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Vive la France!

If Mexico is a postcard of memories for me, then France is the stuff of dreams.

I’ve already professed my love of Mexico and it’s food, but it’s France that I turn to most. Not specifically all things French, but the ways of France. I’m not a true Francophile in that sense. I don’t need a house in Provence or an apartment in Paris. I follow the rhythms and flows. Hard to explain. Nothing is that much of a crisis that a well-timed shrug or a glass of wine can’t solve. Fresh food, in season, is the way to eat. Butter is OK. Cheese makes an amazing finish to a meal. Looking put together, even if just running into the quickie-mart, is a sign of respect (for yourself, mostly). Choose your passions, and stick to your guns, even if it is for a certain sporting team or a way to cook chicken.

I follow the Tour de France, and honor Bastille Day (both, I usually keep to myself). I like French food, but mostly the country or bistro style of cooking. I like French wines. Who doesn’t? I enjoy the vintage fashions of Dior and Givenchy. French cinema, however, is…meh. France is my dream vacation. Too bad the closest I’ll get is probably Quebec.

The more I write on this little ol’ blog, the more I want to share my memories. I’ve been lucky enough to experience a lot of things. A lot of those experiences are recalled by food. It’s the best scrapbook, making a meal and being able to share. Even if those memories are watching a bunch of cyclists race around France while drinking rose and eating pan bagnat.

Pan bagnat & Le Village blood orange-ade

So, in keeping with the last few posts (about memories and experiences), I’ve decided to share some French goodies. Memories in the making for me, new experiences for you.

Pan Bagnat

adapted from Susan Spungen’s Recipes

Vinaigrette

  • 1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • 3 oil-cured olives, pitted
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 6 Tbsp olive oil

Sandwich

  • 1 crusty French baguette
  • 1-2 roasted peppers
  • 1/2 c halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 can (6oz) light tuna, drained
  • 1/2 c oil-cured black olives, pitted and torn in half
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
  • freshly ground black pepper

Make the vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients in a mini food processor or blender. Blend well, about 30 seconds, and set aside. This can be made several days in advance, and refrigerated.

Slice baguette lengthwise, toward the bottom third of the loaf and hollow out the top half. Spoon about two thirds of the vinaigrette on both side of the baguette. Layer the ingredients on the open baguette starting with the roasted pepper, followed by the tomatoes, onion, tuna, olives, then eggs. Drizzle remaining vinaigrette over the top. Sprinkle with pepper.

Close the baguette and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place in under a heavy cutting board and weigh it down with heavy pots for 1 hour. Slice and serve.

note: feel free to add greens or basil to the sandwich. This is the way I like it.

Onion tart & spinach salad with bacon

 

Free-Form Onion Tarts

adapted from foodandwine.com

Dough

  • 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c whole wheat flour
  • 6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 5 Tbsp ice water

Filling

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 lb sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbsp creme fraiche (I used Greek yogurt and it worked just fine)
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp milk
  • blue cheese, crumbled (optional)

In a bowl, whisk the flour with the salt. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle the water over the flour and stir gently just until incorporated; gently press to form a dough. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions and thyme and cook over moderately high heat, until softened, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderately low and cook, until the onions are golden, 20 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and discard the thyme. Stir in the crème fraîche (or yogurt) and season with salt and pepper. Let cool.

Set a pizza stone on the bottom of the oven or position a rack on the lowest rung and preheat the oven to 375°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide dough into quarters. On a floured work surface, roll out each quarter into a 6-inch round and transfer to the baking sheet. Spread the onions on the round, leaving a 1 -inch border. Fold the edge of the dough up and over the filling and brush the edge with the egg wash.

Free-form Onion Tart

Bake the tart on the stone or on the bottom shelf for about 20 minutes, until the  of the crust is browned. Transfer the tarts to a rack and let cool slightly. Top tarts with blue cheese crumbles (if using).

Serve with a a simple salad of greens topped with a simple vinaigrette.

Easy granola

I like granola. Sort of. I’m very picky about the granola I eat. I don’t like a lot of frills in my granola. That means no seeds, and very little nuts. Dried fruit is OK.

I’m always on the lookout for a granola recipe I can make the way I like it. I’m pretty sure making homemade granola is more of a technique than an actual recipe, but I still haven’t tried any. What if I take out what I don’t like? Will it mess up the ratio? Where do I find some of those ingredients (flaxseed?) in small-town Ohio? Granola shouldn’t be stressful.

I used raisins and dried cranberries. It's what I had on hand.

Then I got my latest issue of Food Network Magazine. In an advertising insert, I found the “perfect” granola recipe. Oats and flavorings, flavoring I like. Add whatever fruits and nuts you like later. Yay! This is quite tasty.

Stored in my pretty blue Ball jar

Easy Granola

adapted from a Home Made Simple recipe

  • 3 c old-fashioned oats
  • 1/4 c canola oil
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used almond. Use what you like)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 c add-ins, like dried cherries or cranberries, almonds or pistachios, or…???

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt. Pour over oats and toss well.

Spread mixture on prepared baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown, stirring every 5 minutes. Let cool completely, then transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in add-ins.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Note: Eat as-is for a snack, or mix into Greek yogurt for a great start to your morning.

 

 

An easy gratin

I recently purchased a used copy of Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis. I read her memoir, On Rue Tatin, years ago and loved it. It chronicles her family’s move to a village in Normandy. An easy read, it’s charming and funny, and has recipes.  A few years after, she put out a proper Rue Tatin cookbook. I wanted to buy it, but for reason here and there I never got around to it. Then, not too long ago, I was browsing Barnes and Noble online and found the book, for an incredible discount. It was less than $5 for the hardcover.

First layer with yummy shallots

Of course I wanted to make all sorts of recipes from it’s pages. While flipping through (for the 4th or 5th time) I stopped on a recipe for potato-cauliflower gratin. I just happened to have a half a head of cauliflower in my crisper. Why not? I had to by some shallots for it, but not the creme fraiche it calls for. My little grocery doesn’t carry it. I omitted it, but next time I will buy some Mexican crema or sour cream as it lacked the tang I’m sure would be the result of the creme fraiche. I would also recommend a mandolin to slice the potatoes. I think the paper thin potato slices almost melt into one another and cook properly.

Crispy, golden potatoes

Potato Gratin with Cauliflower

adapted from Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis

  • 1 1/2 c whole milk
  • 3/4 c half & half
  • 3/4 c creme fraiche or heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 lb russet potatoes, peeled
  • florets from 1 3/4 lb cauliflower
  • sea salt & pepper
  • 2 shallots, minced

Preheat oven to 375°

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, half % half and creme fraiche.

Cut the potatoes and cauliflower into very thin slices. Arrange half the potato and cauliflower slices in an even layer in the bottom of a medium gratin dish or casserole. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle evenly with half of the shallots. Top with remaining potatoes and cauliflower, ten season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with remaining shallots. Pour the cream mixture over the vegetables, lifting and moving them as necessary so they are evenly coated.

Bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the vegetables gently in the baking dish, and bake for 20 minutes more. Stir the vegetable again, and bake until vegetables are tender through and the gratin is bubbling and golden on top, about another 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes as it will be blistering hot, then serve.

Enjoy

Note: A sprinkling of grated Gruyere or Gouda would be wonderful on top. Add during the last 15-20 minutes. Another great idea would be the addition of a thin layer of prosciutto or Serrano ham in the middle. Adding the ham would make this a wonderful main course with the addition of a salad.

 

 

 

 

A Random Day

Let me tell you about a random day (off from work) in my life.

I ran to the store to pick up a few fresh and tinned items…and forgot my list. And coupons. Despite having to improvise, I don’t think I did too bad. I did manage to get almost everything I needed, and only picked up an extra cheese. I have a weakness for cheese. In this case it was Amish farmer cheese. That is one versatile cheese, let me tell ya. Oh, and I forgot to get cat food. Dang!

Anyway, back in my apartment, I put everything away and set out to clean my kitchen. It’s tiny. It doesn’t take much to make it a mess. But I had to. I wanted to cook. And bake. I ended up just making a simple chow mein-style dish of stir fried onion, carrots, celery and cabbage, tossed with noodles leftover roasted chicken, then topped with a sauce I made up on the fly. Shoyu (Hawai’ian/Japanese-style soy sauce), fish sauce, garlic, ginger, a touch of honey, a bit of Sriracha, and too much sesame oil. It tasted good, and I have leftovers for lunch.

Then I decided I wanted to make challah. I’ve never made it before and always wanted to try. I just read an article about an Italian lady who supposedly makes a mean challah in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Yankee Magazine. She made her way to New England on a study program, then met and married a Jewish man, hence the Challah. The recipe seemed pretty straight forward, unlike so many other recipes I’ve found. I gave it a go. As it turns out, she does make a mean Challah. Well, my loaf came out pretty tasty, despite using AP flour instead of bread flour. Meh.

Can't wait!

About the time the loaf came out of the oven, I had to go. I didn’t even get to sample my fresh-from-the-oven Challah. It was Thursday, and on Thursday nights I get together with a friend for a little Girl’s Night. We usually just go to a local pizza parlor for a few beers and some food. Exciting, I know. This particular night, we had to make a run over to the town bowling alley to swap vehicles; she had borrowed a friend’s truck. For my participation in this venture, she bought all my beer for the night. Yay! When we got there, we grabbed a beer (the friend wasn’t done bowling yet) and I was promptly presented with a tiny orange plastic mummy. A quarter machine trinket.  We have another friend who is, shall we say, quirky. He like to give quarter machine trinkets to his friends. I have a little mug filled with them. It’s kind of sweet, really. He doesn’t really do Christmases or birthdays or any of that, but if he likes you, you get a quarter machine trinket.

Hi

I’m thinking about making a little Christmas tree for him next year, using quarter machine toys as ornaments.

So, that was a random day for me. But pretty typical. I never know what is going to happen from one moment to the next with my friends. All I know is I have to make every moment with them count.

Oh! I almost forgot. The challah recipe. It really is easy. Give it a whirl. You won’t regret it.

Nothing like freshly baked bread

Simona’s Challah

adapted from Yankee Magazine January/February 2012

  • 3 3/4 c bread flour, divided, plus 1/2 c extra as needed, plus extra for work surface (I used AP flour)
  • 2/3 c plus 1 Tbsp water, divided
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for bowl and wrap
  • 3 large eggs, divided
  • Poppy seeds, optional

In a large bowl, stir together 3/4 c flour, 2/3 c water, and yeast. Let sit 45 minutes (to give yeast a head start on rising and to yield a richer flavor). Add remaining 3 cups flour, salt, sugar, olive oil, and 2 eggs. Stir dough until it just comes together; if it doesn’t, add up to 1/2 c more flour. Turn dough out on a well floured surface and knead until a smooth, supple dough forms, 10-15 minutes. Clean the mixing bowl; then coat with oil. Put  dough back into the bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Turn dough back out onto lightly floured baking sheet (note: I used parchment instead) and fold over once or twice to deflate. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces. Weigh each piece to make sure they’re equal (note: I don’t own a kitchen scale !horror! but It came out fine); each one should weigh about 14 ounces. Roll each piece out to a 16 inch-long strand; then pinch the ends together at the top.

Braid strands together (like braiding hair), folding the right outer strand over the center one, then the left outer strand over the center one as well. Repeat until the loaf is fully braided; then pinch strands together at the bottom.

Whisk the remaining egg with 1 Tbsp water to make a wash. Brush loaf with mixture, reserving some for a second wash after rising. Cover loaf with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap and let rise until double in size, 45 minute to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°. Brush loaf with remaining egg wash, sprinkle with poppy seeds if you like, and bake until challah is nicely browned, 35-45 minutes. Let cool before serving.

With my peach-vanilla-bourbon jam

I finally did get to try my challah. It makes a lovely breakfast with a good cup of coffee.

Who doesn’t love Christmas cookies?

Confession: I just want to curl up on the couch with a mug of tea. I am bravely fighting a head cold. It sucks.

But I digress.

Happy Christmas 2011

I promised I would share a cookie recipe. I’m always on the lookout for new holiday goodies, regardless of the holiday. Christmas just happens to be a favorite. Right next to Thanksgiving. There’s really not a thing about Christmas I don’t like. The celebration of Jesus’s birth, the decorating, the cooking and eating and drinking, the music, the snow (hopefully). Not so much the gift giving. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the actual giving of a gift, but I’m poor. I hate having to compete with the latest and greatest whatsit out there. I hate thinking that the recipient will open my gift thinking “is this it?” I’m to the point where the recipient better like my (probably) homemade or thoughtfully-picked-out little thing. Because it truly is the thought that counts. And if someone doesn’t like what I got, then I probably don’t want that person around. Bah humbug indeed.

Sorry about the gift tangent. I really do love Christmas. I really enjoy baking cookies. Despite a few gifts to family and a few friends, baked goods are usually my gift of choice. Because, really, who doesn’t love cookies? I guess I caught the cookie baking bug from my mom. She used to make all sorts of treasures this time of year. Her Spritz were divine. She used almond extract instead of vanilla, and I think it made all the difference in the world. And her chocolate chip cookies….*drool* Looking at the recipe, they are nothing special. It’s a chocolate chip cookie recipe. It may even be off a bag somewhere. But there is just something about them. Not cloyingly sweet, almost a bit salty. The best ever. They are always included in the Christmas cookie gift bag.

Cookies with tea

This year, in my quest to add to my repertoire, I found Cream Cheese Shortbread with Toasted Walnuts in the December issue of Country Living. I normally don’t like walnuts, but I had a handful left in the freezer from a previous gift project. And I had cream cheese for an unmade cheesecake project. Why not! So I made them. I then had to hide the bowl because they are some of the best cookies. I may have to make another batch before Christmas as this one may be gone. Really. They are that good. And I might add, are good for shipping because they are small, fairly sturdy little cookies. They’re not traditional style shortbread, but a nice little tea cookie.

I may have to grab a couple, make a pot of tea, then curl up in front of Turner Classic Movies.

Cream Cheese Shortbread with Toasted Walnuts

from Country Living magazine, December 2011

  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Add chopped walnuts and stir to combine.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together butter, cream cheese, and sugar on medium speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Add vanilla and mix for 1 minute. Reduce mixer speed to low; gradually add flour mixture and mix for 20 seconds. Take bowl off mixer and finish mixing dough with a rubber spatula.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Roll about 1 1/2 Tbsp of dough into a ball. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and gently press to flatten top. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing 1 inch apart.

 

 

4. Bake cookies until light brown around the edges, 14-16 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool

Makes 36 cookies

Serve with coffee or tea. Don’t eat all in one sitting.

vintage Santa mugs

Happy Christmas!

Cranberry goodness.Thankgiving recipes. After the fact.

Yes. I procrastinate. What I could be doing now, I put off for later. I blame work. And school. And laziness. I wanted to post some Thanksgiving recipes I found. Before Thanksgiving. I’m just so lucky I got to make anything for Thanksgiving. Thankful, even. I made an amazing roasted turkey breast with maple glaze, apple-onion dressing, and these fab cranberry dishes. Of course, I had mashed potatoes. Don’t be silly.

I really need to share that turkey recipe. You’d die.

Looking back on last week, I realize I need to post something, anything, before my few followers abandon ship, and thought, these recipes can be used for Christmas as well.  The two I want to share, Cranberry Pie and Cranberry-Jalapeno Relish, compliment a variety of dishes. Any roasted fowl can be served up with cranberry relish. It’s awesome on chicken, turkey or pork sandwiches. The cranberry pie is just good. Tis the season for cranberries. They’re not just for Thanksgiving anymore.

Ever since a Navy captain’s wife gave me a jar of her homemade jalapeno-cranberry jam, I’ve been searching high and low for something like it. I loved it that much. On turkey sandwiches. On crusty bread spread with cream or goat cheese. It really was that good. It had the right amount of sweet, tart and spice. Every fall, I resume my search for any such concoction. Every year, I fail. Except this year. I think I found what I’ve been looking for. And it comes from, of all places, Hawai’i…where I received the first jar that began this madness. Maybe it’s the Islands that make the stuff amazing? I highly recommend trying this if you like cranberry. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take any pictures until after I made it.

Auntie Louise’s Cranberry Jalapeno Relish

Tasty goodness in a jar.

Adapted from recipe courtesy of Gen Furukawa, (from lickmyspoon.com)

Serves: 10-12

Ingredients:

  • 24 oz fresh cranberries (two bags)
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes, plus zest)
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 ½ cups sugar

Preparation:

1. Pulse the cranberries in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Be careful not to over process because you don’t want the berries pureed.
2. Add all the ingredients, except the cilantro, to a medium pot with a heavy bottom. Simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until thickened. Mix in the cilantro. Cool before serving.

Note: I omitted the cilantro. It wasn’t in the original jam I had.

The second cranberry recipe I want to share comes courtesy of the Pioneer Woman. Last year, she posted a recipe for Nantucket Cranberry Pie. It wasn’t really a pie; it was more like a cobbler. But at the time, I had a bag of cranberries needing used, and I gave this recipe a shot. Um, yum! It was just something I made on a whim that I ended up absolutely loving.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie

from The Pioneer Woman (at tastykitchen.com), *Adapted from a recipe by Laurie Colwin*

  • Butter, For Greasing
  • 2 cups (heaping) Cranberries
  • ¾ cups Pecans, Chopped (measure, Then Chop)
  • ⅔ cups Sugar
  • 1 cup Flour
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 stick Unsalted Butter, melted
  • 2 whole Eggs, Lightly Beaten
  • 1 teaspoon Pure Almond Extract
  • ¼ teaspoons Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Sugar For Sprinkling

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Generously butter a cake pan or pie pan. Add cranberries to the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle on chopped pecans, then sprinkle on 2/3 cup sugar.

Gorgeous cranberries & nuts

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, 1 cup sugar, melted butter, eggs, almond extract, and salt. Stir gently to combine.

Pour batter slowly over the top in large “ribbons” in order to evenly cover the surface. Spread gently if necessary.

I dare you not to lick this batter

 

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. 5 minutes before removing from oven, sprinkle surface with 1 tablespoon sugar for a little extra crunch.

Crunchy, sugary top

A trio of quick breads on a blustery day.

It’s quite a cold, windy day here. When the weather gets life this, I feel like hearty cooking or baking. I’ve been talking about making banana bread for days now, so I just decided to finally do it. Then I opened my Joy of Cooking (my go-to banana bread recipe). Immediately following the banana bread was pumpkin bread. Yes, please. I think I’ve already professed my love of all things pumpkin (except pie. I don’t know). If you haven’t heard, I love all things pumpkin, sweet or savory. And it’s good for you. Bonus! But then, I spy yet another recipe calling my name. Quick beer bread. Hmmm. Okey, why not.

Pumpkin muffins!

Just for fun, I made pumpkin muffins. And I made the banana bread with apple bananas. They didn’t change the taste of the bread much. Too bad. Eaten out of the peel, they have a tropical fruit salad sort of taste. Apple bananas are hard to come by. I get mine at an international grocery in Cincinnati.

Over-ripe apple bananas. Perfect for bread

Now, I whipped up the sweet quick bread. And they are good. But I think everybody has a favorite recipe for banana or pumpkin breads. It’s the beer bread that intrigued me. It’s sosimple. It’s hearty. What better bread for serving along side a soup or stew this time of year? And it’s quicker than the aforementioned sweet breads. Less than an hour from gathering ingredients to hot, fresh baked bread.

Beer bread, with friends

 Quick Beer Bread

from the Joy of Cooking

  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (I used honey. I ran out of sugar)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 c beer (except stout), cold or room temperature, but not flat

Whisk together dry ingredients. Fold in beer until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Scrape the batter into a greased loaf pan and spread evenly. Bake at 400° until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding  to cool completely on the rack.

This bread lasts 2 to 3 days (they say)

Give this one a try. Your busy self will thank me.