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.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Smoked Salmon Dip

Our son has been diagnosed with foot & mouth disease. Not the one that can dissiminate cattles (my veterinary husband was fast to associate our son's symptoms to what he learnt in vet school a long time ago)... but the one that affects young children (syndrome pieds-mains-bouche et non pas la fièvre aphteuse for my French readers). And make them MI-SE-RA-BLE. Sooooooooo miserable...  And the rest of us at for the same token, even if we, fortunately, did not develop the symptoms (although suddenly, I feel like I have plenty of mouth sores!!)..
It has been such a long time since I had to wake up in the middle of the night more than once to attend a crying child! And feel powerless.....At least a few years ago, I knew what to do: feed, change a diaper, cuddle... and that was it! This time nothing seems to help... ....and apparently the symptoms might last up to one week...  One LOOOOOOONG week...

Forget about healthy diet at this stage... The only goal is to make our son drink fluids and eat some food... He was delighted to hear at the pediatrician's office that he could eat icecream. More than once a day. Even for breakfast!  Think: a child's dream-come-true...   but even icecream is hard for him to get down these days... And no, I did not offer Little Baby's Ice  pizza-flavor icecream... (yes, I know some people in Philadelphia are very creative; maybe too creative???) but maybe I should?

Kefir, hot chocolate, and homemade smoothies are his most favorite foods these days... So whatever makes him feed himself a little bit is welcome in his glass!! My home made soupe-aux-légumes did not make it past two teaspoons at lunch yesterday. Hopefully he'll feel better tomorrow to have a few more spoons... or I'll dilute it enough so that he can drink it with a straw!! No matter how willing I am to feed him Kefir yogurt and smoothies, he is like me who shivers from drinking too much cold liquid at once (no ice in my water. EVER). Here he is, drinking his Kefir with a straw (and every sip he swallows without crying makes he happy) but then, 5 minutes later, I see him shiver and soon heading to the bathroom. MI-SE-RA-BLE, I told you......  He feels so miserable that he does not even comment on the menu that we, meanwhile, eat. We do add Kefir and icecream on our menu (our daughter is delighted!)... but we still eat other real food as well! I can't wait for him to feel better. We actually started a list of dishes that he would want to have when he feels better. Think, his birthday is next week and he might have to pass on  his birthday cake! On his list are empanadas, galettes des rois, charlotte aux fruits rouge, bagels, moules-frites, fish with wild rice, corn on the cob, candies, fish fingers, pancakes, madeleines and viennoiseries (pains au chocolat, croissant, brioche, etc.) I told him that except for out-of-season corn on the cob and galette des rois, we'll that when he feels better. I get a smile when he thinks about it... So yes, once he feels better, I will take the time to make some of these dishes and remember to purchase the viennoiseries from school on Friday. But that's not until a few more miserable days. Pff...

Here is a dip that I served earlier this week to the three of us who could eat solid food. For Americans who love their bagels-and-lox-for-breakfast, it would feel like breakfast. For those of us who are not eating bagels for breakfast but rather for lunch, it would feel like a nice dip to serve before dinner or to go along with cocktail drinks. Unfortunately, not straw-friendly for our son at this stage. Bon Appétit!

- 1 cup Greek yogurt or Labne (Lebanese cream-cheese style)
- A few ounces of smoked salmon, cut in small pieces
- 1/2 Cucumber (diced)
- Capers (to taste)
- Dill
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste

  • Mix the greek yogurt/labne with the smoked salmon, cucumber, capers and dill.
  • Add a one Tbs of Olive oil and salt & pepper to taste
  • Serve with buckwheat mini-crepes, pita chips or crackers... or on bagels!
My Personal Comments
  • I like it best with Labne but Greek yogurt makes it a little bit lighter. You could,  obviously use cream cheese but I personally don't like with cream cheese.
  • If you don't have cucumber, you could use celery. The idea is to add something crunchy to the dip.
  • If I don't find dill, I use fennel fronds

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Food Day is Oct. 24th

No, no, I am not going to turn this blog into a reminder calendar of food-related events (even though it seems that October is the Month of so-worth mentioning causes, at least in the US!)
Yes, I am still committed to cooking healthy food for our family. I do cook from scratch everyday but need more time and staging to post new recipes on the blog. For instance, I served Roti de Porc aux Pruneaux et aux Pommes for lunch today. I also made Panna Cotta and Pear and Hazelnut Tartes for 15 people for a dinner on Friday evening...

We just came back from the farmers' market with cabbage, cauliflower, kale, fresh greens and Russian potatoes... enough to get us going for the week if I can find good recipes to turn these vegetables into tasty vegetable dishes for this week. At the farmers' market, we ran into Steve, one of the sous-chef of Le Bec Fin. For those of you who don't know Le Bec Fin, it is one of the most famous (and expensive) restaurants in Philadelphia that used to belong to George Perrier who made it an icon of upscale French culinary experience. George Perrier sold it and the new management (former California French Laundry people) took up on the challenge to attract new (read: younger) food lovers who have other more affordable options in the city. I have never been to Le Bec Fin and my current financial budget does not allow the $150 8-course dinner menu (more on the fact that I don't like chef's tasting menus in another post!) However, I do appreciate the fact that the chef and his sous are trying to source locally-grown organic food and are shopping right at the local farmers' market (and no, I did not get anything from this restaurant for writing about them here today.)
For those of you interested, they are hosting a special dinner on Wednesday evening as part of the Food Day event.  The Food Day even is organized around the country to promote real health local food.
For those of you who live to far away, try to find an event close to you... or just commit to eat real on that day. Now if you can combine real and only vegetarian food on that day, you would score even higher! Bon Appetit!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

October is Vegatarian Awareness Month

September is over... and I did not get to post during that month. For once I will blame it on my dear husband who takes the pictures of the food I make (I cook, I stage, he captures with his professional camera.) For some strange annoying reasons, he managed to delete 4 sets of pictures of food I had planned to post in the past and coming weeks: caponata, chocolate mousse, babaganoush and another fun one to make with children. Oh well, we will have to wait until I get to cook something new in the coming weeks!! I have to say that since school started and with it our daily busy routine, I have not cooked anything really new. I do cook everything from scratch for most meals but nothing worth publishing on this blog...  So, not having any recipes in store will compel me to make something new...

One thing that my husband noticed in our diet is how more vegetarians we have become in the past year... Part of it started for health reasons. In 6 months of healthy mostly-vegetarian/pescatarian eating, he managed to get his cholesterol levels back into the normal range (whereas he wanted to prove me and his physician than his diet had NOTHING to do with his cholesterol level!!)... and mine have never been as good as since I cut meat from my diet more than a year ago.
Are we vegetarians? No. My husband and children eat chicken and the meat of their choice on the rare occasions when we go out.  We all eat the occasional fish and seafood (how could I give up sushis???), hence the term pescatarian  The rest of the time, we eat mostly vegetarian.
October being the Vegetarian Awareness month, I could only advise you to go vegetarian for at least a day a week. You might be apprehensive of being "food-deprived" but if you have the chance to eat a healthy meal made of beans & veggies, you won't. It is also the opportunity to go out of your comfort zone and order something different in a restaurant or to purchase a variety of beans or vegetables you have never tried before (kohlrabi, anyone?). This is fun! There is nothing worse than eating the same things over and over again. I know. I get no pleasure of preparing the meals; I know that I will get the "encore ça!") from my children and husband... so trying something different is the way to go to make everybody happy! If you want other good reasons, you can read this article from the Huffington Post. If you want recipes, there are plenty in this blog already! Bon Appétit!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fennel and White Beans Dip

Since our children have been away for their long vacation in France, I have not been cooking as much I  generally do (and nope, even though we are not on our regular schedule anymore, my husband has not been cooking more, with the exception of the occasional BBQ! Sans commentaire!) Added to the fact that Philadelphia has been experiencing temperatures in the 100F (more than 40C), the idea of eating a warm meal does not appeal to me. And just thinking about turning on the oven makes me sweat!
Since both my husband and I have been enjoying the change of rythm to.... work more (pathetic, I know!), dinners have been generally a large salade composée or a cold vegetable dish with a side of dip: guacamole, mango salsa, hummus, edamame spread, etc.  That, with a glass of red wine, on our roof terrasse... a little preview of our upcoming summer vacations in France!

Since we were getting beautiful fennel bulbs with amazing fronds at the farmers' market the other day, I was trying to figure out what to do with the fronds so not to have to waste them (living in a building, albeit with a roof terrasse, we don't compost.) I have used fronds the way I use dill (it's the same family): in a salad or to bake fish in the oven/on the BBQ. I tried to make a fronds pesto but my blender being too weak I never managed to reach a puree-like texture. I was therefore happy to find an article on fennel in the New York times and realized that I could actually use at least some of the fronds.
Fennel, like turnips, has a very different taste when you eat raw versus cooked. I like both but never really ate raw fennel until I started adding it to salads for crunchiness (instead of celery). I never grew up eating pieces of raw fennel just like that as an apperitivo (I went to two different Italian families that did that and told me it's very common in Italy)....but have been more and more prone to doing the same!  Why not, Americans offer raw broccoli to dip into ranch dressing after all. Why not fennel? Try it! It's actually delicious when dipped in this fennel-based recipe! Perferct for your summer entertaining!
Bon Appétit!

- 1 small bulb of fennel with some fronds
- 1 small can of white beans (I generally use cannellini) - rinsed and drained
- 1 small garlic clove, chopped
- a few fennel seeds, crushed (optional)
- Juice and zest of one lemon
- 2 Tbs of Olive oil (or more)
- Salt and pepper to taste

  • Cut the fennel in half. Reserve one half and a few fronds for serving and decoration
  • Cut the other half and some fronds into small pieces and put into a blender
  • Add the drained white beans, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt, pepper, fennel seeds and olive oil. Blend until desired consitency.
  • Adjust seasoning and put in the fridge for 30mn or until serving.
  • Decorate with a few extra fronds.
  • Serve with slices of the remaining fennel, other vegetables or pita chips.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Irresistibly Deadly Addictive Nuts Cocktail

Once upon a time, when I was back in France working for a large international pharmaceutical company (that was more than 10 years ago!), I was traveling a lot for my job. Since the company policy was to put its employees in business class for any travel longer than 3 hours, I had the opportunity to fly business class a few times when coming to the US. Back then (we are talking pre-9/11), airlines were still pampering their customers a little bit. Nothing like what our parents could have experienced back in the 1980s or even early 1990s... but still at least you felt that they did care about you. Note that I don't fly business class anymore.. so I would not be able to compare but I have experienced the difference in coach class (as I am sure some of you have too!). Sans commentaire!
On one of my business trips to the US, I was served an unforgettable nuts cocktail. Not the usual boring-too-salty peanuts... no, a real little dish of warm mix of fancy nuts! And since then, being nuts about nuts, I have been trying to find a recipe for nuts cocktail. I tried the one where you soak nuts in egg whites. I have tried some of the store-brand pre-mix... but none came close to the ones I had on that flight...   Then again, I am sure that if I were to taste that same nuts cocktail again today, I would not find them that good! This is why it's always dangerous to want to reproduce something you had once a long time ago and tasted soooo good to you! (Even more true when it comes to a dish that your husband grew up with (ie, that his mother or grand-mother made): unless HE makes it,  you are NEVER going to win!! )

I came up with this specific recipe because, one day, I had decided to purchase some caramelized pecans at a store to make a "healthy basket of American goodies" to offer to Europeans (because, yes, to me caramelized pecans are fully associated with American food)... to realize when reading the label (yes, I ALWAYS read the label!), that they were coming from....... Spain! How disappointing!!! Especially, when you know that the US produce more than 75% of the world Pecans (mostly in the Southern states of the US where there is even such an aread called "Pecans belt"!!) I obviously did not purchase these pecans for my friends. It just gave me the idea to try to make my own instead!
Since I don't like things too sweet and that I had this nostalgy of that 2000-era nuts cocktail in mind, I decided to do something both sweet & savory. The result?
Let me warn you (and the people who have had the opportunity to taste them would confirm), these nuts are deadly addictive! If I make a batch for my family or guests, I know that they won't last long! Always a good sign when it comes to cooking, no?
Now, if I could only find a good salty-cocktail mix recipe!! Bon Appétit!

- Raw unsalted nuts: I generally use a mix of walnuts, pecans, almonds and peanuts. You could use hazelnuts, brazilian and sunflower seeds as well. However, I never liked when I used cashews in that mix.
- Cayenne pepper (to taste)
- A pinch or two of salt
- Maple syrup : enough to coat the nuts
- A sprig of rosemary, scissored

  • Pre-heat oven to 350F (175C)
  • Take a baking pan and lay out all the nuts on the pan. If the nuts are on top of each other, you will have to make a second batch.
  • Transfer the nuts in a bowl, add the pepper, salt, rosemary. 
  • Pour enough maple syrup to have all the nuts nicely coated when you mix them (including in the creases). You don't want them to soak in maple syrup, though!
  • Lay the nuts on the baking pan and put in the oven.
  • Cook for 15 mns, stirring every 5 minutes. You should start to see the syrup cristallized but the nuts (especially the pecans) should not be burnt.
  • Cool on a flat non-sticky surface (I use a silpat) before eating. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Food in Pouches? Attention! Danger!

For those of you who had the chance to go to France and maybe enter a French supermarket or witness
school dismissal at 4.30pm,  you might have noticed the little pouches children were sucking in in no time. Pompotes, as they are known in France from the Materne brand that launched them in 1998, have been ubiquitous in France for the last 10 years: most supermarkets carry their store-brand products or other competitive products. They were launched by the Materne company as a brand expansion for their applesauce products. Needless to say that it is a very successful product as most parents have adopted it as THE easy-no-mess-healthy part of their children goûter or pique-nique. To give you an example of how many French purchase them, they are available by boxes of 24 pouches!!
I was so used to seeing them and, yes, occasionally eating one when traveling in France, that they were on the list of the bare necessities people had to carry from France to the US when visiting us to give to my children (along with Cote d'Or Chocolat Noir, Crème de marron, Sirop Teisseire and Bonne-Maman cookies and Demake-Up cotton.)
You can imagine how happy I was to see them appear on the shelves of US supermarkets under the name GoGosqueeZ a few years ago (no, I did not get any samples from Materne to advertize on this website). Needless to say that they are now, as with most French families I know (and the American families that adopted them from the French), part of my children's daily after-school goûter. I order them on in the subscribe & save program so as to minimize costs and make sure that I have enough in inventory for a few-weeks supply! (I don't know if they are sold at CostCo or Sam"s Club but if they are, let me know!) 
More insterestingly, I have followed the non-stop increased offering of additional food available in pouches in the US. Especially babygood: not just the $2 organic fruit-pouch positioned next to the GoGosqueeZ (which, I have to say, had to give up shelving space to fit all these new individually-sold products (read: higher margin for the supermarket).).. but really the mixed-vegetables-plus-grains-and-fruits pouches you can now purchase in lieu of the glass jar (or worse, in lieu of a home-made purée.)
Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against prepared babyfood: I did purchase babyfood jars to complement the home-made meals I was preparing or to take on the road with us...
What I am worried about is the new trend taking shape around me where I see young children sipping on a pouch of vegetables+grains+fruit pouch instead of sitting at a table with their parents/caretakers. Sure, we all have our emergency-I-have-to-leave-now moments where pouches are a good alternative to a less healthy take-out alternative.... but these are to remain occasional. There are parents (read the recent article in the New York Times) who have given up on eating with their children  and are feeding their children food in pouches frequently (children are not stupid: they like the packaging, if not the content! More fun and easier than having to use one's fingers or, worse, a spoon!).  I don't buy the "it fosters independance", désolée... Those of you who used them know well that it does take a little bit of supervision to help a child master the fact that the pouch has to be in her mouth before she starts to squeeze it! (applesauce on t-shirts, anyone???). More seriously, I am a firm believer that taking the time to feed young children by sitting with them, talking to them as they eat their meal, is key to helping them develop good eating habits and table manners! Letting them go around the house with a pouch of spinach and quinoa is aka snacking all day (and a call for a nice green spot on the carpet!)
Where is the structure that a few meals taken, as family, at a table/high-chair provide? Where are the new flavors and textures picked directly in a grown-up's plate? 
So yes, I am the first one advocating the apple sauce pouches as a snack for my children but, had they been available in sweet pea-carots flavor, a few years ago, I would not have bought them (not to mention the fact that they are $$$). So yes to practicality but no to regular meal-replacement. Eating together with your children is key. And yes, unfortunately, like most things with children, the later you start emphazing it, the harder it would be to be accepted... Bonne chance!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Apple-Rhubarb Healthy Crumble

A few months ago, I discovered that I have a gluten sensitivity. Nothing like celiac disease but enough to make me feel uncomfortable after eating gluten-based pasta or bread. And enough to make me want to avoid any gluten-loaded food to avoid the unpleasant days that follow such food intake.
So no gluten? What it really means is no food that has wheat, oat, barley and rye... so yes, no bread, no wheat-pasta, no pastry made with wheat flour...  Pff!! "How limitative!!", might you say? 
After a few weeks, I can tell you that this is absolutely not limitative as long as, comme toujours,  you are willing to adapt. When you cook for yourself eating gluten-free is not an issue at all, especially if you live in the US where most supermarkets now carry gluten-free options. When you think about it you can choose from: rice, wild rice, buckwheat (which despite its name does not contain wheat), millet, corn, quinoa, lentils, dry beans, potatoes and all the fruits, nuts, and vegetables you want. Nothing to make you go hungry!
It becomes tricky when you eat out or are invited over: your traditional American-Italian restaurant is a poor option but Japanese restaurants are a good one! Worse comes to worse, you eat the filling of a sandwich and not the bread or you settle on a salad without the croutons!
The hardest to give up at this stage? Bread, definitively! I did try to start a new gluten-free starter but my two tentatives with buckwheat flour failed; I have read that some people have been successful with brown rice flour, which is what I will try once temperatures are lower (too much heat killed my starter last Summer). I am also working on a decent crust recipe that could be good enough to make quiches.
As for dessert? Sorbets are always a good option; so are French macarons or crèmes brûlées when available (if they put anything to artificially thicken the custard, it is corn starch)...  So nothing to feel deprived of! Honestly! It's just hard to explain to people who are not aware of what gluten is but once you give them alternative options, then they are generally OK. The worst are the people who doubt that you can have a sensitivity! I just wished them not to have any!! 
I was lucky to find gluten-free oats in a Natural Store close to us in Philadelphia. That way, I am able to eat gluten-free oatmeal in the morning and to make my granola recipe gluten-free... or to use gluten-free oats in this crumble recipe. Unlike other crumble recipes that call on butter and wheat flour, oats and oil are used in this recipe instead (hence the "healthier" title). You don't have to make it with gluten-free oats if you and your family have no gluten sensitivity but if you do (or want to experiment something different ), this is a very good recipe for dessert which you can use all year round. Bon appétit!
Ingredients (inspired from Chocolate & Zucchini)
For the topping:
- 100 grams (3.5 oz) rolled oats
- 100 grams (3.5oz) brown rice flour (or 100 grams AP flour)
- 100 grams (3.5 oz) cane brown sugar
-  80 ml (2.7 Floz or 1/3 cup) neutral oil (I generally use canola)
- 1/2 ts cinnamon
- 1/2 ts salt
- Another spice of your choice (I generally use cardamon or just lemon zest)

For the filling:
- 4/5 medium apples
-  2 stalks of rhubarb, cleaned and cut into small pieces
- 100 gr (3.5 oz) Brown cane sugar
  • Prepare the topping and let it cool in the fridge for about 2-3 hours (I generally make it the day before)
  • Preheat oven to 360F
  • Cut all the fruits in small pieces and mix them with the sugar.
  • Put in invidual dish or in a deep dish
  • Cover with the topping
  • Bake in the oven for about 40 mns

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Cumulative Effect of Summer...

Although French people get more vacations days than Americans (the minimum is 5 weeks with most employees having up to 7 or 8 (ouch, I know!)), French people's "Summers" do not stretch from Memorial Day (last Monday in May) to Labor Day (first Monday in Sept.)!
French Summer really coincides with the French school calendar: that is from the first week of July to the third week of August.  My friends are therefore shocked to read that our children are already off school and won't go back until after Labor Day. (That's about 12 weeks of time-off! How could it possibly be manageable for working parents who, if lucky, get 4 weeks off? The American dilemna!)

Although French Summers are "shorter" than American ones, you would not believe so if you were to read French women's magazines that get women ready for their beach vacation as soon as Spring shows up! As Summer gets closer, most magazines start highlighting the "dangers" of Summer time when it comes to keeping a healthy diet. Next to the obviously beneficial seasonal fruits and salads, lay the traditional apéritifs (read: alcohol, chips, and other munchies), daily icecreams, gauffre ou crêpes au Nutella sur la plage, in addition to regular BBQs or outings to restaurants (pizzeria being a favorite!).

I had never thought about it as a "danger" to our children's diet until one of my husband's cousin related how sending her children off to spend time with their relatives (grand-parents, great aunt, etc.) for an extended period of time became an issue one Summer. Her children were to spend two weeks with their grand-parents in the South of France, then another week with a great-aunt and then another week with other relatives. Grand-parents wanting to indulge on their grand-children started feeding them icecream or waffle or crêpes everyday in addition to taking them out for a pizza or fast-food. Same with the other sets of relatives. As she related it, "it would not kill my children to eat that diet; it would not have affected their diet too much if it had happened for one week or two. The problem was that it lasted for 4 weeks. When I got them back, even though they got some excercise during their vacation, they had put on weight!" She felt bad but the following year she explained to her relatives, that they would have to watch what they feed her children because the cumulative effect was an issue.

Our children just left for France last Wednesday! We are lucky that they are able to spend time with their grand-parents and aunts/uncles in France before my husband and I go over and spend some time off with them (they will go to camps in the US when we return.) Do I worry about their diet? No. Do I worry about the cumulative effect? Hmmm....

As I keep saying, you and your children can have everything as long as it is with moderation (in size and frequency!).. Bon Appetit!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fougasse aux Olives - Foccacia with Olives

Despite the fact that we live in an apartment, we are lucky to have a roof terrasse to eat out or just relax. One of the things I really like about this terrasse is that we can grow herbs: basil, parsley, cilantro, chive, rosemary, tarragon, mint, thyme, etc. (I am looking for chervil seeds to plant some!). There is nothing better to me than cook with fresh thyme or fresh rosemary or to scissor some fresh cilantro, chive and tarragon to dress a salad (why purchase pre-herbed pre-packed salad at the supermarket when you can make your own??) I also like the fact that our children enjoy drowning watering the plants and to go and cut them fresh when needed. They feel empowered with a very important task! At least, by now, they know their herbs... and enjoy eating them, even a lot of them like in a herb yogurt sauce on sliced cucumbers....
We had a mild winter and even though we did not cover our herbs during the winter, I was SO happy to see that our chive and rosemary were back up, ready to grow again (we must have the chive for at least 4 years now!). It did not take me long to use just a little bit, enough to make me feel that I was eating something really fresh, but not too much to give them enough strength to grow bigger in the coming weeks.
I made my first fougasse, French for foccacia, a few years ago. It's a very traditional bread eaten in the South of France where herbs, especially rosemary, thyme and fennel that grow wild in the Garrigue are mixed with local cured olives and Olive oil. Perfect bread, no?
I don't make it often, mostly because, I use my natural sourdough starter to make baguettes these days and have not tried to make Fougasse with the starter. I should just try. Especially now that I have home-grown rosemary... and really because this bread does not need much time to rise; it's therefore easy to start it late afternoon and bake it in the oven for dinner. You should try! If not, just try to grow herbs in your garden or patio and use them everywhere to spice up your summer dishes. If you ask your children to come and help (or even be in charge), chances are they'd be the first ones to eat them on their plate. Worth a lot, no? Bon Appétit!

  • 200g (7 ounces) wheat flour
  • 200g (7 ounces) white whole wheat flour
  • 250g (1 cup) lukewarm water 
  • 75ml (2.53 Floz) olive oil
  • 1 pack of dry instant yeast
  • Pitted black olives
  • Fresh thyme cut
  • 5 g (1ts) of salt
  • Extra Coarse sea salt
  • Extra Olive Oil for brushing
  • Stir together lukewarm water and yeast in a bowl until the yeast is fully dissolve. Let Stand about 5 minutes.
  • In another bowl, mix rosemary (cut in small pieces) and olives (cut in half).
  • Add flour, salt, and olive oil to the yeast-water mixhture. Knead dough until very soft, adding the rosemary-olive mix just at the end of the kneading process.
  • Transfer the dough into a lighly oiled bowl, cover and let rise for about 2 hours at room temperature.
  • Pre-heat oven to 450F (225C)
  • Transfer dough onto a baking pan and press with your fingers. Let dough rest & rise for about 15 minutes. 
  • Brush with olive oil, add coarse sea salt
  • Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes at 450F (225C) or until golden.
My comments
  • You could use all purpose flour instead of the white whole wheat.
  • Ideally, you cook the fougasse on a pizza stone. If you don't have one, don't worry, take your best pizza dish.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lemon Cookies - Petits sables au citron

Everytime I start a new post, I promise myself to publish more than my once a month. Then as days weeks go by, I just wonder when and where I will possibly find time to cook something new worth-being-posted and publish it online. Time flies. And I just wonder where it goes. What????  School is almost over? (I don't know about you but the Summer-show/Field Trip always sound like end-of-the-school-year to me)... And I have not booked the Summer camp yet! (for my French readers, American children get at least 11, if not more, weeks off in the Summer; how working parents with a minimum of 2 weeks off manage to spend relaxing time with their children in the Summer, is still a big mystery to me). My list of TO DO things keep being longer. My TO READ New Yorker pile gets bigger. My piano practice? What piano practice??
I am up at 5.20 am... I have set it up earlier and earlier hoping that I would have time to read a few pages of the newspaper while enjoying my breakfast au calme (one of my petit plaisirs!!). Pff, how utopic of me? I find  myself unloading the dishwasher, preparing lunchboxes while eating a spoon of oatmeal here and there... then finishing up very fast before waking up the children at 6 am. And from that minute on, it's go-go-go until I get to on the train after droping them in school : I have 15mns where I can read a few pages of the newspaper or send a few personal emails...
6 am, it's early...I did try to wake them up 15 minutes later to have them sleep more but they told me that they'd rather be up earlier and have time to play after breakfast-teethbrushing-handwashing than having to leave straight after breakfast (which generally meant no teethbrushing). Anyway, after a day of work in an office, I come home and then again, I feel that I am back on my track-and-field days with a stopwatch in hand: feed the children, supervise/sign homework, supervise teethbrushing, read bedtime stories, turn light off before 7.30pm. Go back into the kitchen to clean the mess and start preparing dinner for the next day, have dinner with my husband (he cleans the dishes if you wonder where he had been!! ), do one load of laundry and few other house chores.... before going to bed early. With the newspaper if I have not had time to read page 2!
I cook dinner the night before?  I know. I am that kind of person and that's, my friends, is my savior. The few days I thought I would be back early and have extra time (ie 15-20 mns) extra to prepare dinner, it never worked...  So yes, as I write this post, dinner for tomorrow is already cooked (kasha with leeks and tomatoes, slivered almonds and ricotta cheese). Otherwise, our children would be ever more sleep deprived. Or eat  n'importe quoi.  As a result, I have come to love Thursdays because that's the only night I don't cook. Fridays is Aperitif Night so I don't have to prep much! Unless we have friends over. Of course. So maybe I should just plan to write my blog on Thursday nights. Assuming I have been able to cook and take pictures of a few worth-publishing dishes before. That means, cooking on the week-end because my daily cooking, while from scratch, is fairly limited! That's a challenge! We'll see. Until then, you can always either make these littles sablés or prep your dinner for tomorrow. Your choice! Bon Appétit 

  • 1 stick (115 gr) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) light blond cane sugar
  • 1  egg
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 3/4 cups (245 gr) all purpose flour
  • a pinch of salt.

  • Mix butter and sugar together until creamy
  • Add egg and beat until well incorporated
  • Add flour, salt and lemon zest and mix until well incorporated
  • Knead the dough to bring it together. Divide it in two parts.
  • Let cool in the fridge for one hour
  • Preheat oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out.
  • Use your cookie-cutter to make cookies
  • Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes. While the first batch is in the fridge, roll out the second batch.
  • Bake cookies for about 10 mns or under golden brown.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Roasted Vegetables

What I like about living and traveling abroad is, assuming you are food-adventurous, is that you get to discover new dishes, new ingredients, new use for ingredients you have been used to eating one way (and one way only) while in your home country (gratin de choux fleur anyone?) Granted, the US is not notable for its food in general... but if you live there long enough you come to appreciate some of their culinary heritage (and ignore the rest!) Among the dishes I have come to embrace after living here for so long, is the way Americans cook their vegetables. Either they cook them aldente : for my French readers, think of cooked but crunchy (as opposed to overcooked) green beans or brocoli for instance. Or they eat them roasted with olive oil and fresh herbs (when available).
 I just think that there is nothing better than a side dish (or a whole dish) of roasted vegetables. And (and that should tell you something), even my meat-lover husband has been heard to say "c'est super bon les légumes cuisinés comme cela!!!Mais attention: "roasted" not "grilled' (I like grilled vegetables but they definitively taste different than roasted ones...)
Despite a warmer-than-average winter and a mid-March-Summer, when it comes to in-season vegetables, I had to come up with many ways to cook roots vegetables if I wanted to make sure we were eating fresh vegetables every day. That's when rosting them came into play...  I found it easy to make (easier if you get some help pealing the veggies!!) , easy to re-heat (while not optimal, I have done it a few times to put in the kids lunchboxes) and healthy. I also found that if I could add a few potatoes among the turnips, parnsnips, rutabaga, or other funny-tasting vegetables, my childen were not complaining as much as if I left the potatoes out. Especially if I was serving a soupe de legumes... if I were adding a few roasted vegetables on top, there were hardly any complaints... So yes, I am proud to say that I have fully adopted the American way of roasting vegetables. And I am sure I convince some of you to give up your overcooked veggies! Your turn to try? Bon Appétit!

- Vegetables
- Olive oil
- Fresh herbs (I like thyme or rosemary best)
- Salt, pepper
- Garlic cloves (optional)
- Shallots (optional)

  • In a roasting pan, put the vegetables (cut in small pieces or strips), add a little bit of olive oil (enough to coat them nicely), salt and pepper
  • Roast in the oven at 400F (200 C) for about 20mns (depending on the veggies) and stirring frequently

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Spinach and Chickpeas Soup - Soupe aux epinards et pois chiche

The other day my daughter noted that "on mange beaucoup de soupe" (we a eat a lot of soup..).. Yes. Like it or not. Un peu ou pas trop.This is what happens in our family in the Fall-Winter time (and a little bit before and after that!). It's healthy, it's fast, it's a nice way to feed children plenty of vegetables at once...  so soupe au menu chez nous!! And not just for dinner (I think that I bring soup in my own lunch box about 3 days a week and if I go out, I will first look at the soups!)
I just promised to try to go beyond my usual soupe au cresson, Chinese Soup or just plain soupe de légumes when I have plenty of vegetables left with no inspiration time to make something else...
This spinach and chickpeas soup adapted from Mark Bittman has become one of our favorites and I have been serving it about twice a month (spreading it for a few meals, that is...). My children call it "la soupe verte" as opposed to "la soupe orange" (the Carrots/Sweet Potatoes Curried Soup, which by the way has been very much appreciated among a lot of my friends, relatives and other guests so try it if you have not already!!).  Orange is a sure deal (ie, no "encore de la soupe!!!).. verte is also good because they know that they'll get to eat some raisins and pine nuts with it.  That makes it fun for them and together with a fresh/toasted piece of bread and they are happily fed!
I have yet to work on having them like some of the other soups I made (cauliflower velouté, red lentils soupe, soupe a l'oignon, etc. ) but that never qualified for a "elle est bonne ta soupe, maman!!" And since soup season is far from being over in our family, I have a few more weeks to improve or to improvise! I bought a bag of yellow split peas at the Indian store the other day... that might be part of the next soup chez nous! Who knows it might well become "la soupe jaune"!! Any good colorful recipe/idea to share when it comes to soupe? Bon appétit!

-  1 or two garlic cloves
-  1 small onion, chopped
-  About 3 cups of cooked chickpeas (canned are fine); plus a few to garnish
-  1 pound of spinach (frozen is fine)
-  1 carrot (optional)
-  olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
-  Golden raisins and pine nuts to garnish

  • In a large pot, saute the garlic and onion in olive oil
  • Add the chickpeas, spinach and carrot and cover with water (about 1 liter or 4 cups)
  • Cook until the spinach are fully cooked
  • Using an immersion blender, puree; add water if you feel that it's too thick.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Serve with raisins, pine nuts and a few chickpeas.
My comments
  • I have added curry powder to spice it up a little bit

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Squid with Saffron Rice - Riz Safrané aux Calamars

Afriend of mine who lives in Italy gave me an Italian cooking book as a wedding present (that's almost 11 years ago!!!) Flipping through the pages recently in search for new ideas, I realized how little I knew about authentic Italian cuisine beyond the not-so-Italian dishes that are served here (or in France). It led me to wonder about Spanish food.  When it comes to Spanish cuisine, I was even more ignorant beyond the tapas, churrios, paella and jamon iberico.... . Strange in a way when you realize that Italy and Spain border France but despite this geographic proximity developed very different cuisines.
One of the spices I wrongly-I-suppose (90% of the world production apparently comes from Iran although in the US, I was surprised to learn that it is still produced in the Dutch Lancaster county (about 2hrs away from Philadephia)) associate with Spain is saffron. My mother used to have tiny tiny red boxes of saffron when we were kids and I remember loving to play with them...(as part of my love to reorganize the spices box!!) but I never realized the value of these boxes until as adult I had to face the shocking price of saffron. Tiny treasure boxes as saffron is indeed one of the most (if not the most) expensive spice in the world!

I generally cook saffron with seafood and rice (like we do in the South of France in the fish-soup Bouillabaisse) and since I have been trying to serve different seafood to my family recently, I thought that it would be a great idea to use squid instead of white fish in this dish.
I served it to my family the other day and my husband compared it to a Spanish paella (which he enjoys more than a risotto) explaining to our children what paella is really about, where it is eaten, what saffron is about, etc.. Yet the kids were more intrigued by the squid (I had asked to have tentacles as well as the head!!) which led us to talk about these little sea creatures too!!
To be honnest, this dish has nothing to do with a paella (no chicken, no shrimp, no mussels, no tomatoes) but yet again, there must be a few different paella recipes in Spain! So why not? All that I know is that we all loved it and I know that I can now put it on the list of dishes that I know will score high with my family. So if you can afford it, purchase a little bit of saffron and try it out. You won't be financially richer but you will be culinary-wise...a little bit of Spain in your home. Because no matter how long I live in Philadelphia, I will have a hard time associating Saffron with the nearby Dutch county! Bon Appétit!

- 1 pound squid cleaned and cut into pieces
- White rice (about a cup)
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- a few stigma of saffron
- a cup of dry white wine (optional)
- 1 cup of green frozen peas
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil for sauteeing

  • In a large pan, saute the onion, garlic and bell pepper in olive oil
  • Add the rice and saute it until fully coated with olive oil
  • Add 1 cup of white wine and two cups of water
  • Add the saffron
  • Bring to a boil and then simmer until rice is fully cooked, stirring often and adding extra liquid if needed.
  • Just before serving, add the frozen peas
My Comments
  • There are definitively different grade/quality of Saffron. I purchase the small Spanish Saffron from Trader Joe's. It might not be the best Saffron ever but it suits my needs and budget.
  • If you like risotto-like dishes, you could use Arborio (short grain) rice. I would not use brown rice in this dish since the squid are already a little bit chewy....

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What's in your double-shot-caramel Latte?

No matter how many years I have lived in the US, one thing I still don't master are the choices of coffee-drinks that Starbucks, and to a lesser extent other coffee shops, have to offer. You could write a whole decision tree to order the simplest drink like a Latte: 1) Choose your size: tall, grande, venti (why "tall" means "small" still does not make sense to me!!) 2) Choose the level of cafeine you want (single, double, decaf, caf, tea) 3) Choose the milk you want (non fat, lowfat, whole, soy) 4) Choose any other customization (with syrup, with extra foam, etc...)...!!!
I admit that I do go to Starbucks (I even have the app to pay on my iPhone - pathetic??).  I'd rather go to an independent-better-tasting coffee place but I have to say that for the sake of convenience, it's easier for me to go to the Starbucks underneath my work building. AND also, truth is that the people at the Starbucks I go to ARE so nice (well trained?) that they know me by  name (yes, I know, it's maybe because I go TOO often!!)... but hey, they are also among the few people who can spell my first name correctly, "trema" included(!!)... and I can't state it otherwise, it's a really nice way to start a work day!! 
That said, no matter how often I go (a few times a week), I still can't understand half of the orders people place. It actually amuses me to realize that no matter how many choices the menu already offers, people manage to get yet another alternative that's NOT on the menu. Unbelievable!! 

I remember reading a NY Times financial article regarding how people, especially College graduates, would be better off financially if they were to bring their own cup of coffee (or drink the one offered at work) instead of spending $$ it at a Starbucks-or-the-likes. Yet, as another financial advisor would comment, you have to treat yourself with something but that's IF and only IF you manage to save in the first place...   
Beyond the price (you pay more for a Grande Latte than for a gallon of organic milk!!), as explained in this Daily Mail article, what people should really pay attention to are the calories they indulge on when they order a Venti Caramel Brule Latte (460 calories with whole milk) or worse, the Eggnog Latte (620 calories in its largest serving with whole milk)! Imagine: more than a hamburger??? And that's not counting the calories of any food ordered with the drink!! 
That's why, when I go, I stick to my regular coffee drinks (nonfat decaf Latte or decaf Soy Latte depending on the days if you care to know) because sitting in an office all day won't make me burn the extra load of calories of the new drinks Starbucks is launching. And besides, I am not big on sugar anyway so every syrup, no matter how "skinny", taste too sweet to me!  And the few times I take my children, I make sure to order one hot chocolate (no whipped cream) and ask for it to be divided in two cups (not on the menu but they'll do it if you ask!) It has worked well for us because what I realize is what my kids really enjoy is to drink out of the cup and lid and to carry their drink outside! That makes them feel like grown-ups! Funny, isn't it? As usual, read the label and enjoy with moderation!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Yesterday With My Children We Made ..."Petites Saucisses en pâte feuilletée"

Our children had two weeks off over the Holidays and since I only had one week, that whole week was about spending good quality time with them. When school is on, I see my children but I don't have enough time to spend playing with them, except for the word games we play while they eat dinner. I do read them stories but I don't have the time to sit down and play a card game for instance, except maybe on the week-end.
So during our week off together, we played. Everyday. I took them out in the morning but after their afternoon nap, we decided to stay home and relax. And play. Le Père Noël had been kind enough to bring new games (Qwirkle, Four-square,  Uno, in addition to legos & playmobils), so we were ready to play them and have fun. It was really enjoyable...

One of the things we also did together was to cook. BUT since it was also MY vacations, I made sure that everything I cooked was fast-and-easy (with the exception of Christmas Lunch maybe!!).
One of the things my children love to eat are those little snack sausages. To make it fun, I thaw puff pastry and cut it in rubans which they roll around the sausages. We dip the sausages in mustard before so as to make them a little bit more spicy. It's easy. It's messy (YES!). It's fun, quoi! It's really enjoyable to see them master the different tasks (the little drop of water to close the dough at the top!) and love to make them. I feel that at least, they know that they can have fun in the kitchen... 
My goal for 2012 (I don't have resolutions; too hard to keep!!) : to make time for them in the kitchen because I know they enjoy being des petits marmitons. Even if it's just to mix the granola as we make it... or to help me shape the baguettes in funny shapes. This is priceless... and on top of that you can make sure that they'll develop an interest in food and therefore become better eaters. So don't wait, have fun with your kids in the kitchen. Bonne Année!!

- 1 pack of snack sausages
- 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry dough- thawed
- Wholegrain mustard (or other mustard)
- a little bit of water
  • Preheat oven to 400F (200 C)
  • Cook the sausages according to instruction, dry them in paper towel
  • Spread the dough and cut it into lengthy rectangular pieces. Ideally you should make nice triangles, but that's too time consuming!
  • Dip the sausage in the mustard bowl then wrap it into a piece of dough. Place it on a baking sheet (parchmin paper or Silpat)
  • Bake in the oven for about 20 mn or until golden.