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).

A savory cake recipe

I recently fell in love with an expression I read in this insightful parenting article : “exuding trust”. 

It is the perfect way to express something very intangible. A way to be within oneself that can be sensed by others. All between the lines. Just a feeling, an impression of someone. I have found this to be one of life’s best kept secrets. Sometimes we get so anxious, scared, threatened, insecure, competitive. We project too much into the future, our expectations are unrealistic, projections of our neurosis. Too many nervous “what ifs”. And when we feel all those things, I am pretty sure what we “exude” to those around us is a far cry from trust.

In the past, I have often felt that I needed to have things “figured out”, and have felt uneasy and anxious about life’s uncontrollable variables.  Pablo is turning two in a few days, and interestingly, my recent birthday had me thinking about my shortcomings, whereas his birthday is reminding me of how much he has taught me.

And he has most certainly taught me the importance of exuding trust. An inner trust in the process of  things, in trial and error. A trust in the beautiful struggle that life is. A trust that things will happen naturally, when and how they need to happen, even if I have no idea when and how just yet.

It’s being optimistically open-minded, in a serene, peaceful way. I’m pretty amazed I’m even able to achieve that state. Not 100 % of the time of course, but getting better at it.

The thing about this open-minded-optimism-trust-exuding business, is that it is self-fulfilling. Just like the anxious-insecure-stress-inducing-doubt-exuding is. And the serenity that comes out of that trust, is contagious (just like the antsiness that comes out doubt and fear.) When someone we trust exudes trust, it is so reassuring, isn’t it?

With Pablo, it’s been about exuding trust that he will learn what he needs to learn when he is ready to do so, that his strong emotions (i.e. tantrums, he is 2 after all) are normal and come and go, that he can listen to his body… This inner trust makes me feel grounded, gentle, clear and calm, and I can be the gentle leader he needs in order to thrive.

I have also found this to be very true at the table. Having this inner trust that my child will enjoy good food, if not the first time, then the next time or the 10th time, that he may like something I dislike, that he will eat what his body needs. I am always optimistically open-minded about food, and as a result, so is Pablo.

When it came to food and Pablo’s education of taste, maybe because of my culture or upbringing in France, I never had doubts, I trusted that if I exposed him to good foods, he would enjoy them. Or at least some of them. I had this inner (somewhat unconscious at first) certainty that the enjoyment of good food, of a pleasant meal, would not be a problem. That it would be a natural thing. And so it is.

Applying that trust in other areas of my life has been the real lesson for me. In parenting, writing, marriage, work… Letting go of doubt, of those uncontrollable variables, and trust that life will take its course as it must, and that I will learn, survive, grow from what it brings.

Perhaps exuding trust is simply being able to tell oneself (and believing it), “It’s going to be okay, even if I don’t know how (or when).”

I am facing a considerable trust-exuding challenge this coming weekend as we are preparing for Pablo’s birthday party. Much much cooking,  and logistics, will be involved. In the past, I have faced such events with a lot of stress and have spoiled the mood a bit for those around me.

This time, I am exuding trust that things will be great even if they are not perfect, that Pablo will have fun and feel loved and celebrated, that our friends will have a nice time and enjoy good food. I shall report back on this and let you know how I did 🙂

In the meantime, I would love to share the recipe for one of my favorite “party foods”: the savory cake. There are countless versions of it, it is fairly easy to make, and most definitely a crowd pleaser. Kids usually love them, it is similar to a savory “bread”, a fun finger food. I make them on a regular basis for barbecues, picnics or potlucks. They also make an easy and delicious cold lunch (very convenient for a lunchbox as well, I would think).

Spinach, watercress, fennel cake

Adapted from Les Cakes de Sophie by Sophie Dudemaine

Prep time: 25 min
Cook time: 45 min

Age for babies: 10-12 months.

3 eggs
1 heaping cup of flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup (4.5 oz) whole milk
3.5 oz grated Swiss cheese (mozzarella could work too, though less flavorful)
1 bunch of watercress
2 bunches of spinach
1 medium fennel bulb
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 pinch nutmeg
2 pinches salt
2 pinches pepper

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Cut the stems of the fennel off and discard, wash the bulb. When the water is boiling, place the bulb in and blanch (cook) it for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, wash the watercress and spinach leaves thoroughly, cutting off the thicker parts of the stems.

Remove the fennel bulb with a slotted spoon (keep the water). Run the fennel under cold water, then place in a kitchen (or paper) towel to absorb moisture.

In a pan or Dutch oven, melt 1 tbsp butter and § tbsp coconut oil over medium-low heat. Cut up the fennel into small pieces, and add it in with a pinch of salt & pepper, the sesame and 1 tbsp of water. Let cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often (don’t let the fennel brown), until soft.

While that cooks, put the watercress and spinach in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes.
Drain the watercress/spinach well (pressing with a spoon to squeeze the water out) and put in a kitchen (or paper) towel to absorb moisture.

In a pan over medium low heat, melt 1 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of coconut oil. Add in the watercress/spinach, a pinch of salt and pepper, and the nutmeg. Let cook for 5 minutes, stirring often (at that point, you’re stirring both pans simultaneously, the fennel and the greens).

Warm up the milk (I like to use baby bottles for measurement, you can stick it for 1 min in the microwave).

In a bowl, mix the flour and baking powder together, add the eggs in and whisk with a fork (I find the fork easier than the whisk in this case, as the mixture is quite thick).

Little by little, whisk in the oil, then the warm milk. The mixture will become thinner and easier to whisk. Stir in the grated cheese. Then add the watercress/spinach and the fennel.

Butter a rectangular cake mold and pour the batter in. Bake for about 45 minutes (it is done when a knife or toothpick comes out clean.)

Let cool. Eat at room temperature.

It’s all about the herbs… and a savory custard

First I wanted to thank everyone for the wonderful response and feedback to my four-course family meal post, I’m so happy if it can be useful to families. We’re all in the same boat of wanting our kids (and ourselves while we’re at it) to eat well and healthy!

Speaking of which, I wanted to share this amazingly simple custard recipe. These basic ingredients made into a savory custard, result in a delicious, subtle appetizer. I would think this would be a great way to get picky eaters to try herbs.  This is one of those “It looks fancy, but it really isn’t” French recipes.

I am a big fan of herbs, and a big believer in introducing them to children and babies very early on. (I must have started around 6 months for Pablo, adding one new herb at a time to his purees). Their subtle taste brings out the flavor in dishes and enhances it, not to mention their high vitamin and mineral content, so we use them a lot, not only in cooked dishes, but in our salads as well (for example, I add 4 or 5 different kinds of chopped herbs to our plain butter lettuce salad, with a shallot and some vinaigrette. Delicious!)

I started a little herb garden of my own last year and it has been such a pleasure to go pick our fresh herbs for cooking. It’s also so much easier to be able to use just the quantity you need and have it always handy (the herbs I buy at the store always seem to go bad before I can use them all…) The herb garden has been a wonderful way to get Pablo involved. He helps water them, he smells their different fragrances, even takes a bite sometimes. (I’m thinking of devising a “scent guessing game” when Pablo is a bit older, with different herbs, to get him to recognize the smells.)

The idea is to make herbs fun, interesting and familiar as early as possible. Well, this custard is certainly one way to do just that. We made it twice in one week it was so good, and so easy to make.
I hope you give it a try, and tell me what you think! And it would definitely be fun to make the same custard experimenting with different herbs.

Savory Herb Custard

Recipe inspired from the Best Of edition of the French magazine Gourmand.

For 4 custards

Prep time – 10 minutes
Cook time – 40 minutes + cooling time

Age for babies: 10 months and above, because of the whole eggs. This is a great way to expose baby to the subtle flavor of herbs.

1/2 bunch of Italian parsley
A good handful of chives
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
3 eggs
2/3 cup of milk
2/3 cup of heavy cream
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven at 300° F.

Peel and mince the garlic clove. In a saucepan, pour the milk and cream, and add the garlic. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.

Wash, dry and chop finely the parsley and chives (I used a small Cuisinart to do the chopping for me).

In a bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Slowly pour the milk/cream/garlic mixture into the eggs, while whisking. Add the herbs, a pinch of salt & a dash of pepper.

Pour the custard into oven-safe ramekins or jars. Place the ramekins in a deep baking pan, and place the pan on the oven rack. Add enough hot water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins, to cook in a water bath.

Bake about 40 minutes until center is set (see if a knife comes out clean).

Remove from the water bath, let cool and serve lukewarm or at room temperature.