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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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pablo's menu this week... & a couple slices of his life

 
It's Friday morning. It's 8 am, but the ankle-biter (more like knee-biter now) has been busy already. Busy cuddling, reading, running around, puppet playing, resisting diaper change, resisting sitting down for breakfast, watching the neighbors come and go... Busy little man he is.
 
But none of that matches the excitement of the hour: the CSA delivery.
 
The box of fresh fruits and vegetables is here, sitting in our kitchen, unopened, hiding treasures of potential scrumptiousness. And I smile, because Pablo knows this. He's so excited, he opens the box, takes every piece of vegetable and fruit out, examining it, smelling it. Might as well be Christmas morning. We grab an orange from the loot, and breakfast has just become a lot more fun.
 
 
 
"A table!" It's dinner time and Pablo is engrossed in his favorite firetruck puzzle. He repeats, "A table!" (Dinner's ready!). It's pretty darn cute. But he's 22 months after all, and transitions are... well, sometimes challenging. "Why would I stop doing puzzles to go have dinner? Beats me", thinks Pablo.
 
And Pablo protests vehemently. He skirts the issue, wanders around the house, stalls. Writes mental notes of our reaction to his resistance. "Note to self. Button pushed here. Fascinating", thinks Pablo. My MO is to stay nonchalant, patient. Up to a point, that is. "It's dinner time. Now", thinks maman. With much trial and error, I'm getting pretty good at dealing with power struggles and refusals, tantrums and outbursts (thanks in great part to the awesome wisdom of Janet Lansbury, btw), and I'm not afraid of a crying toddler, I can handle it calmly. But well, it's dinner time, and I'm French, after all, dinner time is sacred, I don't want to stress out, this is the time to unwind, connect, sit down, relax.
 
So... as Pablo's getting upset, giving me a lot of "Non! Non!", I peak in the kitchen and notice the roasted chicken (from this awesome recipe) my mother so kindly cooked and wrapped in foil so it would stay warm. "Look, the chicken is hidden over there, shall we take a peek?" "How exciting", he thinks. The toddler is interested, rises to the bait. So we go play peekaboo with the roasted chicken while very much anticipating eating a leg with our hands. He sits down in his chair like a charm, and we proceed to enjoy our dinner. Sigh.
 
 
You get my meaning here: the enjoyment of food isn't just about meals & nutrition.
 
I wanted to share this thin slice of our life, as I found recently that engaging Pablo with the food, the meal and its preparation, experiencing it, talking about it, getting excited about it, was a great way to deal with potential resistance, or impatience / antsiness at the table...
 
Sometimes, you just have to stop and smell... the chicken.
 
Or fennel, as the case may be.
 
 

Enough slices, let's get to the meat of it. Moving on to our week's menu, which I apologize for posting a bit late this week.
Wishing you a week full of tasty treats.

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: Goat brie, Comté (type of Swiss), Danish blue.

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).

MONDAY

Lunch - OUT


Goûter (4pm snack) – Apple-blueberry compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Spinach broccoli soup
Main course: Bison patty, vegetable noodles

TUESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber in dill yogurt dressing
Main course: Cold roasted chicken, dino kale mash

Goûter - Apple compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Dandelion greens, bacon, comté salad with mustard vinaigrette
Main course: Pan-fried veal liver, sweet potato puree


WEDNESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green lentil shallot salad
Main course: Mixed crab crudités salad

Goûter – Kiwi

Dinner - OUT TO DINNER (yay)


THURSDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cold pea & chive salad
Main course: Trying this leek feta lemon quiche from London Bakes

Goûter - Homemade chocolate pudding*

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Avocado fennel grapefruit velouté*
Main course: Poached salmon & edamame in coconut broth*


FRIDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots French-style
Main course: Mushroom caps stuffed with cream of sardine

Goûter - Banana

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Trying this beautiful beet soup from Mowielicious
Main course: Duck parmentier (we had leftover duck stew which we pureed together with potato, and froze)

SATURDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber Feta rolls from Good Life Eats
Main course: Sautéed shrimp with lime and coconut rice*

Goûter - Mango compote

Dinner (simple tonight, maman's going out!)
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cauliflower, green beans salad
Main course: Ham & quinoa

SUNDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Smoked salmon dill avocado tartine

Goûter - Tangerine

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichoke soup, a recipe I found here
Main course: Roasted chicken thighs with clementines from Sassy Radish, with sunchoke gratin dauphinois*





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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cod & Brussels sprouts in garlic cream... & planting seeds for the pleasure of eating well



 
I was talking to the mom of a 12-month-old boy the other day, and as we were casually chatting about germs and toddlers putting everything in their mouth, I mentioned that the old French remedy pediatricians would give to moms 50 years ago in France, was to feed their babies blue cheese, Roquefort and the like, to boost their immune system and help them with digestion. (I have certainly followed that advice, and gave Pablo blue cheese fairly early on, probably around 10 months. Pablo loved its strong flavor.) She was very surprised at the idea, so I marvelled at how children have such open minds about flavors and textures at that age, and you can get them to try a wide variety of foods.

She responded something like, “Yeah, and then at 4 years old it’s all over, they don’t want to eat anything anymore.”

This isn’t the first time I encounter this sort of attitude, and have heard the same type of comment from moms of grown-ups, “Yeah sure, you’re happy your kid is eating vegetables etc, but it’s not going to last, you’ll see.”

I dare say this attitude bugs me to no end. I guess it does because the subtext I’m hearing is, “Just give up on it now, it’s no use offering your kid a wide variety of foods because he may reject it all down the road."

And my answer would be: isn’t it worth it to offer babies and children good real foods, even if they taste it and enjoy it just once? Even supposing (and I don’t even believe that supposition to be valid) that tomorrow, Pablo starts rejecting every single vegetable or food he eats now, he has been eating good, real, flavorful and balanced foods for the past 18 months, and those 18 months are completely worthwhile. It’s not lost or wasted. The enjoyment, the positive food experience, the introduction of colors, textures, flavors, scents, all that is in his brain somewhere, it’s a seed that is planted and will somehow grow and takes its course.

It would be almost like saying there’s no point in playing with your infant or showing him things because later on, he may be completely disinterested in these same things and not even remember them.

A few months ago, I blogged about my friends at Gopher Springs Farm, and their desire to grow quality sustainable foods from the soil up, making the best possible compost to get the richest possible soil to plant seeds in and let them grow, their roots strong, fulfilled.

It’s kind of the same thing here. We know in child development the first three years are so crucial in every aspect, how we relate to our babies, how they learn, how the type of attachment we create during that time will define them in many ways. And I believe this applies to food and the education of taste. Those first couple of years of life, exposing them to a wide variety of real foods, getting them engaged, interested in the eating experience in all its sensory glory, showing them the excitement of trying something new, nurturing their open-mindedness about flavor and textures, sharing meals with them as an opportunity to be in the moment and focused on the pleasure of eating and doing so in each other’s company... All these things make up this rich soil, this crucial foundation in their mind and their body. It’s planting the seeds of a life of balanced, enjoyable eating. It's never too late to start the education of taste, it can be done at 1 or 6 or 50, but if you have the opportunity to start early, why not do it? 

I don’t even think it is true that all children start to reject all “good” foods at 3 or 4 or 12. That is definitely not the case for most French children (including myself), who are expected to eat “everything” – and they do, mostly (Karen Le Billon explains this in detail in her aptly named French Kids Eat Everything.)

Yes, neophobia (the fear of new foods, an interesting scientific study on it here) can be common among toddlers, but it usually dissipates by age four. A couple of thoughts on that:

1/ If a child does have this fear of new foods, this is the time for a parent to hang in there and keep offering and gently challenging the child to eat good balanced foods, finding fun playful ways to do it, and certainly not the time to throw in the towel and just give in to the pasta/cheerio diet.

2/ If you expose your infant/young toddler to a wide variety of foods and vegetables on a regular basis before age 2, these foods won’t be new to them and not so scary.

I also suspect one of the biggest culprits for toddlers and young children not eating well is the snacking on demand throughout the day... I was asked recently how come Pablo eats so well during meals, and part of the reason is that when he comes to the table, he’s hungry. His body knows he’s not going to be snacking 1 or 2 hours later, so he eats well. And he enjoys the meal all the more.
 
Should Pablo go through a more resistant phase, where he doesn’t embrace all foods as enthusiastically as he does now, I will consider it exactly as that: a phase. I will certainly not label him as “resistant” and give up on his education of taste altogether. I will keep challenging him and offering him new foods, good foods, keep engaging him. Because the seeds we plant when they’re infants and toddlers, need to be nurtured so they may grow strong. We don’t just give up on them at the first sign of resistance.  The education of taste is an ongoing, lifelong process.
 
I guess the other aspect of this “what’s the use?” attitude that bugs me, is that it feels like putting the blame on the child. "The child is resistant." "The child won’t eat vegetables." "The child refuses." I don’t think that’s fair. I believe in the old saying, “There is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher.” It’s up to us as parents to keep offering, to model balanced eating habits, to make it possible for our children to keep experiencing the pleasure and fulfillment that sharing a good meal of real foods, give their body and soul.
 
 
All right, all done rambling on. The recipe I'm sharing here is one of those "Really!? You're feeding that to your kid?" recipes... Yes. Fish with Brussels sprouts and garlic cream, cooked in a parcel... Do not shiver, just try it. If you have never liked Brussels sprouts, this dish might make you a convert.
 
Cooking them this way takes away the bitterness, and those caraway seeds you might have had sitting on your spice rack for years (as was my case) will find their true calling here (they go well with all types of cabbages).  As for the garlic cream, it makes the whole thing simply scrumptious.
 
 
 
I talked about the benefits of cooking in parcels before. It is very playful for kids, Pablo is always excited to be getting a cadeau (present) for dinner, the excitement when you unwrap it, the fun of pouring the sauce over it, of having your own little mystery package. You couldn't sugarcoat it any better than that... (sans sugar, that is).
 
 
 

Parcels of black cod & Brussels sprouts in garlic cream

Adapted from Petit Larousse des Recettes aux Légumes du Potager by Valérie Lhomme
 
Serves 4
 
Age for babies: 8-10 months, if necessary, mix it into a puree (you could mix the cod/Brussels sprouts and a head of baked garlic adding formula milk to desired consistency)
 
Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 35 mn
 
1 lb Brussels sprouts
5 garlic cloves
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 lb black cod
4 thin slices of pancetta
4 pinches of caraway seeds
Salt & pepper
 
 
Preheat the oven at 350°F.
 
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Grossly quarter the Brussels sprouts and wash them. Plunge them in the boiling water for two minutes, drain them and cool them off under cold running water. Set them aside on a kitchen towel.
 
Wrap the garlic cloves (unpeeled) in parchment paper and bake them for 15 minutes.
Remove the skin and mash them with a fork. Combine with the heavy cream in a small saucepan and set aside.
 
Cut the cod into four pieces, and cut 4 squares of parchment papers.
 
On each square of paper, place a bed of Brussels sprouts, a piece of black cod and a slice of pancetta on top. Sprinkle with pepper and some caraway seeds.
 
Wrap the parcels hermetically, tying each end with kitchen string.  (Note: you can make these ahead of time and keep them in the fridge until ready to bake)
 
Place the four parcels directly on the bottom of the oven and bake 10-12 minutes.
 
Place the saucepan with the garlic and cream over low heat. Add a sprinkle of salt and some pepper. Bring to a low simmer.
 
Place each parcel on a plate, open it and pour the cream of garlic over the fish.
 
 
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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pablo's weekly menu, & a pastel Romanesco salad

 
 
 
With much excitement (because we get excited about such things...), our CSA basket brought us a couple of heads of Romanesco broccoli last week. This Madonna-reminiscent bright green vegetable is somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower, with a very subtle flavor and pleasant texture, soft and crunchy at the same time.
 
 
 
Its vivid beauty inspired me to improvise something colorful and fresh for lunch, in the way of this salad, which I am sharing with you today, along with the week's menu (scroll down below the recipe for it.)
 
Wishing you a wonderful, fragrant week.
 
 

Romanesco purple potato smoked salmon salad

 
Serves 4
 
Age for babies: 8-10 months (Romanesco florets make a great finger food)
 
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 25 min
 
1 head of Romanesco broccoli, florets separated and washed
4-5 purple potatoes
4 slices of smoked salmon
Fresh dill
Half a lemon
 
Dressing:
1 shallot, finely minced
A few sprigs of fresh dill
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp hazelnut oil
1 tsp mustard
Salt & pepper
 
Place whole blue potatoes in a pot of cold salted water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook until tender, about 15 minutes depending on their size.
 
Bring another large pot of water to a boil.
 
Meanwhile, separate the Romanesco florets and wash them.
 
Cook the Romanesco florets in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
 
Let potatoes and Romanesco cool down to lukewarm.
 
Combine all the ingredients of the dressing.
 
Peel potatoes and slice. Place potatoes and florets in a bowl, sprinkle with fresh dill, pour dressing and mix well (but gently).
 
Serve in salad plates or bowl, adding small pieces of smoked salmon on top, and some more dill if desired. Drizzle lightly with lemon.
 
 
On to the week's menu now...
  
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: Goat gouda, Port Salut (cow), Manchego (sheep).

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.

For afternoon snack, lately, Pablo has been enjoying the traditional French Petit Beurre along with his compote.

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).

MONDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Watermelon radish, olives
Main course: Mixed hard boiled egg, tuna, tomato, potato salad with lots of herbs

Goûter (4pm snack) – Leftover pear almond clafoutis from the weekend, great recipe from Taste Food


Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Celeriac Japanese yam fennel soup from Cannelle & Vanille
Main course: Crock pot duck and wild mushroom stew, sunchokes gratin

TUESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leek & chive flan*
Main course: Sautéed shrimp with lime and coconut rice*

Goûter - Kiwi

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Garlic soup*
Main course: Endives & ham au gratin with quinoa béchamel


WEDNESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Lentil shallot salad
Main course: Roast beef, peas

Goûter – Apple compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Smoked salmon green beans rolls
Main course: Cauliflower stuffed bell peppers from Food Loves Writing

THURSDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Lentil shallot salad (leftover)
Main course: Turkey breast in creamy sauce with snap peas and chanterelles*

Goûter - Pear blueberry compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Fennel, shallot potato soup
Main course: Slow cooker lamb tagine*


FRIDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leeks with vinaigrette
Main course: Hard boiled egg, leftover couscous from tagine

Goûter - Banana

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Creamy cucumber in yogurt dill dressing
Main course: Sea scallops (trying the recipe from Inspiring the everyday), potato chards puree

SATURDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots French-style
Main course: Sardines & quinoa

Goûter - Apple-blueberry compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Roasted chicken with rosemary grapefruit sauce from Vanilla Bean

SUNDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichokes with vinaigrette
Main course: Bison patty, vegetable noodles

Goûter - Tangerine

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Spinach broccoli soup*
Main course: Pork tenderloin with country mustard sauce, vegetable jardinière






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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Smoked salmon green bean rolls, & the generosity in cooking



 
As a child, I learned about generosity through food. My mother would cook simple things most days, but when we had company, when friends came over for dinner, the meal in itself became a special occasion.

Growing up raised by a single working mother, with always a bit of envy for other children who had large families (while they may have longed for the solitude I enjoyed... because the grass is always greener on the other side...), I placed tremendous value on having friends over for dinner. If I didn’t have a large family of my own, I was determined to build one, a chosen family. Nurturing, literally feeding those friendships was of crucial importance to me. 
 
And what better way to show gratitude and love, than a good meal?
 
Not just a good meal, but the thought and effort that go into it. The true gift, is the thoughtfulness of it.

 
I grew up learning that cooking a meal was a way to love, and something to be loved for.
 
A way to say thank you. For being in my life. For loving me.
I never ever take that for granted. It is too precious.

And how beautiful it is, to give a moment of pleasure to those we love.
A scrumptious bite. A subtle flavor. A burst of sweet.

Preparing a meal for someone, is giving a bit of oneself.
It is an act of love, of friendship. It’s a hand extended out. Open arms. And a plate.

 

To this day, shared meals remain the cradle of our friendships.  A way to cherish my loved ones. To put my cooking where my heart is, if you will.

And I am thrilled Pablo is bathed in this. The kitchen, the dinner table are such rewarding places to learn what generosity means. What loving and sharing mean. They are what makes us feel full in life (pun intended). It goes so much further than sharing a toy at the playground, doesn’t it? And what a thrilling, rich feeling it can give us, this gift of self, this gift of good food.

So... since today is a celebration of love, like every day, I will cook for my loved ones, so we may share a meal, yet another precious moment of togetherness.

And for you... I have a simple, yet flavorful bouquet of sorts...
 
This easy recipe makes for a festive appetizer, and a fun finger foods for kids of all ages (Dipping is so fun it makes the food taste better in and of itself!) It's a nice mix of textures and colors. You could even make them the night before and have a couple for lunch on the go.
 
 

Smoked salmon & green beans rolls, with a grapefruit dipping sauce

Adapted from Petit Larousse des Recettes des Légumes du Potager, by Valérie Lhomme
 
 Serves 4
 
Prep time - 20 mn
Cook time - 5 mn
 
Age for babies - 10-12 months with very little dressing, baby can pull the roll apart and munch on the ingredients.
 
1/2 lb fresh green beans (the smaller haricots verts if you can find them)
8 small slices of smoked salmon or lox
A handful of sunflower sprouts (can be radish sprouts, or other sprouts of choice)
4 circles of rice paper / spring roll wrappers*
(*Note: You could use scissors before softening the rice paper to make squares instead of circles, which might make the rolls easier to roll and the end result more even and prettier to look at. Didn't occur to me to do that until just now, so I winged it with the half circles)
 
Dressing:
Juice of half a grapefruit
Juice of half a lemon
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground ginger
1 drizzle of honey
Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
 
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the ends of the green beans, and plunge them in the boiling water for 5 minutes.
 
Drain them and pour ice cold water over them right away to stop the cooking. Set aside.
 
To soften the rice paper: Place one circle of rice paper over a damp towel or cloth, place another damp cloth over it, place the 2nd circle of rice paper on top, and another damp cloth on top, and so on with the 4 circles. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes, until soft.
 
Cut the rice paper circles into half circles.
 
Place one half circle, round side up. Place one slice of smoked salmon along the edge. Place a few green beans (cut them in half if they are too long), and a few sunflower sprouts on top.
Then from the side, roll the rice paper wrapping the beans, like a spring roll. If you want very even ends, you can cut them off. Or crumple up the rice paper on one end like a little bouquet.
 
Repeat with all 8 rolls. Wrap them individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
 
For the dressing, combine all ingredients in the blender and mix to obtain a very smooth dipping sauce (it will be thin - if you have leftover, this also makes a great salad dressing for greens like mâche, baby spinach or watercress).
 



 
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Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Japanese salad... and the ability to see beauty

 


 
I always knew it would be a priority to initiate my son to the pleasures of the palate, that his “education of taste”, as we call it in French (éducation du goût), was something dear to my heart. For many reasons. Because we just love good food so much. Because it’s the way I was raised. Because it’s good for his health. Because it’s a big part of his French culture.

 As I started on this journey and writing this blog, I realized that it went beyond that. Food and everything about it (cooking it, growing it, shopping for it, eating it, learning from it, approaching it from the five senses, among many other things) have become a golden learning opportunity. For me and for him. I have talked about how food can be a bias to practice patience and anticipation. And learning to be in the moment. And appreciating the process. And experiencing human connection, friendship.
 
It’s also a way to experience beauty.
 
Our society tends to have a very limited, narrow-minded vision of what beauty is nowadays. Yet, here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:
beauty - the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit
 
Beauty is in the soul and mind, the wide-open mind, of the beholder.
 
In this sense, young children know how to see beauty, almost everywhere. Their mind is completely open to things of amazement and interest, unspoiled by expectations, preconceived notions, prejudice, judgment.  To Pablo, a garbage truck is a thing of beauty. Or a worker painting a window. Or ducks and squirrels. Or the ocean. The snow. A guitar. A voice.
 
Or an artichoke, a carrot, a gratin hot out of the oven. A colorful salad.

 
 
Knowing how to see beauty around us, sometimes having to pry our grown-up minds open to do so, our senses on alert, fully connected to our world body and mind: now there’s something worth living for.
 
And very dear to me is the desire to preserve and nurture my son’s open mind, share with him how rich life is when we can see beauty. When we see it a lot, every day, particularly in the little things. That’s where it’s the juiciest and most delicate. In the little things.

 
 
  
We expect children to get excited about garbage trucks and ducks on a pond. Grown-ups, myself included, tend to pump them up about such things, anticipating their thrill.
 
And perhaps the best tip to parents out there wanting their children to enjoy eating well, the best “education of taste” tip I have, is to apply that same excitement to food. I get excited about food because it is a thing of beauty.  And that excitement is contagious. And I am happy to report that after 21 months of lots of food-related excitement, Pablo gets it.
 
The definition above could very well be the definition of good cuisine. Eating and sharing a delicious food is experiencing beauty with body and mind.
 
Food is a rich way to experience beauty from a very young age. With all five senses.
 
See the beauty of an endive, for example. Oblong and smooth, pale nuances of green and yellow. Its smell fresh, almost like rain. When you squeeze it, you hear it crack a little. After you feel it crunchy on your teeth, you taste its light bitterness.
 
Yes, an endive is a thing of beauty.
(This, by the way, is an “exercise” of sorts I like to do with Pablo and will be doing a lot more.)
 
Now. Let's travel together.
 
 
I have been in love with Japanese cuisine and culture for many years. I was lucky enough to visit Japan a few years ago, and realized how kindred in spirit the French and Japanese are, particularly in regards to food. Great care is devoted not only to the flavors of the foods (and how to combine them artfully and deliciously), but also presentation, color and texture.
 
Subtlety – or the ability to see the value in the little things – is embraced. The sushi chef, like a painter adding touches of paint and brushstrokes of color to his work, adds a pinch of special sea salt on a scallop, a leaf of shiso, a dash of pickled plum, a few seeds of sesame over rice that is in itself a work of art, just the right texture, just the right temperature. Those things make a difference. Their sum is the experience of beauty at every bite.
 
I am no expert at Japanese cuisine. I know I love it. (I have learned so much about it thanks to the wonderful Nami at Just One Cookbook, I highly recommend her easy and delightful recipes.)
 
So I just improvised this ridiculously simple Japanese salad just combining different ingredients I like. It’s a nice little “visit to Japan” the time of a meal, so if you get a chance to stop by a Japanese grocery store in your area and pick up some of these ingredients, give it a try (if you are unfamiliar with raw seafood, this is definitely a salad for the fearless and open-minded!)
 
A lot of Occidentals have issues with the textures of raw fish and seafood, but toddlers can be very open-minded on this front as well. Pablo adores raw oysters, fish, clam, urchin and salmon roe. Perhaps your child, or yourself, will see the beauty of it too?

 
 

Japanese tofu seaweed salad

 
Makes 2 servings
 

Age for babies: I started giving raw seafood (once in a while) to Pablo past 12 months. Check with your pediatrican. You can of course make a vegetarian version of this salad, skipping the seafood.
 
Prep time: 15 mn
 
Note: All quantities are really up to you and can be adjusted to your taste.
 
Half a package of soft tofu
1 cup seaweed salad
4 tbsp salmon roe (ikura)
Sea urchin
Yamaimo root (optional)
2 shiso leaves
Sesame seeds
1/4 cup soy sauce (or Ajipon sauce if you can find it)
Juice of one lemon (omit the lemon if you have Ajipon)

Assorted pickled vegetables - eggplant, daikon radish, plum.


Cut up the tofu in bite-size pieces. Dispose in each plate or bowl. Drizzle half the Ajipon over it (or the soy sauce and lemon whisked together).

If you are using yamaimo: cut a thick slice. Peel it quickly and run it under cold water, chop finely and as quickly as possible so it doesn't get too slimy. (Yes, I know, it sounds gross, but it adds a nice crunch to this salad. For more information on yamaimo, go here. Some people with sensitive skin get itchy after manipulating yamaimo, so if you are, you might want to wear gloves to cut it up, or wash your hands well right after.)

Add the chopped yamaimo over the tofu  (if you were hardcore enough to give it a try!), and the seaweed salad on top.

Chop the shiso leaves and sprinkle over the salad.

Spoon the salmon roe over the top of the seaweed salad, and finally a couple of pieces of sea urchin.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Drizzle the rest of the Ajipon and serve with some pickled vegetables on the side.

 

 
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Monday, February 4, 2013

Pablo's menu this week

 
I'll make it short and sweet, sharing this week's menu, and some images of what's cooking in our kitchen. We're certainly embracing the winter vegetables!
 
What dishes have you enjoyed most this winter so far?
 
Hoping our menu will spark some ideas, and wishing you another flavorful week.
 
 
Sunchokes, winter roots at the Farmer's Market, and a kabocha squash
 

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, Petit Basque sheep's milk cheese, and Port Salut (cow).

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.

For afternoon snack, lately, Pablo has been enjoying the traditional French Petit Beurre along with his compote.

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).

MONDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cauliflower, blue potato, green beans salad
Main course: Tofu, baby bok choy puree

Goûter (4pm snack) – Crêpes!
(Feb 2 was Candlemas, traditionally French families make a meal of crêpes, savory and sweet, on that day).

Dinner

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Tomato mozzarella salad + Watermelon radish
Main course: Oven roasted mustard pork tenderloin, broccoli spinach puree

TUESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Romaine and apple salad in creamy yogurt vinaigrette
Main course: Beef patty, red quinoa

Goûter - Prune-pear compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Sunchoke celeriac soup*
Main course: Lamb chops, cannelloni beans


WEDNESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Smoked salmon green beans rolls*
Main course: Haddock and Brussels sprouts with cream of garlic*

Goûter – Apple-blueberry compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leftover sunchoke celeriac soup
Main course: Ham wrapped endives braised in quinoa béchamel

THURSDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots French-style
Main course: Simple ratatouille, soft boiled egg

Goûter - Apple pear compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Lentil shallot salad
Main course: Pan-fried Dover sole fillets with microgreens puree


FRIDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leftover lentil shallot salad
Main course: Cold chicken, peas

Goûter - Kiwi

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Baby spinach, pear and pomegranate salad
Main course: Stuffed kabocha squash*


SATURDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots French-style (leftover)
Main course: Pan fried chicken livers over butter lettuce with raspberry vinaigrette

Goûter - Tangerine

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Crockpot veal osso bucco, spelt spaghetti

SUNDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green asparagus with vinaigrette
Main course: Sardines, cauliflower florets

Goûter - Tangerine

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Boiled leeks with vinaigrette
Main course: Oven roasted pork ribs, fingerling potatoes







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