food

Against the grain…

Muesli bars without oats.

Also without sugar, dairy, eggs or flour.

No, this is not a “paleo” recipe or a post about how bad grains are. I like grains. They are tasty and nutritious, full of fibre… but I am allergic to oats so normally for me, muesli bars are out of the question.  I am also interested in healthy foods, low sugar, high fibre and anything made from scratch with basic ingredients.

So what do my muesli bars contain?

Apples, bananas, rolled rye, soy milk, chia seeds, sultanas, vanilla and cinnamon, dried cherries and coconut.

These are my “cherry coconut muesli bars” but you can use any flavour variations you would like. How about apricot & pepitas? Date and almond? Fig and walnut? The possibilities are endless.

Let’s talk about those grains, though. So what I’ve been doing lately is experimenting with other grains in place of rolled oats. This started as a way to make porridge, which I absolutely love, but cannot eat. I’ve been specifically trying other grains that come rolled. Yes, like rolled oates, just not oats. So they look like rolled oats, behave (in recipes) quite like rolled oats… but without giving me a violent reaction – hooray!

I have tried this particular recipe before with the traditional oats for TC and other family members, who reported back very favourably on the results.

This time I was going to try it with rolled spelt, as this is usually in my pantry (great for non-oatmeal porridge!), but today I have used rolled rye. When I went to my container of spelt the other morning to make porridge, I found moths had taken up camp… so that batch went into the bin. Besides that, when I went to buy more, I decided they are a little too expensive right now. I don’t know what it is – are they “on trend”, making them a higher demand product, thereby allowing retailers to make extra profits? Browsing my regular supplier’s website, I decided there were other cheaper options to try, so here I am with rolled rye.

Did you know you can get all kinds of rolled grains? Spelt, rye, barley, triticale and rolled brown rice for starters, and that’s just the ones I know about! I’ve also recently bought whole hulled millet, which I plan to try in a variety of ways, so stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, here is the recipe. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 3 mashed bananas
  • 2 cups rolled rye
  • 1/3 cup soy milk (or use any other type of milk)
  • 1/2 cup sultanas or raisins
  • 1tspn vanilla
  • 1tspn ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup dessicated coconut
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried cherries
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds.

Preheat oven to 170C. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Press into an oiled & lined baking tray. Bake for 20-25min. Allow to cool slightly before removing from tray. Complete cooling on a cooling rack. Cut into bars.

Notes: Rye seems to be a bit more bland than oats, so I would recommend possibly sweetening with some honey.   I made my own apple sauce for this too – apples & water only. It was enough as a sweetener for the oatmeal bars, but not this time.

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Who am I and why am I here?

A rest in the park

Who?

I am an Australian woman who, along with my husband, took advantage of a window of opportunity to leave our working life for a year and go to stay in France.

Why?

Why France? We had been on holiday in France before and simply fell in love with the country so we wanted to see more.  A lot more.  The solution was to apply for a long-stay visa, organise some rental accommodation, rent out our place in Perth, start learning French… and go.That was two years ago now.

What?

We rented in 3 different locations around France, but travelled to many more, both by car and by bicycle. Our year soon turned into two as we realised we weren’t going to explore even half of what we wanted to, let alone speaking the language in one year alone. So we went into the local sous-prefecture and extended our visas.

This blog started as a way for me to document our adventures in cycling, exploring France, wine and cooking (which was a great side effect of not working and living frugally!).  I guessed that the things we loved doing, the places we loved exploring and the foods we loved cooking (and eating) would also appeal to others around the world, especially the Francophiles out there, so here I am.

Next?

We are currently back in Australia and returning to work, but planning frequent visits back to France with a scheme to have another year off before too long. There are still a lot more parts of France and Europe that we want to discover.

To celebrate my return to Australia and a fresh year blogging, I have decided to update my theme with a new look. There are many things we’ve celebrated recently with our family, including 21st birthdays, a wedding, Christmas and the new year and a 50th birthday. All of this has kept me away from blogging recently, but I am back for 2014.

 I hope you enjoy both my French and my Australian posts, and I would love to have your feedback and comments!

A little green tea

Herbal TeaI was reading about recipes using fresh, home grown herbs when I decided to try my own herbal tea. I’m having a lazy, restful Sunday and after the past two month of hectic life, I’m determined to enjoy it.

First step was to google ideas for combinations of herbs to try. My little balcony herb garden has the basics: mint, thyme, basil, parsley and a chilli plant. After reading about others’ experiences with fresh herbs, I decided to try a mixture of fresh mint and basil with fennel seeds.

Step one was to cut the mint & basil, break down the fennel seeds a little with a mortar and pestle, rip up the leaves to release the flavours, then steep in boiling water for around 5-10 minutes.

On a trip to Thailand a few years ago, I was taken by this lovely tea infuser-cup-and-lid set which is perfect for trying my own teas. I do love pretty things, so what is more perfect than a pretty, hand-painted tea cup just for me?

The tea verdict? Surprisingly pleasant and very refreshing.

I have not been a big fan of either green tea or herbal tea bags, so I’m very pleased that I enjoyed this combination. Whilst reading up about home made herbal teas, I found that apparently the best teas are made from three types of ingredients – something green, some herb and something floral. One of my basil plants is going to flower soon so I think I should try harvesting those flowers and drying them, ready for another herbal tea experiment.

The last step in this process was, of course, to put my feet up and enjoy my fragrant brew.

And I did need to put my feet up on this cushion… last night I attended a  “hen’s night”  – for the uninitiated, that is the last wild “girls’ night out” before a bride’s impending nuptials –  so this little cupcake was suffering from a little fatigue and very sore feet after a night of laughter and dancing with a great group of girls.

Here’s to lazy Sundays and home made herbal teas (and girls’ nights)! Home made herbal tea

The other fig jam…

As many of you will know, its fig season and I am lucky enough to have friends giving me plenty of them! The other day I made some awesome fig & red onion chutney, which is going down well. TC even had some this morning with his smoked salmon and eggs for breakfast. I guess that means I have the seal of approval as resident chutney maker.

But today’s job is fig jam. This will be my first attempt, having only made what I think of as ‘regular’ fruit jams up until now – you know the regulars: apricot, strawberry, raspberry, etc.

So with figs aplenty in my kitchen, here I go. Now, I am also branching out a little by using a recipe that’s just been given to me verbally, with one or two little tweaks added in. Two of my friends here in France are experienced fig jam makers; one kindly told me his recipe and the other suggested a tweak (adding one star anise) that he likes for a subtle difference to the flavour. I also added my own tweak (adding the cinnamon stick), just because I like cinnamon and it goes hand in hand with vanilla. In my world anyway.

The first thing my friend suggested to do is prepare all the ingredients, put them in a bowl together and let them marinate overnight so the flavours have more time to soak in before cooking.

The next day, simply transfer to a pot and cook it all up. Don’t forget to remove the star anise and the cinnamon before pouring into the jars!

Easy, yummy.

Have a look at what I’ve done with the vanilla though… some of you may remember my post about making your own vanilla essence, which is what I’ve done and its been happily infusing away in the back of a dark cupboard for many months now. To use the vanilla seeds, all I had to do was snip the end off one of the beans and squeeze the seeds out. Oh my… my fingers had the most beautiful vanilla aroma on them all evening. Delicious.

Actually, I think I’ve even impressed myself!

Oh so what was the other fig jam? Oh you must know it… the acronym f.i.g.j.a.m … ? (ok, just discovered it’s an Australian thing!)

Fig Jam

Ingredients:

1kg figs, diced

700g sugar

Juice of 2 lemons

Seeds of 1 vanilla pod

1 stick cinnamon

1 star anise

 

Method:

Mix together all ingredients in a bowl and stand overnight.

Put everything in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, testing for the set.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Remove the star anise and cinnamon then pour into warm, sterilised jars.

Barcelona la Boqueria… For food’s sake

This week has been crazy for us, with a frind flying in from Australia on friday and a road trip to Barcelona this week to collect my parents who have also come for a visit.

We spent our first day exploring and took them all into this wonderful market.

Here is a selection of our images…  Enjoy!

image image image image image image image image image image image image image

Sweet orange muffins with sticky syrup

Orange sticky muffins 2

This week I had fun at a “girls’ night in” with some of the other lovely ladies in my village. This involved all of us taking a little food, a little wine, all meeting up and having a night of laughter and friendship.

I haven’t had a girls’ night since December (when I had a wonderful weekend in Paris with a visiting Aussie friend) so I was quite excited to be able to get out and let the hair down with the girls. So excited that I took over TCs kitchen and spent the day cooking.

First up was this wonderful quiche recipe from the amazing Carla over at Expat Chef in Barcelona: Asparagus and Red Pepper Quiche.

The only change I made to Carla’s recipe was to add some crumbled feta, and I then scaled it down slightly to fit a standard round quiche dish… and wow, it was delicious. It went down a treat with the girls (all 7 of them) and the very  first comment I got was “OK you’re employed”. Actually, credit goes to TC for roasting the red peppers for me (these are known as capsicums to us Aussies)  – he’s been roasting these a lot lately and it’s something I’ve never actually tried, so he kindly volunteered that job. Actually, that was another small change to the recipe – rather than confit peppers, I simply left them as roasted and peeled then left them to sit with the oil that was still on them until I was ready to drain & cut them – they were still delicious!

So being excited as I was, I also decided to make a version of orange muffins with sticky orange & lemon syrup. Orange sticky muffins 1

I actually adapted these from a Thermomix recipe that I’d wanted to try for quite a while. For those who know what a Thermomix is, you will understand completely how much I miss mine back in Australia. Because I am such a Thermomix fan, I thought this might be a good opportunity to try out the recipe without one and see if I could cope with my little food processor I’ve purchased here in France.

The recipe is the 30 Second Whole Orange Cake from the Thermomix recipe community. If you would like the original Themomix instructions, please click here.  So this is the recipe with almost the same ingredients, and my method with the processor:

Ingredients (makes approx 14 large muffins)

1 whole orange cut into small chunks

1 tbspn orange rind, finely grated

225g butter

3 eggs

200g sugar

300g Self Raising Flour

Method

Preheat oven to 180C. Line muffin tins with paper liners & set aside.

Place the orange pieces and butter into the food processor and process until the orange is finely processed and combined with the butter (this may take some time, with stopping & scraping the sides of the bowl, depending on your processor). Add the extra orange rind and the eggs, one at a time and process until completely combined.

Put the orange mixture into a large bowl. Combine the flour and sugar and add this (about 1/3 at a time) to the orange mixture, folding in until just combined.

Fill the muffin tins and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool slightly and while still warm, drizzle with the syrup and top with thin strips of orange rind. (Note: my muffins had browned on top, so in order to help the syrup soak into the muffins, I pierced them several times with a toothpick before drizzling the syrup)

Orange & Lemon Syrup

Juice of one orange (about 1/4 cup)

Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)

100g sugar

Combine juices and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat & bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Drizzle over still warm muffins.

I made 12 large muffins but had enough mixture left over to make a small cake to leave behind for TC to enjoy.  Orange sticky muffins 3

So how did the recipe go using the processor instead? Rather frustrating, as my processor is just a little cheapie, so it took quite some time to get the orange and butter finely chopped and blended… stopping and starting many many times to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  It is going to be so good to use my machine again next year…

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!

Recipe:

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!

Baking...

Baking…

Cooling...

Cooling…

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