English Pea Soup

Quick. Simple. Fresh.
One of my favorite soups to make in no time and enjoy healthy nourishment.
The compliment of herbs, parsley and mint, brings fresh flavors, which can also be achieved with basil, chives, or dill depending on your preference and what grows in your garden.
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Here presented with a lemon rind and some peas sprouts for an elegant serving.
20140725-151840-55120962.jpgIngredients:
2 lbs fresh English peas
1/2 lb white onion
1 oz mint leaves
1 oz parsley leaves
1 Tbsp grape seed oil
5 cups water
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
20140725-151841-55121292.jpgFirst peel and cut the onion in half, leaving the roots at the end. Finely chop the onion by slicing it horizontally and vertically almost to the roots. This technique allows the onion to still hold together.  Then slice from the tip to the root to have a perfectly sized chopped onion.
20140725-151841-55121637.jpgHeat a little grape seed oil in the bottom of a large pot. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onion at once and reduce the heat to low. Cook for a few minutes until the onion becomes translucent and softens.
20140725-151841-55121986.jpgAdd the water, season with salt and bring to a simmer.  Cook a few minutes (5 to 8) until the peas are tender.
20140725-151842-55122354.jpgUsing an immersion blender, process the soup until smooth.
20140725-151843-55123223.jpgWash and remove the stems from the herbs.
20140725-151843-55123659.jpgAdd the herbs to the soup. Continue processing with the immersion blender until you obtain a velvety texture.
20140725-151842-55122770.jpgAdjust seasoning with freshly ground pepper and a little salt if needed. Refrigerate to cool.

Serve and enjoy!

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Hazelnut Praline Chocolates

Hazelnut praline chocolates are heavenly. A great gift for Valentine’s Day! I had recently made some hazelnut praline flans and had extra caramelized hazelnut praline. So, I decided to simply add some chocolate to make hazelnut praline chocolates. This recipe only made about a dozen, and they were gone in the blink of an eye.  So you may double or even triple the recipe.  Besides, the larger quantity you make, the easier it is to dip/coat the chocolates. And every one will be thankful you made more rather than less.

20140127-172055.jpgTempering chocolate is a very precise technique and it is imperative to follow the instructions.  If the chocolate rises above or cools below the indicated temperatures, you will have to start the whole tempering procedure over from the beginning. The technique described below is for dark chocolate.  The temperatures vary for milk or white chocolate.20140127-172322.jpgIngredients:

2 1/3 oz Caramelized hazelnut praline (see 9/2/13 post: hazelnut praline flan for Leslie)
2/3 oz Dark chocolate (70% minimum)
1 3/4 oz Dark chocolate for coating
Toasted chopped almonds

Equipment: a chocolate thermometer for tempering the chocolate and a chocolate dipping fork.
20140127-172413.jpgMelt the 2/3 oz of dark chocolate gently in a double-boiler.

20140127-172505.jpgWhen the chocolate is completely smooth, remove from the heat and add the caramelized hazelnut praline.

20140127-173559.jpgMix well until fully incorporated.

20140127-173637.jpgShape into small balls with the palm of your hands.  Place on a plate and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to harden.

20140127-173720.jpgChop the 1 3/4 oz chocolate for tempering in preparation of coating/dipping.

20140127-173837.jpgPlace in a double boiler and slowly melt the chocolate for tempering. Tempering is an important step to ensure that the finished chocolates hold their shape, do not smudge, and have a shiny finish.

20140127-173925.jpgMeanwhile, toast the almond in a hot oven for a few minutes. They should be only slightly toasted, not burnt.

20140127-173959.jpgChop the toasted almonds finely and reserve.

20140127-174056.jpgMeanwhile the chocolate temperature should reach 128-130F.  Remove the chocolate from the heat source a degree or two below the desired temperature as the chocolate temperature will keep rising from the heat stored in the saucepan.

Once the chocolate has reach 128-130F, let it cool at ambient temperature (do not refrigerate) till it cools down to 81-82F by stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  To hasten the process, you may use a large piece of unmelted chocolate to stir instead of a wooden spoon, or slowly add grated chocolate.

Once the temperature reaches 81-82F, place the chocolate back on the double boiler and slowly raise the temperature to 88-89F.

Now your chocolate is tempered and ready for coating/dipping.

20140127-174158.jpgTake the pralines out of the refrigerator. Use the blade of a knife or small icing spatula to coat one layer of chocolate on the bottom (flat side) of the pralines.

20140127-174259.jpgAdd about a tablespoon-full of chopped toasted almonds to the tempered chocolate. Mix well. Keep the temperature at 88-89F by periodically placing the chocolate back on the double boiler.

20140127-174338.jpgUsing a chocolate dipping fork, place the chocolate-layer flat face of the praline on the fork.

20140128-121502.jpgDip in the tempered chocolate and remove excess from the bottom by sliding the blade of a knife underneath.

20140128-121607.jpgPlace on a plate to set, sprinkling a few extra toasted chopped almonds.

20140128-121931.jpgEnjoy!

Brandade de Morue (Salt Cod Purée)

This specialty of Nimes was a common lunch item when we were growing up near Avignon. My mother would prepare it the night before, place it in the oven in the morning prior to leaving for school/work, and program the oven so that it would be ready to be served when we got back home for lunch. Back then every business closed religiously for lunch, and schools were on the same schedule. My parents picked us up from school at noon, we drove home to share lunch, my brothers and I would breathe the fresh air and play in the garden while my parent enjoyed their after lunch expresso, then they would drive us back in time to start at 2pm for the afternoon. Our school days typically ended at 4:30-5pm when we would come back home for ‘le gouter’.
As children, we LOVED coming home to this dish, even though it might contain a bit of garlic for the unaccustomed palate, this was the diet we grew up on: garlic and olive oil.
20131027-142830.jpg This dish can be served either as an appetizer, along with some grilled sliced baguette, or as an entrée, accompanied by other seasonal vegetables. Here I simply cut up some crudités to be used more as a ‘dip’, however, if you want a more authentic version and original flavors, I suggest you served this dish with toasted baguette the first time you make it.
20131027-142916.jpgIngredients for 4 servings:
1 lb salt cod, skinless and boned
1 lb potatoes
1 1/4 cups almond milk
3/4 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves
a few springs of fresh parsley
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
2 oz parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 F
Rinse and soak salt cod a full 24 hours before starting the preparation of this recipe, changing the water at least 4 times.
20131027-142955.jpgAfter soaking the salt cod (see instructions above), drain and rinse.
20131027-143051.jpgPeel, wash and cut the potatoes in large chunks.
20131027-143232.jpgPlunge the potatoes in a large pot of salted boiling water, return to a boil and keep cooking about 10-15 minutes at a rolling boil until the potatoes are tender. Drain, set aside.
20131027-143400.jpgPeel and cut the cloves of garlic in half. Remove the center part. Set aside.
20131027-143437.jpgZest and juice the lemon.  Set aside.

20131027-143519.jpgChop parsley finely.  Set aside.

20131027-143802.jpgPlace the salt cod in a large pot of cold water, bring to a simmer (do not boil), and drain and reserve.

20131027-143844.jpgHeat the almond milk and garlic in a separate pot.

20131027-143926.jpgAdd the salt cod, bring to a simmer, and continue simmering for about 10 minutes.

20131027-144008.jpgPlace the cod, garlic, half the almond milk, potatoes, lemon juice, lemon zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process till smooth, periodically adding more liquid from the almond milk.

20131027-144150.jpgHeat the olive oil and pour in the mixture through the feeder.  Keep processing until completely blended.

20131027-144230.jpgWhen all the ingredients are fully blended, (there should be no lumps from the potatoes), transfer to a large bowl.

20131027-144316.jpgAdd the parsley and black pepper and mix well with a wooden spoon.

20131027-144412.jpgBrush oil on the bottom and sides of 4 individual ramequins or cocottes (showing more on this photo because I doubled the recipe).

20131027-144521.jpgFill the cocottes almost to the top.  This preparation does not rise, so be sure to fill them as much as possible.

The recipe can be prepared ahead up to this point.  If this is so, cover the cocottes and refrigerate, up to one day, until ready to bake.

20131027-144710.jpgFreshly grate the parmesan finely.

20131027-144952.jpgSpread evenly over the top of each cocotte.

20131027-145201.jpgPlace in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, till the tops are golden.

If you had refrigerated the cocotte, you’ll need to bake them a bit longer, maybe another 10 minutes until they turn golden.

20131027-145308.jpg Enjoy!

Spicy Chickpea Herb Salad

The simplest and fastest to way to make a last minute picnic to go, quick meal for impromptu lunch guests, or side dish/salad to accompany a main dish.

20130705-212427.jpg This recipe includes a variety of herbs as we would use in the south of France for a flavorful meal and also some jalapeño in addition to the garlic for an additional kick the American way.

20130705-212511.jpgingredients:
2lbs cooked chickpeas (if dried, soak them the day before and cook them in salted boiling water)
1 orange pepper (I typically like using red but the red peppers at the market were not organic so I picked an organic one over the color)
1/4 jalapeño pepper
2 garlic cloves
A handful of each herbs: parsley, basil, chives, thyme
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp grape seed oil
Freshly ground salt and pepper, about 1/4 tsp each
4-5 oz arugula

20130705-213407.jpgStart by mixing the salt, pepper and mustard.

20130705-215259.jpgAdd vinegar and mix well to dissolve mustard.

20130705-215341.jpgPrepare two garlic cloves and 1/4 jjalapeño pepper.

20130705-215428.jpgRemove the white lining and seeds from the jalapeño.

20130706-065736.jpgPeel garlic, slice in half and remove the inner part.

20130707-151744.jpgCrush the garlic and cut the jalapeño in thin stripes.

20130707-151835.jpgChop both finely.

20130707-151937.jpgAdd to the mustard and vinegar.

20130707-152034.jpgMix well and seaside.

20130707-152111.jpgGently remove the thyme leaves from the stems. set aside.

20130707-152153.jpgPrepare parsley leaves and basil leaves by removing the stems and clustering them together, stacking the basil leaves on top of one another.

20130707-152239.jpgChop all the herbs finely, including the chives, parsley and julienne the basil leaves. Set aside

20130707-152320.jpgPrepare the orange pepper by cutting it in half, remove the stem, further cut into quarters and remove the inner white skin and seeds.

20130707-152541.jpgSlice each quarter into strips and dice.

20130707-152647.jpgAdd the grape seed oil to the vinaigrette.

20130707-152741.jpgMix in the orange pepper and let marinate a few minutes.

20130707-152823.jpgAdd the chickpeas and herbs.

20130707-152907.jpgMix thoroughly. The salad can be prepared ahead at this time and refrigerated.

20130707-153007.jpgBefore serving, add arugula. If taking on a picnic pack arugula separately and add at last minute.

20130707-153156.jpgMix the arugula with the other ingredients to ensure it is well coated with the vinaigrette.

20130707-153245.jpgTo serve as a lunch meal, you might add some avocado

20130707-153345.jpgor heirloom tomatoes. Enjoy!

Chilled Asparagus Soup with fresh Basil

Chilled soups are always refreshing in summer. This recipe is a non-dairy creamy soup, basically puréed with almond milk. It is particularly popular with friends who have dairy restrictions in their diet, or people who simply enjoy a lighter version of creamy soups.

20130630-115840.jpg The chilled asparagus tend to have a more delicate flavor when mixed with potatoes which act as the binding agent in the soup. If you wish to enhance the asparagus taste of the soup, add a little cumin (optional).

20130630-115930.jpg Ingredients:
2 lbs asparagus
1 large shallot
2-3 small potatoes
1/2 jalapeño pepper
2 garlic cloves
1.5 oz fresh basil
1/4-1/2 tsp cumin (optional)
2 cups water
2 cups almond milk
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon rind for decoration

20130630-145516.jpg Remove the seeds and white/silver lining of the inside of the jalapeño pepper

20130630-145651.jpg Cut the jalapeño in strips and dice finely.

20130630-150113.jpg Peel, crush and chop the garlic finely. Peel the shallot preserving the roots to hold it while chopping. Slice it horizontally, almost reaching the roots, then vertically like an onion, and finally, chop it vertically again but in a perpendicular direction.

20130630-150230.jpg Heat about 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large pot and add the chopped jalapeño, garlic and shallot. Lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes. You might add the cumin at this time if using.

20130630-150343.jpgWash, peel, and slice the potatoes. Cut them in sticks and dice them in small even pieces so they cook faster and evenly.

20130630-152557.jpgAdd potatoes to the pot and continue cooking on low heat.

20130630-152644.jpgIf the ends of the asparagus are thick and woody, it is best to snap the ends off between your fingers rather than cutting them with a knife. By snapping them, they naturally break off at the point where the tender part of the asparagus meets the woody part. Discard the woody parts.

20130630-153925.jpgThen, trim the tips by slicing them individually at a diagonal to preserve a naturally elongated design.

20130630-154010.jpg Cut the asparagus stems in about 1-inch pieces, add them to the pot along with 2 cups of water and moderate salt. Bring to a oil, lower the heat and simmer about for 8-10 minutes, until the asparagus stems are cooked.

20130630-155308.jpg Separately, bring a small pot of generously salted water to a boil and plunge the asparagus tips for a few minutes until they begin to be tender yet slightly firm to the touch.

20130630-190438.jpgRemove the asparagus tips from the boiling water and place them immediately in an ice bath. This will stop the cooking and preserve their bright green color.

20130630-190515.jpgDrain them as soon as they are cool and reserve.

20130630-191527.jpgOnce the asparagus stems and potatoes are cooked, place in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

20130630-191608.jpgProcess until smooth and let cool a few minutes.

20130630-191647.jpgAdd the basil leaves at this time and process further until the leaves are incorporated into small pieces into the soup.

20130630-191728.jpgAdd the almond milk one cup at a time and process to blend perfectly.

20130630-191800.jpgPour into a bowl, cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

20130630-191842.jpg Meanwhile, cut a long piece of lemon rind with a small pairing knife.

20130630-192342.jpgRemove the extra pith (white part) that might be left attached to the rind.

20130630-192422.jpgCut thin strips (‘julienne’) and reserve.

20130630-192459.jpgSet up the lemon rind and asparagus tips to serve.

20130630-192602.jpg When pulling the chilled asparagus soup from the refrigerator, check for seasoning, add salt and cumin if necessary, and some finely ground black pepper. Place a ladle a of chilled asparagus soup in individual bowls or cups, decorate with the asparagus tips and lemon rind strips.

20130630-192643.jpgChilled asparagus soup, here served with a grilled fig. Enjoy!

Pain d’Epice – Honey bread with cinnamon, orange and star anise

A traditional and naturally healthy dense spongy bread. This childhood recipe contains no fat and no dairy, and brings high energy.
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Served at tea time, home from school with a bowl of hot chocolate, as a dessert to accompany poached pears or strawberry soup, or to take along an adventure as an energy snack. This bread keeps well for a few days wrapped at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.
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Ingredients:
It is best to weight the ingredients directly into the mixing bowls (with a zeroing scale) for more accurate quantities, especially when using honey which tends to stick to the sides of measuring cups.
9 oz rye flour
9 oz honey
1/2 cup hot water
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp crushed star anis seed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
a Tbsp of grape seed oil to coat the baking pan
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
20130526-095017.jpg Star anis is very hard when dried and it is best to use a mortar and pestle to crush it.
20130526-095102.jpg Crush and ground the star anis until it is reduced to a powder.
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Mix the dry ingredients, adding the baking soda, cinnamon and ground star anis to the rye flour. Zest the orange and add at this time as well.
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In a separate bowl, whisk together the honey and hot water until you obtain a homogenous liquid mixture.
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Add the honey-water to the dry ingredients and mix well to fully incorporate into a smooth batter. The consistency should be thick.
20130526-095246.jpg Oil a baking pan with some grape seed oil and pour batter in the pan. Place in the preheated oven to bake.
20130526-095437.jpg Check after about 30 minutes with a toothpick or the tip of a knife by inserting it into the center of the bread. The stick should come out clean. This bread remains dense and does not rise much. Once cooked, let sit for a few minutes out of the oven until cool enough to handle. Turn the baking pan upside down and the bread should come out easily.
20130526-095534.jpg You might decorate with orange slices and cinnamon sticks. Cut in about 1/2 inch-thick slices. Enjoy!

Pomegranate, Avocado and Brussels Sprouts salad

20130511-131448.jpg A quick, simple, colorful salad to present as an appetizer or side dish. Healthful with a combination of raw Brussels sprouts, avocado, pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts, in a singular lemon vinaigrette.

20130511-131730.jpg Ingredients:
2 lbs Brussels sprouts
1/2 pomegranate
1/2 avocado
3/4 cup pine nuts
1-2 Tbsp savory or thyme
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

20130511-131910.jpgWash the Brussels sprouts and cut off the stem ends to remove the outer leaves. Place in a large salad bowl.

20130511-131951.jpgKeep cutting off the stems another two-three times, each time removing more leaves and getting to the inner leaves.

20130511-132030.jpgEventually, you will be left with the hearts of the Brussels sprouts.

20130511-132114.jpg Slice the Brussels sprouts hearts thinly.
Personally I like using a classic 7-inch Santuko knife for almost everything. I find it most versatile and easy to maneuver with precision.

20130511-132228.jpg Add the thinly sliced pieces to the large, beautiful leaves in the bowl.

20130511-132306.jpg Cut the half avocado horizontally, then in thick vertical slices, and finally, cut more thick vertical slices perpendicularly. This way you will have ‘cubes’ of avocado. Add to the salad bowl.

20130511-132354.jpg Cut the pomegranate in half with a knife, vertically.

20130511-132429.jpgWorking with half the pomegranate and placing it over the salad bowl, pick the skin on the sides to expose a cluster of seeds in between the white membranes. This way you can easily detach each individual seed. Be gentle, as the seeds can be crushed and burst.

20130511-132720.jpgKeep assembling the salad this way, adding the pure and fresh ingredients one after the other.

20130511-132516.jpg Measure the raw pine nuts.

20130511-132624.jpg Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium low – low heat. This is the tricky part of preparing this dish as you must devote your attention to this task only at this time. It might seem slow at first, but just watch and occasionally toss the nuts around as they slowly begin to turn golden brown. The darker they become, the more intense the nutty flavor they develop, but they should not burn.

20130511-132809.jpgThe moment they are ready, stop the heat and transfer to a room temperature dish. This is the crucial moment where a few extra seconds will burn the nuts. The oil content of the pine nuts is high, and once they reach a certain temperature it is just a matter of seconds before they burn.20130511-132857.jpgPrepare a light lemon vinaigrette by placing the savory or thyme leaves, in a small bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

20130511-133029.jpg Pour the vinaigrette and toasted pine nuts over the salad and toss all the ingredients well and gently. Enjoy!