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One French Word: miel, a French recipe: poires vapeur au miel et aux noix


Poires vapeur, main ingredients

Poires vapeur, main ingredients

Pears, walnuts and honey: truly seasonal ingredients, combined in one and the same recipe, all the savour and nostalgia of autumn brought together on your plate.

When I lived in the Loire valley, I had a few walnut trees in the field, planted 25 years earlier when we first arrived, which gave a meagre if increasing crop. And on an adjacent property of mine, there were three great walnut trees, probably hundreds of years old, which produced the most enormous walnuts you’ll ever see. Baskets and baskets of them, some of which we ate fresh and tender, or served to guests at my table d’hôte, but most of which were spread out on racks to dry, so that we could keep eating them until the following harvest.

My next door neighbour was a bee-keeper. Only a few metres separated us from fresh honey. Honeycomb sometimes.  One of the best ways to eat fresh walnuts is with honey. Or a glass of good Bordeaux.

I didn’t quite realize my luck, having both walnuts and honey in ready supply, until I moved away.  But now I have the sea, the beach, fish and seafood in exchange!

The French language bit:

miel (masculine noun) : le miel, du miel, des miels = honey (pronounced mee-ell) (the honey, some honey, honeys). Never pronounce the s in the plural.

There are different types of honey: le miel liquide = runny honey, le miel d’abeille = bee honey (though I’m not sure any other type exists!), le miel d’acacia = acacia honey, le miel toutes fleurs = mixed flower honey, le miel de lavande = lavender honey, etc.

Mielleux (adj.) = honeyed (when used of honeyed tones, is slightly pejorative).

Le miellat = honeydew, not in the sense of melon, but the droplet that exudes from greenfly, collected by ants.

We all have some type of steamer, and probably don’t use it enought, especially not for desserts. So here is my recipe for Poires vapeur au miel et aux noix, steamed pears with honey and walnuts.

Ingredients:

  • One pear per person (choose ripe but very firm pears)

and per pear:

  • 15gr shelled walnuts (about 3 walnuts)
  • 1tsp  honey
  • A few drops of lemon juice
  • A smear of butter
  • A large square of greaseproof paper
  • Kitchen string if you choose to use it

You may add spices, nutmeg maybe or pepper if you wish, but I didn’t.

Preparation:

  • Shell the walnuts. Chop roughly and mix with the honey.
  • Cut a large square of greaseproof paper per pear, and smear butter in the centre generously.
  • Take a slice off the bottom of each pear so that it will stand up by itself.
  • Peel the pear, leaving the stalk in place for presentation purposes.
  • Coat the peeled pear in lemon juice to prevent discolouring.
  • Core the pear from the bottom end, taking out all the bits you don’t want to eat, but being careful not to pierce the shell.
  • Stuff the pear with the walnut/honey mixture.
  • Stand the pear on the buttered greaseproof paper.
  • Bring a litre of water to boil in a steamer.
  • Bring up the sides of the greaseproof paper to form a papillote, an envelope, which you can either twist to close, or tie with kitchen string.
  • When the water is boiling, place the papillotes in the basket of the steamer, cover with the lid, and steam for 12 minutes.
  • Serve either hot or warm, in the papillote, leaving each guest to unfold it and discover the dessert inside.
Papillotes ready to steam

Papillotes ready to steam

The pears should be served in little bowls, because although the greaseproof paper doesn’t budge, the honey has melted and may run when the papillote is opened. It is prettier though to eat the pears out of the papillote, without tipping them out onto the plate.

Cooked pear, papillote

What better way to celebrate Autumn.

Papillote unwrapped

Bon appétit!

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One French Word: frit, a French recipe: Pâtes fraîches aux épinards, aux câpres et à la coppa frite


Pâtes fraîches, coppa frite

Pâtes fraîches, coppa frite

We are lucky in France to be able to buy really excellent fresh pasta. All sorts. I use mostly tagliatelle. I’ve tried making them myself, but it seems to be something I’m not really very good at. Maybe I’ll take myself off to Italy one of these days and do an intensive course with a wonderful Italian lady who makes it every day… Pasta is so versatile, you can always find the ingredients for one sauce or another, and even plain, with just a little olive oil, a squeeze of garlic and a few shavings of parmesan, it is always so satisfying.

The French grammar bit (rather a lot today, if you are not interested, scroll quickly down to the recipe!):

frit, adjective, frit (m), frite (f), frits (m.pl), frites (f.pl) = fried, pronounced free (for the masculine), freet (for the feminine), don’t pronounce the s

From the verb frire = to fry (je fris = I fry)

But also a feminine noun, une frite = a chip/French fry.

Pommes de terre frites (or simply pommes frites or frites) = chips/French fries (literally fried potatoes, but when they are not in the shape of chips/French fries, they are called pommes de terre sautées, slices or cubes for instance).

Steak frites    (also written steack frites) = steak and chips/French fries, is the French national dish, the food most consumed in France, despite all the gastronomic dreams non-French nationals may have of what the French eat on a daily basis. It is the dish most often served in French restaurants, according to a recent survey. I personally eat it about twice a year, never at home, always in a brasserie (an old-style French restaurant), as I eat little red meat and few chips come to that.

Expressions include avoir la frite, or avoir la patate, both meaning to be on good form  (il a la frite, il a la patate = he is on good form).    (You can also say avoir la pêche to mean the same thing, as we saw in a previous post, probably used more than frite or patate.)

The recipe today is for pâtes fraîches aux épinards, aux câpres et à la coppa frite    (fresh pasta topped with wilted spinach, capers and fried crispy coppa). Coppa is italian cured rolled pork, something like raw ham. You can use bacon, but it’s not quite the same, or raw ham, but it needs to be a little fatty to crisp up properly.

Do read this recipe through before starting to cook! It is not complicated at all, but you need to go very fast, or the pasta overcooks or goes cold, and the crispy coppa uncrisps.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 2 to 3 people:

  • 1 packet of fresh pasta of your choice (mine are tagliatelle and the packet weighs 350gr) . You can use dried pasta if you wish. 
  • 1 packet or about 12 thin slices of coppa
  • 2 tsp of capers drained of their vinegar
  • three good handfuls of spinach leaves, washed, destalked and dried in a tea towel (they don’t have to be baby leaves, mature ones will be just as good)
  • a clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • fresh parmesan cheese, either grated or shaved (a couple of tbs per serving) 
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Wilting the spinach

Wilting the spinach

Preparation:

  • If you are using fresh pasta, which only takes a couple of minutes to cook, prepare all the other ingredients, lay the table and pour the wine before cooking the pasta in salted water. If you are using dried pasta, you should have enough time to do all that while it is cooking. Whatever you use, follow the suggested cooking time on the packet and don’t forget to salt your cooking water.
  • Cut the slices of coppa into 2cm (3/4 inch) strips (stack the slices and cut them with kitchen scissors).
  • In a frying pan or wok, with a little olive oil, fry the coppa until it is quite crispy. Stir it to separate the slices.  Remove from the pan to a plate covered with a double layer of kitchen roll.
  • Fry the garlic rapidly in the same oil, stirring, for about 30 seconds.
  • Throw in the spinach leaves, stirring rapidly, just to wilt them. Have the capers ready prepared, add to the spinach as soon as it is wilted, turn off the heat.
  • Drain the pasta. Divide between individual plates. This all has to be done very fast. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, a portion of the spinach and capers, finish with the crispy coppa. Grind a bit of fresh black pepper, and sprinkle with grated or shaved parmesan.  Don’t insult this dish by using ready grated, packeted parmesan, which is inferior and tasteless usually, compared to the real thing. Treat yourself to a chunk which you must keep wrapped in the fridge. Expensive but classy!
  • Serve quickly, accompanied by a glass of lusty red, something from the Languedoc or Gaillac if you are serving French wine.

Pâtes fraîches

Which pasta do you prefer, fresh or dried? Can you get fresh pasta where you live? Or maybe you are good at making it (in which case you can give me a lesson!).

Bon appétit!

One French word: framboise, a French recipe: crème à la framboise meringuée


Crème à la framboise meringuée

Crème à la framboise meringuée

The raspberry is the queen of all summer fruits, delicious guzzled straight from the sun-warmed cane. Raspberries are best used fresh, very fresh, as they spoil quickly. Frozen (or rather defrosted) they go mushy and lose a great deal of their interest. Although… although… I do use frozen raspberries on occasion, about three of them, straight out of the freezer, as ice cubes in champagne. They melt gently, keeping the champagne chilled longer, suffuse it with a delicate pale pink, and can be slurped in an unmannerly fashion from the bottom of the glass.

Champagne and frozen rasberries

Champagne and frozen rasberries

Late raspberries are still available. They cost gold of course, but maybe you have a few in the garden?

The French grammar bit:

Framboise = raspberry, feminine noun, une framboise, la framboise, les framboises, pronounced fraam-bouahz

The origins of the word are bram- (bramble bush) and -basi (berry) in old low French.

My recipe today is for Crème à la framboise meringuée, a delicious, quick, easy summer dessert. In England it is of course known as “Eton Mess”, and is traditionally served in summer, on the occasion of Eton College’s annual cricket match against Harrow (two of the most famous schools in the country).

Main ingredients: raspberries, cream, meringue

Main ingredients: raspberries, cream, meringue

You will need for 6 people:

  • 6 good handfuls of fresh raspberries
  • 1 scant tbs of eau de vie de framboise (raspberry alcohol or raspberry gin (see recipe below) (optional)
  • 6 small white meringues
  • 1/2 litre of whipping cream

Preparation:

  • Pick through the raspberries to ensure there are no bugs, but try to avoid washing them, unless you are unsure of their source, in which case it is better to rinse them.
  • Stiffly whip the cream. You need no sugar unless you have a particularly sweet tooth. Add the alcohol if you are using it.
  • Roughly crush all the raspberries except for 6 (if you are doing this recipe in winter, do try using frozen raspberries, but drain them well so that their juice doesn’t liquefy the cream.
  • Roughly crush three of the meringues.
  • Mix the crushed raspberries with the whipped cream.

In tall glasses (tulip shaped champagne glasses work well, or martini glasses) alternate layers of raspberry cream with layers of meringue bits. The last layer should be raspberry cream. Top with a fresh raspberry and a meringue.

This dessert should really be assembled at the last minute from chilled ingredients. If prepared in advance, the meringue goes soft.

CIMG5784

Simple, delicious.

Bon appétit!

PS The recipe for raspberry gin:

A pound of raspberries, a bottle of gin, sugar to taste

At the height of the raspberry season, when they are nice and ripe, slightly crush a pound of raspberries and, in a litre bottle, add to a bottle of gin. You can use frozen raspberries if you must. Add sugar, it needs a bit, not a lot, and actually you can always add it later. This is not a liqueur, not sweet, but dry, with punch. Store in a dark cupboard, shaking daily (make sure the cork is firmly in place!) for the first week, once a week for the next month. Forget about it for at least another month. Strain out all the pulp and pour into a clean bottle, labelled clearly. This can be used in fruit desserts, or drunk in small quantities neat or on the rocks. You can do the same thing with sloes (prunelles), sloe gin. Am I meant to put the standard warning: alcohol is dangerous for your health, here?

One French word: noix, a French recipe: salade de céleri aux noix et aux dattes


Noix, feminine noun (une noix, la noix, des noix) = generic word for nut, more especially walnut (pronounced nwaa, the x is not heard)

Noix de cajou = cashew nut, noix de pécan = pecan, noix du brésil = brazil nut

But also une noix de beurre = a teaspoonful of butter (walnut sized)

It is the walnut season. So my recipe for today is salade de céleri aux noix et aux dattes. I bought some beautiful “medjoul” dates at the market this weekend, it is the season for them too, they are fresh and fleshy and delicious.

Celery, date and walnut salad

Celery, walnut and date salad

For 4 people you will need:

  • 1 head of celery (un pied de céleri)  (the green leafy kind, not celeriac)
  • 1 red onion
  • 12 walnuts (or 24 halves if you buy them ready shelled)
  • 4 large dates
  • Walnut oil (de l’huile de noix), shallot vinegar (du vinaigre à l’échalote), salt, pepper

 

Preparation:

  1. Wash the celery, keeping the leaves for soup. Use all the outside stalks: chop into small slices about 3 or 4mm thick. This cuts across all the fibres and makes the little pieces tender. Keep the heart to eat raw another time with cheese.
  2. Peel and finely slice the onion.
  3. Shell the walnuts, break each into 4 pieces.
  4. Pit the dates, chop each into 6 pieces.
  5. Mix these ingredients either in a bowl or on individual serving plates. Make a vinaigrette with 1/2 tbs shallot vinegar, 1/2 tbs walnut oil, 1tbs corn or peanut oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix well and season the salad.

Bon appétit.

One French word; pâtes, a French recipe: pâtes aux légumes du soleil


Pâtes, feminine plural noun (les pâtes, des pâtes) = pasta (pronounced paaat,  with a long a, like in “aha”, and you don’t pronounce the final s). Remember what I said about a circumflex, little hat, denoting a lost ‘s’? It is the case here.

In the singular, la pâte is pastry. Pasta is always in the plural. Pâtes fraîches = fresh pasta, pâtes italiennes = Italian pasta. Then there are pâtes farcies, such as ravioli.  Another word is nouilles = noodles ‘pronounced nooo-y, no s). These are usually smaller, shell shaped (coquillettes), twisted (tortillons), bow tie shaped (papillons). Also Chinese noodles = nouilles chinoises.

If you called someone a nouille, or a nouillette, or a nounouille in French, it is like calling someone a noodle in English, meaning they are silly or simple-minded. It is almost a term of endearment when addressed to a child.

Another expression is une bonne pâte, meaning someone dependable, if rather slow.

Not to be confused with pâté, which is still a paste, but meat, and cooked.

Pasta is a good carbohydrate, one that sticks by you. It is not the pasta which is calorific, but what we put on it: butter, cheese, creamy sauces. My recipe today is vegetarian: des pâtes aux légumes du soleil.

 

Salade de pâtes

Pasta topping

For four people you will need:

  • 380gr of dried pasta,  or 550gr of fresh pasta, or again 700gr of stuffed pasta (ravioli, tortellini)
  • A little olive oil
  • 2 small courgettes (zucchini)
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A glass of dry white wine
  • A bunch of fresh basil (du basilic frais)
  • A little butter
  • Some freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

 

Preparation:

  1. Begin by making your pasta topping: boil up a kettle, put the tomatoes into a large bowl, pour boiling water over them, stick them in several places with a sharp knife, and after a minute, remove from the boiling water to a chopping board. Skin the tomatoes (monder les tomates). This step is important, don’t leave it out! Cut the tomatoes in half, remove the core and the seeds and cut into chunks about the size of your thumbnail.
  2. Peel and chop the onions; put into a frying pan to sweat gently in some olive oil.
  3. Peel and chop the garlic and add to the onion.
  4. Wash and halve the courgettes lengthwise. Cut off the ends and discard. Cut each half lengthwise again and chunk like the tomatoes. Add to the pan with the onions and the garlic.
  5. When the courgettes have cooked for 3 minutes (you should be stirring), add the tomatoes and all their juice (but not the seeds). Stir well and season with salt and black pepper.
  6. After 2 minutes, add the glass or so of white wine (or chicken stock if you do not wish to use wine). Simmer very very gently until the courgette/zucchini is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed. Keep this mixture warm. (You can freeze this in batches for use later.)
  7. Cook your pasta in the usual way, depending on whether you are using dried or fresh (don’t forget to salt the cooking water).
  8. Serve on warmed plates, with the vegetables divided between the servings, topped with a knob of butter, grated parmesan cheese, and lots of torn or chopped fresh basil.

A word about Parmesan: it is expensive, I know, but it is useful to keep a well wrapped chunk in your fridge and grate a little each time you do a pasta dish. You can also shave it on top of salads. There is just no comparison between freshly grated good quality parmesan and the stuff sold in little packets. Try it, you’ll see the difference.

Bon appétit.

One French word: oeuf, a French recipe: oeufs mimosa


Œuf : masculine noun (un œuf, l’œuf, des œufs) = egg, pronounced in the singular like the “ough” part of enough, like euh in the plural (euh…what did I want to say, euh… hesitation (maybe you’d write this err…). When you say un œuf, you run the n of un into the œuf, so it’s like enough, but just without the e.

Is this getting complicated?

Qui vole un œuf, vole un bœuf (literally he who steals an egg, steals an ox), in other words stealing is stealing, whether it be a large or small thing you are taking.

On ne fait pas d’omelette sans casser des œufs (literally you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs), an expression for collateral damage.

My recipe for today is œufs mimosa, a starter which is nicer and a little more complex than the standard œuf mayonnaise you find on a lot of typical café type menus. You should count three to four egg halves per person.

Mimosa

Oeuf mimosa

You will need, for 4 people :

  • 6 hard boiled eggs
  • A small can of tuna (miettes de thon)  or crab (crabe) (classier but more expensive)
  • 3 tbs home made mayonnaise
  • Parsley, tabasco, a few salad leaves

A word about hard boiling eggs: use eggs you have had for a few days, not the freshest ones. It is much easier to shell (écaler) slightly older eggs. And don’t cook them for too long or the yolks go black around the edges, most unattractive. Put them in cold water, bring to the boil and then boil for 5 to 6 minutes.

Preparation:

  1. Shell the hard boiled eggs (œufs durs) and cut them in half lengthways. Lay the whites out on a serving dish on top of lettuce leaves, roquette or spinach, and put the yolks in a bowl.
  2. Drain the fish, break it up a bit if it is tuna, pick through to remove any cartilage if you are using crab.  Mix 3/4 fish, 1/4 mayonnaise. Add tabasco to taste. The mixture should be onctueux (unctuous, rich and creamy) but not sloppy.
  3. Fill the egg white halves with mounded spoonfuls of this mixture.
  4. Mash up the egg yolks with a fork. You don’t want a paste, but rather little bobbles like mimosa flowers, hence the name.
  5. Sprinkle the yolk over the filled egg white halves, to cover, and overflow onto the serving plate. Add a little chopped parsley if you wish.

This dish should be prepared the day you want to eat it, only a couple of hours at most before serving, otherwise the mayonnaise will start to oxydise and the egg yolk will dry and not be attractive at all. It is a good inexpensive dish to prepare for a buffet.

Bon appétit.

One French word: douceur, a French recipe: petits pots de chocolat


Douceur, feminine noun (la douceur, une douceur, des douceurs) = sweetness, softness, gentleness, a sweet (either in the sense “candy” which is also bonbon, or something sweet to end a meal with) pronounced doo-ssir (said like Sir Lancelot), the stress being equally divided between the two syllables.

Doux (m), douce (f), adjective = sweet, soft, gentle (pronounced doo and douss)

La douceur de vivre = the sweetness of life

Kate Swaffer wrote yesterday in her wonderful blog, http://kateswaffer.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/its-just-a-number/#comment-640, the words “not enough chocolate“. What could be sweeter than chocolate?  Here’s a very concentrated dose for the weekend!

My recipe : petits pots de chocolat

This recipe is extremely rich. You don’t need much of it. I make it either in coffee cans (which is still too much I think) or small Japanese tea cups (shown in the picture). Certainly not ramekins.  You be the judge. Quite a lot of calories here!

Chocolat

Petit pot de chocolat

You will need for four to six people, depending on the helping:

  • 1/4 litre (1/2 pint) single cream
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 200gr (almost 7oz.) dark chocolate
  • 3 tablespoons of cointreau, grand marnier, brandy, armagnac, rum, whatever you prefer
  • 2tbs soft butter (not melted, but not hard out of the fridge)

Preparation:

  1. Heat the cream (la crème) in a small saucepan until almost boiling.
  2. Break the chocolate (le chocolat) into little pieces and add to the cream, stirring to melt.
  3. When the chocolate is no longer lumpy at all, take the mixture off the heat, add the alcohol then allow to cool a little before adding the egg yolks (les jaunes d’oeuf), stirring vigorously.
  4.  Last of all, when the mixture is just warm enough to melt it, stir in the butter (le beurre).
  5. Spoon into your chosen containers carefully, so that you have a nice neat presentation, with no drips down the side (this is actually quite difficult to achieve). Pop it in the fridge and serve chilled.
  6. Before serving, you may decorate with finely chopped hazelnuts, pistachios, a crystallized violet or piece of orange peel if you have used orange liqueur… I tend to leave it plain.

Bon appétit.

 

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