Gifts of Food...

Sticking with the philosophy of handmade or vintage gift-giving this season, I enjoyed creating 'petits paniers' of holiday treats for my French family this year.  It took about a week of planning and creating in the kitchen and taking the leap into attempting some new things that I had never tried before (ie-candy making--le nougat chocolat)... but I have to say that this effort was so much fun for me and despite the time it took, spending that time in my tiny kitchen the days leading up to Christmas, listening to Christmas carols and chasing out the voluntary 'samplers' that were hoovering in the doorway--really instilled a joyful and happy holiday spirit in our home.

Here is how it turned out.  I made three flavors of whole grain mustard which were packaged with market-made fresh 'sauscisson' sticks, Italian 'Pignoli' cookies--chewy delicious (and as a bonus; gluten and dairy free!) Clementine Marmalade--sweet, subtly bitter, sunshine in a jar, and of course the decadent and rich 'Nougat Chocolat' which I have previously posted the recipe.

Recipes for the other items will follow shortly.  I think you are probably not in a rush to have the 'how-to's , if you are like me--maybe you are a tiny bit tired of cooking and baking.... for now.... or at least until next year. 

I hope you had an absolutely delicious Christmas!  Our family had a big dinner on Christmas Eve--my brother-in-law who is a chef--made a fabulous multi-course meal; smoked salmon and shrimp, pâté de foie de canard, Chapon with roasted vegetables..... Oh, I feel full again just writing about it!

Continue to enjoy the holidays mes amis!  Bon appetit!

Nougat ~ Chocolat ~

I would like to introduce you to my new obsession... food obsession...or maybe it's not a food--it could possibly be a drug.  It's that good.  Nougat Chocolat.  I found the recipe in a French magazine and I am now hooked for life--it is the perfect marriage of caramel meets chocolate and the result is a sticky, chewy chocolate-y ADDICTION.

I made a few changes to the recipe, once translated into English--the recipe called for almonds and hazelnuts (noisettes) and because in our family we have an allergy--I subbed in pecans for the 'noisettes'.... you can also add dried fruits--but I am a purest--chocolate and nuts for the dried fruit for the trail-mix!

I have been making 'food' gifts this week and this seemed to be a perfect addition to the more traditional cookies and sweets..... 

One two warnings: It is a tricky recipe, and once you get going you need to see it through to the end--stirring the molten chocolate 'caramel' at the end could be an Olympic sport--and I suffered 'nougat-wrist' later that evening.  Second warning--as aforementioned--it is addictive--be warned.  Done.

Nougat Chocolat

*the recipe begins with 'pour 6 personnes'--- ok--ignore that--a serving size?  Seriously?

150 grams dark chocolate (70%)
80 grams almonds
80 grams (other nut--like pecans or hazelnuts)
100 grams honey
120 grams sugar (granulated 'raw' is best)
2 eggs whites

  • Melt the dark chocolate in a 'bain marie' or double broiler.  Toast nuts until golden and crunchy in a separate pan.  
  • Melt the sugar and honey in a pot, stirring constantly until frothy and until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on a candy thermometer or until it reaches 'hard-crack' stage.  
  • Meanwhile, or at the same time, with your other arm, the one that is not stirring the honey and sugar, beat the egg whites until they are soft peak stage.  
  • Once honey/sugar mixture is done drizzle it in 'threads' onto the still being beaten egg whites (a stand mixer is a good choice for this effort!--If you don't have three arms...)
  • Return the now mixed egg whites, honey caramel mixture to the stove in the same pan used for the honey and sugar and heat while mixing in the melted chocolate and while continuously stirring, so that it doesn't burn--add the nuts.  
  • Finally keep stirring--for about 20 minutes, until the nougat pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Spread the hot mixture into a lightly oiled pan and set to cool for 12 hours before cutting.  Avoid licking the spatula and pan--as this will surely send you into a Chocolat-Nougat-coma......

There you have it.  110% worth the effort.....It's the most divine chocolate thing I have ever eaten.....ever.

Duck with French Green Lentils

So yesterday--on a bone-chilling day here in Normandy, compelled by the extreme need to be cozy, creative and consume comfort food--I made a fabulous, albeit tres simple one-pot dish of lentils and duck.... so here it is!  
Give it a try--Bon Appétit!

 Duck with Green Lentils
  • 2 tbs. Olive Oil
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 rib celery
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium leek
  • chopped parsley
  • 4-6 duck legs or thighs
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Fresh thyme
  • 2 cups green lentils
  • 3 cups stock

Sprinkle duck legs with salt, pepper and thyme. Brown duck with one tbs. oil  in large cast iron 'dutch-oven'....until skin is evenly brown and then remove from pan and set aside.

Dice vegetables and cook all together in pot with remaining olive oil, allowing vegetables to 'sweat' but not fully cook.

Rinse and add lentils to pot and add white wine and stock and parsley.

Place duck legs in pot and cover.

Cook for 1.5 hours at 350 f. /175 c. degrees.

Serve with crusty bread.

Apple Polenta Cakes

This weekend I did a little cooking--I made duck confit legs (again!) and experimented with trying to recreate a desert that I had recently.  I am blessed with a very discerning sense of taste in that if I try something even just one time I can recreate it almost exactly, with few exceptions.

I hesitate to tell you where and when I had this 'desert'--in fact the way it was served to me I wasn't exactly sure if it was a side dish or desert, but what mattered was that it was so, so yummy and I wanted to have it having a vague idea of how to make it, and based on the idea that it was a traditional French creation, maybe southern France-ish....and it had to be really simple, I nonetheless scoured the internet looking for a recipe just to confirm my hunch.  But alas either I had no idea how to call it or it was not at all French or common--I never did find a recipe.  So I just went on instinct and voila!  It turned out exactly how I remembered it--just as simple, sweet and comforting!  I jazzed up the idea by making it in pretty molds and garnished it with Anise and confiture de pommes....but pretty much--this is it!

Apple Polenta Cakes

  • 1 cup Polenta (instant/5 minute polenta is the easiest to use)
  • 4 cups apple juice
  • 1/4 cup honey or 1/4 cup sugar (optional)
  • 4 tsp. cinnamon
  • canola oil for forms

In a large sauce pan bring apple juice, honey/sugar to a low boil.  Slowly add polenta while stirring.  Reduce heat and as it thickens stir in cinnamon and cook for an additional 5 minutes just below boiling. Brush pan or forms with oil and pour in thickened polenta.  Let cool about 10 minutes and then refridgerate until serving. Polenta will easily come out of forms or can be sliced in any shape and served cold topped with fresh fruit or warm with maple syrup or honey.

So simple it's almost embarrassing.  My boys love it and I have to admit I made a large quantity so I served it for breakfast this past weekend with some warm maple syrup pooled around it on a plate. 

Have fun with it!  ......if you really bug me I might even share with you where I had it--you wouldn't believe it--and maybe better kept a petit secret!