Thursday, October 19, 2017

Parsnip & Apple Soup

I love parsnips. There I said it. Parsnips may be earthy like their more colourful relatives, carrots, but they also have a touch of finesse bordering on the elegant.

Go all Jackson Pollock with the garnishing of cream!

Our small crop was harvested after being exposed to two weeks of cold, nightly temperature to tease out their sweetness even more.

Parsnips were sowed this past March so they take time to mature. The seed needs to be very fresh so it makes sense to buy just what is required for a season's sowing.

Look at that friable soil! So glad when moving here nine years ago I focused on 'growing' the soil and not just plants thanks to incorporation of compost & leaf mould and using cover crops

Reinette Grise apples have smooth, full-bodied flavour when cooked.

After throwing out the umpteenth pot of fail-to-thrive Thymus vulgaris (common thyme), I planted Thymus serpyllum. It took a while to cover the ground, but now it is flourishing. It having a milder taste means I use a bit more than I did with the common variety.

makes 4 ample servings

  • Butter, sweet, 30 g/1 dry oz
  • Olive oil, extra virgin, 1 T
  • Onions, yellow, medium, 2, finely chopped
  • Parsnips, 600 g/1 lb 5 oz, scrubbed, chopped (remove any woody bits & peel if they are old)
  • Garlic cloves, 2, finely minced
  • Thyme, dry, 2 large pinches
  • Apples, cooking (I used reinette grise du Canada, other choices would be granny smith, golden delicious, belle de boskoop, gala, bramley), 600 g/1 lb 5 oz)
  • Stock, veggie or chicken or high quality stock cubes (I used chicken), 1 L/34 fluid oz)
  • Milk, 400 ml/13.5 fluid oz
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Garnishes: cream, splash of cognac, and fresh thyme

Though the soup tastes wonderful if made fresh, making it the day before will deepen the flavour. Gently heat the butter and oil over moderate low heat. Toss in the onions, parsnips, and thyme. Stir occasionally and saute for around fifteen minute. The veggies need to be softened, translucent, and fragrant. Add the apples and garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Add the liquid stock or if using stock cubes, add the same amount of water as you would the stock along with the stock cubes. My brand called for two cubes for a litre of water. Cover and simmer for around thirty minutes or until the veggies are very soft.

Puree either with a stick mixer or in a blender. Thin with milk (you may need more than the recommended amount especially if you let the soup sit in the fridge overnight). Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with wiggles of cream and fresh thyme. This luscious soup for some reason tasted cheesy, mostly Parmesan, a bit of Brie, which made it so goooooood. (It could have been due to the hefty amount of turmeric in the stock cubes I used.) The balance between savoury and sweet was perfect. Splash some cognac in your serving if you wish.

Cream and cognac made it almost too gorgeous. A garnish of Parma ham would work a treat too. If a less rich soup would be preferred, then use more stock and less milk. Omit the cream and cognac. It still will taste wonderful.

Now that the parsnips have been harvested, the only veggies remaining in the potager are the sweet red peppers which are snugly cocooned in their tent of triple-thickness horticultural fleece so as to protect them from the cool night temps.

Our three cats adore playing hide and seek with each other inside the tent

À la prochaine!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

More Seasonal Fresh Fig Recipes!

We, along with the starlings, continue to eat ripe figs supplied generously by our tree. The birds descend onto the figuier and we to the table; they peck noisily and we guzzle the luscious, juicy fruit just as noisily. Can we say lip-smacking good? Grain bowls are excellent for using up any left-over grains. Top with what you have in the fridge and larder to get a wholesome, hearty supper.

Bulgur is delicious and cooks up quickly. You probably have encountered it in the form of tabbouleh. Put one volume of it in 2 volumes of boiling, salted water, lower heat, and simmer uncovered for ten minutes. Take off heat, cover, and let steep for about five minutes until it is fluffy and any excess moisture has been absorbed. I tend to make more than is needed so either the left-overs are used for the next couple of days or it's frozen for future meals.

Bulgur boasts of a nutty flavour with a satisfying texture

Figs are halved, their centre crevices filled with a bit of sweet butter, and placed close under a preheated broiler for several minutes until their edges are browned.

Using a veggie peeler or a paring knife, scrape off several slivers of Parmesan.

Slice deli ham into strips. Arrange figs, ham, and Parmesan slivers on top. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Hot open-faced sandwiches are fun to do and are nicely warming on an autumn day. Again use what you have on hand. For us, it was moist dark rye speckled with flax seeds, figs, apples, Cantal, and walnuts. Preheat oven to 410 degrees F/210 degrees C.

Place bread slices in an oven dish. Top with thinly sliced, cored apples, Cantal, halved figs with a bit of butter inserted in their crevices, and chopped walnuts.

Heat in the oven for around five minutes until cheese is melted and the figs are soft and glistening.

Don't hesitate to cut the figs into smaller pieces.

This way, your fork can pierce more easily into the whole stack of bread, cheese, figs, and nuts in one, bite-sized go.

À la prochaine!


French cheeses: Cantal Apple Clafoutis
Do Give a Fig! 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cape Cod Cookies or Kitchen Sink Cookies?

Somewhere in my cobwebby memory which probably goes back decades the recipes for Cape Cod and Kitchen Sink cookies became entwined, mostly Cape Cod, a little Kitchen Sink.  When living and working in Manhattan all those years ago, I loved going to Cape Cod for summer vacations. Fannie Farmer, the author of my culinary bible, authoritatively calls a particularly delectable, chewy oatmeal raisin cookie that name though I never did encounter the eponymous cookie during my visits to the hook-shaped peninsula. Kitchen Sink cookies came from Frances Moore Lappé's Diet for a Small Planet. Those cookies are wittily called that because the only ingredient not included in the chock-a-block, goodie-filled cookie is a kitchen sink.

Looks aren't everything as these cookies fill the kitchen with divine fragrance too

Since The Calm One does not care for nuts or chocolate, the dough was divided into two portions before the delicious morsels of walnuts, chocolate, and raisins were added. His section got 1/2 cup of raisins and mine got 1/2 cup of the solid bits in thirds.

Molasses is wonderful in all aspects, but especially in its licorice flavour. So distinctive and so associated with childhood, that nostalgic taste transcends culture and language as when we were enjoying some ice-cream at a sidewalk cafe in Hyères, our hostess when I asked what that silky black mass was in her cone repeatedly said reglisse to no avail since I did not know that word then. Briefly frustrated, her face changed to one of enlightened purpose, and she thrust the cone near my mouth, saying, gouter (take a bite). I did, and my face then lit up in recognition. Licorice. Unmistakable and unforgettable.

Though I wouldn't say no to a good quality white or milk chocolate, my preference is and always will be chocolat noir.

 Pépites (little seeds=chips) of dark chocolate

makes 70 small cookies, about 5 cm/2 inches in diameter, ingredients can be doubled
  • Flour, white, 210 g (1 1/2 American cups, that is, 12 fluid oz)
  • Baking soda, 1/2 tsp
  • Cinnamon, ground, 1 tsp
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp
  • Egg, large, 1, slightly beaten
  • Sugar, white, 200 g (1 American cup, that is, 8 fluid oz)
  • Butter, sweet, 115 g (8 T), melted
  • Molasses, 1 T (tastes wonderful but also is essential to provide the acid that activates baking soda)
  • Milk, whole, 60 ml (1/4 American cup, that is, 2 fluid oz)
  • Oatmeal, raw, flaked, not instant, 420 ml (1 3/4 American cups, that is, 14 fluid oz)
  • Raisins, 79 ml (1/3 American cup, that is, 2.6 fluid oz)
  • Walnuts 79 ml (1/3 American cup, that is, 2.6 fluid oz)
  • Chocolate chips, dark, 79 ml (1/3 American cup, that is, 2.6 fluid oz)

Preheat the oven 180 degrees C/350 degrees F. Mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Arrange by slightly mounded teaspoonfuls (heaping teaspoons or even tablespoons can be substituted for larger cookies but they will need more baking time) on unbuttered cookie sheets (pans are easier to clean if first lined with parchment or silicon mats) and bake until the edges are brown, about twelve minutes.

Capacious British yellowware bowl beloved by The Calm One. That flattened area near the bottom allows easy tipping of contents

Let cool for a minute or so and then using a thin spatula, lift them off the pan.

While they are still in the oven, I peek underneath one to see if it is browned enough before shutting off the oven.

To keep the outsides crisp, cool on a wire rack. Store in lidded jars where they will keep in the larder for about a week or so. They also freeze well.

A colleague's husband was known to adore chocolate chip cookies so I made a batch of these for them. She came back the next morning and told me that he said that these were the best cookies he ever tasted. The Calm One would agree though he will always reserve a special place in his heart for ginger cookies. For those weird folks who dislike raisins, find yourself another cookie to love.

Broken in half to reveal all that is within, small masterpieces that they are

Home-baked cookies and cold milk. You can't beat that combo.

À la prochaine!


Our visit to Hyères and Nice

Thursday, September 21, 2017

French Cheeses: Cantal Apple Clafoutis

Years ago, when we first arrived in France, cheddar was much harder to come by so I had settled on using Cantal as a substitute since it has a similar melty butteriness though the flavour is tangier. Nowadays cheddar is frequently sighted in our fridge, often along with Cantal. It is one of the several superb AOC cheeses from the Auvergne region. There are three levels of affinage (aging): jeune (young) Cantal aged from one to two months; entre deux (between the two, that is, between jeune and vieux Cantal) aged from two to six months; vieux (old) aged more than six months. Cantal is further categorized by it being made from pasteurized milk (laitier/dairy) or from raw (fermier/farm).  Entre deux laitier is the one that is easily found and is used in this clafoutis. 

Cantal is one of the oldest French cheeses, dating back to the time of the Gauls

Though being simple and homey, Cantal apple clafoutis is pleasantly balanced between savoury and sweet. With a golden brown puffiness, it is as attractive to the eye as it is to the palette.

Adapted from this French site
makes a 20 cm/8-inch square

  • Eggs, large, 2, (or 3 medium)
  • Flour, white, 100 g/7 dry oz
  • Milk, whole, 200 ml/6.8 fluid oz
  • Apple, royal gala, large, 1
  • Cantal, entre deux, 100 g/3.5 dry oz
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp
  • Black pepper, a grinding or two
  • Nutmeg, freshly grated, 2 large pinches

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F. Slice the cheese and the cored apple (peel if desired) thinly.

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs well, either with a fork or a whisk. Blend in the flour with a wooden spoon until very smooth. Add the nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Pour in the milk and stir well.

In a well-buttered oven dish, layer the apples and cheese. I did three layers, ending in cheese for a nice browned effect.

Pour the batter over the layered cheese and apples.

The apples should be barely covered. Bake for around an hour or until the surface is completely puffed (including the centre). A knife inserted should come out mostly dry.

Let cool for a bit so it will set. Slightly warm to room temperature is a good range for serving.

At one time, a large, uncut Cantal was referred to as a Tomme which is synonymous to Fourme which refers to a type of drum created by les danseurs de bourrée de l'Aubrac for their dance which they did in their Burons (ancient stone dairy huts) situated upon the wild hill area of Auvergne. After eating a few servings of this custardy, savoury, slightly sweet dish, I did a dance too.

Le Livre du Fromage recommends several wines to go with Cantal, and one is Rully (a Burgundy Chardonnay) which happened to be in our cellier. Figs from our tree rounded off the meal.

À la prochaine!


Wikipedia article on the bourrée (French clog dance)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Spicy Tomato Jam & Cheddar Biscuits

Tomato jam uses up lots of tomatoes which are still streaming in from the potager, though at a lesser pace. Three pounds makes around two cups (470 ml). It will keep in the fridge for a week or two and any surplus can be frozen.

These tender biscuits can be pulled apart with your hands

Ingredients for Spicy Tomato Jam
makes around 470 ml/2 American cups, 8 fluid oz each, adapted from Serious Eats

  • Tomatoes (the best you can find, I used romas from our garden), 1.4 kg/3 lbs, skinned, cored, chopped
  • Sugar, granulated, white, 4 T (the original recipe called for 2 cups or 32 T, feel free to use that amount, I am sure it will be delish and very jammy, but I was aiming more for a condiment plus our garden-fresh tomatoes are very sweet on their own)
  • Ginger, freshly grated (I used frozen minced ginger), 1 T
  • Red pepper flakes, 1/2 to 2 tsp (I used 1/2 tsp which resulted in a mild level of heat)
  • Salt, 1 tsp
  • Cinnamon, ground, 1/2 tsp
  • Cumin, 1/4 tsp (I substituted caraway seed which gave a nice earthiness, is in the same family as cumin, and was in our larder)
  • Lemon juice, freshly squeezed, 4 T (a large lemon should do it)

Place all ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (I used enamelled cast iron). Stirring frequently, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for around two hours. When is thick, thick enough? The first indication is the 'parting of the red sea' test. If a swipe across the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon stays for around thirty seconds you are getting closer to getting a jam consistency. A rule of thumb is when the jam is still watery, higher heat makes sense, when pretty thick, a lower one does. Stir occasionally and don't leave the pot untended longer than fifteen minutes.

When you can pile the jam to one corner of the pot and it stays there like a mountain smugly satisfied with its stationary status . . .

. . . you are done. The jam can be eaten right out of the jar with a spoon; accompany fish, poultry, and meat; adorn grilled cheese, BLT, and burgers; cosy up to some scrambled eggs; gussy up a cheese platter.

Ingredients for Cheddar Biscuits
makes around 16 two-inch/5 cm rounds, from Fannie Farmer, my culinary bible

  • Flour, white, all-purpose, 280 g/2 cups (American measure, that is, 8 fluid oz each cup)
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp
  • Baking powder, 4 tsp
  • Cream of tartar, 1/2 tsp (I leave this out)
  • Sugar, granulated, white, 1 T
  • Vegetable shortening (I substituted sweet butter, cut into small cubes), 8 T (1/2 American cup, 4 fluid oz)
  • Milk, 15o ml (2/3 American cup, 5.3 fluid oz)
  • Cheddar, sharp, 8 T (1/2 American cup, 4 fluid oz), finely grated and loosely packed (if more cheesiness is desired, pack the cheese down, but the biscuits may be less fluffy)

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C/425 degrees F (for more crustiness, preheat to 230 degrees C/450 degrees F which is the temperature I used). Mix the first five ingredients in a bowl. Stir in the cheese.

Add the shortening or butter. Work it with your fingertips till the texture is that of coarse meal.

Pour in the milk all at once. Mix with a wooden spoon

The dough will be crumbly.

Knead it 14 times. That's right. 14 times. Not more or less. I never question Fannie. Flour a board well as the dough is somewhat sticky because of the cheese. Pat out dough to a thickness of 1.3 cm (1/2 inch). Cut out rounds with a 5 cm (2-inch) cutter. Gather the scraps and cut again. Repeat till all or most of the dough is used.

Properly cutting out the dough, that is, with an up and down motion with no twisting, will give you loftier biscuits.

Ah, the whiff of cheddar! Whets the appetite for sure

Place them, slightly touching each other (this gives crusty outsides and fluffy insides), on buttered cake pans or pie plates. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and when they don't leave an impression when touched.

Oh my. So GOOD! The pairing of spicy tomato jam with cheddar biscuits is a sublime one. Gobble them up as a snack or serve them with scrambled eggs for brunch.

À la prochaine!