Sables Maison – or homemade shortbread, French style


As some of you may (or may not) have noticed, I’ve been a bit remiss in posting regularly lately. This month has been very busy as TC and I have met new people and have been out doing a lot of cycling – more posts on our two-wheeled activities to come, I promise. My mobile phone is also completely out of action at the moment which is seriously hampering the amount of pictures I’ve been able to take while out cycling. That will teach me for thinking that 3€ battery I bought online was good value!

One thing I did do while waiting for the spring weather to arrive was to put one of my Christmas presents to good use. I made savoury sage and walnut shortbread cookies from my “Sables Maison” cookbook.  IMG_3914

The main difference with these cookies than anything I’ve done before is the complete lack of sugar.Well actually, as you may have noticed, the MAIN difference was that the recipe was entirely in French – forcing me to practice (and thankfully I only needed to look up a few words).

Back to the sugar – I was a little puzzled at this as I have never made savoury shortbreads before, but I pressed on regardless. I shelled and chopped fresh walnuts, rubbed the butter into the flour and then mixed in all the other dry ingredients rosemary cookies 6

added the egg, worked the dough until smooth and then rolled it out between parchment sheets.IMG_3925

Next it was time to rest the dough in the fridge for an hour, before cutting out and pressing with my super cute Parisian cookie press rosemary cookies 4  IMG_3928

… and baking in the new oven. Since I’ve become something of an expert at overcooking (one might even say slightly burning) many baked things, this time I took the care to time the baking properly. I also kept the oven at a slightly lower temperature than the instructions indicated (only by 5C) because I know this oven is a little hot.  rosemary cookies 5

Once cooked and cooled, TC and I enjoyed them with tea…. rosemary cookies 2

The verdict? Hmm… TC seemed to really like them, but I did find them just a little bland due to the lack of sugar. The sage and walnut flavours worked very well together but for me there was definitely something lacking. As the book contains a selection of sweet and savoury recipes (sucrés et salés), I think the next one will have to be sweet!

Enjoy… rosemary cookies 7

Dress rehearsal scallops

scallops cauliflower mash 2

We have invited friends over for dinner this week and I have volunteered to cook the entree – seared scallops with a cauliflower vanilla puree and crispy pancetta.

Since I have never actually cooked scallops before (despite them being one of my ALL time favourite foods EVER), I decided to leave nothing to chance and have a trial run tonight. For someone who doesn’t do a lot of savoury meals (this is best left to TC in my opinion), I found it surprisingly easy. Granted, there are only 3 main ingredients to the dish, but I had heard so much about how not to cook scallops and how they must be cooked just right, it was a little bit daunting beforehand. However, TC pronounced them “approved” for the opening night, so that means they are (so far) a success. You do have to be quick with these scallops – I used a timer and was glad I did!

Please enjoy my dress rehearsal scallops – I do plan to make some fine-tuning changes on the night, so I will let you know how I get on. scallops cauliflower mash 1

In the meantime, TC and I enjoyed this rather special little entree with a nice drop of red. (Yes I know you are supposed to have white wine with seafood, but its cold out, and we were following this with a spicy pork stir-fry, so we just went with a nice red, ok??)  2008 Les Ferrandes Minervois la Liviniere

And quite a nice syrah it was too, especially for the price (7€). We have become quite fond of wines from the Minervios region (amongst others) as we taste our way through the amazing bounty there is available in the south of France.   I think we might need to get some more of this in for “the dinner” later in the week. This is also for The Drunken Cyclist, who asked in his post, “what was your wine of the week?” If you like wine, head over to check out his blog!

Bon appétit, à bientot!


6 scallops

6 slices pancetta

fresh thyme leaves, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, mild chilli powder

1/2 tbspn olive oil

knob of butter

200g cauliflower

200ml milk

vanilla pod

knob of butter

For the cauliflower puree: add the cauliflower, milk and vanilla pod to a saucepan, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10min or until tender. Strain the cauliflower, reserving the milk, discarding the vanilla pod. Process the cauliflower in a processor until smooth, adding just enough reserved milk  and a knob of butter to achieve a smooth and not too thick consistency. Set aside.

*Note – the puree can be made a day ahead and reheated for serving. I am trialling this and will let you know how it reheats tomorrow.

For the pancetta: to get this crispy, it may be best to sprinkle lightly with olive oile & bake in a hot oven until crispy.

“Note – I fried mine in a very hot, non-stick pan, but I did not achieve the crispyness I wanted.

For the scallops: remove the roe with a sharp knife or scissors. Season with salt, pepper and mild chilli pepper. Heat the olive oil and a knob of butter over high heat. When the pan is very hot, add the scallops. Add the fresh thyme leaves and cook for  1 1/2 minutes on each side. Serve immediately on the cauliflower puree. Top with the pancetta.

“Note – when frying the scallops, set them out in the pan in a clockwise direction, starting at the handle so that you know where you started and the order to turn them. I used a timer for exactly 1 1/2 minutes and I thought they were just cooked perfectly. I would possibly go another 30 seconds but no longer. Having the pan very hot is important to caramelise the outside of the scallops – just beware, they will splatter and splash at you so stand back!

P.S. If you look closely at my pic, you’ll see that I actually cooked the roe as well and hid it under my pancetta! If you’re a fan, like me, you don’t have to remove it.

Testing, testing….

We had a new oven installed this week – the old one died and we were completely sans oven for almost two weeks.

In the first two days with the new one, we’d already had two roast dinners. Of course this calls for a baking test too – first up: double choc chip cookies.

I had been watching Ina Garten on the Barefoot Contessa and saw her make these yummy double chocolate almond cookies with Kathleen King, so I decided to give them a bash. Except, because it was a late, spur-of-the-moment decision, I didn’t have almonds on hand so was going to substitute them with walnuts. Except, again, I then got impatient and wanted to get this mixture into the oven without taking the time to shell the walnuts!

So here are my double choc chip cookies, no almond. I also used only 1/3 of the original recipe (with the exception of the egg) because I didn’t want 52 cookies in the house!





Oven duly tested, it heats up quickly and runs a little hot. However, I think more testing is in order.

We have guests coming for dinner later this week and I am going to actually make a savoury dish. What a shock! TC usually does all that, but we have decided that we will do an entree, main, cheeseboard and then some small individual sweet pastries from the local patisserie to accompany coffee. That leaves me free to actually cook an entree while TC does the main.  I have chosen my dish and most of it can be made a day ahead… I’ll have to do a practice run early in the week too  I think. Stand by for that one.

Ready to enjoy

Ready to enjoy

Ahhhh, where’s my cup of tea…..

Bon appétit, à bientot!

Chin chin, chai…

Today is a stay in day for me. Apart from a walk up to the shop, but otherwise a rest day. We’ve had some good rides this week, a couple of wines out at the bar last night (since it was Friday) and a nice sleep in today.

Some dark grey clouds have blown in, in readiness for the rain that is forecast tonight and all day tomorrow. I feel a little tiny bit of a cold coming on, so today I made myself a nice pot of chai tea.

I love my chai tea. Preferably with soy milk, but that’s just my personal taste.

Here in France I’ve had a hard time finding a good, prepared chai tea mix, or tea bags. Back in Australia, I know I can get chai teabags in a few brands, including Twinings who’s come in a  black package – but do you think they can be found here? No, not at all. The Twinings black package here is for Scottish tea. As I’ve found with most things Asian, it is hard to find the good stuff here.

I have searched high and low for any brand, and have found that chai green tea is sometimes available – but I don’t particularly the taste of green tea. I like my chai made with black tea. Additionally, the two that I did find (and now have to remember where, because I can’t find them again) seemed to have more ginger in that what I am used to from Australia. The only solution then, is to make my own.

At first this does seem like a bit of messing about. But now that I’m sitting here sipping my beautiful fragrant, hot, sweet chai, it has been worth spending about 1/2 an hour in the kitchen.

Luckily for me, because TC loves to cook so much, I had all the spices I needed on hand. However, some were pre-ground where I really should have used whole seeds or pods (cardamom), but no matter, I still got the flavour I wanted.  Here is what I came up with for my chai tea…

Take some of the following:

  • whole star anise
  • cloves
  • cinnamon stick
  • black peppercorns
  • sliced fresh ginger
  • cardamom seeds (or whole pods, split open)
  • a bay leaf

Afterwards, you will need:

  • black tea leaves (or tea bags)
  • honey
  • milk of choice (if you want vegan, use soy, almond, rice, etc)
Chai tea 3  Chai tea 2

Add all of the spices & the bay leaf to water & boil for 5 minutes Chai tea 1

Remove from heat and steep for 10 minutes. Then add black tea leaves and bring back to boil, simmer for 5 minutes.  Then add honey and soy milk & heat through for a few minutes Chai tea 5

Strain into cups or mugs and enjoy… Chai tea 6

If you are going to have a go at this, play around with the quantities that you prefer. I like mine with less ginger & star anise (I only used 1 star anise and about 6 very thin slices of ginger), more cinnamon and cloves (I used a whole cinnamon stick and about 6 cloves). I started with about 3 cups of water, and about 1/2 a cup of soy milk, and in the end it yielded 1 and 1/2 large mugs.  Chai tea 4

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

Inspired by this week’s weekly photo challenge, I hereby bring you my “Lunchtime” photo… potato tomato spinach

Yesterday and today TC and I went out for a ride of about 40km, one we do often, along the sea front. While it was sunny today, there was a strong northerly wind that was cold. It’s obviously being generated from all the snow that they are still having in the north, so that’s how cold the wind was – cold enough that my toes were numb when we got home.

Cold rides like that make me want to eat a nice hot lunch on our return. Lately I’ve discovered just how healthy and low-fat baked jacket potatoes are with a variety of vegetable toppings.

Today I was like Popeye the Sailor Man and got a decent serve of spinach in with my lunch. I’ve never bought frozen spinach before, but after this, I am a fan!

While the potato was baking (ok, I admit I use the microwave for this) I diced a large clove of garlic and a medium tomato. I had previously defrosted some frozen spinach. I heated up a little olive oil in a frying pan, added the garlic & tomato, sauteed for 3-4 minutes then added the spinach to heat through.

I then put this all over my baked potato (cut open of course), topped it with a tablespoon of light philly cheese and a grating of lemon zest.

Delicious and just what I needed to warm me through.  Enjoy!

Feelin’ hot hot HOT…

TC and I did a lot of shopping in the fresh grocers yesterday and discovered these little chillies called Antillais.

Ooh lah lah…. these little babies sure pack a punch!!

Now we like our chilli, yes we do. We like it hot.  But these particular ones are not to be messed with. This is what they look like:  Piment Antillais 4

They are smallish, round to oval shaped and have that distinctive wrinkled, star effect coming out from the stem. Apparently they are a type of habanero chilli, related to the scotch bonnet, and are thought to have originated in China. The ones we found are a product of France, but we’re not sure exactly what part of France, or French territory.

This gives you an idea of their size:  Piment Antillais 3

So how hot, you would like to know?

I’ll give you some idea… last night TC made us a lovely dinner of crispy skin salmon with an Asian style salad and mildly spiced couscous. Absolutely delicious. Apologies for not photographing the plate, I was too busy scoffing mine while the salmon skin was still crispy!

Anyway, the Asian style salad was really tasty and delicious (recipe below). After testing a tiny piece of the chilli,  TC included these two slivers of chilli only in the entire salad for two people:  Piment Antillais 1

Those two tiny slivers were enough to give us a good chilli flavour without going overboard. If you like it really hot, I would suggest no more than double this. I don’t think most people would be able to handle that much either. In fact in my experience, the two slivers we had would have been too much for many people we know.

I gingerly tasted a tiny morsel from the end of one of these slivers – oh yes, hot!! It was peppery, but at the same time quite fruity and almost sweet.

So if you’re a bit like us, a bit sick of this winter that seems to be dragging on past it’s use-by date and would like something to heat up your day, have a go at this lovely, crunchy Asian salad.


TC’s Asian style salad

1/3 Chinese cabbage

2 radishes

1 medium/small carrot

40g capsicum

30g raw beetroot

2 spring onions

60g snow peas

chilli to taste, very finely diced


1tbsn soy sauce

1tsp nem sauce (Vietnamese spring roll dipping sauce)

Finely slice the cabbage, radish, carrot, capsicum, beetroot and spring onions. Add the snow peas and the finely diced chilli. Mix quickly to combine. Mix together the sauces & pour over salad, mixing again to combine everything.

Et voila! Bon appétit.

Ps, while I was looking up info about these chillies, I came across this funny video on youtube, which shows a young Frenchman biting into one of these… and how he handles the heat. My apologies if there is any French swearing – I couldn’t quite make out all the dialogue, but I could definitely identify with what he was going through!

A little zing in my day…

TC and I have decided to be ultra healthy for a while as we have put on a little winter “padding” that we’d like to get rid of. I had read recently that half a jacket potato topped with salsa makes a good, low calorie snack. So I thought that I’d like a whole potato with salsa  for lunch (it’s still way too cold for salads in my opinion). Potato and salsa

Not any salsa though – home made salsa. I found a recipe, had a go and voila!

Now I’m hooked. What a tasty salsa it is! I’ve never been all that much of a fan of salsas from jars. I don’t know, to me they’ve always tasted too… something. I’m not sure what… too salty? Too “fake”? Whatever it is, I’ve never really enjoyed them. Well home made is now the way to go. It was very fortunate that my guesstimate at how much chilli to put in (and what type – ie the only type I found) worked out perfectly – I can still feel it gently tingling on my lips.


I literally walked around to the fruit shop this morning & bought some chillis to go with the other ingredients I already had on hand. Here is my salsa if you’d like to try it:

Homemade Salsa

1 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium green capsicum, diced

2 medium green chillis, diced

3 large tomatoes, diced

1 tbsp tomato paste.

Heat oil over medium-high heat and cook onion for about 2 minutes to soften. Add the capsicum and chilli, cook for about 3-4 minutes to soften. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, stir and bring the mixture up to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Cool and enjoy.

This recipe made enough for 4 servings, served on whole jacket potatoes. Homemade salsa 1  Homemade salsa 2  Homemade salsa 3 Homemade salsa final

This is the size of the chillis I used. Two of these kind in the mix was just right for me – lovely and zingy without being overpowering. Of course that is very subjective, I like chillis! Green Chilli

Brown velvet is for cupcakes, red is for wine


Of course inspired by the usual red velvet cake in general, and by the recipe posted just recently by my lovely blogging-friend The Cooking Chook  in particular, I decided to make a batch of chocolate cupcakes. I particularly liked the sound of the white chocolate, cream cheese icing, so, with my devil-may-care bravado I threw away the red colouring and went for it to make brown velvet cupcakes.

The other thing I did was scale down the recipe. I know you are asking why, why why? Well two reasons, the first and most important being that the philadelphia cream cheese seems to only come in a 150g tub in my particular supermarket. This means scaling down the amount of icing I will have in a 250:150 ratio, or in other words in a 5:3 ratio… all of which means since I’ll only have 3/5 of the amount of philly, I’d better only make 3/5 of the amount of cake to go under the icing! The second reason is that TC and I don’t need any more cake, really. For the sake of our waistlines, less is better. Hmm, I could freeze the extras & take them to French class… there’s a thought.

Back to the scaling. Did you know Excel is very handy for this? Yes, the mathsy nerd in me comes out at times like this – as well as the sciency nerd who likes to be accurate – and using Excel is the quickest way to apply a formula to a list of things. Perfect for a recipe, haha!

I bet you are just dying to know what formula I used aren’t you? If you really want, I’ll tell you at the end.

So, with newly scaled quantities in hand, Chookie’s recipe and instructions (and some adaptations because you can’t actually get 1.2 eggs even if you tried really hard) off I set to bake some lovely cupcakes. IMG_3731

First mishap, dropped a bit of flour on the floor. OK… on with the show… next mishap, knocked a container out of the cupboard and voila, sweetener tabs all over the floor. Thankfully I had only cleaned and mopped the floor yesterday, otherwise all that flour and sweetener may have stuck to some greasy, unidentifiable spots on the floor. As it was, it was quick to clean up & power forward.

The next step involved combining all my dry ingredients, measuring out the butter, sugar and milk (for the buttermilk) and then letting the butter, milk and eggs sit for a while to come to room temperature. By this time I have decided it’s wine o’clock – it is Saturday night after all – so a glass of red is perfect for this waiting period. I did briefly hope that wouldn’t mean more mishaps to come. Ok, I know I have committed a writing crime and switched tenses mid-paragraph, but this post is now written in real-time and we are up to date. I’ll pour the 2nd glass of red while I check on the butter and eggs…

Melting chocolate is fun, I follow the rest of the directions and before I know it I have some icing. Oops, one more change, I decided to add 1/3 cup icing sugar, just because I like things sweet. IMG_3739 brown velvet cupcake

Put it all together…

… and voila, brown velvet cupcakes with white chocolate, cream cheese icing. Not bad at all, TC likes them too! IMG_3740

I have already frozen some, so will let you know if our fellow French students and teacher like them on Tuesday. If they last that long.

White on Brown Velvet Chocolate Cupcakes

1.5 cups sifted plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1.5 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder

70g unsalted butter, softened

1 cup caster sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1/2 tsp white vinegar

1/2 tsp baking soda

White chocolate cream cheese frosting

150g cream cheese, at room temperature

70g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

110g white cooking chocolate, broken into small pieces

1/3 cup icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180C

Combine flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa, set aside. Cream butter and sugar until pale & smooth. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time & continue beating. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture & 1/3 of the buttermilk, mix and repeat until all of the ingredients are combined. In a glass, combine the vinegar and baking soda, quickly add to the cake batter & stir through. Divide mixture between prepared cupcake papers. Bake for 20 min, checking after 15 minutes & remove when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Melt the white chocolate in a bowl over gently boiling water, stirring with a metal spoon. When melted, set aside.

Whip butter until pale & smooth, set aside.

Combine cream cheese, salt and vanilla and icing sugar, beat for about 3 minutes until smooth & light. Slowly add the while chocolate, mixing to combine. Add the butter, 1/3 at a time & mix until combined.

Ice the cupcakes and enjoy!

Ok, the Excel formula because I knew someone was busting to know… with the quantity of each ingredient in column B (numbers only, descriptions in column C) enter in cell A1 “=B1*3/5, enter, then use the fill handle to drag down for the entire list of ingredients, then round to practical amounts.

Sweet crumble of mine…

Apple cherry walnut crumble

Winter means comfort food and what can be more comforting than sweet, cooked fruit topped with an equally sweet & crunchy baked topping? NOTHING!

So I whipped up a quick crumble last night & decided it is now a classic.

I adapted my recipe from this one at River Cottage. However, I halved it and changed a couple of things – I added cherries and left out oatmeal.

Now I don’t think I’m any expert in the kitchen by a long shot so am happy to follow others’ recipes to the letter, but there were good reasons for my changes. First, I just felt like cherries. It started in the supermarket, I had an idea in my head that I wanted cooked fruit, I love berries and red fruits but they are out of season so I found myself drawn to the jars of cherries. You have to follow your instincts on these things.

Secondly, I know oatmeal is a common ingredient in crumbles, and I do like oatmeal, but I’m actually allergic to it. I know, who is allergic to oatmeal right? Its a health food after all! But yes, unfortunately I am allergic so no oatmeal here. And I know I like it because I wasn’t always allergic and I have so many fond memories of porridge, fresh home-made meuslies…. sigh, I think I actually brought the allergy on by eating too much of it as a teenager!

So, on with the recipe if you’re interested. TC pronounced it “yumm” so it will be made again here.

Apple cherry toasted walnut crumble

(Makes 4 large servings, or 6 small)

For the topping:

115g plain flour

pinch of salt

100g butter, cold, cut into cubes

75g sugar

40g ground almonds

For the fruit filling:

3 large granny smith apples, peeled cored, thinly sliced

50g freshly shelled walnuts

1 medium jar de-stoned cherries

30-50g caster sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

I started by making the crumble topping & setting it aside, simply as I didn’t want the apples to go all brown while I made the topping.

Preheat oven to 180C

Sift flour into a bowl, add salt and butter, rub in until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs (Or do this step in a processor, pulsing). Stir in the sugar and ground almonds. Don’t worry about it being too evenly mixed. Set aside.

Place the shelled walnuts onto a baking sheet and bake for about 5-10min. Set aside to cool, then chop roughly.

Place the sliced apples, walnuts and the cherries into a baking dish, sprinkle over the caster sugar and cinnamon. Mix together thoroughly with your hands then press down firmly into the dish. Sprinkle topping over evenly.

Bake for 40-50min until browning on top. Serve with your choice of cream, custard or ice cream and enjoy!

I had mine with simply with cream crumble & cream

Experimental pasta and sweet mice

TC has been working on his home made pasta skills for a while now and he’s doing very well. One of the “little things” I gave him for christmas was this set of ravioli presses.  ravioli press

So, putting them to good use, TC made us ravioli with coquilles Saint-Jacques (scallops)  and feta with a sage butter sauce and a baked vegetable stack, with parmesan crisps. St jacque ravioli

The pasta was very nice, not quite sure about the scallop combination with the sage butter though. Something just wasn’t quite right. Still definitely edible but just something not quite there. Top  points for trying though TC, since he did ask what I felt like and since I mentioned scallops and feta, he tried his best to please me!

However, the baked vegetable stack and parmesan crisps did hit the mark. baked vegetable stck

The vegetable stack consisted of sweet potato, red onion rings with feta inside, zucchini, aubergine and red capsicum. He used a round mould to cut all the pieces then held them together with a toothpick while they baked. The parmesan crisps are made by simply spreading grated parmesan in a layer inside a round mould (eg eggrings will do) on a baking sheet and baking at 200C for about 15-20min. Let them cool and they will firm up into crisps.

Incidentally, we learned that technique a couple of years ago when we both attended a morning’s cooking class at the Ritz Escoffier, in the Ritz hotel in Paris. THAT was a fun activity! Unfortunately they are closed until 2014 as they are doing major renovations, but if you get the chance when in Paris in the future, I highly recommend it.

Next up is sweet things. After a cold afternoon walk around the village we decided we needed some treats, just because. So we called into one of the boulangerie/pattiseries that we don’t normally visit and found that they had a selection of mini gateaux. Perfect – we love a café gourmand for dessert when we eat out, so we made our own from a selection of 4 mini treats.  mini selection  demi mini tulip

These are three of the delicious morsels we had (already cut in half)… and there there was this little petite souris: petite souris

I know it seems a shame but we still had to share him…. demi petite souris

Which all made for a delicious, home-made café gourmand. For those who know France you will know about the state of coffee here. Lets just say our Italian stove-top coffee pot is always on in our house! café