I’ve been cooking everyday and indulging in eating so much that I hardly have time to sit in front of the computer. In a way, I’ve been deliberately trying to stay away from the computer as being in France is a holiday and a treatment for the pains in my back and shoulders that I’ve had for quite a while. Blogging means a lot of sitting, whether it is for writing or working on photos. But once committed to blogging, one feels anxious when I don’t post anything for more than 5 days.
I wish I could post everyday – I probably could if it was just about writing – but a big part of my blog is the photos as you can see. I love taking photos of food. My photos aren’t so professional like the ones you see on blogs of professional food photographers, with beautiful lighting and props, etc.
I am a spontaneous and improvisational food photographer, who take photos in the natural setting, perhaps with minimal effort for an artistic touch. Cyrille begins to complain that food looks better in my photos than in real. What does he mean? Some of the bloggers I follow shine in the help of supporting actor, whether it be her husband or kid or friend. I often feel that I need someone to take photos of me while I’m whisking the mixer or cooking so that I can only focus on the cooking part not the photos. In my home in Turkey, Mr.O always helps me by changing positions of the utensils and sometime taking photos of me cooking, which hardly come out well because he can’t handle my bulky DSL camera. That’s why I don’t have many photos of myself – if any, all are not focused on my face but on the background! – while travelling.
Here in France, Cyrille is helping me by always placing bread in the background.
What a night I had with a full course meal and great drinks! Escargot…snails….I’m beginning to really like them. Am I turning into a real French? Some escargots are hard to keep down because of the smell but some are really good and they are often the frozen ones from supermarkets. To be fair, people eat escargots for the buttery garlicky sauce, not for the snail itself and they like dipping snippets of bread inside the shell to soak up the butter more than eating snails.
Snails are usually eaten with white wine but neither of us DO whites so there was no white wines except Vin Jaunes. So he suggested a beer, quite an interesting beer; Cannabis beer….hmm…well, not sure whether I’d say yes to that. Seeing my confusion, he explained and I was relieved and tried it and I really liked it. It is made with a crop called “hemp”, which is a cannabis plant. If interested, you can get a bit of an idea here.
I don’t drink beer but this unfiltered natural beer made by Brasserie du Chardon was really good; sweet, fruity, aromatic and herbal. I got to drink more and different types of the beers later and I really liked all of them. Apparently, Savoie beers are quite famous. I will smuggle some when returning to Turkey, I think. *wink*
The main was Spicy Duck Sausage with Cabbage in Sichuan Pepper Sauce. He’s in love with Sichuan peppercorns for their floral aroma. Oops, it was a bit too spicy. Having spent many years in Asia, he likes spicy food, but having been away for many years from Asia, I’ve lost my tolerance to chilies. I didn’t know I could get sick from eating chili, which actually happened not long ago so I am quite cautious of eating strong chilies. Even though he put two chilies, as he did the last time, it was way spicier than usual.
Apart from the chili heat, it was delicious. I don’t do beef sausages but I do like sausages made with duck and pork. It was a French-Asian mash and bangers without the mash, and it was a comfort food on a cold dark night.
The wine I picked from his cellar was Coursodon Saint Joseph Silice 2011. It was the first Rhone wine I tasted on this holiday and my memory flashed back again to the Rhone wine tour I did. The fruity, black-peppery Syrah with lovely sweet spices such as liquorice and silky tannins, and the cool stoney taste was a good choice for the floral spicy flavours of Sichuan peppercorns. More robust and manly Shiraz with overpowering smoky flavour such as Australia and South Africa wouldn’t have been as good. Sniffing and sipping the St-Joseph once again, I realised how my taste for wine had changed. How would I have known that Syrah can taste so elegant, hadn’t I come to France? I love the red fruit and mineral notes in the wine, not just bursting in blackfruits and strong spices.
The dessert was my Pear Tart with special almond frangipane. I called it special because it WAS made with a special attempt to break the conventional tart recipes for pear tart. I cut the sugar by more than half by blending in apple puree into the almond paste. It was also a good way to get rid of old fruit that was almost rotting, but the French never throw anything away, but instead, create another recipe with it.
Overripe fruit, almost to the point of being rotten, is sweeter but most people don’t eat fruit with bruises or even molds. What is wrong with molds? They are natural yeasts that add extra flavours to the fruit. Sauternes, anyone? You don’t eat the molds but there is no harm in washing or trimming them off.
Since the pears were overripe, they didn’t need poaching, either. I made almond frangipane by blending almonds and 3 tablespoons of brown sugar – yes, you heard me right, just 3 tablespoons! I don’t mind butter but I try to cut out as much sugar as possible, and Cyrille, an osteopathist, agrees.
The tart was special also because it didn’t have the conventional vanilla or cinnamon spices. It was as natural as the surroundings. However, it wasn’t intentional because I couldn’t find vanilla extract, cognac or the rum with vanilla beans that many French households seem to have. So the result was a really delicate and crispy light tart and we, especially my serious tart critic friend liked it very much. All my attempts in creating recipes for the health conscious people have won good credits over the course of my culinary expedition.
Though I love tarts, I shy away from some with heavy custard filling or thick floury tart shell. For me, tarts should be all about fresh fruits mounted on top and simplicity like my favourites I used to eat in a patisserie in Bordeaux – very thin tart base with lots of fresh fruit without excessive shiny glaze, which looks good but only adds extra calories without any benefits for flavours. I believe desserts shouldn’t overwhelm the stomach; it should complete a meal with a nice lasting taste.
After the main, we went to a downstair-bar annexed to the laundry room to eat the dessert and taste home-brew spirits. We lit the fireplace and placed the tart tin on the top to warm it up while preparing the spirit tasting. He poured each and I had to guess what fruit it was made from. There was a spirit made with pear williams so I paired my dessert with it. It was a lot of fun, listening and dancing to the old French chanson. I will probably put together the photos and videos from the night in a post but for now it’s all in my memory and on my computer drive.
Before I go, I will leave you with this special tart recipe, which I’m sure will be the simplest, most natural and delicious you can ever find and something you can whip up with no sweat in a flash on an unexpected dinner. As the filling doesn’t flour, it can be an alternative for low carbs baking.
Special Pear Tart with Apple Almond Frangipane
4-5 ripe pears such as williams, sliced
1 pâte brisée
1 cup almonds, blanched or whole
1 apple, peeled and pureed
50g butter, cold, cut into cubes
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp walnut wine
a squeeze of lemon juice
apricot or green plum jam for glazing
1. Preheat the oven to 190’c and roll out the pastry and line a 10-inch tart tin.
2. Make the filling: in a food processor, blend the almonds and sugar to fine powder, add butter and egg and process for 1 min, and then mix in the apple puree.
3. Spread the filling evenly onto the pastry and arrange the pear slices. Drizzle lemon juice and walnut wine over the pear.
4. Bake for 45 mins and take it out and brush the top with jam diluted with a little water.
NB: If you don’t have walnut wine, you can use cognac or other spirits with fruit or vanilla flavour.