Fête d’automne – Recipes and Photos

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I promised I would add recipes and photos to my Autumn Feast post, so here we go. At least two recipes I used weren’t the best, and I blame the fact that some recipes simply don’t translate very well into “vegan.” But, the star of the entire “Thanksgiving Feast” was hands down the Gougeres, both traditional and vegan versions. Second place only by a very slim margin was the Filet Mignon with black pepper sauce. My garlic aioli was also vastly wonderful. The peas in lettuce cups recipe cried for real butter, so I wasn’t terribly pleased with the vegan version, even though it was amazingly imroved with a small blob of aioli (honestly, what isn’t?) I loved the Carrots Vichy although they weren’t a hit with Kaitlyn. I made two different potato gratins and both were quite good. (I think I’m not a big fan of gratins, preferring dairy-free mashed potatoes…) The French onion soup was super good — although a tad on the sweet side because I ended up using more wine and only a smidgen of beef stock (Kaitlyn doesn’t like beef). My pie crust came out pretty, although I have yet to taste the final dish as I didn’t get around to making it yesterday. It is presently in the oven, and if – ONLY IF – it comes out f__@#$ awesome will I bother with posting the recipe.  I just want to note for anyone beyond the borders of California that the weather here for the last several days has been unseasonably hot.  The end of November in most other parts of the Northern Hemisphere is autumn, but it was Australia here. 80’s-90’s with very low humidity. I’m surprised we didn’t have rolling blackouts! Cooking and baking when it’s that hot and you’ve got no A/C is just ..ugh. Fortunately, my kitchen and dining floors are tile and I ran a fan the entire day. Did I mention that the wine was fantastic?

I’ve decided to ONLY post my favorite components, and with these recipes you can make a spectacular meal any time you choose!

AIOLI

Ingredients: 4 cloves garlic peeled and chopped; 1 tsp. sea salt; 1 tsp. dijon; 1 egg yolk at room temp; 1/2 c. olive oil; 3 tsp. lemon juice; 1/8 tsp. cayenne (opt.); 1/2 tsp. ice water.  *Don’t skimp on the ingredients! Method: I used a mortar/pestle – and you will need a second person. Grind the garlic and salt until mostly smooth. Add dijon and grind until well blended. Add the egg yolk and grind until well blended. One tablespoon at a time, have your assistant add the olive oil while you blend continuously. As you near the end of the the 1/2 cup of oil, the volume of your aioli will have grown quite a bit. When all oil is blended, your aioli will be fluffy, add lemon juice and mix well, then the ice water. Continue mixing and taste to correct your seasonings. I added a bit more salt and a generous sprinkle of chopped thyme and parsley. Store in a ceramic crock covered with cling wrap.

 

GOUGERES (with dairy-free options)

Ingredients: 1/2 c. spring or filtered water; 3 tbs butter (vegan: coconut oil); 1/4 tsp. salt; 1/2 c. gluten free flour; 1/2 tsp. guar gum; 2 large eggs at room temp.; 3/4 c. grated cheese (I used gruyere, welsh cheddar and pecorino for the regular cheese, and Parmela Creamery’s Aged Nut Cheese in Mozzarella style for the vegan cheese); fresh cracked pepper to taste; at least 1 tbs. finely minced chives and parsley (opt.); and about 1/2 tsp. olive oil. You will also need a pastry bag. I don’t own one so I used a plastic ziplock bag and snipped off a corner. Method: preheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment, smear with the olive oil. Mix flour, salt and guar in a bowl. Pour water into a sauce pan, add butter (or coconut oil) – bring to a boil, whisking periodically. When water is boiling add flour mixture all at once and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon, mixing well. If you are using butter the “dough” will come together in ball. If you’re using coconut oil, it will be more crumbly. That’s okay! Take the pan off the heat and set aside to cool. I put mine in the fridge for 5 minutes because my kitchen was really hot. When the mixture is cool/warmish, break one egg into the pan and mix very well, then add the second egg and mix very well. Fold in cheese setting aside a small amount for sprinkling later, add herbs if using, and season with fresh pepper.  Spoon the mixture into your pastry bag. Squeeze about 2 tsp. worth into a circular blob, making at least two dozen evenly spaced blobs. Using a tiny bowl of water, dab your fingertip into the water so that you can smooth the tops of each “puff.”  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of each puff. Bake on the top rack at 425 for 5 minutes then lower heat to 375 and bake 20-25 minutes until golden.  Neither version will stick to the paper, so you can scoop them up with a spatula and lay in a tea towel covered basket or serving bowl.

Filet Mignon au Poivre

Earlier in the week, I made a beef stock using store-bought beef bones, celery, onion, carrots and garlic, cooked down and strained through cheese cloth. You can use your favorite broth. Ingredients: 1 tbs cracked pepper, 3 tbs of olive oil or butter, salt, 1/4 c. broth, 1/4 c. red wine, 1/4 cup of coconut cream (or regular cream), 1 tbs. finely chopped shallot, and 1 tbs. chopped parsley or chives. I am also blessed to have a Le Creucet skillet. I bought two filets that were actually quite large (roughly 6″x4″x2.5″) and brought them to room temp. I did not season them, except for a sprinkle of salt after cooking. Method: Heat the skillet (dry) until very hot (water drops will vaporize) and place the steaks in the skillet and cover/cook for 4-6 minutes depending on how thick the meat is. In the famous words of my father, only turn meat once! The meat will stick a little, but fear not. A spatula will loosen them just fine. Turn the meat and cook at least 4-6 more minutes for rare. I don’t cook medium rare, or medium, or well done so if you want your meat that way, you will have to figure out the time. Remove the steaks to a serving platter and sprinkle with salt. Turn the heat down and add up to 3 tbs. olive oil (or butter), pepper and shallots. Stir cook for a minute or so. Add the wine and cook another few minutes. Add the broth and the cream and cook until bubbly, stirring constantly. Season with salt and sprinkle in chopped herbs. Pour into serving dish (i.e. gravy boat.)  Apologies for the poor quality picture!

Potato Gratin Dauphinois

I’m including this as an optional item. As mentioned above, I am personally a much bigger fan of my mashed potatoes. If you would prefer to go on the lighter side, I recommend a butter lettuce salad (red butter lettuce is in the picture above).  Ingredients: 1/2 tsp. olive oil, 2 large russet potatoes, washed and peeled. 2/3 c. coconut cream, 1/3 c. coconut milk, 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped; 1/4 onion, sliced thin; 1 tbs chopped thyme, 1 tbs chopped chives, and approx. 3/4 c. shredded cheese (or vegan cheese); 1 tsp. guar gum; fresh black pepper and salt to taste.  Method: Preheat oven to 350 and grease a small square gratin pan with olive oil. Slice the potatoes into thin rounds and layer onto paper towels to dry. In a small sauce pan, heat the cream and milk with guar until warm. Layer your gratin in this order: single layer of potatoes, sprinkle with salt, garlic, pepper, herbs and cheese. Continue the layers until you have run out of potatoes. Pour warm milk over the potatoes and top with a last sprinkle of cheese, salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes then leave to stand until ready to serve. Add fresh thyme as garnish.  Two are pictured below, vegan cheese on the left, regular cheese on the right.

Carrots Vichy

I love this recipe! I will make it again and again, no doubt. I bought a pound of whole organic carrots from Whole Foods, but as there was so much other food, I decided to only use 3 of the largest carrots. The secret to this recipe is mineral water. I used S. Pellogrino. Ingredients: 1 bottle of mineral water, 1 pound fresh carrots, 1 tsp. olive oil, 1 tbs. port (I used a California dessert port called Evenus), 1/4 tsp. salt, 1 lemon wedge (de-seeded), 1 tbs. chopped thyme and parsley, or more to taste. Method: Peel your carrots with a potato peeler and slice on the diagonal. Place carrots into a sauce pan with a lid and just cover them with the mineral water, bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes. Pour carrots into a strainer, discarding the water. Return pan to heat and add oil. When hot, add carrots and toss to coat, add salt and port. Stir/cook until carrots are golden. Transfer to serving dish, spritz with lemon and garish with fresh herbs.

And there you have it! If you want the French Onion Soup recipe, let me know. It really was lovely. I served it without the baked bread and cheese because there was already too much starch and cheese on our plates!

Bon appetit!

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Fete d’automne

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November always brings quintessential food items to the shops as American families across the country gear up for Thanksgiving. I grew up on this tradition and assisted my mom as she baked pies, roasted a turkey and made cornbread stuffing from scratch. And so it continued throughout the years until I had my first child in 1994. For two or three years, Cara was little more than a passive observer of the feast and probably only ate tiny samples of whatever was on offer. But within a couple more years, she and I were in California on our own and thus began a slow exodus from “tradition.” My second daughter, Kaitlyn (now 16) has no love of turkey or stuffing (although I remain one of the finest creators of mashed potatoes and Southern cornbread stuffing on the west coast.) This year, at the request of Kaitlyn, our menu will be French influenced. Keep in mind that we are a gluten-free household and sans dairy, with only minor exceptions for Kaitlyn in terms of cheese. I will use vegan cheese, plus a little real cheese for Kaitlyn. Everything will be made from scratch. Recipes and pictures will follow in a later post.

VIVE LA FRANCE!

Appetizer:

  • Gougeres

Le cours de la soupe:

  • French Onion Soup

Le plat principal:

  • Croque Monsieur
  • Filet Mignon au Poivre Sauce

Plat d’accompagnement:

  • Potato Gratin Dauphinois
  • French peas with butter lettuce
  • Carrots Vichy

Condiment:

  • Garlic Aoili

Dessert:

  • French apple tart

Cheers!

8 November 2017

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Surgery has been accomplished! I have good news, although I have to say that the entire ordeal has raised more questions than it answered.  Firstly, the OB/GYN used a tubal camera to view my left ovary and saw that there was no cyst. Had I been awake for this procedure, I would have reminded him that just a week ago I had experienced sharp pains there and had called his office fearful that the cyst had ruptured. Remember that one of the top two reasons for going forward with surgery was that if there was even just one malignant cell hiding in the cyst, then that cell would be released into the cavity and cancer would spread.  In fact, the top reason for taking the ovary was to prevent accidentally releasing cystic fluid during the surgery, and reduce the risk of spreading potentially bad cells.  After looking at my ovary, he concluded that the cyst resolved in some way –or the ultrasound was wrong to begin with. Occam’s Razor.

Because there were no remaining cysts, the doctor decided to leave the ovaries intact. He speculates that whatever cysts had been there previously were “old, slow growing cysts,” and that my now post-menopausal ovaries shouldn’t produce any more. I think I was more stunned by that decision more than anything, because The Original Plan was to prevent a future chance of developing ovarian cancer. Now I will have to be monitored for months to come to ensure that cancer doesn’t develop. I’m not particularly happy about that. Stamps feet, I wanted it to be over.

On the bright side: I survived surgery with no complications, I am at home resting comfortably, and the surgery bill won’t be as high. Another bright side is that I can obstensibly stop blogging about my health issues! Let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief!

4 November 2017

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Word of warning about this post: I’m in a weird rambling mood and have a lot on my mind.

Autumn has arrived. Halloween is over and the slate is wiped clean.  What I mean by that is I’ve erased all the sketches on my white boards at work. People have asked me to draw something Thanksgiving-ish, but I don’t like that holiday. I’ll come up with something.

Along with my recent health issues, there have been several other things going on with my family that have caused some stress. As a result, I’ve been having nightmares. One nightmare was where both Cara and Kaitlyn died in car crash. This was a particularly awful nightmare and it left me emotionally fragile and grumpy at work the next morning. Then later that same morning (yesterday) I found out my half-sister Phyllis Ann passed away.  This hardly feels real.

I don’t know her exact age, but she was somewhere in her late 70’s and had recently been diagnosed with dementia. I wasn’t close to her, in fact the first and only time we ever met was here in Southern California. It had been a wonderful day where I sat with her and her husband Dave at a teahouse near Carlsbad and tried to catch up on life. She was born to my father and his first wife. He was always fond of her and proud of her accomplishments. He kept in contact with her and her husband Dave, even though they had moved to New Jersey eons ago. Prior to retirement, they ran a successful business creating media for corporations and managing talent, and Dave was himself an actor. He is still a member of the guild I believe. It saddens me deeply that we were never close, but I will always cherish what memories I have of her. It also saddens me that I may end up being flat on my back, recovering from surgery, instead of traveling for her funeral services. Speaking of, I am learning that Dave himself is in very poor health and so there may be only a quiet service or none at all.

I am officially now just a few days away from surgery and I have to say I did pretty much everything I could think of to get out of it. The GP ordered the CA125 test, which thankfully came out negative. I had a very enlightening pre-op appointment with the OB-GYN, who insisted politely that I was “menopausal.” Honestly, I couldn’t say I had experienced a lot of symptoms. You know I had some night sweats a few years ago and some leg/foot/toe cramps, right? My hair and skin is dryer than it used to be. Is that it? Is that the big sum of it? I watched a co-worker suffer through intense hot flashes. While I was cursed with horrid monthly cycles and anemia the majority of my teenage/adult life, I think I got off easy in menopause. I still didn’t quite believe the doctor, because the big overarching question remained: why are my menopausal ovaries making cysts? We had a lengthy discussion about that and came to an interesting new conclusion regarding the mysterious right-sided pain symptoms: I must have had a cyst on the right ovary that had ruptured, BUT by the time I had the ultrasound done all of the fluid had been absorbed by my body, and thus there was no trace of it in the scans. Regardless, just to be sure, he ran the blood test to evaluate the exact state of menopause. The test results say I am 100% post-menopausal. Well, because there is a cyst, one that could rupture, or torse the ovary, or hide malignant cells, I definitely need the surgery.  Sucks, but there you are.

All of these past couple months, the idea of death in some form has been thrust into the spotlight. Two of my brothers have suffered ill health and have brushed close to their own deaths. Then the scary dreams, and now my sister is gone. It’s really brought home to me how little time we have in this existence. Life is fleeting. I literally wrote that on my white board Tuesday after I erased all the art.

What do people know of me? What would they say about me after I’m gone? Only a handful, I think, really know me deeply. I’ve always wanted my readers to be curious about not just the topics I write about, but who I am. Not once in nearly 10 years of this blog’s history has anyone asked why I named it Caffe M~Path. Today I will pretend you asked.

It started as an outlet for thoughts rattling around in my head and my desire for an online presence. I wanted the blog to be comforting, so designed it to resemble a coffee shop. I imagined my favorite coffees on the menu, a table that was either secluded in the back for private conversations or one seated in the sun. The blog’s atmosphere is a vague mix of metaphors: classic Italian names, British literature, and a few flavors of Australia. Possibly even more obscure is the word M~Path. I used the math symbol ~ which means “approximate to.” M refers to two things, one of which is M Theory, which is a string theory in quantum physics. Path refers to another physics term, “path length”.  The other side of the coin is M~Path is another way to say “empath.” Before I launch into an explanation for that, read This Link on quantum entanglement and string theory.  Quantum physics is easier to accept than “empath.” There is a difference between having or feeling empathy and being what is known as an empath. Are you up to more reading? Check This Link.  I liken being an empath to having empathy on steroids. I can’t say with any certainty that I am an empath, but I can say this: I have an unfortunate ability to suffer pain when I either know a person is hurt or hurting, or even at the idea of them hurting. I feel pain. It isn’t pain in the same place as theirs, or what is called mirror touch. It happens in certain parts of my body regardless of where their pain is located. If I am very emotionally close to a person, then I can often feel them from a distance. Our thoughts can be in sync. Sometimes my moods are affected by the mood of random people around me. This is particularly annoying at work if a co-worker is feeling panic. I don’t handle someone else’s panic very well. I have to shut myself off from feeling their panic. My only explanation for that is to think of quantum entanglement, and that may or may not be accurate, but I find comfort in thinking it is.

So there you are. The story of Caffe M~Path, a little bit of backstory on me, and if you clicked the links you learned something new.. maybe.