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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Roasted Quail stuffed with Figs, Walnuts, and Spinach

To welcome my special guests this week, I wanted to go fancy, but still I wanted to stay true to my own cooking.  The way I go about this is to buy things I've never cooked before, such as quail, but create the recipe as I go.  All I did was look up baking time for quail to make sure I wouldn't overcook or undercook it.  For the rest, into the heart of my inspiration and my pantry and came up with a stuffing I knew would be a crowd pleaser.
Serves 5
5 quails
3 large or 5 small shallots, chopped
few pinches fleur de sel
1 tsp dried thyme
drizzle olive oil + 1 Tbsp
250g (8.8oz) fresh spinach, rinsed
3 cloves garlic, chopped
pinch piment d'espelette
juice from 1/2 lime
250g (8.8oz) fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped
16 walnuts, shelled and lightly chopped
10 dried figs (depending on the size.. mine were big) chopped
5 cloves garlic, grated
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
few grinds black pepper
1.  Make the stuffing by mixing everything together so the ingredients are evenly coated and well distributed.
2.  Spoon the stuffing into the birds.  Fill them up as much as you can.  I ended up using my hands.  There is no better utensil than your own fingers.
 3.  Place the chopped shallots into a baking dish and arrange the stuffed birds on top.  I should have cooked them breast side down, but I forgot to flip them.  Sprinkle some fleur de sel, thyme, and pepper and then drizzle them with olive oil.
 4.  Bake at 200°C 400°F for 40-50 minutes, basting from time to time.
5.  While the baking is happening, sautée the spinach in a pan with the Tbsp olive oil and garlic.  Cook until it wilts and sprinkle it with lime juice and piment d'espelette.
Serve over the sautéed spinach.  I served mine with a mixed green salad as well.
My spinach was served 3 different ways.. baked inside the birds, sautéed under the birds, and raw in a salad alongside the birds.
Big hit, lovely flavors.. perfection.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tahitian Raw Fish - 'Ota 'Ika

Ever since discovering the existence of this traditional Tahitian dish from my Tahitian friend, I was waiting for the "right" moment to try it out.  Not that there is a "wrong" moment, but one must be attentive to the availability of fresh albacore tuna and tomatoes.  Spring is when white fresh tuna starts to make its appearance on the fishmongers stalls, and the price can vary, so it's always something to watch for.  The "right" moment just happened to coincide with the day I was hoping to make it and share the discovery with my family.  This blew us all away.  This Poisson Cru is made using a similar method as Ceviche or Poke, but in taste is completely different.  The idea is that the the fish and vegetables marinate in coconut milk and lime juice.  The lime juice slightly cooks it, as in Ceviche, but the coconut milk gives it an extra layer just as the soy sauce does in Poke where the very soul of the fish starts to sing to you, transporting you to a warm Polynesian beach with the locals dancing, hibiscus flowers in your hair, and your feet following the movement of the waves crashing...
This was the most pleasant discovery I've made in a very long time and I will be repeating it all through summer using different variations..of fruits and vegetables .. mmm mango!!
Serves 4-5 as a meal
600g (1lb5oz) fresh albacore tuna, cut into cubes
1 large carrot, grated
1 cucumber, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, grated
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped (optional)
1/2 can premium coconut milk (about 1 cup)
juice from 2-3 limes
few grinds black pepper
Thai chile for garnish (optional)
Stir everything together and reserve in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Serve cold as an appetizer alone
or as a meal along with hot basmati rice.
The hot rice is a must if this is to be a meal.  It soaks up the juices and provides an interesting contrast to the cold salad, adding yet another layer of happiness.

This is the most authentic version I could do without fresh coconut, but my Grace Premium Lait de Coco is the highest quality available here in my opinion.  I cannot wait to do this again!
This is something you can keep simple or make extra fancy, depending on the serving vessel and adornments.  I had to add the chile.. it's my personal drug..

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Asparagus on the Plancha

Life true cannot surpass the goodness of asparagus in all its splendor and freshness.
Tossed with garlic, lime juice, olive oil, piment d'espelette, and fleur de sel, then grilled on the Plancha on high for about 5 minutes, turning once, so that they are colored on the outside but still nice and crunchy..
.. and then served with some other plancha vegetables, gambas, and sardines.
My fishmonger asked me, "So you are feeling Spanish tonight?"
I said yes.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Green Puy and Carrot Daal

France takes pride as having an AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) on just about anything they think can only be produced on this land using its secret methods.  You can have AOC chickens, foie gras, chiles wine, champagne, cheese.. and even lentils.  This label is very territorial.  If you produce the exact same thing 5 meters from the border of the protected name of the region, you cannot have the prized AOC label.  It's not a bad thing, but it makes me laugh to find that really almost anything can have an AOC.  Lentilles du Puy are the prized French green lentil from the Puy en Velay known to be the "caviar of the poor."  Aside from lump eggs and black beluga lentils, I have to admit these green dainty little lentils do provoke a certain level of happiness.. especially when I pull them away from their traditional pairings of lardons and sausage and make them ultimately sublime in a simple Indian dal.
I could eat this way every single day of my life and be happy.
Actually, I eat this way quite often.. which is probably what makes me so naturally happy..
Serves 5-6 as a side
1 heaping cup green lentils du puy (not mung), soaked at least 1 hour
2 small carrots, grated
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp sea salt`
1/2 tsp turmeric
4 cups water
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
pinch asafoetida (hing)
2 dried red chiles
squeeze of lime for garnish
1.  Place everything but the seasoning in a pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, until lentils are tender.
2.  Meanwhile make the seasoning.  Heat the oil in a wok and add in the cumin and mustard seeds until they crackle.  Add in the hing and dried red chiles and cook for about 30 seconds.  Transfer to the simmering lentils.

I served mine with rice and Kerala Fish curry.
I also had some Cabbage Sambharo I added later and forgot to photograph in the lovely thali.

No matter how extravagant my other sides are.. my favorite part is always the daal.  
Hands down.
The Puy lentils are all they are hyped up to be.  
They are extraordinary little beings I'll be inviting into my body more often!

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Zucchini Sundried Tomato Feta Terrine

We are well into spring and it already feels like summer!
The mornings are still a bit nippy, but after oons and evenings are bathed in warmth and sunshine, with the slightest bit of outdoor time being a source of energy.  5 minutes in the sun is enough for my skin to absorb plenty of astral pleasure, making me feel happy and resourced, and excited for the upcoming family events.
I even crave cooling foods, which is a nice change from my soup moods.
I don't know where this urge came from, but I wanted to make a zucchini terrine.  I had this fruitcake-like image of red and green specks laced with feta and sliced like a loaf of bread.  I bought the zucchini with this idea in mind last week, and for a day or two it's been calling me, reminding me to use it before it starts to sadden.
This festive savory loaf image became reality with this terrine, into which I spread some crumbled mackerel to make it wholesome.
Serves 5-6 as an appetizer
4 eggs, well beaten
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk (I used goat)
2 zucchini, sliced into quarters
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tsp dried thyme
Pinch fleur de sel
1/2 tsp piment d'espelette
1/2 tsp black pepper grinds
1 can mackerel or tuna, deboned and crumbled
1 cup feta, cubed
Handful chopped sundried tomatoes
1.  Heat the oil in a sautee pan and add the zucchini slices, garlic, thyme, piment d'espelette, salt, and pepper.  Cook, stirring for about 5 minutes, then remove from heat and add the sundried tomatoes.
2.  In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, cream, and milk together.
3.  In a rectangular cake mould (mine was 30x10x10 cm or 12x4x4 in), place some parchment paper into the bottom so that it covers the sides as well.  Spoon in half the zucchini tomato mixture and sprinkle half the feta over it.
4.  Place the crumbled fish over the feta in an even layer, then repeat with the remaining zucchini mixture and feta.  Pour the egg mixture over it all.
5.  Bake at 165°C 335 °F for 55-60 minutes, then let cool about 20 minutes before unmoulding it onto a plate.   If you are using muffin tins or something remarkably more shallow, reduce the cooking time by half.  10 cm is pretty deep, so mine took a good hour.
6.  Slice and serve warm or cold, but not hot.

I served mine with some roasted asparagus and some salad and called it dinner.
It was exactly what I had been imagining.  Refreshing, nourishing, and full of flavor...
Asparagus is the best part of this season...

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Kerala Meen (Fish) Curry

I haven't been able to get to my kitchen and enjoy myself lately.  I've been either out of town or not home in the evenings enough to make a real therapeutic meal.  For me, the therapy starts from the craving, the evaluation of my inventory, the research of my basic idea, to see if it has already been done, and if so, what is it called, and then the preparation.  When I know what order I need to add in my ingredients, I like to set up the kitchen so I can enjoy te process.
The spices go next to the stove, the scrap bag goes next to my cutting board, the veggies are rinsed, and my knives are ready.  If there are scraps I won't be discarding (such as carrot peels), I start with those so I can distribute them to my dragons and my dog throughout the therapy.  I also like to start out sith a clean kitchen, meaning no dishes waiting to be done, and during the simmer surveillance time, I like to wipe down the countertops and wash my accessories I used to chop or peel so that when I'm ready to serve, the kitchen is clean again, save the few simmering items on the stovetop.  The more items need to be organized, the more it relaxes me to set up.  It builds up the suspense of the final product.  It relieves any stress I may have been accumulating, and it's one of the reasons I love cooking Indian and Chinese food so much.  Today, I knew I'd be making an Indian meal, and I knew it would be a meal that would calm me, but excite me at the same time.  A meal quick to put together, but full of suspense.  A meal that would nourish my soul as well as my body.. Of course it would be Indian!
This is a South Indian fish curry.  I like that many south Indian recipes use fish and coconut milk, which are rarely used in other Indian cuisines.  I find coconut milk and curry leaves to be very complimentary.. it is a perfect infuser.
Inspired by KeralaRecipes
Serves 4
500g (1.1 lb) fish filets, cubed (I used pollock)
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
6 medium or 4 large shallots, sliced
1 green chile, sliced (I used Moroccan)
6 cloves garlic, grated
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1 can coconut milk
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chile powder
1 tsp tamarind pulp
1 sprig curry leaves
Pinch fleur de sel
squeeze of lime
1.  Heat the oil in a wok and sputter the fenugreek and mustard seeds.
2.  Add the turmeric.  It should fizz, then add the green chile and sliced shallots.
3.  Cook the shallots until translucent, then add the garlic and ginger.  Cook, stirring for about 30 seconds or until the raw aroma disappears.
4.  Add the coconut milk, turmeric, chile powder, and tamarind.  Stir in the curry leaves and bring to a simmer.
5.  Add in the fish cubes.  Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and let sit for at least an hour.  This is the part where the flavors develop.  It can be made a day ahead of time.
6.  When ready to eat, bring to a boil to finish cooking the fish.  It should cook for a total of 10 minutes depending on the size of the cubes.  Taste and add a pinch of salt if needed.
Serve with a squeeze of lime and basmati rice...or in a thali with other pleasant things.  I served mine with some green Puy lentil and carrot dal as well.
These are the details that make my heart beat...

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Traditional Boeuf Bourguignon

I've been eating Boeuf Bourguignon for as long as I can remember.  My mother would make it as well as Coq au Vin (which is basically the same recipe, just swap the meat) as often as I wanted, even if I requested it all the time.  I never really thought of it as a French recipe growing up.  It was just normal food for me that I would make regularly myself in college and happily impress my guests (or passers by.. I didn't really have any criteria for having people eat at my table back then.)  Since I've been living in France, I haven't made it or even eaten it once.  I don't do i on purpose.  It's just that I feel I can have it whenever I want, so I don't go out of my way to make it.. and I end up never making it.
I also have a thing about serving French food to French guests in France.
The fact that it's been so long since I've made it makes me even forget that I have it in my repertoire.
A few weeks ago, I bought some wine that I didn't particularly like and was about to throw it away.  It makes me cringe to throw food away, especially if there's no real problem with it.  While trying to figure out who I could give it to instead of throwing it away, the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe came back to me... which made me wonder why I've been waiting so long to do this!
This dish is comforting to me in a reminiscent way.  The fact that I got the taste exactly how I was imagining it is even more of a treat.
The use of wine in this dish tenderizes the beef as it cooks, just as vinegar would, but without the crazy sour taste.  As it cooks, the alcohol evaporates so it is perfectly safe for children as well.  I should know, I've been eating it my entire life and I'm relatively sane as an adult.
So here, for once, I present a typically French dish (made famous by the American Julia Child).  I'm not cooking for guests, but it's probably one of the rare French dishes I wouldn't mind serving.
Serves 6-8
900g (2 lbs) stew beef, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
350g (12.3oz) cured or smoked pork belly, rind removed and sliced into lardons (sub bacon)
1 Tbsp olive oil (if needed)
2 medium onions, sliced into moons
2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp cracked black pepper
few pinches sea salt
3 cloves garlic, chopped
250g (8.8oz) mushrooms, washed and chopped coarsley
5 small or 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped coarsley
2 bay leaves
2 cups beef broth
1 bottle red wine (I used Corbières, but you should use Burgundy)
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 handfuls flat leaf parsley, chopped
1.  In a wok or heavy based pan, render your sliced lardons.  If you bought good quality, there shouldn't be much fat.  You want to get them nice and crispy.  Set aside and keep 1 Tbsp of the renderings in the wok.  If nothing rendered, add the olive oil.
2.  Add the onions and let them sweat, then add the beef, salt, and thyme.  You want each piece to color on all sides.  This can take about 10 minutes.
3.  When the beef is colored, add the lardons back in along with the flour.  Stir well to coat, then remove from heat.
4.  Transfer all but 1 of the handfuls of parsley into a slow cooker.  The liquid should be almost level.  This is the important part.  It must be simmered for a long period of time.  Some people do it stove-top, which takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  Some people put it in the oven on low temp, and others go the quick route and do it in a pressure cooker, under pressure for about 30 minutes.  I like the slow cooker route because you don't have to watch it like a hawk and you can go about your day, leaving the house if you need to without worrying.  Plus, the flavors are better when it simmers for a long time, even if a pressure cooker is quite handy.
Cook on low for at least 7 hours.
Serve garnished with the freshly chopped parsley over either pasta noodles, rice, or potatoes... and of course, with a glass of red.  I went the noodle route this time.
The broth is amazing in this.  You can get fancy and reduce some of the broth down to a thick sauce, but that's just not the way I'm used to eating it.

Don't worry, I'll be going back to spicy vegetarian very soon.. as soon as I finish all these lip smacking leftovers..

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Grilled Spring Vegetable Risotto with Buckwheat and Millet

I'm having a hard time sticking to seasonal produce.  I know bell peppers and zucchini are way ahead of their game for late march, carrots are still reasonable and asparagus is not French enough yet.. It's mostly from Spain or Turkey.
But I can't help it!  These things all want to come home with me every single shopping trip!  I don't have the heart to tell them "no," especially when I know how much satisfaction they will be giving me.  What am I supposed to do?  It's not like I never eat cabbage and apples.  I want bright green springy colors!  Plus, I've been really good about not buying tomatoes.  I'll buy canned or dried when they're not in season and I have the urge.  I just can't resist the rest.  I love grilled zucchini and roasted peppers.  I could binge on them for weeks.  Add asparagus to the party and make me smile.  Top with some purple carrots and sundried tomatoes and make me shine...
With all that in mind, I have a bag of millet I've been meaning to use, but didn't quite know what to do with.  Ah yes.. risotto it!  My Italian friends would freak out if they knew what I was calling "risotto" without using arborio or carnaroli rice, but it's the method that makes it a risotto in my opinion.  Aside from the buckwheat and millet instead of rice, the rest is perfectly in tune with what any Italian would call a risotto.  Why don't I ever do it the "normal" way?  Well, I just never have that kind of rice on hand.  I usually have a wide variety of pulses, beans, and grains and the only rice I usually have is basmati or red.. which would probably be even more of a sacrilege, wouldn't it?
Serves 5-6 as a side
3/4 cup buckwheat bulgur
1/4 cup millet
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 cup Guiness (or wine if GF)
zest from 1 lime
3 cups hot chicken or veg broth
1 purple carrot, peeled sliced, and griddled
1 red bell, roasted and peeled
1 bunch asparagus, roasted
1/2 cup green peas (mine were frozen)
6-7 sundried tomatoes, diced
1 handful parmesan
lots of cracked black pepper
chopped parsley for garnish
1.  In a wide, heavy based pan, heat the oil and add the buckwheat and millet.  Coat, allowing to toast a bit for 2-3 minutes, stirring, then add the Guiness and wait until it absorbs.
2.  Add in the lime zest.  Then, as you would with a normal risotto, ladle in the hot broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and continue to stir while doing this.  Do this on medium heat until all or most of the broth is absorbed.  Taste and make sure the millet is cooked.
3.  Jazz it up.  Stir in the veggies, parmesan, and load it up with black pepper.  Keep some vegetable odd and ends for decoration if you are so inclined.  Garnish with chopped parsley
I served alongside some Faith Cakes and Marinated Sardine Filets.

Risotto with buckwheat just makes sense.  The starch factor is ever present, and it has a very large absorption capacity.. plus that nutty flavor is so pleasant I just like to put it everywhere.
The millet was a nice touch.  I usually mix bulgur with quinoa, so this wasn't too extreme and the taste was not distinct, considering all the other good stuff that went into the dish.  It may have helped to keep it compact, for millet tends to solidify when cooked.  I'm curious to do other things with this little bit of human seed...

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