Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Roasted Bell Pepper, Basil and Mozzarella Salad

I was an au pair in the suburb of London - in Barnes to be exact - during the Summer of 1998. Barnes is a charming little community along the river - and I fell in love with it. There's a beautiful little park with a pond and weeping willows, quaint little shops and pubs, beautiful houses and wonderful people, to name just a few things.

That 1998 summer was the beginning of a long story between me and Barnes. I came back to it in 2002 and worked there as a barista in the now closed French coffee shop Tatie Danielle, while I finished my studies.

Back then, I worked for a family who had two young boys. They lived in a really lovely semi-attached home, with a very picturesque British garden. I loved it! The green lawn, the shrubs, the roses, the little shed in the back, and me lounging in the shade of the trees with my best friend Lucie.

The mother of that family prepared food in its most simple way. I realized recently, while remembering the good old times, how much this fragment of my life reinforced the way I see food today: keep it basic and always use quality ingredients.

As much as French home cooking is indeed quite simple, we tend to overcomplicate things sometimes and forget how to make an ingredient the star of a dish, without much addition of flavor but rather complement it.

I remember one Sunday afternoon, when I was served this roasted bell pepper salad. It was lukewarm, sweet and accompanied with fresh mozzarella, basil and the finest olive oil. The ingredients, absolutely fresh and top quality, melted in my mouth.

I recreated this recipe just before Noah was born, when our friends Ceci and Meredith came over for dinner. And it was just right. I suggest serving it with a fresh loaf of bread, like a pain de campagne.

Roasted Bell Pepper, Basil & Mozzarella Salad (serves 4 to 6)

3 bell peppers, the color of your choice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 ball of extra fresh Mozzarella
1 bunch of fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 500 F degrees. Cut the bell peppers in half, remove the seeds and the membranes. Place them in a bowl and coat them with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the bell peppers to the bowl you priorly used, cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes, allowing the bell peppers to steam.

With a small knife, or using your fingers, peel the skin off the bell peppers. Slice lengthwise - the longer the slices, the better, for visual effect. Place in a serving dish.

Right before serving, slice the basil thinly, tear the mozzarella cheese into small bits using your fingers and add to the roasted bell peppers.

Check the seasoning and add sea salt if you choose to. You may also drizzle some extra olive oil over the top. Serve right away, at room temperature. Do not place in the fridge.

Best if served the same day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mon Petit Bebe

It's kind of hard to find the first sentence for this post. How can I find the right words to express how I truly feel? My heart is overflowing with love...

Without further ado, let me introduce you to our baby boy, NOAH CODY, born on June 10th. Juan and I have been over the moon since then. Nothing ever prepared us for the amount of love you can feel for your own child.

Apart from the inevitable lack of sleep and getting adjusted to our new life, Maman et Papa are doing very well. We're really trying to make the most of Noah's first weeks with us. As we all know, time flies by too quickly...

So I will be enjoying some time with my baby boy over the next couple of weeks (my parents will also be visiting from France), but be assured that I have not forgotten about The French Fork! I will be posting less, that's all (I do have some quite yummy recipes in store for you).

So Bienvenue Au Monde Noah!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Nutella Filled Yogurt Cupcakes

Yogurt cake or gateau au yaourt was my number 1 thing to bake as a child. I think it is for a lot of French kids. That and crepes, really! 

It's very popular among children because the measurements for the recipe are made in the yogurt pot, so it's kind of fun. The result is a moist cake, close to the flavor of a pound cake. The variations for it are endless, whether you decide to use a flavored yogurt, add lemon zest, coconut, chocolate...

With a jar of Nutella waiting patiently in my pantry (yes, can you believe it, I had not yet opened it!!! It was quietly waiting for me!!), I thought that the time had come for me to marry the yogurt cake of my childhood with the heavenliness of Nutella. 

I decided to inject the Nutella in the middle of the cupcake, but truly, I could just as easily iced them with it. Only if you decide to do that, be careful not to put too much Nutella, or it will be too overpowering. I think that in the end, I prefered injecting the Nutella because you can control the amount of Nutella better this way and you can better distinguish the flavors.

No matter what you decide to do, these cupcakes will be a hit among children (and grown-ups), for breakfast or for a snack or dessert. 

On the pregnancy / baby subject, here are quelques nouvelles:  I am due exactly 11 days from today (!!) and am doing very well. I am truly and positively enjoying time off to pamper myself before our baby is here. I have been less diligent about blogging lately but I am excited to come back soon with stories of my new life as a Maman very soon. It's a life-changing moment, and I want to share it with you all. Stay tuned!!!

Now back to baking:

Nutella Filled Yogurt Cupcakes (makes 8 cupcakes)

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plain yogurt (whole milk best)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 pot of Nutella

Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees. Spray a cupcake pan, line with cupcake liners (I also quickly sprayed the inside of the liners, but I'm not sure if it's necessary). 

Beat together the eggs and the sugar. One by one, add the yogurt, the oil, the vanilla and incorporate. 

Sift together the flour, the baking powder and the salt. Slowly add to the batter, in three batches. Do not overmix. 

With an ice cream scoop, fill the liners (about 2/3 full) with the batter and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 

Wait 10 minutes before removing from the pan. Then place on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely, then with a small paring knife, cut a small cone shape hole in the middle of each cupcake. Carefully remove and reserve (if you think the hole is too small, scoop out some batter with a melon baller). 

Fill a piping bag or a ziploc bag (cut the tip) with Nutella, and fill the holes. Replace the "plug" that you reserved and pipe some more Nutella on top to hide the incision. 

Alternatively, you could simply smother the top of the cupcakes with Nutella...