My Grandmother’s Pear Cake

Le goûter is the afternoon snack kids are given when they come out of school around four. In my family, it is also called simply le thé, and is practically an institution. Around five on weekends, somebody will invariably ask “on fait le thé?” (alternatively “on prend le goûter?”). Cookies or cake (often home-baked by my mother) will be served, washed down by liters of tea. It is a habit I am very fond of, and one that I am always happy to indulge in when I can.

The resulting cake is golden, buttery and incredibly moist, light and fruity, with a slightly crusty edge, and it is very hard to stop at just one slice.

And so, when my dear friend Marie-Laure came over pour le goûter on Sunday, I baked a cake.

I used a family standby called Gâteau de Mamy. As the name implies, this is my grandmother’s recipe, which she calls “Gâteau d’Ella” because it was her dear friend Ella’s recipe originally. It is anybody’s guess what Ella called it.

It is actually what is called an upside down cake, meaning that you lay fresh fruit at the bottom of the cake pan, and then pour the dough on top. Sort of a cake equivalent to the tarte tatin. It works with a variety of fruit : apples, apricots, plums… Here, I used 6 small pears, of three different varieties.

The resulting cake is golden, buttery and incredibly moist, light and fruity, with a slightly crusty edge, and it is very hard to stop at just one slice. But if you do and there are leftovers, the reward will be that this cake tastes even better the next day.

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Cheeseburgers with a Twist

Cheeseburger

Reading the article on DIY Diner Food over at Digs Magazine put me in the mood for burgers, so that went on the menu for lunch on Sunday.

For the patties, I used 150g (5 1/3 ounces) lean ground beef, in which I mixed a chopped shallot, a large handful of chopped fresh herbs (I had basil and tarragon, both home-grown, as well as flat-leaf parsley), a spoonful of chopped capers, and liberal amounts of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and black pepper. This I shaped into two patties that were seared in the skillet. After flipping them the first time, I sprinkled salt on them and laid slices of Beaufort on top so they’d have just enough time to melt.

The burgers were then assembled on toasted sesame buns with lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, ketchup, and mustard, then served with tomato halves sprinkled with fleur de sel.

Not what I would call a traditional Sunday lunch, but delicious and oh-so-satisfying.

Sardine Harissa Polar Bread Sandwich

Or : The Return of the Polar Bread Sandwich

I made myself another yummy sandwich on polar bread for lunch today. This time, the filling was this : a can of quality sardines packed in olive oil (drained and patted with paper towels), a shallot – chopped with my friend the chef knife, a handful of flat parsley – chopped with my other friend the mezza-luna, 100 g of cottage cheese, a small spoonful of harissa (this is a red chili garlic paste from Tunisia), salt and pepper. Mash all this together with a fork, spread on one slice of polar bread, top with the other, and cut in halves.

This filling is a variation of the “Mousse de sardine à la harissa” recipe from my cookbook “Moi, je cuisine solo ou duo”. I have made it a few times in the past and people have raved about it. It involves the same ingredients (except a “petit suisse” – a small carton of plain thick yogurt – is used instead of the cottage cheese), but it is mixed in the food processor. I would call it a spread rather than a mousse, really, and it is delicious scooped with crackers or veggie sticks, or as a filling for flaky dough dumplings.

Like Caramels au Beurre Salé, only Spreadable

Like Caramels au Beurre Salé, only Spreadable

The other day, I was walking up the avenue d’Italie in the 13th arrondissement – I was coming back from the information meeting for a singing class I may take – and I noticed a bakery named “Le Grenier à Pain”. It was very inviting, so I walked in. I didn’t need or want to buy bread or pastries, you see, but I like to look anyway. I do the same thing with any food store or restaurant, looking at the menu, taking a look around, asking about hours of opening and about the business, making a mental note of places worth visiting again should the opportunity arise.

I have learnt not to feel intimidated that I am not buying anything. I will explain with a smile that I’m just looking around, sometimes adding a compliment about how good the place looks. More often than not, the person will be friendly (possibly flattered), tell me to take my time and be more than happy to answer my questions. I thank them as I leave, and tell them I will definitely come back (if I mean it). And sometimes, when I do return, they remember me and it’s as if I’d been a faithful customer for years. Sometimes this even works with impossibly grumpy salespeople : being unswervingly polite and amicable somehow breaks their pattern and they turn a milder flavor of grumpy, or even sometimes plain nice. Not a 100% rate of success, but worth giving a try.

In any case, this bakery was very nice : the bread looked good, they had samples on the counter, and the baked goods seemed scrumptious. They also had a variety of other food products displayed on the wooden shelves that lined the walls : jars of fruit jam and compote, tea, flavored sugar, old-fashioned candy…

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Sun-dried Tomato Polenta Squares

Polenta Squares

This recipe is from the apéro section of the cookbook Mes petits plats 100% naturels, by Catherine Mandigon and Patricia Riveccio. In France, apéritif (also called l’apéro) is the general term for the drinks and savory nibbles you offer your guests before dinner. It is also a widespread custom to invite people over just for l’apéro, which is a more casual way to entertain than a full-blown dinner invitation. French cookbooks often include a whole section devoted to that mini-meal. I particularly enjoy making amuse-bouches (or amuse-gueules), something about making a platterful of identical miniature cute bites really appeals to me (my Hello Kitty side, I guess).

Here’s how to make these polenta squares.

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