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I don’t know if it is possible for me to take a nice picture of a stewy-type dish, so please forgive me for the bad photo. This dish is really very good, I swear! Really, how can morsels of veal, slow cooked in a tomato-wine based sauce with green pitted olives and cèpes NOT be good? I made this dish following the idea of Boles de Picolat, a traditional Catalan dish that I love, but using cut up veal. We can get fresh cèpes here at certain times of the year, but frozen or dried are available all year-long. I always have a jar of dried cèpes in the cupboard, ready to liven up stewed dishes. These mushrooms, often called porcini in English, grow locally and their growing locations are often kept safely guarded secrets. Nothing measures up to the taste and texture of fresh cèpes, but for year-round stews, dried ones do the trick. Just remember to let them sit in hot water for about 30 minutes and then rinsed well before using them.

My children will eat anything that has pitted, green olives. The olives give a distinct flavour to the sauce but the children pull them out and eat them like candy. I HATED olives when I was a child, but my sister loved popping black olives in her mouth. I thought she was crazy… but now I do the same. Thank goodness for changes in the palate!

This is the kind of dish that never comes from a book recipe in my kitchen. It is a technique with ingredients that can be changed in so many ways! The meat is sautéed, then the onions and garlic. Other vegetables, if there are any, are added. Wine is added, whether red or white depending on the dish, left to evaporate somewhat while the pan is scraped of its yummy bits. Tomato and stock are added and when it all simmers, the meat is placed back into the cooking sauce. Covered and simmered gently. What could be easier??? I have different types of pots and pans for this kind of dish. Sometimes I like to prepare it all and then let it simmer in a “cocotte” in the oven. I find  the flavours infuse better, the sauce is a bit thicker. I don’t really know why, except that in the oven, the heat is one that surrounds the food, while on the burner, it comes only from the bottom. But I don’t always feel like turning the oven on.

And of course, these dishes are ALWAYS better the next day, so if you can think ahead and make it a day or two before you’d like to eat it, by all means do it!!!

I’ll admit something to you, that when I first saw this when I arrived in France twenty years ago, shocked me. But now I do it as well. When my childrens’ great-grandmother cooked a meal that was “mijoté” (slowly cooked in sauce), after the meal she simply left the pot or pan covered on top of the stove until the next meal or even the next day, when she would let it re-heat for a while before eating it. As a North American, I thought that was the most dangerous thing in the world and surely we would all fall very ill if we ate it, too. But this woman was over 70 and seemed perfectly fine. As a mother of a large family, I tend to make large quantities and so often a dish like this isn’t finished. So, the pot is just covered and placed in the cold oven until the next day. I never leave it more than over night and it is fully reheated (read BOILED) before it is eaten. So far, no deaths or illness. And it tastes so much better the next day! But I also don’t put my eggs in the fridge, do leave butter on the counter, eat raw eggs and meat, don’t wash chickens before cooking them. When I read North American magazines and cook books, I should technically be dead. But I do think there is a quality and handling difference between the countries. Food is simple cleaner here. (But that is another debate!)

 

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Veal with olives and cèpes

To write this recipe, I had to put quantities. Trust your instinct and add more or less according to your taste!

1 kg veal cut into large cubes

Some flour

Olive oil

50 g smoked bacon, cut into cubes (in France we just by lardons fumés or strips of thick cut ventreche fumé that we cut up ourselves) It adds incredible flavour!

1 onion chopped

3 cloves garlic chopped finely

1 small jar pitted green olives (drained)

1 handful of dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water and then rinsed and chopped if the pieces are too big

200 ml red wine (OK, I just pour some in until it seems right!)

1 small can chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato paste

500 ml veal bouillon (in France it is readily available but can be replaced with either beef or chicken)

A big handful of fresh herbs (in my garden, I have thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage and marjoram and I just take a bunch of all of them and chop it all up). Otherwise I just add a couple of Tbsp of dried herbes de Provence

salt/pepper

Parsley

In a shallow dish, add some flour. Toss the veal in the flour and shake off any excess. Heat a few tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan (with a lid) or a cocotte (wide cast iron pot with a lid – like Emile Henry) and sauté the veal pieces, not too many at a time so they brown on all sides. Season them and then remove them from pan. If there isn’t enough oil, add a bit and sauté the onions. Don’t let them burn or brown, just let them lightly colour and wilt. Add the bacon, let fry a bit and then add the garlic.

Pour in the wine and let simmer a few minutes, scraping up the bits stuck to the pan. Add the herbs. Add the tomatoes, the tomato paste and stir. Add the bouillon, the mushrooms and the olives, stirring. Season to taste but remember that the bacon and olives salt quite a bit, so be careful.

When it is all starting to boil, add the meat and make sure it is settled well in the sauce. Cover the pan, lower the heat and let simmer for about 40 minutes. If the sauce is still too liquid, take lid off and let reduce for a while.

Sprinkle some fresh parsley on before serving if you have some.

Serve with either potatoes or pasta. You can even place some cut up potatoes directly in the pot and let them cook with the rest. Or some white beans like the Bols de Picolat recipe.

I added some roasted red pepper this time as well.

Bon appétit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I haven’t  made apricot jam in a few years because I have about a hundred jars of different varieties of jam inhabiting my cellar shelves, but I just couldn’t resist the crates of 1€/kg apricots I’ve been seeing lately.

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The first time I ever made it was about 17 years ago when a neighbor dropped off 10 kg of his garden apricots as a gift. I looked at the heap of fruit and wondered how we could possibily eat it all. But he then explained to me that I must make JAM! Jam? But I’d never made jam before! He briefly explained the process but I picked up the phone and asked my grandmother-in-law what I should do… and I have been doing it the same way ever since. I fell in love with apricot jam that summer. It is sweet with a very pure, tangy apricot zing to it. It is heaven on a piece of buttered bread.

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French Apricot Jam

The quantity of sugar depends on how you like it, but the less you use, the more fragile your jam once opened. I use about 80-85% sugar per 100% pitted fruit. So, for 2 kg of pitted fruit, that makes about 1kg600 of sugar. I used organic cane sugar so the finished jam is a bit darker than with white sugar.

Wash the fruit, then cut each in half, taking the pit out. Many people here keep a bunch of the pits and crack them open, adding them to the jam to give a slight almond flavor. I do it sometimes but when I’m cooking several kg of fruit, I have to crack a lot of pits and they are hard to crack open!

Put them in a very wide mouthed pot as you want the mixture to reduce quickly as it is boiling. If the pot is taller than larger, it will take much more time.

Add the sugar and the juice from one lemon juice.

Place over medium heat and bring to a boil stirring regularly. Take off heat, cover and let sit over night.

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The next day, bring back to a boil and stir very regularly. You don’t want it to stick.

A scum will form on top but I just keep stirring, I don’t try and take it off. It also helps me to know when my jam is cooked because once it disappears naturally, I prolong the boiling about 20 minutes and then take off the heat. You can do a cold dish test, if you really need to. The jam will thicken. Some people say to boil it for an hour but if it boils to long, it caramelizes and I really don’t like that! Others use sugar with pectin but quite frankly, it isn’t necessary with apricot jam. It gets thick quickly and easily and is better when it isn’t too thick anyways.

While the jam is boiling, I wash my jars (and lids) with hot, soapy water, rinse them well and then place them up side down (with lids) on a baking tray. I place them in a 100°C heated oven for about 5-10 minutes.

Pour the jam in to each jar, screw the lids on tightly, then turn each pot upside down, leaving them until fully cooled. When they are cooled, turn them right side up and make sure the lid is concave which assures that they are properly sealed. I use this technique with jams and have never had any go bad.

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I love my jam with whole almond purée!

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Well, so much for summer being on it’s way. I was drinking a coffee, doing the menu plans for a job I have this week, seven straight days of an evening meal for 12 people and salivating over ideas of stews and soups. It’s the end of May and I want potée auvergate! It actually feels like summer has come and gone and now we are preparing for the winter cold. And really, it is quite difficult for our bodies. I have seen people falling ill when usually those nasty winter viruses are long gone. Today is dark and cloudy but the weather station says that tomorrow will be better.

This weather makes me really want to eat this pie. The crust is made of nuts and baked so the nuts roast and smell like heaven. The chocolate filling is firmed up with a single egg added to cream and chocolate. It’s pure heaven and so simple.

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Rich chocolate tart in a nutshell

 

225 g walnuts or a mix of walnuts, hazelnuts and almond

60 g butter

2 tbsp sugar

A pinch of salt

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C /370°F

Ground the nuts in a mixer until they are nicely crushed but not powder. Add the butter, sugar and salt and then mix just until combined.

Using your fingers dampened a bit push the dough into a pie dish, making sure it goes up the sides a bit. I have a handy round pan with a pull out bottom. A cheesecake pan would be good, too.

Bake 10-12 minutes until it smells nice.

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Meanwhile…

 

200 g good quality dark chocolate chopped

240 ml cream

1 egg

In a fairly small pot, heat the cream until almost boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and move it around until it is immersed. Lets sit for a few minuted and then stir to blend chocolate. Make sure it is completely melted. If not, heat very gently stirring constantly.

Add the egg and stir until perfectly blended. Pour into pie crust.

Bake about 15 minutes or until the center is like gelatine. It will set as it cools. Let cool to room temperature at least.

Serve with whipped cream!

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I usually make macarons that are rich flavors like chocolate, vanilla or praline, so I thought I’d change and make something fruity. I really hate adding coloring to make dark colored macarons and actually, I don’t even like the ones bought in bakeries. What’s the difference? I don’t know! But when you learn to make them yourself, well, it’s better. Maybe it is psycological. My daughter is such a fan of them that it pushed me to learn to make them myself, because at over 2€ for ONE, it is much more economical to make a whole platter for just a few euros.

These ones are lemon, using just a smidgen of color gel and filled with lemon curd with a bit of almond meal added. If you like lemon tart or lemon meringue pie, these are for you!

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This time I used Mercotte’s recipe: HERE

The lemon curd is from Pierre Hermé but really any one would do as long as it is very thick. Just use your favorite. Adding a little almond powder gives it a little originality!

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As I started preparing dinner, I thought about French cooking and the fact that when I arrived in France, 18 years ago, I already liked to cook, but hadn’t really developed many skills and knew really nothing about French cooking. But arriving in this country, especially in the South, opened up a whole new world of possibility and excitement. I lived in the very center of Perpignan, near the Meditarranean Sea and the Spanish border. As I had no car at the time and was at home pregnant or with a small baby, I very quickly made friends with the baker and his wife, the fruit and vegetables couple, the family that ran the little shop that sold olives, nuts, spices and all those exotic North African condiments that were so new to me and the boucher, fromager that had the most wonderful cheese and chickens. He taught me the difference between a poulet ordinaire and a poulet fermier ! Stepping out of the house every day and going to each shop with little Mathieu in his stroller came to be my social event of the day. My husband was working, I had no family and very few friends, so this social interaction became such an important part of my day. Little by little, I learned to cook. I had a few recipe books, I chose recipes and I bought the ingredients to make them.

As my family grew, after two children, a divorce, a remarriage and then three more children, the kitchen became the heart of my home. I had seven people to feed every single day and so I had decided early on that what they ate was going to be either very healthy or just damn good ! My cuisine had become a blend of French classic and international. In my kitchen, anything is possible. I have lived in 6 different countries, all with inspiring cuisines, I live in the South of France and I have a Japanese stepmom. Those are the makings of some serious cooking inspiration.

So, I have decided to post some classic French recipes on this blog. Recipes that I have learned and sometimes modified over the years. I actually already have a French food blog over at http://www.saveursdefamille.com if you’re interested, though it  is written in French. For the first recipe, as it is starting to get cold down here in the South, I have chosen “Endives au jambon”. It’s one of my favorite family meals. The kids are just starting to appreciate endives which just goes to show, Just keep serving it and one day they’ll like it!

Endives au jambon

In France you can either buy a package of about 8 endives or choose them individually. You’ll often find a deal on the packaged ones when they are in season.

Ingredients:

8 endives

8 slices of “jambon blanc”, regular thin slices of ham

10 g butter

Salt, pepper and sugar

1/3 c hard white cheese (Emmenthal)

With a small pairing knife, cut off the colored part of the base of each endive, then cut the tip off. Wash them by letting water flow down into the bulb then shake each one to get any excess water out. Cut any over sized endives in two.

In a wide bottom pot or deep skillet with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat. Place each endive on the base of the pots avoiding any overlapping. Season with salt and pepper then sprinkle with a little sugar. As the endives start to sizzle, turn them over and season the other size, then a sprinkle of sugar. This counterbalances some of the possibly bitter flavor they can have.

Turn the heat down very low, cover the pot and continue cooking for 45 min. The heat must be low enough so that the endives sweat, but don’t brown or burn. They will become very tender and have created some juice. When they are done, try and squeeze out as much of the juice as possible. Reserve the juice for the bechamel.

Preheat oven to 190 C or 375 F.

Bechamel:

400 ml milk, heated

Juice from endives

50 g flour

30 g butter

3/4 tsp salt

A few turns of the pepper mill.

1/4 cup grated hard white cheese (in France, I use Emmenthal)

In a small pot, melt the butter. Stir in the flour and keep stirring a few minutes.

Stir in the juice from the endives while continuing to stir. Then add the milk little by little, always stirring.

Keep adding milk until you have a fairly thick sauce, even holding back some of the milk if need be. If the sauce is too thin, it will only get thinner when baked with the endives.

Stir in the cheese until melted. Add salt and pepper.

NOTE: you can use LESS bechamel than this. I just like a lot. If you have a favorite bechamel recipe, by all means, use it! Just make it nice and thick.

Have a rectangular baking dish ready. Place an endive on a ham slice, then roll it up and place it in the baking dish. Do the same for each endive, placing them snugly together. The dish should be full.

Pour the bechamel over the rolled endives, covering them fully.

Sprinkle another handful or two of cheese over the top.

Bake for around 30 min until the top is nice and golden and the sides are bubbly.

Serve with a green salad.

There isn’t a picture of an individual serving because it is IMPOSSIBLE to make it look appetizing in a photo. Just trust me, it’s good !

Jennifer is a Canadian/American, living in the South of France for the last 18 years. Married to a frenchman who's job forces him to spend a lot of his time overseas, she has learned to cope with all those everyday challenges brought about by her sometimes crazy life. Adapting to a new culture, raising children, taking care of animals, growing a vegetable garden, cooking for her family and friends, teaching cooking classes and trying to maintain a fairly organized and inviting home. Here are some of her thoughts about it all.

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