Archive for July, 2010

Provençal Tian , Cheese & Camargue Rice, or Back from Provence! (Part I)

Provençal Tian , Cheese & Camargue Rice, or Back from Provence! (Part I)

Not without sadness, I’m back from Provence…I have so many things to tell you and show you !! But to honor this region of France, that has generously shared all its richness with me, I will prepare their typical dishes, with some culinary licence, of course!

So our first “star” is the tian, classic provençal dish, made with tomatoes, eggplant, onions, and zucchini…Here I added some whole rice from Camargue, and to make it more appealing to my teenagers…some cheese!

It can be prepared in an oven dish, or presented for brunch, in these individual terrine molds, that look great for the occasion!

I love going to the street markets, so I left early in the morning…direction? St Maximin ‘s market !!

Only in France, something far from being aesthetical, like hanging your clothes outside the window, becomes artistic in this frame of flowers!
These villages are inhabited mostly by elderly people…so market day is a great day, to meet old friends, vendors, artisans…to talk endlessly about everything! children (now grown-up!), weather, politics…the village provides these people with a sense of belonging..they have always been there, their life has been shared with their neighbours….!
This elderly lady reminded me of my mother in Argentina, who goes to the baker, and comes back one hour later…and not because the bakery is far from her home! but because she always finds someone to talk with, known or unknown..! and then she tells them about Cristina, who lives in France and has a bakery !!! I ‘ve told her a thousand times that I don’t have a bakery !!!??? but she has developed this “theory” in her mind and no-one will ever convince her of the contrary…not even me!

Everybody has all the time in the world…and they are wise! Like John Lennon said: “Life is what happens while we are busy making other plans….”
Well, but apart from the vegetables for my tian, what else did I need to buy? Yes, something to make my husband happy…something for the “apéritif”
Olives, for instance? All colors: black, green, violet….spicy or not, filled with almonds, red peppers, garlic….Greek, Mexican….with lemon, fennel….and the list goes on!

What else? “Saucisson!!” (salami-type sausage), home-made..with fresh baguette…Mmmm!!!

Saucisson for all tastes: green pepper, chestnut, low fat (???!!!), goat cheese, ginger, bull (?), wild boar, donkey, duck….and here the list goes on too!!
Legions of “saucisson”…I think many international wars would have been avoided if people had been busy eating saucisson instead of making weapons!

All this has to be presented “comme il faut” (as it should be”), in cicada platters, of course!

The cicada is an insect, omnipresent in can’t see it (it is too small and hides in trees) but you hear it !!!! During the hot season, it “sings” the whole day….but the noise of all the cicadas singing together in a well-trained choir can be deafening…believe me!! 
The cicada is not only the symbol of Provence, but the “protagonist” of the most famous fable by Jean de la Fontaine: the cicada and the ant !!! First encounter of all the French children with French poetry !! It doesn’t exist a child in France who hasn’t been submitted to the Herculean task of having to learn this poem by heart….!!! and he knows he will be marked for his performance, hopefully “sans faute” (without mistakes!) My three kids went through this ordeal at the age of six, of course…but the message is learnt: “you don’t sing in life…you work!!”

Well, not everything is work in life, or food….mainly if you are a woman! It is not a question of going to the market looking “n’importe quoi” (anyway) I DO need one of these dresses, don’t you think? Lovely, lovely !!!! So fresh, so colourful, so elegant in their simplicity !!! The black one with the buttons decoration is a MUST for me !!! 

I hope you have enjoyed this first part of my Provence tour…stay tuned!! More is coming soon!

Want  the  Provençal Tian recipe?

To make this Provençal Tian (serves 6), you will need:
 * brown or white rice (here I used Camargue), 200gr
 * small zucchinis, 4
 * small eggplants, 2
 * small tomatoes, 4
 * white onions, 3
 * Holland cheese, 200gr
 * fresh thyme, a branch
 * olive oil, salt & pepper

Brush your oven dish (or individual terrines) with olive oil. Pre-heat oven (180°C). Rinse the rice with fresh water. Put it in a saucepan with 1 litre of water. Cook uncovered in medium heat 10/15′ aprox (add salt in the last 5′). When you see holes or craters forming, cover with lid, and turn off the heat. Let it rest. Accomodate the rice in the oven dish; Cover with slices of cheese. Cut all the vegetables trying to keep the same size and width. Accomodate rows of eggplant, tomato, onion, and zucchini (you can add some extra cheese there)  Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and thyme leaves. Cook for 30/45′ depending on the size of the dish. 
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Bonnes Vacances à Tous! Felices Vacaciones para Todos! Second Thoughts about Friend’s Day…about you!!! and the Château de Chaumont

Bonnes Vacances à Tous! Felices Vacaciones para Todos! Second Thoughts about Friend’s Day…about you!!! and the Château de Chaumont

Well, I’m not starting the “big family vacations yet” (that will be in August) but considering that my three children have left in summer camps around the world…(lucky kids!) I have decided to take only a few days off, escaping to my favourite retreat, the south of France, but not the crowded beaches, but the small villages, full of charm, full of authentic people, who cherish their traditions, their “cuisine”….and this is what I want to profit from! in the company of my husband !! We will also take the opportunity to visit some friends who live there too….
But before leaving you, I wanted to tell you that I have been thinking a lot about this Friend’s Day…about how I celebrated with the friends that were here, but I also thought of you…. Yes, because ever since my blog started, seven months ago, you, some of you in particular, have been there, like real friends…supporting me with your comments, making me laugh sometimes, encouraging me to grow, to outdo myself….and I always wonder how that is possible, I find it so incredible!!, how are there people around the world who use their precious time to write to ME??? Sometimes people  I’ve known for years don’t write to me…! Yet, you do! You, strange friends…strange because sometimes I don’t really know your real names….I don’t know your faces!!! I could be sitting next to you at an airport, without knowing that you are my dear Stella, or Bunkycooks, or Barbara, or Wheels and Lollipops, or Heavenly Housewife (and I should mention so many of you that always write to me, always!) Of course I would recognize Chef Chuck! the only man that writes to me always!! He is famous! He’s on TV !! 
Thanks to all of you !! My dear new friends! Anonymous friends!! Still, your presence makes me happy…I feel you near me (even if the Atlantic Ocean separates us….or another ocean!) Tomorrow night, in the south of France, I will raise my champagne glass, on Friend’s Day, for all of you!!!

The incredible “shade-chair” of the picture can be found in the Château de Chaumont.
If you want to see more pictures, click below….

Yes, this is one of the amazing châteaux in the Loire Valley…one of my favorites..because it is like those in the fairy-tale stories, because of its history…(apparently Catherine de Medici, Henry II’s wife, bought this castle, and there she housed her favorite astrologers AND then also, she “kindly” asked her late husband’s lover, to move from Chenonceau to this castle ???!!! These people were clearly weird…! Why doesn’t anyone ask ME to move to Chaumont as “punishment”?

Ok, leaving aside all these royal eccentricities, the château houses every summer a “Festival de Jardins” (a garden exhibit) but not the typical “jardins à la française” but rather, small compositions designed by modern landscapers, where mostly they try to convey a message, transmit feelings, ideas, philosophies….

Well, here’s the English garden! Nice idea…I could have used all these plates and cups as props for my cakes !!

Space devoted to the birds of France…we all played like children, pressing the buttons to hear the different species “singing” and reading about them…Wanna sit?

Here’s the “jardin vilain” (ugly, dirty garden) that made all the people laugh…yet the guy shows that even with no sense for aesthetics you can still have a garden! The supermarket trolley set our “green-awareness” working…how many years will it take the Earth to get rid of our “human” presence….the day we all disppear?

Sculptures….. aromatic plants “bottled” to capture their “eau de parfum”…..

Flowers of course !!

And Nature….and its perfection! The work of humankind and its perfection too !! A real blessing when man accompanies nature, not rivals with….Food for thought, and day to be enjoyed!
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Beef Fillet, Persil & Arugula, or Friend’s day in Argentina plus a Diet

Beef Fillet, Persil & Arugula, or Friend’s day in Argentina plus a Diet

July 20th is Friend’s Day (Dia del Amigo) in Argentina. I don’t know when this tradition started, but sure after 1969, since, for some reason, the date chosen was that of the man stepping on the moon. Whichever the reason, it is a big date for us…friendship is something we cherish, and honor to extents, that some other people find us a bit “over-sentimental”, but that’s the way we are…for good or for bad, passionate people! 
On this day we do what we can to show our friends that we care, that we appreciate, in one word, that we love them!!! We go from buying a little something for each of our friends, to sharing a meal together (on this date, impossible to improvise! reservations at restaurants have to be made in advance!!!), dropping by just to share a few mates, or sending an SMS….(which is the second almost-impossible thing, since the network becomes “clogged”, so many people trying to send SMS together at the same time….

So I wanted to celebrate with my friends here…but on July 20th there will be nobody (not even me!) so we anticipated!! BUT, one friend told me: “I am on a VERY strict diet…in a restaurant, it will be difficult for me to find something…PLUS, I follow the protein diet, which means only meat, only fish or chicken…with no vegs!” So we decided to do it at home, and, what are friends for?, we would ALL eat grilled meat with virtually nothing else! (After all, our D-Day is lurking near….the dreaded day when we must face the world in our swimsuits ;D
Believe it or not, this very simple presentation of grilled meat pleased everybody!! We were all happy: my dieting friend removed the onions, cheese, arugula and persil…(I think she “cheated” and ate the cherry tomato !!??!!), and we all indulged in what we do best….talking!! dealing with serious subjects such as: 
  • our children’s performance in all the exams kids have to pass in France: Bac, Bac français, Brevet…nerve-wracking experiences for all the family…not only the child. Why are there so many crucial-for-your-future-ruining-your-youth exams here?
And not so serious as ……
  • our national team performance in the last World Soccer Cup ….Please, Diego (Maradona) we love you but we would prefer a professional coach next time!!
  • Mrs Carla Bruni-Sarkozy ‘s dress for the July14th parade…(Didn’t she wear almost the same last year?) What? she bought two for the price of one at the “soldes”(sales)?
  • with the second glass of wine (completely out of diet!) we grew less philosophical and we turned to “substantial” topics shown in our not-precisely-Nobel-Prize-in-Literature magazines…Elle and Marie France….
Thank you girls for being there…for holding the big white board so that my picture would get more light…(though if you look closely…one of my friends in reflected on the fork!! What a shame!!( that’s not professional, Cristina…), for cleaning my kitchen, for smoking in the balcony….thanks for all!!
If you celebrate Friend’s Day in your country, just have fun sharing…and if there isn’t a Friend’s Day, you should create one….! You know what I love the most about this day? When a long lost friend, whom you haven’t seen for ages, calls you! There isn’t a better surprise !!!
It takes so little to make someone happy….
PS: Yes, those of you living in France guessed right…my friend is following the Dr Dukan method (quite popular now in France). However, I am, by no means, “sponsoring this method”…I am not a doctor first, so I do not know if it is good for our health or not…and this post is by no means doing publicity of this method!) I just mentioned it as a fact of life…in the same way I would have mentioned the Atkins, or any other, if my friend had been following that diet…
Please, consult your doctor before starting any diet!!!

Want the recipe?

Actually, there is almost no recipe….

You will need one beef fillet that you will cut into 1cm slices (calculate 2 per person), some arugula and some persil ( previously rinsed); some cheese cut into thin slices with the potato peeler (it should be parmesan, but I didn’t have at home, so I used Gouda), two red onions (sliced not so thin), some cherry tomatoes….

Cook the beef “tournedos” (slices) in your grill pan 30″/1′ each side. Season to taste.  Drizzle the arugula/persil with a vinaigrette made of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper. Place on top of the tournedo, together with the cheese slices. Place the other tournedo on top. Decorate with the onion rings (which you have previously sauté in olive oil) and the cherry tomatoes….
It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t sprinkle the whole with “fleur de sel” and a combination of sunflower (or other) oil and piment d’Espelette (or paprika, or Spanish pimenton)

Recipe adapted from Elle à Table
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Caramel Flan, with Cream and Cherries, or when it gets too hot in Paris

Caramel Flan, with Cream and Cherries, or when it gets too hot in Paris
Et oui !!! C’est la canicule !!! (the heat wave) here in France….I know it is probably hotter in lots of places in the world…but Paris, in particular, is not prepared for the heat….have you seen few places have air-conditioning? And nothing like that or ceiling fans in the Hausmannian apartments, so when it gets hot, you feel it !!!!
And if you are a foodblogger and you try to photograph your flan with whipped cream at 3pm? What is worse, I noticed that something was going wrong with my espuma siphon…the gas was leaking…result? The “Chantilly” was merely a foamy thing…did I have the time to make another Chantilly? No way!!! since I had three “birds of pray” around me (read: my children) plate on one hand, spoon on the other, saying in unison: “Come on, mum! No more pictures….” So, blogging “live” from super-hot Paris, with melted Chantilly cream, Cristina and her caramel flan……

The Caramel Flan is something I inherited from my grandparents…..did I ever tell you? My four grandparents were Spanish, so I grew up with this dessert. In my opinion, few things in this world rival the simple effectiveness of this flan: it is easy to make (you don’t need Pierre Hermé here…) but then few things soothe your palate with its unctuosity as this flan…. I love how consistent it is (you see it didn’t melt in spite of the temperature!), its  velvety appearance, how the cherries reflect on this caramel…! I love seeing my children (and husband!) licking their spoons….and my daughter M. carefully measuring the area of the portions in cm2….Is there a better reward for a cook?

Even if I had my recipe, I checked in the internet to see how people in some other countries made the flan: I noticed that there is a Mexican tradition where they use condensed milk plus powdered milk…some others use cream…., the French “flan pâtissière” is a distant cousin, since it is more like a pie, with its pâte brisée and the egg batter has cornstarch…Well, here I use just milk, unskimmed milk and a Madagascar (Bourbon) vanilla pod…well yes, quantity of eggs is incredible…but we don’t eat this every day, do we? and what is more, we eat just a portion….or two? 

My personal touch was to add some cherries…but my son, “très argentin”, decided to eat it the Argentinian way.…that is with a generous spoonful of Chantilly cream, and an even more generous (almost decadent) scoopful of dulce de leche!

Want the recipe?

To make this Caramel Flan, you will need:
 * unskimmed milk, 1 litre
 * Madagascar vanilla pod, 1, cut lenghtwise and grated
 * eggs, 6 + yolks, 2
 * sugar, 300gr
 * some cherries, for decoration.
 * whipped cream (home-made please! not the supermarket one!!)
 * one flan mold (I could not find one here in Paris, so I used the Savarin one, but the true Spanish flan mold, rippled, will make your flan look much nicer!)

Pre-heat your oven 160°C. In a saucepan, take the milk and the vanilla beans and pod to a boil. Turn off the heat. Let it infuse 30′ minimum. Whisk the eggs, yolks and 200gr sugar till the mixture whitens. Fold in the milk (without the vanilla pod). Combine well.
Put the rest of the sugar (100gr) in the flan mold with 2 tablespoons of water, and this directly on the fire, medium heat, till a nice caramel is formed. Pour the egg/milk batter in the flan mold. Bake in a “bain Marie” 35/40′ till the batter is set. Let it cool. Cover with a film wrap. Refrigerate at least 12 hours.
The problem with this type of flan is unmolding it….unless you know this trick…the longer  caramel stays in the fridge, the softer it becomes (this is why a croquembouche is never kept in the fridge), so respect the refrigeration time!!! It is better to make it the day before. Nevertheless, if you still have trouble unmolding it, just sink your mold in hot water for a few seconds, and the caramel will melt!

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