March 21, 2008
Easter Egg Salad

eastereggs2008.jpgOn Wednesday we decorated eggs. I had invited four children from our building to introduce them to the fine art of egg dyeing. The French don't "do" decorated Easter eggs. And so I combined the American egg dyeing tradition with the French tradition of the afternoon "gouter" (snack time). The result? Small children on a sugar high with lots of dye and fragile eggs. I didn't have time to take photos. If you want to see photos of a cute kid dyeing eggs, you can check my post from last Easter, when I only had one toddler to contend with.

Although I sent the children away with a box of decorated eggs each, I still had nearly 20 hard boiled eggs in my refrigerator when the day was done. The Critic doesn't like hard boiled eggs. The baby can't have them. And I'm pretty sure the toddler is going to turn up his nose at them too, though I'm going to try to convince him how good they are. It's a good thing I like egg salad.

A lot people turn up their noses at the humble egg salad and I think it's a shame. I used to have a boyfriend who would get midnight cravings for 7-11 egg salad sandwiches and I have to admit that disliking them IS justifiable. (Should have known he was a bad egg...sorry couldn't resist!) Egg salad needs to be freshly made and with good ingredients. It needs to be kept cold. I prefer it on a slice of whole wheat bread in a sandwich, but it can also shine on a bed of crisp leaves. However, it should never ever know the inside of a plastic 7-11 sandwich box.

This is the version I made today for lunch and it was lovely. However, the mayonnaise and vinegar can be a base for many other combinations: you could omit the pickles and replace them with anchovies, or capers. I like the crunchiness of mustard seed, but you could replace it with mustard powder or cumin. Bacon bits can also be a lovely addition, especially if you can find some tomatoes with flavor (difficult in March, I know). You can fold soft fresh herbs such as chives or chervil into the eggs or top them with salty oeufs de lompe for a flavor-packed crunch. I have 18 eggs left to experiment and the possibilities are endless...

Easter Egg Salad (makes 2 generous sandwiches or enough for two salads with a bed of lettuce)

I like to make small quantities of egg salad so that it's always fresh. Hard boiled eggs can keep for quite a while in the refrigerator, but once the eggs are in a salad they seem to go stale quickly.

4 hard boiled eggs, roughly chopped
4 gherkin pickles or half an American sized pickle, chopped finely
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
4 Tbs mayonnaise
1 Tbs mustard seed
1 small shallot, minced finely

Gently mix all the ingredients together. Serve on whole wheat bread in a sandwich or on a bed of salad.

Happy Easter everyone!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:47 AM | Comments (2)
March 9, 2008
Chocolate Yogurt Cake

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Fans of Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini are already very family with the concept of the yogurt cake. She has posted a few variations on this French classic recipe. So I hesitated about adding my own version to the many existing ones. In the end, I was motivated by three things:

1. My recipe is slightly different and, well, very, very chocolate. That's got to be worth something to our readers.

2. Although she mentions that this recipe is particularly good for introducing children to cake baking, she does not actually have a cute kid who can demonstrate this fact. Big brother is an enthusiastic cook already, though most of his "help" so far has been limited to grating cheese (which he promptly eats) and stirring the bowl occasionally. He had a lot of fun with this recipe and I took a lot of photos.

3. The Critic is in Singapore for two weeks and needs to see photos of the boys he's missing. So I can keep him informed on what we are doing at the same time.

Obviously, I needed to post the recipe and photos. Read on for my take on the most child-friendly recipe on the planet. It really is a lovely, flexible cake: light and yet not too crumbly, perfect for little fingers to pull apart and eat without leaving a carpet of crumbs on the floor. I'm going to be making it again in just over a month for Little Brother's first birthday!

Chocolate Yogurt Cake (Makes one layer cake in an 8" pan, though I used some of the batter for cupcakes as you can see in the photos)

The reason this recipe is so child friendly - aside from the fact that it is after all a cake and chocolate to boot - is that nearly all the measurements are made using the yogurt pot once you have emptied it of yogurt. Little hands that have played in the sandbox at the park are very good at filling cups and dumping them; it's a concept they understand completely. (By the way, do have them wash those sandy little hands before you begin, right?)

1 pot of natural yoghurt (125 ml)
1 yogurt pot of vegetable oil
2 yogurt pots of sugar
3 yogurt pots of flour
3 eggs
200 grams of semi-sweet chocolate (I used two bars of Nestle's Noir Extra Fondant)
4 tsp baking powder (in France, use 1 sachet of levure chimique which can be found in the baking section of any French grocery store)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1) Assemble ingredients and wash your hands. Make sure the counters are (for once) clean.

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2) Park Little Brother in a safe place with some plastic clips for playing. Have unsweetened Cheerios on hand for when the clips are no longer interesting enough.

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3) Break up the chocolate and place in a double boiler over a medium flame to melt it. (Photo is of Big Brother licking the spatula after it has been used to add the chocolate to the batter.)

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4) Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

5) Spoon the yogurt into a large bowl.

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6) Add the oil, eggs, vanilla and sugar and begin mixing.

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7) Add the flour and baking powder and mix well. Stir in the by now melted chocolate.

8) Pour the batter into lined cupcake tins (fill 2/3 of the cup) or into a greased and floured cake pan.

9) For cupcakes, bake 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For cake, bake for 15 minutes at 180C, then reduce to 150 and bake a further 20-25 minutes. Again, check for done-ness by inserting a clean toothpick.

10) While Mom or other kitchen slave puts away ingredients and cleans the counter, continue sampling the batter on various kitchen implements.

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11) Cool cupcakes or cake on a rack and consume with enthusiasm once cooled. (See first photo for the latter.)

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Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:57 AM | Comments (3)
March 8, 2008
The Ethical Carnivore

I found it equally disturbing and fitting when I recently heard that my friend Alain's nephew, Olivier, had become a butcher. I knew Olivier some 15 years ago, when he was only four or five years old and he was a holy terror. His parents ambled through life, seemingly unconscious of their devil offspring's dangerous tendencies. As an example, I give you a conversation between myself and Daniel 15 years ago, when we were visiting their house near Chartres. Daniel had been trimming the hedge with a chainsaw and came into the house for a break and a chat with his brother.

Me: Daniel, I think that Olivier is interested that chainsaw.

Daniel (Deep in conversation with Alain): Ouais, ca va (yeah, okay)

Me: Daniel, he's trying to pick it up.

Daniel: Ouais, ca va...

Me: Is it plugged in?

Daniel: He can't start it.

Me: Daniel...

Sound of chainsaw being started and Daniel leaps out the window shouting "Putain!"...

So this boy is now licensed to use sharp objects. In fact, he won an award last year, came in second in the competition for the best young butcher of Paris. I should introduce him to my brother the next time he comes to visit, as my brother is also making a foray into the world of butchering these days. Big Brother has a farm in Oregon and he and his tenant recently butchered their first pig. He wrote a thoughtful post about the process and the reasons for it here.

I am so very proud of my brother, because he's a very gentle soul at heart. He believes in organic farming and peaceful living. And because he likes to eat meat, he also believes that he should be willing and able to participate in bringing that meat to the table from the very start of the process. And I'm going to go live near him when the revolution comes because not only does he now know how to butcher a pig, but my sister says he's learning to make cider too....

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:56 AM | Comments (5)
March 3, 2008
Roasted Cauliflower and Cumin Quiche

cauliquiche.jpgI have never asked my mother, but I suspect she is not a fan of cauliflower. I don't remember eating it much when I was growing up and so came to love it rather late in life. It's a homely vegetable and I can see why many people don't like it. As with all members of the cabbage family, it leaves a lingering smell that isn't really all that appetising, especially once dinner is over. It's easy to over-cook and when you do it turns into a smelly, mushy unattractive mess. But when it's treated well and given a little spicy lift, it can be truly delicious: filling and full of flavour and wonderful comfort food. This dish brings out the best in the humble cauliflower and I'm going to be making it again. I might even try it on the Critic (who thinks he doesn't like cauliflower).

I have been making a lot of extra vegetables lately, as the baby now has solid food - mostly vegetarian - twice a day. For this recipe, I roasted a whole cauliflower and used half in the quiche and half as baby food. Roasting the cauliflower makes it easier not to overcook it and also adds a nice depth to the flavour.

The cumin in this recipe works beautifully to pull together cauliflower, cheese and egg into a lovely coherent whole. I can't decide if I liked it better hot from the oven or cold the next day for lunch; either way you won't be disappointed!

Roasted Cauliflower and Cumin Quiche

1/2 a head of cauliflower
1 Tbs cumin seeds
2 Tbs olive oil
5 eggs plus one white
1/3 cup / 75 ml cream
2/3 cup / 150 ml milk
1/2 tsp salt
60 g (about a half cup) grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 pie crust (Note that this recipe, which I used, calls for one egg yolk, thus explaining the extra white in the filling. If you are using your own recipe or a pre-rolled crust, you can use another whole egg instead of a single white.)

Preheat the oven to 180c/350F. Wash the cauliflower and shake it dry. Cut off the rough bottom of the stem so that it sits flatly on a surface. Drizzle a little olive oil in a baking pan, place the head in the pan and drizzle a little more oil over it. Bake for 40 minutes or until tender. If the head looks like it is browning too quickly or drying out (mine did at about the 30 minute point) you can add a few tablespoons of water to the pan and cover with tin foil.

In the meantime, make the pie crust and put the dough in the refrigerator.

About fifteen minutes before the cauliflower is done, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Grind the cumin and salt with a mortar and pestle. Mix the eggs, cream and milk and whisk well. Stir in the cumin and salt.

Roll out the pie crust and place in a pie tin. Blind bake the crust in the still hot oven for ten minutes. While it is baking, remove the cauliflower (if done) and let it cool on the counter. Grate the cheese.

To assemble the quiche, spread the cheese on the bottom of the pie crust. Slice the cauliflower in thick (3/4", 2 cm) pieces, keeping them together as much as possible so they look more decorative. Spread over the cheese and cover with the egg mixture. Bake in the hot oven for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown on top and set. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:28 AM | Comments (3)
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