Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Tips, tricks, and good advice from Mme. P

I recently had the opportunity to spend the weekend at M. and Mme. P's place and picked up some hand-dandy cooking tips and easy recipes while I was at it. As much for my benefit as for yours, I'm going to briefly note them here!

1.) Hand-held blenders = joy for beating egg whites to stiff peaks

2.) A Kitchen-Aid is essential to lifelong happiness. Waiting until one is established somewhere is also a good idea as they are expensive and heavy. They are less expensive in the United States than in France.

3.) Rillettes can be made from fish! as well as from meat. Essentially, she cooked the fish (mackeral), pulled the meat apart with a fork, took out the bones, then mixed in a little mayonnaise and some herbs. Chez Mme. P, yes, the herbs were from the garden and mayonnaise was homemade, but if you make it as far as boiling fish with their heads on, I won't count store-bought mayonnaise and herbs against you.

4.) I asked Mme. P about the macarons sticking in the pan. Nope, you can't coat the Flexipans with anything because in that case, "why bother having them?" But what you can do, is not use the middle- to low-quality and use only the high-quality ones. I'm going to attempt macarons again before leaving France. But I am going to use my LSB to beat the egg whites into submission.

5.) Salmon: French salmon in France, Alaskan salmon in the United States.

6.) Apples retain the pesticides in the skin. If you can't buy bio, buy a peeler.

7.) If you have trouble digesting bell peppers, peel them too. Don't get me wrong, it's not easy. But apparently it helps. (Talk about embarassing! I tried to 'help out' in the kitchen by peeling the bell peppers and Mme. P had to take them away from me because I was taking so long!)

8.) Mache helps to prevent certain cancers (that's from M. P actually).

9.) You MUST have a little electronic scale in the kitchen (at least to cook on the metric system). It makes little beeping noises, I'm fascinated and kind of want one.

10.) Apple tart made easy! (Yes, I'm in an apple phase)
--Roll out puff pastry onto flat cookie sheet/flexisheet
--Sprinkle some brown sugar on the pastry
--Mandolin apples as thin as possible
--Layer apples onto puff pastry
--Sprinkle brown sugar onto apples, add a few small dollops of butter
--Cook in an oven at 350 until it's done.
--If the puff pastry puffffffffs way up - don't worry. It'll calm down when you take it out of the oven. It's just angry that it's getted baked!

Thanks Mme. P!

Monday, 19 July 2010

14.) Banana Cake #2

Cakes without recipes are fun. But when taking a 7 hour road trip, it's maybe better to say Yes! Give me a recipe! I took this cake on the road, so there are no photos. However, the whole thing was devoured and that speaks for itself.

To the right is a photo of the Mont St. Michel. Construction on this site began during the 1oth century AD and continued until the 18th century. Today, several monks still live in the monastery but it is essentially a very impressive tourist operation. A winding path lined with tourist trap shops and museums leads up, up, and up to the top of the mount. Once inside though, it's very easy to imagine what life may have been like in this austere and severe building hundreds of years ago.

The recipe!

¼ cup milk
2 ripe bananas
1 cup sugar
2 cups self raising flour
2 eggs
60 g (2 oz) butter

Combine milk and peeled mashed bananas. Add sugar, sifted flour, lightly beaten eggs, softened butter to milk and bananas. Beat until your arm feels like it might fall off. Turn mixture into flexipan. Bake in low to moderate oven approx 40 minutes or until done. Cool 10 minutes before turning out to complete cooling.

Monday, 12 July 2010

13.) Chocolate-walnut brownie-cake

Chocolate walnut cake is a success! The evidence is to the right. No. He did not eat it all in one sitting. But at the same time, no. There is not any left.

This cake was incredibly easy! The walnuts came from M. and Mme. P's own walnut tree. Having said that I will remind you that walnuts from trees do not come in plastic bags. Also, there is no nut cracker in this house. (I'm trying to think of some play on words here for nut cracker and my LSB, but nothing springs to mind at the moment). Sans nut cracker, I head to the tool box. A screwdriver? No. A hammer? No. Pliers? Yes! Be forewarned though - walnuts can explode when under too much pressure! A broom is nearly as handy as a mixer when making this cake with hand-cracked walnuts.

I'm a little worried about my big flexipan. By the time the middle was done (springs back to the touch, toothpick inserted comes out clean, sides pulling away from the edge of the pan - as per Mom's instructions!), the bottom was slightly toasty (read verging on burnt and tasting slightly like charcoal). Also, when I flipped the cake out (and remember, with this pan, the top is supposed to be the bottom because the bottom (the part of the cake in the pan) is supposed to be the shiny glorious top), it collapsed! Look closely at the magnificent photo! The middle is sagging. Sadly sagging or sagging sadly, comme tu veux (as you like!)! Not cool flexipan!

This is a close-up of the chocolate walnut brownie-cake. I'm calling it a brownie-cake because with its sadly sagging center (I'm big into alliteration today) it was dense like a brownie instead of fluffy like a cake.

Looks tasty. Tasted tasty. One could even say. . . terribly toothsome!

LSB suggested that I include my recipes on my blog so that those with an adventurous spirit can follow in my very tentative baking footsteps. Here is the brownie-cake recipe.

  • 170 g dark chocolate
  • 120 g softened butter
  • 200 g sugar (sifted)
  • 3 eggs
  • 80 g flour (sifted)
  • 5-6 walnuts (as desired)
-Preheat oven to 225°c
-Break chocolate into pieces, add 3 tbs. water, melt in microwave (1 minute). Mix until chocolate is completely melted and let stand while continuing in the recipe.
-Cream sugar into softened butter.
-Beat eggs into butter/sugar.
-Mix in flour.
-Mix in chocolate.
-Mix until smooth.
-Attack 5-6 walnuts with pliers. Mix in the nut meat but not the shells (which are probably on the ground by now anyway!)
-Bake for 25 minutes or until Mom's advice is met.

How is that not incentive for LSB to return my non-functional watch? Oh! And guess what!? It was just the battery! LSB brought back my spiffy and functional! new watch. What a guy!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Long-Suffering Boyfriend gets what he deserves!

That is my LSB to the right, holding up his end of the world in San Sebastien, Spain. Today he was not vacationing in Spain though, he was returning the (spiffy) non-functional watch I just bought on the other end of the city. How should I thank him!?

Obviously I will bake him a homemade chocolate walnut cake!

Pictures and story for this cake here tomorrow.

Friday, 9 July 2010

12.) Tangy citrus disaster

It had to happen one day. Disaster had to strike. There had to be a cake that you fed to your friends not out of joy, but out of spite (unintentional of course). Yesterday was that cake. The culprit is pictured above. It looks pretty unassuming, doesn't it?

With no eggs in the house, I decided to embark upon an 'easy' recipe for Tangy Citrus Cake. Self-rising flour, sugar, salt, orange juice and zest, baking powder. Easy enough! We've conquered home-made pie-crust, we can do anything! Oh wait. There's no such thing as self-rising flour in France. Fortunately, the handy-dandy internet tells me that I can add 1.5 tsp baking powder and .5 tsp salt for every cup of flour and that's equivalent to self-rising flour. (Readers beware - you don't have to buy self-rising flour! It's cheaper to make your own!)

I creamed sugar and butter, I mixed, I tasted. . . hmm, salty. I added some sugar and more orange juice to compensate. Well, stick it in the oven, maybe we'll get lucky. It comes out and I flip it out of the beautiful Flexipan. It's a beautiful golden brown, the flexipan has given it a great sheen on top, and it just looks to die for. But. (Of course there's a but, this wouldn't be a disaster story without the 'but.') But the crumbs still taste salty. I whip up a quick orange juice/powdered sugar/butter glaze, poke holes in the top of the cake, ladle on the not-salty goodness and hope for the best.

My LSB (long-suffering boyfriend, see previous entry on petits palmiers au saumon) and one of our friends, let's call her Clara, gamely agree to try the cake later that evening and what can I say? I have a great LSB and a really good friend! They didn't spit it out, whine, cry, or beg me to stop trying to bake. They simply said, "Wow? Really? Can I have a glass of water please?" and "Normally what you make is good . . ." Those dot dot dot moments are really killer!

Later that evening, an impromptu bbq broke out at the house. Four new unwitting suspects to foist my cake off on. LSB serves one friend on his dinner plate. Our friend takes a big bite. Then another!! I'm thinking, maybe it's not so bad! Then he says, "I thought Antoine had put the cake in some salt already on my plate from dinner. But no no, it really is the cake!" His girlfriend just looks at me with pity in her eyes. Those eyes seem to say, "Thank goodness LSB is already yours because you'll never get anyone with your cooking!" And finally, another friend who says "WOW!" Like an amazing discovery, "It's even more disgusting with fruit juice!"

Oh well. This is a little adventure after all. It wouldn't be fun without a few disasters to write about!

Thank you LSB and Clara - you can have first dibs at the next cake I don't mess up!

PS. I followed the recipe to a T, so if you run across a Tangy Citrus Cake in your travels. . . be forewarned!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

11.) American apple pie

In the beautiful city of Bordeaux, France (pictured at right), you're more likely to find a tarte tatin aux pommes than a good old American apple pie. Tarte tatin? What's that? What's the difference? According to wikipedia, a tarte Tatin is a reversed apple tart in which the apples have been caramelized in sugar and butter before being added to the tart. More clearly stated, the apples are caramelized in a pan with the sugar and butter and then beautifully arranged in large pie pan (more like a quiche pan). The crust is placed on top of the apples and the whole is put into the oven. When the tarte tatin is done baking, take it out, flip it over, and voila, tarte tatin. Where did this bizarre pie-thing come from? According to tradition, the dessert was created by St├ęphanie (1838-1917) and Caroline Tatin (1847-1911) in Lamotte-Beuvron, France. While catering to a group of hunters, one of these sisters apparently let a tarte aux pommes burn. Insteading of throwing out the mistake and chalking it up to a bad oven (or what have you!), she stuck a pie crust on it, threw it in the oven, and called it soup. (Or rather, a tarte tatin.) The hunters liked it, the sisters made it again, a French tradition is born.

And what about apple pie? American apple pie? Another culinary secret that we stole and revamped from the French? No! The origins of the American apple pie can be found in Chaucer's day - the first documented recipe is from 1381 meaning that Apple pie a l'americaine predates tarte tatin! This original recipe calls for "good apples, good spices, figs, raisins, [saffron], and pears" as well as cofyn or pastry. Today, we know that apple pie is good for dessert, breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. It can be eaten hot or cold as well as unadorned or accompagnied by ice cream, whip cream, or even (though I'm not a believer!) cheese. It is, I think, one of the best foods in existence today.

This is the American apple pie that I made in Bordeaux. I made the pie crust using an "easy pie crust" recipe from There's no rolling pin in the house, so I washed our bottle of balsamic vinegar (label off, lots of hot soapy water, and made sure the cap was screwed on tightly because this bottle is still half full!) and used that. There is also no round pie pan, so a square casserole dish will have to do!

The apples were Granny smith simply because they're my favourite and thus what we happened to have in the house. I coated the peeled/chopped apples in a cinnamon/sugar mixture, filled the pie crust, latticed the second pie crust, and put it into a preheated oven (350 F) for about 30 minutes. The top started to get to dark, so I covered it with foil (according to Mom's wisdom and here again we have the proof - Mom knows best. Just do what she says!).

So how'd the American apple pie go over in the country of tarte tatin? Not badly; I was washing the very empty casserole dish not even a day later. Maybe next time we'll try it with cheese!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

10.) Quiche lorraine

Here's a quick fact and an amazing discovery.

Quiches are EASY!

I made this quiche a few weeks ago and it was pretty darn good. My recipe calls for two eggs + two egg yolks, creme fraiche (heavy cream), milk, grated cheese (emmental), lardons (bits of bacon - fry before adding to quiche), and a pastry shell (prebake halfway).

Don't put the cheese on top! Even if your recipe tells you to. Place the cheese and the lardons into the halfbaked pastry shell BEFORE adding the egg/milk/cream mixture. Trust me. If you don't, the cheese turns an icky unhealthy brown/black colour. NOT appetizing.

The first time I tried this recipe, the grate in the oven was uneven. The mixture overflowed the pie shell and went underneath it. Still edible but decidedly less attractive. Try to make sure that your grate is level before starting!

The third time I made this recipe, I added tomatoes and zucchinis. A word to the wise: deseed and precook the zucchinis and deseed/pat dry the tomatoes. For the zucchinis, it's more a matter of taste. For the tomatoes it's a question of liquid. If you include the seeds and all that goo in the center, you'll end up with too much liquid in your quiche. It'll bake funny and be runny even when it's ready to come out of the oven. Boo!

The fourth time I made this recipe, I realized that I needed to move on or we were only going eat to quiches all summer. In any case, it's sure that quiches are a quick, easy way to impress those you're feeding. And! you can add any ingrediant you want to them as long as you keep in mind how they're going to taste together and how they're going to affect the liquid content of your quiche.

9.) Banana muffins (no recipe)

That's right, it finally happened. I made something - no, I baked something without a recipe.

This morning, I wandered down to the kitchen and what do I see? A lone banana, sadly turning black, becoming mushy, and languishing next to the coffeepot. What's a girl to do? I prefer green bananas that fight back when I eat them raw, so really? Should I suffer through that squishy fruit? Or throw it out and lament its loss? Or should I. . .no, don't be silly. I mean, I could. . . couldn't I? A couple eggs, some baking powder . . . no. . . yes, well ok - let's try!

Some butter in a bowl, cream into it the amount of sugar that looks kind of right, add two eggs, some baking powder (how much? I don't know, a pinch more), then flour until the consistency is correct. Smash the banana with a fork against a cutting board (or plate or what-have-you) until it resembles baby food, then add to mix. Season with cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Ladle the mixture (here's hoping!) into your new Flexipan, stick in a preheated oven (170 C or thereabouts).

Make coffee.

Do dishes.

Drink coffee.

Let the cat in.

And lo and behold, eat warm, delicious, made-from-scratch banana muffins for breakfast. Needless to say, it's the beginning of a beautiful day!

Petits palmiers au saumon, petits flans aux poireaux, and macarons

Hello there! It's been a long time since the last post and yes, I have baked (and even cooked!) in the interim. Alas, there are no photos to back up this claim, so we'll just pick up today and move forward from here.

Currently, I'm residing in a strange place (France) with a strange measuring system (metric!). For science, I am 100% in the metric camp. Even for distances, I'm starting to come around. But for COOKING! please, leave me my cups and teaspoons. I like how the recipes look, I like how a tablespoon of peanut butter lumps into my dough. Unfortunately, nobody here shares my passion for American measures and my cooking apparatus is all metric. What to do what to do? Mostly I use google to convert my dear cups into milliliters and grams. But really? This is not efficient! It takes too much time and I'm never sure if milliliters or grams are appropriate. I was lucky, I made a few decent cakes, I even made an apple pie with a crust from scratch, but I knew I needed to venture into the land of (cue scary music!) metric recipes.

Just when I started to think this, my long-suffering boyfriend (I say long-suffering because he has to taste and critique everything I cook whether he really wants to or not!) invited me up to visit his family in Rennes and after to visit St. Malo (pictured below).

During this visit, I started talking to his mom, let's call her Mme. P, about cooking and lo and behold the world of simple French metric recipes was opened. Not only that, but Mme. P introduced me to and gave me some super Flexipans. These things are Amazing! And cute. That's not very descriptive, is it? Ok - according to a little online detective work, Flexipans are made of glass filaments and alimentary silicone. Both of these materials form the pans, give them long life, and help them to resist high heat. Thanks to the silicone, whatever dough/mix you put into the Flexipans doesn't stick! Which means that (in theory) you don't have to butter or butter/flour your molds (hurray!). According to the French website which sells these pans, they are resistant to temperatures of + 270°C to - 40°C (518° F to -40°F). I've never seen a recipe that calls for 518° F, so I think it's safe to assume that I'm not going to accidently fry one of these pans any time soon. Also, these pans are microwave safe and cool down after being removed from the oven/microwave really quickly. In addition, when your flans/muffins/little cakes/whatever you've put into the molds pops out, they're shiny on top! Like a cake that's been polished to a high gloss. (Tell me that doesn't merit the word amazing!? Not possible!)

Let's move on to the recipes and I'll tell you a little more about my first experiences with Mme. P's Flexipans.

Among the plethora of recipes that Mme. P gave me try were three that caught my eye because 1.) of their simplicity, 2.) of their tasty ingrediants, and 3.) they would let me try all three of my new Flexipans.

The final products of all three recipes are shown
on the right. From the top down we have:
1.) Petits palmiers au saumon
2.) Petits flans aux poireaux
3.) Macarons

1.) Petits palmiers au saumon - or rather, puff pastry with smoked salmon and comte cheese. Hello simplicity! Roll out the puff pastry, lay the smoked salmon on top, sprinkle the grated cheese over the fish, roll from one edge to the middle then repeat on the other side. Cut like a pinwheel roll, bake at 220C for 15-20 and voila. The pre-dinner munching can begin! Now I admit, I broke one of my original rules here because I didn't make the puff pastry, but I know you'll forgive me because store bought takes approximately 30 seconds to unroll and homemade takes about 7 hours to complete. Not to fear though, I haven't given up my quest for the perfect pain au chocolat. As for the petits palmiers, I had a little trouble slicing them. I tried putting the roll in the fridge for awhile to firm it up, but this didn't accomplish much. Next time, I'll try a different knife (and hope that it's no longer 90 F outside!). The recipe says to flip the palmiers after half the cooking time has elapsed. I didn't (because I'd already burned myself once) and they were still great.

2.) Petits flans aux poireaux aka Little Leek Flans. The LLF's were great. Fabulous even. The Flexipan is a great quality - the little things just jumped out after they were baked! And they were so easy! Much like a quiche (at which I'm rather adept now - proud to say!), they're composed of eggs, heavy cream (creme fraiche), salt, and leeks. Cooks the leeks over medium heat for about 10 minutes, mix all together, pour in mold and bam! Flan! And no, contrary to popular belief, flans are not just for dessert; they are "open pies containing any of various sweet or savory fillings." As the French would say, "miam miam!"

3.) And finally, my poor little macarons. Now, we're talking here about macarons in the French sense of the word. No coconut, no chocolate. Instead, these gorgeous little cookies should look something like this. Mine obviously. . . do not. Don't get me wrong - they tasted great. They even tasted like they're supposed to taste. Macarons, according to this recipes, are composed of sifted ground almonds, powdered sugar (or rather sucre glace which is nearly equivalent to our powdered sugar), and egg whites. I beat those egg whites to stiff peaks by hand - who says cooking isn't a sport? Fold powders into egg whites without letting eggs fall, fill molds, bake and hope for the best! As I said before, these little delicacies (fait maison - homemade) tasted great but looked a wreck. I had a really hard time getting them out of the (adorable) heart-shaped molds. Now, Mme. P warned me that this mold was a lower quality than the other two I was using and wooooooh! did it show. Next time, I think I'm going to try greasing the little hearts with a little Pam or some Baker's Joy. Maybe that'll help? We'll see soon - I have enough almonds, sugar and eggs to try this recipe at least one more time!

So there it is, in grams, milliliters, and centiliters, yours truly has moved into the world of (easy) French recipes. What we've learned today?

1. Converting recipes is NOT easy. Find recipes that correspond to the measuring instruments at hand.
2. Flexipans are AMAZING. High quality ones are a must.
3. Buying puff pastry is ok.