Of Chocolate and other Sins

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Handmade chocolates & guimauves

My favorite French pastry is a gâteau opéra or opera cake, and my most favorite opera cake comes from the absolutely fabulous “Relais des Gourmandises” pastry shop, where Maître Artisan Chocolatier Maurice Mabillot whips up amazing sweets with his magical fouet.

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Rich cakes with a drop of the finest Premier Cru Grande Fine Champagne Cognac.

The Relais des Gourmandises is located in Matha, Charente-Maritime, roughly a 30-minute drive from our house. We hadn’t been in Matha for a chocolate fix in ages, so I called Mme Mabillot who runs the boutique to place an order for my beloved opera cakes, yes, in the plural, for a next day pick-up. It was a beautiful summer day, so before collecting the sweets, we strolled through Matha to the bistro in the main square where we settled on the patio in the shade of lilac trees for a beer and a glass of local white wine respectively.

At the Relais, madame had already boxed the telephone order and my husband had the tough task of selecting his own pastry choices. This poor, deprived man has never experienced the delight of opera cake because he, well, despises everything with a coffee aroma, imagine that! Fortunately, there is no shortage of baked goods in this country to compensate for his self-imposed culinary limitations.

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It was a fairly quiet afternoon at the pastry shop, and to our surprise and delight, the maître and his wife gave us The Grand Tour through the business end of a pâtisserie boulangerie, a French bakery. The atelier was composed of four sections, each with its own tools and machinery, ovens and/or coolers, work surfaces, supply closets, and so forth. There was one area for bread making, another one for les viennoiseries, those lovely, flaky breakfast pastries like croissants or apple turnovers, followed by the area dedicated to the creation of fancy cakes like the opéra, Paris-Brest, or religieuse*, etc. Lastly, we were introduced to the atelier for “chocolates” as in les pralinés, les bonbons, les truffes, and, of course, the much-loved guimauves or marshmallows. It was amazing to see the workshop and learn a little about the highly specialized and intricate work of a chocolatier. Thank you very much for our tour, Maître et Madame Mabillot.

* With the exception of local baked goods, all French pastries & cakes have names and their ingredients are standardized. The quality of the ingredients and the talent, creativity, and expertise of the pastry chef determine if his or her efforts result in an average or a superb product.

The origin of opera cake is shrouded in the mists of speculation. Many people believe it was the highly respected chocolatier Maître Cyriaque Gavillon who created the multi-tiered rectangular cake in 1955 at the famous Parisian pâtisserie house Dalloyau. Legend has it that the richness of the pastry reminded Madame Andrée Gavillon, the master’s wife, of the sumptuousness of the Baroque-Revival opera house, the Palais Garnier, therefore she named it after the opera house. On the other hand, Maître Gaston Lenôtre, another globally famous Parisian chocolatier, chef, and all-around culinary wizard, claimed to have created the café-flavored cake in 1960, whilst the former daily newspaper “Le Gaulois” advertised a gâteau opéra already in 1899.

If one were so inclined, a subtle connection could be woven between Le Gaulois newspaper and the Palais Garnier, and possibly even the invention of a cake celebrating the opera house. You see, in 1909 and 1910 Le Gaulois published a story as a serial which was destined to become very famous indeed. Its author was one Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux and he called his story Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. The plot thickens! Since its publication as a book in 1910, followed by an English translation in 1911, Gaston’s Fantôme served as the storyline for a great number of films and stage productions, but the music of Andrew Baron Lloyd Webber gave this “Phantom of the Opera” the ultimate push into eternal stardom.

Leroux was a wild and adventurous guy, turning first to journalism and then to writing detective fiction after he had squandered an inherited fortune. He had a neck for finding himself in exotic locations during major historical events. For example, he witnessed the onset of the Russian Revolution on Blood Sunday, January 22, 1905, in St. Petersburg. Another affair Monsieur Leroux observed rather closely was the investigation into a secret prison cell in the basement of the Paris opera house, otherwise known as Palais Garnier which subsequently became the fictional home of his phantom. Who is to say, there wasn’t an entrepreneurially minded pâtisserie chef in Paris during these days of the fledgling Third Republic trying to link his cake to the most beautiful building in Paris and advertising it in the most popular daily paper of his time? Maybe the circle closed when those prominent 20th-century chocolatiers rediscovered the unsung original gâteau opéra, refining and standardizing it.

And while we are contemplating French chocolate creations, let us also remember the most typical and beloved of French chocolaty sins, la Mousse au Chocolat. My late brother Charles learned the art of making chocolate mousse at the tender age of seven at the knee of his maman d’été, his summer mama, in La Baule at the beautiful Côte d’Armour in Brittany. I have carried his recipe around with me through continents and decades, yet I never prepared the dessert until early last Saturday morning, when I decided to pull out the kitchen machine and whip up his mousse for our lunch guests. Not entirely “his” mousse, as I worked in my own little twist by omitting one of the ingredients, heavy cream, while adding a new one.

La Nouvelle Mousse au Chocolat façon Basque

  • 200 g de chocolat noir, soit 70% de cacao de la meilleure qualité (!)
  • 40 g de beurre doux
  • 80 g de sucre en poudre
  • 4 gros œufs très frais, séparés
  • 1/2 cuillère à café de Piment d’Espelette*
  • une pincée de sel

Preparation:

  1. Separate the eggs, then beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt to form very stiff peaks. Put the bowl in the fridge.
  2. Melt the chocolate with the butter and the chili in a microwave – or a bain-marie if you prefer – making sure to use moderate heat so you won’t burn the chocolate. Stir to combine.
  3. Beat the yolks with the sugar until fluffy, very fluffy, one yolk at a time.
  4. Combine the warm chocolate sauce with the sweet yolk cream.
  5. Very gently fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites until all the white “spots” are gone.
  6. Distribute the chocolate mousse into individual serving dishes and cool for several hours.

There are a few principles to consider in this preparation. The bowl in which you beat the egg whites has to be very clean, fat-free and cold to achieve a large volume of foam with stiff peaks. The chocolate has to be fluid but not so hot as to curdle the egg yolks. Sugar takes a long time to dissolve, be patient. Mousse au Chocolat is a heavy dessert. Small portions are just right and won’t overwhelm your guest’s stomachs. The mousse could be decorated with a few crystals of fleur de sel or a whipped cream rosette just before serving. The recipe serves six comfortably.

Charles' Mousse au Chocolat

* The addition of Espelette chili granules to Charles’ recipe was a spontaneous decision last Saturday morning. It added a nice kick to this sweet dessert and I believe my brother would’ve approved. It was, however, not an original idea. Some twenty years ago, I discovered the sweet-and-spicy creations of the chocolatière Katrina Markoff, founder of Haut-Vosges Chocolats, who put her creations on the map pairing them with flavors like wasabi, paprika, Mexican chilis, and more. Besides, the combination of crystalized ginger with dark chocolate has been a traditional favorite among sweet lovers for centuries.

 

 

 

Chili à la Française

 

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Recently, I was overcome by desire for chili. I had neither cooked nor tasted chili since we left behind our ranch in Central Texas to move to France. Thanks to the mail-order supermarket “My American Market” it has, however, become possible to recreate some of those familiar flavors or at least close facsimiles thereof.

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As it turned out, with the exception of the coarse cornmeal and the can of “Rotel” diced tomatoes & green chilies, all ingredients for this recipe came straight out of our local supermarket. The biggest difference between Ranch chili and French chili was the meat I used. In Texas, we only ate flavorful deer meat, mostly Axis deer, raised on our own land. And the meat for my Ranch chilis was not ground but diced, which added a more interesting texture to the stew. Commercially processed ground beef just can’t match that. A word of caution before we proceed with the cooking. Do not, and I mean not ever call this “Texas chili”. Texas chili consists of beef cubes cooked slowly and gently in a sauce of freshly made chili paste. Period. Tomatoes or, heaven forbid, beans are never to be found in a true Texas’ Bowl o’Red. My chilis, on the other hand, have always included tomatoes and red beans, both from cans. That’s the way I like it.

For my first French chili, I began by softening the diced onion and garlic in a goodly slug of olive oil under low-medium heat before adding the ground beef.

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Once the meat was nicely browned, I mixed in most of the can of “Rotel”,

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followed by the content of the envelope of “Mexican spices” and a tablespoon of ground cumin seeds, working in the spices while turning up the heat to medium-high.

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Under high heat, I doused the mix with the dark beer and scraped the pan bottom vigorously while inhaling all that nice hops aroma. After a couple of minutes, I turned down the heat all the way, put a lid on the pot leaving a very small gap on one side for steam to escape. I let the meat simmer in the beer for around fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Then it was time to add the large can of whole, peeled tomatoes with their juice, stir well, put the lid back on and continue to simmer the chili for another hour or so.

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While the chili burps and bubbles contentedly, one could utilize this spare hour to get the cornbread going – but only if the chili is meant for the same day. Cornbread is such a lusciously sweet and crumbly kind of bread that it’s most delicious when eaten still warm from the oven, slathered in soft demi-sel Charentaise butter from the local farmer’s market … nothing could be better! You’ve seen a recipe for cornbread in my April 7 post, this time around I used a straight-up 1:1 mix of white wheat flour and yellow cornmeal.

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For the dry ingredients, I combined

  • 1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cumin seeds
  • 10 grinds of a pepper mill filled with white peppercorns
  • 1 tsp Piment d’Espelette [or smoked paprika]

In a separate bowl, I beat the bejeebers out of

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 Tbs yogurt [I used sheep milk yogurt, Greek-style should be equivalently tart]
  • 6 generous Tbs creamed corn
  • 2 Tbs fluid honey
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

In yet another bowl, I beat the two egg whites with a little salt into fluffy soft peaks, which, on second thought, is a superfluous step I shall not repeat. Considering the coarse cornmeal in conjunction with the creamed corn, it’s a bit silly to try to introduce lightness into such a wet and heavy dough, don’t you agree?

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I combined the wet with the dry and folded in the fluffy, pouring the resulting farrago into a baking dish which went into a preheated oven at 200ºC/~400ºF for about 30 min, plus 10 min with the oven turned off.

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To finish the chili, I added both the coke and the well-rinsed beans and let it simmer without a lid to evaporate some liquid and to heat it through thoroughly for serving.

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This kind of chili is extremely benign, suitable for children and spiceophobic adults. It tastes even better reheated and freezes well, so it pays off to make a big batch for easy meals later. If you utilize a chili kit with a separate cayenne pepper envelope, use it sparingly, or not at all if you cook for guests with unknown Scoville scale tolerances. It’s much safer to let the diners heat up their individual portions with Harissa paste. The intensity of the cayenne powder develops through the cooking process and it is difficult to judge the resulting heat level, while the paste is a condiment that you taste immediately. Or set the table with a variety of Tabasco sauce flavors 🌶 Enjoy in good health!

 

 

 

 

 

A Gigantic Gourd

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Our friends Steve and Lorraine gave us a zucchini the other day. Their neighbor tends his potager with great dedication, growing all his vegetables organically, which they seem to appreciate since his produce grow happily to rather impressive sizes. We were presented with a 1.76 Kg or, in Imperial measurements, a three-pound fourteen-ounce zucchini. What do you do with a beast like that?

One finds zucchini or courgettes in the vegetable section of the supermarket, but biologically speaking they are fruits which belong in the Genus Cucurbita, gourds or squashes. C. pepo, our courgettes are one of the oldest known gourds. They were already cultivated 10 000 years ago in Oaxaca, Mexico. Many gourds are commonly used as winter squash, like pumpkins for example, and they can be stored for months. Zucchini, however, fall into the category of summer squash. They are preferably harvested when they are still young and tender, and eaten raw or grilled.

Clearly, our zucchini fell into the winter spectrum. Quite firm, not to call it wooden, with a large core of seeds, it wasn’t at all suitable for raw consumption. I walked past it for a few days looking at it a bit sideways, to tell the truth, but one can’t very well throw out a perfectly healthy vegetable, never you mind it’s actually a fruit. Finally, I decided to make zucchini bread. I’m not sure what came over me, but it seemed to be the only way to process a kilo-and-a-half-plus of aging zucchini.

Many decades ago, when we lived in Michigan and even earlier in Texas, I used to bake bread occasionally. Those were times when it was difficult, sometimes even impossible to buy actual bread, meaning a same-day baked loaf with a crust and a flavorful center as opposed to pre-sliced, plastic-sheathed squishy things languishing on store shelves for weeks on end. Since moving to France, I haven’t baked anything other than a tarte now and then. And cornbread, I forgot about making cornbread. Anyway, that’s not bread, it’s soul food. I gladly leave the creation of true bread to professionals.

On the internet, I found a well-liked recipe, possibly one of Elise Bauer’s “Simply Recipes”, and adapted it according to the content of our pantry. The dry ingredients evolved into:

  • 2 cups/450 g white wheat flour
  • 110 g coarsely ground blanched & skinned almonds*
  • 120 g cornmeal
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder
  • 1 heaped tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp cardamom powder
  • a good lick of freshly grated nutmeg

[* I had processed the almonds a few weeks ago for a different recipe and it was high time for the leftovers to disappear. Ditto for the cornmeal. I would suggest just using 3 cups of flour]

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Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.

My next chore involved processing that unloved mega gourd.

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3 lb 14 oz of gourdness!

Without much fuss, thanks to the kitchen machine, this yielded 1 255 g or roughly 44 oz of squashy flesh.

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Lastly, again in the kitchen machine, I combined the wet ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of white sugar
  • 1/2 cup of light brown sugar
  • 3 tsp of good quality Bourbon vanilla extract
  • 1 envelop of vanilla sugar
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of unsweetened apple sauce

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I beat the wet ingredients until fluffy and creamy, before folding the dry into the wet, adding some coarsely chopped walnuts along the way.

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I had no idea how much of the shredded zucchini I should use, so I gradually added three heaped cups, roughly the same amount as the dry ingredients. I should’ve stopped right there. But I didn’t. As there was a goodly amount left, I foolishly incorporated every last bit of the shredded gourd thus tilting the balance of proportion between vegetable matter, or fruit matter as it were, and dough to 2 to 1. Bad move!

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Before

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During

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After

After 60 min at 160ºC Umluft or 320ºF convection, plus 15 minutes with the oven turned off, our zucchini loafs looked quite nice with an evenly browned, crusty top.

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But the zucchini aggregation had overwhelmed the small amount of dough. Alas, as you can see, instead of bread we had sliceable pudding.

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Lesson learned: continue to cook if you must but leave the baking to people who know what they’re doing 😱

A Canicule and a Can of Fish

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16. Juni 2019, 21:25:29

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17. Juni 2019, 21:59:24

Over in my other blog, you know which one I mean, I’ve recently finished posting about our Loire Valley trip. Castles galore, of course, and some wine and food, scenery, and all those precious memories of adventurous times on the road. But you know, one’s home turf can be beautiful, too! Summer has arrived and with it a changing landscape in our small but lush courtyard garden.

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We’re still in the throes of our bathroom renovation which generates daily mayhem in the form of high pitched sounds from power tools setting nerve endings on edge and powdered sticky stuff seeping through cracks and crevices. From the front door through the entry and up the stairs, bubble-wrap-like plastic protects delicate ancient tiles and old oak steps, while thin plastic sheets billow over doorways, but the dust settles everywhere, protection or not. Our house has currently the air of a chantier, a work site requiring hard hats, it seems. To top off all that fun, the main sewer pipe got plugged up by ingrown roots and we had to call the Roto-Rooter pros with their heavy-duty equipment, cash or check, please. Naturally, all this is happening as we go through the hottest week of the year. A quiet cup of early morning coffee in a shady spot under the pergola is much appreciated indeed!

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The jasmine shading the pergola is in full bloom, releasing a lovely scent.

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I love to prepare pies with ready-made dough from the grocery store in the summer. Last week I had a solitary sweet potato lying around, so I made a pie layered with very thinly sliced sweet potato, pre-sliced Emmental that needed to disappear, spinach – first wilted in a large pan with softened diced onion and a dusting of fresh nutmeg – and tomatoes. Light, easy, and tasty with a green salad, just right for warmer temperatures.

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Yesterday’s Tarte au Thon à Canicule, my Heatwave-Tuna-Pie was even easier.

The ingredients were:

  • 280g net or ~10 oz of tuna packed in water, drained
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 Tbl white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 Tsp each garlic paste, anchovy paste, harissa paste
  • 1/2 Tsp crushed, dried marjoram
  • salt, freshly ground pepper

mix the above vigorously, cover with saran wrap and refrigerate while you pre-bake the dough, if you wish, and slice the tomatoes in thick slices. Once the dough is ready, toss the cooled tuna mix with 2 Tbl of fresh lemon juice and spread sour cream and sweet mustard generously over the pie bottom. Spread the tuna mix evenly across the pie round and cover it with densely packed tomato slices. I sprinkled some parmigiano bits on it simply because I had them, but cheese is really not necessary for this pie – lots of tomatoes are! Drizzle the pie with olive oil before baking.

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Bake the Tarte au Thon à Canicule for 45 min. at 200º/180ºC convection [400º/360ºF convection] for ~45 min. Before slicing, let it rest for 10 minutes or so. As a matter of fact, if you’re not too hungry, slide the pie on a rack to cool down without getting soggy, while you clean and slice a crunchy garden cucumber and maybe some radishes. Especially on a hot day, this pie tastes even better at room temperature.

And don’t forget to close the shutters against the heat!

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Tomato Pie

This past weekend gave us a great taste of summer with bright sunshine, cheerful birdsong and a mini-harvest of strawberries from our rather pathetic strawberry bush that lives in a flowerpot on the patio.

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Tomatoes are currently a bestseller both in the local produces markets and in the supermarket chains, and they are very well priced. When I went shopping early Saturday morning, two other items caught my eye. Firstly, and especially interesting to me because I like sheep’s milk yogurt, I noticed crème fraîche au lait de brebis, the American equivalent of which would be sour cream made from sheep’s milk. I had never noticed crème fraîche based on anything other than cow’s milk, so naturally, I had to try it. Secondly, there was an excellent special on Italian Mozzarella di Latte di Bufalo. That clinched the deal, we would have a tomato pie for our light and summery dinner!

Being lazy by nature, I used a ready-made, store-bought shortcrust pastry dough for my pie. The only slight effort I invested was a blind-bake with ceramic beads to make the pie a little crisper.

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While that was going on, I sat comfortably at the kitchen table slicing a small mountain of ripe tomatoes and letting myself be distracted by a British TV program on home renovations. The tomato slices also had a brief pre-bake in a 110ºC/225ºF oven, seasoned with a few grinds of a pepper mill, some coarse sea salt, plus ground coriander seeds, dried marjoram, a little brown sugar, and a few drops of olive oil.

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The purpose of that extra little bit of heat was simply to bring out the tomato aroma more strongly. Meanwhile, the pie assembly commenced on the kitchen counter by spreading the sheeply sour cream all over the bottom of the pre-baked pie case and sprinkling it with lemon zest, salt & pepper, ground coriander, powdered parmesan cheese, and some left-over shredded Emmental cheese. I also distributed teaspoon size dots of tomato pesto here and there. That’s a flavorful base for our Tomato Pie! After the tomato slices were placed in concentric circles, I just added the Mozarallo bits, shredded fresh basil, some yellow cherry tomato-halves, and another dusting of parmesan – we were ready to go in the oven.

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This pie would be as easy as, well, pie if you omit the pre-backing altogether. With juicy tomatoes, it will come out soggier than ours, though. Lay the dough in a pie tin, smudge sour cream and some mustard in the bottom, followed by shredded cheese(s), and salt & pepper. Slice a bunch of ripe tomatoes and put them on top of the cheese in overlapping circles. Finish with more seasoning and cheese and the pie is ready to be baked as per package instructions. That’s all there is to it and it’s very tasty on a warm evening, maybe with a glass of chilled white wine. Our dish wasn’t any more difficult, just a little more time-consuming. For once😎, I used mostly store-bought and processed ingredients, for example, the tomato & basil pesto was a commercial item and the grated parmesan cheese came in an envelop. I love freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, of course, who doesn’t? But it’s prohibitively expensive which makes it a rare treat for special occasions. For cooking, I think, the powdered stuff is quite sufficient. I look for the best freshness date and buy the most expensive-by-weight small pouch.

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Our dinner included the Tomato Pie with a slice of cold-smoked wild Alaskan salmon from the fish counter in the supermarket, some frisée with fake crab salad from the deli counter, and a cup of yellow pepper and mango gazpacho from the cooled dairy section, where I also found the mozzarella and the sour cream. See, I told you I’m lazy! The wine, by the way, is a chilled Bordeaux Clairet. A dry yet fruity, light red wine mostly based on Merlot grapes. It is a very popular summer wine in the Bordelais region. Have a great week!

P.S. Here’s an update: In response to my Tomato Pie post tonight, my dear friend T. Michael Jackson of Traverse City, Michigan allowed me the use of his recent and completely incidental “Tomatoes in Colander” painting for my little story. Thank you so much, Mike, I love it! So much more apropos than roses!!

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“Tomatoes in Colander” by T. Michael Jackson, 2019

 

 

Cornbread & Sunday Sunshine

As I record my cornbread recipe, it has become increasingly overcast and a light drizzle moistens the air. Not so earlier this morning. When I looked out an upstairs window, the day was delightfully bright, crisp, and shiny.

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April 7, 07h57

With my first cup of coffee, I processed yesterday’s cooking pictures. Going downstairs to fetch another cup, I took my camera with me for a delightful stroll among our newly sprouting green stuff. That gave me the opportunity to mingle pictures of sauteed onions with those of delicate vine leaves to make my recipe a little more adventurous.

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Saturday’s kitchen session revolved around Southwest flavors which we miss over here in France quite a bit. That is until we discovered a French online business called “My American Market” where we now order things like creamed corn and Rotel chile&tomatoes, not to mention pancake mix and, yes, Cheetos.

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The 13 ingredients for my cornbread, 14 if you count the eggs individually 🤓

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Firstly, combine the dry ingredients:

  1. 1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix
  2. 1 rounded cup cornmeal
  3. 2 tsp baking soda
  4. 1/2 tsp salt
  5. 1 rounded Tbl crushed, toasted cumin seeds
  6. 1 tsp powdered cumin seeds
  7. 1/2 tsp piment d’Espelette

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Then add the moist ingredients:

  1. 10 oz of the creamed corn
  2. 4 Tbl Rotel tomato-and-chile bits without the liquid
  3. 2 eggs, lightly beaten with 1 Tbl of Rotel liquid & some freshly ground nutmeg
  4. 2 Tbl honey
  5. 2 Tbl olive oil
  6. 1/4 cup finely shredded cheese [Comté in my case]

Blend well and pour into the baking dish of your choice. I decorated the top with the remaining creamed corn and coarsely chopped cheddar cheese.

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Using a convection oven, I baked the cornbread at 180ºC/350ºF for 10 min, lowered the temperature to 150ºC/300ºF and continued to back for another 30 min. The bread wasn’t quite done, so I added a few more minutes at 180ºC to finish the center and get a nicely browned top.

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While the bread was in the oven, the skirt steak for our fajitas needs to be marinated. Some good quality olive oil, fajita seasoning, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, dried herbs, piment d’Espelette – or whatever comes to mind or happens to be laying around your pantry.

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We brought that olive oil back from San Sebastián in January, it’s delicious.

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Looks like we might have some figs this year!

Meanwhile, it was time to slice and dice the vegetables, green and red bell peppers, yellow and red onions, and a little garlic for the fun of it.

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As usual, I sautéed my onions first by themselves at a low temperature to let them gently caramelize, before I added the peppers, garlic, and flavoring.

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When all the veggies were pretty much ready, I turned up the heat and added the juice of the zested lemon for a fruity finish. Truth be told, this kitchen version of fajitas, both the meat and the vegetables, is pretty much a lame second choice. Real fajitas should be charcoal grilled, nicely charred, and dripping with Tex-Mex flavor!!

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Our Clematis growing steadily over the pergola support.

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With a little avocado and a drizzle of Balsamico, it was pretty tasty, nevertheless.

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A Roasted [temporary] Swansong

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As the glowing colors of Fall inevitably turn into the more muted tableaux of Winter, our longing for rich, savory, and warming food increases. Instead of imbibing refreshing cocktails on a sun-flooded terrace, we tend to focus on root vegetables and steaming broth slurped in a cozy inglenook, until once again, the earth’ axis is tilted more favorably for al fresco fun.

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In our kitchen, carrot, fennel, onion, and their brethren are usually slated to find themselves swimming in a bubbling bouillon. This time, though, I thought let’s switch it up a little. All scrubbed and trimmed, they looked so nice and orderly, why not roast them, for a change?

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So, I invented the following oven-roasted vegetable medley & steamed cod dinner:

Dos de Cabillaud Citron en Papillote avec ses légume rôtis et sa sauce yaourt

The inspiration for this dish proved to be a fairly shriveled and sadly abandoned little lemon in the fridge. I skinned the poor thing and soaked the pieces of desiccated rind in olive oil, heating it now and then in the oven when an opportunity arose, for example during the pre-heating phase.

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Later on, I used this lemon infused oil to marinate the cod filets, as well as adding the rind to the papillotes for additional flavoring.

The huge and wonderful head of garlic below wasn’t part of the recipe. I simply used the activation of the oven to turn it into an absolutely marvelously creamy delight.

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The preparations for our meal broke down into three stages. Firstly, the vegetables had to be roasted during which time the fish packages were to be prepared. While those baked in the oven, there was ample time to beat the yogurt sauce into submission.

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On the vegetable tray, we had sweet potatoes and pommes de terre grenaille [immature baby potatoes], baby carrots, leeks, fennel, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, red & yellow onions, and, a little belatedly, some parsley.

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Meanwhile, creating the papillotes proved to be a pain in the neck. Assembling the flavorings wasn’t the issue and they looked quite pretty, however …

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Preparing a bed for our fish with finely diced fennel, fennel greens, lemon zest, marinated lemon rind, lemon slices, and capers, plus coriander & cucurma powder.

 

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Cod, marinated in warm lemon oil, then flavored with mustard, salt, and cucurma powder.

 

… closing the darn parchment packages turned into a farce. My plan to staple the paper together fell apart rather quickly when our one and only stapler failed to staple. Utterly and completely. Not a single staple made it through the paper, let alone fasten it. Neither did the dimensions of the parchment sheets allow for tying it with Ficelle de Cuisine, kitchen yarn. Ultimately, all I could do was crimp the parchment as firmly as possible, shove the loose bundles in the oven and hope for the best.

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The yogurt dip, one the other hand, was quickly blended and provided a fresh and creamy complement for the roasted vegetables and the fish.

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Dinner’s served, with a nicely chilled glass of Clairet de Bordeaux!

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Regarding the roasted vegetables:

The washed and dried vegetables were rubbed with olive oil. I pre-roasted the huge sweet potato while the oven came to temperature to be able to cut it into 3 pieces. During this time, I also roasted the head of garlic. Once the oven had reached 240ºC/220ºC convection, I placed the baking sheet with 2 sweet potato ends, the grenailles, and the leek & onion pieces in the oven to roast for 10 min. After that, the other veggies joint in the fun, all of which I dusted with freshly ground pepper, coarse salt, a little dry marjoram, and ground coriander. The total roasting time was about 30 min, it could’ve been less for the carrots and fennel pieces.

The ingredients for each fish package consisted of:

  • ~ 200 g skinless Cod filet, marinated for 15 min at room temperature in the preserved warm [not hot!] lemony olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice drizzled on the fish
  • 1 tsp of stone-ground or sweet mustard shmeared over the fish
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • finely diced fennel & greens
  • some of the lemon rind pieces from the small lemon, previously incubated in warm olive oil
  • a few slices of the now rindless small lemon
  • a dusting of ground coriander
  • a dusting of ground cucurma
  • coarse salt to taste
  • finely diced parsley
  • fresh dill
  • a splash of olive oil
  • Capers to taste
  • Cherry tomatoes for color

Tightly close the parchment paper packages and bake at 200ºC/180ºC convection for 20 min. Let the fish rest in the unopened package till serving.

The ingredients for the yogurt dip were:

  • 125 g un-flavored yogurt [I used Greek-style]
  • 1 heaped Tbl honey
  • 1 heaped Tbl mustard of choice
  • 1 heaped tsp fresh lemon zest
  • juice of 1 lemon, amount to taste
  • white pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cucurma
  • 3 Tbl olive oil

Beat with a hand mixer until well blended and creamy. Adjust amounts of ingredients and seasoning to your taste.

Allow me to add a personal remark to conclude this post. As it happens, dodgy spinal columns and their associated troubles are a sad trademark in my family. After having done reasonably well for some time, including weathering our extensive travels last year and our move to Cognac earlier this year, I’m currently going through an “episode”. My exceedingly charming doctor has issued stern orders, condemning me to a period of utterly boring inactivity. No driving, no marketing, no housework [Yes!], but also no cooking [😱] until further notice. Consequently, there won’t be any cooking posts for a while in this blog! However, I couldn’t bear for you to feel abandoned and rejected. Therefore I’d like to suggest you check out some of my Travel Posts at Photolera Claudinha’s other blog.

Under the search function “Home cooking” there are quite a number of cooking posts thrown in with my travel posts, not to mention stories about our former Costa Rican and Central Texas places. You might even enjoy some of my food-free Travel-through-Home-Exchanges posts from across the world, well, some small areas of our globe, anyway.  I hope, this will keep you entertained for a while 😁

A bientôt, mes amis !