life update and grilled pink grapefruit

Unfashionable as true pour-your-heart-out all-the-feels blogs are these days, as I’m coming to the end of my séjour here (can’t believe I have only one week left, and 2 weeks before starting work!), I thought I’d nonetheless take a chance to reflect for posterity on the latest excerpt in my life.

It’s been a funny old blip from ‘real life’ spending the time since the Diploma finished out in a village near-ish Marseille, looking after three young boys through school and summer holidays, and improving my tan and spoken French along the way (and getting much lazier with grammar, but hey). It’s been fun exploring another region of a wonderful, different country.

DSC_0466

Overwhelmingly, I’ve been so thankful for how God has provided these months. Contrary to the beliefs of some, I am not always as gungho about leaving as keen-ness for Erasmus and aupairing might imply – there’s always the fear that old friends will forget you and new friends will not be forthcoming. Or that everyone will think I’m stupid if I ask them to repeat things several times. Especially worrying this time round was the thought of “What if it all goes terribly wrong and the family are horrible?”. And “What if there’s nobody to make friends with and I’m alone all summer?”.
Very thankfully, these fears were unfounded – though looking after three small boys is about as much of a handful as you’d expect (/more), the family has been absolutely lovely, and I’ve very much enjoyed nights in on the sofa with the ravishingly young and beautiful* Joëlle watching (the admittedly sometimes melodramatic) Nashville, as well as weekend meals and spending time together with the extended family.
And while I’ve had plenty of time to relax and to justify my purchase of a Kindle, I’ve also been blessed to have made some friends – and even if it sounds self-evident, having someone to hang out with and chat to at the beach and to go and explore the region with makes everything so much better.

totally natural...
And the cherry on the top – though Marseille was just a little bit far away to frequent often mid-week, I found myself most Sundays in the lovely and welcoming église 1o2 (which I may have picked, after checking mission statements and beliefs, over another likely looking candidate merely on the basis of it having a better website, but that did seem to work out :P ), where I had the joy of meeting with brothers and sisters in Christ and worshipping with them.

(*she didn’t like it when I called her ‘au-pair mother’ a couple of posts back… ;) )

Things I’ve learned?

  • Driving on the right in a left-hand-drive isn’t actually that complicated.
  • Childcare is an incredibly time-consuming endeavour if you actually care about the children.
  • Straw hats bought for 1€ at market are apt to tear easily.
  • Re-use Arial clothes-washing-tablets tubs as re-sealable sick boxes for car journeys.
  • Cuddles while reading a bed-time story are the best.
  • Out-right bribery, while evil in principle, is also sometimes highly necessary…
  • Micro-scootering works for getting from A to Z but might get you some strange looks.
  • While Dairy Milk (along with trains unlikely to strike at the drop of a hat, comparative lack of queues in supermarkets, and Scottish accents) is lacking here, Cote D’Or milk chocolate with caramelised almonds and sea salt is just about the best chocolate on the planet.
  • Blonde beer is surprisingly quite alright tasting.

Well, congrats to anyone who got this far! Normal recipes will resume imminently, unless interrupted by the next chapter of starting ‘proper’ work (though surely a legal traineeship can’t be as tiring as full time childcare? Right???).
In the meantime, here’s a recipe that I’ve had in draft form for over a year but never posted for some reason… I have eaten a fair few pink grapefruits recently and can attest that the messiness unfortunately does hold true.

I have a history of being a bit of a messy eater [future Sarah: I think at this stage I was thinking of a particular picture of me decorating my face with chocolate cake for the first time. But that picture is not to hand, and given the fact that it has not been forthcoming for the past year I'm just going to go ahead and post this without it]. Messy eating as an adult, however, may have hit a new high last Saturday with this, the grilled pink grapefruit. Not gonna lie, the juice was everywhere. Still, this simple recipe was pretty tasty. Maybe eating with a proper grapefruit spoon rather than a semi-blunt grapefruit knife would have helped; on the other hand, I kinda doubt it. Wear an apron, tie hair back if applicable, and have copious amounts of kitchen roll to hand and you’ll be fine. Probably.

1 grapefruit, washed and halved
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp ground ginger / 1cm root ginger, peeled then grated with a zester

  1. Place halves, skin down, onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
  2. Sprinkle over the ginger and drizzle over the honey.
  3. Place in a pre-heated grill, about 3-4 inches away from the heat source, and grill for 5-10 minutes until thoroughly grilled but not burnt.

Pissaladière

A speciality from Nice that I tried when visiting a couple of months ago [insert disbelief about time passing] and wanted to emulate. Tastes good. Onions do take a while to chop as you might expect. Use any pizza dough you want – I had some that I’d made up in the freezer so just took it out and used it up.

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(makes 1 x 30cm tarte)

5 tbsp olive oil
1kg onions, very thinly sliced
Scattering (think 1 tbsp) herbes de Provence
1 tsp sugar
Handful black olives
A few anchovies
400g pizza dough

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan over a low heat. Add the onions and cook very gently for 30-40 minutes, adding the herbs and sugar halfway through (think caramelising – you don’t want them to be crispy).
  2. Roll out the dough onto a greased or silicone tarte tin. Spread the onions on top then garnish with anchovies and olives.
  3. Bake  at 220*C for 20-25 minutes; eat hot or cold.

 

sole meunière

My aupair-mother was nice enough to give me free reign of the fishmonger’s for lunch last week, and so I decided to divert from my go-to salmon and branch out to other fish. Lemon sole sounded like a good bet, and this simple recipe from BBC GoodFood was tasty tasty tasty, particularly with some delicious French bread and a baby-spinach salad.

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(serves 4)

4 fillets sole (or apparently you can also use plaice), skin-on
6 tbsp plain flour
3 tbsp light olive or sunflower oil
85g unsalted butter
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp small capers

  1. Pull out any fishbones with tweezers.
    In a large shallow bowl, season the flour with a little salt and black pepper. Toss the fish in the flour to coat well.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Cook fish skin-side down for 2 minutes, then turn and cook the other side for 1-2 minutes until golden.
  3. Remove the fish to a warmed plate, then season.
  4. Return the pan to the heat, add butter until melted and beginning to turn a light brown, then mix in the lemon juice and capers. Swirl in the pan for a few seconds then return the fish to the pan to coat. Serve immediately.

(via)

fennel and avocado salad

One of the things I like best about summer is getting to enjoy different fruits in turn as they come into season. Never mind chat about air-miles and consideration of environmental impact, nothing beats a first peach in May… except maybe strawberries in June… or cherries in June… or raspberries in July… Of course, the other thing I like best about summer is ice-cream, so things balance out.

For this salad, I’ve heard that fennel is a winter vegetable, but our local greengrocer’s has it marked as coming from the region, so I’m guessing either I thought wrong or things are different in Provence. And podded peas, if you can find them, are definitely a summer thing (though at any other point in the year, just pop some frozen peas in [à la this salad] – honestly, it won’t kill you and does taste good!). Anyway, this is simple and fresh for a sunny summer’s day :) Makes about as much as you’d expect would be made from one fennel bulb so you can decide if you want a small side salad for a family or larger portions for lunch. I can’t remember ever having had fennel before, but the lemon and onion in this salad stop the slight aniseed-flavour of the vegetable from being overpowering, and the avocado mixes slightly to make a creamy dressing. (The picture is half of what it made as I’d eaten before deciding the recipe was worth keeping.)

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1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1/2 (red) onion, sliced finely
(handful freshly podded peas)
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and sliced finely
(bunch of torn mint leaves)

  1. Mix the oil, juice, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  2. Toss the avocado in the dressing.
  3. Stir in the onion, fennel, and peas if using.
  4. Add pepper to taste.

rocket, goat’s cheese, and caramelised onion quiche

Who knew salad could be heated up and cooked with? Not me before I made this, but rocket (aka arugula) certainly can. I preferred the leftover quiche eaten cold the next day to it just after it had finished cooking, but à chacun ses goùts (each to his own). Also going to go ahead and claim that the use of yoghurt rather than cream in this quiche makes it wonderfully healthy (even though I fear this may be akin to my argument that banana bread and apple crumble each count as one of your 7-a-day).

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(for a 30cm ish quiche)

Pie-crust (either make your own shortcrust and bake blind or roll out a pre-made pâte feuilleté)
Handful cherry tomatoes, halved
1 medium red onion, sliced
4 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp plain yoghurt, greek if you’ve got it
salt and pepper
60g goats cheese, diced into chunks
Handful of rocket leaves, torn by hand into smaller pieces

  1. While blind-baking the pie crust, on another shelf of the oven toss the tomatoes in a little oil and cook (should be for about the same time as the blind-baking – 8-10 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile in a pan, sauté the thinly sliced onion over a low heat in a little oil until caramelised (add a tad of balsamic vinegar right at the end if you’d like, as in this recipe). Spread over the pie base.
  3. In a jug, beat the eggs, yoghurt, pepper, and salt until the ingredients are well-combined.
  4. When the pie crust is cooled a little, layer the filling with rocket, goats cheese, and tomatoes. Pour the egg mixture over the filling and bake in the oven at 180oC for 30-40 minutes until golden-brown, with the filling just-set.

(via)

giant cocoa/cinnamon meringues

Hard as it may be to believe, it is not always sunny here. And sometimes when it’s rainy and there are egg whites in the fridge, an enjoyable activity is meringue-making. Thankfully, since last time I found the whisk attachment for the kitchen mixer as despite my bold claims I think getting 3 egg whites to form hard peaks would have taken a weeee bit more strength and perseverance than my arms possess.

2014-05-19 16.16.47(rough quantities for a trayful of meringues)

160g egg whites (approx 3)
320g* caster sugar (or double the weight of egg whites)
Pinch salt
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat the oven to 110oC and line a baking tray / baking trays with parchment paper or a silicon liner. Mix the cocoa and cinnamon together.
  2. Place the egg whites, salt, and sugar in a large saucepan. Place over a very low and small flame to gently heat the egg whites and to melt the sugar – stir continuously, and don’t heat them above 37oC.
  3. Transfer to an electric whisker with a balloon whisk. With a fast speed, whip until they form semi-hard peaks.
  4. Remove the bowl from the machine, and sieve the cocoa/cinnamon over the meringue. Use two large spoons to scoop a large spoonful of the mixture, scooping deeply to get a ripple effect – don’t mix! Drop onto the prepared baking trays, leaving gaps in between the spoonfuls.
  5. Place the giant meringues in the preheated oven, leave a large gap between the shelves and rotate the trays half way through cooking. Bake the meringues for two hours – they should be firm on the outside but still slightly gooey in the centre.
  6. Let cool for 10 minutes on the trays before gently transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely. Keep in an airtight container for up to three days.

(recipe via)

 

chocolate bundt cake

Hello world. It’s been a while. A while of travelling all day to live with strangers I met online; a while of being very thankful to God for the provision of wonderful people and a friendly church in the deep south of France; a while of learning to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and car; a while of looking for missing shoes at 8.43am when we should really have left 4 minutes ago; a while of ice-creams in the Italian rain after a lengthy drive; a while of rather-cold-sea, beaches and rocky hill-walking inlets; a while of speaking français and making German friends; a while of my sister getting engaged; a while of learning about TrashPacks, the current playground craze; a while of experiencing just how exhausting childcare can be; a while of reading and journalling and thinking and writing and listening to music and knitting…

Bref, I’ve been busy since I last uploaded a recipe 6 or so weeks ago. And still plan on being busy for the upcoming while. But for today it was the middle of my charge’s birthdays and I was tasked with making a cake. Turns out small French boys don’t like icing with dark chocolate. Happily this meant there was more icing for Joelle and me to eat. This cake is not too sugary and would go perfectly with some coffee – and unlike my usual go-to chocolate cake recipe, doesn’t require a couple of days to mature.

I can also testify that whipping egg whites by hand is possible (and didn’t actually take me too long… I think knitting helps the wrist-muscles!) though would advise an electric whisk if you have one.

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base

160g dark chocolate
100g butter
3 eggs, separated
150g caster sugar
300ml milk
200g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder (1 sachet levure chimique)
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
20g icing sugar

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter together.
  2. Whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar until they are pale. Add in the milk, flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, and the vanilla extract and whisk to combine.
    Stir in the melted chocolate and butter.
  3. Whisk the egg whites until they form firm peaks then stir in the icing sugar.
  4. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture gently.
  5. Pour the mix into a greased and floured bundt cake tin and bake 30-40 minutes at 180oC.
  6. Leave to cool in tin slightly before turning out onto a drying rack.

icing

Use whatever icing you want, but if stuck for ideas, I just melted 150g milk chocolate with 2 tbsp double cream, 75g butter, and 2 tbsp golden syrup.

(adapted from Chloé Délice)

red lentil and spinach coconut masala

The coconut milk in this balances out the spices so it’s spiced rather than spicy, though feel free to up the chilli content. Very filling, and protein- and iron-packed. Tasty tasty tasty :)
(I’m definitely enjoying these new wordpress emojis*, so much nicer than they used to be!)
*the first time I’ve succumbed to the word emoji… but it does seem to have won out over emoticon / smiley. And who am I to stand in the way of progress?

In non-blog life, I’m about to go away to au-pair in France for 4 months so blog updates may be sporadic barring a couple of queued posts, depending on how much cooking-experimentation over there. Or I might post a few updates about the delights of French wine and cheese! Anyone who knows me, please do feel free to send letters / come visit / pray for me as I look after 3 wee boys!

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(serves 4)

1 tbsp coconut or other nut (I used toasted sesame) oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp garam masala
¼ teaspoon ground coriander (or 1/4 cup fresh coriander, chopped)
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, diced
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 – 1 tsp sea salt
400g tin coconut milk
1 cup red lentils
150g spinach (I used frozen)

  1. Heat the nut oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the spices (including ginger and garlic) and sauté for 2 minutes, then stir in the tomato purée for another 2 minutes. Remove the resultant paste to a bowl and re-use pot for step 2.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil and soften the onion for 5 minutes. Add the paste.
  3. Pour in the tomatoes and turn up the heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced a bit.
  4. Pour in the coconut milk and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  5. Stir in the lentils and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook until the lentils are tender, 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the lentils from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  6. Fold in the spinach and cook until wilted or defrosted, 3-6 minutes. Serve alongside coconut rice or naan bread.

(adapted from FeedMePhoebe)

a trio of mini tartlets

Why have one dessert when you can have 3? Especially when they’re only small… Excellent for those with commitment issues. ;)
So last time I had a friend round for dinner, I decided not to confine myself to merely one pudding choice, but to diversify into:
1. Banoffee Pie
2. Cheats’ Greek Yoghurt Cheesecake
3. Peanut butter Cheesecake-Pie-Thing
These are just guidelines based on what I had in the fridge to use up – biscuit bases are your friends, and can be topped with a lot of different things. It helped (and indeed, I wouldn’t have done (1) without) having a jar of caramel sauce in the fridge already, leftover from the last time I made salted caramel tarts. Something else that I’d have done if I had had cream would probably have been to make ganache, or chocolate mousse-pie… basically the world is your oyster. For (2) and (3) I’d make them the night or morning before you intend to serve them to give them time to stiffen up.

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These make 2 of each (well, they did in my moulds), so 6 mini tartlets in total, and I’d like to think they aren’t too bad for you. I mean, there’s fruit and protein, so that makes them positively healthy, right?

biscuit base
6 digestives, bashed up with a rolling pin
35g of butter (half the weight of the digestives)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

  1. Place all ingredients in bowl in microwave then alternate heating and stirring until the melted butter is evenly distributed.
  2. Press into whatever moulds you are using (mine were about 2 inches, I think, and took 1 tbsp each of the mixture) using the bottom of an appropriately-sized glass. Tip: if a silicone mould, place on top of a rigid baking tray so you can transport without breaking.
  3. Place in fridge while making toppings.

banoffee pie topping
1.5 tbsp caramel, if necessary heated slightly so that it’s spreadable
Few rings of a banana (eat or freeze the rest of it)
Whipped cream (or squirty cream) (optional) and chocolate shavings to serve

  1. Shortly before you are ready to serve, spread caramel evenly onto 2 of the biscuit bases. Top with banana slices, then cream and chocolate shavings. Obviously, whipped cream is far superior but squirty cream is just fine if you’re doing this on the basis of using what’s in your fridge!

Greek yoghurt cheesecake topping
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
2 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp cornflour
1/2 tsp vanilla
berries, to top

  1. Whisk the sugar and cornflour together (this is to mimic instant pudding mix).
  2. Stir this into the Greek yoghurt, then stir in the vanilla. Do it slowly so the yoghurt doesn’t deflate.
  3. Spoon evenly onto 2 of the biscuit bases and refrigerate for several hours. Top with berries before serving.

peanut butter cheesecake topping
1.5 tbsp peanut butter
1.5 tbsp cream cheese
2 tsp milk
1/4 cup (4 tbsp) icing sugar
1 tsp nutella (optional)

  1. Whisk the peanut butter, cream cheese, and milk with a fork.
  2. Once combined, add in the icing sugar and whisk to remove lumps. If desired, swirl in the nutella.
  3. Spoon evenly over 2 biscuit bases and refrigerate for several hours.

mumbai mango potato curry

Tasty, low-calorie (if that’s your bag), cheap ‘n’ easy curry. I used sweet potatoes rather than ordinary (what a rebel), but either would work.Image

(serves 3-4)

2 tsp sunflower oil
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp hot curry powder
400g can chopped tomatoes
750g potatoes, diced (or sweet potatoes)
2 tbsp spiced mango chutney
400g can chickpeas (optional)
To serve: chapatis, naan bread, rice, as you wish; natural yoghurt mixed with a bit of mint sauce if you choose.

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot and fry the onion for 5 minutes until golden and soft. Stir in 1.5 tbsp curry powder, cook for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and seasoning. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
  2. While it’s simmering, add the potatoes and remaining curry powder to a pan of boiling salted water. Cook for 6-8 minutes until just tender.
  3. Drain potatoes and add to pot, along with mango chutney. If it’s looking a bit dry, use some of the potato-water to make it more liquid. Heat through.
  4. Mix together 100g yoghurt and 1 tsp jarred mint sauce if using for serving. Enjoy!

(via BBC GoodFood)