Did you know that anything on a stick is called a skewer /skyuwer/ in English and brochette /brohshet/ in French? I didn’t. From where I come from, we indicate food-on-a-stick with a ‘que’ or ‘cue’ or ‘Q’ /kyu/. Hence, banana-que (bananaQ), barbecue, kamote-cue. Anyway, I made these yumsters below for an Asian lunch in Frenchlandia: garlic shrimp brochette paired with maki.Dig in!
Prior to my arrival in France, I knew about foie gras and how it is pronounced. I must’ve read the controversy somewhere how duck livers are made the duck’s biggest body organ (i.e. fattening it) to supply the demand for this French delicacy. I noticed in France, foie gras is always present in special celebrations (together with champagne). Other countries make foie gras, too, but this is certainly associated with the French.
The quality of foie gras mostly depends on the quality of the duck liver, everything else is secondary. You can eat it on top of a (good) bread but never press on it like a spread (or ruin it – so I’ve been warned!), cut a small portion and just let it sit atop. Eating it with fig jam is remarkable, still I prefer my foie gras with a spicy jam Yoann’s brother brought home from his trip to South Africa. I thought that was such a rich add-on, subtle sweet with a tinge of spice.
But wait, there’s more! A few months back, Yoann’s mom brought me to a wine fair nearby Peronnas, France. Right away, my eyesight was caught by this wonderful display of vivid colors to the left of the entrance. Obviously they weren’t wines, not candies either! They turned out to be fruit-covered foie gras. The producer, Monsieur Paul, gave us a taste of his foie gras assortment and the rest is my version of foie gras history. I’ve always liked it but only then had I become an endearing foie gras fan.
The taste? Foie gras has a full and fine creaminess that only a duck liver brings. A texture that is very reminiscent of creamy butter but one that does not leave a greasy feel in your tongue. You can say it’s sinfully divine.
Christmas in France, as in the Philippines, is about family. Christmas trees can also be seen in French homes, as well as in shops and public places. Beautiful ornaments, real poinsettias, and blinking lights become a common sight during Christmas in France. While carolers and Christmas songs 24/7 (besides starting in September) can add up to a signature Filipino Christmas, France has its own special ritual in the form of a traditional French Christmas feast.
Christmas feast in France, in the Lacroix household in Montagnat specifically, starts on the evening of December 24th with a fresh serving of oysters in vinaigre sauce or freshly squeezed lemon juice, accompanied by slices of pain du seigle (rye bread) with butter, and a glass of Champagne. After a soft sip, I highly recommend a pause to smell the spirit of Christmas gently wafting in the winter air. Exchange gifts happens the morning after and the family lunch that follows can extend until dinner time. I was charmed by the ceremonious feast that I volunteered to do the decor and table set-up the following Christmas.
Christmas reminds me of gold and glitter, something I see a lot in Philippines during Christmas, which I hardly see in French decorations. It was a great opportunity for me to deal with my homesickness so I decided to give the decor a golden touch. Instead of toning it down (Filipino Christmas decors are never toned down, please), I put the glitz above the dining table, the only place where it can be noticed but not be constantly seen by subtle-comfortable French eyes. I placed glitter-covered plastic leaves in the brass lamp, and the hanging strips of golden paper completed my Filipino Christmas-inspired theme.
Watch what happens next.
The French eats in course menu. The meal starts with apéro, which involves a nice drink of high alcohol content taken in small quantity and slowly. I notice it warms people up, which creates a relaxed dining atmosphere.
There’s a long list of apéro drinks (pastis, pinot noir, Alsace white wine, fruit-flavored rhum from Martinique, and those treats from Mâcon are some of my favorites) but for special occasions, Champagne is the only drink of choice. Did you know that Champagne is a region in France and it can only be called a Champagne if it was produced in this region? Otherwise, it has to be called by another name like brut or bubbly wine.
Apéro is short for aperitif or starter or appetizer. We call it pika-pika in Filipino and it does include finger foods, French style.
The description just got started, and I already need wine!
Japanese food is so fine, we so love it. Yoann and I are not alone for sure but for some reason in Ghent, rarely do I see Japanese restaurants around town. I’ve seen one take-away Japanese food shop somewhere near the train station and once we ate at a Japanese restaurant by the centre but the quality was disappointing. Gentanaars might be too focused on their frites and waffles that they surely are missing out on food variety.* Kumpir (baked potato) can be a saving grace but we eat it a lot that for this particular night, we made Japanese food ourselves. Tadaan!
For the gyoza recipe, Yoann made it by following the instructions on this Youtube upload. I’ve been watching Ochikeron’s recipe videos for sometime now. She is Japanese and she makes Japanese cooking very doable. She makes funbentos and I’m a fan of that, too. Yoann made everything from scratch, including the paste and here is how it’s made. He used frozen spinach and normal bacon for the filling, sauteed it together with some onions and garlic and put the melted cheese in the pan while frying the gyoza.
I’m not going to lie and mislead you into thinking these are hard, impossible kitchen tasks (no, no, not at all). But it took us almost 2 hours to finish our preparations! It’s not as hard as it looks although it takes time and there are more steps to follow than when cooking adobo for sure. For the dragon rolls, I had to cook and prepare the sushi rice, de-vein and prepare the batter and deep fry the shrimps, slice the avocado and mango and cucumber thinly, and only then was I able to make the roll. Afterwhich I had to prepare the sauce. Just rewriting the steps now makes me feel a bit tired already! Haha, I kid.
Good thing this website by another Japanese living in France provides step-by-step instructions, she also has the steps to make sushi rice. Practice makes perfect and if you click that link and saw how JustOneCookBook made her Dragon rolls, you know my rolls are begging for more practice. I’d like to believe I’m getting there! I first made Japanese rolls more than a year ago while living in Lyon because I simply wanted to see if I can make it, afterall I’m Asian! Silly as it may sound, imagine my sense of accomplishment when I have proven myself correct. Try it too and prove yourself right! Bonus: it’s a good exercise of patience. Bon courage! 🙂
*Post Script: Days before we left Ghent, Yoann and I found a Japanese resto with nothing but awesome Japanese food.
Body Clock Shift
Mornings are fast-becoming my favorite time of the day. Maybe because the curtain slits provide a peek of a warm sunny day that makes for a good source of inertia to get out of bed in the summer. Or perhaps because winter is set to rise again soon as the winds get a bit more and more chilly, and I simply am not allowing myself to slumber my sunny days away. So I say both and more. Since I’ve been practically nocturnal all my life, my favorite part is discovering so much of what there is to love about mornings: fresh air, bright skies, birds nestled on the trees outside stretching and chirping, good morning greetings, early morning smiles, big morning hugs, understandable bad breaths, morning markets, breakfasts
One Sunday Market Morning
Markets are a thing here in Europe and what a wonderful place it is to be in. When I first arrived in Den Haag, visiting the big market in town was one of the first important tips older students at the ISS shared to us newbies. We were carefully instructed how to ride the trams with a rolling market bag in tow. Once, fellow Filipino student Emma and I were getting ready to get off the station closest to our dormitory. With a handful of buys from the market, we stood and walked towards the tram door ready to exit. To our surprise, the door did not open and the tram kept going! Looking apparently in panic, an older couple nearby looked at us, smiled and told us we should press the button on the side of the door. We laughed, got off the station after and walked two blocks instead of one to get to the dorm.
In Ghent, Belgium, there are all sorts of markets happening especially on weekends. There is the Flower Market where we took Yoyo’s parents when they came for a visit knowing they love gardening. The Book Market that springs by the canal Sunday and is close to one of our favorite bakeshops in town. The Groentenmarkt that I hardly recall ever visiting since I hardly shop on Fridays, the only day of the week it operates. There is also a huge flea market on Sundays just outside the Sint-Jacob Church called Brocante Sint Jacob. You can find all sorts of stuffs in this market, and lots of vintage on bargain. I’m familiar with Vrijdagmarkt but then again, I rarely do marketing on days it is open, which is on Friday morning and Saturday afternoon. However, the market we most frequently visit is open on Sundays and it is called the bird market or Oude Besteenmarkt. We come here mostly to buy eggs in bulk because they are way cheaper (more than half less the price!) than the eggs sold in supermarkets like Delhaize and Carrefour.
Below are some birds for sale in Oude Besteenmarkt. They are lovely to look at especially that marketing in Ghent seems like a weekly special occasion that everyone looks forward to attend. Why? Because if you come early enough, a full band bordering on orchestra plays right in the middle of the market where a stage is also set-up for the occasion. For reals!
The Recipe: Shakshuka or Baked Egg Skillet with Vegetables
So with the missing egg ingredient found and bought at the bird market, we went home and I went straight to the kitchen excited to prepare a hearty Sunday brunch starring Shakshuka or Baked Egg Skillet with vegetables. I’ve searched more photos online and they all look so good, hence, the excitement. To my extra delight, it turned out to be very easy to make, too. (Well, if I make them they must be very easy!) So I beg you to try it yourself and get a taste of this awesome goodness for breakfast.
I got the recipe online and since it’s my first time to try out the recipe, I didn’t deviate much from the procedures, except using a pan first on the stove and then making the transfer to a baking pan before putting in the oven. It worked out fine so don’t worry if you don’t have a skillet or cast iron pans. Make the necessary adjustments according to what you have in your own kitchen. As in love and life (harhar), flexibility in the kitchen is key to having the most adventure and fun! Oh and we put bacons on top because we’re too flexible like that. Hehe. Here are the procedures I took from www.eatliveblog.com. Scroll further down if you want to check out the ingredients first. Remember, flexibility is key!
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion (chopped finely)
1 small red pepper (chopped finely)
1/2 jalapeno (seeded, chopped finely)
2 garlic cloves (chopped finely)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
2 medium vine-ripe tomatoes
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp shredded parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
1.) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
2.) In a medium oven-proof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, pepper and jalapeno, reduce heat to medium-low. Slowly cook onion mixture until soft, about 20 minutes (if it starts to brown, turn heat to low).
3.) Meanwhile, place tomatoes in a food processor or blender, and pulse 5 – 8 times until mostly broken up, but not purified, increase heat under skillet to medium-high.
4.) Add garlic and cook until garlic is soft, about 3 minutes.
5.) Add cumin & paprika and cook until it becomes fragrant, about 1 minute.
6.) Add tomatoes to the skillet. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to maintain simmer for 10 minutes, stir occasionally during the 10 minutes.
7.) Turn heat off and sprinkle parmesan over the mixture.
8.) Slowly crack eggs over the top of the skillet, making sure not to break the yolk.
9.) Place skillet in oven and cook for 7 – 8 minutes, or until whites of eggs are solid and yolks are still “wobbly”.
10.) Remove skillet from oven and serve (in skillet if possible).
C’est tout, that is all! See how simple yet yummy it is by trying it out yourself. Bon appetit!