Aventures dans la Cuisine en France

Bonjour à tous!

I’m excited to be reporting to you from the French region of Normandy, where my partner and I have been living for five months. Since we arrived, we’ve really embraced certain aspects of French food culture. For example, I drink a glass of red wine almost every night with dinner, and we eat a lot more cheese here. Did you know there are 350-450 types of French cheese? It’s very affordable (generally 1-5 ‎€, equivalent to about $1.50-$7.50 CDN - per wheel), and so delicious! For this reason, my partner and I made a New Year’s Resolution to try more types of French cheese this year. We have a list on our fridge of all the cheeses we’ve tried, and it’s getting quite long. I’d say we are succeeding – and it just may be the easiest and most fun New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever made!

Speaking of dairy, since cream and certain cheeses (Camembert, Livarot, Pont-Levêque and Neufchâtel, to be exact) are produced in Normandy, these ingredients are a staple in many Norman dishes. It is not uncommon to find dinner crêpes (“galettes”) or pizzas in which the main ingredients are ham with either cream or cheese. These dishes are very rich, and we’ve learned to eat them only occasionally to avoid tummy aches! Butter is also a pretty big staple here, as the French believe in using real, whole ingredients – and although they do sell margarine, I have to say that I’ve been using butter a lot more liberally since living in France! There are a lot of differences in the culture around food in France vs. North America, but that discussion deserves its own post (coming soon!).

For now, I thought I’d share one cooking and one baking experience from France.

Cooking in France

Since arriving here, my cooking repertoire has increased fairly substantially – mostly because I am cooking for two people instead of one, which always increases my motivation to prepare full balanced meals. I’ve learned that it’s easiest to embrace the local food culture than to try to recreate dishes that are common at home. The “foods from around the world” section in our local supermarket is very small, and although we’ve made some really good Thai curries and a couple of “ok” stir-fries, it’s pretty tricky to make Mexican dishes, or really anything that involves North American ingredients. For instance, peanut butter isn’t really a thing people eat here, and there isn’t a true French equivalent to cheddar cheese. I’ve learned that meals like tacos taste quite strange when you try to replace shredded cheddar cheese with similar French cheeses (like Mimolette).

So, feeling inspired to cook something truly French last month, I made this French leek tart, courtesy of “A French Girl Cuisine” – paradoxically, the author of the blog is actually a French woman living abroad.

I think I left the tart in for about two minutes too long, because the top started to brown, but it tasted delicious! 

I think I left the tart in for about two minutes too long, because the top started to brown, but it tasted delicious! 

The only problem I had was that the middle was really wet and soggy. To combat this problem, next time I plan to sprinkle a layer of grated cheese on the bottom of the pie crust and heat it in the oven for a couple minutes to melt the cheese, before pouring in the filling. This creates a kind of barrier between the egg-cream mixture and the crust, preventing a soggy mess. (I’ve done this before when making quiche, and unfortunately forgot this time. It’s a pretty handy trick!) Despite the wet middle, the flavour was quite good – in fact, it tasted almost exactly like a leek tart I’d had earlier in the month, which had inspired me to make the recipe. We ate more than half of it in the first sitting - yum!

I had a bit of extra pie dough and filling left, so I also made a couple of mini leek tarts, which made for delicious, quick lunches that week. In fact, I think next time I might make the whole recipe as mini tarts, because I enjoyed them so much!

Here's the original recipe from "A French Girl Cuisine," enjoy!  

 

French Leek Tart

450 g slicked leeks (1lb or 4 leeks)

220 g bacon strips (1/2 lb)

3 tbsp white wine

2 eggs

250 mL cream (1 cup or 8.3 oz)

100 g grated cheese (Emmental)

1 short crust pastry

pepper to taste

Note: I made a couple of changes to the original recipe.

  1. I used a roll-out pie crust rather than a tart shell. In Canada the only company I know that makes these is Pilsbury, and they’re usually in the dairy section with the roll-out cookie dough. In France, there is about half an aisle dedicated to roll-out pie crusts, presumably because quiches and tarts are such popular dishes in France. This selection meant I had the choice of many different types of pie shells. I chose whole wheat, which worked out quite well.
  2.  I replaced the bacon with sliced mushrooms to maintain the savory flavour while cutting the fat a bit. (I figured all the cheese and heavy cream in this recipe provided enough saturated fat for one dish!)
  3.  Instead of full-fat cream, I opted for 18%, which is one of the “light” varieties in France. (As cream is made in Normandy, there are tons of varieties to choose from. They come in the unrefrigerated section, and a 250 mL carton costs less than 1 €!) If making this dish in Canada, you might opt to use half-and-half - rather than milk - to cut the fat in the recipe without changing the flavour and consistency too much.
  4. To make the recipe as I did, just follow the instructions in the link while replacing the bacon with mushrooms (white or cremini work well), and using any type of pie crust you’d like (homemade is always best, but it’s also a lot more work!)

Source: http://www.frenchgirlcuisine.com/french-leek-tart-recipe/


Baking in France

When we moved into our French apartment, I convinced my partner that we needed to buy a whole bunch of baking supplies. (I was a pretty big baker in Canada, so how did he expect me to survive two years in France without muffin pans, cookie sheets, round and square pie pans and spatulas??) Well, I’m sort of ashamed to report that I’ve baked exactly four times in the past five months – and one of those times I used a cookie mix (gasp!).

As it turns out, with a boulangerie/patisserie on every corner, there is really no need to bake in France. And I don’t think it’s just me. It seems that because of the abundance of bakeries, French people don’t bake very often, and as a result, there are very few baking supplies in French grocery stores. (While there are three different aisles of cheese in our local supermarket, there is only a tiny section of baking supplies, about the size of a narrow bookshelf.)

Well, as you know, last week was St. Patrick’s Day. In Canada, I always have fun getting all decked out in green and baking themed treats for this holiday. So, I was sad to discover that the French don’t really celebrate the holiday – at all. The local boulangeries are full of Easter treats but had not one green-themed treat. Feeling a bit let down but not yet discouraged, I figured I’d bake something myself, and headed off to the grocery store in search of baking ingredients. To my dismay, there wasn’t anything green in sight – no decorations (although there is a huge aisle of Easter chocolate), and not a single bottle of green sprinkles, let alone shamrock muffin cups! Because I’ve been eating a lot of pastries in France, I decided to make something slightly less unhealthy, and opted for banana muffins. “I can dye those green!” I thought, “and I’ll make green cream cheese frosting to put on top. They’ll be so cute!”.

Since I’ve become a bit wary of artificial food colouring over the last few years, I decided to make homemade green food colouring (1st pic on the left). I’ve used beets in the past to dye food red for Canada Day, so I figured it couldn’t be that hard. After doing a quick search online, I decided to use spinach to make my homemade food colouring, according to this process, which just involves boiling spinach in water and blending it.

I whipped up some classic banana muffins (I won’t include the recipe here since everyone has their own favourite) and added a bit of “food colouring” (i.e. my bowl of spinach-water) to the batter. And then a bit more. And then a bit more. The colour didn’t change very much, but I was hesitant to add too much lest my batter become a watery mess. I popped the muffins in the oven, and they turned out perfectly.…except for one thing. They only had a barely perceptible hint of green (2nd pic from the left). Oh well, I thought, I’ll make the icing really green to make up for it.

I made some cream cheese icing according to this recipe by Martha Stewart.  I was a bit nervous about being able to find cream cheese in France, but in one of the cheese aisles I found something called something along the lines of “Natural” that had a photo of what looked like cream cheese spread on bread, so I crossed my fingers and bought it. Success! It actually tasted like the really good deli cream cheese in Toronto (my favourite!).

In the above pic (2nd from the right) you can see the cream cheese I found (labelled, “Naturais”), as well as some French baking ingredients, which as you can see, look quite different than their Canadian counterparts. The cylindrical blue bottle is baking soda, which is called “bicarbonate alimentaire” here, and took me searching in three grocery stores before I was able to track it down! (I was looking for a square cardboard box, and asking for “le soude”, the translation of “soda”. One employee brought me to the pop aisle, and I had to explain that I wasn’t looking for Coca Cola). The little packet on the right is baking powder (“levure chimique”), which is sold in individual packets, and is also pretty tricky to find when you are looking for a cylindrical plastic bottle!). I’m learning…slowly. Sugar is sold differently here too (last pic on the right). The crystallized sugar on the left is packaged the same way as sugar at home, but icing sugar (“sucre glace”) is sold in a plastic cylindrical container.

Despite finding cream cheese, it turns out there is a reason people use the (in my opinion, inferior) Philadelphia cream cheese in recipes at home. It’s firmer than deli cream cheese, and also clearly firmer than the fluffy cream cheese I found in France. When I creamed the butter, cream cheese, and icing sugar together, I got a soupy mess rather than a thick frosting. Adding the green spinach water certainly didn’t help things. The liquidy consistency remained after adding some extra cream cheese and icing sugar, and leaving it in the fridge for a few hours. So, I decided it was going to have to be a glaze, like what you make to pour over a bundt cake. (It always looks pretty, dripping down the sides, right?)

Long story short, my green muffins with cute green frosting turned out to be barely-green banana muffins with sea foam green gloopy glaze.At least they tasted great! My partner was excited to find these “cupcakes” waiting for him when he returned home after a long day.

-Samantha

The finished product. Sad but delicious!

The finished product. Sad but delicious!

 

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