised that you can relate to that, you have beautifully expressed similar sentiments on your blog. :-)

  2. I could write a full page on how much I appreciate this blog.. I can also sum it up pretty easily: you're really amazing. Thanks for taking the time to write this blog. I'm a server and never understood why parents always requested (not in their words) the blandest whitest food (had to make sure there wasn't anything green on the plate). Well, I'm proud to say my son (10 months) is not that kid..woohoo!

    1. What kind words, thank you very much! To be honest, I needed this comment today! It just gives me the motivation to keep going when I'm as slammed as I have been and so frustrated not to be able to post more often... Yay for your little gourmet in training! Thanks for reading and commenting :-)

  3. Kudos to what anon wrote above- yes you are a bleeding amazing mum. Pablo is one lucky baby to have such food (and to grow up with this kind of food ethos). On a side note, the sweet custard verrine sounds delicious- and I completely would have it for breakfast, because even though it's sort of sweet / dessert-y it's actually very healthy! And the lapsang souchong caramel- win- how did I miss that? Love the smoky flavour of this tea- one of my favourite chinese teas!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Shu Han! Yes, you're right, it's eggs, milk and honey with some tea and sugar, all the perfect breakfast ingredients :-)


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