A belated Christmas Lunch

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Here is the table laid out by my mother in law for a belated Christmas lunch. Some of the family members were busy with prior commitments, so the Christmas dinner had to be kept pending by 2 days this Christmas this year. But of course, no Christmas is complete without a family get together so the opportunity for a belated Christmas lunch was an excuse to continue on with the season’s festivities! 🙂

Isn’t the table looking gorgeous?? My in laws are particular about presentation and there always has to be a colour theme going. For this Christmas lunch, my mother in law chose white / silver and blue. She has a big presentation collection for other special meals too. The tiny cruet set (salt and pepper glass pots) are something I have been hunting around for here in France a long while, and somehow never been successful to have a set like hers. She says her is a Christophle set, and though I don’t want something as expensive, I’d be happy with any glass set, but I wish to have a miniature set just like hers!

Being French, of course, a lot of attention and detail is given into the courses and choice of foods. An aperitif of various choices were served, and the following 3 choices formed the appetisers too : grilled bread topped with fish roe, and some others with cheese; a really delectable appetiser that was edible spoons filled with onion jam and topped with foie gras. The onion jam is no ordinary supermarket jam, it’s ‘artisanal’, and the taste explodes in the mouth especially coupled with the foie gras. The third choice is a pamplemousse (grapefruit) with skewers stuck around it containing cherry tomatoes and bits of jambon.

 

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Don’t they all look fantastic? I hope someday I can be even half the lovely hostess that my mother in law is! Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of the main course. I hope my words can do justice to what it was, despite the absence of a photo. The main meal was a very traditional meal, it is the Magret de Canard, a  special and superior form of duck breast meat, which has plenty of fat around the meat. (It is actually the same duck that is reared for foie gras). The duck breast is seared in the pan and cooked in it’s own fat that gives the meat a heavenly flavour. The meat should be seared for only 10 mins and then should be allowed to rest for 20 mins or even more before it is served. (It is important for the meat to relax). My Mother in law cooked the meat along with it’s accompaniments, almonds and chestnuts.

For desserts, here is a slight variation to the traditional Yule Log. This one is not made with chocolate but with sponge cake filled with the cream of chestnuts. Yummy, very!! The other dessert prepared is also a very traditional French dessert : Strawberry Charlotte.Image

 

As usual, the meals at my inlaws satisfies my appetite both for beauty and presentation, and my hunger of the meal itself. The relaxed conversation that follows allows us to unwind and savour every moment spent in the company of family. French meals can be quite long, so the lunch that started at 12.30pm, can end at after 4pm with the last sips of espresso and chocolates that follow. Thinking about my Indian family, such a long winded meal would be unthought of. Meals would have to be perfunctory to make way for the siesta to follow in the afternoon! 🙂

Shaad, a pre-birth celebration for the Bengali woman

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Currently facing my 6th month of pregnancy, my Mother wanted to celebrate it by having a Shaad, meaning ‘desire’ in Bengali. Traditionally, the Shaad is celebrated along with the pregnant woman’s close friends and relatives, the idea being to surround the woman with as many positive vibes possible. The actual meal of the shaad is supposed to consist of all of the pregnant woman’s favourite food.

That wasn’t too tough for me to decide on what I wanted to eat, since I like almost everything of what Bengali food has to offer! Being a very unfussy person, I didn’t want to have any get together. My cook in Kolkata, Shumi prepared this lovely lavish feast for me. I have never seen or heard of a shaad before, so I had no idea that so much hard work was involved into making one. (If I’d have known earlier, I would have told my gentle cook not to bother). But Shumi insisted and when she finally laid it out on the table, I felt tears dangerously close, so touched was I to see how much she cared for my pregnancy, and my well being.

She didn’t have to ask me what I liked, she knew already I loved her cooking, so she went ahead with her imagination to what my shaad should look like. And by the way, the steel plate and the steel glass used are the very same ones that I used to use as a child when I was 4 years old onwards. The steel plate has indentations to where the vegetables or meat dishes go into. On my plate, on the top center, is the Bengali dessert called ‘payesh’, or rice pudding. To the left is the dal (lentils) and to the right is a spicy potato preparation. Below on the main section of the plate, is staple diet of Bengal, rice and alongside the rice, on either side is a collection of fried vegetables (potato, aubergine, bitter gourd, okra, cabbage) and fish. Shumi gave the final touch of garnish on the rice and water by adding a sprig of basil. Doesn’t it look sooo appetising and yummy??

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An unusual French recipe

ImageUnusual because the main ingredient of this soup recipe is something that took me by surprise. I think I know a bit about French cuisine, or at least not to be taken by surprise by any recipe or ingredient. Yet, this simple and humble ingredient was a surprising change for last night’s dinner.

This recipe was shared to me by my mother in law, who is an excellent cook. Not only by my opinion but by those of many others. She follows the traditional french cooking, and it is always with some awe and deep interest that I observe her while she goes about her cooking or showing me her larder. French cuisine, as I found out, is ‘infatigable’ or in English, indefatigable, and both ways they are a mouthful. It’s really not easy to really know all about French cuisine, one can read books and books on it.

Ok, so the secret ingredient of this meal is…. Leaves ..of ..the… RADISH! A bit weird, and certainly uncommon, yet something that you can try it, since I have made it, and ate it, and found it delicious in a homely sense! The taste isn’t spectacular, yet there is something distinct about it. For all the times I have bought radish, and I buy them frequently, they make a tasty appetiser with salted butter, I could have made so many soups, instead of binning away the leaves, which I have done always.

Here’s the recipe in French, with the ingredient translation below (sorry if the paper’s a bit crumpled, but it’s still readable):

ImageSo, the ingredients for this soup, which makes 4 portions, are :

1. Leaves taken from a bunch of radish, and to be washed carefully, and then roughly chopped.

2. A large potato, peeled and chopped roughly

3. 2 onions, peeled and chopped roughly.

4. 4 pieces of toasted bread.

5. One and half liter of water (I used vegetable stock instead, to give it added flavour)

6. Salt and pepper to taste, butter or margarine, whatever your preference.

ImageFirst, place your onions and potato into a heated pan that will have the butter melted in it. Sautée it for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables seem to get soft. Add the leaves now. Stir them around for about 2-3 minutes. Don’t be alarmed if the quantity of the leaves seem lessened while cooking. It’s meant to do that. After this, you can add in your hot water, or stock. Check the seasonings, to make sure salt is OK, and if you need any pepper.

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Now, I cover the pan and let it cook on a low-medium flame for 30 minutes. After that, I lift out the cover and add in the 4 pieces of toast which I have broken into bits. The toast dissolves very quick into the stock, and I take my blender and blend all the ingredients very well.

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I check the seasonings again. Perfect. Now, I take my soup bowls, already preheated in the microwave, and pour in the soupy goodness. I garnish the soup with cream and form a heart shape, and sprinkle on top some pink peppercorns or ‘baie de roses’ as it is called in French. My husband is Crazy about the pink peppercorns. I served the soup along with a slice of tart that my MIL made using tuna, tomatoes and mustard.

Et voila! I hope you found the recipe interesting, and know what to do the next time you buy some radishes, and make sure nothing goes to waste! 🙂

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A trip to the local Flea Market

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This morning, my husband and I woke up early ( on a Sunday that’s not usual for us or anybody I know!) to go visit the local flea market in one of the nearby towns held only today. I was excited because the last time I visited a Brocante, or a flea market was a while ago. I looked forward to the busy air that brocantes have, I was hoping they would have a lot of antique items instead of the junk they are usually trying to sell off. I was glad that for a Sunday, there was something to look forward to in our sleepy little French place, with plenty of ease and no rush.

The weather today has been sunny and warm,  thank goodness. After the last 4 months of travelling to countries where the usual day temperature has been over 30 degrees, I wasn’t sure how well prepared I’d be for France’s usually frigid temperatures. But I do know that when France is warm, it is quite warm! Prolonged exposure to the sun in France gives me headaches unlike any other hot country!

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The only item I had my heart somewhat set on, in the brocante, was a set of 11 side-plates that had wonderful sketches of French soldiers who seemed to be having conversations. Each plate would represent a new sketch with a different soldier saying something witty that would appear as a caption at the bottom of the plate. The drawings were pretty and old-school like. My mother-in-law has a few of those plates, and they were the only thing I wanted badly at the brocante! But 70 euros to pay for used and slightly chipped plates was a bit steep! With that kind of price I knew I didn’t want to bargain either! Sorry that I don’t have a pic of those plates, they were quite something! Yves was taken up for quite some time with old French records.

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Something useful and tasty that we did buy were a kilo of fresh cherries and some rabbit paté, and a lovely book with paintings of the region of Florence. Sometimes at brocantes, the food sold can be very interesting. They are usually straight from the farms and home made. The prices are a little bit higher than what’s found in the supermarkets but the taste is so much better! There was plenty of choices for paté, one can see rabbit paté, hare paté, wild boar paté (I guess that would smell a lot!). We chose the rabbit paté infused with hazelnuts. The pâté was indeed very good! Here’s a pic of the farmer selling his different pâtés :

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I decided that I have no more worrying thoughts on ‘what shall I prepare for lunch’, because we would have the paté! 🙂 I am lucky that Yves says yes to a lot of the things I say (well, mostly!). All we had to do now is get some baguette, or the long French bread which has such an amazing taste and which I’d missed a lot while travelling. I prepared some tomato and mozarella salad with some fresh basil snipped from my pot, and I washed and arranged all the cherries (delicious) and the baguette and paté. We had a brunch listening to a record that Yves got of Vanessa Paradis, singing ‘Joe le Taxi’.

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Here’s a close up of the ingredients used in making the rabbit paté : There’s 45 % of rabbit meat, 30% of the meat around the neck region, 20 % liver, 5 % spices, onions, white wine, salt and pepper. Also the pâté has been sealed off with a sprig of thyme, laurel leaf and plenty of hazelnuts. Enjoy the pictures, and hope you get to have some too someday soon! 🙂

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What stuff can I get at the groceries in India?

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Since I am easily fascinated by all the wonderful things I am discovering at the groceries, or any food market places here in Kolkata, I thought I’d put up a photo to all those curious and wondering of how shopping for groceries in India could look like. The groceries are from a popular supermarket called Spencer’s, a chain that’s present in all the Indian cities. Shumi, my help, who came out shopping with me, found the prices quite high at Spencer’s, so now i have a good idea of what’s high-end where food’s concerned!

On the very top left are 2 loaves of bread. I was curious to try them because the label on it said ‘masala bread’. I wondered if it would have any spicy stuffing in them. Sadly, it was just a smear of spices coating the bread surface, so not happy after a few bites, I sacrificed it to the sparrows and mynahs outside on my balcony, who attacked them soon enough!

Below the bread is a cellophaned case of mung bean sprouts. I had them with some chopped cucumber and tomatoes and a dash of lime, and it was so yummy!

Below the sprouts is raw green bananas. And the bulging cylindrical green vegetables in the cellophaned case, next to the bananas is a kind of gourd (I’m not sure exactly what kind!). Shumi will be using the bananas and this gourd to make a super exotic dish called ‘Shooktoh’. I will be making a post on it’s recipe soon enough! Above the gourd are 2 pieces of cucumber wrapped in cellophane. I have noticed that cucumber sizes are small in india, and the colour of the peel is yellowish-light green. Above the cucumber is a bag of potatoes.

To the right of the potatoes, is a green packet containing frozen cubes of an Indian cheese called ‘paneer’. The taste and texture is similar to mozzarella. Paneer has to be cooked before eaten, it is either lightly fried, or added to the curry sauces straight-away. To the right of the paneer in that rectangular yellow box, is a salty butter, and the brand name ‘Amul’ is very popular here in india. In fact, I personally am crazy about it’s taste! 🙂 A little bit of it smeared on indian bread or chapattis is so good!!

Below Amul is Cadbury’s dairy milk chocolate. Cadbury chocolates are hugely popular in India. In France, you normally don’t find them anywhere (because the French are partial towards their own chocolates! 🙂

Below Cadbury’s, that almost-obscure looking shiny rust coloured item is a heavenly dessert, made of dried and sweetened mango flesh. Speaking of which, it was indeed so obscure, I had completely forgotten that we’d bought it, until i see it now in the pic! So i will take a tiny break and fish it out of the fridge and eat it!

Nom nom! Gulp! Colgate and Listerine need no intro, but below them in that plastic wrapping, the tiny yellow shreds are actually julienned and fried potato sticks. I pointed out to Shumi how fattening they must be for someone to eat it just like that, out of the packet. She replied that no, people usually added it to their meals of rice mixed with lentils. I was curious, and I must say, I am hooked now to have those fried potatoes with my meals. And I do need to return to Spencer’s again, I urgently need to buy myself a weighing scale! With all the lovely food I’ve been having lately, I will need to keep myself in check!!