Semi-Dried Tomatoes

Tomates Mi-Séchées

[Semi-Dried Tomatoes]

Remember how I mentioned buying a bottle of balsamic vinegar and some coriander anchovy tapenade at the balsamic vinegar tasting the other day? Well, I lied.

I also got a little bag of semi-dried tomatoes, moist and plump.

They come in a sealed package which seems to protect them well because the best-by date is in June — of 2005. The suggested uses include adding them to sandwiches, salads, pasta, risotto, stews, terrines, quiches and pizzas. Talk about leaving no stone unturned! Now all I have to do is make up my mind and decide what to do with them. Ah, choices choices choices…

The label is very promising, describing them as moelleuses (mellow), goût intense (intense flavor) and sans conservateurs (preservative-free).

But the best part, is this : “Ingredients : Tomates.”

Pissaladière

Pissaladière

Pissaladière is a specialty from Nice, in the South of France. It’s an onion tart with black olives and anchovies, on a thin pizza-like dough. The name comes from “pissalat“, a condiment made with pureed anchovies, cloves, thyme and bay leaves, which was spread on the tart before baking.

The name has taken on a somewhat looser meaning in my family, and we use it to mean any Mediterranean-style onion tart, not necessarily involving anchovies. My mother, sister and I made one during our Easter week-end in the mountains, and served it with a salad, dressed with what is now my father’s signature vinaigrette.

We were all delighted with the way it turned out : it is hard to go wrong with an onion tart, but the addition of pesto, tomatoes and olives (although un-traditional when it comes to the tomatoes and pesto) really makes it outstanding.

Ours did not include anchovies (which we like, but just didn’t have on hand), but you can add some if you’d like. Traditional recipes recommend anchovy fillets in brine, rather than those in oil. They should be rinsed well before using, and you should then omit the salt on the other ingredients. If you use anchovies packed in oil, drain them on a paper towel to absorb the oil.

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Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns

My family has always been very fond of British baked goods. Marks & Spencer’s has sadly closed off all their French stores, but when it was still around [deep sigh of nostalgia], we were their most faithful customers for English muffins, crumpets, mince-meat pies and hot cross buns, to be enjoyed with tea in the afternoon.

Only recently did I find out that hot cross buns were a traditional Easter pastry. Since I was spending the week-end with my parents and sister in our vacation house in the mountains, I suggested we try and bake some, following the recipe which Mariko had successfully used.

It was a lovely baking project to take on over a week-end : the recipe isn’t difficult in itself, but you have to start the day before, and I have found that the waiting periods between the active steps force you to slow down your pace. And this is really what that kind of getaway is about in the first place, no?

This kind of recipe also builds a nice sense of anticipation, which culminates in the eating. And when it turns out great, which it did, it is very rewarding : although the dough did not rise as much as it should have, our hot cross buns looked lovely in that home-made fuzzy way, and tasted exactly like we hoped they would. To say that we were proud as a new mom would be an understatement. Straight and fresh from the oven, they are a real treat, so good that they don’t even need butter or jam on them. But that is, of course, up to you.

This happened to be my first time working with yeast (as opposed to baking powder) and to tell you the truth, I find it somewhat nerve-wracking : will the dough rise, or will it not rise? I’ll admit I actually dreamt about it during the night. I think I really need a longer vacation.

Two things to note : the buns didn’t rise as much as they should have, and my mother’s diagnosis is that the dough was too moist because we didn’t use enough flour (I corrected the amount in the recipe below). Also, we used our favorite cookie glaze recipe, which tastes great but is very light in color, so next time I may try to make a thicker glaze, so that it forms a nice white cross on top.

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Punk Leek

Punk Leek

It might have become apparent by now that leek is pretty high on my top-5 list of vegetables.

The playful way in which it hides lumps of dirt between its leaves, reminding you how freshly from the earth it comes ; the distinctive sound of the knife, cutting through the layers when you chop the whites ; the sweet oniony taste, so good it hardly needs any seasoning ; the soft, moist, velvety texture it takes on when you cook it over gentle heat, slowly.

And really, how could anyone resist a vegetable with such a groovy haircut?

Joyeuses Pâques!

Joyeuses Pâques!

In my family, we don’t celebrate Easter in a religious way. Unless, of course, you consider a strong taste for chocolate to be a religion of sorts. Which I do.

My sister and I have received chocolate gifts from our parents for Easter every year since we were little. The traditional gift in France is a hollow chocolate shell, shaped like an egg, hen, duck, rabbit or bell, and filled with other confections : small pieces of chocolate shaped like fish and called friture (friture literally means something fried, but it is also the name of the tiny fried fish they serve in the South of France and which those little chocolates are meant to represent), praline-filled eggs, tiny eggs filled with liquor, chocolate-covered pieces of nougatine… This all comes in a characteristic cardboard box with a handle, decorated with Easter-themed illustrations, and which a little girl can recycle in a thousand ways.

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