Scary day, let's face it with Chestnut Cream Cake

Today is a scary day. First, in case you haven't noticed, it's Halloween. So we have the horror movies on TV, the kids dressed up in monsters costumes, high on sugar and looking for more. I'm not a huge fan of it, but I can see the fun for the children, and there's one part that I like: carking Halloween pumpkins. Every year we try new patterns, and it's always fun.

But it's not the only reason why today is a scary day. It's official: we are 7 billions on the planet today! Heading down to being 10 billions by 2100. Beside how puzzled this is leaving me, it also brings us to the question, how will we be able to feed all those people, when there is still famine going on in Africa. Not to mention, will the planet be able to take it?

I say, let's go to our safe place for now, mine has to include something sweet. So baking a cake seems like the right thing to do, and using up some homemade Chestnut Cream finally gave me the opportunity to try the "Ardechois" cake. Ardechois, because it originates from the french region l'Ardèche.

Though I'm really not a big fan of alcohol, the combination of rhum with the chestnut cream works really well in this cake. It has little ingredients, but lot of taste, the chestnut cream give it a nice texture and it keeps really well. It is no answer to the challenges we are facing, but it did put a smile on the faces of the little monsters I was feeding.

Ardéchois, Chestnut Cream Cake (based on a recipe from www.odelices.com)

2 Eggs
100gr of Light Brown Sugar
100gr of Flour
1 Tablespoon of Baking Powder
100gr of Butter, at room temperature
200gr of Chestnut Cream
2 Tablespoon of Rhum

Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Preferably in a standmixer, cream the eggs with the sugar and a pinch of salt. Add the flour mixed with the baking powder.

When well combined, add the butter, that has been diced and left at room temperature. Afterwards, add the chestnut cream and the rhum.

In a round cake tin, that has been buttered and floured, pour in your cake batter and give it in the oven for about 40 minutes.

Check with a knife if it's done, and let it cool before taking it out of the tin. You can serve it like that, or with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Cauliflower, Potatoes and Saint Nectaire Gratin

Not that I'm paranoid, but trying to be more aware of what I eat, I now read carefully the labels of the product I buy. Which makes my errands a bit more time consuming, but also made me realise how much stuff they put in everything!

So, beside the "do it yourself" approach to food, I also believe knowing where the food comes from is really important. A simple product, like an apple bought at the supermarket, has to be labelled from where it comes from. When you see that one traveled half the world, and the one next to it comes from your own country, it doesn't make much sense.

Imagine the carbon footprint that this apple is leaving, just with the transportation to bring it to your supermarket. Now, I buy exotic fruits too everynow and than, but again, local and seasonal seems wiser. This cauliflower and the potatoes grew in the ground of my own town, I guess it doesn't get any more local.

For the first time today, I went to a "crèmerie", a store specialized mostly with cheese. After trying some of their products at an evening, I knew that for today's recipe, I had to go there to pick up my Saint-Nectaire. It's a "fermier" version, so not mass produced one, but coming directly from a farmer, sliced and paper wrapped in front of me. It feels good to know what you're eating!

Cauliflower, Potatoes and Saint-Nectaire Gratin

Serves 2

1 Small Cauliflower
3 Potatoes
100gr of Saint-Nectaire
1 Onion
20gr of Corn Starch
200ml of Soy Milk
100ml of Soy Cream
Salt, pepper

Cut the cauliflower into florets and clean them. In a pan, heat up some water and cook your cauliflower there for about 15 minutes.

Wash and peel the potatoes. Cook them in water for about 20 minutes, but it depends on the size of your potatoes, check with a knife it they are cooked.

Preheat the oven to 240°C

Slice the onion finely, and in a non-sticky pan, give them in with a bit of salt, and let them cook slowly.

Mix the corn starch with the milk, and pour it into the cooked onions. Add the soy cream and stir to make it to a "béchamel" consistency. Season with nutmeg and pepper.

In a bowl, mix the cauliflower florets, the patotoes that you have sliced roughly and the onion sauce. Cut in some dice of saint-nectaire, but keep most of it to put on top of the gratin.

When everything is carefully combined, transfert it to the oven dish and top the gratin with the remaining saint-nectaire.

Put it in the oven for 10 minutes, or until the top is a golden color, you can use the oven grill in the end to help.


I vote for Squash Muffins!

I wonder, does anyone ever get the feeling that life is being fair? Does it looks like good deeds, or good people are being rewarded the way they should be? On a good day, I'd say there has got to be some sort of cosmic karma, bringing balance to the world. And on a bad day, you don't want to hear what I'd say...

Look at the world's economy today: do you, as an individual, feel responsible for what is happening?
I personnaly don't, but netherless I am and will be affected by it, no matter what. I might not be in the streets (yet), but indignation is something most of us feel right now, and rightly so.

The other one, is feeling powerless. After watching "Inside Job" I felt the size of an ant, on a planet made out of dollar bills. So instead, I'm handling what I can: my life, my income and expenses, but mostly, my kitchen! As mentionned before, the squash are in season, and this time it's all about a sweet recipe.

This is a mix and mash of two different recipes, one from a world famous chef, the other one from a dear fellow blogger, one uses too much sugar, the other one too little, one knows how to make things look dashing, the other one knows how to make them feel like home. A world of differences, yes, but therefor they both enrich me and my cooking. If only the world was more like my kitchen...

Butternut squash muffins

for 12 muffins

300gr of Butternut Squash
170gr of Light Demerara Sugar
2 Eggs
150gr of Flour
1 Teaspoon of Baking Powder
80ml of Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons of Almonds
1 Teaspoon of Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon of Dried Ginger
1 Teaspoon of 4 Spicies
1 Tablespoon of Poppy Seeds

For the frosting:

100gr of Icing sugar
1 Tablespoon of Soy Cream
1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice
The Zest of a Clementine
Colored Sugar Pearls to Decorate

Take care of the squash first, you can cook it in the oven under aluminum foil. But I prefer to boil it, it makes it easier to mash afterward. So peel and cut the butternut squash in cubes, give them in a sauce pan filled with water, bring it to the boil and let it cook until you can easy prick them with a knife. Drain them and with a potatoe masher, make it into a purée.

Preheat your oven to 180°C, line your muffin tin with paper cases.

Let the purée cool a little and add the sugar in, aswell as the eggs. Mix the flour with the baking powder and add to the purée with a pinch of salt. Now pour in the oil and add all the spicies, seeds and roughly chopped almonds, don't work it too hard, it's a muffins batter.

Pour the batter in the paper cases to about 3/4 of it and put it in the oven for about 20 minutes.

To make the frosting, just add the lemon juice and soy cream to the icing sugar. If it's too runny, add some more icing sugar, if it's too thick, add some lemon juice. Add the clementine zest and set aside.

Check your muffins with a wooden skewer, if they are done, let them cool completly on a rack before pouring some frosting on top, sprinkle with some sugar pearls, or any decoration of your choice, and let it set for about an hour.


Watercress sauce with pasta

I know I gave it away in the title, but if you look at the picture, you might think this is some sort of pesto recipe. Well it's not. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of pesto, all kinds of them, because like most italian recipe, it's simple and brilliant.

If you're not familiar with watercress, it can come as a surprise. Those tiny leaves are packed with flavor, something close to a radish taste if you ask me. It can be used as parsley and has many similarity with it, like containing significant amounts of iron, but it's also known to built your cancer defenses up.

All the more reasons to discover or use watercress more often. In a simple salad, it would give it a kick, like arugula could, or make a very nice soup for the cold days. But I had a crave for pasta on that day, and there's nothing that can be done, beside abiding to it.

Watercress sauce with pasta

Serves 1

A Bowl of Watercress (about  75gr)
Half an Onion
50ml of Milk
Olive Oil
50gr of Pasta
2 Tablespoons of Pine Nuts
Coarse Salt

In a small size sauce pan, heat a bit of olive oil up. Chop the onion finely, and give them into the oil to get them translucent.

Wash the watercress thoroughly, dry it and give it into the onions. It will shrink down, like spinach, in a few minutes.

Add the milk to the watercress, it should just cover the leaves, not more. And using a hand mixer or a food processor, blitz everything together quickly, we don't want a soup, just a sauce.

In the meantime, cook your pasta, and in a non-sticky frying pan, grill your pine nuts a little.

Add your cooked pasta to the watercress sauce, serve it on a plate, sprinkle it with some coarse salt and your grilled pine nuts.


Bring spicies in your life, and cakes!

Variety is the spice of life, at least that's what the expression says. Which I tend to agree with, even if we can take comfort in knowing a little what to expect of our day to day life, it's still what comes out of the ordinary that will make it so much more interesting.

When it comes to food, I'd say that spicies are the variety of cooking. Have you ever tried bread, where they had forgotten the salt? All the sudden something so delicious, turns to be something so bland. Just a few pinches of spicies make all the difference.

I personnaly don't like food that's too hot, spice wise, because it's not what I'm used to and maybe also because I'm a sissy ;) But I love spicies in food, discovering blends that are exotic to me, will give a traditional dish a whole new twist. Even in baking, finding the right combination can take a dessert to an other level.

Pears are one of my favorit autumn fruit, first because they are a perfect match with chocolate, but also because you can easily use them in a savory dish aswell. Making this spicy pear cake is better than any sented candle, it will make your kitchen smell heavenly good, and the cake itself is a delight with a hot cup of tea, to keep you warm on a colder evening.

Spicy Pear Cake (from the best of 2011 of the magazine Saveurs)

150gr of Flour
115gr of Butter
3 Eggs
130gr of Dark Demerara Sugar
50gr of Ground Almonds
2 packs of Vanilla Sugar
2 Pears
1 Teaspoon of 4 Spicies
1 Teaspoon of Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon of Dried Ginger
1 Teaspoon of Dried Cardamom
1 Teaspoon of Baking Powder
A Pinch of Salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Combine the flour, the sugar and vanilla sugar, the ground almonds, the spicies, the baking powder and the salt. Basically, all your dry ingredients are supposed to be combined.

Melt the butter and add it to the dry ingredients, aswell as the eggs. Whisk everything well together.

Cut the pears into cubes and add them to your batter.

In a cake tin, buttered and lined with baking parchement, pour in the batter and put it in the oven for about 50 minutes.

Check if it's done with a knife, and let it cool for 5 minutes before taking it out of the cake tin, to let it cool completly on a rack.


Bread leftover solution: Panzanella

I hate wasting bread. I hate wasting in general, but I don't know what it is about bread, I just can't throw it away. Maybe because I know the works that got into doing it, because I mostly do it myself, but even when I bought it, I just can't do it. As ben Harper wisely sing "I can't afford to lose ,what you resell and throw away".

Normally, it can also give me an excuse to make some french toast in the morning. It's like I "have" to do them, otherwise the bread would go to waste, and maybe because I'm doing such a good deed, the calories won't stick as much... Wishfull thinking is a powerfull tool in my life ;).

My sweet tooth mostly got me considering the sweet version of not wasting bread, like the bread pudding that I've posted here already. Maybe from time to time, I'll consider making croutons to get on a salad or a soup, but mostly, sugar is involved in the process.

So when I read Nigella's book "Kitchen" and found the recipe for an italian salad called "Panzanella", made out of stale bread, I knew there was an other option to try, to use up some extra bread. And what better way to use up some stale ciabatta bread than an italian recipe. Grazie mille Nigella!

Panzanella (based on a recipe from Nigella "Kitchen")

1/2 a Loaf of Stale Bread
1 Red Onion
100ml of Cider Vinegar
1 Clove of Garlic
1 Tin of Peeled Tomatoes
200ml of Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon of dried Basil
1 Tablespoon of fresh Basil
Salt, Sugar

Chop the onion finely in half moons, and place them in the salad bowl you're going to use. Cover them with the vinegar and leave it for 10 minutes.

Cut the bread in cubes and let it sit on your cutting board while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Peel your clove of garlic, mince it and add it to the onions and the vinegar.

I didn't have nice fresh tomatoes, so I used good quality tined one. Chop them up and add them to the salad bowl with the dried basil. Season with kosher salt and a pinch of sugar.

Now add the bread cubes and the oilve oil, using your hand toss and turn all the ingredient together and combine well.

Cover it with cling film and leave it in your fridge for the night. Before serving, add some fresh basil leaves on top.


Chestnut Cream: Just Do It... Yourself!

I admit spending a lot of time in front of my TV screen, but I actually don't watch that much the channels that are on, I'd rather watch a DVD or my VOD and replay services. But there are a few exceptions, and a channel like arte is part of those.
Some of last week's programm have been about food, and especially the industrialisation and globalisation of the food production. How we buy and eat today, and what the consequences are to our health.

One doc in particular was interesting to me: "Poudres et potions de l'industrie alimentaire". It showed how the food industry works to reduce production costs, and how the advertising of those products is more than questionable. To sum it up, there isn't much "natural" left in, even if they try and sell it to you this way. You can go and watch it online for a few more days, it is in french though.

Once again, it shows us the importance of being carefull of what we eat, of knowing from where our food comes from, and reading carefully what's on the package. If the list of ingredients is too long and/or if you don't get the ingredients that are listed, it can't be a good sign.

My favorit option: just do it myself. I had chestnut left, and kept wondering about that chestnut cream, so I thought I'd give it a try. I even bought one in the shop afterwards just to compare, not only am I not sure of all the ingredients, but I thought mine was better!

Chestnut Cream

500gr of cooked Chestnuts
200ml of Milk
400gr of Sugar

In a big sauce pan, poor the milk and the cooked chestnuts. On a medium flame, let it heat up to soften the chestnut. When it's hot, take it off the flame and using a potato masher, make it into a purée.

I weighted the purée and had about 600gr left. So I used 400gr of sugar.

Again in a sauce pan, put in the sugar and cover it with water, on a high flame, bring it to the boil. It should not be a syrup, but it needs to be more consistent than just water.

At this point, add your purée and you'll need to stir for about 20 minutes. It doesn't look promising in the beginning, but it will combine, get darker and get to the right consistency, just keep stiring all the time.


My first Risotto

We are creatures of habits. Good or bad, I'm no one to judge, but thinking about it, aren't most of our days such a serie of predictable activities, that they combine into a big blur. If I asked you what you did 18 days ago, could you give me a precise answer? I personnaly couldn't, not without checking my schedule.

In the end, the days we remember are the ones that were different, that an event made special and that we will never forget. The 1st of November 2000, December 17 in 2001, June 24 in 2004, the 1st of May 2011... Those are some of the days that counted for me, that changed something in my life, little or big.

Now I'm not saying that today will be part of that list, because life altering event can not happen everyday, but a little something special is nice too. So today I made my first Risotto!
I know, shame on me. I actually don't even remember ever eating one. I'm not used to cooking rice in general, and again I'm a creature of habit too, rice is what my mum made me when I was sick as a child, and to this day, I still do the same for myself.

So I bought arborio rice, but for the rest, I kind of used what I had at hand or what I like, and I'll most likely will burn in italian hell for doing so!
But I was happy with the result, it's creamy without having actual cream in it, it's consistant and tasty. I went for a simple version, but there are endless options to make it different. It feels like a perfect dish for the cold days ahead of us. This was a first, but it won't be a last.


100gr of Arborio Rice
1 Onion
Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons of Porto Wine
1/2 a Liter of Chicken Stock
20gr of Butter
40gr of Pecorino, freshly grated

Chop the onion and the turnip into small dices. In a heavy based pan, on a medium heat, put about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the onions with the turnip. With a wooden spoon, stir for a few minutes, just to get the onions translucent.

On the side, heat up your chicken stock, so it will be ready to use.

Add the rice, and stir again for a few minutes, for the rice to be coated with the oil. Normally at this stage you should use white wine, I didn't have any, so I used some porto wine to deglaze a little.

Now starts your 18 minutes of peace, because no one is allowed to disturb you. Give in your first ladle of stock, stir and always wait for it to be fully absorbed before adding the next one.

After 15 to 18 minutes, try the rice to see if it's cook and set it aside the flame.

Stir in the butter and the pecorino cheese, and let it sit for a few minutes. Serve and sprinkle a bit of parsley on top.


It's Squash Season!

I'm a keen baker, I love the whole process of preping the ingredients, measuring, weighting, sieving, aline them in the order of use (yes, I'm slightly maniac on my baking etiquette). Making complicated classical pastries or layer cakes is a challenge I like to take. I like that rules need to be followed, that it's a lot about chemistry, with little room for impro.

To me that's one of the main difference between baking and cooking, and it took me more time to appreciate those "wiggle rooms" in cooking. On the other hand, it allows you more of a personal touch to a dish, and that personal touch is the signature of all the great chefs. I'm not a great chef myself, and I believe less is more, giving one ingredient all the care it deserves.

Good thing the squash season is back. First because I love saying "squash" and because it means autumn, great colors, comfort food... But also that halloween is around the corner and that I'll be carving my jack-o-lantern soon! My squash of choice today is the "potimarron" squash, named like this for it's little chesnut taste.

It's one of my favorit, it's pratical size-wise (unless you feed a family of 8, a pumpkin is a little big) and it doesn't need to be peeled, how cool is that! It's such a great product it doesn't need much to be divine. This dish made my saturday evening, sitting in front a episod of "Castle" enjoying my potimarron with a spice butter rub.
Happiness can be simple sometimes.

Potimarron Squash with a Spice Butter Rub

Half a Potimarron Squash (about 600gr)
50gr of Butter, at room temperature
1 Teaspoon of 4 Spicies
1/2 Teaspoon of Dried Ginger
2 Tablespoon of Oregano
Olive Oil
Fresh Parsley
Coarse Salt

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Wash the squash, cut it in half and take out the center part with the seeds and the fibres to leave just the flesh.
Slice it carefully with a big sharp knife and set aside.

Prepare the spice butter: mix the butter at room temperature with the 4 spicies mix, the ginger and the oregano, combine well.

Pour a bit of olive oil in a roasting tray, big enough for the squash not to overlaps.

Now is the dirty part: take each slice of squash and rub it generously with the butter and place it in the tray. If you have some butter left, place on top of the slices.

Place in the oven for about 30 minutes, but it depends how thick your slices are, check with the tip of a knife if it's cooked.

Coming out of the oven, place the slices on your plate, sprinkle some freshly chopped parsley, grate some parmesan on top and generously season with coarse salt.