Making Speculoos cookies and a children’s trifle

We got back from our month-long trip to Greece and France, and I must admit it has
been a bit of a challenge to adapt back to “real life”. Probably because this
intense month of bonding with friends and (re)discovery and experience felt
more real than our so-called “real life”. Most of our time was spent
focusing on things that really matter, and very little time on menial things.
It just always makes me wonder, “What if life could always be this pure and
intense?” Part of me feels energized and motivated from the trip, and another
part feels sad, nostalgic and daunted by the mountain of things to do. I
must start cooking and writing in hope my spirits will lift.
In the meantime, I shall reminisce about a week in Normandy spent with our
friends Christelle and Jean-Max and their children, Calista, 9 and Philéas, 5.

 

 

These children are what I would
consider very French children (the kind Karen Le Billon talks about in her book). While they love pasta and sweets and French
fries, they are also quite the foodies. I was delighted to hear them critique
their school lunch menus (which are amazing by American standards, but
considered mediocre by most French parents), saying the food left to be
desired, the pasta was too greasy, and the meat overcooked. Philéas declared he
only liked a particular brand of Camembert cheese (he also went through a phase
where he declared himself a “cheese vegetarian”). And Calista professed her
love of cooking. When I asked what they liked to cook, they mentioned one of
their favorite desserts: the Speculoos trifle. At my puzzled look, they asked,
“What, you don’t know what a Speculoos is?” I was soon initiated. It turns out
a Speculoos is a very simple, yet tasty, cinnamon spice cookie, as widely known
as Oreos in the US.
It’s from Belgium
originally, but has become a favorite of the French (and of Amélie Poulain in the French film,
Amélie).

So we decide to make home-made Speculoos to use for
the trifle. The children bring out the ingredients, Philéas mixes, Calista knows
all about making a well in the dry ingredients to pour the wet. As we shape the
dough, Calista suggests adding more butter, as it is too dry. She’s correct,
that does the trick. We are in Normandy
after all, the land of cream and butter. In doubt, add more.

Watching Philéas getting so excited about making tonight’s
dessert, and Calista licking the bowl of cream, I feel thrilled at the idea of paying homage
to their gourmet spirit in this space. Their mother is a dear childhood friend of mine,
we’ve known each other since we’re 11, and the thought of our children cooking
and eating together couldn’t make me happier.
This dessert is very easy to make for children, and it is a wonderful refreshing treat for the whole family. The cookie softens
under the yogurt and the fruit adds a splash of sweetness. It is a reasonably healthy
treat, which I will make in Los Angeles,
if only to be transported back to Philéas and Calista Land, for a trifle in time.

Calista & Philéas’ Speculoos trifle

For the cookies (Prepare dough one day ahead)

(Original recipe found here)

2 cups all-purpose
flour

½ cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

½ cup (100 g) butter,
melted

In a large bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar,
allspice, cinnamon, salt and baking powder.
Make a well (hole) in the middle of the dry
ingredients and add the lightly beaten egg and melted butter.

Gently mix together (easier done with both hands)
to form a tube of dough that holds together (if too crumbly, add a little more
melted butter).

Wrap in plastic and keep in the fridge overnight or
more.

Preheat the oven at 350° F.

Cut into ¾ inch slices. Place them on a baking
sheet over parchment paper.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Let cool.

(Recipe invented by Calista, 9, and Philéas, 5)

3 cups of Greek yogurt (use the creamiest you can find, and avoid 0% fat)

2 tbsp of crème fraîche

(*Alternatively, you can easily find and use whole
milk plain yogurt with cream on top)

2 tbsp Brown sugar

4-5 cups of cut-up fresh fruit (For us, it was 5
peaches and nectarines. Use what’s available in season, pears and apples in
winter, stone fruit in summer. Organic canned fruit could also be used)

Speculoos cookies
Lay Speculoos cookies flat to cover the bottom of a
serving dish.

In a bowl, mix the yogurt and cream. Then add the
brown sugar and mix.
Pour the yogurt mixture on top of the cookies, and
use a spoon to spread it evenly.

Place the fruit on top and place in the fridge
until ready to serve.

Making bread over the campfire

Why does food taste so much better when cooked – and savored
– outside? The American part of my soul loves camping, for the outdoors, the beauty
of nature, the escape from civilization. But also because of the food.

Camping is one of the rare times I indulge in bacon…
French toast and fried egg…

Somehow when camping, life becomes
simple again. Life slows down. For a couple of days, life becomes about
sleeping, eating, enjoying and savoring the moment, absorbing the surroundings,
being in touch with nature. The basics of life, really. The things that make
you feel grounded, and tend to get diminished by the rat race of 21st
century life. Perhaps it is because we are (willingly) forced into this contemplative state
that our senses are enhanced and we can enjoy the food, the process of cooking
and enjoying it, so much more, it seems.

These are the things I was so excited
to share with Pablo on this camping trip to the SequoiaNational Forest,
and he had a wonderful time, though it is the natural state of a toddler:
being in the moment, absorbing the surroundings, his life being about sleeping,
eating and enjoying. Is this what the essence of childhood is?  I suppose it
makes sense he was a natural at camping then… He was probably thinking of me all
frantic to get organized and packed and in
a hurry to go slow down
in the woods, thinking to himself, “Of course that’s
what life is about.” We have so much to learn from our children. We are forced to outgrow this state, to then grow to seek
and rediscover it. Life is all about cycles, isn’t it?

This longing to “get back to the basics”, to the
simplicities of life, must explain why I was so excited when our dear friend D
mentioned she and her ex-husband used to make
bread while camping. Making bread. Just
saying it makes me feel grounded. Over the campfire!  The pioneers from the Lewis & Clark expedition come to mind. I feel the
dough in my fingers. I smell the smoke and heat from the fire.

Food
has a way of connecting and reconnecting people, and it’s exactly what it did
here. D contacted her estranged ex-husband to obtain the bread recipe, and they
were able to reminisce about the good memories around that bread and find
closure in acknowledging these happy times together. I love how food touches
our lives this way, as a symbol, as a token, as the companion to the ups and
downs of life. When Pablo gets a bit older, I will love telling him that story,
it’ll make the bread taste that much better. That’s one part of the education of
taste: to us, that bread will always have a tinge of healing and joy in its
flavor. Recipes get passed from lives to lives, like happy ghosts
of nostalgia, carrying our journeys, spreading them like ashes, feeding the soil for new growth.

For a simple and nutritional lunch open-faced sandwich
(called “tartine” in French), I used a wonderful Tomato Jam made last week, some
mozzarella and avocado…

Even if you don’t go camping, you can make this bread over a
fire on the beach, or on the barbecue at the park! It tastes like a scrumptious
American biscuit, and a bite out of it might just make you feel like the pioneers
who helped build this country – à propos for a July 4th!

Tomato, mozzarella & avocado tartine, on Bannock
camp-cooked bread

Bread recipe from Bradford Angier

Age: 12 months and up – because the tomato jam contains
honey, mostly. Note that the kids can help mix the dough with the water in the
plastic bag, always fun and sensory! It’s a balanced lunch sandwich with
vegetables (tomatoes, onions), starch (bread), dairy and protein (mozzarella),
and good fats (avocado)!

Makes 4 servings

2 cups of organic flour

2 tsp of double action baking powder

½ tsp of salt

6 tbsp of butter

4 tbsp of dry milk

Water, as necessary to obtain desired consistency

At home, mix in bowl the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut
up the softened butter and mix it in with the dry ingredients – the easiest for
me was to do this with my hands, until you get a coarse meal. Then add the dry
milk.  Pour the mix in a plastic bag.

In camp, stir mix lightly, and add water, a little bit at a
time, to obtain a dough that’s not too liquid. Put in a greased pan, cover with
foil and cook over campfire over low to moderate heat. It took ours about 1
hour.  Check it often, turn it over when
the bottom part is golden brown. Either eat right away, or if you intend to
keep it for the next day, store it in a plastic bag.

Avocado

Fresh mozzarella

Salt & pepper to taste

Melt the mozzarella in a pan. Spread some avocado on the
bread, add some tomato jam, and pour the mozzarella on top. You can add some
more tomato jam if you’d like. Enjoy!

PS: Just added “Bread” to the food sign list, check it out!

Making chicken Basquaise

Exploring and learning all about the blogging world and
twitter and Instagram and “unique” visitors (aren’t we all?)… I find myself in the ironic
predicament of being tempted to be “swallowed up” by all of it and miss those “being
in the moment” moments that make life – and food, and motherhood – worthwhile. Inspired by
this amazing post on Vanilla Bean (which I found on Twitter, via another blog…), I am
determined to set limits in my life so that I can prove to myself I can do
both.

But fellow bloggers out there, I ask you: how do we live in the moment, enjoy it, and record it for posterity too? How do you manage it?

This brings me to the recipe I wanted to post today, Chicken
basquaise. We made it last week and it gave us a perfectly happy-in-the-moment evening for which I am so thankful.

This is my mother’s way of doing it, which might differ from the
traditional recipes.  I love that about my
mother’s cooking. She cooks from the gut. She knows, she estimates, she tastes,
she smells. She cooks organically. I try to follow
in her footsteps with some things I cook, but I often find myself laboring over recipes and following instructions… I feel like a dutiful student of cooking. She has true wisdom in her cooking. I admire that.

This is in honor of a wonderful meal shared with my
mother and our dear friend Dominique (and her puppies). Summer night. Eating
outside. My mother cooking. Me photographing. Pablo tasting and loving the cooked garlic most of all. Dogs licking. In the
moment living… Cheers to that.

Chicken Basquaise

Recipe by my mom Daniele Rimbault

Age: 10-12 months, because it has a lot of different
ingredients.

This can be mixed together in a food processor for a younger baby still eating purees, or just cut-up for an older toddler.

Health benefits: It’s basically chicken simmered with lots
of vegetables… Need I say more?

Note: This is one of those dishes even better the next day, when the ingredients have had time to soak up all the flavors.  Ironically, it’s also a dish that rarely
produces leftovers. It’s that good!

(Serves about 4 people)

1 whole chicken (cut up in large pieces. Time saving tip: either buy already cut or ask your butcher to do it for you)


4 tomatoes, peeled (after plunging them whole in
boiling water for 30 seconds)

2 sliced bell peppers (red and green, or other colors)


4 sliced zucchinis (peeled only in strips)


1 peeled, sliced eggplant


2 sliced red onions


12 garlic cloves (6 peeled, 6 “en chemise”, with the film
left on)


A few sprigs of Italian Parlsey


A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme




Salt & pepper


Piment d’Espelette (optional – powder made from a variety of chili
peppers cultivated in the town of Espelette
in the Basque country. You may find it in specialty stores, or in France!)


Olive oil

In a Dutch oven, sauté and brown the chicken pieces on all
sides (in batches if needed) with 2 tbsp of olive oil and 6 peeled whole garlic
cloves.

Put one layer of chicken, add one layer of sliced onions,
add another layer of chicken on top.

Add the eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, then the quartered
tomatoes, the six remaining garlic cloves “en chemise” (literal translation: “in
their shirt”, meaning you leave the film on).

Make a bouquet garni by tying together the parsley, thyme
and laurel leaves. Add it on top.

Add salt & pepper, and a pinch of Piment d’Espelette.

Add half a glass of water, cover and simmer for 30 to 45
minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Remove the bouquet guarni and serve with some cooking juice over the vegetables and meat.

Leftover tip:

If you have vegetables left-over (a big IF, we had none this
time): A great way to make them, for baby or grownups, is to reheat them in a frying
pan with a bit of olive oil, and scramble some eggs together with the
vegetables. It’s called a “Chouchouka”. Delicious, and fun to say! J

Loving the idea of cooking for a good cause, thanks to Vanesther at Bangers & Mash, I have learned about a wonderful adoption and fostering charity called TACT.

Entering this recipe in the Care to Cook Recipe Challenge, as this is definitely a meal we would serve to welcome someone into our home.

For details on the Care to Cook challenge, go to: http://bangermashchat.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/care-to-cook-challenge/

and details on TACT here: http://www.tactcare.org.uk/pages/en/buy_tact_adoptions_care_to_cook_recipe_book.html

A Spanish tortilla, & making a case for meal planning!

In-between putting up yard sale signs, sorting closets and packing boxes, I take a much needed breather with you here to share a Spanish tortilla recipe we’ve been making often during these hectic weeks, and some thoughts on meal planning.

I was sharing with a friend that even in these hectic times, we’re still eating real food and having delicious, albeit easily put together, meals. For me, it’s just as quick to make a Greek salad, and pan-fry a lamp chop with eggplant, as it is to prepare processed foods or getting take-out. And so much better. She admitted this was true, but for her, the issue was the planning, the logistics of knowing what to cook, having it on hand etc. In short, it’s all about the meal planning.

I can certainly understand this, because it used to be our case before we had Pablo. Trying to decide what to eat at the last minute when it’s already late and we’re already starving, not feeling like looking up recipes and not having a lot of things on hand… too tired to improvise. We never did a lot of processed or prepared foods, but certainly would go for rice, pasta or potatoes more than we should have. The amount and variety of vegetable was fairly dim (mostly tomatoes and cucumber, really), and the overall variety of our meals was seriously lacking. I would cook new recipes mostly for special occasions. On a daily basis during the week, cooking felt overwhelming, there just seemed to be no time for it.

Perhaps this sounds familiar to some of you. If so, let me tell you that the antidote to this cooking rut for me was meal planning. 

When I started consistent meal planning when Pablo was 12 months, it all changed.

It’s ironic that I write about it this week, because I actually have not had the time to really make our formal weekly meal plan as I usually do. But these past couple of weeks have made me realize how much I have learned from meal planning after doing it for almost 1 year and half now.

When you meal plan month after month, slowly, cooking on a daily basis and cooking and eating meals made of real foods, becomes a habit, you can start doing it somewhat on auto-pilot. What used to feel like a huge endeavor, has become easy, a task almost done as a matter of courseImprovising such a meal feels natural and no longer daunting. Because you’ve tried so many different recipes, seen the ones you really like, your meal “palette”, so to speak, is much wider. Opening up a recipe book and deciding to make something last minute feels fun rather than complicated. Some things keep coming back from week to week, tried and true, easy recipes your family enjoys. After months of meal planning, you start to have a “pool” of your family’s favorites, and even on a week where you haven’t had a chance to do the weekly plan, you can always count on making those staples (for us, it’s things like French-style grated carrots or lentil salad, pan-fried Dover sole, pea salad, chicken basquaise, among others…) Like in everything else in life, practice makes perfect.

So it basically comes down to two things: Why do it? And how to do it?

10 reasons to make a meal plan

  1. It makes it a lot easier to have consistently balanced and delicious meals with a lot of variety
  2. It takes away the “what are we having tonight?” anxiety 
  3. It gives an opportunity to try new recipes, new ingredients
  4. Planning time for cooking helps experiencing cooking as a time to recharge, to be in the present moment, to slow down, be grounded within ourselves
  5. It helps waste less food
  6. It saves money on shopping
  7. It makes the grocery shopping more straightforward
  8. It helps take advantage of all the seasonal produce
  9. It creates opportunities of connection for the family (in the planning, cooking and eating part)
  10. It works! It’s one of those things that you will not regret once you try it. I promise you it will make your life easier and less stressful, and your meals tastier. The process will feel so much easier once you start, too. 

How to go about it

Getting started
First, I would say start with trying it once or twice a week. Set aside 30 minutes on the weekend, grab 1 or 2 cookbooks that have been gathering dust on your shelf. Maybe browse Pinterest or your favorite food blogs for some ideas that spark your tastebuds.  And make the menu for one or two dinners for the following week. Print out the recipes, make your shopping list. Then set aside the day and time you will go shopping for it. Post the menus on the fridge, that way, the whole family can look forward to it! If you like it, slowly work your way up to weekly meal planning. (I’ve created a simple weekly menu template you can download here.)

Gather recipes
Start a list of recipes you want to make in the future. When you have a couple of spare minutes, browse through papers/magazines, food blogs (cut out / print recipes, make a folder to keep on hand), Pinterest (create a board with images of recipes you want to make), bookmark recipes in your own cookbook that make you salivate or intrigue you. I’ve created a very simple document for you to download to list recipes (this one is very basic, would love your feedback on whether it is helpful, as I’ll be working on creating more documents of the kind in the coming weeks).  When you sit down to make a meal plan, you’ll have a great list of ideas to work with.

Go with the seasons
Think seasonal. Keep a list on your fridge of common seasonal produce in your area. Look up recipes with those seasonal ingredients (I found a pretty good list here). See what’s currently available by visiting your local farmer’s market.

Schedule it in

Make it part of your schedule : decide what time you need to start cooking to get dinner ready at the desired time, and put it on your calendar. Plan on it the same way some plan to sit down to watch a TV program.

Make it a family project
Get your family involved in this if they’re interested, have them pick a recipe, or an ingredient to work with. Have the kids help with preparations. Look at cookbooks together. Go to the Farmer’s Market together. Make it a family project, a way to connect.

Trust you can work with the (little) time you have
Be realistic in the amount of time and help you will need to grocery shop and prepare the meals. You don’t necessarily need a lot of time to prepare a great meal. Start with determining the time you’ll have for a given meal, and select recipe accordingly.

Be colorful
Think rainbow, when looking for ideas and creating your meal plan, try to include vegetables and fruits of the different colors of the rainbow within a day, this way you will be sure to eat a lot of the vitamins and nutrients you and your family need. Rule of thumb: the brighter the color of a vegetable or fruit, the more vitamins.

Be savvy
Think leftovers. For example, the tortilla recipe I’m sharing here, we served it as an appetizer one night, so there was half left over, the perfect quantity for a picnic lunch the next day. Be on the lookout for recipes that lend themselves to this. The days you have a little extra time, plan on recipes that can be kept a few days and eaten later in the week, like hot or cold soups (which also be frozen for later use), stews, cooked vegetables eaten cold with simple vinaigrette (cauliflower, zucchini, green beans, potatoes, leeks are perfect examples, you can boil or steam them one night, and with easy raw vegetables like tomatoes and cucumber and some fresh herbs on hand, you will have a wide variety of combinations  for the next few days: potato-cauliflower-green beans chives, green beans tomato cucumber-parsley, zucchini-mint vinaigrette, leeks vinaigrette, tomato-potato, etc…)

Meal planners out there, do you have more tips to share?

TO DOWNLOAD (FREE) THE RECIPE TO DO LIST, CLICK HERE
TO DOWNLOAD (FREE) THE WEEKLY MEAL PLAN TEMPLATE, CLICK HERE

(Your feedback is most welcome on those!)

Now, about this Spanish tortilla recipe (basically a kind of omelet or fritatta), it’s delicious, fairly quick to prepare, and you can get very creative with it without fearing the result to go awry. We had a parsnip in our veggie basket that was getting soft, so I used it here. You can add any greens that might be getting bored in your crisper. Also a great opportunity to experiment with different herbs, adding them chopped and raw to the eggs brings out their flavor. In short, it’s a very malleable dish which you can make your own easily. The wonderful directions and tips from Aran Goyoaga in Small Plates & Sweet Treats made this a sure-fire success.

I can remember having a simple potato tortilla at our Spanish relatives in Northern Spain some years ago… to this day, it just feels like the flavor of Spain. A little mind and tastebud traveling in these hectic times, is most welcome…

Spanish Tortilla with parsnip, zucchini, chards & dill

Adapted from Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Serves 4 as an entree

Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 20 mn

Age for babies: 10-12 months (depending on your child’s tolerance of egg white).

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 onion
1 large + 1 small Russet potato
1 parsnip (or you can just use 2 large Russet potatoes)
2 leaves of rainbow chards
2 small zucchinis
3/4 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper
4 eggs
2 sprigs of dill

Prep the vegetables: mince the onion, peel and dice the potato and parsnip into bite size pieces. Remove the ribs of the chard leaves and chop grossly. Peel the zucchinis and dice them. Chop the dill.

In an 8 inch diameter frying pan (this is important, it’s just the right size to flip the tortilla and cook it just right. I actually got my measuring tape to check this! It paid off), heat the olive oil over medium heat.

Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes until softened (not brown.). Then add the potatoes and parsnip with 1/2 tsp salt. Stir and cook for 5 minutes, stirring once in a while. Then add the zucchinis and chards and cook for another 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 1/4 tsp salt, some pepper, and the dill.

When the potato mixture is done, using a slotted spoon, spoon the potato/vegetables (letting out the excess olive oil, but reserving it) onto an absorbent towel on a plate. Pour the extra olive oil out of the pan, except for 1 tbsp (I was only left with about 2-3 tbsp when all was said and done).

Then add the vegetables to the eggs and stir.

Heat the frying pan over medium heat, and pour the tortilla mixture in. With a wooden spoon, stir in a circular motion at the center of the pan, until the eggs start to cook. Then let it be for 2-3 minutes. Run your spatula along the edges.

Get as flat a plate as you can find. Place the plate over the frying pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate. Then gently slide it back into the frying pan to cook the other side, about 2-3 minutes, depending on how runny you like it inside. (It took me about 3 times to really perfect this move! If you miss the “flip” or it falls apart a little, oh well, still going to taste great! :-))

Then you can leave it in the pan or slide it onto a plate to serve. Let it cool a bit, it’s best eaten just warm or even cold. (It keeps 2-3 days in the fridge, and can be reheated in the microwave.)

We have served it with a butter lettuce or endive salad, or with a side of cantaloupe and prosciutto. Delicious!