Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Burger Wraps

This has been on my to do list for a while now.....ever since I saw Sri's entry.

I'm not a burger person, in fact this is the first time I've attempted anything close to a burger. The reason this piqued my interest was because Sri had made them into a wrap & suddenly the burger took on a whole different look. Plus I had to find one more reason to use my new grill (yes I finally bought one for my induction stove).

Go to Sri's Feed My World for the recipe. I didn't put any liquid smoke or grill seasoning cos I don't have any and the burger patties, nevertheless, turned out flavorful & moist. I also used only half the amount of beef & made 6 mini patties instead cos I know The Girl would love this too.

I didn't have any lettuce so I used mache & generously added them into the wrap. She served hers with ketchup & mayonnaise but I used salsa to give it more of a Mexican flavor. Looking at her recipe now I also realised that I forgot to add cheese. Never mind, I'll remember it for the next time & there will be a next time cos I fully intend to make this again.

Monday, July 28, 2008

We went to the mountains

Mt Gerbier de Jonc

Yesterday, we headed to the mountains. X's parents took The Girl & I out for lunch. In the summer, the folks here head to the mountains to cool off (at one point, we had to pull out our sweaters so always go prepared). It's beautiful out there & in the summer, everything is green. You just drive past farms with cows, horses, sheeps grazing in the open & the fields all scattered with neat bundles of hay. I realised that this is a part of Ardeche that I don't go to very often. Perhaps this summer, The Girl & I would make some trips here.

Mt Gerbier de Jonc (altitude 1551m) is located in the National Park of Cevennes with the source of the Loire river nearby. If you look really closely at the first photo, you'll see hikers climbing up to the the summit and why wasn't I there, well I wasn't wearing the right shoes.

We still had a little time before our reservation so we stopped at the local market just at the foot of the mountain. Like all markets in France, it's filled with fresh local produce & I was intrigued by what this area has to offer. Let's see what we have

Honey flavored with blue berries, lavander, chestnut etc.

Mini Tarts of Wild Blueberries.
Blueberries is a specialty of the area.
You'll see more of them later.

Lots & lots of country style bread.
Great to pick some up for a picnic.

Air dried sausages which I'd talked about before.

For keeping cheese in the cellar

Looking at all that food has made us hungry & we didn't want to spoil our appetite by sampling everything at the market. So we headed to our restaurant which is in the village of Le Beage. The chef is the son of a family friend so we were keen to try this out. The restaurant serves what is typical of the food you would get around here - good hearty traditional fare. Nothing fancy but good fresh farm produce.

I forgot to take a picture of our main dish but the highlight of the meal has got to be desserts & the home made blue berry jam that they served with frommage blanc.

Assortment of the local charcuterie
- saucisson, cured ham, pate

I, who normally don't eat frommage blanc had 2 helpings.
Creamy cheese with blueberry jam - divine !!

For dessert, all 3 of us wanted more of those delicious blue berries.

We will be back.

In fact I was researching on the internet that there will be a festival of blueberries first week of August in another village in the mountains. I've already noted it down to make a trip there again.

Featured Blog

Over the weekend, I discovered that rojak rendezvous was featured here.

Jenn, The Left Over Queen, also queen of the Foodie Blogroll, did a lovely write up of the blog even though she has never met me nor have we communicated much beyond comments. In fact I wouldn't have known my blog was featured if not for the fact that I noticed readers coming over from her blog (if you did, hi !). Thank you Jenn.

So head on over to see what other blogs she has recommended.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How many kisses ?

Here in France, it's common to greet people you meet by giving them a kiss on the cheeks & likewise, when you say goodbye. But exactly how times will depend on where you live. When I first moved to Ardeche, I had to condition myself to kiss everyone 3 times whereas in NY where I'd just lived for the past 4 years, the norm is just one peck. Then when I go to Paris, I have to remember that they only do it twice.

If you are ever in doubt, check out the map below. It's from this website Combien de bises ? One Frenchman, out of frustration (obviously he's not alone), developed the map, based on information submitted from people all over France. 2 seem to be the most common & as you can see, we're located in zone 3 & the north seem to be have a lot of 4 kisses.

But of course, this doesn't answer other perplexing questions like - With which cheek do you start ? Do you kiss when you meet somebody for the first time ? ....and this one because I wear glasses, do you remove your glasses when you kiss esp if the other person wears them too (to avoid the dreaded clinking of the glasses) ? Sigh who says living in France is easy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Curry Puffs....with a difference

Curry puff is one of my favorite snack in Singapore. With chains like Old Chang Kee & Polar opening up everywhere, you're bound to be able to pick some up around any corner. Sigh since I'm all the way here in France, I have to make my own.

I took part in a cooking challenge recently where we had to come up with a dish incorporating puff pastry, poultry/meat & tinned fruit. Immediately I thought to do a puff of sorts. Remember the beef fajita with pineapple salsa, well that would be great in a puff but then I realised I don't have any pineapple so okay, how about chicken puffs with mango since I love that combination too. But I only had turkey fillets in the freezer, so ladies & gentlemen, that was how I came up with my entry for the challenge - Curry puffs with turkey & mango.

I didn't put a whole lot of mango - I had some left over from making mango sorbet but the smell was heavenly as they were being baked in the oven. The Girl loved the mango flavor in her curry puffs & she had 3 of these for dinner tonight.

Original curry puff has a hard skin but personally I prefer the flaky type of puffs so I use puff pastry which you can purchase frozen. If you have the time, you can always make the pastry too but if not, I'm all for taking short cuts.

Curry puffs with turkey & mango
makes 24
(if you replace the turkey with chicken & omit the mango, this is the recipe for regular curry puffs)

3 turkey/chicken breast, diced
1 big onion, diced
4 medium potatoes
curry powder
6 hard boiled eggs, quartered
1/2 cup of diced mangoes
4 puff pastry pate feuillette
1 egg yolk

1. Marinate the meat in 2 Tbsp of curry powder.

2. Fry onion till soft then add meat. When done, remove from pan

3. Fry potatoes, sprinkle some curry powder. Fry till soft. Add water if it gets too dry. When done, add the meat & mangoes. Mix them up in the pan. Remove & set aside to cool down

4. Once the filling is suitably cooled down, prepare the puff pastry. Cut out circles of 15 cm (I used a bowl of around that size, turned it upside down & cut around it). Place the filling in one half of the circle (don't overfill), add a piece of hard boiled egg, fold it over & crunch the sides. At this point, you can freeze any excess puffs (provided the pastry had not been frozen & then defrosted).

If there are excess dough after cutting out the circles, knead them into a ball & roll them out big enough to cut out more circles.

5. When done, place the puffs in an oven tray, brush the tops with the beaten egg yolk & bake in the oven at 190C for about 20-25 mins until they turn golden brown.

These are great finger foods & I've even served them as appetisers.

Zucchini stuffed with Brandade de Morue

"Don't buy any zucchinis" ordered Rene. His garden is absolutely brimming with them now as anybody who tried growing them would know. So you are going to be seeing a lot of zucchini recipes as we try to use up his bounty.

This recipe comes from J. She uses brandade de morue as a spread on the zucchinis. I have never heard of brandade de morue until I came to France. It is a fish cream or puree & in this case of salted cod. You could probably make it yourself but I usually buy it ready made in a bottle.

Since I've never seen them outside of France, I can't really tell you if they are available anywhere else. But let me know if you do, okay ?

Zucchinis stuffed with Brandade de Morue

3-4 zucchinis
1 bottle of brandade de morue

olive oil

bread crumbs

1. Slice the zucchinis in half lengthwise & scrape off the centre pulp.

2. Fry it in the pan with olive oil until they are slightly soft.

3. Remove from pan & place on an oven tray. Spread the brandade generously into the zucchinis & top off with bread crumbs.

4. Bake in the oven at 190C for 30-45 mins until the crumbs turn golden brown.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Birds - the saga continues

Remember in May when I mentioned that the sparrows are trying to build a nest on our terrace. Well I've been diligently trying to keep them away but then we went away for a week in Cannes & I came home to discover this

The mother bird already sitting on a well formed nest

I knew there was nothing I could do. They got a nest fully formed & she was already getting ready to lay her eggs. Sigh. I guess I have to let them be. Don't worry Mama Sparrow you can go ahead & make your babies in peace.

Then this morning, we found this on the terrace

The eggs must have hatched & the babies are out. I was so excited that I'd forgotten how messy they are going to be & how much work it is to clean up after them. Until then, The Girl & I are eagerly eyeing the nest hoping to catch a glimpse of the babies.

Festival du Jeu @ Vals les Bains

Every year the spa town of Vals les Bains (about 10 mins drive from us) would host a Festival du Jeu (festival of games) so basically turning the park into a huge playground. It's all free & everyone is encouraged to participate, play & have fun. I went there last year & made sure to go again this year. Last Sunday, I made a date with my new friend Katia & in the end, met up with her parents & friends who all spoke English (yippee!) & had a blast.

What are they looking at ?

This natural geyser that sprouts water regularly every 6 hours. One can never be sure but apparently at 5.30pm was time for the show. Unfortunately we were rewarded with a brief sprout of not more than 20 cms.

So on to the park we go

There were many games & toys for children

Who can resist ?

Pony rides but The Girl was quite happy just to pet them

Games from all over the world

Something for everyone & all ages

By the way, I came across this video of the festivities but can't seem to embed it on the blog. So if you're interested to see it live, click here.

Swimming in the Ardeche

Ardeche is the name of the department where we live & also the name of the river. France is divided into regions made of up different departments which are in turn made up of communes (are you still with me ?). So for example we're in the commune of St Julien du Serre which is part of Ardeche 07 & part of the region of Rhone Alpes (still there ?). Then of course there are cantons & arrondisements but I won't go there. You see, France is surprisingly (for me at least) an extremely bureaucratic place. I fully appreciated that when I had to apply for my carte de sejour (permit of residence). Boy I could write a whole blog just talking about the hoops I had to go through. Oops I digressed.

The river runs through the department & eventually flow into the Rhone. Some of the best views of the river are from the Gorge d'Ardeche. In the summer, canoeing is a very popular sport. So in between jaunts to the pool, The Girl & I would head to the river to cool down when it gets unbearingly hot. There are many places along the river that one can swim & everybody has their favorite secret secluded spot.

Ours is not so secret nor is it the most secluded. It's in Vogue where I've talked about here and here. It does get a little crowded with the summer tourists but in spite of the crowd, I like it cos there's a sand bank which is great for children, it's not too far from where we are, I know how to get there & there's a place to park.

Yesterday we headed there for the first time this year and I swam there for the first time ever. I may be able to swim 30-40 laps in a pool but I'm a hesistant swimming in the open sea or in the river. I'm afraid of the Deep - swimming pools I can handle cos I know how deep it goes but the ocean & river ? That's a different story. The river was cold but the Girl, who is not afraid of the cold water insisted on going in & so I dove in as well ...... and very glad I did cos it was so refreshing !! But I doubt I'll be up for doing those ocean dunks in the middle of winter.

We had a lovely day. We swam, we built sand castles, we read & we had a picnic.

A makeshift shack for renting canoes / kayaks

The water is clear & calm

Just give a child sand, some beach toys & they'll be occupied for hours

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Simple Japanese Salmon Soup

This is one of my go to meals when I'm feeling too lazy to cook anything elaborate. It's quick, simple, delicious & nutritious. One of The Girl's favorite too. I had some salmon leftover after I made sushi the other day & so I turned it onto soup.

I love to eat this with rice. Take a spoonful of rice, get some soup into the spoon & just slurp it up. Or do what I do sometimes, pour the soup into my rice & make it rice soup.

Simple Japanese Salmon Soup

Salmon skin removed & cut into cubes
Chinese cabbage, sliced
tofu, cut into cubes
half onion, sliced
1 tbsp of wakame seaweed
1-2 tbsp of daishi powder

1. Boil the chinese cabbage, onion & tofu in water with daishi powder

2. When cabbage is soft, throw in the salmon cubes

3. When salmon is cooked which is about 1 min, throw in wakame seaweed. It would expand as the soup simmers. Don't simmer for too long else the wakame would turn yellowish - just about 3 mins or so

4. Serve hot with bowl of rice on the side

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mango & Peach Sorbet

Even tho I've been churning tubs & tubs of ice cream, I have yet to do any sorbets. The heat has finally fueled my need to make some sorbets. I started with a simple peach flavor but it wasn't documented cos it disappeared so fast. The Girl has clearly forgotten about her favorite green tea ice cream & now pledge allegiance to sorbets. Not that I blame her.

For the next round, I wanted to mix things up a little. I had a mango in the fridge so I decided to do a Mango & Peach Sorbet. Love the combination. Refreshing. Flavorful. Now go make some too.

Mango & Peach Sorbet

1 ripe mango, remove skin, seed & diced
7-8 peaches, remove skin, seed & diced
juice from 1 lemon
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup sugar cane syrup

1. Add the sugar, syrup & lemon juice to the fruits

2. Puree the whole lot

3. Pour into ice cream maker as per manufacturer's instructions

4. Then chill over night

5. When sorbet is all gone, repeat process

I was recently given a crate of nectarines (which are basically peaches with smooth skin). You know what I'm going to be doing with them.