Sneak preview from my new book: Party Pasta!

I’m so excited to post this recipe – the first ‘sneak preview’ recipe from my new book (Getting to Yum), which will be out on May 6th! My ‘test families’ have been working hard: tasting, testing, suggesting improvements. They LOVED this recipe, and I hope you do too. I’d love your comments–from you and especially your kids!

The recipes are designed to be simple, fast and easy to make–but to have a ‘twist’, introducing your family to new tastes, as a means of expanding their palates. This recipe combines the perennial favorite–pasta–with something unusual: anchovies.

Now, don’t be alarmed. Some of my test families were a bit hesitant, but they all loved this recipe! Trust me, this is a flavor combination worth trying! The anchovies add a salty flavor that really livens up the broccoli, balanced by the fresh taste of lemon. Plus anchovies, like other small cold-water fish, are incredibly nutritious.

I often serve this at informal dinner parties (hence the name); it’s delicious enough for adults, but easy enough for kids (particularly those who are still learning to like their greens – they can focus on the pasta while nibbling the occasional bit of greenery or fish).

Anchovies are considered relatively safe to eat by the US government, because they are lower down the food chain, so don’t concentrate toxins to the same extent as other fish (like mercury—which is found in other types of fish that children and pregnant women should avoid).

Equipment: 1 medium cooking pot, 1 large cooking pot

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Servings: 2 adults and 2 children

 

2 cups broccoli florets (about ½ of a head of broccoli), cut into bite-size pieces

About 5 anchovies (double if you really like anchovies) — Note: Anchovies are preserved in brine, and then canned with oil (my preference) or salt (too salty for my taste). If you do use those packed in salt, rinse them well first. 

3 tbsp olive oil

juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 2 tbsp)

¼ cup breadcrumbs

¼ cup grated parmesan (fresh is best! But I often used the pre-grated kind)

Pasta for 4 (I like penne or farfalle best with this recipe) – about 8 ounces

Optional: garlic, 1 tsp pepperoncini (spicy red pepper flakes – for the more adventurous eaters in the family!)

Timesaving tip: Set two pots of water on the stove to boil. While these are heating up, chop the broccoli into small florets. By this time, the water should be boiling: add the broccoli to one and the pasta to the other, and reduce heat to simmer. Set your timer or check your watch for the pasta!

Heat oil in a frying pan (optional: at this stage, add garlic and fry until lightly golden, then remove garlic and set aside). Add anchovies, and a ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water. Cook on high heat for 3 minutes, until anchovies are so soft that they melt. Reduce to very low heat and cook until liquid has reduced into a sauce (about 3 more minutes).

Drain pasta when ready, then toss pasta with anchovy sauce. Drain broccoli, and add lemon juice, toss lightly, then add to the pasta. Serve topped with parmesan and breadcrumbs (adding optional pepperoncini if desired).  

Bon Appétit! And please DO let me know what you think. Your comments might even make it into the cookbook! 😉

Note: if making this in advance, do not toss the lemon juice with the broccoli (because anything acidic will make the broccoli turn brown). Keep the broccoli and lemon juice separate; toss together and then add to pasta just before serving.

 

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.