Grandmother’s ratatouille recipe

Every time I come back to France, it strikes me how much more
I appreciate it now than I did when I lived here.  I have been an expat for 15 years now, and the
past 7 to 10 years, coming back to France has been a pilgrimage of
sorts into my past, my childhood. Perhaps expats have this little bonus: their
past is embodied in a concrete place. It somehow makes the past more real, more
palpable.
We have spent the last few days in Paris, and I have really longed for the city.
Coming back to Paris
for me is like having dinner with a long lost love. I know there were many
things I hated about her in the past, but I can only remember the good times. Yesterday, I was fortunate to have my good friends looking
after Pablo for an afternoon. Bicycling through the streets, visiting and
chatting with friends, stopping at the bakery, I felt at home again. I felt
very free. I felt happy.
If the city is my old love, with all the nostalgia that comes
with it, the country is my new, exciting, exhilarating love.  I did grow up in a small town in the country,
but was so concerned with going far and away in my youth, that I never saw
what was right in front of me. Sunday, Pablo and I went with my best friend and her two
boys, to visit her parents at their little house in the countryside, in Haramont, a small village of stone houses, an hour from Paris.

Last time I was here, my best friend and I were going to school together, about 17 years ago… As soon as we drove up the driveway, I felt so thrilled to be there. My friend C’s father is an avid gardener, he has gardened all his life, and this place is his haven, his world. The children come here every weekend in the summer, they love it.

As we get out of the car, the kids run to the back, through
the vegetable patch, to feed biscottes to the chickens, goats and sheep. I follow, discovering zucchinis, spinach, salads, chamomile, parsley, tarragon, green beans, melons, chards, leeks, carrots… and those gorgeous hazelnut and apple trees. I am as excited to be here as the children… and then I remember. Quick, my camera.

Shortly after, we sit down for lunch, a platter of
charcuterie with artisan pâté en croûte, hams and dry salami (called saucisson in French).

Then Mrs. C brings out her ratatouille. To her, this is a
very simple lunch and dish, she improvised with the garden vegetables. She
serves it in an old pan with an old camping ladle.

As I marvel at everything, the food, the bowl of freshly
picked hazelnuts, and that old ladle, I sense their puzzlement. “What has happened
to Helene? She’s photographing a simple ratatouille with an old camping ladle?
What did they do to her over in America?”
All this isn’t “charming”, or “vintage” or “country rustic” to them. It is just
normal, boring stuff. Boring for one, thrilling to another.

Later in the afternoon, as I go around the yard taking
photographs, 4 year old H is intrigued. “What are you taking? Why?” I tell him
this isn’t old boring stuff at all, it’s a wonderful haven, it’s beautiful, and
I want to capture every little corner of it. He’s excited, and takes pictures
with me (he took that great picture of the sheep above!) Maybe sometimes it
takes a stranger to come into our world to make us see our world with new fresh
eyes. I wonder what I’m missing back home, what am I not seeing and
appreciating? May friendly strangers come open my eyes soon.

So, much to Mrs C’s surprise, I decided to share her very simple
ratatouille recipe here. But I made that decision half-way through the meal, that’s why my pictures here show you an almost empty pot!It’s not traditional ratatouille, it’s a homey simplified
ratatouille with just zucchinis and tomatoes, perfect for children and adults
alike. I can just picture the look on her face when my friend shows her the post
on this blog. “Ah that Helene… she’s very sweet, but just a little weird”… J
Fair enough.

Today we are off to Normandy,
hope to be sharing some yumminess from there with you very soon, so stay tuned.

Mrs Chéron’s Ratatouille

Age for babies: 6-8 months if each ingredient has been tasted before. This might be a good opportunity to introduce cooked tomato to a baby.

6-8 zucchinis, peeled, seeds removed, diced

5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, quartered

3 tbsp short grain rice

2 sprigs of fresh thyme, crumbed laurel

3 whole cloves of garlic

Salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, sauté the zucchini in some olive oil,
until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, mix and let simmer
for a few more minutes. When the tomatoes have produced a bit of water, add the
rice, herbs and garlic cloves (whole), and let simmer for about 20-25 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Easy chocolate cake recipe

So I am quite new to blogging and I am looking for ways to be more e-social and for ways to challenge me in my culinary adventure. I saw post of the Burwell General Store recipe swap and I found it quite inspiring. I love the idea of personalizing recipes and I like they are old recipes. I remember when I was a kid my grandmother had one of those old cooking books that she would use when cooking, now that old book is in my mothers’ hands and it is just fascinating to look at it and look at how people used to cook and think about cooking. So I love the idea of reinterpreting old dishes and put my mark on it.

Anyway this month challenge is this “‘Busy Day Wacky Cake”:

I looked at the recipe and I immediately decided that I wanted to bake my busy day chocolate cake. Similar to the one proposed, my recipe is for a chocolate cake and is super fast. If your kitchen is tidy and well organized it won’t take you more than 30 min start to finish, if like me you are scrambling to find all the ingredients and utensils it might take 45 minutes. And this include baking time! So here is how I bake it.

Recipe swap: busy day chocolate cake

Ingredients

  • – 7 oz. dark chocolate
  • – 7 oz. butter
  • – 5 oz. sugar
  • – 3.5 oz. flour
  • – 4 eggs
  • – pinch of salt

Directions

  1. First I melt 7 oz. of dark chocolate in the microwave. I find that it is crucial to choose good quality chocolate . Then in a food processor I mix 3.5 oz. of flour, 5 oz. of sugar, 7 oz. of butter, 4 yolks, 1 pinch of salt and the melted chocolate (I let it cool down a bit so it doesn’t cook the eggs). While the ingredients are in the food processor, I beat the egg whits until stiff. Finally I slowly mix the egg whites in the chocolate mix. I then pour the egg whites in the chocolate mix and carefully mix the two . Then I put everything in the cold oven and turn it on at 380F and let cook the cake for 20-25 Minutes. It is important that the oven is cold because you want the middle of the cake to stay moist and starting with a cool oven allows you not to overcook your cake.
  2. Pay attention in sharing this cake: the last 2 times I made it for friends’ birthdays I was forced to re-bake the cake at all future birthdays…

Coconut rosemary carrots, lamb chops… and a quiet day

A strange afternoon. A few quiet hours. The house is silent, and yet loud by what it’s missing: the hustle-bustle of the playing toddler, playing and busying elsewhere. I am left with my thoughts. With myself.

Yesterday, I longed for it. Today, I’m not sure what to make of it. My mind swirls, unproductively. Doubt, insecurity, idleness, questioning. And planning, listing, comparing, anticipating. It’s quiet on the outside, but I feel unsettled on the inside. I can’t see my North. Like standing in the middle of a large deserted intersection, not knowing where to go. Feeling like I should. I should know.

That “should” is a bad word.

So I decide to sit in the middle of that intersection. Ground myself. And see what happens.

A strange afternoon. A few quiet hours. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. So why not improvise an apple tart, thought I.

A botched attempt. Flavorful, but unsatisfactory. Crust too crumbly. Falling apart within my hands. Just not coming together. A lot like this day.

So I try it again tomorrow. What else can one do? Learn. Try again. That was my Thursday.

That, and a simple dinner, in the haven of the garden. Some spring carrots. And lamb. And rosemary too.

Rosemary carrots in coconut milk baked in a parcel & lamb chops

Serves 2-3

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 20 + 7-15 min for the meat

Age for babies: You could make this into a baby puree steaming together a bit of lamb with carrots, mixing to desired consistency with milk or coconut milk (which you steep the rosemary in before adding.) You can give from 8 months on. If you give the carrots alone, cook them as described below, they make an easy finger food, also from 8 months old on. (I used ground lamb for Pablo’s baby purees mixed with vegetables starting at 6-7 months).

Note: I am a big fan of cooking in parcels as I’ve blogged about before. It’s easy, it’s very healthy, it keeps the nutrients and flavors in. No downside really.


1 bunch of new carrots
2 sprigs of rosemary
3/4 cup coconut milk
salt & pepper
2 cloves of garlic
Lamb chops (however many per person you would like. I recommend the thicker pieces with two chops, unless you like your meat well done, in that case, you could get a thinner piece.)
Olive oil

Peel the carrots, and cut them up.

Preheat the oven at 425°F

In a pan over medium heat, bring the coconut milk to a simmer for 2 minutes. Take the rosemary leaves off the stem, wash them, mince them (I cut them up with kitchen scissors) and put them in the coconut milk. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for a few minutes.

Place one sheet of unbleached parchment paper on a baking dish. Place the carrots in the center. Spoon the rosemary coconut milk over them.

Fold up the parchment paper over the carrots to make a parcel. You can use string, or I just fold and crumple up each side.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Open the parcel when ready to serve (it will keep hot if closed).

Meanwhile, brush the lamb chops with some olive oil (rosemary olive oil if you have some, or put some rosemary in the olive oil for a few minutes before brushing). Rub the chops with the garlic cloves.

Cook the lamb chops as you prefer. For convenience, we often just pan-fry them (we like them rare, so it usually takes about 7 minutes total over high heat, turning them on each side. About 11-12 minutes for medium rare).
Of course, you can also cook them in the broiler (turning them over half-way through), or on the grill.