Category Archives: French

The emperor’s cakes (gateaux de l’empereur) and a loud-mouthed mother

gateauempereur

It’s tennis tournament time again and, despite my best efforts, my perennial Tournament Tourettes has kicked in with a vengeance. As yet, I have been unable to locate a suitably effective gag for myself but, if I find one, I will be sure to buy a couple because there have been a few occasions when also gagging the opponent’s parents would have been advantageous. I admit that it’s not really fair play to yell ‘leave it – it’s going out’ or ‘yesssss!’ as Léo’s poor opponent hits the ball into the net, but one glimpse of fluorescent yellow balls and apparently I become one of Those MothersDespite, or perhaps thanks to, my ‘help’, Léo is through to the finals which are to be played on Sunday when, to the delight of all and sundry, I predict my Tennis Tournament Tourettes will reach a resounding crescendo. Due to a pitiful lack of gag shops around here, I can only keep my fingers crossed for a debilitating case of laryngitis…

These French delicacies (Gateaux de l’Empereur) are a cross between a biscuit and a cake. Apparently they were originally made for a banquet given in honour of Charles IV. There are many different variations.

Ingredients

4 eggs

250g cane sugar

250g powdered almonds (or powdered hazelnuts)

250g raisins

250g spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare a baking tray by covering with greaseproof paper. Beat the eggs and sugar together until pale. Combine the almonds, raisins, flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and gradually add to the egg/sugar mixture to obtain an thick paste. Spread over the greaseproof paper on the baking tray and bake for 25 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm. Keeps in an airtight tin for several weeks.

Pear cake and an exhausting email exchange

pearcake

I engaged in a slightly surreal email exchange with a ski instructor recently. I wanted to reserve a skiing lesson for Léo for this weekend – a lesson in which he would hopefully learn a) how to leave the other mountain users vertical and intact, and b) that posts, signs (particularly ones that say ‘slow down’) and barriers are there for reasons other than to be uprooted while flying past. I asked for a one hour private lesson on Monday morning, Mr Ski Genius replied that he could offer a two hour lesson on Sunday afternoon. So I enquired about a two hour lesson on Monday afternoon, which he was afraid he couldn’t do, but he could perhaps fit in a one hour lesson on Sunday morning, assuming that I was the person that had originally wanted to book for Tuesday afternoon. There were numerous other variants discussed far too tortuous to go in to, including, if I remember correctly, the possibility of a one and a quarter hour lesson from midnight on Sunday, which was obviously very tempting. Anyway, the upshot is that I lost the will to live and conceded defeat. We’re just going to wing it and give him a call when we get there to try to arrange (although frankly, the thought of a ‘phone conversation with him brings me out in a cold sweat). I just hope that his lessons are less convoluted than his emails. Failing that, we can pray that the other skiers and signposts are more robust than last time. It could all prove to be very interesting…

I bought a variation of this ‘moelleux aux poires’ in a patisserie when we were last skiing. Anything tastes good after a day on the slopes, particularly with Léo, but this was still delicious when I made it at home.

Ingredients

3 pears, cut into eight

1 tablespoon rum

1 vanilla pod

100g cane sugar

50g butter

50g coconut oil

3 eggs

75g rye flour

75g buckwheat flour

50g powdered almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Poach the pears in a little water with the rum and vanilla pod. Blend the butter, coconut oil and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs one by one, and then the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and almonds and combine well. Add the drained, poached pears and gently incorporate into the mixture. Transfer to a pre-buttered medium-size loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Apricot and ginger muffins and drug-free pharmacists

apricotgingermuffin

A few years ago, I wrote an article about a much-revered institution in France: The Pharmacy. Yesterday, having popped into our local one for some toothpaste, I found myself in the incongruous position of dispensing advice to the pharmacist on how to treat her debilitating cold. She was quite adamant about not wanting to use ‘nasty chemical drugs’ that made her feel drowsy and dried out. I found her resolve amusingly disloyal in view of her job – rather like a butcher promoting a vegetarian diet – but I was even more astonished when she went on to say that she tries to avoid pharmaceuticals at all costs: Talk about doing yourself out of work! Anyway, I spent so long dealing with her fervent drug phobia and streaming orifices (I set her up with a concoction of herbs and some essential oils to sniff and rub on) that it was only when I reached home that I realised that I’d come away empty-handed… Natural remedies: 1, pharmaceutical profits: 0.

Ingredients (makes 12)

60g salted butter, softened

60g coconut oil, softened

150g spelt flour

2 organic eggs

60g ground almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

80g cane sugar

50ml milk

200g apricots, cut into quarters and lightly poached

2 teaspoons ginger, freshly grated

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cream the butter and coconut oil for about four minutes. Add a spoonful of flour, beat again, then add the eggs, beating further until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add a little more flour to prevent curdling. Gently fold in the remaining flour, ground almonds, baking powder, cane sugar, and milk. Lastly, fold the poached apricots and grated ginger into the mix. Spoon into muffin trays and bake for 25 minutes.
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The health benefits of wine

redwine

When I talk about the health benefits of wine drinking, I’m referring to very moderate consumption (five to seven glasses a week), accompanied by food. I’m afraid that necking the whole bottle on a empty stomach, while it might be fun at the time, does not count as healthy consumption!

There have been numerous studies conducted on the health benefits of wine, especially red wine. Without exception, the findings all suggest that it promotes a longer life, aids digestion, improves mental health, acts as an anti-inflammatory, protects the heart and even protects against certain cancers. Finally, the benefits gained from the pleasure of drinking a glass of good wine gives should not be underrated.

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, was a big wine advocate, claiming it was something of a panacea. He used it for disinfecting wounds, diluting medication to increase palatability, alleviating pain during childbirth, symptoms of diarrhoea and even lethargy.

The anti-aging properties of wine have been apparent for over a thousand years. Monasteries were convinced that their monks’ long lifespans was due at least partly to their moderate, regular consumption of wine. Their conviction was later confirmed by The Copenhagen Heart Study carried out in 1994/95.

Wine provides valuable vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, but probably its main health benefits are due to its high resveratrol content. Red wine contains more resveratrol than white because it is fermented with the skins (white wine is not). Certain plants produce resveratrol to fight off bacteria and fungi and shield from ultraviolet irradiation.

A recent Spanish study found that wine, particularly red wine, reduces the risk of depression. It showed that people drinking between two and seven glasses of wine per week were less likely to be diagnosed with depression, even after factoring in lifestyle. Another study carried out at the University of Leicester reported that regular, moderate red wine consumption could reduce the rate of bowel tumours by about 50%.

It is accepted that alcohol consumption generally increases the risk of breast cancer. However, a study conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles found that wine intake has the opposite effect. The chemicals in the skins and seeds of red grapes reduce oestrogen levels while raising testosterone  which results in a lower risk of developing breast cancer.

Another study found that moderate red wine intake can reduce the risk of developing dementia. The study which was conducted in 19 countries showed a significantly lower dementia risk amongst regular wine drinkers. It would appear that resveratrol reduces the stickiness of blood platelets, which helps keep the blood vessels open and flexible, which in turn helps maintain a good blood supply to the brain. The study concluded that moderate red wine drinkers had a 23% lower risk of developing dementia.

Red wine shields against severe sunburn, by virtue of its flavonoid content. It also protects the eyesight by controlling the overgrowth of blood vessels in the eye, a problem in both diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. Drinking wine also boosts levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the body and it would appear that resveratrol improves sensitivity to insulin. Insulin resistance is the most important critical factor contributing to type 2 diabetes risk.

Perhaps most surprisingly, modest wine consumption is good for liver disease. A study showed that it reduced the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by half compared to people who never drank wine.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this ‘superdrink’, there is a very complete and interesting book, written by Frenchman, Michel Montignac called The Miracle of Wine.

Santé!

New potato oven raclette and a dog at the end of his tether

racelette hugotypewriter1by

My patience has reached its limits, especially when it comes to pests with wings. I thought we’d seen the back of the tweeting squatter after I had explained (with my teeth showing) that she had delighted us long enough with her presence. I think that my natural assertiveness must be very intimidating because she flew off that very evening. I thought that was that; alas I was mistaken. She comes back at least once or twice every single day for a bellyful of couscous and special dove grains and a snooze. How can she possibly be so hungry and so tired? It’s not as if she has a proper job like me. What annoys me most is how pleased they always are to see her. She fascinates them so much (why?) that they sometimes forget to give me my camembert after lunch, which makes me feel unloved. And as if all this isn’t irritating and hurtful enough, a large bird with a long neck has also turned up. It’s called a heron apparently and thank goodness it doesn’t come into the house because it’s very big indeed. All in all, I’ve had it up to the back of my impressive canines with anything that flaps or chirps. This raclette dish isn’t my favourite, although they seemed to love it for some reason. The upside, however, is that it contains cheese, which is not at all good for birds, so that can only be a good thing.

Ingredients (serves 4)

225g new potatoes, cooked

1 tablespoon olive oil

100g raclette cheese, grated (although any hard cheese will work)

1 medium-sized onion, finely sliced

4 slices Bayonne ham, roughly cut into strips (or Parma ham)

Sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

4 or 5 leaves of fresh basil to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare a medium-sized oven-proof dish by greasing with olive oil. Slice the potatoes into pieces roughly 3mm thick and create a layer on the bottom of the dish, sprinkle with cheese, add a few strips of ham and onion and continue layering until everything is used up. Make sure to save a bit of cheese to sprinkle on top along with the seasoning. Cook for 40 minutes, garnish with the basil leaves and serve with crisp green salad. And don’t listen to Hugo – it’s divine!

leotweety heron

Apple, cinnamon and honey clafouti and mud therapy for dogs

clafoutis

Our bipolar weather this summer – grey chilliness one day, stifling heat and tropical rainfall the next – has cajoled Hugo’s inner breakdancer into putting in an appearance. He has taken to throwing himself into tepid puddles (the deeper and muddier the better) with an incongruous and not altogether elegant stomach-first, legs-last sort of manoeuvre, presumably looking for relief from the heat and mosquitos. At least I hope that’s what he’s looking for, because if not he’s even odder than I thought. He then stands up and starts all over again, a beatific smile plastered firmly on his face. The sequence is repeated until the puddle is entirely rid of its water. Mud creates a very effective barrier against both flies and the heat, so Hugo’s logic is irreproachable, but then we knew that already. The downside is, however, that I have a very dirty house…

hugopuddle

Originally from the Limousin region, clafouti, or clafoutis in French, is now a popular dessert throughout France. The name comes from the word ‘clafotis’, which means to ‘fill up’ in Occitan. Traditionally it is made with cherries, but it works well with any fruit or berry.

There are many benefits to adding cinnamon to a dish: it controls blood-sugar levels, helping those with insulin resistance and and pre-diabetic conditions and also aiding weight loss. Added to this, it has significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an excellent choice for sufferers of arthritis and IBS.

Ingredients (serves 6) :

6 apples, peeled and chopped into small cubes

40g salted butter

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 tablespoons honey

100g spelt flour

4 eggs, beaten

50g cane sugar

300ml full fat milk

100ml cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Melt the butter in a deep frying pan and fry the apples for about five minutes on a low heat. Add the cinnamon and the honey and heat for another couple of minutes, stirring gently. Butter a gratin dish and add the apple mixture. Put the flour, eggs and sugar in a bowl and mix, adding the milk and cream to the mixture a little at a time, beating well. Pour the mixture over the apples in the dish and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown.

The perfect chip and a proxy papa

chips

As the idea of me in charge of a vat of boiling duck fat is too harrowing to contemplate, my husband makes the chips in our house. I’m happy to report that my competence does however run to eating them. My husband is away for a few days this week and, last night, Hugo pussyfooted (sorry Hugo – I know that’s not very flattering) upstairs to Léo’s room to dispense a big slobbery goodnight kiss. He has never done this before and probably won’t do it again as, having woken Léo up, he got very short shrift (there was a burst of shouting and Hugo reappeared downstairs looking decidedly dejected, his tail between his legs). I realised that he obviously considers himself to be a stand-in papa, so now I’m wondering if he could bring the wood in for the hot-water boiler, take out the dustbins and then make me a big bowl of chips… stirring

Chips, or French fries, cooked in duck fat are a speciality of Southwestern France.  Duck fat is high in monounsaturated fats, which make up 50 percent of its total fat content, with saturated fat making up just 14 percent (much less than butter). Most of that fat is linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that helps maintain healthy cells, muscles and nervous system. It also boosts calcium absorption and aids in kidney function. From a nutritional point of view, duck fat is comparable to olive oil.

Ingredients (serves 6)

2 kg floury potatoes

2 litres duck or goose fat

Sea salt

Peel the potatoes and cut into medium-sized chips (roughly 6cm long, 4mm thick). Rince and dry in a clean tea towel. Place the fat in a deep frying or chip pan and heat to 150°C. Plunge half of the potatoes into the hot fat for four minutes, remove, drain and set aside. Repeat with the second half. Then recook the first batch for a further four minutes until golden brown. Remove, drain well, season and serve. Repeat with the second half.

duckfat