Pumpkin pie smoothie

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Mmmm…..pumpkin. So since I had some pumpkin leftover from yesterday’s delicious pumpkin muffins, I decided this morning I was going to make a pumpkin latte so start Friday of right. Being as I had this idea as I sipped my nearly empty morning coffee, I decided perhaps the pumpkin latte would have to wait until tomorrow. A healthy pumpkin smoothie it would have to be instead.

I am a huge fan of breakfast smoothies, especially with oats as it makes them a bit more substantial and healthy too. This got me thinking – wouldn’t a pumpkin pie smoothie be a great breakfast for Thanksgiving? A fairly odd thought for me since my family never….never had breakfast on holidays. Ok, maybe as kids my mom gave us breakfast, but as adults, breakfast wasn’t done.  Now I’m sure you thinking that is odd. Well if you have ever spent a holiday with my family you would completely understand and possibly skip dinner the night before too. I have a wonderful, large, Italian family. Holidays are marathons, with more food than you can possibly imagine. I grew up thinking that was how everyone spent holidays. Around 30 people, several courses, including pasta (of course!) along with at least 10 different desserts (as everyone always decided to bring a dessert in addition to what they were already bringing). Holidays were heaven. Lots of family and lots of food. And on my father’s side, lots of homemade wine too. It wasn’t actually until my husband visited for New Years many years ago when we were at University that I realized our family was fairly unique. I remember that New Years Day vividly (New Years Day is like a repeat of Christmas Day in my family) – my mom had decided she would cut back on the food since there is always too much. We would stick to hors d’oeuvres, antipasti, and dessert. Yet there still was Nonna’s delicious lasagna. Joe was a bit overwhelmed. Aside from meeting my large Italian family all at once, after an eventful New Years Eve I might add, there was more food and eating than he had ever experienced on a holiday. So that was our ‘pared down’ holiday – what would a full blown one be like? Well, he has of course now experienced that, as have my in-laws, and needless to say, they now understand why we skip sitting down to breakfast. Besides, it is much more delicious in my mind to have a nibble of antipasti and other enticing things as we prepare them. Quality control, after all.

That being said, my father has always wanted a little something for breakfast. My mom and I have always tried to give him something light and healthy, since there is a day full of eating ahead. Here is where my pumpkin smoothie comes in. My parents are coming to Paris this year for Thanksgiving. And while our ‘spread’ won’t be nearly like a holiday with 30 people, there will still be a plethora of food. It is Thanksgiving, after all. What better way to start the day, then with a taste of Thanksgiving in a glass? I’m hoping he and Joe, breakfast traditionalists, will like it.  I may keep a batch of pumpkin muffins on hand anyway, just in case!

Pumpkin pie smoothie

(makes 1 smoothie)

  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 oats
  • 1/2 tsp pain d’épices mix (a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of a clove will do or whatever you like in your pumpkin pie)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 small coconut yogurt (I used Perle de lait, my favorite)
  • 1/8 – 3/4 cup semi-skimmed milk (to thin)

Pop it all in the blender. Add more milk as needed to desired thickness. Enjoy!

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Cinnamon-sugar spiced pumpkin muffins

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There is something to be said for getting your day started early, or so I’m told anyway. I don’t really do mornings all that well. However, since I couldn’t sleep this morning, I decided I might as well get up, seeing as it was clearly a morning for muffins. Pumpkin muffins, to be precise.

One of the many things I love about the autumn is the flavors – it is the season for pumpkin everything in my mind. I have been stock piling my pumpkin stash, reluctant to use it all up to soon since it isn’t readily available here. Sure I can roast an actual pumpkin and purée it, but that doesn’t really allow for on a whim pumpkin treats. With Thanksgiving right around the corner and my stash still in good supply, I decided it was definitely time for more pumpkin goodies.

So pumpkin muffins it was. I did a quick search and scanned the first recipe I came across. It would do, with a few alterations.*

The result was delicious and perfect with some freshly brewed coffee. The whole apartment smelled heavenly – a great way to drag my husband out of bed on a rainy morning and make an early start bearable.

Cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I use type 65 which is close to all-purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 heaped teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Pain d’epics spices (a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, ginger, cardamom, & star anise).
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/3 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar plus
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar + 1 tsp cinnamon (to top)
  • Pecans

Heat oven to 190°C (about 375°F). I use a non-stick muffin pan, so just spray it with a bit of oil to prevent sticking. No need for muffin liners.

Stir or whisk together the dry ingredients, reserving 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tbs sugar.

Whisk together the eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, mashed banana, and pumpkin. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until just combined. Divide batter among muffin cups (each about 3/4 full or until you fill 12 cups). Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture and top with a pecan.

Bake on 190°C (about 375°F) for 20 minutes and revel in the delightful scent that fills your home. Enjoy!

*Note: The original recipe called for oil and 1 1/2 cups sugar, less baking soda, different spices and no nuts. I like to make muffins healthier and these did not disappoint. The banana adds moisture and sweetness, eliminating the need for oil and most of the sugar. 

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Sometimes you just need pancakes

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After a much earlier than usual start this morning, I woke up and decided I would start the day with fresh banana bread. It was that sort of morning. Only to find that when I went into the kitchen this morning, I no longer had the very ripe bananas I had been saving for this purpose. Husband strikes again – every now and again he goes on a cleaning/reorganizing streak and potentially the kitchen is the victim. While this is lovely, I occasionally loose things or can no longer find things as a result. Such was the fate of my bananas. Luckily, we had gone to the market this weekend, and I had a bowl of apples begging to be used. Apple pancakes it was.

I haven’t actually made apple pancakes in years, but with Joe off to London early this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Some days you just need pancakes.

This was a fairly experimental recipe, and a divergence from the pancakes I usually make, but it was just the sort of mood I was in. And I’m pleased to say it turned out delightfully. I fit denser than my typical pancakes, but delicious and indulgent. Next time I might separate the egg and whip the white separately so it is light and fluffy.

Apple cinnamon pancakes

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 c greek yogurt
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 1 c. flour (I use Type 65)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp lavender honey
  • 2-3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla seeds (I used dried seeds, but you could use vanilla extract or open a vanilla pod, or omit entirely)
  • 1-2 tsps rum*
  • 1-2 drops lemon extract
  • 2 apples, grated

*A slightly unorthodox ingredient, but I had a few tablespoons of rum begging to be used after I made vanilla extract recently with a few of the vanilla pods we brought back from Bora Bora for the purpose). I’m looking forward to using it in my holiday baking.

Beat the egg with the yogurt, milk, honey. lemon and rum. Combine the dry ingredients and add to the egg mixture. The mixture will likely be fairly dense, but will loosen nicely once you add the grated apple. It doesn’t look so pretty, but it will be.

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Cook in a non-stick pan over medium heat, flipping when the edges start to firm up.

The only thing I missed with these was chunks of apples – next time I think I will go back to cutting the apple into chunks, or at least one of them because I like the texture. Grating them not only smells heavenly, but keeps them nice and moist.

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I enjoyed this with a hot cup of Mariage Frères Paris Breakfast tea. One of my favorites and a lovely way to start the day.

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A little Sunday indulgence and experimentation

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Baguettes in France are part of daily life – everyone stops on their way home for a fresh baguette. You will of course see many a person walking around with a fresh baguette with a bite missing from the top. Its a custom we grown to love. Nothing compares to a bite from a fresh baguette, hot out of the oven. I love taking visitors to our boulangerie and having them sample a hot, fresh, baguette. Steamy on soft on the inside with a light, crispy crust. Perfection. The look on their face and sounds of enjoyment say it all. “Wow. Its just so much better than at home” they all say. I didn’t have an obsession with bread until we moved here – in fact could hardly eat it. That has certainly changed.

My husband has been begging me to try to make baguette pretty much since we moved to Paris. I have argued that there is no need while we practically live above a wonderful boulangerie with delicious baguettes. However, as we get closer to having to leave this incredible city, a place we have called home for almost a year, his argument holds more weight. He is determined that we perfect the baguette before we go so it will be one less thing to miss – and while we still have the gold standard for comparison, of course.

So, I agreed. Especially as it was a Sunday and our boulangerie had been closed since Friday since it was a holiday here. Yes, there are other boulangeries in our quatier but we still prefer ours, and this seemed like as good of an opportunity as any. So we embarked on our first baguette make endeavor. Now, making a baguette isn’t particular difficult, but making a good baguette takes practice, and making a great one is an art. We searched for a few recipes and read suggestions from previous ‘best baguette’ in Paris winners. (Yes, there is a competition each year among with blind taste tests. This is serious stuff.) And came up with our recipe and method.

We decided to make an evening of it and had planned a meal around the eagerly anticipated baguette. Two of my favorite things are oysters and champagne – either together or separately is fine by me!). As it is the season for oysters now (months ending in ‘r,’ we are told) and the markets are abundant with them, we decided it was about time. Joe bravely shucked them (only sustaining a minor injury, I might add) and grabbed a bottle of champagne from the cave. Yet another benefit to living in France. Having a ‘cave’ (cellar) and being only an hour and a half drive to Champagne to stock up and fill said cave with exquisite and inexpensive Champagne. Who could complain?

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During our summer holiday in the South of France we had lunch at a wonderful little restaurant overlooking the water recommended by a friend (same lovely friend who brought a bottle of Hospices de Beaune Pommard). This little gem was Chez Hortense in Cap-Ferret . I still haven’t gotten around to writing about all of our adventures in the south, but will at some point, promise.

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The mussels at Chez Hortense are legendary and the secret recipe is protected. Seeing this as a challenge, as we enjoyed the lovely and very rich mussels, Joe and I kept track of what we tasted in order to attempt to recreate the pleasure at home. While we have our list, I decided to do a bit of a search, sure others had tried to recreate the recipe. Which they had, of course.  And what better to go with fresh baguette than some delicious moules?

For the moules, we started with a couple recipes that I found online, all very similar, and all of which we knew were definitely on the right track based on the ingredients. The ingredient list however, was much shorter than we thought, but I decided to start simple and we could later add ingredients in subsequent attempts. Chez Hortense blends everything together so no one element is particularly identifiable, and it gives the whole sauce a more homogenous texture and flavor. Our attempt was delicious, and while less rich than those at Chez Hortense, I preferred them. That being said, I’m sure I will make a few tweaks the next time.

  • 2 liters of mussels
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 2 slices of jambon de Bayonne (like proscuitto), finely chopped
  • 1 tbs. butter (I used butter with sea-salt)
  • 2 tsp. bread crumbs
  • 1 glass dry white wine preferable Bordeaux blanc sec (for steaming the mussels)

After cleaning the mussels thoroughly and removing any potentially dead ones, set them aside. Sauté the jambon and crushed garlic (I used a garlic press) in the butter with the breadcrumbs (about 5 minutes). You can add the chopped parsley here or wait until later if you like it fresher. Set aside. Steam the mussels in the white wine in a large pot until they are open (5-10 minutes). Once they are cooked, add the sauce and add the parsley if you haven’t already. Serve immediately, preferably with some hot baguette to sop up the lovely juices. Simple and delicious. I will probably make a few adjustments the next time in attempt to recreate those at Chez Hortense, but these were absolutely delicious as is and much lighter than the original so other than a personal challenge, I don’t really have a reason change a thing!

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And now to the baguette…

(Yields: 2 baguettes)

  • 375 g flour (Type 55)
  • 5 g fresh yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 215 g warm water (37ºC)

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and mix for 2 minutes in a mixer. Add the flour and the salt and mix with the dough hook until a ball is formed. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 3 hours). While we were waiting for it to rise, we nipped out to the jazz club. When it has risen, use a rubber spatula and turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Cut the dough in half using a pasty cutter. Take one half and form a rectangle. Fold the bottom up to the middle and then fold over again. Turn the dough over and using your hand make a valley all the way down the baguette then pinch the sides up over the valley and turn the baguette over. While you do this, roll it a bit to create the baguette shape. We followed this basic method .

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You can use a baguette mold, or fold baking paper to create a divide for each baguette, as we did. We also put a cast iron skillet with a glass of water in the oven while the baguettes were cooking, as most commercial ovens use steam to make baguettes. This was recommended by a winner of the best baguette in Paris to help the bread fully rise and delaying the formation of the curst, allowing for a thinner crust.

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Overall, this as a really good first effort. The baguette was a little denser than I would have liked, but the flavor and texture were good. Definitely a respectable first baguette. Next time I think I will use a slightly different method, sticking with the same recipe and see how it goes. Until then, I’ll be in search of techniques for perfecting my baguette.

Duck and lingonberry sauce

When I asked my husband what his favorite thing about being married was, he (half) joked ‘the food’. With the wealth of markets, there are wonderful fresh ingredients readily available, so I’m continually trying new things…and sometimes revisiting old favorites. This was a new recipe that has quickly become one of our favorites, especially with all the duck readily available here. The sauce and the duck is a prefect combination. I adapted it from a recipe I found on Epicurious, and now we have it on a fairly regular basis. It’s pretty easy, although it can be a bit messy and is sure to please!
Serves 2 with a generous amount of sauce. 
Ingredients:
2 duck breasts
         1/2 cup dry red wine
         7 oz low-salt chicken broth
         7 oz low-salt beef broth
         2 fresh thyme sprigs
         1 bay leaf
         3/4 tsp butter or substitute, room temperature
         3/4 tsp flour
         1/4 cup lingonberry preserves
       
For the sauce:
Bring wine, chicken broth, beef broth, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf to boil in heavy large saucepan. Boil until reduced to 1 cup, about 35 minutes. Mix butter and flour in small bowl to blend. Whisk butter-flour mixture into broth. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in lingonberry preserves; simmer 1 minute. Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf. (Sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm before serving.)
Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). Score skin of duck breasts in crisscross pattern (do not cut through to meat). Sprinkle duck with salt and pepper. Heat heavy large ovenproof skillet over high heat. Add duck breasts, skin side down, to dry skillet. Reduce heat to medium and cook until skin is golden brown, about 7 minutes. Turn duck over and transfer skillet to oven; roast to desired doneness, about 5 minutes for medium-rare. Using tongs, transfer duck to cutting board; tent with foil. 
I like to serve it over creamy polenta with a side of haricot verts.