Oxtails in coconut milk recipe

Sitting at my dining room table with my pile of cookbooks, I make the menu for the coming week. My mind is racing, there’s work, deadlines, tonight’s dinner, swim class, gym class, the bank, the store… It’s already 6 o’clock, where did this day go?

Then I grab a cookbook from the pile, Art of the Slow Cooker, and the tagline reads: “Good things come to those who wait.” Oh, crap. That’s right, I’ve got to slow down, focus and enjoy the present task, the rest will get done. Somehow.

Time, time, time. Such a precious commodity. Seems to become even more precious (and rare!) when you have children. Life can be such a juggling act sometimes, a whirlwind, a whoosh. It’s scary, gives me vertigo. I have to pull on my own reins and stop to enjoy the present moment. A few seconds cheek to cheek with my son. Looking at fesh produce at the farmer’s market. Enjoying a meal with friends and family. Notice the beauty of a blue sky. Of a white sky. November is upon us, Thanksgiving around the corner, so it’s pretty a good time to be particularly aware of things we’re grateful for. The big, and the little things.

In these moments of stress and struggling to get everything done, time somehow becomes the enemy. How crazy is that? Time is our life. Time is our present. Time is all we’ve got. When we’re out of time, well… that’s it. Time should never be the enemy. It is our most precious possession. So in these whooshy whirlwind-of-life moments, I try to remember that, in a screeching-tire-smell-of-rubber brain moment. And I look down at what’s in front of me: oh yeah. Crock pot recipes.

I discovered the time-saving wonders of the crock pot a few years ago. I talked about how to get organized for a sit down meal in my Anatomy of a French four-course family meal, and the crock pot sure makes that much easier. Spend 20 minutes early in the day for a little prep, and when dinner time comes, serve and enjoy! You only have the vegetable starter to think about, like this one. Or this one.

This is my favorite crock pot recipes (this crock pot recipe book, by the way, is worth checking out, so many wonderful, easy yet fine cuisine recipes in it). This dish is so exotic tasting and delicious, makes great use of these spices you may have lying around in your cupboard. The meat is so tender, the sauce so “parfumée”, as the French would say, literally “perfumed”, meaning complex with many flavors and scents to it. Yet there really isn’t anything complicated about the recipe. It’s one of those dishes that gets a lot of “wows”, yet I never feel I should get much credit given the simplicity of it. Somehow the simple process of marrying these ingredients with time brings a wonderfully complex chemistry of flavors in the plate.

Hope you give it a try and the time of one scrumptious bite of this dish, your life can slow down just a little bit and precious seconds can be enjoyed for all they’re worth.

Oxtails Braised in Coconut Milk, with coconut Jasmine rice

Inspired from Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss

Ages for babies: I would say 12 months and above, because of the myriad of spices and ingredients. The meat is very very tender and very easy to gum down for a baby with few teeth.

Serves 6

Prep time: 20 Min (Given the long list of ingredients, I recommend prepping and measuring all the ingredients first)
Cook time in crock pot: 4-5 hours on high, 8-10 hrs on low

1/4 cup flour
1 tsp of kosher salt or fleur de sel
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground allspice
6 large pieces of oxtails (12 oz each) – the author of the book says you could use veal or beef shanks if you couldn’t find oxtails, but I have not tried it.
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp of finely chopped ginger root
1 cup beef broth
3/4 cup fat free or light coconut milk
1 cup diced tomatoes, drained of their liquid as much as possible
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
Some fresh cilantro for garnish

For the coconut rice:
2 cups of Jasmine rice
2/3 cup coconut milk
1 1/3 cup water

Mix the flour, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin and allspice in a medium mixing bowl. Roll the oxtails in the spiced flour mixture until they are coated on all sides. Remove and pat off excess spiced flour (reserving that spiced flour). Add the turmeric to the flour mixture and set aside.

In a deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat. Brown the oxtails on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to your crock pot.

Add the onion and carrots to the skillet and sauté over medium heat until brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds, stirring often. Add the reserved spiced flour mixture, and stir to coat the vegetables. Stir in the broth, coconut milk and tomato, and boil, stirring often, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Tuck the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, and bay leaves around the pieces of oxtail, and pour the sauce over the meat in the crock pot. Cover and cook for about 4-5 hours on high (or 8-10 hours on low).

About 20 Min before dinner, cook the rice with the proportions of water and coconut milk indicated above.

Serve some rice on a plate, place the oxtail on top and pour some sauce and carrots over the meat. Enjoy!

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.

Sunchoke gratin dauphinois recipe

It took parenting and cooking to teach me how to live my life.

This sentence could very well be a description for this blog. That’s what I’ve been wanting to share here: parenting, cooking, life (and a French touch). Not necessarily in that order. Their connection never ceases to amaze me.

What I mean by that, is that the meaning meat of life, the secret to happiness and fulfillment, the secret to no-regret-living, is to live for, and by, the journey. Or the process. (Journey’s a pretty word for process, really.) Or at least, I’m pretty sure it’s a big part of it.

And as life would have it, parenting and cooking are
both process-oriented experiences. In fact, they
are experiences that only work if you
focus on their process, if you’re able to enjoy their process. If you’re able
to trust their process
.

Through both, I am learning to let go of expectations, to be
present in the moment, to nurture instead of control. For both, I am finding that learning
from others and trusting one’s own instincts is not contradictory, but complementary.
Thanks to both, I am learning to be attuned to myself and to the world.

I’ve been struggling to write for many years. Wanting to, and
yet finding it excruciating, or myself incapable of it. But I see now writing
is much like cooking and parenting. It’s all about the process too. The end result,
well… it’s not what matters most. And it shouldn’t be the motivation for it. If it is, it comes out shallow, inauthentic, mediocre. Just like cooking to impress. And how absurd – and damaging – would it be to have a child only for the picture-perfect lawyer or doctor we would like him to become?

We must live for living’s sake, cook for cooking’s sake, eat for eating’s sake, write for writing’s sake, and nurture for nurturing’s sake. A thing that is an end in itself, is always worthwhile.

So I am writing,
here, finally. Perhaps I couldn’t write before I learned that lesson. Parenting
and cooking might have just made a writer out of me. How wonderfully and
poetically surprising life can be, when our minds are open enough to take it in.

I could bitch about how I wish I learned these things earlier
in life. And I do sometimes. But to heck with hindsight, it was just part of my journey to learn it this way. And the onslaught of spring is making me feel optimistic. The jasmine has burst out into the night air, heavy enough to carry the mockingbird’s relentless nocturnal song of seduction. (I can hear him in the darkness as I’m writing these words.) So I wanted to say it: I am grateful for this unforeseen revelation,
this new understanding of life. I’m just so glad about it. And when one is glad,
one should say it. Or write it. Share it, in short.

Or cook it. And can I just say gratins are a perfect way to
share gladness?

I have blogged about sunchokes before, we have enjoyed many
sunchoke soups this winter, simple ones and fancy ones, and I recently cooked
them in a gratin for the first time. This is a twist on the classic French potato
gratin. A very tasty twist indeed. I hope you enjoy!

Sunchoke gratin dauphinois

Adapted from Petit Larousse des Recettes de Légumes du Potager by Valérie Lhomme

Serves 4

Prep time: 30 mn
Cook time: 65 mn

Age for babies: 10-12 months

2 lbs sunchokes (try to get larger ones that are not too quirky shaped, for ease of peeling and slicing)
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
1 whole garlic clove
4 tbsp butter
1 1/4 cup heavy cream (or crème fraîche)
2 eggs
2 pinches of ground nutmeg
3.5 oz of grated Swiss cheese (Comté is a good one. Manchego works well too, or other flavorful hard cheese)
Salt & pepper

Peel the sunchokes, putting them in cold water as you go. Then slice them either by hand or with a mandoline or with the slicing accessory of your food processor.

Preheat the oven at 350°F.

In a medium pot, bring the milk and bay leaf to a low boil, remove from heat, cover and let cool to lukewarm.

Peel the garlic clove. Rub your baking dish with 2 tbsp of butter, and rub the bottom of the dish with the garlic clove.

Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl. Remove the bay leaf from the milk. Whisk in the cream, the eggs, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper.

Place one layer of sunchoke slices in the baking dish, pour some of the milk/cream mixture on top, sprinkle with cheese, then add another layer of sunchokes, pour the rest of the milk/cream mixture and sprinkle the rest of the cheese (do one more layer of each if needed). Top with small dabs of butter, and bake for 1 hour.

Check if the sunchokes are done with a knife, should go in easily, like for a potato.

We have served this as a side dish with a roasted chicken, or a duck stew. Or it can be savored on its own with an endive salad.