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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

THE FRENCH CHILI TRAP

 

My quickly assembled pot of vegetarian chili became an unexpected culinary hit during the holiday season. More surprising was the fact that the recipe came from a French cookbook entitled Protéines Vertes (Green Proteins).  I had purchased it at the colossal FNAC store in the Paris Forum des Halles. 

So why were there so many different varieties of peppers in this chili?  I counted chipotle, cayenne, paprika and smoked paprika.  Did the author know something about seasonings I hadn’t learned?  As It turned out, the chili fragrances fused to form a spicy taste with no distinct aroma.  Oh well, spicy peppers are not typical French seasoning.  I wrote off the recipe’s addition of Greek yogurt rather than traditional sour cream as a hip way to extinguish the heat on more sensitive palates 

Was the author’s addition of the subtitle, La Bible, just an example of French extremely high self-esteem?   With religious thoroughness, each plant is identified with a photograph and its protein content; each recipe is marked with the amount of protein per person it contains.  A table of ingredients under headings: vegetables, seasonings, herbs and textural elements straddles two pages.  There’s also a chart showing long to soak and then germinate each grain, cereal and bean to amplify its enzyme, mineral and vitamin content.  Are you still with me?

This cookbook was becoming less and less French with each discovery.  Not only do the French believe they are born knowing how to cook, they have great confidence in the quality of their ingredients.  Why would they need a Bible or fuss with amino acids?

On further inspection and a little Googling, I discovered that Proteines Vertes  was originally published in English in Australia by the French publishing house Hachette.  The book’s author, Fern Green, is a food stylist by trade and runs a boutique hotel with her husband in Italy. 

The takeaway: a cookbook printed in French was not necessarily written in French. My common sense should have told me that finding a French recipe for chili is as likely as finding a short order cook who can whip up a cassoulet.  I really wanted that chili to be French.  Everyone who enjoyed eating it didn’t give a #*@#  where it came from.

 If you are curious to try the faux French chili, here are links to the recipe and an eggless cornbread I served with it.

 French Chili from Protéines Vertes

 Eggless Cornbread

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

HOMEMADE FOOD GIFTS

NICK'S QUICK BRIOCHE   

Christmas is the best time to share food gifts with friends and family.  They are personal in a way a store bought gift will never be. You don't have to admit to being naughty or nice to receive one of my gifts.  You need only live close enough to receive it in person.  That, of course, is the part I like best.

Now for a spoiler alert.  I give the same foods year after year with few exceptions.  The mini-brioches and jars of cranberry jam  I prepare have become a holiday ritual in my kitchen.  I look forward to it.   This combo became our family's Christmas morning breakfast treat as we opened presents around the tree.  I've tried new recipes on occasion that was clipped from a magazine or newspaper.  One year it was a healthy dried soup mix and a toasted granola mix.  Another year, cranberries became the star ingredient in a jam and biscotti recipes.  

Once you've experienced the pleasure of giving a homemade gift, their preparation doesn't feel labor intensive.   Just put on some Christmas music, enter into a state of 'flow' as you work, and don't answer the phone.  I've tried to make recipes for the foods I enjoy as accessible as possible.  Hopefully they will save you time by being clear and easy to follow.  Keep in minde, each batch will produce enough treats for several gifts.  

There's no time to lose.  Here are photos and links to my favorite holiday gifts.         

                                                                                                                        CRANBERRY GINGER HOLIDAY BISCOTTI 

      

LENTIL SOUP MIX 

            

  RISE AND SHINE GRANOLA                  

 

      CRANBERRY GINGER JAM                                LA BAL SCONES                                        CRANBERRY KIWI JAM                                                                         

                                                                  



  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

"Touchez! Sentez! Goûtez!" Learning How to Taste

 

Ten-year-old Katie smelled the bread sample, thought for a moment, and wrote a number on the printed sheet. She could have been in science lab, except for the fact that her teacher Mme. Clivaz was speaking French. “Sentez! Touchez! Goutez!,“ These students were using their senses to test the quality of the French baguette.

Earlier that week the fifth graders at Avery Coonley School in suburban Downers Grove had watched a YouTube video interview with Djibril Bodian, the Montmartre baker who has won The Best Baguette in Paris competition twice in the last decade (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7N.)  They watched as he handled each loaf and listened as he described how attention to detail, patience and sheer repetition made his baguette better than more than 100 others. How can there be that much variety in bread that consists simply of flour, water, salt and yeast?

 

 

 

To prepare for a baguette tasting the students learned the French terms for their five senses as well as key words to describe each sense. By the time I arrived they were ready to judge four examples Mme. Clivaz and I had purchased. Together they observed the bread crusts for color and thickness (thin is better than thick). They listened for a cracking sound when the bread was broken. They all sniffed their samples for aroma, prodded, squeezed and tasted for texture and flavor. One loaf of each sample was halved lengthwise so they could examine its trous, the complex web of holes that indicates a perfectly risen loaf.

 

 

The students’ favorite baguette was one from Labrea Bakery (sold at Jewel/Osco) followed by La Fournette (1547 N. Wells, Chicago), Whole Foods and the Jewel bakery brand. Spoiler alert: The Labrea and La Fournette baguettes were made with a starter which gave them a flavor edge over those with dried yeast. The La Fournette baguette had a discernable tang which was less appealing to the young palates, although it had won a Best Baguette of Chicago competition at Hotel Sofitel in 2017.  Taste aside, the crusts and interiors of the Whole Foods and Jewel’s loaves did not measure up in quality to the other two.

 

 

 

With their mission completed, the class relaxed and watched as classmate, Genvieve, demonstrated a dessert of colored grapes and dried fruits strung on a skewer (brochette de fruits). They quickly assembled colorful batons and carried the remaining baguette samples to lunch with them. Mme. Clivaz and I swept up the crumbs.

The Back Story: This novel experiment for fifth graders in suburban Chicaog is modeled on an annual event in France called La Semaine du Goût.. During a specified week in October, food and health professionals visit elementary classrooms to demonstrate their skills and speak of their passion for their calling. In this way the French reinforce their cultural values at a time when more industrial food products are available to tempt busy parents to take shortcuts.