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Frenchie and French Polynesia

15 Nov

Many experience French Polynesia differently.

All islands have something unique to offer.

And they all look different. Somehow.

I chose the old South Seas experience. The cultural and historical experiences.

The remnants of coconut planters, beach bums and missionaries.

And it’s still in my mind. I miss it.

I wonder what all the people met along the way are doing now.

Téké, Sandra, Violetta…

And among all the things I miss, here are 20 of them.

1- 50 shades of blue – more blueish colors than I could count. All different from one another, yet blending but setting themselves apart.

2- Banana everything – jam, raw, in a tart, on the markets, on the side of the roads, in gardens, in my bag, in my hand.

3- Laying down under coconut palm trees – looking up at the sky and diving into the blue surrounded by palm leaves.

4- Motu hopping – small islets trapped in bright turquoise waters ready to be explored and discovered.

5- Tahitian coconut milk ceviche – for lunch or dinner, with Chinese spices or Tahitian vanilla sauce. Memories of catching the fish with Téké who prepared the ceviche on the beach with all the ingredients he had brought in his cooler.

6- Dark skies and days – the darker the sky and horizon, the brighter the ocean and lagoon.

7- Maupiti and its wild untamed side. Renting bikes to go around the main island in less than 40 minutes.

8- Le lycée agricole de Moorea – discovering how pineapples grow, their pretty shapes and cosy nests, walking along shimmering lemon and lime trees, smelling the grapefruits hanging on thick branches.

9- Sunsets – their colors, brightness, shades of orange, purple and pink. They looked different on every island. The prettiest were on Raiatea looking over Bora Bora.

10- Colors on the table – orange fruit, white coconut milk, freshly caught colorful fish, yellow bananas and green ‘hulus – breadfruit – all displayed on tablecloths and napkins with traditional Tahitian colors.

11- Sailing on the Pacific with friends – life on a boat at sea, freshly baked bread made every morning by one of the “sailor”, fish, seafood, and quick stops at local markets on the coasts.

12- French Polynesians – meeting people along the many roads travelled. Being invited to dinner on Huahine by a local man walking his daughter back from the beach for dinner time. Vous avez faim ? Come have dinner with us, he said!

13- Les petits et les gros poissons – tiptoeing on long wooden decks stretching into the blue ocean to observe fish crawling under rocks in the transparent waters, catching the warm sun rays filtering through. Yellow, blue, purple, a colorful symphony of fish. Rays and baby sharks too, all happily playful with each other.

14- Tiaré flowers – smelling them every day walking down the road was a sweet sugary olfactory treat, which one can never forget. Creamy white. Easy to spot among the shrubs.

15- Les marchés – the produce, the variety of fruits, French, Chinese and Japanese influences in the food served from food trucks, the loud hubbub of French mixed with Tahitian, Marquesan and sometimes Chinese dialect, the vibrant smells tickling my nose and the incredible need to try to eat everything.

16- Vanilla beans – discovering those thick, plump, flat and moist beans compared to those that I know from Madagascar or Mexico. Surprisingly very sweet and fruity – strong in flavor. Fewer seeds to scrape but an easy vanilla paste to extract from the pods. Un délice !

17- Looking beyond the horizon – blue sky, blue ocean and a thin line between the two. Always wondering what’s beyond those seas, what’s across from me? And if you’re lucky, between Moorea and Tahiti, you can see whales rubbing elbows with boats as they pass by.

18- Maraes – a big hierarchy of Gods, stories and legends. The ancient temples (maraes) and their ruins still visible on some islands, those meeting places for elaborate religious ceremonies and the importance of the northwest corner of each island where it was believed that the souls of the departed would leave – the direction of Asia from whence the ancestors came from.

19- I won’t lie but sipping Tahitian Mai Tais on the beach is always an added bonus to any end of the day as the sun is ready to set.

20- Banana jam – and especially Sandra’s banana jam. Served for breakfast in a big oversized jar with a red lid. And after many questions, sneaky attempts to get the recipe, she remained tight lipped. A secret recipe kept secret.

And in honor of this trip and Sandra’s secret jam, this is what I’d like to share with you – my own version of a Tahitian banana and vanilla jam. It’s not Sandra’s, but it’s really close!

And with it a bit of French Polynesia remains in my fridge for grey and rainy winter mornings, or for an afternoon pick-me-up-treat after a long day.

Tahitian Banana and Vanilla Jam

the juice of 3 lemons

1.3lb (600 g) of bananas (about 5) – sliced

1/2 cup (100 g) of blonde cane sugar

1/2 cup (100 g) of brown sugar

1/2 cup (120 ml) of water

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

a dash of freshly grated nutmeg

2 vanilla beans – Tahitian beans if you can – split open with seeds scraped out

In a big bowl, combine the sliced bananas with the lemon juice so they don’t turn brown. Coat well.

In a big pot over medium high heat, pour the sugars and water together and stir to dissolve them. Mix well until combined but do not let the water boil.

Place the slices of bananas and any remaining lemon juice inside the bowl in the pot along with the cinnamon stick, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla seeds and the beans.

Cook for 15-20 min over medium low heat and mix often.

When the back of the mixing spoon is coated with banana jam, remove the pot from the heat and let it cool.

Keep in a jar with a tight lid in the fridge. I leave the cinnamon stick and the vanilla beans in the jam for added flavor.

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Frenchie and l’Apéro Dînatoire

16 Aug

David, I’m scared! I was invited by this French family to an apéro dînatoire.

What is it and what am I getting myself into? It sounds appealing yet frightening.

Are they going to grill me on my subjonctif plus-que-parfait? Do I need to eat beforehand?

Should I brush up on La Marseillaise and boldly lie to them with positive comments as to why hand-held shower heads are better after all?

… such are the frantic questions I received via texts from my friend “J.”

Frankly, I am still surprised that American cooking and food magazines haven’t yet bought into the French fad of l’apéro dînatoire – especially since it involves food and drinks!

A great opportunity to write about what it actually is and give you 3 new recipes to go along with it.

Tapas, antipasti, finger food, cocktail party, hors d’œuvres, drinks and nibbles – translate it however you want, the apéro dînatoire is meant to have fun and eat.

In France, the apéritif takes place before the meal as a way to open up and boost the appetite.

Leave it to the French to awaken and exalt your stomach with finger food and the arousing idea of an exciting meal to be served next.

An alcoholic beverage as well as some amuse-bouches are offered to snack on while lunch or dinner is being prepared.

Commonly shortened to apéro in casual conversations, l’apéritif is a real tradition française.

French magazines picked up on the trendy apéro dînatoire very early on.

Apéro dînatoire ideas for 4, 8 or 10!

Apéro dînatoire on a budget!

Easy apéro dînatoire!

My definition of an apéro dînatoire is quite simple.

It is a social gathering mixing cold and hot finger foods – which should involve the least amount of prep time – usually made in advance, paired with wines or cocktails, and showcasing the host’s ability to effortlessly cook and assemble the most complicated delicious treats all the while telling impressed guests that it was soooo easy to prepare and that it took no time at all.

Mais non, c’est très simple ! I swear.

It should leave you fulfilled and content. Not hungry, yet not stuffed either.

An apéro dînatoire – more than just a small quick apéritif, yet not a full-on dinner either.

The French are very keen on the cake salé – or savory cake – for these events.

Another fad I am surprised American food magazines haven’t pick up yet.

Zucchini breads always end up too sweet in my opinion so I wouldn’t consider them as a cake salé.

Blue cheese with pears. Gorgonzola with honey. Blue cheese with bacon.

They are effortlessly “easy” to prepare, different, and make for great finger food sliced up with a glass of wine.

And since August comes to its end and I used to spend my August vacations as a kid in Corsica, my latest savory cake is reminiscent of those Corsican flavors I know so well.

A bit of southern France on your plate.

Made with chestnut flour, it awakens the taste buds with hints of prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes, and brings great texture thanks to a combination of millet and amaranth flours and a crunchy finish with toasted pine nuts.

It took 4 hungry mouths and 25 minutes for the cake to almost disappear from the pan at my last apéro dînatoire.

So is the apéro dînatoire the French answer to the Spanish tapas and pinchos?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss Spain.

At times, my mind and my thoughts are still vacationing in Spain even though I got back in early June.

The power of traveling abroad! Lingering memories of a wonderful trip.

And with a post about apéro dînatoire, what better way than to include Spanish pinchos I keep dreaming about.

I know I will make as many pinchos and savory cakes as I can until the end of summer.

Enjoying the last warm evenings gathered with friends around a festive apéro dînatoire.

Chestnut-Flavored Savory Cake with Prosciutto and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

use an 8.5″ x 4.5″ (22 x 12 cm) loaf pan

3 eggs

0.5 cup (100 ml) of olive oil

1/4 cup (50 ml) of whole milk

1/4 cup (50 ml) of white wine

0.5  cup (50 g) of shredded Parmesan

0.5 cup (50 g) of grated Pecorino

0.5 cup (60 g) of chestnut flour

1/3 cup (60 g) of white rice flour

5 Tbsp of amaranth flour

3 Tbsp of millet flour

2 teaspoon of baking powder

1.5 Tbsp of xanthan gum

1 garlic clove – minced

1.5-2 oz (40-55 g) of prosciutto – roughly cut and chopped

12 green olives – sliced

6 Tbsp of pine nuts – toasted

7 sun dried-tomatoes – roughly chopped

2 Tbsp of sage – chopped

2 Tbsp of basil – chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C). Butter the cake pan and set aside.

In a small pan, toast the pine nuts over high heat until they become fragrant (about 2 minutes). Let them cool.

I use sun-dried tomatoes already marinated in olive oil. Blot them with paper towels before chopping them.

In a big bowl, combine the eggs and the olive oil using a hand mixer until light and smooth. It should have doubled its volume (2 minutes).

Add the milk and wine. Continue mixing for 1 minute.

Add both cheeses to the bowl and mix delicately with a spatula.

In a smaller bowl, sift the flours together with the baking powder and xanthan gum.  Mix them together.

Add the flours to the wet ingredients and stir until well combined.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the batter: garlic, prosciutto, olives, toasted pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, sage and basil.

Mix gently.

Pour and spread the dough in the cake pan and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of it comes out dry.

Note: I did not include any sea salt in this recipe. The olives, Parmesan, Pecorino and prosciutto add enough salt to the cake on their own.

Goat cheese with Spiced Peach Compote Pincho

and

Anchovy and Roasted Red Pepper Pincho with Quail Egg

exact numbers and measurements not given here so you can make as many as you want.

1 baguette

1 garlic clove – peeled and halved

olive oil

frisée lettuce

1 goat cheese with rind

1 batch of spiced peach compote ( you will need 11-13 ripe peaches, 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, 3 Tbsp of lime juice, 1.5 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 6 whole star anise, 10 whole cloves, 0.5 cup (100 g) of blonde cane sugar, 1/3 cup (65 g) of light Muscovado sugar, 1 Tbsp of vanilla extract)

pistachios – toasted and roughly chopped

cherry tomatoes

basil leaves

small skewers

Make the spiced peach compote. Combine all ingredients needed for the compote in a big pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes. Check regularly. Uncover after 30 minutes and continue cooking for an additional 15-18 minutes until the peaches are really soft. Set aside and let cool. Discard the star anise and clove pieces when cold.

Toast the bread by setting the oven on broiler – high.

Rub the garlic clove on the bread slices – both sides – and brush them with olive oil.

Set them on a baking sheet and place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until golden and toasted. Set aside.

Toast the pistachios in a small pan over high heat until fragrant (2-4 minutes).

Assemble the pincho by cutting a slice of goat cheese with a hot knife. Set the cheese on top of a frisée leaf. Drop a small spoonful of peach compote on top and sprinkle with the chopped toasted pistachios. Finish by placing a cherry tomato wrapped in a basil leaf on top and use a skewer to hold the pincho together.

For the other pincho, you will need:

1 baguette

1 garlic clove – peeled and halved

olive oil

anchovies

fire roasted red peppers – thinly sliced lengthwise

pitted black olives

quail eggs

To boil the quail eggs, fill a small pan with water, drop the eggs in the water, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water starts to boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs cook for 5 minutes.

Place them under cold water when done to stop the cooking process. Set aside and let cool.

Toast the bread slices as explained above.

Assemble the pincho by placing 2 thin slices of roasted red pepper as well as 2 small anchovies on the toasted bread.

Prepare a skewer with one black olive, one hard-boiled quail egg and another black olive.

Spike the pincho with the skewer to make it hold.

Frenchie and the Lemony Two-Fig Jam

29 Jun

Once you start canning, you never go back. I wish someone would have told me that when I recently tried for the first time making and canning my thick raspberry jelly and apricot almond vanilla jam. Now I’m obsessed and I look at food in a different way!

I know this isn’t fig season but writing about Corsica for the Tuscan Gun and thinking about all the fond childhood memories of the fig tree in front of the house – I had this sudden craving for them. Figs are so abundant there that basement cabinets are filled with fig jam jars. So why not make a fig jam and can it?

The greatest thing about figs is that they are so versatile. Creating and mixing flavors with figs is so easy, it becomes almost a game to pair them with the craziest random food items (like apricots for example!). Beet salad with figs, baked Brie with figs, short ribs stew with figs, chocolate tart with fig sauce, fig bars, and my favorite… fig jam with blue cheese and bread!

When I was a child, I remember looking at figs like there came from another planet. Little seeds we can eat, sweet, not juicy, plump, a texture between a fruit and a nut – positively addictive!

So since they aren’t in season, I decided to combine two types of dried figs I bought at the store: Black Mission and Calimyrna figs. With lemon added in the jam, it makes for a wonderful sweet citrusy taste that you can pair with bread, cookies, cheeses, crêpes, meat.

Be adventurous and try to combine figs with your favorite food!

Lemony Two-Fig Jam

1.5 lb (700 g) or 24 oz of figs (12 oz of Black Mission and 12 oz of Calimyrna or 350 g of each)

2.5 cups (500 g) of sugar

1 vanilla bean – sliced open to remove the seeds

1 cup (240 ml) of lemon juice

1.5 cup (350 ml) of water

1 lemon to slice

Cut the figs in quarters. Mix them with the sugar and the vanilla seeds in a bowl. Throw in the vanilla pod for extra flavors – don’t discard it. Keep in the fridge for 12 hours.

In  a deep pot, throw the fig mixture with the water and the lemon juice. Bring to a boiling point.

Cook at high heat for 5 minutes. Continue cooking at low heat for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and purée the jam in a mixer – or with a hand blender if you have one. Pulse until there are no more big pieces.

Bring the jam back inside the deep pot. Slice up 2 slices of lemon in 10 pieces each. Add all 20 pieces of lemon slides in the jam and mix well.

Depending on your stove and pot, your jam could be either more liquid or thicker than mine. At this point, mine was already very thick and the pieces of lemon with the juice helped making it a bit more liquid.  Test it – if it’s too liquid, continue boiling. If it is getting too thick, add very hot water to the jam (1 spoonful at a time) until the desired consistency.

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