Saturday, December 29, 2012

Meringues Francaises - French Meringues

We don't go back to France for the Holiday season. It's too expensive and too exhausting to cross the Atlantic (flight +6 hours jetlag) and spend most of our time either driving or eating and not necesseraly being lucky with the weather to enjoy time outside. As we say, we need an extra week off after we come back to recover! This is why we'd rather go back in the summer when we have more time, the weather is (generally) nice and we don't spend the whole time eating!
This year, we were lucky to have my parents come and spend Christmas with us. We were all very excited and took advantage of their presence to have a formal, albeit early, Réveillon on Christmas Eve and formal Christmas lunch on Christmas day (with a nice breakfast with viennoiseries in between!)  And since it is very French to share eachother's Holidays menus, here are ours. On Christmas Eve we had a soupe a l'oignon, escargots, fresh oysters, smoked salmon, and a tarte tatin. On Christmas Day, we ate a nice orange-cumin salad, a stuffed capon with chestnuts and apples and a Charlotte aux fruits rouges. I can't remember what wines we drank; and yes, you can add a few munchies for the apéritifs (on both days) as well as sweets (mostly chocolates) for additional (!) sweetness. I thought about making meringues but since my husband had made some chocolates, I decided against it. I might make some for New Year's Eve.

Meringues are a typical French petit four (ie, a small piece of dessert served after a nice meal or with coffee) and unlike some other petits fours, they are really easy to make. They look intimidating but honnestly, the only thing I don't like about meringues is that they need to bake for about one hour in the oven. Unlike chouquettes or savory gougères, I don't make meringues often. I have never been a big fan of meringues, which I find extremely sweet and nothing to write home about.  My children (and husband) really like them; they have some everytime we get together with my relatives in France. My sister-in-law makes very good meringues and always makes a few batches for us to eat with coffee ; although our children are not drinking coffee yet, they are entitled to the small treat we, adults, eat with our espressos (most often a piece (or two) of dark chocolate; once in a while, when available, meringues.) Un petit plaisir... Bon Appetit!

For about 20 meringues :
  • 2 egg whites
  • 125g (4.4oz) sugar (or about 50g (1.76oz)/egg white)
  • 2 drops of lemon juice
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • In order to maximize your chances of success, it is best to leave the egg whites rest for an hour (covered by a kitchen cloth) on the kitchen counter. 
  • Pre-heat the oven to 200F (100C)
  • Put the egg whites and the salt in a bowl
  • With an electric batter, start to beat the eggwhites until they become a little bit foamy.
  • Add the lemon drops
  • Steadily add the sugar while beating the egg whites
  • Beat until the egg whites are "firm", ie they don't drop from your batter anymore.
  • With a spoon (or a poche a douille),place each meringue on a baking sheet covered with parchmin paper.
  • Bake in the oven for about one hour; every 20mns, open the oven to let some steam out. 
  • The meringues are ready when you can easily peel them from the baking sheet.
  • Turn off the oven, open the door and let the meringues cool in the oven until it is cold.

My Personal comments
  • Don't use a silpat; the meringues don"t cook well on a silicone mat.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pea Soup - Soupe aux Petits Pois

Our son is now fully recovered from his very bad coxsackie virus; he does have a few scars on his hands and feet but they are steadily disappearing. Pff! What a relief! His case was so bad that I took him for the second time to the pediatrician to request stronger pain relievers to have him start eating and talking  again. He stopped talking!!  (that's when we realized how sick he was!). When she saw him, the nurse's very first words were "I wish I had some students to show them a REAL case of coxsackie!!!" (???!!!!! Although I am totally in favor of teaching-clinics, I did not find this sentence really appropriate to say to a parent who comes desperate to get CARE for her sick child! However it did make me realize that our son did, indeed, developed very serious symptoms! (Apparently the nurse had seen a father develop such symptoms and yes he was MI-SE-RA-BLE!))
Now that our son is out of his misery, we are steadily working our way down his list of "dishes-I-am-going-to-have-when-I-can-I-have-real-food-again": viennoiseries (checked), fish with wild rice (checked),  candies (checked), Pho (checked), bagels (checked)...
While looking for fresh lemongrass at the Asian supermarket to make Moules-Frites, my eyes caught "fresh peas leaves". Since I can not leave a supermarket without trying something new, I decided to purchase (among other Asian vegetables only my relatives in Singapore could identify without hesitation), a small bag and to make a soup out of it. I did not dare to just saute the vegetables in case they would be too bitter.
This reminded me how my grand-mother used to feed us fresh peas (without the leaves though) that were grown by farmers in the two fields surrounding her house in the country. She would go and steal pick small peas... Nothing too wrong with that, except that they were a variety made to feed... cattles! And certainly not grown the organic way!!  She could not care less. She thought that because she was picking them very young, they were not too starchy for us to eat! Anyhow, we survived the few summers that peas were the crop-of-choice in the region!

In order to spice up this soup a little bit, I made a feta-and-parsley (mint would have been a more British version) dip to doll up on top of the soup. This was a real add-on that we all enjoyed very much.
Our children liked having a few round peas in their soup as well... and were asking for more the next day! This would be perfect for very young children (without the feta-dip). One more nice-and-easy soup to make for the winter! Next on the list? Empanadas! Bon Appetit!

Ingredients   - A bag of fresh peas leaves
- A bag of frozen peas
- 2 cloves of garlic

For the optional feta-dip (made in a blender)
- Feta cheese
- 1/2 bunch of fresh parsley (I used curled but flat would have been OK)
- 1 TBs of Olive oil
- A spoon of plain yogurt (if you need more liquid to blend the feta and the parsley).

  • In a pot, saute the garlic cloves in olive oil. 
  • Add the pea leaves and stir until they shrink (like fresh spinach)
  • Add the bag of frozen peas
  • Add water and let simmer until the peas are cooked
  • Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Serve with fresh peas and a doll-up of the feta-parsley-dip

My Personal Comments

  • This soup is vegetarian if you omit the feta dip  
  • Mint would have been OK instead of Feta
  • You could chill this soup for the summer.