Vanilla Pecan Squares

Carrés de Noix de Pécan à la Vanille

Yesterday was my grandmother’s 92nd birthday. On this occasion, my parents, myself, and a few friends and relatives gathered at her place for a celebratory drink, before we all headed out to dinner. My mom had asked me if I felt like making a few sweet nibbles to go with the champagne. Me? Sweet nibbles? Have I ever *not* felt like making sweet nibbles? Ever? Not that I can remember! So I accepted, with glee.

After a happy leafing through my bounteous collection of cookbooks, magazine clippings, and saved web recipes, the winner of the day was this recipe, found in the excellent cookbook Mes Petits Plats 100% Naturels: Vanilla Pecan Squares. Easy breezy and scrumptious.

The texture of these is lovely: cakey, but airy and light, with slightly crunchy edges. They are not too sweet, the vanilla flavor is nicely present, and matches the toasted and crunchy pecans beautifully, with a subtle rum afterkick. Interestingly enough, a slight almond flavor comes through as well, though there is no almond at all in the recipe.

The book recommends those squares to accompany vanilla ice cream, which does sound good. They tasted great with tea , as we taste-tested them earlier that afternoon, and were perfect with a cup of champagne.

The recipe also seems like a very good basis for variations : next time I will try replacing the vanilla with some other extract or with lemon zest, using other nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, or topping the squares with chocolate chips or raspberries.

Vanilla Pecan Squares

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Rose Bakery

Rose Bakery is a small bakery-cum-restaurant run by a French-British couple on rue des Martyrs, a few blocks from where we live. I love this place and find myself going as often as I possibly can, on my own or with friends.

A low semicircular wrought iron door opens onto a long and narrow room. Historically, this used to be a chartil, where produce merchants stored the wooden carts they sold their fruit and vegetable out of. The walls are painted white, with a large abstract painting covering the furthest wall. The floor is bare concrete and the tabletops are mat metal. The staff — all young foreigners — wears white aprons, the food is served in polished earthenware plates, and the combination of all this gives off a quietly chic vibe.

Rose Bakery

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Spiced Pumpkin Soup

I am ordinarily not a huge winter squash fan. I used to dislike sweet and savory together when I was little, and that seems to vaguely remain when it comes to pumpkin and its brothers and sisters. But I do love the look of them and how they come in all shapes, sizes and colors and look like a little munchkin tribe.

And the other day at the farmers’ market, I could not resist buying a big plump slice of bright orange courge musquée – also called courge muscade (literally nutmeg squash), which is your typical Jack-O-Lantern shaped pumpkin. I looked at it, and suddenly I knew : soup. That’s it. I will. Make. Soup.

After researching a little for inspiration – and this included washing my hands thoroughly to leaf with care through Stéphan’s precious Larousse Gastronomique, which he let me borrow under the absolute promise that I would take care of it as if it was my firstborn child – I came up with the following recipe.

We enjoyed this soup very much. The taste is made nicely complex by the different spices, and the sweetness of the onions complements that of the courge very well, without making the soup overly sweet in a this-should-be-served-for-dessert way. Will repeat!

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Corsican Tartine

Tartine Corse

Tartines have been a fairly trendy lunch fare in Parisian restaurants for a while. Originally, “tartine” means a slice of bread, toasted or not, with something spread on it, usually eaten for breakfast : butter (tartine beurrée), jam (tartine de confiture), cheese (tartine de fromage)…

For a few years now, the concept of tartine has been recycled into an easy but delicious main dish : one or two slices of bread on which ingredients are laid, creating a sort of open-faced sandwich. It’s interesting to note that this is a flashback to the Middle Ages, when slices of bread were used in lieu of plates!

This simple idea can lead to an infinite number of variations. But it is a very open concept that should be used with care, and one has to make sure the combination of ingredients is sound. Whipping up a tartine using all the miscellaneous leftovers in the fridge can work wonders. Or not.

It is also very tempting to throw in a lot of goodies, but as is often the case with cooking, more is not necessarily better, and too many flavors can cancel each other out. The idea is to pick a central theme or focus for your tartine and try to find the minimum set of ingredients that expresses it fully. The tartine can star a nationality or ethnicity (Mediterranean, English, Italian, Greek, Jewish, Swedish…), an ingredient (vegetarian, chicken, duck, salmon, cheese…), or even a color (tartine verte, tartine rouge, tartine jaune, tartine violette…).

Then, the simple process is this.

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Pear Rosemary Crème Brûlée

Pear Rosemary Crème Brûlée

Two weeks ago, my parents came over to my apartment. The plan was for the three of us to have lunch together, and then go out on a mini-tour of the 9th and 18th arrondissements, using a guidebook called “Paris Buissonier“, which my sister and I gave our mother for Mother’s day : it describes itineraries to walk through parts of Paris that are seldom visited, providing interesting and unusual facts and comments about what you see along the way. An excellent little book to get to know our beloved – and huge – city better, avoiding the crowds. The name “Paris Buissonier” alludes to the expression “faire l’école buissonière” (literally “to attend shrub school”), which means to cut class. When I was younger, I thought there really was a school called “Ecole Buissonière” – it sounded like one I’d want to go to!

Mini Cookbook of French Tarts

For dessert, I decided to try my hand again at crème brûlée, to make sure last time wasn’t just a fluke. I had read recipes that flavored the cream with rosemary, and I had ripe pears on hand that needed to be used, so this time I whipped up Pear Rosemary Crèmes Brûlées. As I did not have milk on hand, I used light whipping cream in addition to regular. (I know what you’re thinking, who’s that girl with two types of whipping cream in the house, but no milk…)

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