Thursday, November 26, 2015

Experimenting With Warm Veggie Dips: Broccoli & Sweet Red Pepper

Scheduling the main meal for the two of us in early afternoon allows my playing around with ingredients in the evening while giving The Calm One an opportunity to sate his grazing instinct with his favourite nibbles from the fridge and cupboard.

Browned a bit, puffed somewhat, bound-with-cheese & hot from the oven

Working on a recipe is both frustrating and gratifying, and in that regard, messing about in the kitchen resembles life in general. The chagrin comes from noting the inevitable gap between an ideal concept and the real deal; the reward results from lessening that difference as much as possible.

Broccoli, sweet red pepper, garlic & fennel (the herb) all came from our potager

A warm dip is more adapted to the winter months than its cool counterpart, but they both share the tasty function of accompanying crackers, chips, breads, and crudités.  The last of the frozen Roasted Sweet Red Pepper Garlic Dip which I had made from the late-summer harvest and some broccoli fresh from our autumnal potager provided a colourful foundation.

Roasted sweet red pepper/garlic, cream cheese, fennel the herb, olive oil & lemon juice

Adding grated Parmesan and Edam, along with cream cheese and mayonnaise, and mixing well, brought it up to potential warm dip status.

Spreading the mixture in a pie plate and then baking for about thirty minutes in a 150 degrees C/300 degrees F oven until golden brown were the next steps.

A mound of this dip is not exactly an unyielding rock, but neither does it move like unctuous lava intent on lavishing grilled sourdough rye among other worthy dipping partners which was my envisioned goal when choosing the ingredients.

Dip & Swedish flatbread

The lack of ooze probably is caused by stolid Edam's inability to pull off molten lusciousness. A nicely aged cheddar would have been up to the challenge, but there wasn't any in the house. Also topping with additional cheddar five minutes before taking it out of the oven will boost the dipping factor. But it was good enough and its flavour held even when eaten cold.

Dip & corn chips

Ingredients for Broccoli & Sweet Red Pepper Warm Dip Experiment
(Tablespoons are level not heaped!)
  • Broccoli florets, finely chopped, 170 grams/6 dry oz, if less crunch is desired, parboil first
  • Parmesan, finely grated, 4 T
  • Cheddar, finely grated, 8 T
  • Roasted red pepper/garlic spread (recipe here), 2 T or substitute minced sweet red pepper/garlic/fennel the herb/lemon juice to taste
  • Onion, finely minced, 2 T
  • Cream cheese, 8 T
  • Mayonnaise, 8 T (substitute more cream cheese for some of the mayo if you want a less oily dip)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (go easy on the salt if using salty crackers/chips

Dirac the Young Cat meanwhile had no trouble embracing an effortless furry flow state . . .

. . . of tail meeting back paws.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Scouting Out Montbron

The Calm One will be giving a series of educational workshops culminating in a December treasure hunt for adolescents in Monbron. In preparation for that, we tootled off east of Angoulême for a fifty-minute drive in our electric car to check out the village of about two-thousand inhabitants. Parking the Zoe near Le Vieux Château, we started our exploratory walk.

My scooting down the steep steps flanking one side of the château and leading to the ville basse (lower village) provided a vantage point from which to see the monumental structure. It was built in the 15th Century within the remparts from stones of an earlier and destroyed château. Modified through the centuries and renovated by the town, it serves as a venue for municipal events and activities.

At the bottom of the stairs, the streetlights of the old quartier are shaped like golden lanterns which most likely provide a beautiful glow at night.

Note the orange and black lantern on the pigeonnier: shadow or painting?

Since the day was a jour férié (a national holiday, in this case, Armistice Day), it was just us and few others ambling about the winding streets.

Green garden gates are perfect cheery companions for narrow streets...

...ditto for pots of bright geraniums.

Eating fish on Friday (Vendredi), once mandated for Catholics by the Vatican, remains a part of the culinary culture in this region. But with a British twist.

The lower village slopes into countryside.

Succulents thriving in a rock garden

The surrounding Tardoire river valley consists of rolling hills presently tinted a mellow green and gold. 

That patch of bare earth is a veggie garden put to rest for the winter

Montbron and its environs have many points of interest and one are artisan flour and walnut oil mills in the Bandiat and Tardoire valleys. Another is the Vignoble de Saint-Sornin  from which is produced the vin de pays charentaisI can't wait to come back.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Soup

All the heads of broccoli have been harvested so it's time to make a copious amount of Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Soup. Thickened with a cheese sauce lightly flavoured with garlic and cayenne, this soup has both a delicious taste and velvety texture. 

Garnished with deep-fried young broccoli leaves and cheddar shavings

The headless plants however will keep putting out delectable side shoots until the first killing frost.

The numerous shoots add up to lots of broccoli for fried rice, pasta & fritters

makes 6 ample servings

  • Broccoli, 4-5 heads, trimmed of any woody stems 
  • Garlic cloves, slightly smashed, 3
  • Potatoes, all-purpose, medium, 2
  • Water to cover the veggies, around 710 ml/24 fluid oz
  • Cheddar, grated 473 ml/16 fluid oz
  • Cayenne pepper flakes or tiny whole dry peppers to taste (I use a v small amount)
  • Flour, white, 5 T
  • Butter, sweet, 4 T
  • Milk, 473 ml/16 fluid oz
  • Additional milk for desired consistency
  • Olive oil for coating broccoli
  • Broccoli leaves, a small handful
  • Cheddar slivers for garnishing
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 177 degrees C/350 degrees F. Line a shallow baking pan with parchment. Rinse and coarsely chop the broccoli. Spread on pan in single layer and toss with enough olive oil to coat well. Roast for about twenty minutes until lightly browned.

Place the roasted broccoli in a pot along with the peeled and coarsely chopped potatoes. Cover with water and simmer for about fifteen minutes or until all the veggies are very tender.

Meanwhile make the cheddar sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan and over low heat stir in the flour till smooth which takes about a minute or so. Pour in the milk slowly, all the while stirring. Whisk out any lumps. Add the garlic cloves and red pepper flakes or tiny small peppers. Simmer until thickened which takes about five minute. Remove the cloves and whole peppers if using. Toss in the cheese and stir until melted. Reserve.

Using a stick blender, puree the broccoli until the texture is more silky than not. Add a ladle of the blended broccoli into the cheese sauce and stir. Add another and stir. Then stir the cheesy broccoli sauce into the rest of the broccoli. If necessary, add more milk to get the consistency desired. Season to taste and keep warm. Put enough veggie oil (not olive) in a small saucepan for the broccoli leaves to float and heat until sizzling. Throw in some of the broccoli leaves. After a couple of minutes, remove and repeat until you have deep fried all the leaves. Garnish the soup with cheddar slivers and leaves.

The deep-fried  broccoli leaves add crunch and umami

Both in and outside the potager, foliage colour is much more vivid than in past seasons.

Golden feathery asparagus stems with red berries & burgundy abelia leaves

The veggie beds are still being weeded and mulched with leaves. Five of the eleven annual ones are done. Hopefully the dry and windless weather registering around 18°C/65°F will continue for a week or so. Any head start for late winter planting which occurs in just several months will make that rather frantic time less demanding.

Slowly decomposing oak leaves give off the most wonderful woodsy scent

One of Dirac the Young Cat's favorite kitchen spots is an overturned, large crock placed in front of a window overlooking the potager.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

From Our Autumn Potager: Golden Acorn Squash & Broccoli Recipes

Golden acorn squash, resembling small pointy pumpkins, were harvested mid-October and will store well in our cool, dark cellier for several months.

An easy way to prepare this tasty and nutritious veggie is roasting. Scrub well, halve, scrape out the fibrous mass of seeds, rub cut ends with melted butter, sprinkle some dried thyme over them, and then roast cut side down on a parchment-lined pan in a 400 degrees C oven for about forty minutes or until fork tender and carmelised. C'est tout. Though I usually just cradle in my hand a warm squash-half adorned with a flourish of fleur de sel while spooning its luscious innards straight into my mouth, one could scoop out the cooked flesh and then mash, salt to taste, and serve this lovely mound of goodness as an accompaniment to fish, chicken, pork, lamb, or beef. Additionally it can be used as a spread mixed with some crumbled blue cheese for grilled bread.

A slightly more involved approach is first peeling and cubing it into small pieces. Saute the cubes along with garlic, thyme, and some greens if desired, like kale or young, small broccoli leaves in olive oil. After a few minutes, add a tablespoon of apple cider or sherry vinegar diluted with several tablespoons of water or meat/veggie broth. Dry white wine can be subbed for the diluted vinegar. If there are any cooked lentils hanging about, they can be added. Simmer covered for about fifteen minutes, adding more liquid if needed, until tender and lightly carmelised. Salt to taste. Sprinkle on some freshly grated Parmesan if desired. This melange can be eaten as a stew or it could be mixed with pasta or served on cous cous.

Good to the last morceau!

Broccoli, fresh from our potager, is slightly sweet, especially the stalk.

I am immensely proud of this beauty!

Though this is the third season of my growing calabrese broccoli, this is the first time that the heads came out so large and densely packed with buds.

I thinly slice the small leaves, adding them to minestrone & stir-frys

It's a lovely addition to pork fried rice. Rinse the broccoli and lop off the florets with a sharp knife as you work up the head. Slice fairly thinly this now denuded part of the stalk, discarding the rest. Julienne the slices. Heat up some vegetable oil (not olive) till sizzling in a large fry pan or wok. Using some thin strips of pork leftover from a roast, stir fry them for a minute or two until slightly browned. Remove and reserve. Toss in first the sliced stalk and stir fry for a couple of minutes, then add the florets and stir for another two minutes or so. If you want more tender broccoli, add a tablespoon or so of water, cover, and steam for a few minutes. Remove and reserve. Heat more oil if necessary and saute briefly some minced garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Push them aside in the pan and pour in a beaten egg, stirring constantly till you get tiny cooked bits which usually takes about a minute. Add cooked rice (I use brown) and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Add the pork, broccoli, and soy sauce. Give it all a good stir.

The main activity in the potager is preparing beds for late winter/early spring planting which involves weeding and then covering with oak leaves which are roughly chopped with a spade and kept wet. This mulch takes about a full year in our climate to become moisture-retentive leaf mould so by next fall it will be fully decomposed and can be incorporated into the soil. Then a new layer of leaves hauled via our electric car from a nearby oak copse will be placed on the beds. In a few months, the mulch will be moved aside temporarily so lettuce, spinach, onions, garlic, beets, carrots, parsnips, peas, leeks, bare-root strawberries & early potatoes can be planted.

The broccoli bed is in the upper left

Potted mums are great for an accent of colour here and there. That planter was done fifteen years ago! It still is thriving and have provided many cuttings for new plants.

Culinary sage is in the forefront

Dirac the Young Cat, a muscular, adventurous, energetic feline, is allowed to go out at night if he so wishes except during storms, Halloween, and on Firecracker Day, July 14. If so, it is not uncommon for him to sleep in all the following day, preferably way on top of the elm wall unit.

His tail is pointing to the volume that contains the entry on tigers

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, The Calm One, our electric car, and I all tootled off to Aubeterre sur Dronne which is about a thirty-minute drive southeast from chez nous. Aubeterre, a lovely village of about four-hundred inhabitants, is nestled along a chalk bluff above a loop of the Dronne River and has been listed as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France since 1993. Our visit was an information-gathering one focused on identifying what pleases us the most. Well, everything pleased us. We will be back!

Crêperie de la Source not only gets terrific reviews for its menu and friendly, attentive service, but also for fabulous terrace seating overlooking the countryside.

Closed, but we shall return for the tapas, savoury galettes, creamy tarragon chicken...

Seeing hot-pink cascading geraniums hanging from a bracket fixed to a stone house soothed me as much as my catching muted conversation drifting from various sidewalk cafes situated in nearby Place Ludovic Trarieux.

The ubiquitous white limestone inspired the village's name: alba terra = white land

Someday I will find out the history of this intriguing house with its even more intriguing sashed dormer window.

Saint-Jean is an underground, monolithic church whose earliest beginnings date from the 7th century. Many pilgrims on their journey to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain visited this prominent reliquary.

The village, as it is built into steep terrain, has haute (upper) and basse (lower) divisions. We started our walk halfway between the two and could see the remnants of le château d'Aubeterre above and...

...and the countryside below.

Deciding not to fight gravity, we ambled downwards till we reached the bottom...

I see their soupe de poisson, paupiette de veau & fondant au chocolat in my future

...and then met sneaky, old gravity on the way back up!

Resting from time to time allowed us to admire the buildings full of character...

Balconies with stupendous views

...and beauty.

Limestone houses with red tiled roofs

We both loved Aubeterre and will return for the restaurants, various artisan shops, and its natural and historical ambience.

À la prochaine!