Monday, January 30, 2012

Bacon, Leek & Cheddar Quiche

Last Wednesday, with the kids and P-Daddy home for lunch, I decided to whip up a quick quiche.
I like to use Irish restaurant and gift shop, Avoca Handweavers, cafe's cookbook recipe for the custard.

If you're ever in Ireland and want a delicious, reasonably priced (this is harder to find than you'd imagine) lunch then head straight to the nearest Avoca.

They've a basic recipe for quiche custard that I always use and that always works.
All you have to do is make or buy the crust of your choice and decide what you want inside.

big kids in trees at avoca restaurant, ireland
I love the flexibility of quiche as well as how fast and easy it is to prepare a perfect family lunch.
Just add a green salad and everyone's happy. And satisfied.

Bacon, Leek & Cheddar Quiche

1 tblsp salted butter
2 leeks,white and light green parts only, well-cleaned and sliced
7 pieces of smoked bacon, sliced into matchstick pieces or a packet of lardons
1/2 cup, grated cheddar cheese or more if you prefer it cheesier
1 puff pastry, prepared and at room temperature

Custard #1, from Avoca
350 ml  or 1.5 cups cream
3 free range eggs, plus 2 extra yolks

Place the prepared pastry into your quiche or pie pan, put it on a baking sheet and set aside.

Cut your leeks in half, opening them up like a book and run water down the center.
Slice them into thin crescents, removing the tough outer skin.
Soften them gently over a medium heat in a tablespoon of salted butter. Don't let them brown.

Cut your slices of bacon into matchsticks and brown them over a low to medium heat. Drain them on paper towels and then mix into the leeks.

Meanwhile, make your custard.
Whisk the cream, I use full-fat or heavy cream because it just tastes so darn much better, and eggs until well blended. Add in the cheese, leeks and bacon. Fold gently until combined.

Pour this yumminess into your prepared pastry dish and bake for 40 minutes. It may be a bit wobbly in the center but don't worry. That's just the goodness of a homemade custard quiche.

mother's day 2009 at avoca handweavers, ireland
Enjoy with your family.
I love to serve a big, green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

When the Littlest Got a Haircut

The Littlest's hair is of the wispy, fine, straight variety. He used to look like this:
hi, sweet baby hair
I decided that I needed some professional help. I took him to the salon thinking I'd get it shaped up; wispy ends and long bangs hiding his beautiful blues, trimmed.

The hairstylist was a youngish woman, by youngish I mean less than 40, so younger than me.
I am not really a good judge of age though because I don't see myself in the true version of reality.
So.Youngish. Mid-30s.With the most gorgeous hair I've ever seen. It was thick, but not too thick. Long past her shoulders and straight, straight.

But not the way my, damn you genetics!!, hair looked the few times I've straightened it.
(Think wig or Nancy Grace.)

Hers looked healthy, like a 1000+ thread count Egyptian sheet of hair.

'Egyptian sheet has the perfect job for that hair', I thought. 'She must really know her stuff and I will entrust my Littlest's downy head of farine locks to her'.
I put him into the big chair, coaxed him to hold his head still and hoped for the best.

Egyptian sheet hair was brutal. I guess when your own hair is so perfect you have little patience for the likes of chick fur.

She, with scissors in one hand, comb in another, began to tut, harumph, and pfft. I could feel the 'incroyable!' as she combed through his mini-dreadlocks.
She pointed out one, two, three, four callicks, disgusted. The final number was to high to share. Apparently his entire head of hair is one big swirling, tornado.

As the number grew, so did her shoulder shrugging and pfffting.
It was like I was asking Padma to eat at McDo or Carla to date a plumber. Egyptian sheet hair had clearly never seen anything like the Littlest's locks.

'There is nothing I can do!', she decreed. 'Rien!'

Bye-bye went the scissors; out came the shears.

Little by little the baby chick hair flew away. It covered the floor, my coat, her perfect black sweater and fashionable high-heeled boots. With each sweep of the shears she pointed out another callick, as if insulted. 'La! la! LA!', harumph. Really. How could I expect her to work like this?

My Baby turned into a little boy before my eyes. A shorn, white fluff, swirl of hair was all that was left on his sweet, but very big, very square head.
'Il est un vrai garcon. It's better.', Egyptian sheet hair declared.

And now he looks like this:

you can see the 'cowlicks' from here!

Friday, January 27, 2012

French Cookbook Giveaway Winner!

au revoir!
Thanks everyone for entering, liking, tweeting and RTweeting. This was a great first contest for me. Maybe I'll do more! I'm thinking sudsy, smell good French soap.....

I put all of your names, some of you up to four times!, in the magic spinner and the one that came out on top was......

Lindsey Passaic Frank, the lovely newlywed in Paris. Have a look at the About page on her blog Greetings from the American Girl and read her life motto, “Everyone is about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”' and you will be as smitten with the American girl as her French mari.

I hope Msr Frank likes all the new and exciting appetizers you are going to prepare for him. No Ritz crackers in sight. Send me your details at conjugatingirregularverbs (at) gmail (dot) com and I will get your new French cookbook in la poste!

Bisous à tous,


Monday, January 23, 2012

French Cookbook Giveaway

My thing is cooking. Well, really my thing is eating.
And since I have three kids and therefore little desire to sit in restaurants with them more than is absolutely necessary, my thing has turned out to be cooking.

I do it because I get a hankering for something and just have to have it. Or maybe I've had something delicious in a restaurant one of the few times I get to go to one and want to make it at home so I can have it again and again. Or I get an idea from a book or see something beautiful at the market that is begging me to eat it.

Because of all of this, I like to buy cookbooks, read food blogs, stalk food television websites and watch shows like the French and English versions of 'Come Dine with Me'.

My stash of the French cooking magazine I obsessively buy when checking out (either online or in person) has grown into an unwieldy tower on my kitchen shelving.

imagine this on your own leaning tower
I've found that reading cookbooks and easy, fairly self-explanatory things in French has helped me along with the language. My culinary vocabulary is really quite impressive.

And so, to you. The reason I am writing this post in the first place. I want to give you something.

And since I have this cookbook/magazine thing going on I thought I'd give you a little piece of my obsession, um collection.

This cookbook is from a popular French series called 'MaraboutChef'.
They have all kinds of cookbooks; some on ethnic foods, others for children, some just full of get the idea.

The one I'm giving away is all about appetizers or 'apéros & mini-bouchées', which simply means starters and bite-sized nibbles. There's a section on party planning plus 20 delicious looking cocktails to try.
mmmm, cocktails!

It is in French. Repeat. French. But that's because I live in France and that's where I bought it.
You'll like it and find that it is really fun to peruse, learn and flex your French muscles.

puffs of herbs & mushrooms and cheese & olives
Now. If you would like to win my appetizer cookbook straight from the top of my leaning tower, then all you have to do is this:

1) For one entry please leave a comment with your favorite cocktail or appetizer nibble.You can share the recipe, I'll try to make it and maybe even post about it, crediting you. (love fest)

2) For two entries please 'like' my Facebook page or follow me @conjirregverbs on Twitter and either write on my wall or tweet me to let me know. A wall comment or tweet will count as a 2nd entry if you're already a liker and tweeter.

3) Imagine yourself serving up tasty and very stylish starters in little cups like the French love so much, pps 58-59.

I will put all your names in a big magic name spinner and share the great news.
The 'French Cookbook Giveaway' will come to a close at midnight my time on the Thursday, 26th of January. This way you can get your book for Valentine's Day and whip up a romantic French apéro!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Grocery Store Wars--Carrefour v. E.Leclerc

There are a few big grocery store chains here in France just like at home. Some are regional and some national and they all want you to spend your euro in their store. One of the ways they do this is by having a fidelity card that pays you back in % of what you spend. Do we have these in the States? See, I really just can't remember.

One of the best cards in my opinion is through  E.Leclerc. Does that name trigger something in your English speaking mind? What do you think of?
company logo

Would you see a big orange and blue sign saying, 'E.Leclerc' and think giant grocery store that is the only place to find yellow cheddar cheese in the Montpellier area? Or do you, like me, think, 'hmmm, sounds like the electric company.'?

It actually means lightning, kachow!, so you wouldn't be (or I wasn't) far off if that's what you thought. See, you're super smart and wordsy.

Back to groceries and the excitement that's been brewing around my little town. (Again, this may just be me.)

The E.Leclerc company of great fidelity card value struck out last year and installed a drive through grocery shopping experience just up the hill.
There's the big store you can go to and wander around looking at all the different types of goat cheese, pâté and white bean products, tout à fait.

But this is truly, spectacular. And even more than a little bit American.

What they've done is create an online shop, 'sure, whatever, everybody does that' is what you're thinking.
BUT. Does everybody have a warehouse with groovy bank looking drive through lanes, automated kiosks where you swipe your loyalty card and Pierre or Guillame who appear with a cart full of all you've ordered online?
They will then politely ask how many plastic bags you're returning in exchange for the ones that all your stuff is in, blip that on their electronic device and give you a recycling discount back onto your handy loyalty card. You'll get a look at your eggs to make sure they aren't cracked, say a little something in French like, "I'll put my eggs in the front with me." to which you get a smile and a 'Oooo, your accent is cute.' and then watch as all your bottled water, milk, canned cassoulet and lentils, toilet paper, laundry detergent and who'm I kidding?, boxed wine, get stashed in the trunk.

Are you jealous? Can you believe it? Do you have this in the Motherland?

The funny thing is they planted this grocery store of the future just next to the Carrefour of the olden days and I used to sit there letting flirty Guillame do all the work and glance over and shaking my head in despair for those poor suckers who were having to park, get out, do the whole euro coin for a trolley thing and then schlump around the aisles with screaming (well, they're French so they're not really screaming) toddlers in tow. Poor, poor shoppers of the past.

company logo

And then today. I saw it. Carrefour has erected their very own, very BIG awning bank drive through stylee grocery shopping experience. Right. Next. Door.
Carrefour has found some berries and they're flaunting it, laughing in the face of Msr Lightning and saying, 'Oui Msr, deux peuvent jouer à  ce jeu.'

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Horsey, Frosty French Mornings

It is pretty frosty and cold here these French mornings. When the kids are just headed to school, it's enough to fill them full of warm, cinnamony oatmeal, bundle them into coats, scarves and hats and send them trotting into their warm, toasty classrooms for the morning.
On Wednesdays however, in the case of Ma Fille it's the chilly stables not the warm classroom she's off to. This morning she wore her riding gloves and her pink jacket that I'll never be able to get the horsey smell out of.

As we drove the back roads through a local vineyard we oohed and aahhed at the beauty of the barren vines, cut back for the winter to resemble gnarled witch fingers with a dusting of white frost beneath. You could practically hear the crunch it would make if you were to take a stroll through them.
These Wednesday mornings are special to me and Ma Fille because we get to be alone. P-Daddy stays home with the boys so I can take her and stay and watch as she rides.

She was thrown before Christmas, breaking her helmet and hurting her shoulder and since then has wanted me to be there. She's not afraid anymore and has even ridden the throwing horse since, not letting it get the best of her, but a part of her feels safer I think if I'm there.

Just in case. Plus, I love to watch her and while I have the chance to ditch the tumbling, running, spinning energy of my boys, I'll take it.
Today they did pre-jumping exercises; standing on the stirrups, leaning way forward, leaning way back. It is wonderful to see your child blossom and while she has a bit of the awkward adolescent creeping into her movements, on the horse she is fluid, regal and elegant.

And when we got home Littlest turned the water hose on and blasted Clementine and her favorite digging hole with freezing water, Middlest couldn't find his tennis racket, hat or jacket and the kitchen floor was covered in muddy pawprints. Ah, bliss.

Happy Wednesday to you. What's your favorite thing to do on a frosty morning?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

P-Daddy Rocks My World

A bit of housekeeping today. Something that's been long overdue on my happy, little blog.

You know my beloved as Mon Mari. After he attacked Mt Ventoux he also became the Cyclist Guerrier, which he probably prefers to anything. But it's really not his decision is it?
Nowadays, he's known around these parts as P-Daddy.

Here's how it happened:
P-Daddy on the day in question
I tend to call him Daddy when we're talking to the kids, as those of you with small children can understand, and so last summer on a blissful sunny terrace day as we sat around talking it up with Sara, I accidentally said, 'Ask Daddy if he's....whatever.'

Of course Sara found it hilarious, in the way that she finds odd things hilarious, and started calling him 'Daddy' all the time.

We thought it was funny and kinda weird and so I added the P to make it sound sexier. And we were off.

We went to Avignon back in November with the fabulous Bec and her knight M, and Sara and G-Ton (you know this is my name for The Husband, right?) and they were all calling him P-Daddy too.

But the best part was when G-Ton had a computer question way over in le petit village and asked Sara to get 'Daddy' on the phone to help him out.You can read all about that here.

After that, the deal was done. Mon Mari is now P-Daddy. It is the only obvious choice.

He'll be coming out with his own perfume soon. It will smell like chocolate, blue sky and sunscreen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cooking down Memory Lane

One of the reasons I enjoy cooking so much, aside from the fact that I can never get enough to eat, is that it reminds me of people, places and times in my life. For example, today I made the honeyed spiced pork stew I learned from my Irish friend Alva.
The first time I ate it I was newly pregnant with the Littlest and had just passed the awful 'i can't eat, nor can I tolerate the  smell of anything' stage. It was the first thing that made me feel good again. And so Alva, I think of you every time I make your warming pork stew.

There are delicious curries from Kirsten, roast lamb from Annabel, tuna spaghetti from Bestie A, oatmeal cookies from Bestie K, Greek pork and salad feasts from La Canadienne....the list goes on.

Plus vegetable and feta lasagna I learned from my Irish friend Ciara whose house smelled deliciously of roasted red peppers and garlic so you knew she was making it. She also made one of the Middlest's forever favorites, eggy rice, which I cannot seem to replicate to his satisfaction.

Of course my mom's beef stew and Thanksgiving dressing are classics that transport me to special childhood days. And my belle-mere makes the best crispy fried chicken and chocolate chip cookies you can imagine.
And finally, as I wind down my list of what has turned into a walk down memory lane, the chocolate cake my grandmother always made and my favorite jello salad that makes me feel like a kid.

What are some of your favorite food memories? Go into the kitchen and conjure some up. You'll be amazed how close you feel to the important people and times in your life.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Faire L'Amour

Here's a quickie. Or maybe that's not the best choice of words, considering.

Today at school there were happy new year greetings a plenty. Everyone was throwing bonne santes around as freely as the requisite three kisses. And so was I.

As I kissed and wished to a friend (she of lait de poule fame) she wished me 'bonne annee, bonne sante, bonne amour!'.
To which I exuberantly replied, 'To you too! C'est necessaire a faire l'amour!'.

Now what I meant to say was 'it's necessary to work at love' but what I said was 'it's necessary to make love'.
As in: 'sexy'. Or so Ma Fille told me as she blushed and sputtered.

And so. A new one to add to my little journal of faux pas.

You gotta make love, people. Just do it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

We'll Always Have Paris

Mon Mari and I got a great Christmas present--two nights in Paris, sans enfants. As the days of Grand-mere's visit dwindle we took the rare opportunity to get the heck out of town. And when you live in the South of France, why not have 'out of town' be Paris?
Hi!, we're in Paris taking up close phone photos!!

We left early Tuesday morning rolling our bags down our residential streets on the way to the train station. It took us less than 30 minutes to reach the Gare de Lyon in Montpellier and then we were off. No airport security or long lines, just time enough to grab a warm croissant and jump on the train that would speed us to the City of Lights in three and a half hours. The time it would take me to drive from Austin to North Dallas. Sweet.

Our first stop was the hotel Observatoire Luxembourg just across from the Luxembourg Gardens and a short Metro from the Gare de Lyon. Then we were off on what would be an unencumbered stroll around Paris. For three perfect days.

there it is
For lunch that first day we ate at Les Relais de l'Entrecôte in the 6th. If you've never heard of it, it's a Texan's dream. A place where all they serve is salad, steak and fries. And desserts you can't even imagine.
Your only choices are: how would you like your meat cooked (rare, please),what you'd like to drink (red, please) and which dessert you can still manage to stuff in after two servings of steak and fries. The waitresses wear black and white French uniforms with their hair pulled back into buns and buzz around smiling and efficiently serving up plate after plate of perfect steak happily bathing in a delicious sauce.

Sacre Coeur
After this we emerged, blinking into the cloudy Parisian day, satisfied and ready for more strolling. We walked and walked and walked. In a way you can't do with children. Or with jet lag.
cool horses

You name it, we walked by it.
St Michel fountain
The Pantheon, The Sorbonne, the St Michel fountain, St Germain des Pres & the Latin Quarter, Notre Dame, Hotel de Ville, the Louvre, Musee D'Orsay, Place de la Concorde, Grand Palais, Champs Elysee, George V, Montmarte & Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower hiding behind the clouds, the George Pompidou Center.
Louvre at night

Eiffel Tower being coy
We went to an exhibit of the Stein collection (as in Gertrude and her brothers) at the Grand Palais which featured Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso. Gertrude's sister-in-law Sarah was a special friend to Matisse and his family and as he's my favorite of the three artists featured in the collection I was happy to see so many of his drawings and paintings. Imagine having your son's portrait painted by Henri Matisse. It was first shown in San Fransisco last year and moves to the Met in NYC in February after an extended stay in Paris through January 22nd.

After all my talk of the egg from my Bestie trip last year I had to take Mon Mari to Cafe Constant so he could taste the real deal for himself. And when he did I have to tell you that he closed his eyes. I ordered a crab and parsley starter that made me want to close mine too and we both ate more meat for our mains...this time veal with white beans and garlic that fueled another afternoon of walking.

We went to Gilbert Joseph, a bookstore extraordinaire dotting Blvd St Michel with its varying storefronts selling paper, textbooks, art supplies, calendars, games, and used books spilling out onto the sidewalk in racks and on tables for you to run a gloved finger over as you pass. Inside, the English section made me feel giddy. I haven't seen that many books in English in two years. I was overwhelmed by choice, blissful choice and just stood there taking it all in before I could even begin to focus. I did okay in the end, spending 60 euro on a bag of used and new books to hold and stack up on my bedside table.

coming home, refreshed
Stopping off for vin chaud, coffee, a flight of wine at O'Chateau's new wine bar and a Starbucks chai tea latte whenever the mood struck was probably the best part.
The freedom of being in a big city, holding hands, window shopping and strolling along together was the most perfect Christmas gift ever.