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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Turkey

Phew! Thanksgiving is over! I love the holiday and the focus on family and friends, but I don't know how my mom did it all of those years!

My family is large. We regularly have 30+ people at family events...Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc. So I thought I was used to a large group for holidays, but I quickly realized that my small apartment in France was going to be a challenge in order to host 32 dinner guests. First, my refrigerator is about 3/4 the size of an American fridge, and the same goes for my oven. We decided to get mid- to large-sized turkey and then supplement with ham so that we would be able to fit the turkey into the oven and still have enough food for everyone. The turkey ended up being a whopping 23-pounder! It barely fit in my oven:

But it did, and besides trying to keep all of the potluck dishes hot until everything was ready to serve, all went smoothly. We cleared out our living/dining room, set up every table we had, and we all fit (just barely). All of the students seemed to have a wonderful time, and piled their plates high with the food they've been craving from home.

I stressed about what to do with the turkey for days, but decided on a very simple preparation since it was my first time cooking one. And I actually decided not to cook the turkey overnight because I was afraid it would set my apartment on fire since it was so big and close to the heating elements. I rubbed the inside with salt and stuffed the cavity with onions, celery, carrots, and a leek. I also put a piece of each of those on the bottom of the roasting pan to flavor the juices even more. On the outside, I cut up about 1/2 stick of butter and placed them in strategic places around the turkey (i.e., where they wouldn't fall off right away). Then I roasted it for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees F and then lowered the temperature to 325F until the turkey was done. Everything I came across said that this sized turkey should be done in about 4 1/2-5 hours, but mine only took a little over 4 hours. I think it may have been because this turkey was super fresh. (Here in Strasbourg, you have to special order whole turkeys, so they come straight from the farm.)

The final, beautiful result (which even I was surprised about!):

And finally, a picture of one of the breasts, larger than my husband's hand:


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year will be my first time hosting a Thanksgiving. We're far from home, but my husband and I work for an American university here in Strasbourg, so we're hosting the students, some of their family members, and a couple of other staff members at our house for an American Thanksgiving. The total number (so far) will be 32 people. Phew!

Luckily, it's a potluck, but we're providing the turkey, ham, and a couple of apple tarts. I have a lot to do to prepare since somehow we have to fit all of those people in our apartment! My to-do list looks like a battle plan, and I'm happily about 1/2 way through. Tomorrow, my little munchkin has been invited to a play date with a neighbor, so I'm going to take advantage of the time and take the tram out to a supermarket. (I live in the city center, so there are a few markets, but none of them are big enough to carry everything I need.)

Tomorrow I find out if the 8 kilo turkey will fit into our oven. We had to special order the turkey. And because we're the only ones with an oven in our apartment, the oven will need to be used on T-Day for dishes other than turkey. My mom has given me a recipe to cook the turkey on low overnight, so we'll see how that turns out!

Good luck to all of you cooking and hosting Thanksgiving this year!


Sunday, November 23, 2008

A New Look

I don't make it a habit to change my blog templates all of the time, but I found that I didn't like how my very mediocre pictures looked on the last template. I already have a hard time with lighting (what with an older digital camera and a very dark house with few lighting options), and I thought that the green of the old template made my pictures seem darker. I found this template at Our Blogger Templates, and so far I like it. I'm sure I'll be playing with it a little over the next few days, but I'm hoping that this is the one I'll stick with for a while.

Feel free to give me some feedback! (Yes, I know that there are some things that aren't centered at the bottom of the page that look like they should be. I'm having problems getting them to center...hopefully that will be fixed soon.)


Baked Omelet and Arugula, Beet, and Goat Cheese Salad

So I found my camera cord...under the chair in the living room. This enabled me to finally upload a lot of pictures of my recent cooking--woohoo!

A few nights ago, I was exhausted, and fell back on a recipe I found at Talk of Tomatoes, the first foodie blog I started following about a year ago. Her Baked Omelet recipe made my mouth water when I saw it for the first time, and I thought, "Hey, this looks easy!" I had just moved to France when I stumbled on this post, and had been trying to figure out what to do with all of my leftover baguettes from lunches. I always have about 1/4 baguette left after making sandwiches for my husband, my daughter and myself. I tried the recipe, and it has been a staple in my repertoire ever since! I've listed her recipe below with changes I've made in red. This is a very versatile and forgiving recipe, I've found.

Talk of Tomatoes' Baked Omelet

Serves 4.
5 eggs
2/3 cup whole milk (or a mix of lowfat milk and heavy cream)
pinch kosher salt & coarse pepper (KS&CP)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 oz prosciutto, diced (I used some chopped up, crispy bacon this time around, and it was yummy...I could imagine that a lot of different meats could work well in this dish.)
1 cup (plus) gruyere or Swiss cheese (I use Emmentaler because it's cheap and easier to find here in Strasbourg.)
1 cup bread cubes cut in 1/2 inch dice (I usually use more bread cubes because the first time, there wasn't enough to cover the eggs, and my husband really, really liked the crisp bread on top. I usually cut up the bread first, and place it in the empty baking dish. When bread covers the bottom, I know I have enough, and then place the bread in a bowl until I'm ready to use it.)
3 T olive oil
1-2 tsp dried Italian herbs

Whisk eggs in bowl; add all but last three ingredients. Stir to blend. Butter dish and pour in egg mix. Toss bread cubes with 2 T oil; plop on top of eggs and pour another 1 T oil over cubes and sprinkle with Italian herbs. Bake in 350 oven for 25-30 minutes.


Ready to eat:

I've also been trying to add beets to our diet here because they are just so good for you, and you can buy them already prepared and prepackaged for very little money. The French often just eat them chopped up with a splash of vinegar on them, and although we really like them this way, it can get a little boring. I found the following recipe through TasteSpotting on Italian Food Forever, and really liked it. It has beautiful color and the texture went great with the egg dish. I cut this recipe in half since we are a small family, and used pre-cooked beets, but it still turned out great! I even used leftover ingredients the next day to make the same salad with some pear sliced in, and I liked that even better!

Italian Food Forever's Fall Harvest Salad

4 Medium Small Sized Beets
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
3 Oz. Log Semi Soft Goat Cheese
4 Cups Baby Arugula
1 Small Red Onion, Thinly Sliced

1/2 Cup Olive Oil
5 Tablespoons White Balsamic Vinegar (I used regular dark balsamic and the taste was great, even if it did cover the brillant color of the salad somewhat.)
1 Tablespoon Dried Oregano
Salt And Pepper

Mix the dressing ingredients together and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. F. Place the beets in a shallow baking dish, and pour over half the olive oil. Roll the beets to coat, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake until fork tender, about an hour and thirty minutes. Remove from the oven to cool. Once cool, skin the beets, and cut into 1 inch pieces. (I obviously skipped this part since I bought pre-cooked beets.)

Assemble the salad by dividing the greens between four salad plates. Arrange the beet slices and onion slices attractively on top. Mix the dressing once again, and drizzle just enough on each plate to lightly coat. Crumble the goat cheese, and garnish each plate with the goat cheese crumbles. Serve! (I served this in a bowl, but it was still beautiful...)

And because of this recipe, I found a really yummy goat cheese in the grocery store--St. Maure Chevre. In Kentucky, where I live when I'm not in France and have lived for much of my adult, cooking life, we don't get a choice in our goat cheeses...it comes in a small or a large package, if you can find it at all in our local grocery stores. So I was more than thrilled when I discovered that there are different types of goat cheeses! Don't you just want to sink your teeth into this?!


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Technology-Enforced Hiatus

I am on a technology-enforced hiatus from blogging. I've lost the cord that connects my camera to my computer, so until I find that, I can't upload pictures of some of the food I've been making! I'll be back, though, just as soon as I find that cord or buy a new one!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

My First (or Really Second) Loaf of Banana Bread...Ever!

While I enjoy a banana now and again (and ate one every single day of my pregnancy!), I just have never gotten around to making banana bread. It's not that my bananas haven't ever been to the point of over-ripeness or that I haven't ever put some blackened ones in my freezer for some later baking inspiration. I have. I just have never actually made a loaf. I forget that they're there or forget to defrost them in time to make a loaf or, more likely, was just too lazy to bake.

But I finally made it over that hurdle last week. My family hosts a dessert and coffee hour every Friday for college students we work with, and since I've never been a huge dessert maker, I've been trolling the web waters trying to find good, simple (and yet doable in France) recipes. These students are studying abroad, so at this point of the semester, they're really starting to miss the taste of home. And just by chance, Tastespotting had a couple of pictures of really yummy-looking banana bread loaves listed about the time I was planning the next dessert.

The first loaf turned out yummy, but it was the ugliest banana bread you've ever seen. You see, I only have a smaller loaf pan here in my apartment, and I thought it would be too small for the amount of batter the recipe made. So I decided to put it in a bundt pan. It turned out nicely, but 1) the top is very rounded, so causes problems when you flip the bundt pan over, and 2) I didn't let it cool enough, and when I turned it over, only half came out!

Well, never fear...my husband and I used that as an excuse to sample the wares, and we decided that it was definitely worth trying again, but this time I used the smaller loaf pan, which ended up working beautifully.

I used Kitchen Confit's recipe, which was tasty indeed! (I left out the nuts because I'm not a fan of them in desserts, but either way would be great.)

Kitchen Confit's Banana Bread Recipe:

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups ripe bananas, smashed (about 3-4, depending on size)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon (She says it's optional, but don't skip it! It's yummy!)
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a loaf pan.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar together. Add in the mashed bananas, eggs and vanilla. Add in the flour mixture. Add in the milk, nutmeg and cinnamon and nuts.

Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 1-1 1/2 hours. Remove and let rest in the pan for 15 minutes. Then remove and let it cool on a wire rack.

Kitchen Confit suggests that you can freeze a loaf, but I don't think that will ever be happening in our home! The students told me that they felt like they were back in their grandmother's house when they were kids...one of the best compliments I've ever received. Thanks, Kitchen Confit!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Arroz al Horno...a Warming Spanish Rice Dish

Right after college, I spent a year in Spain as an au pair. I didn't have much to do while the kids were in school, so I often observed the ritual that was cooking lunch. One of my all-time favorites was Arroz al Horno (literally, Oven Rice). Traditionally, it's prepared in an eartherware casserole called a cazuela, and it is one of my prized kitchen possessions at home. However, in France, I don't have one, so I've used a heavy oven-proof pot. It's worked out well, but it doesn't create the nice crust that the clay dish does and just doesn't look as impressive on the table. It still looks nice, but if you make this, try to use the prettiest oven-proof casserole or pot you have... **Update 7/17/09: I've updated the photos to show this dish in the cazuela.

Something else that always draws me to this recipe is that it's cheap. All it takes is a little rice, potato, tomato, garlic, and chickpeas. All easy to find and very inexpensive to make. I like to pair this with a nice, cold bowl of gazpacho and croutons to begin the meal and often serve a strong red Rioja.

I've taken some of the measurements from Penelope Casas' recipe in The Foods and Wines of Spain, but the preparation is how I learned to do it while living in Spain. Technically, this is usually served with morcilla, a Spanish blood sausage, but this can be difficult to find in the States, and it usually turns diners off, so I only use it if I'm making it for myself. I've also added chicken to the recipe, which is not typical in Spain, because my husband, as I've mentioned before, likes a little meat with his meals. I prefer it without chicken, so the recipe below is chicken-free. If you'd like to add chicken, feel free to cut a breast or two into slivers and add them during the boiling stage. And finally, it's easy enough to make this completely vegetarian by using veggie stock instead of chicken stock.

Arroz al Horno

1 can of chickpeas, liquid reserved
¼ cup olive oil
½-1 medium onion, chopped
½ large tomato, skinned and finely chopped, other half sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ medium to large potato, peeled, in 1/8-inch slices
¼ tsp paprika
1 cup short-grain rice
Pinch Saffron
1 head garlic, unpeeled, in one piece
2 oz. morcilla in ¼ inch slices (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid. Add enough chicken broth to make 2 cups.

Heat the oil over a med-high flame in an oven/stovetop-safe casserole/pot and saute the onion until wilted. Add the tomato and cook 3 minutes, stirring often so the tomato doesn't stick.

Add the garlic, the potato slices and paprika and cook a couple minutes more. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring frequently, 5 minutes more. Add the chickpeas and broth, season with saffron and salt.

Bring to a boil and cook over a med-high flame, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the rice is no longer soupy but some liquid remains. Place the dead of garlic in the center of the casserole and the slices of tomato around dish.

Arrange the morcilla slices on top (if using) and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove and cover lightly with foil. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.

**As tempted as you'll be to eat the "roasted garlic," don't. It is rather tasteless, as the rice soaks up the flavor.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Confiserie Schubert in Saarbrücken, Germany

Last weekend, my family and I took a day trip to Saarbrücken, Germany, only about 90 minutes from Strasbourg. When we left Strasbourg, it was a beautiful fall day with a blue sky, but by the time we arrived in Saarbrücken, it was overcast and downright cold! So we stopped in a little café to have a snack (really, a second breakfast!) to warm up. Confiserie Schubert was the perfect place to stop. I ordered a hot chocolate and my husband ordered a coffee, while our daughter ordered herself a true Berliner (jelly-filled doughnut). Our drinks were so cute that I didn't want to drink mine. (I know, I'm a sucker for a little cookie and a tray!) My husband's coffee came with whipped cream instead of the normal liquid version.

The café also had a little storefront for their baked items. The petits fours were so beautiful:

They even had the cutest little hedgehog cakes...I'm not really sure why, but aren't they cute?


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Black Radishes Revisited

Since several people have requested pictures of the inside of my black radish, I thought I'd oblige. Unfortunately, it's not as exotic as imagined when looking at the outside. It does have a beautiful snowflake-like pattern on the inside, though. Since I'm still an unskilled food photographer, and my camera has very limited options with both close-up pictures and lighting, I didn't get a good picture head-on.

I did, however, decide to experiment with the radish. I did a quick Google search, and came up with this one from Chocolate & Zucchini for Black Radish Chips.

She specifically says to be conservative on the oil, which I was, but I then burned the first batch to a crisp. She suggests a baking time of 40 minutes, but that was definitely too long for this batch! (And let me tell you, the smell of burnt radish is not a good one...)

I decided to try again in the same pan, which already had some oil in the bottom. I added a little more, but apparently too much since although I didn't burn them, they still didn't come out quite right. They were tasty, with the spicy flavors of the radish almost baked out, but a little too soggy for my taste. (Again, sorry for the poor photography!)

After tasting the soggy ones, I can see the appeal of them (not only do they have a very interesting flavor, but the star/flower pattern is even more pronounced). I guess I'll have to try again next time I find these at the store.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A French Apple Tarte for an American Election Day

In appreciation of my new home (France), but in anticipation of an exciting election night in the U.S., I baked an old-fashioned apple tarte. This was the first tart I attempted to make when I moved to France, and it's become an obsession for me. And my husband, who loves apple pie, loves my new obsession. (By the way, I mentioned in a previous post that he likes "substantial" dinners...he was not excited about that pronouncement, and wants everyone to know that he doesn't like gigantic TV dinners or huge slabs of meat on his plate. He just isn't cut out to be a vegetarian, that's all.)

Anyways, back to the apple tarte. I found this recipe somewhere and adapted it to fit what I had here. I love it, and it's so impressive looking for so little work. I think the hardest part is peeling the apples!

French Apple Tarte

1 store-bought pastry dough
6 baking apples, peeled, cored, halved and sliced 1/8-inch thick (I've used Jonagored and Reine de Reinette, but any tarter, firmer baking apple will do.)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 stick cold butter, sliced thin
1/2 cup apricot jam, heated and strained

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Fit the dough into a large tart pan and trim any excess. Arrange the apples decoratively on the pastry dough, overlapping them. Sprinkle the sugar on top and place the butter slices around the pan. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is cooked through and the apples are golden.

Brush the top of the tart with the apricot jam while still hot.

Before baking:

After baking:


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Leek and Spinach Gratin Tart, aka Dinner Last Night

Last night I decided to experiment with Laura's Paris Cooking Notebook's Leek Gratin. Leeks are a dime a dozen right now, and I've been itching to use some. My husband likes some substance to his meals, and somehow putting something in a tart pan makes it seem more substantial or like a main dish to him. So I decided to make a tart out of the gratin. I also decided to add some chopped spinach to give it some more nutritional value. It turned out well, but there are some tweaks I'll make to it next time.

Here is my version of Laura's Leek Tatin:

Leek and Spinach Gratin Tart

1 store-bought pâte sablée or brisée (or I would imagine a pie crust in the US would work too, but I haven't tried it yet.)
3 large leeks
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 eggs
1 cup fromage blanc (because this is much easier to get here in France than cream cheese)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp curry
1/2 cup chopped frozen spinach
1/2 cup grated Emmentaler cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Lay out the dough in a large tart pan and press down the sides to make sure you get that nice fluted look. Put in refrigerator until you're ready to use it.

Cut off the dark green parts of the leeks and either save for a vegetable stock/soup/etc. or toss. Cut the whites and light green parts into slices and let soak in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes. Rinse and let sit in a new change of water for a few minutes more to clean.

Heat the oil in a pan and add dried off leeks. Season with salt and pepper. Let them cook over medium heat until they've started to soften (about 6-7 minutes).

Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a bowl. Add the fromage blanc, milk and spices. Mix until not lumpy anymore. Add the spinach in small bits and mix well.

When the leeks have softened, remove them from the heat and let them cool down for a few minutes. Add them to the egg mixture, stir well, and pour mixture into the tart shell. Sprinkle grated cheese on top.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the middle is set and the crust is a golden brown.

So now for what I would do next time. I would probably leave the Emmentaler off. It didn't taste bad, but just gave a little bit of a rubbery texture to the top of the tart. I liked the taste and the nutritional value of the spinach, but it didn't add much to the texture. I'll probably leave it in next time, but if you want smooth and creamy, leave it out. Also, my husband suggested topping the tart with crunchy, fried leeks. I might try that next time, adding them about half-way through the baking to make sure they stay on top and don't sink.

I also served this with a side of oven roasted brussel sprouts (easy enough...cut them in half and toss with olive oil, a couple of crushed garlic cloves, and salt and pepper and roast for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees F until browned, shaking them every few minutes so they didn't burn on the bottom.) I liked the brussel sprouts, but will add some balsalmic vinegar at the end to add some more flavor. I also would suggest possibly serving your tart with a salad instead of a hot veggie side. It would have made a nice contrast...


Monday, November 3, 2008

Another Simple Lunch--Radishes, Radishes, Radishes

The other day I ran across a black radish at the local grocery store. I had heard about these mythical radishes from another American here in Strasbourg, and had been on the lookout. I bought it...but now am not really sure what to do with it! I've heard that it's good grated into some fromage blanc and then spread onto a toasted baguette, so maybe I'll try that tomorrow since I have some fromage blanc leftover in the fridge.

I really like radishes, but I've never really done anything with them except slice them up in a salad. Today I tried radish and butter sandwich, and it was yummy! The creaminess of the butter played nicely with the spiciness and crunchiness of the radish...add a little salt, and voilà, a nice easy lunch!


Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Quick Lunch on All Saints Day--Soup and Croutons

Today is All Saints Day in France, which means that almost everything is closed in Strasbourg. Desperate for lunch, I scanned my shelves. All I found that was lunch-like and would only take a few minutes to prepare was a box of butternut squash soup and a chunk of day-old bread. So, I decided to heat up the soup and make some homemade croutons. I learned that homemade croutons are one of the easiest ways to make a non-homemade dish look homemade back in college while visiting a friend's sister on spring break in Whistler, Canada. She made the yummiest garlic-herb croutons to add to a very simple salad. Now I'm a salad person to the core, but I was ready to ditch the lettuce and just munch on the croutons as a snack!

Since then, I've played with making croutons. I like to make mine in the oven, mostly because I don't have to babysit them like when I make them on the stovetop. All it takes is some bread, any bread, (cut into chunks), olive oil, and the seasonings of your choice. Today I used the leftover pain de campagne (a local wheat-based loaf), olive oil, and simple salt and pepper. Then I put them on a baking sheet and baked at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, checking on them a couple of times to shake and turn them over so that they became a nice golden brown. Often I chop up some garlic and add it in, but I was in too much of a hurry today. Feel free to add whatever herbs from your pantry you'd like!

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