Red Onion Chevre Tatin

I’m thrilled to be a guest over at Ann Mah’s Tuesday Dinner series with this easy red onion chèvre tatin recipe.

Ann inspired me to pack my bags and jump on the train to France’s gastronomic capital, Lyon. Reading her book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, you may just find yourself doing the same! When I met Ann in Paris we munched on macarons with chocolat chaud but today it’s virtual and savoury.

Red Onion Chevre Tatin

In short, this is one of my favourite savoury dishes that’s handy to make with basic ingredients I like to keep in the fridge and pantry. It’s also so easy that it’s not much of a recipe. By following a classic tarte tatin recipe (see Mango and Orange Tarte Tatin for example), you can make up your own creations using different fruit and vegetables.

This is a baked version of a French salade de chèvre chaud (packed with onions en plus) since it can be made easily in advance and popped in the oven while picking up the kids. It’s also great for all seasons and, depending on who’s sitting at the table, it can be dressed either up or down for something simple but oh-là-là effective.

Here’s the recipe but pop over to Ann’s website for the chatty part, which is far more interesting! It’s always a delight to see when someone has made the recipe.

Red Onion Chèvre Tatin

Serves 4 as a light dinner

Special equipment: a frying pan that can transfer to the oven

2 large onions
2 red onions
large knob of butter (30g)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp herbes de Provence
3 crottins de chavignol (fresh goat’s cheese)
1 ready-rolled puff pastry round (all butter is best)
Handful of walnuts

1.  Peel and cut the onions into thin slices. Meanwhile, over a medium-low flame, melt the butter with a dash of olive oil in a sauté pan that can be transferred to the oven. Add the onions to the pan and leave to soften and cook for 20 minutes, turning only once or twice to coat the onions in the butter and oil.

2.  Preheat the oven to temperature suggested on box of puff pastry.

how to make savoury tart tatin

An upside down tart so the cheese is hidden. Woah!

3. Stir the balsamic vinegar, herbes de Provence and salt and pepper into the onions. Slice the crottins of goat cheese in half horizontally and distribute them on top of the packed caramelised onions. Top with the large disk of puff pastry, tucking it in around the sides of the pan. Prick the pastry with the fork then transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.

4.  Remove from the oven. Place a plate larger than the pan over the top. Turn the tatin upside down quickly on to the plate.

Serve with a salad tossed in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and extra toasted walnuts.

onion chevre tatin

Make this tarte tatin with white onions, too, and serve with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Ideally, serve a wine from the Loire Valley since it’s The French region for goats cheeses. For a change from Sancerre, why not serve a Quincy?

That now makes two tatins at the table, ready for dinner tonight chez Ann Mah.

Bon Appétit! 

France’s Smallest River, Watercress Beds and Soup

As piles of neatly tied bouquets of watercress were stacked high at our local market last week for my Watercress Soup, they instantly conjured up scenes of the watercress beds, or Cressonnières, in Veules-les-Roses this summer. Come join me on a wee jaunt up the watercress road in the Pays-de-Caux in Upper Normandy.

With our all-time dream African Safari cancelled this summer due to my persisting back problems, we finally consoled ourselves and ventured out of Paris with a long weekend in Veules-les-Roses, a sleepy little town on France’s Normandy coast. Julie and Lucie took it like young adults, as the promise of the Big Five game animals were comically replaced by Normandy cows and curious cats looking for fishy leftovers from the seafood restaurants dotted along the town’s seafront.

Veules-les-Roses has two main attractions: it’s home to the smallest river in France, the Veules. It’s the shortest sea-bound river at 1.194 km (about 3/4 of a mile), along which there are three restored 18th Century watermills.

Also, at the source of les Veules river, lies the watercress beds, or Cressonnières. The clear running water’s current of Veules-les-Roses has favoured the cultivation of watercress since the 14th Century. Harvesting watercress is done here by hand with a knife and ties.

The watercress of Veules is known for its fine leaves, its particularly spicy taste and makes the perfect ingredient for a light and healthy soupe de cresson. Watercress is also useful, as it’s always in season.

 

The bunches of watercress that are formed during harvesting are called chignons, when the roots of the stalks come outside the bunch. Luckily these days, harvesting is done wearing rubber boots, rather than sodden feet steeped in 10cm of cold (about 10°C) water wearing clogs with heavy metal leggings!

watercress beds for soup

As Autumn now blows around Paris, comforting spoonfuls of healthy watercress soup help to prepare us for any sniffles or scratchy throats that niggle and nudge as November closes in on us, as it contains iron, calcium and Vitamins A and C.

watercress soup or French soupe de cresson

French Watercress Soup

Watercress Soup (Soupe au Cresson)

A large bunch of watercress
20g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
500ml water
250ml chicken (or vegetable) stock
Salt, pepper
2-3 tbsp cream (optional)

method for watercress soup

1.  Wash the watercress, drain and set aside.

2.  Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan and sweat the onion until cooked but not browned. Add the watercress with the stalks, roughly chopped potatoes and cover with the water and stock. Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook gently for 30 minutes.

3. Blitz the soup with a hand blender or in a food processor until smooth. If you prefer your soup less thick, then you could sieve at this point, although I personally love it with the fibre addition of the stalks.

If serving as an elegant starter dish, swirl in a dash of cream and why not surprise your guests with a mini MadMac herb macaron? The recipe is on page 97 of the book.

More on Veules-les-Roses coming up soon. Join in a festival with a difference…

White Asparagus French Clafoutis

When the asparagus season finally pokes its head out to say bonjour, it’s time to get totally asparagused. Hearing the calls of ‘Aspergez-vous!’ at our local market just outside Paris, I do what I’m told and end up buying so much asparagus that I could open a shop with all the elastic bands they’re bound in.

Weigh-laden with our usual favourites from Monsieur Dee’s poultry stall, I couldn’t help swooning over impressively fat, fresh white asparagus spears which are first to arrive pride of place from sun-kissed Provence.

It’s time to snap these asparagus stems. Snapping asparagus is easy when they’re fresh: they should be firm, have compact heads and not look dry at the stems. Just snap them where they break naturally, about 1/3 from the bottom. Ideally, eat asparagus fresh on the day, otherwise store white asparagus in the fridge for up to 4 days in a humid kitchen towel, heads upwards.

I love tossing fresh white asparagus in sage butter and serving simply with a crunchy baguette, but this is a warmer starter to welcome this chilly Spring. I discovered the recipe in a magazine last year featuring Eric Fréchon, chef at Le Bristol, Paris. But could I find the magazine that I’d painstakingly placed in a ‘safe place’ for this season? No (don’t laugh, Mum). Luckily, I jotted it down and see he’s written a book on Clafoutis.

Macaron lovers will be glad to note that it uses up FOUR egg yolks, but don’t be fooled: this is such a light way to start a meal – and it’s gluten free, too.

White Asparagus Clafoutis Recipe

Serves 4-6

Recipe Adapted by Eric Frechon, Author of Clafoutis.

Preparation Time: 40 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 minutes

1 bundle white asparagus (500 g /1 lb)
3 eggs
4 egg yolks
10 g (4 tsp) cornflour

300 ml /10 fl oz single cream
100 g /3 oz fresh parmesan, grated
Seasoning
Handful of pine nuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Wash the asparagus spears and snap them 2/3rds of the way down, where they break naturally. Peel them as close as possible to the spear heads. Keep the peelings!

2. Cut the asparagus in 3, reserving the spear heads.

3. Fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil with the asparagus peelings, adding a tablespoon of sugar (to reduce the bitterness).
When bubbling, remove the peelings and cook only the spears for 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon.

4. Using the same cooking water, drop in the rest of the asparagus chunks and cook for 7 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the clafoutis batter: mix the eggs, cornflour, cream, grated parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

6. Drain the asparagus chunks and, using a hand blender or food processor, mix the asparagus and cream together.

7. Pour into a non-stick tart dish and decorate with the asparagus spears. I like to sprinkle over some lightly toasted pine nuts for a crunchy texture.

8. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until golden.

 Note: If making individual versions, pour into 6 silicone briochette moulds and bake for only 20 minutes. Turn them out directly on guests’ plates for a posh but simple starter.

Enjoy this asparagus clafoutis either warm or hot from the oven and serve with a glass of chilled Pinot Blanc from the Alsace.

Cheers!

Now it’s your turn to snap them this Spring and become totally asparagused!

 Aspergez-vous!

Corsica on the Rocks and Savoury Macarons

Wild waves were crashing on the rocks off the west coast of Corsica last week. We were visiting family around Calvi and, as we were impatient for our fun little nephew to awake from his routine siestas, a windy walk along the ragged coast of Punta di Spanu was perfect to idle away the time.

There’s something rather spooky about the Genoese Towers dotted along Corsica’s dramatic coastline: echoing cries whistle in numbed ears from distant tower-keepers as they prepare for invaders to claim the Island of Beauty.

Corsican Maquis

If only I could have bottled the fragrance of the maquis for you. It’s a heady mix of wild rosemary, thyme, myrtle, wild cistus, laburnum, sage, mint and curry plants. Such an intoxicating mixture of salty, smoky, spicy perfumes come together as a herbal gingerbread smell.

Corsican maquis or shrub

It’s hard to imagine that just 15 minutes in the car inland and you’re already driving in the snow-capped mountains. Donkeys and goats grazing on the higher maquis-floored slopes make life seem at a completely different pace to city life as we know it.

San Antonino perched Corsican Village

San Antonino, one of the beautiful villages of France which inspired ‘l’Enquête Corse’

We were in the clouds. I found my hermit-like hideaway although judging by the look of the car fallen by the side of the mountain, there wouldn’t be much of a getaway too soon if I suddenly changed my mind. Tea in Montemaggiore? Pas de problème: there was even a tiny bar that could bring back the life in my cold hands with a hot cup of Lipton while the children had… ice creams. Well, that’s all there was and who would want it any other way?

Mountain scenes of Corsica

I had a confession to make: I had this burning desire to just drop everything and hijack the tea-room opposite the chapel up at the Citadel in Calvi. Who wouldn’t relish the views up there of the sea and the land, making macarons, fiadone (Corsican cheesecake) or éclairs all day and awash yourself with pots of tea? Or perhaps the local tipple, Cap Corse, an addictive bitter-sweet apéritif made with quinine?

Churches Calvi and Corsica

The photo (top right) is all that’s left of the house reputed to have been Christopher Columbus’ birthplace. What do you think?  Was he born in Corsica or Italy? Corsica, of Corse!

Our trip’s grand finale was dinner at the wonderful restaurant, U Fanale. The chef, Philippe Gouret delights visitors with a surprise of terre et mer, where land meets sea. At first I tried the starter of salmon and charcuterie, gingerly tasting the salmon first – but when I tried them both together it was just fantastic! Our friendly server introduced us to a newcomer wine from Calvi, le Clos des Anges. Unfortunately, the Irish winemaker, Richard Spurr wasn’t around during our visit but next time I’m dying to stock up on their white oily nectar.

Inspired by the chef’s ideas, I loaded up on Corsica’s famous charcuteries and as soon as we returned home, found some beautiful Scottish Salmon at the market. Served with slices of Lonzo (my favourite as it’s a filet cut without much fat) and marinaded julienne strips of chiogga beetroot (in olive oil and Xeres vinegar) to garnish, just like the chef had presented his starter dish.

My personal touch?  I added some finely chopped bits of Ariane apple and a beetroot and horseradish macaron (recipe in Mad About Macarons – there’s a whole chapter on savoury macarons.) It’s a Scot mac that meets Corsican land and sea in the middle. Or I should just have Jill and Antoine…

Land-a-hoy – or perhaps that should be Mac-ahoy!

 

Cremini Mushroom Cappuccino with Mini Macarons

Just look at this tray of healthy looking cremini mushrooms from the market – just perfect for a mushroom cappuccino. When I first bought mushrooms in France, it was amazing to see how they were sold with such large stalks and earthy feet as opposed to the pale, pre-packaged mushrooms presented in cellophane punnets looking as clean as a button in supermarkets.

Down to earth with organic mushrooms

As Autumn is winding its way around Paris, it’s high time to return to macaron madness with mushroom and truffle macarons. Have you tried savoury macarons?  In France, they’re great as an apéritif – my favourite part before the meal that has urged me to become more French over the last 19 years here. Serve with Champagne or a white wine from the Jura or an Alsacian Riesling but in this case, why not serve these mini macarons with the cutest little mushroom cappuccino for an amuse-bouche teaser or as a bigger appetiser/starter to a special meal? Surprise your friends.

French macaron mushroom

A Macaron Mushroom? It’s magic.

For the macaron shells, follow the basic recipe from the book (using less sugar – see page 97.) While beating the meringue to stiff peaks, add just enough brown (3/4 coffee spoon) with a slight hint of yellow (1/4) powdered colouring and a dash of cayenne pepper, then pipe out the macaron batter into the smallest, cutest rounds you can. Using a smaller, 6mm plain tip makes this easier.

how to make mushroom macarons

Getting the right mushroom colour meringue

To make the filling, sauté 100g cremini mushrooms until they sweat off all their liquid* and add them to 100ml whipping cream, infusing them over a low heat for 15 minutes.  Blitz with a hand blender or processor and add a dash of good quality truffle oil. Whisk an egg with 10g cornflour in a small bowl then add to the cream and mushrooms and keep whisking over a medium heat until the sauce thickens. Set aside to cool, then whisk in 20g softened butter then fill the macarons.

* Tip: fry the mushrooms in a dry, non-stick pan. There’s no need for any extra butter or oil. Keep sautéing them until they give off their liquid and you’ll end up with healthy, natural mushrooms that are concentrated in flavour (and not dripping in oil!)

how to make mushroom filling for savoury macarons

This mushroom cappuccino is full of flavour and complements the macarons well. I prefer using cremini or portobello (giant cremini) mushrooms since I find they have more flavour than the normal white button mushrooms. Adding the truffle crème fraîche on top with a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Van Houten 100%) just finishes off le cappuccino look. Here I used crème fraîche to make this quickly, but if you prefer frothing up some whipped cream, then this will have a more authentic look.

mushroom cappuccino

Mushroom Cappuccino Recipe

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 minutes

600g cremini or portobello mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
25g butter
1 litre chicken stock
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp crème fraîche
1 tsp truffle oil

1. In a large, high-sided pan, cook the onion over a medium heat in the butter without browning for about 5 minutes. Remove the onion from the pan then throw in the chopped mushrooms and sauté them until they give off all their liquid. Add the cayenne pepper and return the cooked onion to the pan.

2. Add the stock and leave to cook on the lowest heat until the liquid reduces by at least a quarter for about 30 minutes.

3. Blend and froth up the soup using a hand blender and season to taste.

Serve in coffee cups with a blob of crème fraîche mixed with some good quality truffle oil and dust with unsweetened cocoa powder; or what about dusting it with dried porcini mushrooms that have been whizzed in a spice grinder to create a concentrated mushroom powder?

mushroom macaron

Is there mushroom for macarons here?

The Cutest Wombat Bento Box by Pudding Pie Lane

I don’t watch TV much these days but I’m hooked on Top Chef. It showcases France’s up and coming professional chefs, as they battle it out in front of the daunting cameras – all sweat and tears to seduce the eyes and tastebuds of the discerning jury with their innovative dishes based on each set task. The jury? We’re talking Thierry Marx, Jean-François Piege, Ghislaine Arabian, and Christian Constant, s’il vous plaît. One of the surprising tasks last week was to come up with an artistic and healthily balanced bento box. The additional jury was even tougher this time: a group of sophisticated 8-year-old French children.

Bento boxes are something I only discovered recently by visiting Xinmei Wang’s blog, Pudding Pie Lane. If you don’t already know it, then I urge you to check it out. Xinmei’s creatively cute bento boxes are what first caught my eye, then I returned for more doses of her sense of humour. You get a glimpse into her life as a student while at Cambridge University. Yes, Xinmei is a clever cookie and in her spare time in between essay writing, she skillfully bakes and cooks up dishes not only on a limited budget but with the minimum of equipment, perfecting the art of getting by on a microwave. Let me hand you over to Xinmei.

Ever wondered how to be a food blogger as a student, meaning a very stretched budget? I like baking and everything I do is in my spare time (often procrastinating from writing my 10th essay of the term!) I study Economics at Cambridge so have never taken any courses related to baking or cooking, I’ve taught myself from various cookbooks, but occasionally like to make up my own recipes to ‘see what happens’. I especially love baking for my friends at Uni and more recently making bento boxes after I saw them on another site. Not only are they a (quite literally) healthy break from the cakes and cookies, but also look incredibly cute!

You may wonder how I manage to make this bento box in my tiny puny midget University kitchen (aka ‘gyp room’), with just a microwave, kettle and toaster. How did I cook the eggs? How did I boil the rice? And just how did I manage to make the wombat/bear/generic-furry-animal bento so astoundingly amazingly awesomely cute?

For the first two, that’s the Art Of Getting By On A Microwave. For the third one, well, that’s a secret 😉

At my University we’re all catered, so we have limited cooking means, and I’ve often had to make do. I don’t go to the hall to eat very often, however Harry Potteresque Cambridge University dining halls looks like (or should I say ‘however Cambridge-esque Harry Potter looks like!’). Maybe because we have to eat by candlelight at dinner every night. This may sound cool, but the novelty wears off when you’ve accidentally eaten sponge cake instead of chicken.

Not that I have ever done this. But anyway, I’m going to show you how you can make this bento in your very own box of a ‘gyp room’ so you can make one yourself!

You will need:

1. Rice! How to cook them in the microwave? Well:

  • Buy/borrow/find a pyrex bowl with a lid.
  • Put 1 cup of rice in it and rinse the rice. Soak with just over 1 cup of warm water for 15 minutes minimum (this is important!).
  • Microwave, with the lid on, on HIGH for 5 minutes.
  • Stir the rice around to get all the uncooked bits evenly distributed.
  • Do this two more times, or until the rice seems cooked when you stir it. It will depend on your microwave.

2. Eggs!

  • boil them in the kettle (see the bottom of this post). After it is boiled and cooked, separate the yolk from the white and mix it with the rice to colour it yellow. This makes said rice taste creamy and yummy.
  • You can even make scrambled eggs in the microwave by cracking them into a bowl, adding milk and seasonings, then microwaving in about 2 or 3 thirty second bursts (stirring between each one).
  • (I have, however, yet to figure out how to make eggs in the toaster.)

It’s a funny thing about eggs, because, well….

…please don’t judge me, but this one time, I went out to eat at a very posh restaurant where the menus have words like ‘mouli’ and ‘pousse café’. You see, one of the things was some chicken and ‘hen’s egg’ dish. And, seeing that, my thought process went something like this:

1)    Oooh! Hen’s egg! I’ve never had that before.

2)    I’m going to order it.

3)    That was very yummy.

4)    Wait a second.

5)    Hm.

6)    A hen’s egg is just an egg.

7)    Oops.

My friends have never let me forget that.
So moving swiftly on, here is a nice photo of the steps needed to make the wombat bento. You can put anything you like in the bento as extras, I have used random bits of veg, crabsticks, dumplings and pork fritters. You will also need:

  • Seaweed sushi nori for the eyes and mouth
  • Black sesame seeds for the eyelashes
  • Ham for the ears
  • A mushroom (I used a date instead, but you might find that a bit strange) for the nose
  • Ketchup for the cheeks

Et voila! You are done. I hope you like it!

Thanks so much, Xinmei. I think the Top Chef contestants could have done with checking out your bento box for their task last week, especially since one of the young jury members said she hoped to see a bento box with a cute bear’s head and none of them had this wombat beauty. The chefs could have also impressed the jury by telling them it was made with hens’ eggs! You know, I ate out in Paris last night (yes, hubby took me out after 7 months, bless him, so it was posh to shut me up) and the first item on the menu was…”oeuf de poule...” It cracked me up!

I say this is the cutest bento box but believe me, Xinmei has many more wonderful creations over at Pudding Pie Lane: check out her bento panda (‘Pandi’.) Please say hello from me and try not to make any hen jokes.