In the Bag: My mini halloween pumpkin puppets

October 31st, 2008 § 2 comments § permalink

Halloween hadn’t really reached France when I was a kid. That might explain that I never really got so enthusiastic about the whole thing even now that Halloween is taking over Europe. However, as a gourmande, there’s one thing I love about Halloween… 
I love pumpkin in all its edible forms (especially soup!) and thanks to Halloween I can indulge myself in a one month pumpkin cure every october!

Talking about pumpkin, it’s the main theme of Julia’s ‘In the Bag Event’ this month. It’s a long while since I had the occasion to participate, but I definitely cannot pass on this one. Unfortunately, I’m nothing of a pumpkin carver and there will be no scary carved pumpkin in my bag but I’m sure Julia won’t complain with what I made up instead.  

In honour of Julia’s In the Bag event and of those who brought Halloween and its pumpkins to me, I’ve improvised some mini-mini muffins with roasted pumpkin and hazelnuts and tiny little pieces of dried apricots. Now, I’m not sure they will scare many of you, but I doubt you can resist them…

My Halloween Pumpkin Puppets
And let me present you with my not so scary mini halloween pumpkin muffins puppets!

So, what will it be for you: trick or treat…

Happy Halloween to you all, happy pumpkin day!

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Stewed pears, candied lemon and almond tiles

February 3rd, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

Pears are definitely my favourite fruit in the cold season. They are a dutch local too. Stewed pears are typical in holland, served warm, as a side dish with game or simply as a desert with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream… mmmmm. It’s been a while I’ve been willing to try cooking them by myself, but like many other dishes I never got to it.

When I came across Julia‘s inspiring bag of goodies for her monthly in the bag challenge, I had to sigh. Pears, lemon and nuts… It was the perfect occasion, yet I’d thought I’d never get to it on time before the deadline, and of course, I didn’t, it was just too busy last week… But anyway, this morning, while my dutchie was being grumpy about his cold and showed no sign of interest for anything else but catching up on his Prison Break DVD’s, I had all the time in the world to experiment in the kitchen…

stewed pears


Thanks to Julia, I finally made my own stewed pears poached with lemon peel and heartwarming spices. I topped them with a caramelized reduction of their cooking juices and served them slightly warm, with a spoon of whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon and candied lemon peel. For the crunch and for the nut part, I added homemade almond tiles.

 A perfect sunday tea time!

stewed pears (2)

For the stewed pears, I used the most common stewing pears in the Netherlands, the Gieser Wilderman variety. As a basis for the recipe, I inspired myself from my favourite dutch cooking book “Dutch cooking – The new kitchen” from Manon Sikkel and Michiel Klonhammer, with a few adjustments in the spices and in the cooking time: traditional recipes call for cloves, vanilla and sometimes cinnamon, but I was not in the mood for cloves although I wanted to spice up my pears a bit. In addition to the vanilla and cinnamon, I used green cardamom, star anise and black pepper. In the book, they call for a cooking time of 1h30 on very low heat, but I guess I went to low on the heat and had to stew my pears for an extra half hour on medium heat before they were ready. They came out just fine, nicely coloured and delicately perfumed. For the final touch, I kept the lemon peel and half of the cooking liquids. I reduced a fourth of the liquids in a thick caramel syrup in which I candied the lemon peel cut in thin stripes.

For the almond tiles, after hesitating between the fancy recipe from my Larousse des Desserts and the minute made one from my french-cooking-made-simple bible “Francoise Bernard – Les recettes illustrées”, I chose for the second option so that I too could have a pick at the Prison Break grand final! I kind of missed the last stage which call fo curling the almond tiles on a pastry roll as soon as they are out of the oven. I was too slow on that one and my tiles remained depressingly flat. Nevermind, flat roofs are in fashion lately!

But, enough with the blabla, here’s for the result and the recipes:

stewed pears (3)
Here’s how my sunday tea time turned out.

Dutch style stewed pears
Poires pochées à la hollandaise

serves 6 pers.
prep: 10 min. cook: 2 hrs (+ 15 min for the caramelized syrup)

6 Gieser Wilderman pears (or any other stewing pears), peeled,
enough water to cover,
peel and juice of 1 lemon,

1 cinnamon stick,
1/2 vanilla pod,
3 green cardamom pods,
6 black peppercorns,
2 star anise parts,
5cl xeres vinegar,
10 cl red wine,
150 g sugar.

Bring the water to a boil in a large pot, add the vinegar, wine, spices and lemon peel. Put the pears in the water. They should be completely covered so that they can colour evenly. Lower the heat (low but not too low!) and leave to simmer for one hour. Add the sugar and simmer for half to one hour more or until a knife can enter the pears without resistance. Carefully remove the pears (not by the stalk!) and sprinkle them with the lemon juice. If you’re not planning to use them right away, keep them in the fridege, in a closed recipient, in the cooled stewing liquids.

To top the pears, you can reduce a quart of the stewing liquids with the spices and lemon peel into a thick caramelized syrup. Just reduce on high heat for about 15 minutes or until the syrup is thick and coloured. Remove the candied lemon peel and cut it into thin stripes. Use to decorate.

Bon appétit!

Almond tiles
Tuiles aux amandes

makes ~20.
prep: 10 min. cook: 5 min

2 egg whites,
30g butter, melted,
1 full Tsp flour,

2 full Tsp sugar,
a pinch of salt,
30 g of blanched almonds in thin slices
optionnal: a pinch of lavander flowers, crushed

Preheat the oven at 250 deg C. With a wooden spoon mix the eggwhites (not beaten), the flour, sugar, salt and melted butter until smooth. Add the almonds and lavander and toss gently. On a baking tray covered with baking foil (grease the foil with butter if you dont use silicon foil), pour well spaced (~2 fingers) small amounts of dough using a tea spoon. Flatened them slightly with the back of the spoon. Bake for 5 minutes in the warm oven or until the rands of the cookies start to colour (beware: it goes very quickly from golden to black!). Take out of the oven and immediately set the cookies to cool on top of a pastry roll (empty bottles will do to). Once completely cooled, store in air tight tin.

Bon appétit!

I guess I am out of competition for this month in the bag challenge, but anyway, it was fun and it was good!  
For more recipes with pears, lemon and nuts, check out Julia’s A slice of cherry pie next week, I’m sure there will be plenty of tempting recipes (with her delicious pear and cheddar salad to start with)…

 stewed pears

In the bag: Chestnut and hazelnut cake

November 30th, 2007 § 2 comments § permalink

Food blogging events is what brought me to food blogging. I love the challenge of creating a dish out of a theme or selected seasonal ingredients. It is such a creative process where I can let my inspiration work freely. I love it.
Last week, I was browsing through “Is my blog burning“, looking for cooking challenges to tingle the cook in me, when I tumbled on the november “In the Bag” challenge from  Julia and  her A Slice of Cherry Pie … Chestnut, chocolate and sugar! Yummy.

 In the Bag November Logo
In Julia’s cooking bag this month!

This was perfect timing: Since a week or two, I was submerged with a sudden chestnut crave. This usually happens to me a couple of times in the automn and winter season. Probably something left fom my childhood near the mountain regions from the Cévennes and Ardèche where chestnut trees are everywhere. When the first cold days arrive, the sweet and smoky smell of roasted chestnuts invades the streets of the city centre: during weekends, on every square, children gather around mini roasting stalls, awaiting the grey, wise and smiley elder in charge to provide them with a precious newspaper cornet filled with fuming roasted chestnuts. Aah! The smell of roasted chestnuts… It’s the smell of christmas at the door.

At home, children (and grown-ups) are happily fed with local “Crème de marrons”* (chestnut spread), topped with crème fraiche or whipped cream for desert. My father loved it. Strangely, I was not such a fan of chestnut spread as a child, but now that I’ve left home for some time… Once in a while, I have an urge for it and make sure to always bring back a couple of cans with me whenever I go back to France. I could eat it directly from the can! but mostly, I love to use it in cakes and deserts.

Crème de marrons
La crème de marrons de mon enfance

All that to say that I couldn’t miss that invitation to chestnut childhood memories… Yet, being overwhelmed with all the work involved with my “changing blogs platform mission”, I almost missed the posting deadline.
Hopefully, I’ll be just on time with my chestnut and hazelnut cake. Already for sometime, I had my eye on a beautiful chestnut cake with candied chestnuts from the talented french blogger Anne on her “Station Gourmande“… Yet, I was missing a good part of the ingredients. For the best, as I wanted to create my own recipe for this challenge and always like to add my personal touch anyway.

chestnut and hazelnut cake
A piece of cake?

We had the cake for sunday brunch with a couple of friends. The cake was tender, nutty with a little crunch from the hazelnuts and chocolate bits. It was a success!

I am looking forward to the round up from Julia now… I guess I’ll have a new chestnut crave very soon!

In the mean time, as I only used half of my 500g can of “Crème de marrons” for this cake, there’s a bonus: With the remaining spread, I indulged myself in one of my favourite chestnut treats: the “bouchons aux marrons de Céline“…

chestnut bites

Chestnut and hazelnut cake
Cake aux marrons et noisettes

serves 8 to 10 pers.
prep: 15 min. cook: 50 min

3 eggs,
50g sugar,
160g whole wheat flour,
25g salted butter melted,
1/2 tsp baking soda,
1/2 tsp salt,
1/2 tsp vanilla, powdered

10 cl hazelnut oil,

1/2 tsp salt,
250g chestnut spread (I use crème de marrons* from ardèche)
50 g hazelnuts, toasted and roughly crushed,
40 g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven at 180 deg C.
In a bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture doubles volume. Incorporate the flour, salt, baking soda and vanilla extract until smooth. Pour the butter and hazelnut oil, slowly, while mixing until homogeneous.  Incorporate the chestnut cream. Toss in the crushed hazelnuts and chocolate. Pour into a greased cake tin and bake for 50 min at 180 deg C or until the point of a mess comes out moist but clean. You might want to cover the cake with aluminium foil after about 20 min, when the cake is nicely golden to prevent it from burning. Unmold, ignore the delicious nutty exhalations and leave to cool on a metal grid. Enjoy with a strong dark expresso or your favourite tea.

Bon appétit!

* chestnut spread is a traditional recipe from the french cévennes and ardèche mountain regions. It’s made of pureed chestnut, slowly cooked with sugar syrup and flavoured with vanilla.

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