Pumpkin and White Bean Stew

I love the tiled mosaic picture option on WordPress, I might be super late to the party on this because I haven’t blogged in months but better late than never right? Right. Also thanks Louis for trying to help me with picture props, you’re a pal! ❤

So yes, I went there. Pumpkin already. Or maybe I’m late to this again? I don’t want to wait until October to get orangey with my alliteration. Plus last weekend we bought about 10 different types of squash so I guess we need to get this baby rolling. I can’t complain though – finally, crisp winds are blowing, I actually wore full length pyjamas to bed this weekend and just got up mid-typing to close the windows. I feel the seasonal change coming and couldn’t be happier. (I can also postpone the leg wax for another week, winning on all fronts).

The ingredients in this stew are only pumpkin and white beans (OK and onions and garlic but that’s a given). I was planning on mixing some bacon bits but I forgot to add them to the shopping list and in the end I didn’t really care. I knew this would taste bombastic without them and guess what, I was right. Concerning the beans, I’m a soak-for-24hrs kind of gal. I have absolutely no problem with using canned beans/lentils etc, it’s just I hate the slimy preserved brine they come in. Even after washing it off, I find the beans have too much of a mushy texture for my liking so I prefer to use the soaking method. Obviously this means planning the meal one day in advance but it’s worth it.

A seperate note on the spices used: I’m a huge fan of the Apples Under my Bed blog by Heidi, and a long time ago I was reading a recipe for a tomato sauce where she swears by adding a star anise. So I tried it and and became hooked. I wouldn’t necessarily use it for pasta sauce, but in this kinda of hearty, wintery recipe I think it is essential. Just one star anise with all the rest adds enormous amounts of flavour, really worth a try!

Ingredients                  Prep. time (excl. soaking time – 30mins)                Cooking time – 2hrs

2 cups of dried white beans, soaked in water for 24hrs.
500g sugar pumpkin, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
5-6 garlic cloves, chopped
100ml passata
1 star anise*, 1 cinnamon stick* (about 5cm long), 3 bay leaves*,  2 long pepper sticks,* salt, pepper, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp paprika
*to be removed before eating

1. Soak the beans for 24hrs in cold water (leave an inch of water above the beans, they will expand). Once ready to use, dispose of the water, put the beans in a saucepan with fresh water and boil for 15m. This is to evacuate any toxins in the beans!

2. Drain the beans a second time and put in an oven-proof dish, preferably with a lid. If like me, life somehow didn’t equip you with a Dutch oven, cover your dish with tin foil. Again add enough water to cover the beans + 1  inch above, add salt & pepper and leave in the oven for 50mins at 180°C.

3. Meanwhile, peel the pumpkin and chop into inch-sized pieces. Chop the onion and garlic, add to the pumpkin in a bowl. Mix with olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika. When the beans are done, remove from the oven and add the pumpkin mixture to the dish, as well as the passata and the spices. This might make your dish veeery full so be careful putting it back in the oven (tin foil removed this time.) Leave to cook for a further 50mins.

4. Once it’s done, you’ll have a warming thick stew that is absolutely packed with flavour. Eat with crusty bread, a glass of red and enjoy in front of a film. These quantites will leave you with plenty to serve at least 5 people, otherwise you’ll have enough for left-over lunches and dinners. We love making life easier for ourselves right?

Aman x

The Tart from St. Tropez

It’s the last weekend of August. The streets will no longer be empty in the morning, walking down the corridors at work will shortly be met with the buzz of colleagues whizzing in and out of offices and we’ll soon start complaining about the onset of the colder weather. Summer came reeeeally late this year for us in Paris, but boy has it hit us hard this past week, << HEATWAVE >>. The mercury went over 30C, this shit got serious.

Baking and cooking in general in this heat has been…hot. I became inspired to test out a tarte tropézienne after seeing a documentary about its origins in France’s beautiful south. Golden brown, glistening with crystallised bling with a sweet aroma of orange blossom, she’s got it going on. Though I’m definitely more tanned than she is right now 😉 those lunch-time sessions in the park are paying off.

I’d give the difficulty factor a 5/10, it’s more time consuming than anything as you have to let the brioche rise for 24hours. Pay attention to your crème patissière to avoid lumps as much as possible – I say this from experience! Enjoy readers, I’m gonna go melt on the couch with the sun in my eyes. Bisous.

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Ingredients

Brioche
300g plain white flour (I use Type 55)
75g powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
3 eggs + 1 yolk for browning
150g butter
45ml milk
15g dried yeast
Nib sugar – this has to be the big crystal pieces of sugar that do not melt in the oven, look in the baking section, a specialty shop or online.

Crème Pâtissière
500ml milk
Few drops of vanilla essence, or 1 vanilla pod split lengthways
75g powdered sugar
60g of flour
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of orange blossom water (‘Fleur d’Oranger’)

Chantilly
125g whole cream
1 tablespoon of powdered sugar

Method

Day 1
Brioche – mix the dry ingredients together, EXCEPT the yeast. Crack the eggs in a seperate bowl. In a saucepan, combine the milk and butter together until melted. Take off the heat and let it cool until it reaches a lukewarm/tepid temperature, and then add the yeast and whisk well. If the liquid is too hot, the yeast won’t properly activate. I normally wait at least a full 5 minutes before adding it. Mix the wet and dry ingredients until well-combined, put into a bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave in the fridge overnight, I left mine for about 18 hours.

Day 2
Brioche – the dough should have risen to double its original size. remove from the fridge, rub some flour over and shape into how you want it to be baked. I left mine as a big round form, you can also make individual buns if you prefer. Place the dough in the baking tin to be used later, cover with a tea towl and leave at room temperature for 2 hours to rise further.

Crème Patissière – this is just the French word for custard basically. Let the milk warm up in a saucepan with the vanilla essence/pods. In a bowl, mix the egg yolks with the powdered sugar for 1-2 minutes. (Don’t throw the egg whites, I used them to make egg-fried rice for dinner.) Once the milk starts to boil, gently pour it in small quantities into the egg and sugar mixture, whisking well to avoid lumps. Once all the milk has been poured, transfer the liquid back into the saucepan. Add the flour which allows it to thicken, then the orange blossom water and just keep on whisking! Once boiled, take it off the heat and cover the surface with plastic film. Place in the fridge and leave until fully cooled down, at least 1 hour.

Brioche – after 2 hours of letting it rise, brush the beaten egg yolk all over, sprinkle the sugar nibs on top and place the tray into a pre-heated oven at 180C for 25-30mins. Mine was a little browner than I’d have preferred so keep an eye on the oven.

Chantilly – simply, whipped cream! Add the powdered sugar to the cream and use an electric whisker to beat until stiff peaks form. This is to mix into the crème patissière once the former has cooled down. Until that point, keep the chantilly in the fridge.

Brioche – once cooked, leave on a cooling rack. When it is cool enough to handle, cut the brioche horizantally like you would a hamburger. When the crème patissière and chantilly are mixed together, add a thick layer of the cream to the base layer of brioche, then add the layer with the sugar nibs on top. Et voila, the tart is finished. Perfect for an afternoon goûter or in the morning with a cup of tea.

(Quantities and inspiration from here and here, (sorry for the French!). Mixing the yeast in the butter/milk as well as rising times were taken from Rachel Khoo’s recipe on dulce de lèche brioche buns from The Little Paris Kitchen, as I’ve made that recipe a few times so I trust her method.)

Weekend break in Normandy

This weekend we went to Normandy in the north of France for an impromptu weekend away. A friend of ours was staying there and invited us up, and as I’d taken the Friday off work (just because I wanted to), it was perfect timing. We were in a small village/town called St Maurice en Cotentin which took 3 1/2hrs to drive up to.

The idea of a stay-cation really appeals to me – firstly, there are so many interesting places to see in France apart from Paris. A few weeks ago we spent a week in Bordeaux and it was lush to be able to visist wine country at St. Emilion and be able to go to the beach in the space of an hour! Secondly when you don’t have oodles of cash to spare but want a break, why not see more of the country you’re in? There’s always going to be something to surprise you.

We drove up on Friday early afternoon and arrived around dusk. For Normandy we were surprised it was so warm but clearly not complaining! Saturday morning we all went to the local market to buy some goodies for a home-made lunch that Louis made sous-vide. For starters we had chicken enrobed in a spicy coating with grilled peaches, salad and mozzarella; the main was salmon cooked with vanilla pods and mini leeks, and for dessert there were a selection of mini pastries from the boulangerie (I didn’t take photos of everything though, too busy eating!)

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As the sun was shining bright and we had Pokémons to hunt, we took a trip to the beach in the afternoon. The tide was low so there was a lot of bare, wet sand around. We sat for a few hours on the dunes though, shooting the breeze and all that jazz. Good times. You could actually the coast of Jersey from where we were! Or maybe it was Guernsey.. Anyway, in the evening we went to see a firework show in one of the local towns. I have never been that close to fireworks in my life – the lights were blinding, the bangs definitely deafening and we all had bits of cardboard from the explosions scattered in our hair 🙂 it was a beautiful sight though!!

Sunday was very chilly and drizzly, so I guess we got the best of both worlds. We spent the morning at the Maison des Biscuits, literally the ‘house of biscuits’, which is a speciality shop selling cakes, biscuits, chocolates, jams, preserves, local beers, honey etc. I bought a small box of chocolates to share with my colleagues at work, whereas Louis bought €50 worth of meringues and biscuits!!! The thought of all that sugar literally makes me cringe, I have no idea how we will ever get rid of them! All in all though it was a pretty sweet weekend, (no pun intended :P), and the intense change of landscape was so relaxing. I didn’t grow up around the water so it’s never been something I miss but I guess that makes it all the more lovely when I get to spend a few days in its presence. (Plus I got to top up my tan which I wasn’t expecting, bonus!)

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Aman x

Kitchen Staples

Bonjour mes amis! The weather in Paris is getting decidedly worse by the day and the flat gets absolutely freezing sometimes, so to cheer myself up I’m going to tell you about a few of my coup de couer, (meaning favourite) kitchen items. Not only are they extremely handy and practical, I think they’re lovely to look at too!

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Monsieur Mixer

Living on a budget, I definitely could not afford one of these trendy blenders like a Vitamix, and even the cheapest brands in Paris are still really expensive, so I used to use a hand-held pulverizer to make all my smoothies and soups. It still worked a dream but I was limited with how many ingredients I could use and the quantity I was able to make. Then it broke. So when the unofficial-in-laws asked us what we would like for Christmas I immediately knew what to suggest, and guess what? Joyeux Noel to me because they bought it for us early! The boy came home with the blender in one hand and patisseries in the other on the weekend, what a doll. Christened it with a melon and banana smoothie, yum!

blender

Lady Shaker

About a month ago, we did a big shop at a Zodio, which is a French home decoration store/warehouse with an amaaazing array of items for every domestic need. I wasn’t too keen on this little cocktail shaker at first, preferring the classic silver type but now I absolutely love it. It includes 4 recipes on the sides with all the measurements so you’ll never get lost whilst shaking up a storm, unless you’ve had a few too many…

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Madame Théière

When I was working for a family and teaching English to their two little girls here in France, I always admired their théière, a cast-iron teapot with a large, deep strainer set within for tea leaves. They originate from Japan where they are called tetsubin or kyūsu , and are traditionally hung over a fire to boil water. They come with tiny handle-less cups to drink from which are very efficient at burning your fingertips so be careful! As a tea lover, there’s nothing better than sipping in style.

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Papa Pestle (& Mortar)

The Boy was sooo keen to get this and when someone is that adorable you just can’t say no. Pestle and mortars have an ancient, apothecarial feel to them, (yes I’m making up words now, feel free to join me) which should really make no sense anymore in our modern world. However our porcelain pal was a cracker at smashing up M&M’s when we made our crêpes last week. Modern medicine at its best!

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I know these names are so silly, but once I started I was on a roll!

Bisous!

Every day can be Pancake Day!

Now I haven’t made crêpes at home in a looooong time. If I ever eat them in Paris it’s usually the savoury variety, known as galettes de sarrasin (roughly translated as buckwheat cake as this is the type of flour used) when I’m out at a restaurant, called crêperies, which cater specifically to these flying-saucer beauts.

New best friend

New best friend

The only time I really desire to make them at home is on Shrove Tuesday as we call it in the UK, (usually simplified to Pancake Day when I was growing up, which works just as well). In France it’s known as ‘Mardi Gras’ meaning ‘fat Tuesday’ and there is also another special occasion when the French love whipping up the batter, called La Chandeleur celebrated on February 2nd (this is another Christian-based festival commemorating the presentation of Jesus).

History lesson over! We had some batter left from last night when we made crêpes for dessert, which were really delicious and light after a heavy meal and so decided to make them again for breakfast. I used Nigella Lawson’s recipe which can be found here (I got 10 super-thin crêpes out of the batter), simple and fuss-free. We also added a splash of rum and liquid cane sugar, just to live on the wild side.

I don’t have pictures from last night as we were all too busy devouring them, but I ate mine with melted chocolate on the base, sliced banana and whipped cream from the can on top. The boy and his friends crushed a handful of M&M’s in the pestle and mortar and sprinkled it on theirs with chocolate too. As you can see in the picture, this morning I added raspberry confiture and honey to the mix. Other great toppings you could use are: nut butters such as almond or peanut, desiccated coconut with honey, chocolate and berries, caramelised apples with ice-cream…the possibilities are endless and equally as mouth-watering!

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Tomato & Mozzarella Tart

When I was at school, I remember one of my teacher’s telling us that she lived without an oven in her apartment during her 20’s. It simply didn’t come included. I thought, ‘What the hell is she talking about? How can you possibly survive without making food in the oven, without roast chicken, jacket potatoes, PIZZA?!?!’

Then I moved to France, and and lived that nightmare first hand (as well as having to use a communal toilet in the corridor instead of having one in my own room…that’s for another time though).  Not being able to cook with an oven was definitely a pain at times but surprisingly easier than I imagined. I mean how often am I actually going to cook a roast? Exactly. Potatoes in the microwave, pan-frying chicken and salmon instead of grilling, it wasn’t really a problem.

In my second year however I moved into a much bigger, more modern apartment which instead of a microwave…had an oven! I was over the moon, seriously. Beouf bourguignon, cherry clafoutis, roasted vegetables, M&M cookies, etc yum etc. Now I’m in my third year here, and after moving in with the boy, I think you can already guess the pattern forming… Yep, stuck with that darn microwave again.

After getting so used to cooking more experimentally in my previous abode, it is definitely frustrating going back (again) to basics and trying to cook healthy, imaginative meals when you’re so limited with equipment and space. At least this time around it’s a microwave-oven so I can play around sometimes and get creative. For example, this lovely tomato and mozzarella tart I made last night.

I was sceptical at first that it would turn out to be anything but a disaster but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted. I used shop-bought pastry, and after covering the tray and poking a few holes (my favourite part ha!) to prevent it bubbling up, I pre-baked it for about 5mins on 200C.

tart

Then I started slicing the tomatoes ready to layer once the pastry was done. In the end I only needed two toms because the dish was pretty small. Before layering, I spread some Dijon mustard over the pastry to give the tart some bite. I sprinkled thym and about a tablespoon of olive oil over the tomatoes, as well as seasoning and adding a few bay leaves for extra aroma, then popped it back into the micro-oven for 20m again on 200C.

I was left with a reel of pastry trimmings due to my baby baking tin, so as I was waiting for the dish to cook I decided to get artsy and do what all people do with the left-overs: cut out some leaves. Ta-da!

tomspastry leaves

With the rest of the pastry, I wrapped it up and put it back in the freezer – with enough left-over dough, I’ll be able to make another tart!  After the 20m was up I then added mozzarella and also sliced some ham into the mix just to use up things in the fridge. I placed my pastry leaves on top, (that was just for my personal kicks; they’re honestly better suited when making a pie for example, and there is a layer of of pastry on top as well as underneath), and baked again for only 10m on 200C.

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I was really happy with the end result and given we have another roll of pastry waiting to be used, I might make a chocolate and raspberry tart as the boy has been asking non-stop for one! I hope you enjoyed reading and for anyone else out there stuck with a darned micro-oven, you got a friend.

Bisous!