May 2014 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month in 2014, I will be offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

As a new feature this year, the desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for May is a picture of radishes with beurre maître d’hôtel, a classic compound butter flavored with shallot and parsley, for which I’ve included a recipe in my upcoming book on French idioms, EDIBLE FRENCH.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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Meal Planning Tips and Tricks

I never dreamed I would one day become a meal planner.

For years and years, planning meals sounded achingly dull to me, and also pointless: I just kept a well-stocked pantry and fridge, and spontaneity was my middle name. In truth, I did formulate a plan for the fresh stuff I bought, but it was a fluid, unwritten one that was often altered or nixed when something came up, or I changed my mind, or I was short on time, or we felt like eating out.

And then, I had a kid.

I stuck to the same non-system for months, until I eventually realized it was no longer working for me. Rather than enjoying the delicious freedom of improvised cooking, as I had since my early twenties, I was feeling stressed trying to find time for meal preparation between work and child, and worst of all frustrated that I always seemed to be in a rush, cooking basic things that required no forethought and gave me no sense of accomplishment.

My cook’s soul was shriveling up, and meal planning was the obvious solution. A few months later, I am a much happier and more serene cook. I don’t plan our meals in writing every week — sometimes the mental plan is enough for me to wing it — but doing so regularly enough has helped me regain a sense of peace and control in the kitchen.

How I Do It

First of all, I only plan for meals I take with Maxence — my lunches are either simply assembled at home or eaten out — and in my household, breakfasts, desserts, and snacks can be trusted to happen satisfyingly without the need for planning.

I draw up my meal plan on Mondays, after I uncover the contents of my weekly vegetable delivery, and I also take into account:

  • A quick inventory of pantry or freezer items that I feel like (or need) using, plus leftover ingredients or dishes from the previous week (say, a container of homemade stock, some pesto, a few scraps of dough…),
  • The current list of things I’m inspired to cook,
  • A rough schedule for the upcoming week, to know when we’ll be eating in or out or having guests over, on which nights I’ll have time to cook, etc.

I give it a think, look through my recipe collections online and offline, do some research as needed for extra information or inspiration, and come up with:

  • A list of dishes and the days on which I plan to cook them, factoring in leftovers nights and wildcard meals (see below), and outlining what part(s) of those menus should work for our two-year-old,
  • A list of advance prep steps that can or should be done the day before (cleaning vegetables, soaking chickpeas, mixing the dough for a pizza or quiche crust, taking an item out of the freezer to thaw…),
  • A shopping list of missing ingredients, with the days I’ll be needing them so I know when to go to which shop.

This gives me a clear picture of what I need to do and when, so I can squeeze prep steps wherever they most readily fit in my schedule.

Read on for more on the 9 benefits and 7 “Yes, buts” of meal planning.

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April Favorites

A few of my favorite finds and reads for April:

~ How to juice without a juicer (as illustrated above). I plan to try this and strain the pulp using one of my mesh produce bags.

~ Should you name your kid Mizuna, or maybe Sriracha?

~ Paris will soon get its very first micro-distillery.

~ I am honored to be included in this Gastro 30 list of thirty 30-somethings that make the French food scene.

~ Les Gueules cassées, a French initiative to distribute imperfectly shaped fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown out.

~ The April/May issue of Vegetarian Times includes three recipes of mine for vegetable tagines: spicy eggplant and egg tagine, spring vegetable tagine, and sweet potato and pomegranate tagine.

~ This freegan restaurant in Paris recycles unsold produce from the Rungis central market.

~ I shared Paris insight and inspiration for Ten-Q Magazine.

~ The 30-million-euro project that could change the face of Paris for food enthusiasts.

~ The zero-waste restaurant, coming to you from Chicago, and the zero-packaging grocery store, coming to you (soon) from Berlin.

Greens and Walnut Quiche

For the past couple of months, my weekly vegetable allotment has included big bags of salad greens, oftentimes the scratchy and flavorful kind such as frilly mustard leaves or peppery mizuna or a mix of both.

We love to eat those dressed in a classic vinaigrette or a cooked shallot vinaigrette. But there’s only so much salad even I can eat before green tendrils start growing out of my ears — and only so many days these greens can spend in the crisper before they lose their pert. So I devised this quiche recipe to use up a bunch of them, with some walnuts thrown in for extra crunch and flavor.

There’s only so much salad even I can eat before baby green tendrils start growing out of my ears, so I devised this recipe to use up my greens.

I make this quiche of greens with my trusty and beloved olive oil tart crust: I drape it over and into a deep tart ring to produce a petite but thick quiche, which I find attractive. Such tart rings are available from professional cooking and baking supplies stores — I believe I got mine from E. Dehillerin — but if you don’t have that on hand, a regular pie or quiche pan will work just fine.

So far I’ve kept this quiche vegetarian, but the addition of crumbled bacon, no-additives lardons sautéed until crisp, or torn strips of leftover roast chicken wouldn’t hurt one bit.

As a bonus, this recipe will leave you with scraps of olive oil tart pastry, which I recommend you upcycle into cornmeal crackers. Spread out thinly using cornmeal instead of flour to prevent sticking, cut into diamonds with a pizza wheel (a tip from Estérelle) or scalloped dough cutter (I use my grandmother’s, with a wheel made of bone), sprinkle with salt, and bake until lightly browned.

Join the conversation!

Do you ever find yourself with a glut of greens, and if so, how do you deal with it when you tire of salads?

Greens and Walnut Quiche

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Buckwheat Speculoos Cookies

If you keep an eye on my Favorites of the Month posts, which naturally I recommend you do, you may remember me featuring some organic and gluten-free cookies made in Belgium by a small company named Generous: a friend had kindly refered them to me, and they had offered to send samples my way.

I was impressed by the delicate, sandy texture they managed to create for their sablés — not so easy with gluten-free baked goods — and I love that they chose to use buckwheat flour, and embrace its bold flavor.

The simpler-shaped cookies had just as much snap and flavor as their more ornate counterparts.

The buckwheat notes work especially well in their speculoos, an emblematic spice cookie that is typically baked in the north of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and parts of Germany. But the popularity of the speculoos has vastly outgrown these borders, and it is hugely popular all over France now, where it is often slipped on the saucer of espresso cups in cafés and restaurants (and often much needed to make the acrid coffee palatable).

When I saw how quickly that sleeve of buckwheat speculoos was inhaled in my household, I was inspired to revisit my own speculoos recipe, substituting buckwheat flour for half of the wheat flour (and decreasing the amount of sugar a little bit while I was at it).

I also took this opportunity to use the special speculoos molds that friends of mine brought me back from Alsace some time ago: before speculoos became a year-round treat, they were traditionally made during the Advent and given seasonal shapes — in my case, a crane and a Saint-Nicholas figure — by pressing the dough into finely carved wooden molds.

Buckwheat Speculoos -- Dusted molds

I confess I was a little sceptical about these: how could the dough possibly take on such an intricate shape, unmold without tears, and bake without all the details getting fudged? But I was amazed to see that, with proper flouring and no leavening agent in the dough (which my recipe didn’t call for anyway) all three bases were covered effortlessly.

I was intent on using these pretty molds, especially as I thought it might amuse my two-year-old to nibble on an oiseau and a monsieur (it did), but once I’d convinced myself that it worked and that the cookies were pretty indeed, I reverted to the much quicker slice-and-bake method.

Luckily, these simpler-shaped cookies had just as much snap and flavor as their more ornate counterparts.

Speculoos are lovely with a cup of tea or coffee — dipping is allowed, and even encouraged — but they are also the perfect companions to a fruit salad, or a compote of stewed or roasted fruit. They are also the cookie crust component of choice for French bakers who want to make cheesecake — no graham crackers in supermarkets this side of the Atlantic — and they make a pretty spectacular ice cream, too.

Buckwheat Speculoos -- Molded, post-baking

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