Baked apples stuffed with pecan and American Pale Ale beer (or apple cider) jelly

Baking apples in the oven, with nothing more than just good apples from the orchard of my grandfather.

Cooked slowly in the wood oven of my grandparents, to give enough time to the juice to be released during the cooking process and to form a light but flavorful caramel on the bottom of the dish. And when I was a child, this was the best part of this dish! With a teaspoon, I have enjoyed (and still enjoy) removing every pieces of this fruity caramel.

Warm or cold … baked apples … so yummy, so many great memories of my childhood in France.

Since this time, every winter, I am baking apples. I love them!

This is my new version of a French treat … with a little twist: beer or apple cider jelly with roasted pecans in the middle.

I think it is time to cook, this is my recipe:

Servings: 6

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 90 minutes

Ingredients

6 to 12 apples

For this recipe, I have used Northern Spy apples. You can also use Cortland, Gala or Russet. There are so many options.

80 to 120 grams toasted pecans (depending of the size of the apples)

How to toast the pecans?

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly sprits baking sheet with cooking oil. Spread pecans on rimmed baking sheet. Toast in oven until nuts are aromatic and darker in color, about 5 to 7 minutes. Cool, and coarsely chop them.

You have to watch them carefully as they are easily scorched.

12 generous teaspoons of American Pale Ale Beer or Apple Cider jelly

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Rinse and dry the apples.

Carefully remove half of the core from the apples with a sharp knife or apple corer. Do not cut all the way through, and be careful not to split them in half. Place them on a baking dish.

Stuff each apple with 1 to 2 tablespoons of toasted pecan and 1 to 2 teaspoons of jelly.

Bake in preheated oven for 90 minutes (or more if apples really big), until apples are tender.

You can eat them warm, or cold. I keep them for several days in the fridge, I love them as a snack or a small treat.

Bonne appetite!

What to do with a cucumber! …. A smoothie with banana, peanut butter and maple syrup

Cucumbers are this kind of vegetable that I find boring. Mostly because I have learnt (when I was living in France) to make one major recipe with them, cucumber salad… cucumber salad… mixed salad with cucumber for a change.

To say the truth, I also enjoy cucumber in sandwich: French baguette, brie, cucumber and sunflower sprouts. Yummy but this is only a few slices of cucumber… not really enough.

As I try to diversify my diet, each time I go to the market or the small “fruits and vegetables” shop near my apartment, I can’t resist the temptation. And each time, 2 to 3 cucumbers are irremediably dropping into my shopping basket. This happens not only because they are cheap but also because I love their freshness.

And to be honest, I am also aware that cucumber is good for your health!

I know, I know we are focusing on the rainbow colors for fruits and vegetables, a real obsession because we have learnt that more colourful are the veggies and fruits, better this is for your health.

But one of the general rules in nutrition and health sciences that I have learnt in my previous life (when I was a nutrition scientist) is the fact that nothing is everlasting. And as a result, I was not surprise when we have rediscovered a few years ago that white vegetables are also good for our health.

White is now part of the “rainbow colours” good for your health, and cucumber is one of the good white veggies.

Let’s review why cucumber is good for your health…

Despite the fact that cucumbers are made up of mostly (95 %) water, they are rich in vitamin K (21 % of daily intake per 100 grams), B vitamins (~10%), copper (2%), potassium (4%), vitamin C (5%), and manganese (4%). In addition, they contain unique polyphenols and other compounds that may help reduce your risk of chronic diseases and much, much more.

Then …

Cucumber can flush out toxins. All that water in cucumber acts as a virtual broom, sweeping waste products out of your system. With regular use, cucumber is known to dissolve kidney stones.

Cucumber can protect your brain because of its anti-inflammatory flavonol called fisetin content that appears to play an important role in brain health by improving your memory and protecting your nerve cells from age-related decline.

It will reduce your risk of cancer because it contains polyphenols called lignans that may help to lower your risk of breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate cancers. It also contains phytonutrients called cucurbitacins, which also have anti-cancer properties.

It fights Inflammation by “cooling” the inflammatory response in your body, in part by inhibiting the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes.

Cucumbers have antioxidant properties because they contain numerous antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene as well as flavonoids that provide additional benefits like “natural antihistamine ” & anticancer properties and that can also lower your risk of chronic diseases including heart disease.

It can help to manage stress because it contains multiple B vitamins, including vitamin B1, vitamin B5, and vitamin B7 (biotin). B vitamins are known to help ease feelings of anxiety and buffer some of the damaging effects of stress.

Cucumber can support your digestive health because it is rich in two of the most basic elements needed for healthy digestion: water and fiber.Cucumber skins contain insoluble fiber, which helps add bulk to your stool. This helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination.

It can support heart health because of its contain in potassium, which is associated with lower blood pressure levels.

Cucumbers can help with diabetes and cholesterol. It contains a hormone which is needed by the cells of the pancreas for producing insulin which has been found to be beneficial to diabetic patients. It also contains sterols that may help reduce bad cholesterol levels.

It can promote joint health, relieves gout and arthritis pain. Cucumber is an excellent source of silica, which is known to help promotes joint health by strengthening the connective tissues.

Who have thought that this watery fruit (yes, this is a fruit) is a super food!

One thing I have learnt over the past two years is the fact that cucumbers make a great base for vegetable juice as well as smoothie because of its mild flavor and high water content. And this is how I really enjoy my 3 cucumbers in a weekly basis.

I think it is time to cook, this is my recipe:

 

Servings: 4          Preparation time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 to 3 bananas cut into chunks

1 cucumber sliced

2 tablespoons of all-natural peanut butter

1 to 2 tablespoons of organic maple syrup

1 cup of 2% milk (or almond milk as an alternative)

If you want to increase your protein intake, you can add 1 to 2 scoops of rice or egg protein

6 ice cubes

Preparation

Put all ingredients into a blender in the order listed and blend until smooth.

Blending times may vary depending on the type of blender you own. If you have a Vitamix blender, start the blender off on variable 1 and quickly increase to variable 10, then to high.  Let blend for about 20-30 seconds on high.

I love the combination banana, peanut butter and maple syrup, which is softened by the freshness of the cucumber. It is really refreshing!

I drink some for breakfast and I keep one glass for later in the day as a snack – easy to carry in a thermos, easy to drink when you are in the go.

I keep the leftover (if any) in the fridge for 24 hours maximum.

Bonne Appetite!

Ratatouille … One recipe… A big pot and so many yummy meals

This hearty country dish from the Provence region of France (Nice) is an easy mix of seasonal vegetables, garlic, aromatic herbs and olive oil.

IMG_9759

And yes, ratatouille is one of the summer dishes per excellence, not only in Provence but now in each region of France. In my family, we cook each time a large quantity, we enjoy this yummy vegetable stew with couscous, or we use the leftover as the main ingredient for different recipes during a week period.

20150819_102138

In my family, we plant tomatoes and zucchinis and we harvest a lot of them (giant zucchini!). Then, my sister in law – Isabelle spend some days during her holidays canning and/or freezing ratatouille. When I am in France, visiting them for Xmas, I have the opportunity to enjoy the taste of the sunny vegetables.

20150819_110356

I think it is time to cook and enjoy with amazing dish. This is my recipe:

Prep Time: 40 min                   Cook Time: 1 hour 20 min                     Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

4 large tomatoes

6 medium (or 3 large) zucchinis

4 small eggplants

3 medium bell peppers (one green, one red, one yellow)

1 onion

4 shallots

4 garlic cloves

1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs thyme, 3 to 4 curry leafs (facultative – it can be replaced by any aromatic herbs you like), 2 sprigs marjoram, 5 to 7 sprigs parsley)

20150819_121931

What is a bouquet garni?

It is a bunch of herbs that is added to casseroles, stocks, sauces and soups. It traditionally comprises parsley (or parsley stalks, which have lots of flavour), a few sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf and other aromatics. These herbs may be bundled into a strip of leek or a piece of celery stalk, or tied in a muslin bag or with string, to keep them together during cooking and allow easy removal before serving

Basil

5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed

Coarse salt and ground pepper

Preparation

Wash all vegetables under warm water with a soft brush.

Dice the onion and mince the shallots.

Roughly chop the peppers, zucchinis, eggplants, and tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Mince two garlic cloves. The vegetables will be cooked in batches, so keep each one in a separate bowl.

Why I recommend to use “the sauté each vegetable separately” method?

This dry-heat/high-heat method not only cooks off a lot of water from the vegetables but it helps concentrating their flavors. Another positive point, each piece of vegetable can brown and caramelize, which deepens and rounds out the flavor of the dish. Finally, the last benefit is that you can season each vegetable properly and cook it to just the right texture.

Warm two tablespoons of olive oil in a large (at least 5 1/2-quart) Dutch oven or in a non stick pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the eggplant until it has softened and has begun to turn translucent, about 10 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to a bowl.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot (or pan) and sauté the peppers until they have also softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer the peppers to the bowl with the eggplants.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot (or pan) and sauté the zucchini with a generous pinch of salt until the zucchini has softened and is beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to the bowl with the eggplants and peppers.

Add one tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven pot and add the onion, shallots and a generous pinch of salt. Sauté until the onion and shallots have softened and are just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant and just starting to turn golden, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze on the bottom of the pan if any (good flavors).

20150819_121334

Add all the vegetables (i.e. peppers, zucchinis and eggplants) into the pot as well as the bouquet garni and some ground pepper, and stir until everything is evenly mixed.

Bring the stew to a simmer, then turn down the heat to low, half cover with lid. Stirring occasionally, simmer for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 1/2 hours. Shorter cooking time will leave the vegetables in larger, more distinct pieces; longer cooking times will break the vegetables down into a silky stew.

20150819_122044

I cook my ratatouille for 45 minutes (in general) at low heat and as you can see in the different pictures posted in this blog the pieces of vegetable are still distinct. With or without the lid, it really depends on how much juice I have in the pot – the idea is to reduce it if too much juice. Don’t rush your cooking process… I find cooking slowly helps to build and bring together the complexity of flavors.

Ten minutes before the cooking time ends, add two crushed garlic cloves and cover.

20150819_124911

Remove the bouquet garni. Sprinkle basil and a glug of good olive oil (if you want) over each bowl as you serve.

Leftovers can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to 3 months. Ratatouille is often better the second day, and it can be eaten cold, at room temperature, or warm.

Bonne Appetite!

Recipe Notes

If you want to make a smaller batch – cut in half the recipe and don’t be afraid to adapt it and use whatever vegetables you have.

You can add extra flavors – for something different, why not to try adding a tablespoon of smoked paprika, a pinch of red pepper flakes, 1/4 cup of red wine, or a splash of vinegar to the ratatouille. 

Ideas for using your leftover ratatouille:

Serve over couscous, barley couscous or polenta with or without grilled chicken or roasted lamb

Use a scoop of cold ratatouille as part of a Niçoise salad, along with steamed new potatoes, green beans, tuna in oil, black olives, and hard-cooked egg. Drizzle with a lemon-garlic vinaigrette

Sunny and sophisticated vegetable soup – add some cold chicken stock and a little anise-flavored Pernod and mix with a blender

Pulse it in a food processor to a chunky purée, add mustard, vinegar and a dash of Tabasco, and you’ve got a spread for your sandwich or a dip for your pita chips

Mix ratatouille with some chopped brine-cured black olives, capers or anchovies, hot sauce or grated orange zest and pile onto toasted baguette slices as an appetizer

The French way, try vegetable pie, savory gratin or crumble (the new cooking trend in France) and why not, a savory flan like clafoutis

A healthy Sunday brunch or breakfast – ratatouille with poach eggs in the center and a splash of hot sauce (you can also add some crème fraiche et cheese on the top of each egg)

Fill an omelette with ratatouille and crumbled goat cheese

Pasta dish with ratatouille, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a few spoonfuls of pasta cooking water to loosen

Vegetarian lasagna

Nestle three jumbo shrimp (peeled and deveined) in individual gratin dishes filled with ratatouille. Top with Greek black olives, crumbled feta, and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake until the shrimp are pink and everything’s hot and bubbly, and serve as a first course

Grill some meaty fish steaks, such as halibut, tuna, or swordfish, and top with a spoonful of ratatouille and a squeeze of lemon

References for some of the “leftover use” suggestions:

The New Ratatouille

Ratatouille leftovers