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A French Thanksgiving in Médoc

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives. Oscar Wilde

My family and I are from all over. My mother is French, my father Chinese, my husband is Icelandic and a quarter German, my grandfather was Polish… Une famille bien mélangée as one would say. French is the main language at home, but so is English, followed by Icelandic and Chinese (Mandarin). Whatever works.
Culture defines who we are and enables us to express ourselves. When you have so many different ones within your family, you start combining all sets of beliefs and try to be as open-minded as possible. I call it wisdom.
I have been so inspired lately by the Thanksgiving preparations from my friends and fellow bloggers. Having been invited to a few Thanksgiving events in my life mostly through American amis, I have never had a chance to truly celebrate it at home. So last night, I decided to prepare a little French Thanksgiving repas familial.

We are all so busy, so caught up in our daily lives that any reminder to stop and think ‘What am I thankful for’ is wonderful. It’s a beautiful thought, and there aren’t enough of those these days.

I am so thankful for my family, they are my love and inspiration, my raison d’être. It’s been two years since we embarked on an adventurous move to Médoc. It’s been a sensational world of discoveries, stimulation and revelations. I love the nature that surrounds us, the new friends we have met, the freedom we give to our dogs, the joy we share at the table.

Château Lanessan

One of the perks of living in this part of France is being able to drop by a château to buy wine. I recently went to château Lanessan to get a few good bottles and walk through the vineyards. I always make sure to bring my friends there. We enjoy the wine-tasting and visiting the property surrounded by beautiful horse stables. It’s one of my favourite châteaux in Médoc, so enchanting in its neo-Tudoresque style. There’s something terribly romantic about that place. It certainly stirs one’s imagination. My children call it the Scooby-Doo ghost castle, I call it the ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ château.

Right here, right now, the best place to be is in the vineyards. The golden leaves are dancing away from the autumn wind, soon the trees will be bare leaving me chagrined. For now, I am reflecting on the honeyed caramel hues, so pleasurable to the eye and to the soul. Could these gourmand colours be an appetite opener? I would like to think so.

Honey Bee

So here was the menu for my improvised Thanksgiving. We started with a potage de topinambours (Jerusalem artichokes) with parsnip chips. Just the word topinambour sounds so festive, like a soup with drum beats! We then enjoyed a cocotte de daube de boeuf (beef stew) with autumn vegetables. For dessert, I chose my all-time favourite, a Mont-blanc. It’s my version of a Mont-blanc (classic dessert that looks like snow-capped mountain), a meringue with whipped cream, the all mighty god of all goodies crème de marron, and marrons glacés (chestnuts candied in sugar and glazed). It’s about time I share my love and passion for chestnut vanilla cream from Clément Faugier. I am a huge fan since I was a kid, eating it straight from the pot or mixed with fromage blanc. It’s a cream made of chestnuts, vanilla and sugar. I hope you can all get it, one way or another, for it is my most treasured péché mignon (sweet weakness)!

As if our family tree was not complicated enough, it recently grew a few more branches. Our dog family is as diverse as the human one. We have two new additions, an American and a Hungarian. Miss Honey Bee, (a smooth fox terrier from American lines) and Luc (another smooth born to our two wonderful Hungarian imports Yul and Sky). Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Black pig sausage & Luc

Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

Topinambours potage
500 g/ 1 pound topinambours-Jerusalem artichokes (peeled and sliced coarsely)
500 ml/ 2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 shallot (sliced)
20 ml/ 2 tbsp olive oil
100 ml/ 1/2 cup crème fraîche
A pinch of fresh parsley
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)

Parsnip chips:
4-5 parsnips
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt (for seasoning)
In a large heavy saucepan, fill oil no more than halfway and heat to 180°C/ 350 F. You can test one slice of parsnip, drop it in the oil – if it starts sizzling, the oil is ready. Fry parsnip slices by batches, 2-3 minutes each, or until golden. Set aside to drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

Peel the Jerusalem artichokes, slice coarsely and set aside. In a large pot, heat olive oil and fry the shallots for 3 minutes. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and continue frying for 3 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add chicken stock. Lower heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Mix in food processor until you get a smooth and velvety soup. Return to pot, season more if necessary and add crème fraîche. Serve immediately with sprinkled parsnip chips and parsley.

Daube de boeuf (beef stew – to be prepared the night before)
1 kg/ 2 pounds paleron de boeuf (beef shoulder, or preferred stewing-type beef)
150 g chunk of bacon/ 1/3 pounds (cut in sticks, lardons or sliced)
250 ml/ 1 cup red wine
250 ml/ 1 cup beef stock
2 small parsnips (cut in chunks)
1 carrot (cut in chunks)
5 small topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes (sliced in semi-thick rondelles)
1 leek (sliced in two pieces)
2 cloves garlic (sliced)
1 large onion (sliced)
1 shallot (sliced)
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp flour
1 bay leaf
A small handful of chopped chives
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)
50 g/ 1/4 cup unsalted butter (for frying)

Place beef with sliced onions, 3 cloves, bay leaf and thyme in a bowl. Pour wine, cover with cling film and marinate overnight in the fridge. You can add a bit of water so the beef is covered. The next day, drain beef and pat dry, reserve wine and herbs, discard cloves. In a large cocotte/ pot, melt the butter, brown beef on all sides and set aside on a plate. In the same pot, add a bit more butter, fry the onions, bacon and shallot for 3 minutes, add the garlic, carrot and beef. Take off the heat, add flour, mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Return to heat, add reserved wine and leave to reduce for a few minutes. Add the stock. Mix all the ingredients with a wooden spoon, add the thyme, bay leaf, parsnips, leek and sliced topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 2-3 hours, or until beef is tender.

Mont-blanc
6 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1 + 1/2 tsp cornflour
A pinch of fine salt
320 g/ 1 1/2 cups sugar
350 ml/ 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
300-400 g/1 1/2 cup crème de marrons/ chestnut cream
6 marrons glacés/glazed candied chestnuts (cut in small chunks)
Icing sugar (for garnishing)

Preheat the oven to 140° C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Meringues:(makes about 5-6 meringues)

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites (I use a pair of electric whisks) and salt on a high-speed until frothy – try to keep the whisk position as horizontal as possible. Add the cornflour and sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually and continue whisking. You should add the sugar in small quantities until the end of the process. The egg whites should form stiff peaks (this usually takes about 10-15 minutes). With the help of two large slotted spoons, spoon the egg whites onto the parchment-lined baking tray. ‘Twirl’ your spoon around and finish off with a spiky peak.
Bake for about 1 hour. Switch off the oven, and leave them to cool inside the oven with the door slightly open for 15 minutes.

To assemble:
Whip the cream, place 2 tbsp on each meringue. Pipe the chestnut cream (pastry bag with a small round tip), add small chunks of marrons glacés on top and sprinkle with icing sugar.

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Plum & fig meringue pie

‘People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy’. Anton Chekhov

As hard as it was letting go of summer, I find the fall season most inspiring of all. We have never been so happy to have rainy days, anxiously waiting for the cèpes mushrooms to appear. Not only do I go to the local village for daily groceries, but I am also expecting to get some useful information. I linger at the newstand longer, at the greengrocer’s and at the boulangerie, in the hope of getting some clues because mushroom hunting gossip has become the talk of the town.
On my way back home through the forest yesterday morning, I parked my bike by an oak tree and went through a meadow filled with ferns. I found one cèpe. Yes, one. Which means that my intuition was right about that location. There shall be more. It’s a matter of days.
I still have an abundance of plums, and plucked the last batch of figs from our tree. I felt I needed to honor this final crop by making something extra-special. Meringues are a considerable part of my domestic happiness, so I decided to treat myself to a plum and fig meringue pie. I prepared my favourite pastry dough (so easy, and I love the subtle ground almond taste) and aligned the fruits. Here’s a wonderful tip on how to avoid a watery pie. Just sprinkle the sliced plums with sugar and instant refined tapioca, and set aside for 15 minutes. You’ll be amazed with the results. I made a medium-sized pie and four little ones, just for fun.
Depending on your mood, this pie can be dressed up with meringue, or dressed down bare. They are both equally delicious. Whatever makes you happy.

Ingredients

For the pastry:
250 g/2 cups plain flour
150 g/ 2/3 cups butter (softened at room temperature)
30 g/ ¼ cup caster sugar
60 g icing/ ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
80 g/ ½ cup ground almonds
1 egg
A pinch of salt

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together until the mixture forms a homogenous dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Take out 30 minutes before rolling out. On a floured parchment covered surface, roll out the dough to fit your tart pan. Line tart pan with the pastry dough, and cut out excess overhang dough approx. ¼ inch/ 1 cm off the rim. Fold in the excess dough to make a double thick rim. Pierce dough with a fork all over.

Filling ingredients:
8-9 medium-sized plums – pitted and sliced
4-5 medium-sized figs – sliced
50 g/ 1/4 cup sugar
30 g/ 2 1/2 tbsp instant refined tapioca
2 tbsp plum jam (to glaze plums on pie)

Meringue topping:
4 egg whites
200 g/ 1 cup caster sugar
A pinch of salt
A pinch of cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven 180°C/ 350 F
Step 1) Place sliced plums in a bowl, sprinkle with sugar and tapioca – mix gently. Set aside for 15 minutes. Slice figs, set aside on a plate.
Step 2) Place plums (flesh upwards) and figs inside the pie crust (see photos). With a brush, smooth some jam to glaze the fruits.
Step 3) Bake in oven for 25 minutes (large pie) and 15 minutes (small pies) or until crust is golden. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
Turn the heat up to 240°C/ 450 F
Step 4) You can now start preparing the meringue topping. In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy, add cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract. Continue to whisk and gradually add sugar until egg whites become glossy with stiff peaks. Using a spatula, garnish the pies with the meringue topping in a circular movement. In this recipe, the meringue is 4-5 cm height for the large pie, and 3-4 for the small pies. You can choose the thickness to your liking.
Step 5) Place pies in the top part of the oven for 2 minutes or until meringue browns slightly on top. Check constantly as the browning can happen very fast.

Chocolate swirl meringues

Meringues are the most pleasurable desserts to make from start to finish. From separating the eggs, whisking up a sky of fluffy clouds, shaping them into pretty petticoats, these sweet confections are simply magical. When I was small, I always imagined clouds tasted like vanilla meringues. Slightly crisp on the outside, creamy yet airy inside. As intimidating as they may look, meringues are actually very simple to make as long as you follow a few basic rules. Always whisk egg whites at room temperature, add sugar little by little, and try to keep the whisk as horizontal as possible. It is similar to creating foam, which is a collection of bubbles. The cornflour acts as a binding agent, and the sugar stiffens the foam. The best part of these meringues is folding in the cocoa powder. It instantly forms beautiful long ribbon-like swirls. When baked the cocoa somehow melts inside creating a meringue filled with a soft chocolate fondant. I call this culinary art. These chocolate swirl meringues are timeless delights. I love them best served with crème Chantilly (whipped cream) and semi-drenched in a luxurious dark chocolate sauce.

Ingredients:
6 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1 + 1/2 tsp cornflour (I use maïzana)
2 tbsp good-quality cocoa powder
A pinch of fine salt
320 g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 140° C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Meringues:(makes about 5-6 meringues)

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites (I use a pair of electric whisks) and salt on a high-speed until frothy – try to keep the whisk position as horizontal as possible. Add the cornflour and sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually and continue whisking. You should add the sugar in small quantities until the end of the process. When the egg whites form stiff peaks (this usually takes about 10-15 minutes), gently fold in the cocoa powder. You should create nice swirls in the egg whites. With the help of two large slotted spoons, spoon the egg whites onto the parchment-lined baking tray. The meringues should be about 10-12 cm large and 6 cm high. ‘Twirl’ your spoon around and finish off with a spiky peak. Finally ‘dust’ some cocoa powder on top of each meringue and use a small fork to gently draw a few more swirls.
Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes, switch off the oven, and leave them to cool inside the oven with the door slightly open for 15 minutes.

Chocolate sauce:

40 g good-quality cocoa powder
100 ml water
50 g sugar
40 g golden syrup (or corn syrup)
20 g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

Mix the cocoa powder, water, sugar, golden syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a soft boil. Remove from heat and add dark chocolate pieces. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Set aside at room temperature for an hour before serving.

These little ‘meringues’ have been out of the oven for 3 weeks!

Marie-Antoinette’s secrets

The roses in our garden have been the main attraction these days. They are so beautiful and smell like heaven – we have many different types with inviting names like Pierre de Ronsart, magical moment, Sombreuil and Félicité. In Rome a wild rose would be placed on the door of a room where secret matters were discussed. The phrase ‘sub rosa’, means to keep a secret — derived from this ancient Roman practice.
Meringues are so beautiful to make from the beginning till the end – there are so many endless flavours you can add. Inspired by our garden roses (organic of course), I made some candied rose petals, pink rose flavored meringues with a rose cream and strawberries. I serve these little treats with tea from Ladurée called Marie-Antoinette, a blend of China black tea, citrus notes, rose and jasmine. It was only fitting to call these meringues Marie-Antoinette’s secrets.

6 egg whites
300 grs caster sugar
1 tsp red food coloring
2 tbsp rose-water
25 cl whipping cream
sliced strawberries

Candied rose petals:

1 egg white
25 organic rose petals
35 grs white sugar

Candied rose petals:

Clean delicately the rose petals, and brush each petal gently with the frothy egg white. Sprinkle petals with white sugar and dry on a small wire rack or parchment paper covered plate for half a day, or even overnight.

Pre-heat your oven 140° celsius.

Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks start to appear, then you can start adding the sugar gradually, spoon by spoon, and the food coloring and 1 tbsp rose-water until the whites become glossy then stiff – this should take approx. 10-12 minutes. I use an electric whisk.

On a parchment line baking tray, form 26 little meringues. I use a pastry bag with a medium tip. Bake for 30-35 minutes. I always like my meringues to be slightly softer inside. When ready, open oven, switch off the heat, and leave to cool in the oven for 10 minutes, then place on a wire rack and leave to cool.

To make the rose whipped cream, whisk the cream until it starts to stiffen, add the rose-water and 25 grs sugar. Whisk again until it becomes fluffy and stiff.

Slice the strawberries. Set aside.

Make meringue ‘sandwiches’ – take two meringues place whipped rose cream, add sliced strawberries and place the other meringue on top. Repeat procedure for all the meringues.

Garden cake


The weather turned amazing again – after a stint of summer here in Médoc, we had the classic April showers a tad too long. As a result, the flowers and foliage are sublime and the grass is greener than ever. I couldn’t resist picking a few flowers to decorate a cake I have been longing to make on this sunny day – the garden cake. I have always imagined this sweet temptation to be served in a garden, with a glass of Pimm’s (very Wimbledon) and a pretty summer dress à la Scott Fitzgerald. This lovely cake is composed of two large meringues with whipped cream and berries in the middle and on top. I like a ‘melt in your mouth’ Italian style meringue, so the center should be slightly soft. Here’s a few good tips – the egg whites should always be at room temperature before whipping, you should use minimum 50 grams sugar per egg white (or they won’t set properly), add sugar tablespoon by tablespoon, gradually when the egg white starts forming, and use a large glass bowl to whisk the eggs.

Ingredients:

6 egg whites
350 grs caster sugar
250 ml whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
Big handfuls of your favourite berries – in this cake there are raspberries, blueberries, and red berries
Pretty flowers & leaves of your choice – mine came from my garden, they are used for decoration and not to be ingested. (make sure to rinse them well).

You can make this cake even more special by decorating it with edible flowers, just make sure to choose them well for safety reasons.

Pre-heat your oven 140° celsius.

Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks start to appear, then you can start adding the sugar gradually, spoon by spoon, until the whites become glossy then stiff – this should take approx. 10-12 minutes. I use an electric whisk.

On a parchment line baking tray, form two meringues (20 cm width/5 cm height), one next to the other, and bake for 45-55 minutes. When ready, take out of the oven and leave to cool.

For the filling:

Whip 250 ml cream till light and fluffy, add vanilla essence. I don’t add sugar to the cream as the meringues are sweet enough.

When the meringues are totally cool, add the whipped cream, scatter as many berries as you like, then sandwich the other meringue on top. Add more whipped cream on top of the second meringue. Now you can simply enjoy the last part of decorating your cake with berries, leaves and flowers – all things bright and beautiful.

Note: The flowers and leaves in the photo of the cake are only used for decorative purposes and not to be ingested.

View post ‘Garden cake revisited‘.