“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking: Panettone

Love it or leave it but Panettone season is upon us again! Pana-what-y? Panettone (pan-eh-tone-eh). If you have to ask what this is then you must not live anywhere near an Italian market or somewhere like Switzerland where Italians make up a good chunk of the population. Something magical seemed to happen on the first of November in every single grocery store across Switzerland (and no, I’m not talking about discounted Halloween candy). Panettone popped up everywhere!! Just like cheese did a few weeks prior, panettone has taken over the supermarkets with bright boxes, colourful containers and more varieties than you knew were even possible!

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My homemade chocolate panettone!

So, what is panettone? Panettone is a sweet leavened bread with flavourings added. The traditional mix includes dried fruits but over the years versions such as hazelnut chocolate (think Nutella), grappa and lemon have appeared to gain in popularity. Panettone is similar to a brioche and is often served with tea or coffee as an afternoon snack.

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Endless selection
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Gluten-free versions

What to do if your local store isn’t chock full of panettone and you want to try it? You could always make it yourself! YES, panettone is a somewhat time consuming recipe but it is not difficult. You basically work with the dough or 10 minutes or so then leave it for a couple hours and repeat. I know someone that left their dough accidentally for 5 hours and it still turned out fine. It is a forgiving recipe so even newcomers can handle it.

The same basic recipe can be used for a chocolate panettone or a fruity one, just choose your ‘extra’ ingredients based on your taste. You can always mix and match. I’m a big chocolate and orange fan so candied orange with chocolate chips would be awesome! My husband and I like a bit of Grand Marnier splashed in the dough but we avoid that with the kids. Just have fun with it!

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With Grappa in the mix!

Panettone:
*NOTE: a panettone tin would be perfect for this but if you have another deep (20cm/7inch) dish, feel free to use that. Some bake shops and grocery stores sell disposible panettone dishes that work very well! I’ve heard of people in North America using old large metal coffee tins. Alternatively, I have heard of panettone being made in metal IKEA utensil holders (the silver one with holes) after being lined with aluminium foil and parchment. Deep is what you are after so get creative!

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My panettone tin
  • 60ml/4tbs warm milk (soy milk may be used if you are vegan but beware, the final texture may not be the same)
  • 14g/0.5oz dry fast-action yeast
  • 100g/ 1/2 cup of caster sugar
  • 500g/2 cups of strong white flour
  • 250g/1 cup butter or butter substitute
  • 5 eggs (or flax egg equivalent), lightly beaten
  • 1oml/2tsp vanilla extract
  • grated zest of 1 orange (you can omit this but I feel it rounds out the flavour)
  • pinch of salt

Extra items:
For a traditional fruit panettone

  • 250g/1 cup of your favourite dried fruits (i.e. raisins, cranberries, cherries candied orange and lemon, etc) You can chose just one fruit or several types to make a mixture

For a chocolate panettone

  • 250g/1 cup of dark chocolate chips, chunks or a broken chocolate bar (reserve some for sprinkling on top)

Finish for both versions:

  • 1 egg white, beaten (vegan – mix small amount of soy milk with sunflower oil)
  • 8-10 rough crushed sugar cubes or pre-made sugar crystals
  • optional – you can add slivered or whole almonds to the topping mix if you like

Directions:

  1. Place your warm milk, 1tbs/15ml of sugar and yeast together in a bowl and leave to sit for a few minutes. In the meantime, grease your panettone (or other) tin with butter or margarine. Using a different bowl, add the remainder of the sugar to the butter and vanilla extract. Mix together until pale and creamy.
  2. Gently add the orange zest and mix. Now add one egg at a time, making sure each egg is well incorporated before adding the next.
  3. Place all the flour in a large bowl with a pinch of salt. Make a small hole or well in the middle and first pour the yeast mixture into the well, followed by the butter and egg mixture. Begin to stir and bring together, gently mixing all the wet and dry ingredients together. Once the ingredients seem well blended, knead the dough in the bowl with your hands for about 5 minutes. This will be a VERY sticky dough at this stage so don’t panic if yours is sticking to you!
  4. Take the sticky dough and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Here, you will knead again for another 5-10 minutes until you have a very stretchy and soft dough. If your dough is sticking to your hands and the surface, you may use small sprinkles of flour to help with this process. After 5-10 minutes, shape into a ball and place into a large, lightly greased bowl. Cover with cling film/plastic wrap and leave for 2 hours to rise. Please note: your dough will double in size so make sure your bowl is large enough to accommodate this!
  5. After 2 hours, place the dough on a lightly floured surface again and knead for 5 minutes, gradually adding either your fruit mixture or chocolate mixture. If you are using chocolate, be careful not to knead too much and melt the chocolate into the dough. I would knead the dough for 4 minutes then add the chocolate at the last minute. Shape into a ball and place into your greased tin. Cover with cling film/plastic wrap and leave for another hour to rise.
  6. Heat over to 180C/360F. At this point, brush the egg wash or substitute over the top of the dough and add the sugar cube pieces. Place in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes (some ovens may take longer!). Test with a skewer before removing from oven. IF your panettone starts to brown too much on the top, gently cover with a foil tent to protect from the heat.
  7. Remove from oven and let sit for at least 30 minutes before attempting to turn out.
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Sticky dough
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My dough rising in front of the fireplace
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Final step! It gets exciting now and the smell is addictive throughout the house!

 

Final tips:
If you find the egg and butter mixture starting to curdle, add small (like a teaspoon at a time) amounts of flour to smooth it out.
Also, you can place parchment paper inside your tin before adding the dough to help remove the cooked panettone at the end.

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And she’s done!!! Yum!

Now, sit back and enjoy warm with a  fresh cup of tea or coffee!! Did someone say warm sugary bread? YUM!

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Céleri Rémoulade

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.

– Julia Child

When I first arrived in France, I had a pretty solid background in cooking. I was a fan of a wide array of foods and wasn’t what one would consider ‘fussy’ when it came to eating. Thank you, Paris, for ruining that! OK, OK that isn’t 100% accurate but it is based in a lot of truth. So many things taste inherently better here and for that I bring your attention back to the Julia Child quote above.  Like Ms. Child, I strongly believe that meals made with real, quality, fresh ingredients taste much better than those made from what I like to call Frankenfoods – foods dreamt up by chemists, not Mother Nature.

After my son was born, I quickly enrolled in a programme that brings you a different mixed organic panier (basket) of fresh fruits and vegetables every week. I registered our family for the 7kg box and delighted each week in picking up the panier and discovering what was inside. No two baskets were ever the same as the contents were all farm-fresh and based on seasonal availabilities. It is here where I received my first céleri-rave (celeriac) and boy did that throw me for a curve! I was quite honestly stumped by this knobby, white-ish, brown-ish, lumpy ball in my basket. I had to resort to Google to figure out what it was as the paniers never came with a list, just a box full of surprises that Forrest Gump’s mama would have been proud of. Somehow the search results didn’t help me understand this crazy little root vegetable any better.

So there I was, a celeriac in hand and no idea what to do with it. Many recipes online suggested to try making it into something that resembled mashed potatoes. That is what I did and having tried it,  I do not recommend it. First, little miss celeriac-novice here must have totally screwed up because I basically made mush, not mash. Second, I have discovered celeriac is SO MUCH BETTER and is worthy of dignified recipes that reach far beyond the depths of mash.

On one particular night out, Mr H and I went to this amazing little historic brasserie called Le Stella. Listed on the entrées menu (appetisers) was this curious-sounding dish called Céleri Rémoulade. It was described as an egg, celeriac and dijon mustard salad. Intrigued by the celeriac I had so clearly failed with before, I gave it a chance. That was about 6 years ago and I’ve been giving it a chance ever since! To say I fell in love with céleri rémoulade is an understatement. It is very basic but works so well on so many levels. Serve it as a side dish, a salad, an appetiser, etc. This isn’t complicated cooking but it IS well-worth it! I have tried several recipes/versions over the years and this is my particular blend and obviously my favourite!

Céleri Rémoulade

Serving sizes are hard to determine based on what you will be using this for but the good news is this makes a lot and lasts for several days in the fridge!

  • One celeriac
  • 2 egg yolks** (3 if your celeriac is large)
  • 250ml/1 cup quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons/15-30ml of quality dijon mustard (more or less if you prefer – also use more if your celeriac is large)
  • vinegar
  • lemon
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

Start with the best ingredients your budget allows for. A quality mustard and oil will taste so much better and really enhance the flavour of this dish.  You will need to peel your celeriac. For this I like to cut it in half to create flat surfaces then slowly cut the outer peel off with a sharp knife. Take your time doing this if you are a kitchen newbie.

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Gather all your ingredients together before you start, makes it less stressful and you won’t have a shock 3/4 of the way through that you are out of something!
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Carefully cut the celeriac in half to create flat surfaces for peeling.

Next peel your celeriac and then, if you are using a hand grater, begin to grate. If you have  food processor,  into smaller chunks that will easily grate.

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Cutting into smaller, more manageable pieces makes it easier for your food processor to handle.
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Weeeee!!!!!

Set aside your grated celeriac for a couple minutes. You can, if you want, toss in some lemon juice to stop from browning but if you work fast enough, that isn’t necessary.

You might notice at this point the sauce you are making is like a dijon-heavy, lemon-y mayonnaise. You would be correct. If the idea of using raw eggs scares you or you are too afraid to make your mayonnaise, you CAN use a store-bought version. Please make sure it is real, quality mayo and not something with the word “Whip” in the name! Substitute the mayo (about 250ml/1 cup) for the egg and oil, add the rest of the ingredients.

Begin by separating your eggs and adding the yolks to a bowl big enough to whisk in (don’t toss the egg whites out, you can store them in the fridge and add to an omelette, etc.). Add the dijon mustard, salt and pepper and start to whisk. Now, slowly, and I do mean slowly,begin to add the olive oil by drizzling in while you continue to whisk. Keep going until all the oil has been added. At this point, I squeeze in a lemon wedge or two to add some liquid and thin it out a bit. If I am I craving an acidic taste, I will also add about a teaspoon (5ml) of white vinegar. If necessary, add more salt and pepper to taste. You want a creamy, mayonnaise-like texture. Fluffy and creamy. Those are your keywords.

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Egg yolks and dijon
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Slowly add the olive oil by drizzling in while you whisk.
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Adding a touch of vinegar gives the sauce/mayonnaise a slightly more acidic taste that I happen to love!

All that is left to do at this point is mix the celeriac and sauce, then place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to marinade. Serve with salad greens, tomatoes, parsley, you name it. This is a versatile and yummy side dish or appetiser that will please you way more than celeriac mush. I promise!!

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Mix, mix, mix!! I add small amounts of celeriac at a time. This way I don’t run out of sauce vs. how much celeriac I grated. You can always add more, you can’t take away!!!
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Mixed and ready to chill!
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Enjoy!!

**PLEASE NOTE: I am compelled to remind you that choosing to eat raw egg yolks is just that, YOUR choice. As a blogger, I am not responsible for your choice and assume no subsequent liability.

Photos: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Soupe à l’oignon gratinée

I’m just someone who likes cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression.

– Maya Angelou

What fun is life as an expat if you don’t indulge in the local cuisine? Before I jump into any recipes, I want to share with you my history with cooking and where my love of trying new ideas comes from. In thinking back to the start of my culinary ride, I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t cook. Sure I have had cooking fails over the years but I truly feel like my hands have been in the kitchen my entire life. I learned to make pretty complicated things at a young age (yes Dad, I’m referring to ‘could you whip up a lasagna for tonight?’ at 10 years old).  I learned kids basics, too: soup, Kraft Dinner (mac ‘n cheese for my American friends), pancakes, pizza dough, etc. I was always interested in what was going on in our kitchen. I tried some pretty fancy things, too, including learning how to make chocolate éclairs with my amazing Aunt H when I was still a kid. All of these early kitchen moments still stay with me and are quite noticeably tied to my life as a mother of two youngsters who both love to cook, as well.

In 1996 I registered to become a Chef Apprentice under the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. This programme has changed since then but it still operates in a fairly similar fashion. As an apprentice, you must complete around 3000 hours of on-the-job training, working with various chefs, then complete the programme at a designated college or university. I can honestly say that what I learned in that time has stayed with me far longer than a lot of other things I learned in school (Pythagorean’s Theorem, anyone?). I worked professionally for several years before putting my culinary life behind me. I started to dislike cooking. I found myself frustrated by intricate dishes and wanted comfort foods. I lost my cooking mojo and it stayed lost for many years.

In time, I began a new journey. A journey that has landed me here, in what many consider, the culinary capital of the world. Paris has been an interesting place to live as far as dining, cooking and food exploration is concerned. I have learned to give green beans a chance. I have learned about the different butters that exists and how to use them in pretty much everything. I have learned to make things like Coq au vin, Charlotte aux Fraises and ratatouille (recipes coming in time). Yet, I came here with some classics already in my pocket and have learned that sometimes, I like MY version better! Take for instance the timeless soupe à l’oignon gratinée aka French Onion Soup. One of my absolute favourite dishes especially when I am on a ski holiday in the Alps. Nothing is better at warming you up on a cold winter day, except maybe fondue!! However, I have been routinely disappointed in actual restaurants here with their soup. I even complained in a famous Parisian restaurant once about it being too watery to which my polite French waitress replied, “but madame, there is water in soup!”

So, it seemed fitting to me when I decided I would incorporate local dishes in this blog (hungry adventurers have to eat!) that I would start with one of my favourites: soupe à l’oignon gratinée. This recipe is my own take on this soup and you don’t have to agree with how I make it. It’s OK. All I can say is that boy oh boy does this version ever do the trick for me!

**Please do not attempt this soup at 6pm hoping to eat it for 6:30pm. She needs time to really develop her flavours and to rush it would be a sin.  I generally make mine in the afternoon then turn off the heat, cover and let it sit for the rest of the day. I reheat just in time for dinner then add the cheese and bread. At this point, this dish is complete perfection.

Soupe à l’oignon gratinée:

Makes 4 – 6 servings depending on your bowl and appetite size

  • 700g thinly sliced onions (I use a mix of yellow and red to enhance the flavour)
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely diced
  • 30g flour (optional – just makes it slightly less watery)
  • 1-1,5L beef, chicken or vegetable stock (for a veggie-friendly version)
  • 100ml red wine
  • 5ml or 1tsp thyme
  • 30ml or 2tbs Worcestershire sauce (there are vegan versions if you prefer)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper
  • stale bread (day old baguette is perfect)
  • Grated cheese (I use a mixture of Emmental, Gruyère and Comté)

Directions:

Melt butter in a pot over medium heat. Add onions and begin to simmer, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes. You want them soft, translucent and slightly caramelised. Add the garlic, stir, then add flour and quickly stir again to coat the onions, not allowing it to stick to the bottom of the pot. Once all the onions are coated, add your wine and thyme (oooh a rhyme!). Stir again for a minute or so. At this point, at the remaining ingredients (stock, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf and pepper, leaving the salt out for now). Leave simmering for at least 30 minutes. Watch your liquid level doesn’t boil off too much, if needed you can add some more stock or water. When you are done you can either leave it to settle for a while like I do or move onto the next step: CHEESE AND BREAD!

Simmering away!
Simmering away!

You can accomplish this next step one of two ways: traditionally the soup is served into each bowl, topped with slices or chunks of stale bread, further topped with mounds of cheese then broiled to a crisp, salty, golden, cheesy perfection. However, not everyone HAS the right types of bowls for the oven so there is an alternate method. Get a cookie sheet and make little piles of bread topped with cheese for however many bowls of soup you are preparing. Make sure that they will fit into your bowl size after being in the oven otherwise you will create a big mess. Broil these bad boys then use a spatula to carefully transfer them on top of your soup! Voilà!

Parfait!
Parfait!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia