A zucchini mint fritter, & a goat cheese giveaway!

Sometimes, parenting feels like being an optimistic, wild, very patient gardener (as all gardeners must be), just walking across a fertile field and throwing seeds out there, trusting something good will grow. Or something useful. We don’t know what will grow first, or when, or how.

And so last night, Pablo was being particularly charming by saying ‘merci’ to us every time we handed him something, and absolutely sensing this little inner satisfaction any parent probably feels when they hear their kid say “thank you” spontaneously. As if it were proof of good parenting. Wish it were that simple!

Feeding off our validation, he happily went on, “Merci, maman. Merci, papa. Merci, mamette.” Then he paused and looked down at his plate (which happened to contain a warm plum chards goat cheese salad he really likes). And he said, “Merci, miam miam.” Thank you, yummy food.

It took me a couple of seconds past the cuteness factor to realize what Pablo had just expressed: he was grateful, for the food, for dinner.

Gratitude, that’s definitely one of those wild seeds to throw in the wind with no clue in what form it might grow in our children. I certainly wasn’t expecting it then. Made me feel so warm within.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do since the very beginning with Pablo, is create good food associations. Food equals pleasure, family connection, laughter, friends, interesting smells, discovery… And beyond that, hopefully, food is generosity, love, harmony with the body, with the world.

And gratitude and appreciation of a wonderful, ordinary moment of the day.

I heard the sprouts of that food association when Pablo said it. Now it’s just keep nurturing it and watch it grow more.

Speaking of gratitude, I am most grateful to Vermont Creamery for giving me an opportunity to come up with some recipes, using their wonderful goat cheeses, as part of their Kid & Kid Campaign, like the cherry gazpacho with herbed goat cheese I shared last week.

If you know this blog, you probably know that I don’t do kids’ foods. Pablo eats what we eat (or we eat what he eats!). Past 12-15 months, nothing’s off limits as far as I’m concerned. So these fritters are as close to a kid’s food as I’m ever going to get, and our whole family enjoyed them thoroughly.

I posted another fritter recipe last year and was so surprised at the response it got! People really like fritters! These zucchini mint goat cheese fritters are not only good, they’re good for you (thank you, coconut oil!), and they’re easy… But I shall rest my case now, because I bet I had you at “fritters” 😉

And with one treat comes another: presenting now my first giveaway! So, for a chance to win a Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery gift basket, with three different kinds of goat cheese and some vanilla crème fraîche, use the Rafflecopter tool below to enter in a variety of ways. The giveaway ends next Friday night.

And scroll below for the fritter recipe!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Zucchini mint goat cheese fritters, with smoked salmon, dill crown & red pepper creamy goat cheese garnish

Makes about 10 fritters

Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 15 min approx

Age for babies: 10-12 months, great finger food.

1 pound of zucchini
1 tsp coarse salt
1 onion
1 egg
1 tbsp chopped mint (= 2-3 sprigs)
3 oz fresh goat cheese
1/2 cup of spelt flour (AP works too)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup milk (goat or cow)
Coconut oil for frying

To serve (optional):

10 small slices of smoked salmon
Crown dill (or dill) for garnish 
Roasted red pepper creamy goat cheese

Cut off the ends of the zucchini, wash them, and grate them by hand or in a food processor.

Pour in a bowl, add the coarse salt and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and mint. Lightly beat the egg. Crumble the fresh goat cheese with a fork.

Put the grated zucchini in a thin dishtowel (or cheesecloth), and wring the heck out of it to get rid of the excess water. Quite a bit of green liquid should come out.

In a bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. Add the egg, coconut milk and milk. Add in the zucchini, chopped mint and onion and stir. Gently incorporate the crumbled goat cheese.

Preheat the oven at 200°F.

In a frying pan, melt 1-2 tbsp of coconut oil on medium/medium-high. Drop large spoonfuls of the batter in, pressing on top to flatten a bit. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the edges are golden. Flip them and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Cook in 2 or 3 batches depending on the size of your pan.  I had to add about 1 tbsp of coconut oil with every batch.

Set on absorbent paper, then transfer to a baking sheet and place in the oven for about 10 minutes to keep warm and increase crispiness factor.

Serve warm with a slice of smoked salmon on top, and garnish with a bit of roasted red pepper creamy goat cheese and some crown dill.

Or you can skip the salmon and just spread some of the creamy goat cheese on, Pablo enjoyed that part very much!

(The fritters keep well in the fridge, reheat in the oven at 350° for 5-10 min).

Zucchini & Mint Terrine… and thoughts on osmosis

Osmosis. The process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas or knowledge

It is a warm summer night. It’s 7pm and it’s still 85° out. We set the table outside. Eating outdoors, one of the great delights of summer. Our friends arrive, they are back to visit after moving overseas last year. A summer meal to celebrate our reunion. Grilled artichokes with shallot vinaigrette, baked tomatoes and zucchini flowers stuffed with parsley & anchovies, olives marinated in coriander seeds… I watch Pablo play and smile. He follows me from the backyard to the kitchen and back, while I carry the food out. He gets excited when he spots the artichokes. The boy loves artichokes. Everyone marvels at his mastery when scraping the meat off the leaves with his four front teeth. We all feel warm inside and out. It’s good to be together.

What we learn in life by osmosis seems to be much deeper and more meaningful than what we learn in an explicit or deliberate way. When we learn osmotically (first time I use that word!), we learn organically. Maybe because it’s a process. Or because it’s gradual. Or because it’s unconscious. And all things related to human connections and relationships, all things complex and subtle, can only be properly learned by osmosis. You don’t learn how to nurture friendships by reading a book (those who try come through as “trying too hard”). You don’t learn empathy or mindfulness in a classroom. And I guess you don’t learn cooking in a cookbook either. You learn it in the kitchen, practising, failing, tasting. It’s barely noticeable that you’re learning. But you are.
When we can find osmosis with something, that’s when we “got it”. That’s when we can get it right. That’s when things feel right. This goes for writing, for cooking, for love and friendship.

This is another area where children set the example for us baggage-ridden adults. Young children are automatically in osmosis. Their whole life is about the process of gradual, unconscious assimilation. With all five senses, exploring their world and learning, synapses going all directions. On that warm summer night, I become aware Pablo is learning so much by osmosis: the meal, what went into it. The friends. The warmth. The flavors. Artichoke. Tomatoes. And mint.

When it comes to teaching children to enjoy good food, it isn’t so much by telling them that “broccoli is good for you” or to read the labels on food packages that they will truly learn the value of good healthy eating. And all the richness of values around food in our life (the human connection, the pleasure of the senses, the enjoyment of the present moment, of nature’s bounty, etc)  can only be taught… by osmosis. Kids have to “bathe” in it. So we go pick the thyme and mint and sorrel in the backyard. We smell it. We sit down together for a meal, we savor each moment. We get excited about a new recipe. About an ingredient. We share a meal with friends to bond.

I myself have recently felt very much in osmosis in the kitchen. I have been cooking since I was a child, but only now, through this blog, a medium that is very much process-centric, do I feel like I’m truly learning. About cooking, writing, photographing, parenting, living. (I can see it now, the title of my future book, “Cooking or the meaning of life” ;-))

Back to summer night osmosis. I bring out the zucchini mint terrine I found in an old French recipe book recently. I had lot of mint, it’s zucchini season, why not? We all take a bite, and the mint just breathes some fresh air into our bones. We sit back and enjoy, with a sigh and a smile.

Admittedly, this isn’t one of those quick “whip up at the last minute” dishes (in fact, you must prepare and cook it at least a day before you serve it), but it is so delicious and refreshing that it is worth the effort.

Zucchini & mint terrine

Adapted from Recevoir paresseusement

Serves 12 people easily, can keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Age for babies/toddlers: 10 to 12 months because of the whole eggs. This has a lot of healthy veggies and herbs, it’s a great, balanced dish easily eaten with fingers.

Note: This is called a “terrine” (term usually used for pâtés cooked in earthenware, which are typically quite firm), but this is softer in texture, almost quiche-y.

4 pounds of zucchini
2 onions
3/4 cup milk
3/4 lb sorrel (or as much as you can find)
1.5 oz of tarragon
1.5 oz of mint
3 tbsp olive oil
6 eggs
7 oz bread, crust removed
A pinch of nutmeg

Preheat the oven at 250°F.

Peel and slice the zucchini and onions. In a large covered pan, melt (without browning) with olive oil on low heat until very soft, about 20-25 Min.

Meanwhile, wet the bread in milk and squeeze the milk out by hand, to obtain a semi-dry mixture. Set aside.

Wash and separate the leaves of the mint and tarragon, and chop finely by hand or in a small food processor.

Beat the eggs with a fork, add salt, pepper and nutmeg.

When the zucchini & onions are cooked, drain and chop grossly (not into a fine puree) by pulsing in a food processor.  Add the bread, the eggs and the herbs and mix.

Wash and drain the sorrel. Cook the sorrel in butter over low heat until barely melted, 2 or 3 minutes.

Butter generously a baking dish (earthenware preferably). Pour half the zucchini mixture in it. Spread a layer of sorrel. Pour the rest of the zucchini mixture over it.

Place the baking dish inside another larger deep dish. Cook in a water bath: pour boiling water in the deep dish, being cautious not to pour any water in the terrine, about half way up.

Bake in the oven for about 90 minutes. Turn off the oven but leave the terrine inside the oven, for as long as possible (a few hours at least), so it dries a bit and comes out more firm.

Then take out of the baking dish, place on a serving platter, and refrigerate overnight (it tastes really better chilled).

It can be served with some bread and herbed cream cheese or Boursin as hors-d’œuvre. We also served it with a mâche & endive salad with walnut vinaigrette (2 tbsp of red wine vinegar, 5 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp walnut oil, 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard, salt & pepper) as an appetizer. That would also do nicely for a light lunch.

Entering the August Herbs on Saturday contest from Lavender & Lovage

Zucchini almond gratin… & the pursuit of real food & community

Our childhoods are made of joy (hopefully), sorrows, regrets, losses, traumas small (and sometimes big). They’re also made of unsuspected blessings we didn’t have the tools (or wisdom, or distance) to appreciate at the time. As an adult and especially as a parent, I have found myself sorting through these childhood experiences, processing, understanding, accepting what needed to be processed, understood or accepted (a lot of that goes on while I chop, fry or whisk). A sort of spring cleaning, decluttering of the soul, if you will.

So there are some things about the way I grew up that I am only now grateful for. Things that were just part of my environment in France, that were in the order of things where and when I grew up, in a small town in Normandy in the 80’s. Things that were just the norm then and there, but that have become the object of a deliberate pursuit today.

Like real food, for example. A trendy topic if there ever was one. Real food was just regular food when I grew up. Processed foods were minimal, artisan products were the norm. Going to the market, eating seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as meats and fish (a lot of meats and fish are seasonal in France, scallops for example can only be fished between October to May), from small local producers… all that was just the way it was. There was no other alternative, really. Only now do I realize what a blessing it  was.

Or things like a sense of community. It wasn’t as explicit as that. We lived in a small town, walked most places, knew the baker, butcher and fishmonger enough to have a chat with them and know their kids’ names. I never really saw the benefits of all that then.

Now that I am a mom in Los Angeles, whose toddler is being offered junky popcorn from CVS in art class, it’s a whole different ball game. But there’s a lot to be said about creating these things we value for ourselves deliberately.

This week, my husband, my son and I went to our little neighborhood farmer’s market. It’s close enough for us to walk to, through a residential neighborhood, where I noticed the purple jacaranda trees blooming and raining purple onto the streets. It reminded me that the first anniversary of this blog is coming up in a couple of weeks. I can remember taking a picture of the purple leaves and talking about the farmer’s market in one of my first posts. My life follows the rhythm of the seasons again. There’s some calm serenity to that, in stark contrast with an anxious-ridden sand-through-fingers sense of time passing.

As soon as we arrive at the market, we notice a buzz, a hustle bustle we haven’t felt in a few months. The trepidation of the warmer season. We always stop by our friend Sam’s organic fruit stand first. Sam is kindness incarnate. He always takes time to cut up a piece of fruit for Pablo. He has a soft spot in his heart for Pablo. And it’s mutual. Pablo looks forward to going to see Sam at the farmers’ market.

So there, at Sam’s stand, is where I start to get very excited (and proceed to flood Instagram with shots of produce!). Stone fruits are here. Tender delicate apricots, white nectarines so sweet they make the apricots taste bland. Cherries.

We stay there longer than we need to, just to baste in the warmth of the moment. Pablo munches on a nectarine, the juice dripping from his chin, peeks at the cherries. People pass by and smile.

Then we’re off to our favorite tomato and vegetable stand. The first tomatoes grown outdoors are here. And fava beans, and zucchini. It’s held by a family farm, a couple and their two grown sons. They throw in a couple of free tomatoes and fresh basil. Last time, they handed Pablo a bunch of carrots he proudly held and walked with.

Pablo has become almost famous there. He feels at home. He makes his stops. Grabs an ice cube or two (or three) from the fish guy. Stares down one of the produce stands for samples. Grabs an olive from the Greek vendor.

On our way out, we notice a new stand. A bakery held by an Armenian family. They laugh as they see Pablo run with abandon and hop like a bunny.  We chat and they tell us they mill their own wheat with a handcrafted stone mill they brought back from Switzerland. I can’t wait to go visit their bakery. The bread is beautiful, artisanal. New friends.

Then it’s getting late, it’s bath time and soon dinner time, and we’ve gotten everything we need. But we don’t want to leave quite yet. This half hour spent there, is a half hour of happiness. And real food. And community. We don’t take it for granted for a minute. Well, Pablo takes it for granted, as he should. To him, that’s the norm. He’ll appreciate it some day. In 20 or 30 years. But right now, it is contributing to who he is inside, and who he will become.

And as we walk home, I feel a moment of pride. Of contentment. I am able to provide this environment for my son, here and now. That’s my job. Providing him with the right environment, and then trust him to thrive in it. Or to struggle in it, as he inevitably must. But an environment where he feels safe, loved, trusted, with a sense of community, and real food.

This morning, we ate the boysenberries we got at Sam’s stand, and they seemed even tastier with the image of Sam’s smile in our minds. Last night for dessert, Pablo and I shared some plain yogurt and an apricot, two spoons in one bowl. His little chubby hand grabbed the apricot half, he looked at it, then looked at me and said, smiling, “Sam!” before biting into it wholeheartedly.

So among the exciting new produce of the season, we came across some zucchini, which we love, as simply as just cold, boiled with mint vinaigrette, or in a terrine, or in a ratatouille.

I was overdue to share a gratin with you here. Gratins are a family favorite for vegetables. This one was scrumptious, and I hope you enjoy it too.

Zucchini almond gratin

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

Serves 4-6

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 35 min

Age for babies: 10-12 months, in bite size pieces as finger food can work well (avoiding the sliced almonds, which would be hard to gum down)

4 zucchinis
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 eggs + 1 yolk
1 pinch of nutmeg
3.5 oz of grated Parmesan (a packed cup) (You can also use Pecorino, Manchego, or Gruyère)
4 tbsp almond meal
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp sliced almonds
Salt & pepper

Wash and slice the zucchinis (no need to peel them). Melt 1 tbsp coconut oil and 1 tbsp of olive oil in two large frying pans  (each) (or do several batches with one pan). Place the slices of zucchini in the pans and fry until just golden, about 2 minutes on each side. (By the time you’re done flipping over the slices in one pan, it’s time to do it with the other pan). Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and place on absorbent paper or cloth to let cool a bit.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream, eggs and yolk. Add nutmeg, salt & pepper, a third of the Parmesan, and the almond meal.

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Butter a baking dish (with your hands, it’s way more fun). Place one layer of zucchini slices at the bottom of the dish. Pour a bit of the cream/almond mixture over it. Add another layer of zucchini, then another layer of cream, and so on until you’re out of zucchini slices. End with a layer of cream. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over it, and the rest of the Parmesan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden.

Serve it warm, as an entree with a butter lettuce in an almond oil vinaigrette, or as a side dish with a roasted chicken, for example.

Pasta with zucchini recipe

So the other day I wanted to prepare a quick lunch and as usual I opened the fridge and looked for inspiration and there it was: zucchini and Asiago cheese. And there I thought pasta with raw zucchini and diced Asiago!

Ingredients

  • 3-4 oz. short pasta per person (e.g., penne, rigatoni, fusilli)
  • 1 zucchini per person
  • 1 oz cheese per person
  • salt
  • pepper
  • EVOO

Directions

  1. First I put the water for the past to boil. Then, I grated down the zucchini using a cheese grater. I seasoned the zucchini with a pinch of salt, pepper and a bit of oil. I diced the cheese and added it to the mixture. You want to dice up the cheese and add it to the mixture so that the cheese is at room temperature when you add the pasta and it can melt well. Finally I cooked the pasta al dente, drained it and added it to the zucchini and cheese.
  2. A quick pasta that showcases at best flavorful zucchini from your garden or your CSA box!

Zucchini and chicken lemony stir fry

These days I am in a mood for light (or at least light-tasting) food. So yesterday night I decided to go for some lemony chicken stir-fry. I added in some zucchini to get my daily dose of vegetables and did a bit of a no fats lemony sauce on the side to satisfy cravings for something tasty and creamy. A simple yet delicious dinner (or lunch).

Zucchini and chicken lemony stir fry

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 4-5 zucchini
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 glass stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt
  • pepper
  • sugar
  • EVOO

Directions

  1. First I warmed up a wok. In the mean time I sliced up the chicken into not too thin slices. Then I poured a bit of olive oil in the wok and short after I added 2 bay leaves and the chicken. Next, I sliced the zucchini and added them to the pan. I seasoned with some pepper and salt and I let it cook for a bit. Then it was time for lemon. I cut a lemon in half. I thinly sliced one half and the added the quartered slices into the wok and I squeezed the other half in a small pot. While the chicken and zucchini was cooking I prepared a lemon sauce not much different than the one from Chinese restaurant only much healthier (well at least I think). To the lemon juice I added about a glass of stock, 2 spoons of flour and a pinch of sugar to counteract the acidity. I kept stirring the sauce until it thickened up, should only take a couple of minutes. When the chicken and the zucchini were thoroughly cooked I served them up with the sauce on the side.
  2. Turned out pretty good and springy!