Savory cranberry tart recipe

I’ve been thinking of the roles we play lately. Or rather,
the roles we have in our life.There’s this man, he runs a workout studio I go
to. This guy is what I would call “cool”. Will Smith cool. He’s in his 40’s,
family man, athlete, business owner, and I always marvel at how seamlessly he’s
able to go from one role to another with complete grace and ease. He can be a
role model and teacher to kids and also gently flirt with young women in his class, dance
and have fun carefree like a teenager, and be in charge of his business and
people working for him. He’s man, father, brother, husband, teacher, boss, role model, boy, athlete, dancer, friend, buddy, mentor, trainer… He’s
all of those things and at the same time completely himself. I don’t know him
personally and know nothing of his private life, but he always struck me as one
of the most balanced people I know.

I think there’s this direct link between the roles in our
life and how balanced we feel. When one role overwhelms all others for long
periods of time, I tend to feel stuck, frustrated, limited and somehow lacking.
As a mom, I know I’m not alone in that longing to have time to step out of that role, even for five minutes, to have an adult conversation, to be spontaneous and carefree, to finish a cup of coffee.

Because we are not one thing.

We are so much more complex than that. Embracing our multiplicity is the way to truly be ourselves. Our
humanity has so many facets, all deserving to be expressed in some way. We are not just mothers and fathers. We are not just our jobs. We are more.

This
has been a new way to look at my life, which has geared me away from harsh self-judgment,
to give way to a detective-like, or explorer-like, perspective: looking for the
roles I want in my life, the ones that make me happy and fulfilled, that
reflect what profoundly matters to me, and finding creative ways to fill in those roles.

I started on this train of thought recently as I was walking
back home with the stroller and Pablo sleeping in it, after having purchased a
few knick-knacks for my food styling experiments. The holidays were coming, I
was thinking of my holiday menu. And it hit me. Right there, in that moment, I
was feeling like a mother, walking with my child getting some needed sleep, but
also like a blogger and writer, thinking of this post, like a food
stylist and photographer (in training!), thinking of how I would use my new
props. Like a cook, thinking of tweaking some recipes. And looking forward to
being a good friend and host during the holidays – one of my most cherished roles, little matters more to me than
being a good friend to those I love.

That was a good walk. I felt grounded, myself.

I want to be all those things (and a few others). They are
all part of me. I think of a bridge. It can’t be held by one pillar, can it? It’s held by many pillars. Those roles are our pillars. Nurturing them helps us not fall apart at every blow life throws at us. They give us balance, and strength.

I also think this is crucially important as a model to my
child. Having no other role in life than that of his mom, wouldn’t be good for him (or me). I want many pillars for him. I want him to see that we can have many facets in life, pursue different
roles that ring true to us, and which may evolve over time. That’s what makes
us who we are. I guess that’s why I hate labels with a passion. “He’s shy”, “she’s
studious”, “he’s rambunctious”, etc. We are all those things at one point
or another. We are not just one thing. This idea is both grounding and freeing. I hope to impart some of that sense to my son so that he may learn it perhaps with a bit more ease than I have.

So instead of resolutions this year, I’d like to think of the roles I
want reinforce, or improve in two thousand thirteen, and the ones I want to lessen. New roles I want to build, too. I hope to find the courage to step in roles that I may not be so comfortable in, as well. It
seems a more realistic way to achieve that “happy new year” everyone wishes us, rather than resolutions I’m
bound to fall short on.

One of the roles that has become such a wonderful,
fulfilling part of my life, a labor of love really, is this blog. Actually, it
has been a great way to combine many roles I’ve been longing to express
for a long time. That’s the thing about expressing. You just want someone out
there to hear you somehow. And if there’s just one person reading
these lines, it’s immensely worthwhile. So thank you.

Now… just a little bit about this recipe. This was an
experiment I had to tweak a few times until I got the dosage just right. I got
some fresh cranberries in a CSA delivery and wanted to use them in something
else than sauce or muffins. I’ve also been wanting to experiment with duck fat
in pie crust since I started to look into pie crust recipes around Thanksgiving (starting with this cornmeal lard pie crust recipe on Local Milk).
That’s how this savory tart was born. It’s a nice combination of sweet, tart
and savory. Half pie, half quiche, it makes for a nice brunch entree with a
salad.

It’s not the “whip-up at the last minute” type of dish. More a “I’m in the
mood for slowing down, being in the moment and cooking for good friends” type of dish.
We need those in our lives, once in a while. To stop and smell… the savory
pie.

Our years are never just happy, are they? So I’d like to wish you and your loved ones a fulfilling new
year with moments of true joy; may you find ways to express many facets and roles in your life.

Gorgonzola cranberry tart in a duck fat crust

Inspired by the awesome cornmeal lard pie crust from Local Milk + invaluable lessons in baking from Cannelle & Vanille

Serves 6-8

Prep time: 30 mn + 90 mn rest time for crust
Cook time: 45 mn

Age for babies: 12 months+ for the eggs.

For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter (cut into 1/2″ pieces)
2 tbsp cold rendered duck fat (cut into 1/2″ pieces – stick in freezer 10 mn before starting crust if possible)
2-3 tbsp ice cold water

For filling:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced, stems removed (keep some of the “fuzz” for garnish)
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 cup of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
one pinch of salt
one pinch of sugar
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
2 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
2-3 oz crumbed Gorgonzola (or other blue cheese of choice)

In a large bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal and salt. Pour in a food processor (or do by hand if you prefer), and add in the butter and duck fat. Pulse until the pieces of fat are about the size of peas (do not overmix, as this will affect the chemistry of the gluten and the crust will end up very crumbly… learned this the hard way).

Put the mixture back into the bowl, and slowly add the ice cold water, tbsp by tbsp, working it into the dough by hand, until it comes together (add the water very progressively, harder to fix if you put too much than too little). It will form a ball, albeit somewhat wet and greasy.

Place dough on plastic wrap, form a disc 4″-5″ across, wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Dust a surface with some flour. Roll the dough to the size of a 9-inch pie pan.

Fill a 9-inch tart mold (glass works well) with the dough, pressing on the sides. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for another 30 mn.

(For pie crust questions and fixes, I found this very helpful article on Food Science.)

Preheat the oven at 375°F. Take the pie crust out of the fridge, cover with parchment paper, and place dry beans or rice as pie weights (unless you actually have pie weights!) so the crust doesn’t swell while baking. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

In a sauté pan over medium heat, put the olive oil, fennel, onion and thyme with a pinch of salt, and cook until tender and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir. Add the cranberries and the pinch of sugar, and stir, until they all pop. Remove from heat and set aside.

Warm up the cream (without boiling it), remove from heat and place the rosemary sprig in it. Cover and let steep 10 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream.

Let the pie crust cool for a few minutes. Then spoon the fennel-cranberry mixture into it. Add the crumbled Gorgonzola on top, and pour the egg-cream mixture over the filling.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until custard is set (knife comes out clean).

Serve warm, with a salad. We served it with romaine lettuce in a creamy vinaigrette (3 parts heavy cream / 1 part vinegar, salt & pepper.)

(Leftovers can be served the next day, but the tart does taste better reheated in the oven for a few minutes).

Spring lamb meatballs recipe

I often feel like I’m galloping through life at full speed, and pulling on the reins as hard as I can, to slow down, to really feel my life, to see it and enjoy it in a palpable way. But time has that sand-going-through-your-fingers quality, and for some reason, that sensation seems exacerbated when you have children. How can Pablo be almost 2 already?

So I’m searching. I’m searching for the secret to living life in the slow lane. 

My jasmine brought this to mind. We are blessed with a large wall of jasmine, and its scent pervades our backyard for a couple of months a year. I mentioned it a couple of times recently… I can see it through my window from my desk, where I spend a lot of time. I look at it, like an anchor. I watched it dormant this winter. I smiled when I noticed the pink buds multiplying a few weeks ago. Then the first couple of white flowers came out last week. And today, it’s in full bloom. I just wish it would stop there, stay there.

At night, I stick my nose out my window just to smell it a few more seconds. I just want to be with it.

I know the art of slow living has to do with being in the moment, but ironically, the times we are in the moment, are the ones that go by the fastest. And yet that are the most worthwhile. So you see my conundrum.

Or is it about being content? When we are content, life slows down a bit. When we remember it’s not going to last and start wanting more, it accelerates again. Life has sometimes felt jerky that way.

So between deadlines and to-do lists, I struggle to find ways to take my time. To reclaim it. It’s hard. This blog has been a great opportunity to do that: in order to write the posts I want to write, I have to take my time, slow down. To cook the recipes, to photograph them, to write my thoughts here.

And I suppose that, as always, it’s the little things that help the most. Looking for slower moments every day. Opportunities for slowness. Moments of awareness, of enjoyment, or even of sadness or worry. Just being with it. Moments when we do not think of what comes next, but focus on the here and now. Like dancing with Pablo. Gardening (or trying to…). Cooking. And meals.

Meals are such moments for us. That’s why I cherish them so much. Far from wanting to get dinner over with, we consciously try to slow it down, trying to be mindful while we eat (I remind Pablo – and myself – to eat slowly several times a meal. It’s not about what we’re eating next, but about what we’re eating now.)

And these things have helped me pull on the reins of time a bit. But it does fly…

I think of my jasmine again. In January, I trusted the rain was feeding its roots to make it grow and bloom when it would be ready (with a hint of impatience). In March, I am enjoying it in all its glory, I take seconds every day to smell it and marvel at it (with a hint of helplessness, at how fast it will fade away). In August, I will accept it has gone through its cycle, and will be grateful for the joy it gave me (with a hint of sadness).

Trust that things will happen as they need to, enjoy the worthwhile moments as best you can, accept the fluctuating and cyclical nature of life.  In short, go with the flow. All a work in (slow) progress here.

In the meantime, we shall have our meal outside tonight. Just for the smell of jasmine in the spring.

I have been enjoying thoroughly cooking from Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga (I talked about her inspiring blog when I shared her leek flan recipe a while ago). This lamb meatballs recipe has become one of our family favorites, and is especially appropriate with the spring season (I usually cook leg of lamb for Easter).  We love lamb meat and have it on a regular basis (I started giving it to Pablo around 7 months). It is so flavorful, and this easy preparation really brings out the best of its flavor.

Herbed lamb meatballs in coconut milk, with quinoa

Very lightly adapted from Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Serves 4

Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 20 mn

Age for babies: I would offer this between 10-12 mo because of the egg.

1 lb ground lamb
2 slices of bread, crust removed, crumbled (I used a ancient grain spelt bread)
1 clove of garlic
1 egg
1/2 bunch of Italian parsley
10 sprigs fresh mint
4 sprigs fresh oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup sheep’s milk yogurt (or whole milk cow if you can’t find sheep)
Juice of 1/2 lemon


For the quinoa:
1 cup of quinoa
2 cups of vegetable broth (or water)
Leftover coconut milk (*I usually use cans of coconut milk, and using 1 1/2 cup above, there’s a bit leftover, which I add in to cook the quinoa)

Peel the garlic, pick the leaves of the mint and oregano off the stems. Place the garlic clove, oregano, mint and parsley in a small food processor to mince them very finely. (Alternatively, you can mince everything by hand).

Beat the egg lightly with a fork.

In a medium bowl, combine lamb, crumbled bread, minced garlic & herbs, egg, 1/2 tsp salt, paprika and black pepper.

With your hands, mix just enough to combine. Form the meatballs and set aside on a plate.

In a large shallow pan, bring the coconut milk and 1/2 tsp of salt to a low simmer. Add the meatballs (they will not be submerged in the liquid). Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Make the quinoa: in a fine strainer, rinse the quinoa until the water runs clear, drain well. Combine the quinoa and broth (and little bit of coconut milk if using) in a medium pan, bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until translucent and you can see the germ spiraling out of the grains, about 15 minutes.

Remove the meatballs from the pan. Stir the yogurt and lemon into the sauce.

Serve the quinoa in bowls. Add the meatballs. Drizzle some of the coconut/yogurt sauce on top.

Fava beans recipe

Finding balance in life is just so darn (for lack of a worse word 😉 difficult. There I am, with that picture in my head telling me what my life should be, could be, would be if… if what? If it wasn’t what it is? But it is what it is. All French existentialism aside, I’m realizing more and more how that’s just no way to live. Who cares what life is “supposed to be”? According to whom? Bottom line is, I often do care. Too much. It’s annoying, I can’t shake it sometimes. Waiting for when life will be what it’s “supposed to be”. Meanwhile, life is now, moving along, regardless of shouldas couldas wouldas.

So… how do fresh fava beans come into that picture, you ask?

Well, fava beans have helped me this week.

Thanks to this blog and my renewed passion for cooking since Pablo was born, I have been really excited to eat seasonally. I blogged about the joy brought by heirloom tomatoes a couple of months ago. More recently, I have been going to farmer’s markets or grocery stores like one goes on a treasure hunt. “What am I going to find that’s fresh, local, seasonal, and hopefully organic?” Eating/cooking seasonally and being open-minded and eager to discover whatever the seasons bring you, has been one way to live in the present, and be grateful for what it has to offer.

Once again, life lessons in the kitchen… If I can teach myself and my son to go into a store – and into life – with as few expectations as possible, but with an eager open mind and a desire to learn, take in, discover, explore… if I can teach him how rewarding that can be, and that may just be the secret of happiness in life, then I will be content.

So this last week, it was fava beans the present season brought us, and boy were we grateful.

In France, fava beans are in season in the fall, but I read in the US, they can be in season in the spring and summer. Have you seen them around in your area? From seeing them appear for the first time at Whole Foods the past couple of weeks, I assume they grow in the fall here. We ate some in Normandy in September and Pablo loved them raw as well as cooked. Yes, they are a bit labor intensive, as you have to shell them, and peel their outer skin (shelling and peeling is a cool activity kids can help with!), but I hope you will believe me when I tell you they are so worth it! They just don’t compare to their dried counterparts.

So when my friend Christelle in Normandy mentioned this super simple, yet delicious recipe using the fava beans she often gets in her CSA delivery this time of year, I was sold.

Guinea fowl, named pintade in French, is a very common type of poultry most French families consume regularly.

In case you’re wondering what a guinea fowl looks like…

It is as easy to cook as a chicken, but does have much more flavor. It is fairly small usually, and rarely feeds more than 4-5 people. If you haven’t had it before, and you have an opportunity to find it, you should give it a try. (In LA, I found it at the poultry stall at the Farmer’s Market). This recipe could be done exactly the same way with a regular chicken (or any type of poultry), but the fava beans are better complemented by a meat that has a stronger flavor.

Did I ever imagine I would be one day writing about guinea fowl and fava beans? Definitely not. And here I am, loving every minute of it. Throwing the shoulds out my kitchen window, and focusing on what’s right there, in front of me.

Have you found something unexpected and seasonal recently that you were excited to cook and try? If not, on your next trip at the market, would you be willing to pick one unfamiliar seasonal produce and experiment with it in the kitchen?

What life lessons have you learned in the kitchen?

Roasted guinea fowl with fava beans

Recipe by my good friend Christelle in Normandy, merci Christelle!

Serves about 4

Ages for babies: This is so simple, it can be given at 6-8 months as a puree, adding some of the cooking juices to obtain desired consistency. After 8 months, fava beans make a perfect finger food (like all beans).

Prep time – 30 minutes (shelling and peeling the beans does take a while… a great activity for meditation, relaxation, or chatting with a good friend!)
Cook time – 45-50 minutes

1 guinea fowl
4 lbs fava beans in pods (yields about 13 oz of cooked beans)
Olive oil
Fresh thyme
Italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt & pepper

In a Dutch oven, heat some olive oil at medium-high heat and brown the guinea fowl on all sides.
Sprinkle with thyme leaves, parsley, salt & pepper.

Add 1 1/2 cup of hot water, cover and simmer over low-medium heat for about 35 minutes, checking from time to time there’s still a little liquid in the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, shell and peel the fava beans, by removing the outer skin (see pictures above), so you’re left with the darker green bean. (*You could do the shelling/peeling ahead of time, dramatically reducing the prep time on the day you make this).

When the guinea fowl has been cooking for about 35 minutes, add the fava beans in the cooking juices with the guinea fowl, cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the beans are tender.

Weathering life, one simple soup at a time

In truth, I can’t begin to describe the turmoils our lives are currently in. Remnants of previous turmoils, and new turmoils, waves of them, which I weather the best I can. Amidst angst and chaos, I have found myself at a loss for words in this space. This holiday week, I so wish I was coming to you with profound words and an elaborate scrumptious dish worthy of the greatness of love and life.

Yet humbly, all I can bring to this virtual table, is a few sparks of joy that have grounded me, made me remember to be grateful for love and life. And a simple soup to warm the soul.

Today, I feel grateful for…

… the overwhelming generosity and support of friends and family who truly care
… a dinner interrupted for a dance with my son
… this post by lovely Shanna, so true and inspiring
… the San Gabriel mountains, serene arms enveloping and watching over us in our new home
… a glimpse of Pablo’s curls with the sun shining through, and his smile too
… your interest, patience, encouragements, comments & support
… every single challenge parenting has brought into my life
… our meals, pillars of our family life
… the warmth of our family’s Thanksgiving celebration (I am making this casserole, and these rolls)
… screams of joy at the sight of the first Christmas lights
… the ability to know and share myself, to love and be vulnerable…

Pablo and I have the great fortune to be going to visit friends in Paris for a couple of weeks in December, a much needed break that is as highly anticipated as it was unexpected. I look forward to sharing with you (here, on Facebook and Instagram) the inescapable good food experiences it will entail…

May you have a joyful Thanksgiving, may your souls feel as nourished and full as your bellies…

Pumpkin celeriac soup (cardamom infused coconut milk base)

Prep time 20 min
Cook time: 50 min

Age for babies: 6 months + (coconut milk can be replaced with vegetable broth, milk – formula or breast – can be added in at the end for texture. Can be a soup or a puree).

1 small sugar pie pumpkin (about 3 pounds)
1 medium celery root
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
4-5 pods of cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven at 350°F.

Wash the pumpkin, cut it in half. Scoop the seeds and strings out.
Place face down in a baking dish, add 1/4 inch of water. Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until very tender.

Meanwhile, peel the celery root, cut it up in small pieces. Place in a pan with the coconut milk and cardamom pods – which you can place in a little cloth bag if you have one so you can remove them easily when the celery is cooked, or as I did, you can just fish for them after :-).
Cover, bring to a light boil and simmer for 20 min or so, until the celery is very soft and ready to be pureed.

Remove the cardamom pods. When the pumpkin is ready, scoop out the meat into a blender. Add the salt, celery root in coconut milk and blend until very smooth, adding a few tablespoons of hot water to obtain your preferred consistency.

We ate it with these apple Gruyere muffins. A comforting meal indeed.