Strawberry rhubarb apple tart… & mindful eating

The other day, as we were enjoying a family dinner, my husband spotted a recipe book on the table and started to look through it as we were eating. (It happened to be the amazing and ever so appetizing Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Cannelle et Vanille’s creator, Aran Goyoaga). As we were eating, we started to get excited about the many recipes we were going to make off that book.

“You’re really turning into a Frenchman. Talking about food while eating”, my mother commented.

Indeed this is something French people love to do. Talk about food while eating food. Going on and on about it in fact!

I realized that unknowingly, the French are actually practicing mindful eating.

“Focus on the task at hand”, our teachers, or mothers, or grandmothers said. I guess this was another way to ask us to be mindful. To be in the moment with whatever we were doing.

This has been something I’ve been very consciously practicing with Pablo. Trying to stay away from outside distractions while at the table whenever possible. So while I do occasionally indulge Pablo with a small toy if he’s particularly tired and impatient at dinner time, I try as much as possible to keep our family engaged with our meal, with each other in conversation about our day, with the food we are eating (or will be eating), the cooking of it, the shape, flavor, color, texture of it. A lot of playfulness can arise with the “crunch crunch” of the butter lettuce, the fun of making a mini-kebab by prickling a piece of tomato with a piece of hearts of palm on the fork, or Pablo’s new favorite game, calling every item on the dinner table “Monsieur” : Monsieur Patate, Monsieur Radis, Monsieur Pain (Mr Bread) etc. (Yes, barely bearable cuteness ensues.)

I remember reading about mindful eating in Karen Le Billon’s book, French Kids Eat Everything, as one of her strategies to convert her picky eaters. It’s not about hiding broccoli in some pasta or baked good, or trying to distract our children into eating well, or rushing through meals to get them over with. It’s about showing them that eating is a pleasure.

And to find that out, you’ve got to pay attention while you eat.

Pay attention to how the food feels, how it tastes. Be mind and body (aren’t our best, happiest or most fulfilling moments in life when we are engaged both mind and body?). I remember how she described making a game of eating a chocolate mousse as slowly as possible, as a family, and talking about the experience together. What a clever idea to get kids engaged in the wonderful, vastly underestimated, communal, cultural and pleasurable experience that is the family meal.

Beyond easy and quick recipes, convenience and logistics, beyond calories and “healthy eating”, making cooking and eating about connection and pleasure, vs obligation and nutrition, is the core of this education of taste journey I’ve been documenting here. A journey that makes our life so much richer, each and every day.

Sharing today a seasonal variation to the French classic tarte aux pommes. It’s the first year I am experimenting cooking with rhubarb and its lovely flavor. This is really two recipes in one: one for the compote, which can be made on its own. But should you have a couple of apples lying around, the tart is a delicious way to put them to good use. Basil goes surprisingly well with strawberry and rhubarb, and adding it to the spelt crust was a fun, and successful, experiment.

Strawberry rhubarb apple tart on basil spelt crust

Serves 6-8

Prep time: 45 mn
Cook time: 15 mn + 35 mn

Age for babies: The compote by itself is great for a baby from 5 months on, though be sure not to use honey for a baby under 12 months. Add just a sprinkle of sugar. What you don’t use within a couple of days can be frozen for a couple of months (individual serving containers make it easier).
The tart can be given in small pieces (as long as no honey was used) from 8-10 months.



For the strawberry rhubarb compote

Yields about 2 cups.

2-3 stalks of rhubarb
1-2 cups of strawberries
2 tbsp of sugar (or honey)
1 tsp lemon juice

Peel the rhubarb by making a diagonal incision at the top and pulling off the stringy part. Repeat from both end, until all strings are gone (you will be taking off the pink part.)

Then cut the rhubarb in small pieces, place in a bowl with half the sugar (or honey), and let macerate at least 15 minutes. (The rhubarb with produce some juice in that time).

In the meantime, wash and cut the strawberries.

In a pan, place the rhubarb and its juice, strawberries, remaining sugar or honey and lemon juice. Cook over medium high heat for about 15-20 minutes, stirring often.

Mix in food processor or blender until very smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer, pressing with a spatula, for added smoothness.

For the basil spelt crust

1 cup (150g) spelt flour
5 tbsp (75g) butter, softened and cut up
4-5 large leaves of basil, minced
1.5 tbsp ice water
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt

In a bowl, mix the flour, minced basil, sugar and salt.

Pour the dry ingredients on a work surface. With your hands, work the soft butter into the flour mixture, by rubbing your hands together, until you get a sandy texture. Then place the flour/butter mixture in a circle with a whole in the middle.  Place the egg yolk and water in the middle, and mix with your hands until you obtain a ball of dough.

Then fraise the dough: flatten the ball into a rectangle (of sorts), and with the heel of your hand, press the dough, little by little, onto the work surface. This is very simple (and therapeutic!), but a picture is worth a thousand words on this one, so you can get a visual here. Do it a couple of times.

Wrap in plastic and place in the fridge for 10 minutes.

To put it all together

2 apples
4-5 oz rhubarb strawberry compote
2-3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp butter +  for mold 

Preheat the oven at 375°F.

Butter a tart pan (preferably with removable bottom).

Roll dough onto a lightly floured surface so it’s slightly bigger than your pan.
Press the dough into the pan, pressing the sides with your thumb.

Spoon and spread the compote over the dough.

Peel and core the apples, reserve the peel. Slice them thinly. Gently place the apple slices on top of the compote, in a circular motion around the pie pan (I can never do this perfectly by the way, there’s always an odd piece of apple that doesn’t fit!)

Sprinkle with a bit of sugar, and add a few bits of butter throughout.

Place in oven for about 30-35 minutes, until the apples are soft.

While it’s in the oven, boil 1/2 cup of water with the apple peel and sugar for about 10/12 minutes.

When you bring the tart out of the oven, brush some of that syrup over the apples for a nice gloss.

Let cool and eat warm, or cold.

Apple Banana Custard |

Apple Banana custard is perfect for all kids who are fussy, either with drinking milk or eating fruits or both. They will for sure enjoy it. Apple and banana, both are very healthy fruits, however, you can substitute it with your choice of fruit.

Apple Banana Custard

Preparation time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Serves: 6

Apple Banana Custard Ingredients

Apple Banana Custard Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 750 ml milk
  • 6 tsp custard powder (vanilla flavour or your choice)
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp cashew nuts (chopped)
  • 1 apple (chopped)
  • 1 banana (chopped)
  • some sliced apple for garnishing (optional)

Method

Apple Banana Custard

Apple Banana Custard

Take 8-9 tbsp milk in a bowl and mix 6 tsp custard powder in it and set it aside.

Heat rest of the milk at medium flame, add 2 cups sugar in it and stir well.

When the milk start boiling, add the custard powder mixture and cashew nuts in it and keep on stirring until the milk thickens.

When the milk thickens, switch off the flame and let it cool down.

Now add chopped apple and banana with the custard.

Keep it in refrigerator for about 2-3 hours and serve it cold.

Serving Instructions

Serve apple banana custard as a dessert after lunch or dinner.

Baked apple & goat cheese…

It occurred to me recently that this period of my life, though I experience it now as complicated, and somewhat overwhelming, struggling to find balance, to find time, constantly juggling, dealing with uncertainty, learning to be more grateful, more in the moment… this period of my life might just be the one I will remember the most fondly when I’m 80 (if I get that far.)

This has happened to me before: to look back on certain times of my life with great fondness, when I know I didn’t consider myself “happy” or “satisfied” at the time. Conversely, times I do remember thinking were fairly happy, sometimes escape me completely, as if meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Youth is relative, and youth is blind to itself.

So I try to capture this thought and stay with it: what if this time of my life, right now, turns out to be one of the happiest, when all is said and done? That could potentially be depressing, as I could think, “This is it?” “That’s as good as it’s going to get?” “That’s not the picture I had in mind”.

And there’s the rub.
That freakin’ picture we have in our minds of what life, and people in our life, are supposed to be like.

Or… I can hang on to that image of myself as an 80-year-old woman, smiling back at this time of my life with great fondness. And I can actually listen to her.

She’s telling me this time is rich, with all its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, its wonders as a new parent, a new blogger. This time is complex, a bit stormy, definitely no flat sea around here. But I think 80-year-old me would smile and say, “Who wants a flat sea of a life anyway?”

Sometimes my expectations, my stresses, the whirlwind of life, make me forget her, and her wisdom. But if I can just reach out to her in those moments, she will teach me to be grateful for this time. The good thing is, I’m starting to really hear her voice now. Instead of hearing the voice of 10-year-old me telling me what my life was supposed to be, I am starting to hear the voice of 80-year-old me, telling me there’s no “supposed to”, telling me life is so much more than that. Setting me free to actually live my life and know myself as I evolve and grow.

There’s a sentence at the end of A life, by Guy de Maupassant, translated here from French by yours truly:

“Life, you see, is never as great nor as bad as we think.”

There’s a way to understand that sentence that is not as depressing as one might first believe. Life is just not what we think it’s going to be. And that doesn’t make it a failure. It’s okay. I wish I’d known that earlier. But I know it now.

So what brought on this philosophical debate in my brain, this Ghost of Helene Past, Present and Future of sorts? A recipe for an apple goat cheese millefeuilles. Of course it is.
(Millefeuilles is just a fancy name that means ‘a thousand leaves’, typically a dessert, a Napoleon, but also used for anything with multiple layers.)

See, when I saw this recipe in a tiny French recipe book called “Papillotes” (a series of recipes, savory and sweet, all cooked in parcels in the oven), I looked at the picture, and set out to make it, because frankly, apple and goat cheese, how could I go wrong? In my head, it looked just perfect.

I am learning that I’ve been getting the meaning of “perfection” all wrong. We say perfection can’t be reached when we can’t make life fit in with the picture we have in our head. When that picture is in fact much too narrow and simplistic to do real life justice. Perfection is everywhere. Life is perfect, by its very existence. Our expectations, ever so limited, narrow-minded, blind-sided, one-dimensional, are what is imperfect, though they may serve a purpose for us, like dealing with our issues.

So, making this millefeuilles, I certainly was reminded things never go the way you think. The apple wasn’t perfectly shaped. The goat cheese was a pain to slice thin, it got chalky in the middle and fell apart. But determined, I moved forward. Sometimes a “what the heck” attitude gets you through stuff where you head might not.

And the result was… delicious. Not like the picture, in the book or in my head. Not “picture perfect”. But “life perfect”. Because I made it. Because I shared it. Because the contrast of semi-crunchy apple and half-melted goat cheese is scrumptious. It was a highly satisfying three-in-one salad/cheese/dessert course (in the framework of the typical four course French family meal).

What can I say, another life lesson in the kitchen…

A quick note about cooking “in a parcel” in general, called “en papillote” in French (i.e. cooking a hermetically wrapped preparation in the oven). It’s a great and easy way to cook a whole range of foods. Not only does it protect natural foods from too much heat, but it also cooks à l’étouffée, meaning the foods cook in their own steam, infused with all the flavors and scents from the spices and condiments used. It’s both a quick and gentle way to cook, which helps preserve a lot of vitamins. On top of it, it is so much fun. Pablo was just delighted when I presented it like a “surprise package” or a “gift-wrapped treat on a plate”. We opened it, and he went “wooow” when peeking at its contents and inhaling the delicious scents. I have been quite obsessed with this method of cooking recently, and will be sharing many more recipes in the near future.

Apple & goat cheese millefeuilles (napoleons) with honey and walnuts

Inspired from Papillotes by Martine Lizambard

Serves 2

Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 15-20 min

Age for babies: It’s just baked apple and goat cheese basically, no reason why a 10 month old can’t try this, if you think he/she can handle the apple, as it is softened but still a bit crunchy. Do skip the honey if you give before 12 months.

1 apple, washed and dried
6 slices of aged goat cheese*
1 tbsp soft butter
2 handfuls of lamb’s lettuce (or other lettuce), washed and spun dry
A few walnuts
2 tbsp honey
2 tbps vinaigrette
Oven-safe parchment paper
Kitchen string

*Note about the goat cheese: I recommend using an aged goat cheese for this (though not very old, it should still be soft in texture), as opposed to fresh goat cheese. I used “bûche” here (found at Whole Foods in the US). Otherwise, I have fallen in love with the cheeses made by Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery, you could use any of their aged goat cheeses. (I have found some of their products in Whole Foods, though not consistently). I hear Laura Chenel also has a “Cabécou”, which you might be able to find and would work for this.

Slice the goat cheese (make 6 slices, ideally the slices are slightly larger than the circumference of the apple).

Slice off the top of the apple (where the stem is), then core the apple. Slice the apple into six pieces.

Preheat the oven at 350°F. Cut 2 square pieces of parchment paper, and butter the center of each one.

In the center of each parchment paper square, place three slices of apple, and three slices of goat cheese, alternating. Gather the corners of the parchment paper, and close the parcel hermetically with kitchen string.

Place in a baking dish in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. (The apple will soften but remain somewhat crunchy).

Meanwhile, in a salad bowl, toss the lettuce, walnuts and vinaigrette. Put the salad in two serving plates.

Remove the parcels from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before opening.

Deposit them delicately on top of the lettuce. Drizzle with honey.

Apple plum-cake recipe

Dinner was pretty light the other night, so I decided to bake an apple cake. But I had no eggs, so I looked around the net and found some recipes here and there. I settled on this one here, but then modified it quite a lot. For example I used butter instead of oil and I more than doubled the milk and left out the cinnamon and of course I did not have brown sugar so I used regular sugar. And then I baked it in a plum cake mold…. Basically I made another cake. But the result was not bad at all!

Ingredients

  • 4 apples
  • 9 oz flour
  • 4.5 oz sugar
  • 5 oz butter
  • 3/4 cups of milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 spoon of baking soda

Directions

  1. So in a mixer I mixed 9 oz of flour, 4.5 oz of sugar, 5 oz of butter, a pinch of salt, 1 spoon of baking powder and about 3/4 cups of milk (I added milk until the batter was smooth yet still thick). Then I diced 4 apples and mixed them into the batter. Poured the batter in the buttered plum cake mold and put in the oven at 375F for a long long time. It took me about 2 hours to cook the cake. I think that adding less milk might make the process faster. Let cool on a rack and serve.
  2. Even without the eggs the cake is moist and nice. A winner!

Apple roesti cake

A couple of weeks ago I went apple picking and I came back with about 30 lbs. of apples. The question was what I should do with that many apples and when on a diet? Cakes are an option only if butter and eggs are kept at a very minimum.

Pretty soon this idea of making roesti using apples started taking shape in my mind. I made some research and found that roesti of potatoes and apples do in fact existed, but that they were mainly a side dish that consisted of more potatoes than apples. I decided to tweak those recipe quite a bit and make it into a sweet apple roesti cake.

I still kept in a couple of potatoes for texture, but changed the ratio so that the apples became the main component. And I baked the roesti in the oven rather than on the stove. The result was a pretty light dish, incredibly hard to photograph but pretty tasty and reminiscent of baked apples. Great for breakfast or a light snack.