Gifts of Food...

Sticking with the philosophy of handmade or vintage gift-giving this season, I enjoyed creating 'petits paniers' of holiday treats for my French family this year.  It took about a week of planning and creating in the kitchen and taking the leap into attempting some new things that I had never tried before (ie-candy making--le nougat chocolat)... but I have to say that this effort was so much fun for me and despite the time it took, spending that time in my tiny kitchen the days leading up to Christmas, listening to Christmas carols and chasing out the voluntary 'samplers' that were hoovering in the doorway--really instilled a joyful and happy holiday spirit in our home.

Here is how it turned out.  I made three flavors of whole grain mustard which were packaged with market-made fresh 'sauscisson' sticks, Italian 'Pignoli' cookies--chewy delicious (and as a bonus; gluten and dairy free!) Clementine Marmalade--sweet, subtly bitter, sunshine in a jar, and of course the decadent and rich 'Nougat Chocolat' which I have previously posted the recipe.

Recipes for the other items will follow shortly.  I think you are probably not in a rush to have the 'how-to's , if you are like me--maybe you are a tiny bit tired of cooking and baking.... for now.... or at least until next year. 

I hope you had an absolutely delicious Christmas!  Our family had a big dinner on Christmas Eve--my brother-in-law who is a chef--made a fabulous multi-course meal; smoked salmon and shrimp, pâté de foie de canard, Chapon with roasted vegetables..... Oh, I feel full again just writing about it!

Continue to enjoy the holidays mes amis!  Bon appetit!

Nougat ~ Chocolat ~

I would like to introduce you to my new obsession... food obsession...or maybe it's not a food--it could possibly be a drug.  It's that good.  Nougat Chocolat.  I found the recipe in a French magazine and I am now hooked for life--it is the perfect marriage of caramel meets chocolate and the result is a sticky, chewy chocolate-y ADDICTION.

I made a few changes to the recipe, once translated into English--the recipe called for almonds and hazelnuts (noisettes) and because in our family we have an allergy--I subbed in pecans for the 'noisettes'.... you can also add dried fruits--but I am a purest--chocolate and nuts for the dried fruit for the trail-mix!

I have been making 'food' gifts this week and this seemed to be a perfect addition to the more traditional cookies and sweets..... 

One two warnings: It is a tricky recipe, and once you get going you need to see it through to the end--stirring the molten chocolate 'caramel' at the end could be an Olympic sport--and I suffered 'nougat-wrist' later that evening.  Second warning--as aforementioned--it is addictive--be warned.  Done.

Nougat Chocolat

*the recipe begins with 'pour 6 personnes'--- ok--ignore that--a serving size?  Seriously?

150 grams dark chocolate (70%)
80 grams almonds
80 grams (other nut--like pecans or hazelnuts)
100 grams honey
120 grams sugar (granulated 'raw' is best)
2 eggs whites

  • Melt the dark chocolate in a 'bain marie' or double broiler.  Toast nuts until golden and crunchy in a separate pan.  
  • Melt the sugar and honey in a pot, stirring constantly until frothy and until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on a candy thermometer or until it reaches 'hard-crack' stage.  
  • Meanwhile, or at the same time, with your other arm, the one that is not stirring the honey and sugar, beat the egg whites until they are soft peak stage.  
  • Once honey/sugar mixture is done drizzle it in 'threads' onto the still being beaten egg whites (a stand mixer is a good choice for this effort!--If you don't have three arms...)
  • Return the now mixed egg whites, honey caramel mixture to the stove in the same pan used for the honey and sugar and heat while mixing in the melted chocolate and while continuously stirring, so that it doesn't burn--add the nuts.  
  • Finally keep stirring--for about 20 minutes, until the nougat pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Spread the hot mixture into a lightly oiled pan and set to cool for 12 hours before cutting.  Avoid licking the spatula and pan--as this will surely send you into a Chocolat-Nougat-coma......

There you have it.  110% worth the effort.....It's the most divine chocolate thing I have ever eaten.....ever.

Duck with French Green Lentils

So yesterday--on a bone-chilling day here in Normandy, compelled by the extreme need to be cozy, creative and consume comfort food--I made a fabulous, albeit tres simple one-pot dish of lentils and duck.... so here it is!  
Give it a try--Bon Appétit!

 Duck with Green Lentils
  • 2 tbs. Olive Oil
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 rib celery
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium leek
  • chopped parsley
  • 4-6 duck legs or thighs
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Fresh thyme
  • 2 cups green lentils
  • 3 cups stock

Sprinkle duck legs with salt, pepper and thyme. Brown duck with one tbs. oil  in large cast iron 'dutch-oven'....until skin is evenly brown and then remove from pan and set aside.

Dice vegetables and cook all together in pot with remaining olive oil, allowing vegetables to 'sweat' but not fully cook.

Rinse and add lentils to pot and add white wine and stock and parsley.

Place duck legs in pot and cover.

Cook for 1.5 hours at 350 f. /175 c. degrees.

Serve with crusty bread.

Apple Polenta Cakes

This weekend I did a little cooking--I made duck confit legs (again!) and experimented with trying to recreate a desert that I had recently.  I am blessed with a very discerning sense of taste in that if I try something even just one time I can recreate it almost exactly, with few exceptions.

I hesitate to tell you where and when I had this 'desert'--in fact the way it was served to me I wasn't exactly sure if it was a side dish or desert, but what mattered was that it was so, so yummy and I wanted to have it having a vague idea of how to make it, and based on the idea that it was a traditional French creation, maybe southern France-ish....and it had to be really simple, I nonetheless scoured the internet looking for a recipe just to confirm my hunch.  But alas either I had no idea how to call it or it was not at all French or common--I never did find a recipe.  So I just went on instinct and voila!  It turned out exactly how I remembered it--just as simple, sweet and comforting!  I jazzed up the idea by making it in pretty molds and garnished it with Anise and confiture de pommes....but pretty much--this is it!

Apple Polenta Cakes

  • 1 cup Polenta (instant/5 minute polenta is the easiest to use)
  • 4 cups apple juice
  • 1/4 cup honey or 1/4 cup sugar (optional)
  • 4 tsp. cinnamon
  • canola oil for forms

In a large sauce pan bring apple juice, honey/sugar to a low boil.  Slowly add polenta while stirring.  Reduce heat and as it thickens stir in cinnamon and cook for an additional 5 minutes just below boiling. Brush pan or forms with oil and pour in thickened polenta.  Let cool about 10 minutes and then refridgerate until serving. Polenta will easily come out of forms or can be sliced in any shape and served cold topped with fresh fruit or warm with maple syrup or honey.

So simple it's almost embarrassing.  My boys love it and I have to admit I made a large quantity so I served it for breakfast this past weekend with some warm maple syrup pooled around it on a plate. 

Have fun with it!  ......if you really bug me I might even share with you where I had it--you wouldn't believe it--and maybe better kept a petit secret!

Warm Apple Muffins

On this cloudy and cold Monday after Thanksgiving I am cooking duck broth for soup, catching up on laundry (I know--how glamorous!) and decided to make some muffins to have with a friend who stopped in for coffee this morning.  As is most of my baking--the recipe was completely experimental--even more so because I am challenged now to bake and cook only gluten and dairy free for my family.  But don't be daunted by that.  I know it sounds limiting-- but quite the contrary--having to re-think a recipe to make it more convincingly delicious rather than 'without' sparks my creativity in the kitchen!

Apple Muffins

1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch (or Tapioca flour)
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup raw sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tbs. cinnamon
2 medium sized apples with skin on, grated
1/2 cup golden raisins
3 eggs
1/4 light oil
1 cup apple juice

Optional add-ins: chopped dates, pecans, or any other dried fruit or nuts.

Mix all of the dry ingredients and grated apple and raisins. Beat eggs and combine with oil.  Combine the dry ingredients with the eggs and oil and add the apple juice as you stir.  I used a silicon muffin mold which works great and I cooked the muffins for about 12 minutes at 375 degrees.  Best eaten warm (mais bien sur!) with a drizzle of honey!

I intend to create a new muffin recipe every Monday-- it starts the week on a comforting note when at times Mondays can be hopefully some warm apple-goodness will help push the day into a sweet direction. 

Bon Semaine mes amis!

Paprika Rubbed Chicken with Spiced Root Vegetables

Last weekend we had a glorious chilly and gorgeously sunny October weather.  I can't express how thrilled I am to be doing fall cooking again!  The first thing I think of is roasted root vegetables.  While in the summer I might make roasted veggies like eggplant, zucchini, summer squash and tomatoes, I love the slow cooked carmelization of sweet potatoes, squash, onions and parsnips even more!

Roasting a chicken is one of the easiest and most satisfying family dinners I can think of!  A few minutes of prep and about an hour or so later you have not only a kitchen that smells amazing--but an easy dinner (or relaxing lunch here in France!)

For the chicken 'dry rub' here's my suggestion:
A mix of:

2 tbs. Sweet Paprika
1 tbs Herb de Provence
3 tsp. Salt  (I adore a pink Himalayan salt for this!)
1 tbs. Tumeric
1 tbs. Dry Mustard

Rinse and dry the chicken and rub with crushed garlic before you cover with the dry rub mix.  Then let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours or more.

For the roasted veggies--I toss them with olive oil, a small bit of tumeric, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, sweet curry and salt & pepper....and then drizzle a small amount of maple syrup which helps with the sticky sweet/spiciness (if you want)....all of these veggies have great flavor even without it's up to your taste.

Bon Appetit!

Pork Loin Roast with Creamed Sorrel


Pork Loin with Roasted Vegetables and Creamed Sorrel

Pork Loin Roast
Shallots and Garlic
Olive Oil
Herbe de Provence
Salt and Pepper
Potatoes and Carrots
Parsley and Chives

Season the pork loin with olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs and crushed garlic. Let the roast sit in the fridge seasoned for 3 or 4 hours or overnight.  

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash and peel potatoes and carrots and slice thinly.  Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, chives, shallots, herbs and surround roast with vegetables, drizzle with more oil and add rosemary and fresh thyme.

Place roast and vegetables in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes and then reduce oven temperature to 375 and cook for 30 more minutes or until meat temp. is around 160 degrees.

Creamed Sorrel:
A quick word about Sorrel, which grows prolifically in the Spring in Normandy--it is somewhat like spinach or kale, but with a snappy-citrus 'bite' cher-father-in-law gave me about 2 pounds from his garden and this was my first go at making it!

2 pounds Sorrel, washed well, stems removed
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbs. creme freshe (or sour cream--not 'lite')
1/4 cup diced shallots
2 cloves garlic, crushed
olive oil and 2 tbs butter

Chop the cleaned Sorrel and blanch in boiling salted water for 30 seconds.  Saute to soften shallots, garlic, butter and a splash of olive oil,  add heavy cream and simmer just under a boil to combine. 

Add blanched, drained Sorrel, and gently add cream fresh--until blended.  Season to taste. Serve hot.

Bon Appetit - xx!

Taste the Sea

Last summer, when we arrived in France going to the market became an immediate 'must-do' routine.  Not the super-market, but the market-market....if you have been to France then you know.  It's the large outdoor market that runs in each town, year around.  I have blogged about it before, it's a place full of life; locally produced foods and wares...some not so locally produced goods (t-shirt vendors and DVD sellers, yes they are there too.)

The one we go to normally is in Trouville Sur Mer, and of course, because it is across the street on the next block from 'French Guy's parents, we also go to the market in Deauville.

Right now the produce is abundant and it keeps getting better as each week goes by.... my favorite thing to do is grab a fresh seasonal ingredient when it first shows up at the market.  I know a lot of true-'foodies' operate this way.

We go to the market and find our inspiration....rather than the other way around...starting with a list of inspired meal plans and shopping accordingly.

This weeks ingredient was 'Salicorne' you know it?  It is sometimes called 'sea-pickle', 'sea bean' or 'sea asparagus' and a lesser known name, 'glasswort'.  It is bright green, succulent-like little branches and is found here in Normandy and Brittany beginning as early as February and then throughout the summer. Salicorne is mildly 'herby' tasting and can be very, very salty...the first time I cooked it I added salt.....big mistake.  I have heard you can soak out some of the salt, but I just adjust by not adding salt to the dish.

Cooked simply in olive oil it is perfection!  I love serving it as a cold 'salad' in the summer--every bite is a taste of the sea.....And of course, it goes well with any kind of seafood!  So this time I tossed it with some shrimp.  If you can get your hands on some---try it!

Simple Sauteed Shrimp with Salicorne

1 pound cleaned deveined shrimp
2 tbs. Olive oil
Rinsed and cleaned Salicorne
Fresh chives
Lemon juice

This is so easy--I could almost just post the pictures without the 'how-to'.  This dish has so few ingredients yet the simple combination is full of summery fresh flavor!

Saute shrimp in olive oil until pink and opaque then snip-in fresh chives....remember NO SALT.

Toss in Salicorne and saute until warm.  You can add a small hit of lemon juice if you like.  
Serve warm or chill to serve as a salad. 
I served it this Sunday with Saffron Potatoes--purchased at the market from the Morrocan food stand--again, can be cold or warm, as you like.

A taste of summer?  A taste of the sea.....Bon appetit!

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

If you are lucky enough to have an excess of tomatoes this is a great way to make them last longer (or not!) and inspire 101 uses for them, and if you don't yet have tomatoes and are stuck with the slightly hard and colorless 'Roma' variety from the grocery store, this recipe will help punch-up the flavor until the vine-ripe yummy summer ones are ready or available.

Provencale Oven Roasted Tomatoes

8 (at least) ripe or semi-ripe tomatoes--any variety
Olive oil
Sea Salt
Herbes de Provence
1-2 cloves garlic as you like
Balsamic vinegar

Set your oven at 325--ish....You can go lower and leave them longer--but if you do around 300 then they will be in there around 2 hours.

Wash and slice tomatoes....the fun part is cutting out the top and jamming your thumbs in to remove all of the slimy-seedy part...beware of getting covered in tomato juice, though.  Lay them out in a dish and sprinkle with about 1 tbs. of oil, 1 tsp. of Balsamic and the herbs and garlic, toss in some salt....toss with your hands and then rearrange the slices in a single layer on parchment paper on a baking sheet.

 Note: I generously use the Herbes de's the kind of herb mix that is perfect for slow roasting and only gets more intense the longer you keep the tomatoes.  Careful with the garlic--it can overwhelm the flavor of the tomatoes.

Once in the oven, the tomatoes can go to an almost dry can leave them for up to 4 hours--but put your oven down to the 200's after 2 hours.  Your house will smell heavenly and the slices reduce down about 50%....when they are done store them in a glass container. If you don't eat them straight off the baking sheet like I do!

Endless ways to eat them---in a fresh herb omelet, on homemade pizza, in a roasted tomato salsa, tossed with pasta, or on a tomato 'tarte' (recipe to follow for that one!)

Enjoy!  I would love to hear how you use them for recipes in your kitchen!

(French) Peach Cobbler

When I found we had an abundance of French peaches (yes! grown right here in Cheeseland, Southern Cheeseland I would guess...) I asked French Guy what I should make with them, and he answered 'Cobbler!' Much to my surprise because I expected him to suggest some kind of tarte or even I Googled a recipe, feeling that to do it right I had to pay homage to the 'classic' cobbler, and besides I don't really like baking or making deserts at all, and needed to get a jump start.  My last desert was a disaster!--From my Williams and Sonoma desert book-- Panacotta; a runny, non-gelled, sweet sticky mess.  Seriously it is like milk-jello gone bad.  Yuck.

So I found a recipe and then 'Frenched-it-up!' go with the French peaches--bien sur!  I used almond flour in place of some of the wheat flour, added cinnamon and almond flavoring and my 'secret' ingredient-- Pineau! Pineau is a regional French aperitif made from a blend of unfermented grape must and Cognac.  It is lite and fruity and not too sweet and really punches up the flavor of the peaches!

French Peach Cobbler:

4 cups peaches, peeled and cut into slices
3/4 cups brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp. almond extract
2 tbs. white flour
3 tbs. Pineau

Combine all of these ingredients. Butter a baking dish or ramekins. and fill with peach mixture.

Next, for the cobbler part:

1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tbs. brown sugar
4 tbs. sweet butter
2/3 cup plain yogurt (the orginal recipe calls for 'buttermilk' which is not normally found here in France)
1 egg

Mix the dry ingredients and 'cut-in' the butter until you have a course mixture.  Add the yogurt and egg and mix well.  The mixture will be a little lumpy and gloppy--that's fine!  Place a large 'glop' on the peach mixture.  Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.

The finished cobbler has an amazing texture thanks to the almond flour and the moisture of the yogurt and the peaches are bright, sweet-tart and really fragrant thanks to the Pineau.  Creating this recipe renewed my interest in attempting deserts again and I love the combo of warm comfort food and fresh summer flavor! Especially on a rainy cool summer day!