Ooh la la! Check out this wonderful ‘tartine’ recipe from a French mom

This guest post is from Helene, a French mom living in England, who has a great blog with amazing photos: Croque Maman! Her recipe is a new twist on an old French favourite: “la tartine.” Bon appétit!

Tartine aux copeaux de chocolat

When Karen asked me to write a post for her blog I was over the moon.

I have always been fascinated by cultural differences but it is only when I gave birth to my children in the UK that I realised the depth of them.

As a French woman who has always been passionate about food I was keen to understand what French mums were doing versus other mums… I read most books on the topic including Karen’s (and I can’t wait for her new book!) and Pamela Druckerman’s. In the end, I keep identifying/listing differences and I am picking what I think is best in each culture to create my own 🙂

Through my blog, Croque-Maman, I want to share what French mums cook, how they place food at the heart of family life and my journey to pass on my love of food to my children with as much home cooking as possible.

One thing that I loved when being a child was the goûter, the 4pm snack. Yes as Karen’s readers you would know that in France children only have four windows of opportunities to eat: breakfast, lunch, goûter (not for adults) and dinner. It could sound like French parents are starving their children 🙂 but my toddler boys love that routine and as they only have one snack time a day we can indulge a little bit more!

This goûter was a clear favourite of mine when I was a child and as my little ones appear to be chocolate lovers I have no doubt that it will be in their top 5 goûters soon! I always try to include at least two of the followings when I do the boys’ goûter: a dairy product, carbs and/or a portion of fruits or vegetables. As such I would serve a fruit before this. Besides, this is quite a big boys’ portion, as they are currently 20-month-old I would maybe give them ¼ of this.

We would sometimes substitute the chocolate shavings by hot chocolate powder mix and use cream cheese instead of butter, (as I did when I took the picture) which would count as a dairy product then… tick!

Tartine aux copeaux de chocolat (Tartine with chocolate shavings)

Serves: 2

Prep time: 5mn

Ingredients

– a piece of baguette (about 10cm)

– 10g butter (or 35g cream cheese)

– 40g chocolate, shaved

Instructions

1. Half the piece of baguette

2. Spread the cream cheese evenly on both sides and sprinkle with the chocolate shavings

Bon appétit!

Two of my most popular posts so far are the recipe of my saumon en papillote and my second French mum interview: Sandrine and her “tarte” au chocolat. Have a quick look and don’t miss out on all my upcoming French top tricks, tips and recipes by registering to my free newsletter on Croque-Maman’s homepage or by following me through Croque-Maman’s Facebook page

 

Yummy, healthy food for kids isn't fancy….but fun! How to re-think your approach to kids' meals, French style

 I am very excited, and honored, to be doing this guest post for Karen. Her work and crusade are so worthwhile. I am a French mom living in LA, raising a 19 months old son, and writing my FrenchFoodieBaby blog about our journey in educating his taste buds and making him a gourmet and healthy eater, the French way. And I’m here to debunk some of the myths and mystique behind French family cuisine, and try to show families that the French approach is much simpler than it seems.

The French way of eating, and their approach to educating children’s taste buds, has definite benefits (including the fact that kids actually enjoy eating vegetables, and have lower rates of obesity). So the next logical step would be for more people to implement and adapt those methods for their family. And a lot of families have indeed been inspired by it, as demonstrated by the great deal of interest in Karen’s book and work in general. But I have found in my interactions with a lot of moms and families mostly in the US, that there’s this ingrained belief that French food is fancy. I say “French-style cuisine” and a lot of people visualize intricate sophisticated dishes, hours laboring by the stove, expensive ingredients… all of which would make it quite impractical to most families, and wasted on young children. (Note that I talk about “French-style” cuisine or “French way of eating”, because I’m not so much talking about what the French eat and French cuisine per se, but how the French eat, the way they approach food and nutrition. You can adopt that approach with any type of international cuisine, and in fact, a lot of French families cook from a variety of cuisines from around the world.)

I started becoming more aware of those preconceptions about French cuisine when I started my son on solids when he was about 5 months old. I was following a Mommy & Me class which happened to be around lunch time, and started bringing my homemade baby purees to class. Soon came the era of finger foods, around eight months, and I started bringing a mini-version of a “4 course meal” for Pablo in class, basically a finger food as appetizer (hearts of palm, green beans, cauliflower, etc.), a homemade protein & vegetable puree, a kind of cheese, and a bit of fruit compote or yogurt for dessert. There I was, thinking I was doing nothing out of the ordinary. And one day, another mom commented on the “gourmet meals” I was making Pablo, and that he was the “best fed baby in LA.”

This same perspective a lot of North Americans have of French cuisine, shows up again when you start telling them what French kids are served for lunch in school. When I first told my husband we were served a sit-down hot four-course lunch, he just couldn’t believe it, rethinking with some nausea about the sloppy Joes, pizzas, stale spaghetti and overcooked burgers he ate in school.

Karen’s brilliant idea to post the menus from French school lunches on her blog, really shows some concrete examples of what goes on every day in French schools, and by extension, what they eat at home too.

I am often asked by busy moms browsing through Pablo’s menus, “How can you do these fancy meals for Pablo every night?” Well, I hate to kill the bubble and gourmet aura around French family cuisine, but I’m here to tell you that it’s just not that fancy. Well… it is, and it isn’t.

If by fancy, you mean that it tastes really good, then yes it’s the idea. If by fancy, you mean some thought and finesse has been put into the dishes that compose a meal, then absolutely. If by fancy, you mean that care was put into presentation and preparation, definitely. That approach is the cornerstone of the French view of food as a pleasurable, worthwhile, sharing experience.

However…
If by “fancy”, you mean I slaved by the stove all day to prepare them, well, that’s…

Myth #1 – French style meals take hours to prepare.

Most French moms work, and are definitely back at work by the time they start their babies on solids, so they can’t spend the whole day by the stove. I found that most family dishes we cook on a weekly basis require 20-25 minutes of preparation with some additional cooking time, during which other stuff can get done.
As Karen has mentioned, studies show that the French do spend on average 13 more minutes cooking per day than Americans, cooking on average for a total of 43 minutes per day. Feeding a family a fairly balanced diet with a wide variety foods, vegetables in particular, doesn’t require a lot more time, but it does require a bit of thinking and effort. I think the French think of “the education of taste” as an important parenting and family priority. They find a way to devote it a little bit of time and effort, because eating well as a family is of value to them, the same way they would devote time to homework, or getting their kids to practice the piano.  
Tip: It is mostly a matter of being a bit organized, by making a meal plan, having some cooked veggies or soup made ahead for the week, and planning on a balance of simple preparations (smoked salmon or canned sardines or a slice of ham, or pan-fried meat or fish, or crock pot recipes) to help keep busy nights stress-free. (If cooking is stress provoking, kids will pick up on it, and it will definitely put a dent on that food/pleasure association in their mind). It is also a matter of accepting to take a little extra time to do it. Trying to think of cooking not as a chore, but as an opportunity to slow down, be in the moment, and do something really good for our family.
If by fancy, you mean that French-style cooking uses hard to find, obscure ingredients for intricate dishes, that’s…

Myth #2 – French style meals are very complex and sophisticated

To the contrary, I would argue a lot of French family dishes shine by their simplicity, from chocolate mousse, with only a few ingredients, to mixed vegetable salads simply tossed together. Most French family recipes are not any more complicated (often less) than making chocolate chip cookies, muffins or pancakes.

One French secret is the way they name their dishes. It always sounds sophisticated. As Karen reported recently, Cornell researcher Brian Wiansick found that using attractive names for foods do make them more appealing. And to children especially. And if you peruse the French school lunch menus, you will see many “fancy” names for very simple dishes. For example, saying “Jardinière de légumes” sounds better than “mixed vegetables”, it gives the image of a garden where the vegetables grew. The French, known to take food very seriously, wouldn’t give foods silly names to get kids to eat them (not on the official school menu anyway), but even the restaurant-like names on those menus might just make the kids feel like they’re important enough to be served “fancy” dishes.
And the dishes also often look sophisticated, as care is definitely given to presentation, for children included. The French really consider that the aesthetics of food is key to children’s education of taste and appreciation of cuisine. All five senses are involved in the pleasure of eating.
Tip: I pick a lot of fairly simple recipes that make their ingredients shine. For that, it is important to choose good quality ingredients and fresh produce as much as possible.
Another secret is the use of herbs and certain condiments to add some subtle flavor to dishes. My mother can’t cook without thyme and bay leaves. Tarragon, parsley, basil for salads. These simple herbs are the “je-ne-sais-quoi” of French cooking.

 

If by fancy, you mean that it costs an arm and a leg, that’s…

Myth #3 – French meals are expensive

I guess that this is relative to every family’s budget, and certainly the price of food has gone up everywhere. But in our family, using seasonal produce, cooking with fresh (or frozen) foods and planning our menu has eliminated a lot of waste and saved us a lot of money. We’re not talking
truffle and lobster here, but peas, carrots and chicken.
Tip: Finding ways to cook with what we’ve got left in the fridge can lead to very creative recipes and fun meals. Also the advantage of cooking on a regular basis, is great money-saving leftovers. I’m pretty thrilled on an exhausted evening, to find we have leftover watercress soup, mustard pork tenderloin and sauteed apples and onions in the fridge…
In an attempt to illustrate my points here, I picked a lunch menu served last October in a French school in St Manvieu Norrey, Normandy, sharing the recipes with you here. It sounds really nice, but is actually very simple to make, with inexpensive ingredients, taking a reasonable amount of time to prepare (with the possibility of making some of it ahead.) And last but not least, it is really delicious, and offers a wide variety of vegetables in one meal. So why not try it?

 

Appetizer: Tomato mozzarella salad (not much of a recipe, just slice, drizzle with olive oil, add herbs and serve!)
Main course: Chicken cutlets with “sauce chasseur” (hunter’s sauce, cool name), with jardinière de légumes (this is a fancy name for gently sautéed vegetables)
Fromage blanc (rough equivalent here would be Greek yogurt)
Dessert: Wafer cookie (store bought)
(For a home meal, I would forgo the cookie, give a piece of cheese, and the Greek yogurt as dessert, sprinkled with a bit of sugar or a few berries.)

Chicken fillets with sauce “chasseur”

Serves 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time – 15 + 10 minutes
Age for babies: 10-12 months in small quantity, to give a taste of the sauce. The mushrooms make a good finger food.
Note that you can use this sauce with any poultry. You could also serve it with a cut up chicken, or a whole roasted chicken.
4 pieces of skinless chicken (either breast or thigh)
1 lb mushrooms, washed and sliced
6 tbsp of butter
4 shallots, peeled and minced
2 heaping tbsp flour
1/2 cup white wine (or white grape juice, or juice from canned mushrooms, if you want to go alcohol-free)
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp of tomato concentrate
1 bouquet garni (in a piece of hollow celery rib, put some thyme, parsley, sage, 1 or 2 bay leaves, cover with another piece of celery rib and tie with kitchen tie.)
Salt & pepper
5-6 sprigs of fresh chervil (if you can find it, I’ve had a hard time finding it in LA), stem removed, minced
5-6 sprigs of fresh tarragon, stem removed, minced
Cut the chicken in strips and set aside.
For the sauce:
In a saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the mushrooms. Add in the shallots, and cook for a few minutes.
Sprinkle flour, stir and let it get a bit of color.
Stir in the wine and broth. Add the tomato concentrate, bouquet garni, salt & pepper.
Stir and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer over medium low for about 15 minutes.
At this point, you can keep warm, covered, on very low heat, while you cook the chicken.
In a frying pan, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the chicken strips until cooked. Salt & pepper to taste.
Before serving the sauce, remove the bouquet garni, and incorporate the minced chervil and tarragon.
Pour sauce over the meat and serve immediately!

Jardinière de légumes (Mixed vegetables)

Serves 4

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 35-40 minutes

Age for babies: 8-10 months, the veggie pieces make great finger foods.

I use two magical ingredients here, which make the vegetables taste delicious and slightly sweet: the sprinkle of sugar, and the coconut oil (which is so good for you too). Kids usually love it.
You can add more vegetables or omit some, adjust quantities to your liking. This tastes really great reheated, so you can make a big batch, refrigerate and eat the next couple of days.

7-8 carrots, peeled, diced
7-8 mini turnips, peeled (or 1 or 2 medium, peeled and quartered)
15 small potatoes, peeled (fingerling type, or medium red potatoes, peeled and quartered)
2 handfuls of fresh green beans (or frozen)
2 handfuls of shelled fresh peas (or frozen)
6 pearl onions, peeled but left whole
2 garlic cloves, peeled but whole (optional)
Fresh thyme (leaves from 3 sprigs)
Bay leaf
Coconut oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
Salt & pepper

In a large pot, melt the butter & coconut oil over medium heat. Sprinkle with the sugar, stir a bit, and wait until the sugar has melted.

Then add carrots, turnips, potatoes, pearl onions, garlic, thyme and green beans. Add salt and pepper, stir and cook for about five minutes over medium heat, stirring once in a while.

Add 1/4 cup of water, and cook on low, letting the water evaporate, stirring from time to time, about 20 minutes.

Add another 1/4 cup of water and the peas, and let cook until the water is almost evaporated and vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. (There should be a little “sauce” in the bottom, a treat to soak it up with good bread!)

Bon appétit! And I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you do try these recipes and this multi-course meal!

Summer's here! Why not try a yummy 'French-style' dinner menu with your kids?

Thanks to all of the readers who have written in with enthusiastic comments on the French Kids School Lunch Project, which is now wrapped up for the year. Many people requested recipes, so I thought I’d kick off this summer’s blog posts with a yummy French kids’ dinner menu, based on some favourite family recipes.

As is usual with French meals, the meal follows a four-course pattern:

  1. Vegetable starter
  2. Protein-rich main dish, with vegetable side
  3. Dairy (Your choice, but usually yogurt or cheese)
  4. Dessert (usually fresh fruit, but I’ve included a recipe for a sweet treat below!)
Always on the table: water (no milk, juice, or pop); and plain, crusty, fresh baguette (not too many pieces! as you don’t want the kids to fill up on bread) 

Based on these four courses, here is the yummy French-Style Menu to try with your kids (note: each recipe is listed on a separate page, but I have provided a consolidated shopping list at the bottom of this post):

  1. Starter: Beet Salad (bonus: you can make beet popsicles afterwards)
  2. Main: Tomates Farcies (stuffed tomatoes) and Cauliflower Casserole
  3. Plain yogurt with a spoonful of honey
  4. Cherry Clafoutis (Sweet Cherry Souffle)

Note: Why do the French serve their meals in multiple courses? For several reasons:

  • serving vegetables first means that kids are more likely to eat them (particularly if they haven’t snacked right before mealtime);
  • serving smaller portions, in multiple courses, makes the meal last longer–which is an important strategy for self-regulating food consumption. Research shows that people tend to eat less if they eat more slowly, because the ‘satiety’ (fullness) signals take about 20 minutes to be transmitted from your stomach to your brain;
  • multiple courses permit a diverse meal which is nutritionally complete (no filling up on pasta!)
  • last, but not least, the French enjoy sitting at the table and eating. It’s a fun time for parents and kids alike.

Two more tips!

First, pre-meal preparation is important! The French usually set the table with a tablecloth, and make sure to have napkins on the table. Seems a little fussy, but it actually works wonders with children, as it makes the table seem more festive (and thus fun). Also, kids are less likely to eat messily, for fear of making a mess on the tablecloth (at least, that’s the theory!). So pull out any table decorations you might have, and gussy up the table. In fact, kids love setting the table — it’s a fun activity they can do while you’re cooking.

Second, talk about food–before, during, and after the meal! The French love to talk about food. So discuss this menu with your kids in advance. Older ones can help cook, and why not get the younger ones to draw one of the dishes? Talking about food helps kids familiarize themselves with dishes, and get over their reluctance to taste new things.

Bon Appétit!

 

Recipe of the week: Cherry Clafoutis (Sweet Cherry Soufflé)

After a bit of a hiatus, I’ll be blogging with weekly favourite recipes this summer. Look out for book give-aways and fun competitions as well!

Clafoutis (Sweet Cherry Soufflé)

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 30 to 40 minutes
Servings: 6 generous pieces

Clafoutis is a version of the French flan that is traditionally made with cherries (or other moist fruit such as plums, prunes, raspberries, or blackberries), enveloped by a simple cake batter. The fruit is polka- dotted in the cake, giving it a playful look that children love. Even the name is fun to say: kla-foo-TEE. Traditionally, this dish is cooked with the pits left inside the cherries (purists believe that this intensifies the flavor of the dish). I pit the cherries (or, when I’m in a rush, use small plums instead, which are easier to pit).

Our source for the cherries is an old tree at Philippe’s aunt’s house. Tante Odette’s tree is the most productive I’ve ever encountered; the branches, weighed down with cherries, hang down almost to the ground. In late June and early July, the extended family is mobilized for cherry picking, cherry jam making, and (of course) cherry eating. Clafoutis is my daughters’ favorite recipe from this time of year.

2 cups pitted cherries or plums (or other moist fruit)
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1⁄2 cup flour

Pinch of salt
3 eggs
11⁄4 cups milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar (or brown sugar—I like muscovado)

1. Place the fruit in a bowl with half the granulated sugar, stir well, and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 ̊F. Grease a 9-inch baking dish.

3. In a large bowl, sift the flour with the salt and remaining sugar. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and milk to combine. Add the va- nilla. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and combine well. Spread the fruit evenly in the baking dish and pour the batter on top. The cherries may float to the surface now (or later, during baking).

4. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is firm and golden brown. Cool, then sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately (but make sure the inside isn’t too hot for kids’ tender tongues!).

Note: Julia Child recommends baking this twice (briefly baking a thin layer in the bottom of the dish, then adding the fruit topped with the remaining batter and baking until done). But the French parents I know use this “express” method, with wonderful results!

Tip: Serve the clafoutis in the baking dish, as it is quite “wobbly” and won’t transfer well. Fresh out of the oven, the cake is puffed up and golden. It will settle and sag a little bit, but that’s exactly what it is supposed to do.

A French twist on Thanksgiving leftovers: Savory Sweet Potato Souffle

The feast is over, family and friends have come and gone, and you’re left with a smorgasbord of leftovers. What to do? If you’re looking for a change from turkey soup and turkey sandwiches, here’s a French twist on an American favorite. Note that the recipe is savory rather than sweet…a nice twist on an old favourite.

Savory Sweet Potato Souffle

Preparation: 20 minutes

Cooking: 30 minutes

Serves: 6 to 8

1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
1 cup sweet potato puree
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheese (Gruyere or cheddar)
3 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons softened butter
3 tablespoons Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375F.

Brush the inside of a large soufflé or deep casserole dish with 2 tablespoons of softened butter. Sprinkle the buttered surface evenly with Parmesan cheese and set aside the dish.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions in the remaining butter until they turn translucent. Add flour and salt, and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add the milk, still stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens. Add the sweet potato puree, oregano, and pepper and stir well. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, beat egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form (adding a pinch of salt helps).

Stir egg yolk mixture into cooled hot sweet potatoes, and mix well.

Now add one-third of the egg whites into the sweet potatoes, and gently stir. Then, fold the remaining egg whites into the mixture.

Spoon into the prepared dish and bake for 30 minutes, until the sweet potato soufflé is puffed up and cooked through.

The soufflé will fall slightly as it cools, but this is normal! Allow to cool slightly, for better results when cutting. Serve warm, and enjoy.

Recipe of the Week: French White Bean Soup

‘White Beans’ are one of the most popular beans eaten in France. And one of the most popular ways to eat them is as a soup.

In France, they come in two varieties: coco variety is used in soups and the traditional cassoulet stew, and the longer michelet variety is more frequently eaten fresh. For this recipe, you can substitute cannellinni, great northern, or navy beans; but if you can find the rich, creamy French white cocos, this soup will be even more delicious.

Spread beans in a single layer on a large sheet tray; pick through to remove and discard any small stones or debris and then rinse well.

2 cups of white beans (cannellini, navy or great northern)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled (whole)
2 dried bay leaves
6 cups of water
4 tablespoons crème fraîche (or substitute sour cream)
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
Optional: 2 strips of pancetta bacon, finely diced, for topping

Soak the beans using one of these two methods:
Traditional soaking method: In a bowl, cover beans with 4 inches of cold water, cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 8 hours.

Quick soaking method: In a large pot, cover beans with 3 inches of cold water, then bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then remove pot from heat, and allow to sit, covered, for 1 hour.

Drain soaked beans and transfer to a large pot (discarding the cooking water).

Add 6 cups of cold water, onions, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add bay leaves, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender (about 1 hour). Skim off and discard any foam on the surface.

When beans are tender, discard bay leaves, add the crème fraîche, and mix (I use a hand blender). Depending on how thick you like your soup, you may want to add more water.

Ladle into bowls, and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of lemon juice on the top of the soup. Optional: sprinkle with pancetta bacon just before serving.

Note: the French often add other things to the mix, like stalks of parsley (leaves removed!), celery sticks, or shallots. These can be added with the bay leaves, and removed at the same time. They add a subtle, wonderful flavor to this soup.

Bon Appétit!

Recipe of the Week: Savory Olive Muffins

Olive harvesting takes place in southern France at this time every year. Local villages hold olive festivals and tastings, and inventive olive dishes of all sorts are on offer.

Olives are often a favorite of French children, and my kids love them (especially my three year old, who can’t get enough of them). And I recently found out that they’re actually good for you: packed full of nutrients with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxident properties.

Not all North American children are used to the taste of olives. So how to introduce them? In our family, the popular French ‘savory muffins’ are a much-appreciated treat. Here’s an easy recipe that’s a fun twist on the usual North American sweet muffin.

3 cups flour (I do half each of whole wheat and white)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese
1 and 1/3 cups of whole milk or buttermilk (or 1 cup of milk, plus 1/3 cup of ricotta cheese, if you prefer a moister, denser muffin)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup of pitted black olives, chopped
4 teaspoons of olive oil (or vegetable oil, or melted butter)
1/2 tablespoon of oregano (or Italian seasoning, if you prefer)
1/4 tablespoon of thyme (or Italian seasoning, if you prefer)
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (sea salt, if you have it)
handful of sun-dried tomatoes (optional)

If adding the tomatoes, soak them in hot water for at least 10 minutes. After soaking, you’ll chop them into small pieces, and add them to the muffin mix.

Grease a 12 cup muffin tin.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, herbs, salt, and stir well.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, and then add olive oil, cheese, and milk. Stir well. (Note that French muffins tend to use more eggs than North American ones–which makes them less crumbly).

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Add the olives, and stir until just combined. Optional: add chopped sun-dried tomatoes.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until the muffins are nicely browned. Serve warm.

Tip: You can add other veggies to these savory muffins, like finely diced bell pepper, or scallions, or even broccoli.