Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sweet Red Pepper & Green Bean Pakoras

These will always be known chez nous as thunder blackout fritters. Last night as I just was going to shallow fry some pakora batter a tremendous clap of thunder occurred, and then the lights went out. Dirac the kitten was playing with a clove of garlic around my feet before this surprise événement. From the sounds of it, he still was. I stayed put because I didn't want to stomp on him. The Calm One's well, calm, voice boomed out from the dark depths of the house, are you two OK? Being informed of the situation, he quickly did what was needed to be done, and there was light once again. Into the fry pan the fritters did go!

The flower is a blue cranesbill

All the Piments doux très long des Landes in our potager have turned red encouraging me to come up with recipes containing them. There is also a late flush of young, tender, and very slender green beans.

The snap beans are a bush French variety:  haricots nains extra fins de bagnols

Adding some corn starch to the pakora batter is something that several cooks knowledgeable in Indian cuisine have told me will make these fried goodies nice and crisp. They are absolutely correct as I did some with and without. I regard proper frying closer to steaming and am never reluctant to go the sizzle route.

Chick pea flour is fantastic, I love its pale yellow colour!

makes around twenty five 3 inch fritters

Chick pea flour, 8 fluid ounces
Cornstarch, 2 fluid ounces
Water, 6 fluid ounces
Salt, 1/2 tsp
Red pepper, sweet, thinly sliced, 4 fluid ounces
Green beans, finely sliced, 4 fluid ounces
Garlic, crushed, 1 tsp
Ginger, finely minced, 2 tsp
Hot red pepper flakes, a large pinch, more if you want HOT
Garnishes/Accompaniments: fleur de sel, lime slices, chutney, yogurt
Enough fresh frying oil like sunflower or canola to cover a skillet a 1/2 inch with it; if you have already used oil, add about a tablespoon of that into the pan

Mix the first four ingredients with a spoon then switch to a whisk and blend until the smooth consistency of a pancake batter.

Add the next five ingredients and stir.

Heat the oil. To test for the right temperature, insert the handle of a wooden spoon to check if a continuous stream of tiny bubbles is being made.

For safety, use a tablespoon to measure the batter (make sure each spoonful has enough veggies in it) into a long-handled ladle and then carefully pour that amount into the oil. Leave enough room between the fritters so they will not touch each other. In my eight-inch skillet, I was able to make seven pakora at a time.

Fry for about a total of four minutes, two minutes on each side. Check the oil temperature for each batch; if too hot the bubbles will be large during the wooden spoon test. Fish out the tiny bits that break off the fritters during frying after each batch or else someone may rush into the kitchen wondering what's that burning smell. Blot the finished pakora well with paper towels.

I use a metal skimmer for turning and scooping them out

They are best when piping hot, but I had no problem polishing off the still crisp leftovers straight from the fridge the following day. They were very much like thick veggie chips. A sprinkling of fleur de sel is a nice touch as is serving them with chutney or lime slices.

The bits of red and green are a cheery colour combination. 

Not to mention dipping them in yogurt is very refreshing!

Our garlic player, Dirac, continues to grow. When having a timeout from his strenuous kicking of cloves, he sits in the rocking chair near my computer. When he gets bored, he notices his reflection in the full length mirror close by and charges right into it like the determined athlete that he is.

À la prochaine!


Fusilli with sweet red peppers, garlic, and capers

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fresh Raspberry Maple Oatmeal Bars & Cream Cheese Icing

One recent cool day, our neglected oven abruptly demanded, turn me on! But what to bake? The raspberry bushes energetically nodded, us of course! Harvesting yielded just two cups and before I could think that was not enough for serious baking, the smallish and exceedingly stylish ceramic casserole that my sister-in-law and I agreed was a must have when we went to Emmaus* during her visit from Britain a few weeks ago, breathlessly uttered, use me, my dear!

These juicy, fruity, buttery bars make a wonderful dessert...or breakfast...or brunch...or snack. Their flavour stands up even after they spend the night in the fridge.

(makes six 2 x 2.5 inch rectangles if using a 5 inch x 6 inch dish though recipe can be doubled and doubled again necessitating a 8 inch x 8 inch pan for the former and a 9 inch x 12 inch one for the latter)

Flour, white, plain, 4 fluid ounces
Oatmeal, 4 fluid ounces
Sugar, white, 2 fluid ounces
Maple syrup, 1-2 T
Baking soda, a large pinch
Salt, a small pinch
Cinnamon, a large pinch
Nutmeg, freshly grated, a small pinch
Butter, sweet, softened, 4 T

(makes about 8 fluid ounces of filling plus around 3 fluid ounces of juice for the icing)
Raspberries (reserve 6 for garnishing), fresh, 16 fluid ounces
Sugar, white, 1-2 T
Lemon juice, freshly squeezed, 1 T

Strained raspberry juice from cooking the berries, around 3 fluid ounces
Icing sugar/confectioner's/powdered, around 2 T or to taste
Cream cheese, 2-3 T, more can be added for thicker consistency
Raspberries, 6

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Take butter out to get to room temperature. Add the maple syrup to the sugar.

It's a nice substitute for brown sugar

Rinse the berries. I tossed in the few strawberries remaining in the potager.

Strawberries were coarsely chopped, the raspberries were left whole

Heat gently all the filling ingredients, mashing them a bit as they cook for around two minutes. Reserve.

Mix all the dough ingredients except the butter together.

Work in the butter. Using my fingers, it took me about five minutes. The mixture needs to look like coarse, damp sand.

When properly mixed, the dough will clump if a small amount is pressed in your hand.

Spread ten fluid ounces of dough into a generously buttered pan. Firmly press down.

Spoon the strained berries and spread them 1/4 inch from the edges of the dough so the side of the bars will mostly stay dry making it easier to remove from the dish.

Scatter the remaining over the top and lightly press down.

Bake around 35 minutes or until nicely browned.  As the kitchen is being suffused with the most appetising aroma, make the icing. Strain the berry juice through a fine sieve.

Add the powdered sugar and cream cheese. Start mixing with a spoon, mashing the cheese. When almost smooth, switch to a wire whisk. Put in the fridge; when cold, it thickens.

Let the cake cool completely before cutting into bars.

Top with a dollop of the icing and a raspberry.

The icing added an appreciated creaminess to the crunch.

Dirac, after being with us for three weeks, is putting on weight. Not only does Dirac love his food, he also loves our food, and so fervent is this love that he kisses us after we finish a meal especially if there was cheese in it.

If any fingers recently have handled butter, he ensures that they will be clean in no time flat. His meow is closer to a cranky sheep's baah which when Dirac is being denied butter and confined inside lasts for a very long while.

Because of Dirac's over-eager mouth, pens, the more fragile of computer cables, anything really, is put away and put away in such a rush that we have no idea where we have put them. In a way, it is packing, but we have no place to go!

À la prochaine!

*All of us, that is, four adults and two kids had agreed to meet at a designated spot around closing time. One adult did not show up. So another adult went into the cavernous main building to see if any help was required. A few minutes passed and yet another adult decided to check the situation out. Noting the concerned faces of my nephew and niece, I solemnly promised, The building that eats adults will not get me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fusilli with Sweet Red Peppers, Garlic, and Capers...and Dirac the kitten

Late summer is when pepper harvesting begins as it takes a long time for green peppers to blush deeply and to develop the mellow flavour I prefer.  Piments doux très long des Landesour southwest region is known for this varietyare mildly piquant if green but sweet when crimson. Their two-in-oneness allows staggered picking: I leave half on the plants to mature and resort to freezing if there is a surplus of either kind.

Straight from our potager

While the pasta is cooking, cut rinsed peppers in half and remove seeds. Slice thinly. Mince a clove or two of garlic. Drain a tablespoon or so of capers. Heat up a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and gently saute the peppers for a few minutes or until nearly tender. Add the garlic along with the capers and cook for a minute or so longer.  Keep aside a few tablespoons of cooking water when draining the pastathis little trick works so well to smooth out the oil or butter I always regret when I forget to do it. Add the reserved water and pasta into the skillet with the peppers. Simmer while stirring for a minute or until the water has evaporated. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

This easy-to-do meal was exceedingly satisfying and delicious!

Don't be shy with the freshly grated Parmesan!

What to do with ripened-on-the-vine tomatoes direct from your garden?  Not much. 

Burpee Delicious did well in our potager this season

Sprinkling sourdough rye with olive oil and thyme, then layering on tomato slices topped with some more thyme is all that is needed to envelop me in bliss. The juices are easily absorbed by the bread making such eating not only a tasty affair but also a neat one.

Fleur de sel would not be amiss either.

Blueberries, raspberries, and to a lesser degree, strawberries, continue to be harvested.

Again, with homegrown produce, simple preparation goes a long way.

Sugared and creamed!

In the freezer, there was a remaining bag of strawberries harvested from the previous season.

Coffee ice cream smothered in syrupy strawberries topped with crème chantilly

A colleague of The Calm One brought us some of his mother's Gâteau Basque, a 'dry cake' originating in the region from where his maternal family hails. Usually filled with either pastry cream or cherry jam, this one had frangipane. Its deeply carmelised crust, dense, heavy but moist crumb, and fragrant almondy goodness was almost more pleasure than I could take but with courage on my side I bravely finished it all and in record time too!

The Calm One in his capacity as the butler chez nous answered the doorbell when it rang one sunny day a couple of weeks agoEnough time passed to make me curious necessitating a furtive peek which revealed The Calm One holding a frisky kitten. He also was holding an animated conversation with a teenaged girl standing behind the front gate. How silly, I thought, she is trying to convince him to take the mewling one. As if we could have said no.

Looking at that visage automatically removes the word no from one's vocabulary

Dirac, named after the legendary scientist* when a professional opinion of our kitten's correct gender made my first choice of Daphne a no-go, did type his name at the keyboard like his much beloved predecessor, Dayo, had done. However, it remains unknown as he cleverly used a password data field. This mysterious name is way longer than the one I chose! Often I find myself vocalising the first syllable Dir but following it with ee, that is, Dearie.

A kitten and his keyboard

After some research I identified his magnificent coat as being a full tabby of the blue mackerel persuasion. If that beauty was not enough, Dirac's eyes has gone the hazel route. His preferred toys are garlic cloves which he noisily bats one by one around the house. When the clove gets lodged behind some unsurmountable barrier, he jumps onto the kitchen counter and fetches fresh prey from the basket where I put them after he gleefully has separated a whole head or two or three.

A forlorn clove

Telling him to be sparing because this season's harvest has been meagre is to no avail.

Some representatives from our abundant onion but small garlic harvests along with sour dough rye bread

Meanwhile, our place being booby trapped with countless, odouriferous nodules makes the vacuum cleaner tremble.

That couldn't be a garlic clove between his paws, now could it?

As much as we can discern, he was abandoned causing him to become way too bony and infested with fleas. He is filling out nicely and is now free of bloodsuckers thanks to the excellent care given by his vet who has concluded that our three-month-old garlic player will grow up into a large, undoubtedly male, and needless to say, beautiful cat.

His demi-doppelgänger is Sliver, a plush dolphin

His becoming so robust is a bit hard to accept right now, but his sizable ears and paws along with the length of his skinny legs indicates that well may be his destiny. Additionally, family visiting from Britain all said that he was awfully big for a kitten his age. We'll see. But we all agree that he is super soft to the touch.

His pale golden glow is referred to as the patina of the blue mackerel tabby

In the garden, my success at weeding has much to be desired because with still plentiful rain, as soon as I pull some, their replacements already are popping up.

Peeking through tilted shutters while watching the garden getting drenched

The wild area is flourishing as its various critters with all this moisture.

That is most likely a moth caterpillar scrambling on some brambles

I was careful not to let my skin brush against it as orange, black, and white stripey colouring could indicate contact toxicity.

It's about four inches long and has what are called crochets to hook itself on the leaf!

Once Dirac gets snipped and vaccinated, the garden will become part of his territory.

À la prochaine!


Green piments des Landes can be used in Piperade
Green piments des Landes go well in smashed potatoes
Thaumetopoea pityocampa


Freezing peppers
Wikipedia article on caterpillars
Aposematism: warning colouration
The Gateau Basque Museum

*Paul Dirac though considered to have been problematically taciturnhis Cambridge colleagues with great amusement defined a unit of a dirac as being one word per hourwas able to express himself with such finesse and clarity that the end product was gracious wit: Another story told of Dirac is that when he first met the young Richard Feynman at a conference, he said after a long silence, "I have an equation. Do you have one too?" Now if that is not playing nice I don't know what is.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Gone Swimming!

Les grandes vacances are here, and we are travelling, hosting guests, and most importantly, goofing around.

How to make this plaque? Go here

Here's wishing for a high level of goofiness chez vous also. Souped-up Garden will be back before the end of summer, bien sûr!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Parfait Breakfast/Brunch: Layered Maple Cinnamon Granola, Yogurt & Blackberries

Figuring out what to do with our potager's largesse of plump, juicy, and zingy blackberries had me momentarily stumped. I first chose a colour scheme based on what is available and what would go together taste/texture-wise: a delectable brown=cocoa yogurt, a scrumptious gold=maple cinnamon oat granola, a passionate purple=blackberry coulis, a dramatic black=blackberries, and an alluring pink=yogurt mixed with a few drops of coulis. Then I mused about what kind of container? A fancy, tall dessert dish, replete with pedestal or a sturdy, hard-working canning jar which could easily keep its lid on if needed? The latter won, spoons down!

Our hibiscus bushes are in full bloom!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/177 degrees C. For one large serving -- I used a 200 ml jar -- mix several large handfuls of oat flakes with about 1/2 tsp of cinnamon.

Add about 90 ml/3 fluid ounces of maple syrup. Adjust to taste -- aim for moderate sweetness, a definite tang of spice, and an uniform light moisture.

Spread mixture on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake about fifteen minutes or until nicely toasted, stirring with a large wooden spoon or with a spatula every five minutes. Let cool and pour into a storage jar.

Wash several handfuls of blackberries. Reserve one third for the parfait, saving the best one for a garnish, and the remaining two-thirds for the coulis.

To make the coulis, roughly puree the reserved amount either in a blender/processor or with a hand-held mixer. Work the puree in a fine-meshed sieve placed over a bowl until the berries are more dry than wet. Discard the sieved material and reserve the coulis. Sweeten to taste with confectioner's/icing sugar.

If you just have regular yogurt, and not Greek-styled, then drain about 250 ml in a fine-meshed sieve placed over a bowl, cover, keep in the fridge for least a few hours and if possible overnight for the best results.

Divide it in two equal portions. Flavour one with unsweetened cocoa powder. Though it could be sweetened with confectioners sugar, be careful not to go overboard as the coulis and granola are already fairly sweet additions.

This tasted like pudding!

Tint the other with a bit of the coulis until pink and sweeten with icing sugar if so desired.

Assemble together all ingredients and jar(s).

When layering, make sure it touches well the inside of the jar without any air pockets so it can be seen from the outside. Start with the cocoa yogurt (keep aside a heaping tsp for garnishing).

Then comes a sprinkling of granola, berries which are pressed against the sides of the jar so as to be visible from the outside, and another scattering of granola. Drench it all with a good deal of coulis. If a more creamy texture is preferred, then use less granola.

Next comes the pink yogurt.

Repeat with the cereal, berries, and coulis. Top with a dollop of the cocoa yogurt and a nice fat berry on its side.

The parfait's pleasing combo of tastes is accompanied with a nice contrast in texture.

I ate just one vertical half, and the rest got lidded and put in the fridge. By next morning, the granola had softened and absorbed more of the flavouring. It was a delight!

À la prochaine!