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!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Do Give A Fig, It's The Season!

Our fig tree will continue to regale us with its fruits for this month of September. Not too far south of us, in Provence, the harvest is much beloved and is celebrated via several festivals. A conte forlorique (fairy tale) from the Aubrac region that is as beloved, is Le Panier de Figues. En bref, the king, who is a great lover of fresh figs, promises his daughter to a local lad who is able to present him with a basket of the best figs.

Three brothers take up the challenge. The first two are rude to an old woman on their way to the king. When they arrive, the king eagerly uncovers the basket only to see, and I am assuming, smell, a bunch of turds. The third son who was kind and polite to the old woman, not only does not have his figs transformed into something revoltingly inedible, he also is given a whistle.

The fig itself is an enlarged, hollow stem containing flowers which when pollinated by wasps (yes, wasps! who squirm their way inside), the blooms become individual druplets that set seed

Being a king, and being able to do whatever he pleases, Mr. Royalty imposes an additional condition, that once his rabbits who are known to be extremely rambunctious are released, they must be all recovered. Yes, the whistle. Its works even on willy nilly rabbits. And even if Mr. and Mrs. Royalty don clever disguises as earnest rabbit buyers willing to subject themselves to painful laceration and discomfiture from crawling under a very thorny rosebush. The royal one however does not quit when the quitting is good and insists the lad reveal three secrets. The lad then begins to describe injuries which are incurred when scrabbling under a thorny rosebush. To keep the boy silent, the king suddenly and finally keeps his promise. The moral is if you want to get the girl, be nice to old women.

Fresh figs lend themselves to not only fancy dishes, but also to easy and simple. Tuck in a noix (the size of a hazelnut) of sweet butter into the centre crevices of halved figs. 

Place fairly close under a preheated broiler for about three minutes or until the edges are browned and the surface is a bit bubbly.

A large serving spoon best be used to trap all the delicious ooze.

Broiled figs can be served over ice cream for a sweet delice or accompany savoury fish, lamb, chicken, and pork main dishes.

As the potager is still giving us some raspberries and strawberries, they got mixed with chopped figs. The melange makes a luscious topping for yogurt.

For an oh-so-tasty first course, add Parmesan shavings to a plate of quartered figs. Sprinkle balsamic or fruit vinegar (in my case, apple cider vinegar). Finish with a grinding of black pepper.

The leaves are delightful in being large, flexible, shiny, dark green, and conveniently lobed. Just ask Adam and Eve. (Does the fig's reputation as an aphrodisiac get somewhat mollified because of its role in keeping the supposedly first humans modestly covered?) And by October, when all will be on the ground, they will be raked along with the ones from the oak and fruit trees into a compost pile. The mound will be covered with tree netting secured with tiles and stones so the wind won't undo all that raking. Leaf mould possesses enormous capacity for retaining moisture so as a supplement to be incorporated to easily baked soil like our garden soil, it is unsurpassed.

It's the smallest I could find which is the size of my spread-out hand

À la prochaine!


Le panier de figues (In french)
15 deliciously quick fig recipes (including the three in my post)

Fig festival Mas d'Azil
Fig Festival Solliès-Pont 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Nippy Morn=Oatmeal

Peaches, butter, and cinnamon topping oatmeal is a treat on a cool, late-summer morning. The peach harvest is now finished with a yield of about eighteen kilograms/forty pounds.

Most of those peaches have been eaten or processed. But no bowl of oatmeal chez nous should fear not being adorned with fresh fruit. Because? Figs! Our tree puts out two harvests, a small one in spring, and the main and larger one in late-summer/early autumn. They must be picked ripe as they will not mature any further once off the tree. When ready, it will fall into a cupped hand after a slight downward pressure is applied on its point of attachment. Plus, it will feel and look like a tight balloon ready to break.

Not fully ripe figs taste chalky

Though I try to keep all our fruit trees not much taller than myself, the fig tree is just too exuberant to be tamed that way.

The birds get the ones that are too high for me to harvest

Figs in various stages of ripening festoon a branch.

Farewell, peaches.  Hello, figs!

That golden, gooey lusciousness tastes as good as it looks

The tomato harvest is slowing down. So far, forty-five kilograms/one-hundred pounds either have been eaten or processed.

Potatoes are being dug up every day. The Calm One scavenged a pallet to put on the cellier floor so they will be well ventilated.

An old duvet cover is used to keep the taters in the dark

There's a honeysuckle bloom here and there. It doesn't matter how few there are, their fragrance still suffuses the air.

The zinnias are going strong and have been since July. Sedum Autumn Joy is setting buds.

Autumn Joy provides nectar for bees and seeds for birds, plus a whole lot of prettiness

Eli the Kitten at ten months of age is going strong too and takes his assistant photographer job seriously, sometimes too seriously. When I scold him that he is underfoot and is slowing me down, he meows that such pauses help my concentration.

I don't know, maybe the orange zinnias would have made a better shot?

À la prochaine!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Shades Of Gold: Peach Lassi, Velouté de Carottes & Carrot Thyme Pakora

It's as if the peaches are getting a head start on autumn with their glowing colour flushed with gold and red.

Our peach harvest has been plentiful this season

A lassi is easy to make if you have a stick mixer. 750 watts is powerful enough to pulverise most fruits. For one large serving or two smaller ones, put 237 ml/8 oz of yogurt, 59 ml/2 oz of water, a tablespoon or two of sugar, and chopped up washed, pitted peaches (3 medium or 6 small) in the tall container that comes with the mixer. A splash of cognac and/or freshly grated nutmeg are nice additions. Mix until smooth. Peaches can be first skinned with a veggie peeler if desired. The colour will be more softly pink then with the skins left on but the lassi will be less fragrant. I like it both ways.

What to do with that nice bunch of freshly pulled carrots?

Velouté de carottes is a wonderful soup. Ingredient list and detailed instructions are in this old post. Sliced carrots, celery, and onions are slowly sauteed in butter till soft, translucent, and fragrant which takes about 20 minutes. Minced parsley and diced potatoes are added and stirred for a minute or two. Chicken broth (veggie broth can be substituted) is poured in. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes.

Besides carrots, the potatoes are from our potager

Puree, add cream, and salt and pepper (freshly ground of course!) to taste. It can be served cold or hot, though during summer The Calm One and I love it lukewarm.

The yellow of chickpea flour teams up with the orange of carrots in these pakora. Served with yogurt, they make a delicious snack.

Heat up several inches of oil (I used a mixture of olive and sunflower) in a medium-sized saucepan. For a small serving, mix 6 T of chick pea flour and 1 T of rice flour with enough water to get the consistency of thick mud. Add a finely grated small carrot, a big pinch of dried thyme, and salt to taste. To test if the oil is hot enough, insert the handle end of a wooden spoon in the centre of the pot. If ready, a steady stream of tiny bubbles will surround the handle. Carefully put teaspoons of the batter into the oil. Let cook for several minutes, then flip them over. I use a metal skimmer to do this. Cook for a minute or two more or till they are crisp and golden brown.

In the potager, the roma tomatoes are close to complete harvest, thusly their leaves are mostly yellow.

View from my office

A glint there, a glow here, all is suffused with mellowness.

À la prochaine!