Sunday, December 23, 2012

Joyeuses Fêtes!

For about two weeks, I, The Calm One, and Dayo all will be taking it easy--resting, enjoying good food, and being at home together.

We wish you all the most Joyeuses Fêtes!

(Regular weekly posting will resume January 8, 2013.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Berry Delicious Mess!

Since we wait around December to start enjoying the early summer strawberry harvest which I had sliced, lightly macerated in sugar, and then froze, it is now time to start coming up with ideas of how to use that bounty.  Of course strawberries can be defrosted partially--they become unappetisingly soggy if completely thawed--and served with whipped cream. 

However, I wanted to try something more elaborate, but not too fancy or difficult while perhaps learning a new culinary skill.  The solution turns out to be Eton Mess, a British pudding in which meringue pieces, sliced strawberries, strawberry coulis, and cream easily beaten into soft peaks* are combined without much finesse.

An appetising mess

Since the meringues are broken up into small pieces, it really does not matter if they are not rounds of sugary, whipped egg whites baked slowly to perfection.  Therefore, this recipe is great for learning how eventually to turn out superb meringues.  I am game if you are!  And if you are not game, it is permissible to buy already made meringues.

Makes six servings

  • Egg yolks, 3, from large, fresh eggs
  • Sugar, superfine, 6 oz (175 grams)
  • Strawberries, fresh (hulled) or frozen, 1 lb (450 grams)
  • Sugar, icing/confectioners, 1 rounded tbl
  • Cream, double/whipping, 20 oz (570 ml) 


Electric mixer (large balloon whisk can be used instead, but it a lot of work)
Baking tray
Parchment paper

Pre-heat the oven to  300°F (150°C).  Separate whites from the yolks.  My method is to crack the egg into my well cleaned palm and let my fingers act as a sieve--the whites drain into the bowl on their own account.  Since it is imperative not to taint the white with any yolk, it is safest to drain each egg's white into a separate, small bowl.  This way, you will only waste that one egg's white.  A list of recipes using up egg yolks is found here. Measure out sugar.  If you do not have superfine sugar then whir it in your processor for a few minutes until fine, but not powdery.

Make sure your mixing bowl and whipping attachment are scrupulously clean and dry.  Put whites in the mixer's bowl and starting on low speed, gradually work up to high speed, beating until they form soft peaks.

Add tablespoon by tablespoon the sugar while beating at high speed until all the sugar is added (you may have to stop the mixer when adding the sugar as to prevent it spraying all over you), and the whites are stiff and shiny.*  If they are mixed past this point, their structure will start to break down.

With a wooden spoon, I eased out gently all that egg white jammed into the beater.

Place heaping tablespoons of the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to make nine, large (4 inches in diameter) meringues.  Since these will not be served whole as they will be broken up to go into Eton Mess,  I practised making depressions with a tablespoon in preparation for making Les Petites Mont Blancs which are filled with chestnut puree, fromage frais, and mascapone. Hopefully I will be able to make those for New Year Day.

Dayo felt a little left out so he pretended to be a meringue.

Position the baking tray in the centre of the oven and turn the heat down to 275°F (140°C) and bake for 1 hour.   Then turn the oven off, leaving the meringues inside until the oven is completely cold or if more convenient to dry out overnight.

Since these meringues were baked as long as an hour, they are a light and tasty shade of caramelised brownAs I taste tested one, it melted in my mouth like solid cotton candy.  The ones I will eventually do for Les Petites Mont Blancs need to be baked half that time to ensure they stay mostly white befitting a representation of a snowy mountain peak.

Basically airy, crisp sugar cookies

Traditionally fresh, in-season strawberries are used, but frozen ones worked out well.

Superb Gariguettes from our summer garden

Slice or chop half the strawberries and reserve.  Put the other half along with the tablespoon of confectioner's sugar into a blender/processor to make the coulis.  Alternatively, use a stick mixer.

Pass through a fine wire mesh sieve to get rid of the tiny seeds.

Beat cream until soft, rounded peaks* form.

Gather together the meringues, strawberry coulis, beaten cream, and strawberries.

Break up the meringues into small chunks.  Add the strawberries and then the cream.

Fold gently the cream into the meringue pieces and strawberries.  When folding which ensures the delicate, foamy structure of either beaten egg whites or cream remains mostly intact, a wooden spoon--some use a rubber spatula or a large balloon whisk--is placed at the bottom of the bowl's inner side and moved under the mixture.

The filled spoon is then lifted upward while sliding it vertically along the bowl's inner side as to bring the mixture down on itself.  Move the bowl a quarter turn after each folding.  It took me about about four turns and ten seconds to fold in the cream.  Note the folding in the coulis is the next step so the mess being under mixed at this stage is not a problem. 

Reserve about a quarter cup of the coulis and lightly fold the rest to get a marbled effect.

Spoon into individual dishes and dribble the reserved coulis on top.  Serve immediately.  Alternatively, all the mess can be put in a large serving bowl and bought to table along with the coulis in a small pitcher.

This is the kind of dessert for which dessert spoons were created.  One aspect I enjoyed about our living in England was seeing that comforting and familiar spoon put horizontally above the place setting regardless of the restaurant's status.  The Eton Mess?  We found it to be scrumptious with the meringues' over-the-top sweetness being more than balanced by the unsweetened cream and tart berries/coulis.

Bon appétit! 

*How to identify the various stages of beaten egg whites and whipped cream

Harvesting and freezing strawberries
How to Make Strawberry Jam

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Though I try to keep the holiday craziness to a minimum, I do undertake some serious culinary preparation for having a wonderful celebration.   Therefore it's nice to be able to whip up something fast and simple during this rushed time.  The Calm One having grown up in Yorkshire appreciates as well as I do, a simple but satisfying British classic, Toad-in-the-Hole--an enticing soufflé-like Yorkshire pudding studded with succulent sausages.  It's a homey dish that helps one appreciate being cosily ensconced at home while gazing through frosted windows at the sleeping garden. 

Ingredients (Count 'em.  Only five. That's simple!)
Two generous servings or 4 skimpier ones

  • Flour, all purpose, 150 grams
  • Salt, 1/4 tsp
  • Milk, 450 ml
  • Eggs, large, 3
  • Sausages, either British bangers, Toulouse, or Italian Sweet, 4

Bangers, a smooth-textured British sausage, filled with meat and breadcrumbs/rusk, are traditionally used.  However, chez nous, we add a French touch by using Toulouse sausage, made with pork, garlic, and red wine.

Turn on oven to 400 degrees F/205 degrees C.  Put a small, metal roasting pan (18 cm by 25 cm by 4 cm deep) in the preheating oven. Sift flour and salt from up high--this increases baked puffiness--and make a well.

Crack the eggs into the well.  Slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs by beating them in a circular motion with a fork, encroaching gradually onto the flour until mixture is smooth and sticky.

Gradually add milk, incorporating it first with a fork.  Then continue blending with a whisk. Beat until airy and full of bubbles.

Reserve the batter while occasionally whisking it as you saute the sausages.  The main purpose of this step is not to cook the sausages, but to get them to release some of their fat.  Add a tablespoon of oil, then the sausages, pricking them on all sides as they lightly brown over medium flame.  When about 4 to 5 tablespoons of fat has collected in the pan--I tip the pan to the side, roughly approximating the amount--turn off the heat.

Take out carefully the hot roasting pan and place on open oven door.  Empty the contents of the fry pan into the roasting pan. Make sure you get all the fat to follow the sausages!

Pour batter over the sausages, arranging them evenly spaced via tongs.  Put back into oven.

Bake for about 40 minutes, turning after 20 minutes, till very puffy and deeply browned.  The pudding's top should be fairly hard and inflexible to the touch.  Deeper down there will be some soft but firm spots.  Loosen the edges and bottom of the pudding from the pan with a narrow spatula.  Cut into four squares and serve immediately as it will lose height quickly.

Though brown gravy is traditionally served, we enjoy a side of stewed tomatoes made with our potager's Romas.

Bon appétit!

In the potager, the carrots sowed in August are beginning to be harvested in all their earthy, golden goodness.  I carefully dig with a trowel all around the carrot and gently heave it out of the soil.  If the soil is lightly moist, pulling them out is easier with less chance of leaving carrot pieces in the soil.

With diminished daylight, the roots will not fill out much more, but will resume their growth in early spring.  As light frosts are possible not only at night but also during the day, I leave horticultural fleece tucked around the carrot bed which turns it into a storage area.  Keep in mind carrot tops are wonderful additions to the soup stock pot as they are not bitter as I once thought as long as just a few are used.

In the wicker basket, are some fixings for chicken stock

The broccoli plants need to be dug up and put on the compost pile as their harvest is finished.

In the background, there's a yellow flowering broccoli!

The Brussels sprouts will keep producing into the new year so we should be able to have fresh ones for roasting with our holiday dinners.  Yay!  There are already quite a lot frozen.

Dayo thrives on the fresh, cold air and gets very perky and playful.  He will jump up at my hands while I take some close-ups as he intermittently swats the camera.

What's that object in your hand?  Can I nom it?

Besides a few intrepid rose buds, pink heather, and white and purple alyssum, the flower garden has a low profile presently.  Though I am a zealous proponent of dead heading flowers, I do make some notable exceptions as in sparing these silver skeletons of Hydrangea flowers as they are lovely in a lacy, ghostly way. 

And these hips on the Rugosa roses warm up the garden with their hot crimson.

What are your plans for holiday eating chez vous?  Is there something new you would like to give a try?  Something you would love not to prepare comme d'habitude (as usual)?  Or perhaps, just not doing much except going to friends/family/restaurants?  Regardless, leave time for yourself to unwind and turn inward, for a break from all the external distractions. Refreshed and in tune with yourself, you will be able to enjoy more fully all the agreeable aspects of this season! 


Sowing Carrots & Making Velouté de carottes
Harvesting, freezing, roasting Brussels Sprouts
Preparation for fall/winter harvests
How to Make Roasted Broccoli Parmesan Béchamel Soup

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Elegant Profiteroles: a Superb Holiday Dessert

The French have a charming expression, on profite, as in on profite du soleil (The sun is out? Drink it up!) to signify an existing situation of which one must take advantage I regard the upcoming holidays as such an occasion.  Profiteroles are one of those wonderful desserts that look much more difficult to do than in reality--as long as you have solid instructions to follow.  They are simply cream puffs filled with ice cream, usually vanilla and topped with a dark chocolate sauce.  They can be regarded as ice cream sandwiches taken to lofty heights.

Caramel-laced pecan vanilla ice-cream on the left and two coffee ice-creams on the right

I used Stephanie Jaworski's tested recipe (please read her recipe completely before making profiteroles), because it stood out from all the others I researched on the web by being thorough, clear, and eminently doable.  These profiteroles were the best I ever had, including the ones I enjoyed in Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, or in our favourite French restaurant in Greenwich Village.  And better than the ones I used to bake.  The pâte à choux is perfectly thin, crisp, with a slight inside moisture while the warm, dark-chocolate ganache is beyond dreamy, loaded with butter and cream.  In case you are wondering, we eat ours with a spoon!

If I had this recipe years ago, I am sure my first attempt at making cream puffs would not have come out as flat cookies.  Cream puffs can be stuffed with either sweet or savoury fillings--creamed chicken or seafood is good--and be made as tiny or as substantial as the occasion calls for.  Go ahead and make some this holiday season and on profite!

Piled into a pyramid, they make a stunning presentation

Makes 12 medium (approx. 2" in diameter) profiteroles

  • Flour, all purpose, 1/2 cup*/65 grams
  • Sugar, white, granulated, 1/2 tsp
  • Salt, 1/4 tsp
  • Water, 1/2 cup*/120 ml
  • Butter, sweet, 4 tablespoons/57 grams
  • Eggs, large, 2, lightly beaten
  • 1/8 tsp salt and 1 large beaten egg for glaze.
  • Chocolate, dark, cocoa content 64% or higher, 4 oz/115 grams, broken into pieces
  • Cream, heavy, 1/2 cup*/120 ml
  • Butter, sweet, 1 tablespoon/14 grams, for the ganache
  • Ice cream, homemade or an excellent brand, vanilla or coffee are popular, but most flavours would work.
*American size, that is, 8 oz cups.

Make the choux pastry as follows:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F/205 degrees C. Have close by water, butter, sifted flour/salt/sugar, and beaten eggs.

Bring the butter and water to a boil in a medium saucepan.

Take the pot off the heat and stir in the flour.

Put pot back on low heat and mix for a few minutes until dough pulls away from the sides of the pot.

Beat dough off the heat until it is lukewarm.

Beat in eggs. I first use a whisk.

Then switch to a wooden spoon to get a smooth batter.

Spoon or pipe on parchment-lined baking pans.  When spooning, it is best to layer smaller amounts so as to increase the height of each puff--first put one slightly rounded teaspoonful of the batter for each of the twelve profiteroles, then put a second teaspoon of it on top. Distribute any remaining batter over the twelve profiteroles as evenly as possible via a final layer.  With a pastry brush or with a fingertip, lightly paint each one with beaten egg.

Choux pastry needs to be baked twice--initially at 400 degrees F/205 degrees C for fifteen minutes, then at 350 degrees/177 degrees C for an additional 30-40 minutes.  Test one by splitting it--the insides need to be mostly dry and the outside crisp and a deep golden brown.  Then the oven heat is turned off, and they are left inside with the oven door cracked open for about five to ten minutes.  Just as importantly they need to be cooled on a wire rack.  An old oven rack can be called into duty. 

The puffs can be baked ahead of time, but the longer they stand before they are assembled, the softer they become.  The puffs can be frozen. Defrost the puffs and then reheat in a 350 degree F/177 degree C oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until crisp. Cool before filling with ice cream.

Make the ganache.  Break up the chocolate into smaller pieces and put them in a small metal mixing bowl.

Using a small saucepan, bring the cream and butter to a boil.  Pour the hot cream and butter over the broken-up chocolate in the metal bowl.  Cover and set stand for ten minutes.

Then whisk smooth the the butter, cream, and chocolate.  The ganache can be flavoured, as with brandy or cognac for an extra glow.  The warm sauce serves as a wonderful foil for the cold ice cream.

Assemble the profiteroles.  Cut them in halves.

Place nice, rounded scoops (approx. two rounded tablespoons) of ice cream.

Put on tops.

Dribble the ganache over the profiteroles.

If there is excess ganache, you can easily make sublime chocolate truffles.  How sublime?  Truffles are edible velvetWorking with very cold ganache, scoop out little balls and dust in cocoa powder or crushed nuts.  And yes, if you want, you can just make the truffles and skip the cream puffs!  I won't tell anyone.  Bon appétit!

An unadorned truffle which I can assure you tastes scrumptious by itself.

Back in the garden, a rose bud hesitates to bloom.

In the potager, the fall/winter crops are doing well--broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leeks, carrots, and peas. 

Broccoli and Brussels sprouts beds in the background

I love topping up bowls of Velouté de Carottes with chopped, roasted broccoli which is added to the soup along with French bread chunks and bacon pieces.

Hearty, golden goodness!

Dayo enjoys climbing the bare trees as the days are still mostly mild.

He loves the Fig tree as it borders on three different yards.

Our short winter should begin in a week or so as the cranes have have left for North Africa.  They were not seen this season, but their wonderful honking was heard--at least by Monsieur M--as they migrated at night.

À bientôt