Pillows of Swiss Chard Bliss

final-productHere’s the promised recipe for a neglected winter vegetable: Swiss chard, or blettes. Recipes usually treat this vitamin-rich vegetable like spinach, and that’s fine, too.

But you can take advantage of the large leaves to do something special. And of course, cream and cheese make everything delicious, right?

shopping
What I bought. The blettes are between the lettuce and the sweet potatoes.

This is a recipe I found in a French decorating magazine before Pinterest. That means I have it ripped out and stuck in a file folder. And too bad for the magazine, because it didn’t print its name on each page, so how am I to know which of the 20 magazines I bought a decade ago was the one with this recipe?

 

blettes-washedBeing a loosey-goosey gourmet, about the only thing my version has in common with the original is the idea of Swiss chard as a wrapper for a cheesy custard filling.

This is very, VERY easy but it gets lots of points for presentation. It’s a great idea for a dinner where you want to impress. Plus you can make it ahead and pop it into the oven at the last minute. And you’ll seem so cool, being somebody who actually knows how to cook with Swiss chard. And you even know the French name is blettes (pronounced blett–can it get any easier?).

other-ingredientsSwiss Chard Pillows of Bliss

a bunch of Swiss chard

one onion, diced

one egg

20 cl (a cup) of heavy cream (whatever–our village grocery didn’t have heavy cream so we took the whole cream, and I am sure it would work with low-fat cream or even milk. Just get something from the milk family.)

a cup (about 80 g) of grated hard cheese like parmesan or gruyère

a cup (about 80 g) of nuts. The magazine says pine nuts. Around here pine nuts cost so much that they are kept behind the cash register. So we went with chopped almonds.

1 tsp of oregano (not fresh because it was raining cats and dogs–see below)

salt and pepper

olive oil

chives, fresh and nice and long. Ideally. For tying up your little packages. But if you don’t have chives, don’t worry!

Preheat the oven to 120 C (250 Fahrenheit)…unless you are making ahead to serve later….it doesn’t usually take long to get an oven to just 250 F.

stem-and-onion-cookingFirst, you chop the stems off the Swiss chard and dice them like the onion. Heat a skillet with a little olive oil (enough to cover the bottom) and get them started to brown softly over medium-low heat. Sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Stir, then put a on lid so they don’t dry out and keep cooking them slowly so they soften.

blanching-blettesBlanche the leaves by plunging them into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes. This will make them pliable for rolling. You want them to be flexible but still bright green. When they are ready, remove them and pour cold water on them. Then spread them out so you can stuff them.

 

blanched-and-stretchedBeat the egg and the cream in a little bowl. Pour this into the onion/stem mixture. Turn off the heat. Stir in the nuts and the cheese. You don’t need for the mixture to cook; just get it mixed.

sauce

Prepare a cookie sheet with a silicon liner or parchment paper. Put a spoon of the onion/stem/cream mixture on a leaf and then fold it up like a burrito. My blettes were on the small side, so I used the smallest leaves as wings, and wrapped the bigger ones around that and they held. No waste. If you have chives, use them like ribbon to tie up your packets.

ready-for-ovenSet them on the cookie sheet and brush with a little olive oil (I used my finger; it only takes a couple of drops).

Cook them for about 15 minutes, just enough to get warm and so the filling sets.

Vegetables aside, we had quite a week. Late Saturday, I think, it started to rain. The pace stepped up on Sunday, with lots of wind for drama. By Monday, it was pouring rain and the wind was howling and our electricity was out more than it was on.

flooding-right
Our house is just to the right of this!
view-right-after
Same view two days later. And normally, this would be “oooh! the river is high!”

A little nervous, I inspected the river next to our house, but it was unimpressive despite the downpour.

 

But Monday night, some meteorological firetruck parked in the skies above our village and let loose with water cannons. I didn’t sleep for the racket. The next day, I got a message that a package had arrived in Carcassonne. Fine–we set off to pick it up. Pulling out of our driveway, we were shocked to come almost nose to nose with the river. THIS river, that was bone dry in August. Most of the time, “river” is an exaggeration, because it’s about ankle-deep and two feet wide.

flooding-bridge
Even with the water level down now, this shot makes me woozy.
bridge-after
Two days later

We headed to town, gasping at the water everywhere. We got our package, headed back home and found that the river had risen even further. “We’re leaving,” I said. And within half an hour we had packed up clothes and food to take to our apartments in Carcassonne, which were high and dry and with electricity and running water–in taps only.

 

Our village had been hit hard by floods in 1999, and everybody still talks about it. I had no desire to live through such an event with our kid. Even if our house is high enough to have escaped the 1999 flood, it was tiresome to be without electricity.

view-to-park
To me, this is the worst shot. Beyond the trees is a big park that turned into a lake. Huge.
park-after
Same view two days later. The poor ducks who usually nest at the bend on the right must be refugees now.

Amazingly, in Carcassonne, it wasn’t even raining. The parking lots along the Aude river, which is a real river, much bigger than the usual trickle next to our house, sometimes flood but they were dry and in no danger.

 

Today, the sun was out, the weather was warm and we had the windows open. And the river was way down. I haven’t been to the park or to my usual jogging route to see the effects, but I suppose they will be temporary. A big drink.

 

Eating Seasonal Produce: Winter

radis-rougeLast week, the news was full of about how bad weather in Spain and Italy had hurt vegetable crops, sending prices skyrocketing.

cauliflower
Look at those beautiful caulifower.

I have to admit that I had picked up a few courgettes (zucchini) at the market and then dropped them as if stung by a bee when the vendor informed me the price was €7.50 a kilo. In summer, courgettes sell for €1 a kilo. My fault for wanting something out of season.

cauliflower-spiky
The Romanesco variety of cauliflower. Note the dirt! Good sign!

Because we live in an area where frost is rare and the ground doesn’t freeze in winter, fresh local produce is available year-round. But it means forgetting about zucchini and tomatoes.

maraicher
Always my first stop: Serge Claret, who farms near Montreal, a very pretty village west of Carcassonne.

At the Saturday market I gathered photos from my favorite maraîchers, or vendors, who also grow all their own produce. There’s plenty of variety, even in the dead of winter.

rutabaga-navet-dor
Rutabagas, top; “ball of gold” turnips, bottom.
navet
Regular turnips. Great in soup (or couscous!)

Take radishes. There are the red variety, like the first photo. But also black or blue.

What do you do with these giants? You can dice them up in a soup or slice or grate them to eat raw in a salad. Speaking of salad, there are many kinds of lettuce and such, including piles of single leaves of roquette (rocket or arugula), cresson (watercress), chicorée (chicory) frisée (curly endive) or escarole but not iceberg. No loss there.

laitue
Laitue. Don’t be surprised to find a slug or two inside, because it wasn’t doused with pesticides.
chene
Salade feuille de chêne–oak leaf lettuce.
mache
Mâche, or lamb’s lettuce.

I don’t count lettuce as a vegetable. It’s like a condiment, a nice thing to eat on the side, a crisp break between the main course and the cheese course, but you still need a vegetable, or you need to eat a truckload of lettuce. The Carnivore argues that a few tired* leaves of laitue are all you need, and that fish, poultry, eggs and dairy could possibly count as vegetables because they aren’t meat. Logical.

carrots-regular
Carrots. With or without the green tops.
carrots-yellow
Carrots of other colors.
panais
Panaïs or parsips, here in purple, but often white as well.

 

We even have kale in Carcassonne. Moving up in the world.

kale
Muriel Vayre has a truck farm along the Aude river, below la Cité. You can buy directly from her at the farm, as well.

Kale may be new and trendy in France, but cabbage comes in many varieties and is cheap.

chou-vert
These guys are ginormous.

Did you know that calling somebody a cabbage is a term of endearment? Mon chou and p’tit chou are like saying “honey.” (Don’t call anybody miel in French!) The teacher’s pet is the chouchou. And a petit bout de chou is a small child.

chou-rave
Chou rave, aka kohlrabi.
celeri-rabe
Celeri rave, or celeriac, is a favorite of school menus, grated as a salad similar to coleslaw with a mayo-style dressing called remoulade. These beasts serve a crowd.

topinambour

Topinambour, or sunchoke, can substitute for potatoes, and are prepared the same way.

betterave-roasted
Betteraves, or beets, are sold raw or roasted, like here, and also come in many colors.

Alain and Juliette Fumanel‘s stand is another favorite. M. Fumanel is known to all as “Fufu,” and usually is in highly amusing conversation with his many friends and clients. And Mme. Fumanel is always very elegant. I go directly to their farm near Pont Rouge in summer for tomatoes and the other vegetables I put in my tomato sauce.

fufu
“Fufu” is wearing the cap.

Check back on Friday for a special recipe using a purchase from the market: Swiss chard.

*Re “tired” lettuce: some people like to “fatigue” the salad by dressing it a few hours before the meal, so it isn’t as crisp. They actually do it on purpose.

The French Market

13-marcheTomorrow is Saturday, the best day of the week. Market day.

sunflowersThere are markets on Tuesday and Thursday, but they’re smaller. Saturdays bring more sellers and buyers. It’s a big social event, centered on food. So very French.

watermelonI have my favorite vendors. I try to stick to seasonal produce. It is better in season, and the lack of it out of season makes it all the more special when it’s available.

peachesThe apples have appeared. The nectarines and peaches are still going strong, but you can tell they’re going to get farineuse–mealy–pretty soon.

flat-peachesThere are plenty of tomatoes, and now that the heat has broken, it’s time to make spaghetti sauce.

melon-tasteAn adieu to summer….

red-peppers
That’s per kilo…
peppers-green
Hot peppers
rotisserie-chicken
Rotisserie chicken….just TRY walking past!
melons
Yellow melons
ham
Ham or jambon
almonds
Almonds or amandes

 

band
A little entertainment
snails
Snails or escargots
figs
Figs or figues
apricots
Apricots, or abricots, still in late summer! Our tree’s fruit was ripe and eaten in July!
cukes
Cucumbers, or concombres
eggplant
White and purple eggplant, or aubergine

Do you cook from scratch? What will you miss most about summer’s bounty?

caddy
My shopping caddy, stuffed to the gills.

Ducks in a Row

sliced done
Magrets de canard

It’s still too hot to cook. The temperatures have settled into the upper 80s/low 90s for highs, and mid-60s for lows. Clear blue skies, no humidity. Pretty fabulous, but with no air conditioning it’s grilling weather.

in pkgOne of the Carnivore’s favorite food groups is duck. But we had a near catastrophe trying to grill duck the first time. Duck breasts have a thick layer of fat on one side. Usually, you score the fat and it melts into the skillet. (This is considered a good thing.) On the grill, however, the fat caused huge flames. A guest suggested catching the drippings with foil. The foil quickly filled up, and we were faced with trying to get a flimsy pool of boiling grease off the fire.

whole underside
Duck breasts all in a row
whole fat
Fat side

The Carnivore very much liked the idea of grilling duck and was determined to make it work. He started trimming off the fat. Not all of it–it’s there for flavor after all–but just enough to avoid flames. This is the result:

raw trimmed

whole done
And cooked

In the decade since he adopted this method, it has worked very well. He likes his duck cooked rosé–medium. And usually serves it with honey. Very easy, very French.

honeyWe also had ratatouille niçoise. While the traditional way is to cook the vegetables slowly for a long time, I like to cook them separately, very quickly, then mix and serve. Ratatouille works fine at room temperature, if you want to make it ahead.

ratatouilleRatatouille niçoise

1 eggplant, in half-inch cubes

1 onion, halved and sliced very thin

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 red peppers (or one red, one green), diced or sliced

2-3 big tomatoes, in inch cubes

3 small zucchini, in half-inch cubes

herbes de provence, salt, pepper, olive oil

Salt the eggplant and put it in a strainer.

In a nice, big frying pan or even a le Creuset style Dutch oven, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil, until they become transparent. Add the peppers and let them cook until a little soft. Throw in the tomatoes and a tablespoon or so of herbes de provence.

Set aside those veggies in a big bowl. Add more olive oil to the pan and sauté the zucchini. I do it pretty fast, just so it gets brown on most sides. Add to the veggie bowl.

Rinse the eggplant then squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Add more olive oil to the pan and sauté the eggplant, again until most sides get brown. Put all the veggies back into the pan. Stir, so the tomato juices deglaze the bottom of the pan. I like to cook off the juice as much as possible, but it kind of depends on the tomatoes. Some are awfully juicy!

I don’t add salt and pepper until the end, because sometimes the eggplant retains more or less salt.

rata closeLeftovers freeze very nicely for later. With added tomato sauce, it also makes a nice pasta sauce.

 

 

Pizza on the Grill

dressed
Somebody doesn’t like anchovies…

It’s hot here. Of course, it isn’t the heat but the humidity, and usually we have no humidity. But for a couple of days over the weekend, the wind changed to the east–marin–and left us gasping for air.

The question of “what’s for dinner?” became reduced to “what wouldn’t be too hot to make?”

SliceOne of our favorite fallbacks is pizza. But it’s out of the question to crank an oven to the maximum heat when it’s so stifling. So we did it on the grill.

We have been up to these antics since the turn of the century. But we got lulled into complacency with delicious pizzas just down the street in summer. Unfortunately, those aren’t available this year, so we were motivated to try the grill again.

Pizza(s) on the grill (serves 4):

1 cup warm water

1 package yeast

a pinch of sugar

2 3/4 cups flour

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

couple of tablespoons of herbes de provence, or at least oregano

tomato paste (a can about 3 inches tall–142 ml or about 5 fl. oz.)

garlic–minced

toppings for your pizza

cheese

Dissolve a pinch of sugar into a cup of warm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top, then swirl so it also dissolves. Let it sit until a nice layer of foam forms.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir the flour with the salt and herbs. Then drizzle in the olive oil and stir it into relatively fine bits. Add the foamy warm water/yeast. Knead with your hands for a while (oil your hands with olive oil before to keep the dough from sticking). If it’s too soft, add a little more flour. I start low and add rather than end up with a hard brick of dough.

Hold the dough in one hand and drizzle more olive oil into the bowl with the other. Again with one hand, smear the oil around the bowl and drop the dough back in. Cover with a clean dish towel and leave in a warm spot, preferably in the sun, for about an hour. The longer the better.

Now make some pizza sauce: tomato paste (dilute with about 1/2 can of water), garlic, more herbs. Assemble little bowls of what you want to top your pizza. We did diced red peppers, sliced Serrano ham, sautéed onions and anchovies. Maybe we go overboard, I don’t know.

Also slices of mozzarella cheese, and, because we’re in France, grated emmental. The sous-chef likes thick slices of cheese, but if you slice thinner, it will melt better.

ingredients
Ingredients carried out to the grill on a tray, covered with the most practical net to keep flies off. Clockwise from top left: caramelized onions, Serrano ham, mozzarella, red peppers, anchovies, sauce. Emmental in the bag.

Prepare the grill. Not a big fire, but you want it to last for a few pizzas, unless your grill is big enough to cook more at the same time.

roll doughWhen the dough has about doubled, divide it into two, three or four parts, depending on whether you want to do individual ones or share. We share because then everybody eats at the same time.

Roll out each ball on a floured surface. We have a wooden pizza paddle, which makes the transfer to the grill a lot easier. This is the moment of truth, where you might botch it. If the dough lands in a blog, it’s impossible to pick up from the hot grill. Take your time and slide the dough in the direction of the grill rods rather than perpendicular to them.

grilling
This is the hardest part. You see we didn’t get it perfectly flat. Yes, that’s a crown on the iron plate on the back of the grill.

Let the crust brown a little–not too much because you’re also going to cook the other side. Another moment of truth–it sometimes browns fast, so watch closely.

brown doughThen remove the crust, turn it over, and spread your sauce on the browned side. Garnish and return to the grill. If you have a cover, all the better because your cheese on top will melt. We have an enclosed grill with no door, so it mostly melted.

 

Watch the bottom more than the top, because that’s what risks burning. Pull it off and serve. While one is cooking, prepare the next. We planned for three smaller pizzas but in the end did two larger ones.

doneBon appetit!

 

Calçots

on grillFew things are easier on the grill than onions.

You can just throw them on, without doing anything. No cleaning. No preparation. Take onions, place on hot grill, wait. Then you cut them in half and scoop out the caramelized insides. We discovered this many years ago at Le Moulin restaurant in Trèbes, near Carcassonne, realized the sheer brilliance of its simplicity and have been employing it since.

cookedJust south of the border, the Catalanes also do onions, namely spring onions called calçots, that are like giant scallions. The calçot capital, Valls, Spain, even has a Gran Fiesta de la Calçotada. But you don’t have to go to Spain to get in on the goodness of grilled onions. You can do it at home.

Any old green onions will do. You can wash off the dirt, but it isn’t a must–that part gets peeled off later anyway. Put the onions on a hot grill.

When they’re done, wrap them in newspaper, which keeps them hot until they’re eaten, and the steam helps the outer layer peel away from the caramelized inside. Put the peelings in the newspaper for easy cleanup.

 

Dip your peeled calçot in romesco sauce (make the sauce ahead or else your calçots will be cold!). Tilt your head back and lower it in into your mouth like a sword swallower. Don’t forget to chew, though.

While the grill is still warm, roast some peppers for your next round of romesco sauce. Trust me, you’ll want more.

romesco

There are lots of recipes for romesco, which could be considered a Spanish red pepper version of pesto. I wouldn’t sweat the details too much. More/less pepper? More/fewer almonds? More/less garlic? It’s all good.

3-4 red peppers (you could use already-roasted ones from a jar)

1/2 cup almonds (a handful, or two!). Slivered, whole, whatever, as long as there’s no skin.

1-2 cloves of garlic (or 3-4 if you want!)

1-2 tablespoons tomato concentrate (one of those tiny cans)

1/4-1/2 cup olive oil

A hit of Jerez (sherry) vinegar

piment d’Espelette or cayenne, if you want a kick

Cut and clean the peppers. Roast. Put them in a paper or plastic bag (I prefer paper, but I’ve seen both ways) to make them easier to cool, which you do once they’re cool.

Toast the almonds in a skillet. No need for oil. Keep an eye on them that they don’t burn.

Throw everything into a blender or food processor and purée.

I had two lonely sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, and added them, using the olive oil from the jar. Why not?

Should you have leftover romesco, it won’t be around for long. You can use it on pasta, on bread, on potatoes, as a vegetable dip, on meat, on fish. It’s so yummy.

Tomato tarte tatin

P1040161

Tarte tatin–an apple upside-down pie–is a classic French dessert. But the same idea can work well with other things. Especially tomatoes, so bountiful in summer.

The beauty of this tarte, besides being beautiful, is that it’s good cold. So you can make it ahead.

This isn’t so much a recipe as a procedure. It works very well with cherry tomatoes, and you can play with different colors or all the same. I didn’t have quite enough cherry tomatoes, so I sliced a pretty yellow “ananas” (pineapple) variety to fill in. Remember, the bottom is what you see.

Tomato Tarte Tatin

3 cups of cherry tomatoes (enough to cover the bottom of a pie pan)

2 onions, sliced thinly

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 teaspoons of fresh thyme

1/2 cup black olives, sliced

olive oil, salt, pepper

2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

a pie crust (not in the pan but rolled up, if you’re buying premade)

Make your pie dough. I wasn’t thrilled with how it turned out, so you’re on your own for that recipe. Pre-made works just fine.

P1040151
Showing off my awesome pastry board that was made for me when I was born (!!!) by my great-uncle. That’s some baby gift, eh? And it’s been useful for a very long time.

While the dough is chilling/resting, assemble the insides. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

P1040133Gently brown the onion and garlic in the olive oil. This works best if you have a pie pan that can go on the stove. My range is induction, and this metal pan works on it. That means all the caramelized goodness stays there. If you have a glass or ceramic pie dish, that’s OK–you just have to transfer the onions to it–you can put them on top of the tomatoes, which is prettier anyway.

P1040138

Sprinkle on the olives, thyme, salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar.

Arrange the tomatoes.

P1040145

Cover with the pie crust, tucking it down around the sides.

P1040154

Bake for about half an hour–until the crust is brown.

P1040160

Serving tip: Leave it in the pan like this until you’re ready to serve. Otherwise, all the tomato juices will soak into the crust, making it soggy. Place a plate over the pan and flip when you’re ready to take it to the table.

 

Breakfast beet muffins

beet muffins done
Yes, those are beet muffins

It is very difficult to find something for breakfast that ticks all the boxes:

  • Healthy, with:
  • protein
  • complex carbohydrates
  • fiber
  • no sugar
  • Requires no preparation (oatmeal’s big drawback, even if it takes only 10 minutes)
  • Can be eaten while one is in a zombie-like state at 6:30 a.m., half-asleep, with the awake half devoted to texting friends to see what they’re wearing

I’ve met the last two requirements by making French savory cake as muffins. I hate to call them muffins, because that brings to mind gigantic, sweet cakes with cinnamon-sugar crumble on top. Exactly what is bad for breakfast.

But using cupcake liners makes for easy cleanup (always a plus), instant portion measurement, easy freezing and quick defrosting. I pop them into freezer bags, and just remove a muffin or two in the morning and defrost in 25 seconds in the microwave.

grated beets carrots
Good for taste and texture

The thing about the French veggie cake I made previously is that it had onions. They contribute significantly to flavor, but nobody wants to go to school with onion breath. Of course, teeth are brushed, but still, maybe no onions for breakfast.

So I decided to try French savory cake minus onions. Would it still be good?

The first time I tried this, we were out of cheese. How was this even possible? In France!?!? I had decided to have my cooking fest on Easter, which meant no stores were open, nor would anything be open the next day. So I added chopped walnuts, which I had on hand.

I played around with this and came up with different options. It was good with cumin, but good without, too. I added chopped-up sun-dried tomatoes, but forgot the nuts. Every time I make it, I do it a little bit differently. All yummy. It just proves that recipes aren’t written in stone.

The main idea is that the veggies keep the whole-wheat/oatmeal batter from turning into concrete.

dried tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes were a great addition

Breakfast beet muffins

makes 20 muffins

  • 1 beet (about 360 grams, close to a pound, or 3 cups grated)
  • 2 carrots (100 g, about 1 cup grated)
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (optional)
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour (210 g)
  • 2 cups oatmeal (180 g)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cumin (optional)
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 cup oil (15 cl; I used olive oil)
  • 250 cl yogurt (a bit more than a cup—two little containers; I used 0%)

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs, then add the oil and yogurt. Stir into the dry ingredients so you have a thick batter.

Stir in the grated vegetables and nuts. Spoon into cupcake liners in a muffin tin.

Bake at 360 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius) for about 20 minutes. Don’t overcook!

Let cool completely before freezing.

Muffin open
Good plain or with a smear of goat cheese

According to an online calorie counter, here’s the nutritional breakdown for one muffin (including all the optional ingredients):

  • Calories 147
  • Calories from fat 51
  • Total fat 5.7g ………… 9% of daily value
  • Saturated fat 0.8g…….4%
  • Trans fat 0g
  • Cholesterol 42mg …..14%
  • Sodium 213mg ………..9%
  • Potassium 204mg ……6%
  • Total carbs 18.3g ……..6%
  • Dietary fiber 2.0g……..8%
  • Sugars 2.1g
  • Protein 6.2g
  • Vitamin A ……………..23%
  • Vitamin C ………………3%
  • Calcium …………………5%
  • Iron ………………………9%
  • Nutrition Grade A-
  • High in manganese, selenium, vitamin A

If you try this and have suggestions, let us know!

beet muffins done 2

Risotto with Strawberries and Mushrooms

Risotto doneI first ate this at the now-defunct Piano Bar restaurant in Nairobi. It’s so good that everything else in the meal can be very understated. A good dish to wow guests.

Strawberries market
Bernard, our strawberry dealer, at the market in Carcassonne with long-awaited Ciflorettes
glass for the cook
Step 1: Apéro. Kir royal for the chef, straight blanquette de Limoux for the sous-chef.

Time: 45 minutes

Serves 4

1.5 cups arborio rice (or round rice—NOT basmati)

1 onion, minced

2 TBS butter

2 cups grated parmesan—the good stuff you grate yourself, not the fakey powder

1 cup white wine (not sweet)

4 cups chicken broth—homemade, from a can, or from 2 cubes in 4 cups of water

2 threads of saffron (optional)

2 cups fresh strawberries, cut in quarters (not too small or they’ll get mushy)

2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced thinly

Plan of Attack:

Bring the chicken bouillon to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer.

Melt the butter in a big pot (big enough to hold 8 cups. I use a Dutch oven). Add the onion and cook on very low heat until the onion is transparent but not brown. Add the rice and saffron and stir so the rice starts to brown a little.

brown rice
Stir the rice into the butter and onions

Stir in the wine.

add liquid
Let the rice absorb the liquid before adding more

When the liquid is absorbed, stir in about a cup of bouillon. Stir the risotto frequently. When that liquid is absorbed, add another cup.

Stir that risotto. Add another cup (#3) of broth when the liquid has been soaked up.

Put in any more liquid, give it a good stir. Sometimes the risotto looks nice and creamy without using all the liquid.

Turn off the heat. Stir in the parmesan, strawberries and mushrooms. Cover. Serve immediately. DO NOT COOK!

Risotto 3The steam from the risotto will partially cook the strawberries and mushrooms without overdoing it.

Bonus: This goes really well with the other star of the season, asparagus. Since risotto requires a lot of attention, cook the asparagus the no-brainer way:

Asparagus ready to nukeIn the microwave, on high, for 6-7 minutes (depends on the quantity). Pick off the rosemary and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Breakfast beet muffins

beet muffins done
Yes, those are beet muffins

It is very difficult to find something for breakfast that ticks all the boxes:

  • Healthy, with:
  • protein
  • complex carbohydrates
  • fiber
  • no sugar
  • Requires no preparation (oatmeal’s big drawback, even if it takes only 10 minutes)
  • Can be eaten while one is in a zombie-like state at 6:30 a.m., half-asleep, with the awake half devoted to texting friends to see what they’re wearing

I’ve met the last two requirements by making French savory cake as muffins. I hate to call them muffins, because that brings to mind gigantic, sweet cakes with cinnamon-sugar crumble on top. Exactly what is bad for breakfast.

But using cupcake liners makes for easy cleanup (always a plus), instant portion measurement, easy freezing and quick defrosting. I pop them into freezer bags, and just remove a muffin or two in the morning and defrost in 25 seconds in the microwave.

grated beets carrots
Good for taste and texture

The thing about the French veggie cake I made previously is that it had onions. They contribute significantly to flavor, but nobody wants to go to school with onion breath. Of course, teeth are brushed, but still, maybe no onions for breakfast.

So I decided to try French savory cake minus onions. Would it still be good?

The first time I tried this, we were out of cheese. How was this even possible? In France!?!? I had decided to have my cooking fest on Easter, which meant no stores were open, nor would anything be open the next day. So I added chopped walnuts, which I had on hand.

I played around with this and came up with different options. It was good with cumin, but good without, too. I added chopped-up sun-dried tomatoes, but forgot the nuts. Every time I make it, I do it a little bit differently. All yummy. It just proves that recipes aren’t written in stone.

The main idea is that the veggies keep the whole-wheat/oatmeal batter from turning into concrete.

dried tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes were a great addition

Breakfast beet muffins

makes 20 muffins

  • 1 beet (about 360 grams, close to a pound, or 3 cups grated)
  • 2 carrots (100 g, about 1 cup grated)
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (optional)
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour (210 g)
  • 2 cups oatmeal (180 g)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cumin (optional)
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 cup oil (15 cl; I used olive oil)
  • 250 cl yogurt (a bit more than a cup—two little containers; I used 0%)

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs, then add the oil and yogurt. Stir into the dry ingredients so you have a thick batter.

Stir in the grated vegetables and nuts. Spoon into cupcake liners in a muffin tin.

Bake at 360 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius) for about 20 minutes. Don’t overcook!

Let cool completely before freezing.

Muffin open
Good plain or with a smear of goat cheese

According to an online calorie counter, here’s the nutritional breakdown for one muffin (including all the optional ingredients):

  • Calories 147
  • Calories from fat 51
  • Total fat 5.7g ………… 9% of daily value
  • Saturated fat 0.8g…….4%
  • Trans fat 0g
  • Cholesterol 42mg …..14%
  • Sodium 213mg ………..9%
  • Potassium 204mg ……6%
  • Total carbs 18.3g ……..6%
  • Dietary fiber 2.0g……..8%
  • Sugars 2.1g
  • Protein 6.2g
  • Vitamin A ……………..23%
  • Vitamin C ………………3%
  • Calcium …………………5%
  • Iron ………………………9%
  • Nutrition Grade A-
  • High in manganese, selenium, vitamin A

If you try this and have suggestions, let us know!

beet muffins done 2