Monday, August 30, 2010

Turtle Oat Squares

I baked these turtle oat squares yesterday for a kick-off pot-luck/BBQ evening organized by the International Christian Community of Lyon. It was our first time there.

There must have been around 40 people. A lot of them were Americans, but there were also other nationals as well. They were very friendly in a very North American way with lots of personal questions and exchanges of stories. I love watching the children playing, running around, being excited about desserts, and switching back and forth so naturally betweeen French and English.

This recipe comes from the cookbook Company's Coming for Christmas. The squares taste similar to an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie with caramel.

PS. Shouldn't there be some peanuts in something turtly?

Turtle Oat Squares Recipe

Ingredients :
1 cup butter or hard margarine
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups quick cooking rolled oats
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups caramel sundae topping
1/4 cup all purpose flour

1. Melt butter with vanilla in large saucepan.
2. Add rolled oats, 2 cups flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Stir well. Press 2/3 in ungreased 9 x 13 inch pan.
3. Sprinkle with chocolate chips.
4. Stir butterscotch sauce and 1/4 cup flour together. Drizzle over chocolate chips. Sprinkle with remaining 1/3 rolled oat mixture.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

At Jean-Luc and Gisèle's

Yesterday Jean-Luc and Gisèle invited us to have lunch with their family in their home in the countryside about 20 minutes by car from Lyon. But as usual, we ended up staying the whole afternoon, and having a late dinner with them too.

Aside Jean-Luc and Gisèle and their four children, Jean Luc's mother and sister were also there, as well as Gisèle's parents and Pauline's boyfriend.

In the photos, in blue that's Gisèle, then Yannick and the youngest son Valentin, Jean-Luc's mother, Pauline and her boyfriend, and Annick, Jean-Luc's sister.

Marion, Camille, and Pauline. One thing I notice about the many French girls that I have met, they are natural, very at ease with themselves and full of confidence and charm.

We started with the apéro (drinks and pre-meal nibblies). Here we have bouchon au thon (tuna cork), pesto and cheese pinwheels, cheddar biscuits, and salmon rolls.

Gisèle's mother is originally from Liban. Gisèle is a wonderful cook and she loves cooking very much too. Here she prepared some Libanese dishes for the entrée (first course), roasted sweet peppers, rice in grapevine leaves, hummus, and cucumber in yogurt and herbs.

For the main course we had a seafood casserole with rice. Then this was followed by goat cheese.

And three desserts! A mirabelle (a kind of plums) tart, lemon tart, and raspberry tiramisù. I had a piece of each. So delicious!

Jean-Luc and Marion.

Jean-Luc seemed to really enjoy catching flies. He spent a lot of time amusing himself with this. Gisèle's parents smoking away while listening to musical performances.

This is one musical family. Jean-Luc plays the cello, Gisèle plays the piano, Marion plays the violin, Camille plays the accordion and flute. Gisèle's mother is an accomplished violinist. At their place, there is always music playing and singing. And I bring my music and spend some time at the piano.

Their hospitality touches me deeply. And after a day with such wonderful company and great food, and playing and listening to live music, I always come home with a heart full of joy and happiness.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I love a clear blue cloudless sky. But I also love watching the clouds. Their movements, their formations, their infinite shades-- I find all these utterly beautiful and mesmerizing.

I have to thank Andrew for these photos. We made a pact last week to take some photos each day.

I am grateful to Andrew for much more than these photos. He has been a most reliable friend, always there when you need a friend.

And here's to Andrew and all my wonderful friends, one of my favourite poems.

On friendship by Kahlil Gibran

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Italian Egg Biscuits

I am playing with recipes to recreate this packaged cookie called iced taralli that I used to eat regularly in Victoria. What?! Packaged cookies?! Regularly?!


There was always access to it, a few packages on supply at home, one or two in the desk's drawer at the office, in the purse (you do have emergency essentials in your purse, don't you?) I first discovered this, of all places, at London's Drugs (a chained drugstore in Canada). And for my friends who don't live in North America, don't worry, I don't do drugs. A drugstore is not a place where they sell drugs. It's like a pharmacy. But more! Aside your regular medication, you'd also find toiletries, and a whole lot of other things like socks and bras, pots and pans, canned fish and chocolate. And if luck is on your side, you'd also find this taralli!

I really love the summer in Lyon as opposed to the cool summer in Victoria where there are very few days of sunshine. And I can actually wear summer clothes INDOOR! The warm season is long and we can spend a lot more hours outside. Yesterday evening we had dinner at our friends Vincent and Gaël's where we sat out on the terrace until close to midnight.

Vincent grilled duck meats, sausages, prawns and pork on the barbeque, and Gaël made a caprese and a Greek salad. I made a tiramisù (recipe here) as well as these Italian egg biscuits. They stayed in oven ranging from 10 to 30 minutes and they all turned out good in different stages of softness. The ones that baked longer became crispier and more like the iced taralli I was hoping to replicate.

Italian Egg Biscuits Recipe

Ingredients :
Biscuits :
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup butter, melted
2 large eggs
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 ¾ cups of flour
2 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
¼ teaspoon of salt

Glaze :
1 cup confectioners sugar
4-5 teaspoons of lemon juice
colored sprinkles

1. Beat butter and sugar together until blended, then beat in eggs, milk, and vanilla.
2. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
4. Bake at 325 degrees F, from 10 - 25 minutes depending on how crunchy you want your biscuits to be.
5. Transfer biscuits to a cooling rack and allow them to cool for 10-15 minutes.
6. To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioners sugar and lemon juice in a bowl.
7. Drizzle the glaze over the egg biscuits and sprinkle with sprinkles before the glaze hardens.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Lunch with Tatan Paulette

Today we went to have lunch with Yannick's godmother Tatan (Auntie) Paulette at a restaurant in Roanne where she lives. Roanne is a municipality about 90 kms northwest of Lyon and well known for good food. Our experiences in the restaurants around here have always been wonderful and today was no exception.

Today was another hot day. We arrived at the restaurant at 12:40pm and were seated on the terrace overlooking the garden.

Tatan Paulette and Yannick.

Here we started with the apéritif (pre-meal drink) which is accompanied by an assortment of nibblies. The server seemed a bit impatient and grumpy so I didn't dare ask too many questions. But here we had tapenade mousse canapé, little dry goat cheese pieces, cream of salmon roll, and anchovy puff.

I started with the cream of salmon roll, and as soon as I put it in my mouth, I knew that this was going to be a very good meal. Everything was delicious.

Amuse-bouche (translates as "mouth amuser") which is not ordered as part of the meal but offered by the house to everybody to arouse the taste bud for the meal. Here we have mussels in gaspacho with alfalfa sprouts.

My Entrée (first course) was scallops rolled in smoked salmon, potato mousse, with vegetable vinaigrette. Delicious. After this I was full already.

Yannick's entrée was duck foie gras made in house.

Tatan Paulette's entrée was rabbit with broccoli mousse and cream of figue.

Granita (similar to sorbet) was offered by the house to each diner as a palate cleanser to neutralize the tongue for the main course.

Tatan Paulette and I ordered the same thing for our main course which was mullets with Fava beans and olives.

Yannick's main course was very rare steak (cooked to perfection according to him) with morels and potato galettes.

For the cheese course, we could choose between fresh cheese with different sauces or a selection of dry cheeses. Tatan Paulette chose this fresh cheese with raspberry coulis. Yannick opted out and they offered him a fruit salad instead.

I went for a selection of cheese. So many to choose from. You see the orange cheese with the pyramid shape there? It's called Boulette d'Avesnes and I had been told that it is the king among pungent and fiery cheeses. It's flavored with tarragon, cloves, parsley and pepper, then its rind is washed in beer. As I had been searching for strong cheeses, I had been challenged to (and waiting for) tasting this cheese and today was a good occasion.

Yannick took a picture of me with my cheese plate. He was waiting to catch me making faces at this ultimate cheese test.

My selection of cheese. A variety of goat and cow cheeses and the infamous Boulette d'Avesnes. My verdict? Not so bad at all!

My dessert was apple tatin. Here the chef got creative, using a shortbread instead of the usual flaky crust or puff pastry. What a great idea. I was thinking about my nectarine tart with the soggy short crust the other day and this would make a creative solution. It was accompanied by crème anglaise and vanilla ice cream and a velvety mousse. Every bit of it was scrumptious.

Yannick's dessert was caramelized pear in filo. I had to taste a piece of that too. How else would I be able to describe it in the post otherwise? It was like baklava with caramelized pear instead of the nuts. Also another really great idea.

Tatan Paulette's dessert was sorbet maison.

Did you think we were done? Not quite. We were offered mignardises, a selection of bite-sized desserts / petit four served at the end of the meal to accompany coffee or tea.

We left the restaurant at 4:10pm which meant we were at the table for three and a half hours. Well, this is shorter than some of our other Sunday lunches.

A little stroll to help digestion was a good idea.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

U Pick Farm

Today it was sunny and hot and this was my first time to a U Pick farm.

A friend of ours Hai Tai who is also Yannick's badminton partner came with us. He's also a banana which, I just learned, refers to a person of Asian descent (yellow outside) who thinks and acts like a Caucasian (white inside).

Here they are tasting different chili peppers and making funny noises.

Cherry tomatoes in a green house.

Picking raspberries. But it's more picking and eating raspberries and I believe more went into the mouths than the baskets.

Wheeling away the treasures.

U pick farm on a beautiful sunny afternoon makes a wonderful excursion indeed and because we love making these small excursions, I am adding a new blog category Excursion. Oh, and also La Dolce Vita. The sweet life. Living sweet moments. Because living sweet moments is important, sweet moments like being in good company, and picking and eating these raspberries fresh from the bushes, and filling our little baskets with them.

Sweet Potato Ravioli with Roasted Garlic Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

I love incorporating roasted sweet potatoes (often called incorrectly 'yam') in my dishes. It must be my Thai tongue that loves some sweetness in my savory dishes (yes, there's sugar in every Thai dish). And all that fiber and minerals are good for you. And, as I discovered, they are not well known among, but agreeable to, these sensitive French tongues.

When we have company over, I like to make something special and different than what they would usually eat, but planning a somewhat interesting meal for company in France is a little more complicated for me than back home. And back home, I mean North America where people are used to sushi and Pad Thai, and quesadillas, etc. etc. Our menu planning for the first dinner party (housewarming) got so complicated and daunting that we cancelled it and didn't contemplate another dinner with company at home for a long long while.

Setting aside all things the least bit spicy and exotic ingredients like seaweed or tofu or fennel that mostly now, I don't even think about including, who would think that cinnamon could be an objectionable ingredient? Cinnamon, people! And fish? And spinach? And cheese? And some other ingredients I had to omit just because: sweet peppers, beans, parmesan. Zucchini cake is bizarre but I have learned that they are okay with it if you forget to tell them ahead of time about the zucchini part.

Last week we had two friends over, who according to Yannick, ate EVERYTHING. Well, everything if you don't count seafood. And still I thought to not get too wild. So for apéritif, I made Thai style deep fried sweet potatoes (now, this is one thing that wouldn't go so well back in the West Coast because people there seem terrified by deep fried food), and avocado sushi which didn't go fabulously with the guests.

One item of the main course was chicken satay (marinated chicken on skewer) with satay sauce (Thai peanut butter sauce) of course. One guest plainly refused to have the sauce because "I don't like sauces, they mask the taste of real food". Perhaps it's true for many things, and for good reasons (think vegetable dip), but in the case of satay, I think chicken is one of the vehicles invented for the sauce. Chicken satay without satay sauce would be like eating a grilled cheese sandwich without the cheese.

So getting back to our sweet potatoes... I have been experimenting them on my French guests via quesadilla, enchilada and lasagna with good success and I want to try them in some new recipes. So yesterday while shopping for today's lunch, I thought about my friend sweet potato again. I was at a supermarket where one had to weigh the produces herself on an electronic scale and get the correct tickets for the items before going through checkout. So I placed my sweet potatos on the scale and searched the potato category and the root vegetable category (sensible, ain't I?) and summer vegetable category and autumn vegetable category. And I started over again down the obvious categories. And just before I was about the give it up, I spotted a man who was working there. So I told him I couldn't find it in the menu and could you please help and tell me in what category this sweet potato could possible be. 'C'est Fruits Exotiques', without failing to roll his eyes at me as though it was the most obvious thing and how could you miss that, mademoiselle.

And yesterday as I was baking my peach and nectarine tart and chocolate chip cookies, I tossed this piece of sweet potato wrapped up in a piece of aluminum paper along in the hot oven without really knowing what I was to do with it just yet.

I could have gone wild today because the lunch guests were a Canadian woman and an American woman whom I just met. But I wasn't in the mood for wild, but rather something new for me to try. And as with experimentation on guests goes, one needs some backup plans if things don't go so swimmingly. If the foccocia doesn't work out, there's the bakery just around the corner. This was the third time making foccocia and it was a bit undercooked but I liked it all the same.

The big project this morning was making ravioli using fresh lasagna sheets and homemade filling with homemade pesto. I bought gnocchi just in case the ravioli didn't work out. And I would have made smoked salmon in crème fraîche sauce if, though not likely, something went horribly wrong with the pesto.

I had trouble sealing the ravioli and ended up baking it instead of boiling in water. I doubled the ricotta in the filling by mistake but it was still ok altogether.

This was leek fritata. One needs something easy and quick to prepare and that has to work out so she can focus her energy on other more risky experimentations.

Peach and nectarine tart. The crust got a tad soggy from too much juice.

It was the first time I made this, so I also needed a backup dessert.

Which was this almond shortbread. I tried a few recipes from this site Joy of Baking, and I have loved all the results. We always have homemade shortbread around since they keep well, are simple and quick to make, easy to eat and transport, and popular with the French crowd.

Today's leftover was a good occasion also for Yannick because he was getting tired of eating light. But I think it undid the 5 day's effort of dieting in 20 minutes.

Sweet Potato Ravioli with Roasted Garlic Sun Dried Tomato Pesto Recipe

Ingredients :
Ravioli :
1 large sweet potato, approximately 1 pounds, roasted at 350 degrees F for an hour
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup ricotta (I used 1 cup by mistake)
1 lady finger, crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
350 grams fresh lasagna sheets

Pesto :
2 bulb garlic, roasted at 350 degrees F for an hour
4 garlic cloves
3/4 cup olive oil
10 large pieces of sun dried tomatoes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds

Directions :
1. Make the pesto by blending the ingredients together in a blender.
2. Sautee the chopped red onion and garlic in olive oil for about 5 minutes.
3. Blend together the red onion mixture with the rest of the ingredients except for the sheets.
4. Cut the sheets into rectangles about 6 * 3 inches.
5. Take a cut rectangle, wet the edges with water and drop a tablespoonful of the filling in the middle. Fold to make a square and seal the edges.
6. Cook the ravioli in boiling water until they float, about 3 minutes. (That would have been the version if the ravioli had sealed properly, but I baked them instead).
7. Toss together the ravioli and the pesto.

Bon appetit!