Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gateau de Harem

When I was younger, my mother used to have us choose whatever we wanted for our birthday dinner. I guess my sister and my father were easy to cook for, easy to please. Things like chocolate cake, steak, pizza are pretty easy fare. Then there was me. I must have been the bane of my mother's life. Oh sure, I was easy to please in the cake department--chocolate or white cake with a jam center were fine for me. Dinner, however, was a research project for me. One year (and I don't even remember how old I was) I wanted an Egyptian-style dinner. To tell the truth, I don't even remember most of what we had except the honeyed carrots and dessert--rose leaf cookies. Essentially they were just sugar cookies flavoured with rose water. I think it was the first time I had something to eat flavoured with rose. It certainly made an impact on me. My poor family humored and indulged my flavour exploration--I was probably the only one that finished those cookies. Those cookies started my long love affair with rose flavouring.

I recently wrote about a
rose-pistachio ice cream I had really wanted to taste while I was in France. It got me thinking about the rose petal jam I still had haunting my cupboard and how to use it. While hunting through a binder of recipes my mother gave me when I left home I came across a recipe for a dessert I hadn't had or made in ages--Jam Dandy Coffee Cake. The recipe was simple and tasty, a fond, sweet remembrance from childhood. I figured, since the base was a basic cake, the topping could be changed to suit any taste. I rummaged through my baking cupboard and found my pistachios, fished out my virginal jar of rose jam and hoped for the best. I'm happy to say that the result was a lovely, rich cake that would go well with a coffee and dessert service. Or, it could go well with a nice tall glass of ice cold milk.

Jam Dandy Coffee Cake

1 & 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar

2 & 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup shortening, softened

3/4 cup milk

1 egg

1/4 cup brown sugar (I used a mix of white sugar, white sanding sugar and pink sanding sugar)

1/4 cup chopped nuts (I used pistachios)

2/3 cup jam ( I used rose petal jam)

Set oven to 375 F. Beat all ingredients together except the sugar, nuts and jam. Beat with 50 quick strokes with a fork. Pour into a greased 9-inch square pan. Sprinkle top with sugar and nuts. Dot top with jam. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
I also made a raspberry and almond version today. If you think you can combine a jam and nut, give it a try.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I've made pastitsio so many times I could probably do it in my sleep. If you do everything efficiently, it doesn't take a large amount of prep time and then you can just stick it in the oven. It's really comforting on a cold, winter's night. It tastes even better the next day and it can double up very easily. Enjoy.


½ lb. very lean ground beef
½ cup onions, chopped
1can(8oz) tomato sauce
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
⅛ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp allspice
⅛ tsp nutmeg
8 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

1¼ cup milk
2 tbsp flour
3 drops Tabasco sauce


Preheat oven to 375°F.
Spray 8x8 inch pan with non-stick spray. Add ground meat and onions to skillet. Cook until meat brown and onions soft and lightly golden, around 5 to 8 minutes. Pour off and discard excess fat. Add tomato sauce, half the salt, half the pepper, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Stir until well mixed. Add hot macaroni and parmesan. Stir until well mixed. Spoon into baking pan. Set aside.

Return uncleaned skillet to stove, adding milk and flour. Stir milk and flour together with the remains in the skillet until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Immediately lower heat and cook 1 minute or until mixture thickens slightly. Stir in Tabasco and remaining half of salt and half of pepper. Pour white sauce over the meat mixture in the waiting baking pan. Bake in oven 25 minutes.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I waxed poetic about Le Pelican in Rochefort-en-Terre recently but I could wax onward poetically about the little town of artists. Rochefort is a tourist's dream.

After lunch, The Frog, Frogger-in-law and I searched for the entrance to the chateau at the peak of this town. The castle ruins here had been bought by an artist who built his home on the same grounds. The ruin still exists and the house has been converted, partly, into a museum. The museum was okay but I liked the park, gardens and ruins better. I was particularly charmed by the wishing well in the courtyard. Alas, my camera died here and I was quite without a charged battery so I couldn't get much juice left to take pictures of the church and town.

We visited the church and enjoyed its charms but it was the town that took my breath away. The town is a warren of little streets and stone steps. A number of shops nestle up against the main streets. Many building have vines and climbing bushes, some flowered, enhancing the already fairytale-like town square. The collection of shops would make a persons in love with books, crafts, baked goods and sugary confections fall madly in love.

The store I remembered the most was the confectioners and not just because it was one of the few shops with air-conditioning (really not that common in Europe) on that muggy day. I never did buy anything there but it was worth just walking around, ogling at all the varieties and quality and gem-like creations. My mind is swirling with all the confections that were there that day. They are all a whirl of candied fruit, marzipan, chocolate mousse and other such delights but I remember distinctly that ice cream I regret not getting--rose-pistachio ice cream. A number of the ice creams there looked to be a foodie's delight but the desire to have rose-flavoured ice cream still yanks at my imagination.

To help you walk the town and church, take a look here at dirkvde's flickr collection or learn a little more about the town here

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Le Pelican

It felt like I was breaking a food taboo. I was still thinking that the restaurant kitchen had made a mistake as I cut through the pliant quail breast I’d ordered for an appetizer. Pliant. It was too pliant, too yielding. There was a knot in my stomach as I bit into the flesh. I nearly dropped the fork. Cold-smoked quail? I was very familiar with cold-smoked salmon but the idea of cold-smoked bird meat was foreign to me, so foreign that I felt panicky that I was biting into raw flesh at first. Oddly, it had a texture and flavour almost exactly like the cold-smoked salmon I’d had many times back home in British Columbia. I never expected to find supple, wood-smoked flesh like this in France and certainly not from bird meat.

Back in the summer of 2008, The Frog and I were in France visiting his father. Towards the end of the visit we spent time in Brittany, as we often do every visit. On our way back home we stopped for lunch in the quaint town of Rochefort-en-Terre. We found a hotel-restaurant in the center of town called Le Pelican. Little did we know as we climbed the stairs to the restaurant that The Frog and I would be marked by the journey to that town and certainly remember the restaurant as one of the best of the whole trip to France.

The first thing that we noticed was the room. The dining area, on first impression, looked like a hunting lodge and a part of a Sherlock Holmes novel. There was a large stone fireplace, wood panelling, red velvety chairs, and an exposed beam ceiling at which I couldn’t stop staring. The second thing we noticed immediately after was the quality of the service. From the beginning we admired the clockwork precision and ballet of the staff moving amongst the tables, the experience they had seemed to emanate from every fork placed and glass poured. Yet these both seemed to be the intricate setting in which the jewel of the food was placed.

When we’d begun with complimentary amuse-bouche—green olives and cheese-flecked pastry—we had no idea what a culinary pleasure we’d experience. As I described, I had an appetizer of quail which included its cold-smoked breasts (as did The Frog). What I didn’t say was that once I’d gotten over the shock of the cold meat, I tried one of the legs that accompanied the breasts. They were roasted and stuffed with the ground flesh of another type of game bird (I’m stumped right now for its name). I could have eaten just a whole plate of those. All this was accompanied by a small salad and a sunny-side up quail egg.

I did enjoy the nice contrast of all the subtle flavours of my main dish. Barley is an underrated accompaniment for white fish. The cidery sauce was just sharp enough to provide a top note to the fish’s middle note and the barley’s base note. They all married well together. I have to admit that I was a little less impressed by the main course than the stunning appetizer but I would be doing the dish a disservice to say it was a lesser quality. There was quality in every inch of every dish we had at that table. The food was an interesting mix of French traditions and experimental ideas in food. Even the bread mixed these ideas. There was a mixture of several choices of buns at our tables. I don’t know about the others but mine was bread heaven and almost too stunning to eat. Almost too stunning but not quite enough to keep my greedy teeth away.

I couldn’t decided at the outset what to order for dessert so I ordered everything. Well, not quite. Just a plate of all desserts in miniature. I had ones I liked more than others. I am not a big fan of whipped cream so the framboise cake was a bit disappointing. The chocolate cake was nice but oddly not what I had been looking for that day. The melon was ripe to perfection. Really, French musk melons really seem to blow cantaloupes out of the water. There was nougat ice cream which was nice but not as nice as the peach sorbet next to it. Yum! And of course there was the crème brulée. Who cannot like crème brulée? After, coffee was served with lovely little complimentary cookies.

Le Pelican seemed to fit very well into the theme of the town which seemed to be a colony of artistes clinging to the fringes of an old but partly restored chateau (which we visited later). The restaurant was a quiet little stronghold of quality and pleasure. I’d love to keep it a secret but it would be a shame that someone out there reading this wouldn’t know to try this restaurant with an unassuming outward appearance if they passed through the town.

You can get a glimpse of the town here and Le Pelican here.