Wednesday, May 17, 2017

In gardens, beauty is a by-product. The main business is sex and death. ~Sam Llewelyn

Llewelyn's astute observation was driven home recently after my frantically digging up 200 plants comprising of onions, shallots, leeks, and garlic. Their slimy, stinking remains were stuffed into bags as dusk settled around the potager so I could haul our bin out to the sidewalk for the next day's early morning garbage pickup. The tentative diagnoses:  maggots had their way with the onions; thrips, the leeks; mildew, the garlic and shallots. The mama house sparrows would have their way with the strawberries if that bed wasn't covered with netting. I have told them they are welcome to the bounty at the top of the fig tree because it's too high for harvesting. Since I don't know their language, my suggestion fell on deaf ears.

Torn egg cartons as mulch keep the berries away from the soil to prevent rotting

As a minuscule-scale food grower, I am inspired by the tenacity and resilience of farmers. After all, because of them, weThe Calm One has already got some onions and garliccan buy what we require until the next growing season. When I need a boost of courage, I hop on Twitter and read tweets under the hashtag of #Agripapa which is what I did following The Great Allium Demise. The next day I made it a point to note all the wonderful produce and decorative plants which are coming along well. The peaches are doing peachy.

All three beds of yellow-fleshed, red-skinned Desiree potatoes are flourishing.

One of the most beautiful by-products of our garden is this peony.

Calla lilies are thriving under the shade of the old pear tree.

The feathery foliage in the left background is what remains from the asparagus harvest

Yellow snails are always a delight to see. I suspect this is the white-lipped snail (Cepaea hortensis).

The sunny one was resting on the robust (take a few bites it won't matter!) foliage of what I can only conclude to be a double-flowered version of the beauty bush (Linnaea amabilis). I noticed it after a year following our arrival but thought it was a stubborn weed bush. Therefore I kept whacking it down through the years. But it got the better of me, and thank goodness it did!

It now towers over people, even tall ones like The Calm One

The purple plum (prunier d'ente) is festooned with developing fruit.

The English lavender bushes flanking the front garden path are putting out their tiny buds. Soon there will be a profusion of fragrant flowers.

Disappointing as it was to lose so many edibles, especially the leeks because they still were healthy last week for some to be harvested for Shakshuka, the garden goes on in that inimitable way it has.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


It has been several years now that I have wanted to poach eggs the North African way. Onions and hot peppers are sauteed, tomatoes are added, the sauce simmered for a while, then eggs are cracked into 'hell' as Batali refers to this method. Having a surplus of home-made enchilada sauce and an abundant leek harvest, I realised I could substitute those for tomatoes and onions.

A meal in a skillet is so appealing

Leeks were sowed last June in pots, and in the following September when their thickness approached the size of a pencil they were transplanted into the ground. Developing roots, they overwintered without developing much green growth since the amount of daylight was significantly diminishing. By February, they showed signs of life.

When transplanted, the young leeks were buried in soil up to the first leaves to develop a blanched bulb.

Since leeks are biennial, meaning they flower and set seed the second year, some flower stalks already have made an appearance. All their energy will go now into producing the next generation. As our leeks will not get any larger, it's time to harvest.

Serves two. Ingredients are in bold. Canned enchilada sauce can be used, but it's simple to make your own. Stir one tablespoon of flour into one tablespoon of warmed oil in a pot on the stove. Add one tablespoon or less/more per preference of chili spice. Stir for a minute or two till toasty and fragrant. Pour in 237 ml (one cup/8 fluid oz/16 T) which can be either veggie or meat; I used a combo of chicken and beef. Stir in five tablespoons of tomato paste. Cover and simmer for ten minutes. Salt to taste. Thinly slice a large, trimmed, well-washed (split one side almost to the root end, place under running water while splaying out the leaves) leek. Chop and saute in a tablespoon or so of butter (which I used) or olive oil for about ten minutes until softened.

Stir in the enchilada sauce. Let simmer for about five minutes.

Plop several teaspoons of crème fraîche (after topping our enchiladas, there was a bit left over) onto the shakshuka. Lace it through the sauce with the spoon. 

Crack four eggs into the skillet.

Cover and let simmer for ten minutes for medium doneness, less or more per preference. Gently touching the yolk with the flat of a wooden spoon will give some indication of its state: quivering, it's mostly liquid, if jiggly then more like jelly, if non-responsive, the yolks are cooked through and through.

Crusty Italian/French or pliable pitta bread would be wonderful for sopping up the sauce. Chiffonade of basil or parsley sprigs make an attractive garnish as green is a colour complement for red. My variation is probably somewhat richer than the usual what with the butter and crème fraîche, but my, was it good.

I love eggs. And I adore this preparation! Easy, delicious, and all in one pan.

À la prochaine!


Serious Eats' approach to Shakshuka which suggests olives, artichoke hearts, and feta as possible additions among others while providing much culinary/historical information/vids. Article penned by the genial chef and food writer J. Kenji López-Alt.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

French Cheeses: Bleu d'Auvergne

When The Calm One and I lived in Grenoble which at that time was part of the southeast French region of Rhone-Alpes, we often found ourselves visiting neighbouring Auvergne* which is known for cheese, lentils, forests, dormant volcanoes, mineral water, Charolais beef, aligot, and potée auvergnate. I remember walking down an aisle of a regional products shop while gawking at huge jars of this earthy pork and vegetable stew.  Apprehensive if I lugged one off the shelf that it would crash down on me and any unfortunate folks nearby, hence permeating us with essence of pork for all eternity, I refrained and bought a packet of Cantal cheese biscuits instead. They were rich, small, thick rounds which melted in my mouth. I ate the entire contents as if they were candy. Boasting these five beloved fromagesCantal, Saint NectaireForme d'ambert, Salers, and Bleu d'Auvergneit beats any other administrative area in France for the number of gorgeous A.O.C. cheeses it produces.  Bleu d'Auvergne is a bit sauvage like the eponymous countryside. One can never eat enough blue cheese, unless of course if you detest it.  I would like to say to such folks go back to the planet from which you came. Yet even better, remain on earth and give me your portion. Crumbling blue cheese over scrambled eggs, pasta, soup, and salad (much quicker than making a dressing of it), really over most things, you can't go wrong. Its pungent, salty creaminess enhances, well, life.

Though certain herbs** can be successfully paired with blue cheese,  I used the ones available from our potager as a visual accompaniment. However, I was delighted that their vibrant fragrance whetted my appetite even more for the cheese.

On the left, Fennel, the herb (not the bulb!), sage, rosemary

Bleu d'Auvergne is essentially a cow-milk version of Roquefort so though similar, it is buttery and creamier.

Parsley and thyme joined the green crowd

Its soft croûte (rind) is lovely in taste and texture so make sure that everybody gets some.

Best served at room temperature

Le Livre du Fromage published by Deux Cogs D'or suggests a Châteauneuf-du-Pape because it is nerveux like Bleu d'Auvergne. The French often use that word to describe wine. Since I doubt it needs to be sedated, it is my interpretation that such wine gives a delicious jolt to YOUR nervous system. Our cellier obliged with a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. High-quality whiskey is another choice as are sweet wines like port, sauternes, monbazillac, and ice which balance out the saltiness.

There were no figs, walnuts, honey, apples, or pears chez nous, all which often are served with blue cheese. We did have some cherries and strawberries on hand, and they went well enough taste-wise. However the creaminess of the cheese was even more pronounced because of the juiciness of the berries. So texture-wise, it was a hit. Lesser known possibilities are blackberries (oh, I can't wait when our bush starts producing!), mushrooms, pineapple, and dark chocolate.

Our strawberry patch is getting close to harvesting. Well, a few have already been picked, by birds, hence the netting.

I sneak a hand under a loosened edge of the netting to get at the berries

David Austin Falstaff climbing rose is putting out many a fragrant bloom.

The grey-green foliage below is that of perennial yellow snapdragons which will bloom soon

A garden wall covered with ivy is ready for another trim.

Calla lilies and bougainvillea charm with their white and pink blooms.

The true flowers on a bougainvillea are not the conspicuous, deep-pink sepals but a hard-to-see, tiny, white blossom

À la prochaine!


French Cheeses: Maroilles

Baked Pasta with Puy Lentils, Basil & Gruyère


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Got left-over pastry dough? Make some savoury pies!

Savoury pies whether mini or full-sized are found in many cuisines. Since I called the area in Manhattan's East Village known as Little Ukraine home for a long time before meeting The Calm One, I am familiar with Eastern European food like pierogi which are delicious filled dumplings as I had frequented The Kiev along with other similar eateries which at that time dotted the neighbourhood. Once when we visited London after relocating from California to the UK decades ago, The Calm One whisked us off to a favourite hangout from his younger days, the Borscht N Tears Restaurant in Knightsbridge, where I saw piroshki on the menu. Guessing it was the Russian spelling for pierogi, I ordered some. They turned out to be wonderful meat pies. These particular ones were presented in the form of small, upside-down ice cream cones, very much like the shape of some chicken croquettes I have eaten. So what makes a croquette a croquette, a pie a pie, and a dumpling a dumpling? And in what category would be calzone? Yes, those questions are rhetorical. So let's get stuffed like the amazing variety of available filled comestibles. On to the enthralling endeavour of using left-over pastry to encase a filling of your choice! In my case it's one of tuna, capers, tomato paste, cream, garlic, and dill.

I have been rolling out thinner pastry than usual which brings out the tenderness and flakiness of the all-butter dough I now use instead of lard-based. That means way more left-over pastry scraps than in the past when I would make a couple of mini-tarts or added to the freezer bag of doughy odds and ends until I had a big ball from which to make a full-sized pie. Recently there was enough remaining from making rhubarb pie for a large savoury turnover (oh, yet another term!). The dough was rolled out and a pie plate used to cut out a round. On one half of the circle, a mixture of tuna, capers, cream, tomato paste, minced garlic, and dill was spread while keeping some space free close to the perimeter. The edges were moistened with water, folded to meet each other to make a half-moon, sealed, and crimped. It was baked in a hot oven, that is, within a range of 200 to 230°C (400–450°F) for about fifteen minutes.

The dough had a touch of sugar in it which contrasted beautifully with the salty fish

The turnover, cut in half, was warming (the temperature has dropped to near freezing for several days), satisfying, and fun to eat. As for fillings, look for what you like and what's available in your kitchen. The ingredients should already be cooked, well-seasoned, and the mixture moist enough to have a pleasing texture.

Disclosure: I do have a bias in defining savoury pies which is not by their shape but based on the parameters of the pastry being flaky, having no leavening, and was baked in an oven. I am forgiving towards a pie with just a top crust as long as it is not an already baked puff pastry ridiculously placed on a heated filling like an ill-fitting top hat ready to blow away. That should be against the law. 

À la prochaine!

(Savoury pies and close cousins)

Spinach Cheese Burek (Balkan savoury pie)
Caprese Socca (Chickpea pancake filled with Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Basil)
Butternut Squash Gozleme with fennel dipping sauce (Turkish stuffed bread)
Chicken Pot Pie
Leek Apple Thyme Tart/Rustic Galette
Braised Leek, Bacon, and Parmesan Calzone


New Orleans meat pie

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Yes, I Finally Made That Rhubarb Pie But . . .

. . . due to the frenzied pace of gardening chez nous all I have time for is to present a few photos and provide the link to the excellent New York Times recipe I used which is here.

I substituted sweet butter for the recommended shortening

The filling consists of sliced rhubarb, sugar, flour (to absorb the abundant juice), and cinnamon. A delicious touch for this pie and I would say for all fruit pies is to dot with butter just before putting on the top crust.

Rhubarb is from our potager

Crimped, slashed, and ready to go into the oven.

The dough has a bit of sugar in it which encourages browning plus gives the crust a slight sweetness. Happy is the kitchen filled with the incomparable fragrance of a pie baking in the oven!

Tart and sweet, with the right amount of richness

The zing of the cinnamon makes it a refreshing breakfast.

Goes great with a cup of coffee

À la prochaine!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Let Us Eat Chocolate

Rhubarb pie was to be the topic of this week's post. As you can see there's no rhubarb pie in sight. The buyer of butter chez nous, The Calm One, couldn't find any that was reasonably priced. He had to hunt around to get some at his preferred price. But it was salted. We prefer sweet especially for pastry. He then put on a science exhibit at the château de l'Oisellerie while I planted three bed of potatoes. Eventually he went back to hunting butter and got the sweet kind but by that time I was harvesting and cooking the daily asparagus bounty; sowing carrots, beets, and parsnips; not to mention trimming various hedges like brambles and lavender which are putting out exuberant growth. The good news is that a ton of rhubarb has been harvested and is waiting in the fridge to be made into pie. However it soon will be Eostre. You know the time we all get to eat chocolate without guilt? So I will hoist my three-ingredient, microwave molten mudcake in a mug to you and yours. Happy Eostre!

Ingredients are cocoa powder, eggs, and icing sugar. It  can be happily flooded with cream.

And come back next week for rhubarb pie.

À la prochaine!