October 5, 2014

Autumn’s Greatest Treats

Quince, pumpkins, plums etc..

Fall is here and again exciting time to get your hands on the season’s most popular ingredients:, pumpkin, plum, quince etc...
It’s also last call to make some delicious jams and preserves!
Although, pumpkin has always been big part of North America’s culture and tradition, quince is almost unknown. I wrote previously about plums and pumpkins but not that much about quince.
Quince has many health benefits and it can be used in many different ways.
I found that quince fruit is rich in vitamins and minerals and contains vitamin C in large quantities, vitamin B1, B2, niacin, carotene, calcium...etc. It also contains protein, dietary fiber, carbohydrates (15, 3 g), and low in fat (0.1 g). When shopping, choose fruit quince, which is not too soft.
The most important ingredient in this healing fruit is vitamin C, which plays a key role in physical and mental health. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and does not allow unsaturated fats that create free radicals. Quince contains a lot of pectin, which has a beneficial effect on the blood system, helps lower blood pressure and protects against radiation. This beneficial fruit improves digestion, cures anemia and is used in beauty. Cooked quince fruit is used against inflammation of the gastric and intestinal mucous membranes. Quince is used to treat mucous membrane of the throat, tonsils, upper respiratory tract, and to help with diarrhoea and heavy periods. Quince is good to eat on an empty stomach!
In addition to fruit, medicinal properties have seeds and leaves of quince. Quince seeds contain amygdalin or vitamin B17, which is proven to have anti-cancer effect. Also, the seeds are rich in tannin, sugar, pectin, malic acid, etc. Tea of quince seeds cures insomnia, relieves tension and eliminate bad breath, while mucus from seeds treated burns and wounds.
Several quince seeds submerged in water, quickly form a slimy liquid – excellent folk remedy for coughs and respiratory inflammation.
Tea from the leaves of a quince is an excellent natural remedy against diarrhea. Prepare a tea by making one tablespoon of dried leaves of quince and half a liter of boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes, strain. Drink hot.

If you want more recipes with plums, go back to some of my previous posts, in this post I gather some more traditional recipes with pumpkin and some really interesting with quince.
For Quince leather recipe click here.

Have fun and enjoy the autumn and its magic!


Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Truly American dessert, with balanced amount of spices, it can be really a great cake! 

(Makes 2 doughs, top and bottom, )

2 Cups Flour
1 Cup butter
1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 Cup ice cold water
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tsp salt
1 Egg

Mix butter and dry ingredients together.  In small bowl, beat water, egg and vinegar together. Add to dry ingredients. Blend with fork till everything is moistened. Shape dough into 2 balls. Wrap in wax paper and chill 15 minutes or more. Roll out for crust and proceed with pie making.

PUMPKIN PIE filling:
Makes enough for 1 pumpkin pie
(Have ready an unbaked 9″ pastry shell w/ high crimped edges)

Mix in bowl:
1 1/2 Cups of  pumpkin - cooked or canned (unseasoned, unflavored)
1/4 Cups brown sugar
1/4 Cups white sugar
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup
1/2 Tsp salt
1 1/2 Tsp ginger powder
1 Tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 Tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 Tsp powdered cloves
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 Cup cream

Pour the filling into prepared pie shell. Bake in hot oven (400F) 50-60 minutes until knife point inserted comes out clean.
Enjoy with black coffee and a bit of nutmeg flavored homemade whipped cream.

Pumpkin Muffins  
Interesting combination of ingredients make these muffins so original and different.
Makes 12 muffins

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened (olive oil can be used instead)
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
3 eggs
1 15-ounce can solid pumpkin
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Heat the oven to 350° F. If not using silicone pans, lightly coat 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable cooking spray.
In a large bowl, by hand or with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Reduce speed, add the remaining ingredients, and beat until smooth. Spoon the batter into the muffin pans. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Poached Quince

4 lb ripe quinces, about 6-8
3/4 cup unrefined cane sugar
1 pod of vanilla bean

Place the quinces in the sink, cover with warm water, and rub them in the water to remove the fuzzy part of their skin. Rinse, drain, and dry. Peel them with a vegetable peeler. Cut each quince in quarters, carve out the core, and cut into wedges.
Regular pot method:

Fill a (heavy cast-iron) pot with 2 liters (8 cups) water and the sugar. Bring to a simmer and add the quince. Split the vanilla pod open lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with a knife, and add the seeds and pod to the pot. Stir to combine. Cover and keep at a low simmer for about 3 hours, stirring regularly but gently, until the fruit is soft and pink. Remove the lid for the last half-hour so the syrup will reduce a bit.
Pressure cooker method:
Place the quinces, the sugar and the vanilla in the pressure cooker, and add in water just to cover the fruit. Cook for 30 minutes starting from the whistle of the safety valve.
Let cool, cover, and refrigerate until the next day, to let the flavors settle and develop.
Poached quinces freeze well, too.

If you're for more flavour, you can bake them too, for half an hour with walnut prepared filling, spread over pieces of quince, and wrapped in aluminum foil:

Walnut filling:
70 g walnuts, finely chopped
30 g rasins
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp orange blossom water

To serve:
mascarpone, or wiping cream

Quince Almond Cake Recipe

One 28-cm (11-inch) round cake pan

(1 + 2/3 cups) all-purpose flour
3/4 cups almond flour (= almond meal or ground almonds)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
*1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil 
3/4 cup plain yogurt 
1 Tbsp. of rum (optional)
2 vanilla-poached quinces (see previous recipe), drained and coarsely chopped (if you don't have quinces, poached pears can be substituted; but don’t precook them)
*unrefined cane sugar in coarse crystals, for sprinkling

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, almonds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir with a whisk to aerate and remove any clumps. Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and line a (11-inch) cake pan with parchment paper. In another, large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar for a couple of minutes. Add the oil, yogurt and rum, and whisk again to combine. Add the chopped quinces and stir gently just to combine. Add in the flour mixture, folding it in with a spatula until just incorporated. Don't over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, level out the surface, and sprinkle with coarse crystals of sugar.
Insert in the middle of the oven and bake for 40 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool and serve, slightly warm or at room temperature.

Preserved quince with walnuts


2 lb – 1kg washed, cleaned and grated quince
1 - 2 lb sugar
1 cup water
Juice of one lemon
1 lemon sliced
½ cup whole walnuts
2 tbsp amaretto or regular brandy (optional)

Wash and peel quinces, grate them and sprinkle with lemon juice so they don’t go dark.
In a large deep pot combine sugar and water and heat them so it starts boiling. Turn a heat down and let it cook until mix become syrupy.  Then add quince and cook more until whole mass becomes very dense. Add sliced lemon and brandy. Let it cool completely. Add walnuts, mix all and fill previously prepared jars.

Sicilian quince cookies


1 lb unbleached flour
150 g of lard or 1 dl olive oil ( no milk protein )
150 g sugar
3 medium eggs
8 g of yeast
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
grated rind of 2 organic lemons
Home made quince jam (recipe below)

Mix all the ingredients except quince, work the dough until you get 2 firm balls . Flour the work surface and start rolling your dough into very thin ½ cm dough. You can make cookies by taking them out with cookie cutter with different shapes and sizes: round , shaped into flower etc... Put a tsp of jam in the center of each shape and I closed by covering the cookie with another cookie part, cut into the same size and shape. Remember to seal the cookie by tapping with the fingertips to avoid spilling jam during cooking.
Bake them in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for 20 minutes or until the cookie is golden and  then cool on wire rack.

As I had some leftover almond meal from my daughter's recent birthday, I wanted to use it instead of flour. So few pistachios "fell" in etc.. and this cookies have been created over the weekend. 

But, first of all, these cookies wouldn't be created if my friend didn't bring me a bag of quince fruit, again this year. So, thanks Kathy!

My Almond Pistachio Quince cookies:

(Gluten free)

2 eggs
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup honey
250 g almond meal
50 g chopped pistachios
lemon peel from 2 lemons
1 tbsp almond extract
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp rice flour (optional, if dough is too soft)

Filling: quince jam

For sprinkling:
½ tsp ground cinnamon
 ¼ cup icing sugar

Mix all the ingredients for dough and make sure to get not too soft mix or you won’t be able to create cookies and fill them with jam. If it’s soft add few spoons of rice flour.
Take your prepared mass with a spoon and in each ball create insert where you will put ½ tsp of quince jam. Work around the jam to for closed ball so that jam doesn’t stick out from the almond pistachio mix. Put on oiled baking sheet and press to form a cookie.
Bake your cookies for about 15 minutes on 180C/425 F. Take out and while still warm, sprinkle with cinnamon icing sugar mix. 

Quince Jam:

Ingredients :
4 large quinces (after about 1 kg)
1 lb of sugar (less if you prefer not too sweet jam)
water as needed

Preparation :
Peel quinces and put in a deep pot. Cover them with water, and bring to boil over high heat, and then reduce to low heat for about an hour until quinces become soft. Take them out of the water but do not throw the cooking water. Cut quinces into pieces and remove the core. Throw quince pulp to the blender. Transfer the pulp to another pot and I add sugar and a few spoons of reserved cooking water. Cook all that on a low heat for about ½ - 1 hour and at the same time sterilize the jars, the way you prefer. You can just boil them in a pot full of water.
Don’t expect quince jam to be like a regular jam but more like an applesauce.
Dry the jars. Select the caps with the click clack, the vacuum provides a better preservation of the jam. 


It 's always better to avoid making large quantities of fruit that require longer cooking times and cooked jam would not be homogeneous along with the texture and color.
For cooking, use a large pot, if possible in stainless steel. To prevent the jam to spillover, fill the pot only halfway. It should also only be used a wooden spoon, a slotted spoon to skim the jam.
During cooking, stir continuously with the wooden spoon to prevent the jam will stick to the bottom of the pot and to facilitate evaporation of the liquid.
With the fruits rich in protein (such as strawberries), you must skim the jam. In fact, the natural foam that forms alters the appearance and conservation of jams (which incorporate air). Strawberries and berries should not be immersed in running water but washed carefully one by one to avoid the fruits lose their juice and flavor. 
As a general rule it is essential to work in perfect hygienic conditions both the preparation and the cooking of the fruit, both in the use of appliances. Even the slightest dirt can cause the rapid deterioration of your preparations.
After baking, jams can be flavored with a little of brandy or liqueur of your choice. The addition of brandy or liqueur in small quantities (up to 3 tablespoons) does not affect the gelling process. 
For larger amounts, reduce in proportion to the fruit or fruit juice.
Select the jam jars fitted with a screw-cap (with a protective coating on the inner edge).The texture, the aroma and the natural color of the jam will be retained perfectly. The cellophane sheets do not offer enough protection to secure long-term, although in fact I remember that my mom used them, I would not have you ever made!
The jams and jellies must be prepared in jars perfectly clean: the board must be cleaned before closing the jar.  Keep in a cool and dark place; your jams retain their color and consistency perfectly.
The jam jars initiated should be stored in the refrigerator. Once you open the jars, the solid structure of the jams and jellies is altered and may result in the formation of juice.
The addition of fatty ingredients (nuts or flaked coconut) or other small extras (leaves of mint or lemon balm) after cooking reduces the shelf life of jams.

September 29, 2014

Quilted Travel Bag

As my daughter had her birthday last week I wanted to do something new this year as a gift.
With a new sewing machine that has all those bells and whistles for quilting, I thought that it might be good idea to make a bag. But this time not just a bag, but big travel bag that will be just hers, personalized and made as a unique gift that all the family will take a part.

  As her sister and dad created one of the ornaments, I completed the job with all of her favorite characters from early years and even some drawings that she did when she was just one year old - Mister O. That was actually her firs drawing of people so I found it amusing to put there.

Some of the "inventions: were the flower watch - real watch that I mad a pocket for it to look like a flower so that she can take it out and replace battery. First words of her hip-hop song is also embellished in, along with her name, of course.

I used eleven types of different fabrics and layer it with betting for quilt so it creates more sturdy shape. No pattern used, it was on the go again.

I can say that she liked it a lot. See more on my Craft blog.

September 14, 2014

Up and Down the French Alps

I often write about French food. 
How can anyone that loves food, not talk about French cooking?! 
All roads lead to Rome, but all culinary paths and trails lead to France, at least for me... 

Unfortunately, I have not been on that side of the Atlantic these days (as some of those more fortunate), but I started my closer relationship with the Alps a long time ago while spending some time in Switzerland and Italy. 

Having some of my family members visiting in the French Alps, more precisely the Rhône-Alpes area, was just the extra motivation and inspiration I needed to write about one of my favorite places. 

This region of France has some amazing scenery: lakes, rivers and mountains. 

The really friendly and easy going people add to the ambiance, making it so easy for one to experience so much here.

They have it all here: 

Grenoble gondola to Bastille

Big cities like Grenoble and Lyon, little Alpine villages 
and unique mysterious places like the monastery 
where the famous Chartreuse liqueur is made.

The food is fresh, wholesome, simple and pure, yet at the same time, complex enough to make the Rhones-Alps the second-most-starred region in the French Michelin food Guide. 

You can enjoy the most simple and authentic dishes here, like a roasted pig on a stick or

 gastronomic masterpieces in the Lyonnais bouchons (traditional and authentic restaurants associated with Lyon) that offer "cochonnailles" (a pork speciality), quenelles (ground fish dumplings), cervelle de canut (fresh cheese with herbs ), 
praline tarts, 

and the Lyonnais Coussins
 (a dessert made of chocolate and blue marzipan).

Traditional Savoyard and Dauphinoise cooking consists of simple ingredients being used to make specialty dishes like: gratin (potato),

croziflette (pasta dish made with crozets, buckwheat pasta from Savoy),

tartiflette (made with potatoes and Reblochon cheese), diots (Savoyard sausages), and matafan aux pommes (a kind of apple tart).

The most famous Savoy cheeses are definitely: Reblochon, Beaufort and Tomme de Savoie and Ardèche and Drôme goat’s cheeses. 

Ordinary walk trough the Alps; peace and beauty

 There are numerous products marked as the AOC in the Rhône-Alpes, however the only meat worth of this label is Poultry from Bresse, with their white feathers, and blue feet.

Charcuteries from Lyon and sausages stuffed with truffle and/or pistachio etc.. 

Ardèche is renowned for its chestnuts. Another fruit that stands out in the Ardèche, as the chestnut, is the bilberry

For many years, the Tricastin and southern Drôme have been the biggest producers of truffles (85 % of the whole harvest in France), way ahead of other regions that claim to be top truffle producers.  From the month of December, truffle markets can be found throughout the Drôme. 

Montélimar has famous Nougat de Montélimar ! This is a speciality from the Drôme, a sweet, hard paste made from honey, sugar, almonds, egg whites, vanilla and pistachios. Nougat is one of the 13 traditional desserts at Christmas that I mentioned in my earlier post about traditions in Provence for Christmas.
Pogne, a plump brioche flavoured with orange water and a speciality of Valence, was originally made only once a year at Easter.  Now it’s eaten year round. 
 Stuffed with pralines, it is called the brioche of Saint Genix.  
Pralus, the cake and chocolate maker from Roanne, became famous for inventing the Praluline, a delicious praline brioche that is now exported throughout the world.

Walnuts from Grenoble are one of the region’s first AOC products and walnut oil is becoming increasingly popular, just like the Saint Marcellin, a creamy cheese that is made in the Isère.

In the Chartreuse mountains, the Abbey’s monks guard the secret recipe of green and yellow Chartreuse liqueur and elixir, made in the cellars at Voiron.

Obviously, Beaujolais wines are particularly known in this region, but along Rhone, there is so much more to write about. I don’t have enough space to write about all that so I will focus mostly on this region's delicious and authentic food recipes.

Some food specialties to enjoy in the Rhônes-Alpes:

Rosette de Lyon : French Salami
Noix de Grenoble : Nuts
Volailles de Bresse : poultry
Fruits : apricots, peach, cherry...
Fondue Savoyarde: melted cheese on bread
Tartiflette:  Reblochon cheese, with bacon, potatoes and salad in pot
Raclette: Cheese with potatoes, ham, salami and Italian coppa
Gratin Dauphinois: Potatoes with cream.
Ravioles de Romans : Cheese pasta.
Caillette: specialities of local meat.
Soupe a l’Oseille : soup with herbs
Gratin de Crozet : special kind of pasta gratin
Quenelles de Lyon: Knedles (dumplings) with local fish in sauce 
Andouillettes: speciality of local meat
Perches au vin : fish with wine
Lièvre à la royale : jack-rabbit in sauce

Tomme de Savoie
(Tomme de Chartreuse is one of them)
Reblochon: used to cook the famous «Tartiflette »
Bleu de Sassenage : blue cheese
St Marcelin
Picodon d’Ardèche : goat cheese

Ordinary local gathering cannot go without big selection of authentic local cheeses

Sweet specialities:

Crème de marrons
Marrons glacés

Nougat de Montélimar 
Gâteau de Savoie : cake
Tarte aux Myrtille : blueberry tart
Bugnes : fritters
Pogne : local brioche with pralines
Papillotes : filled chocolate

Recipes from this region: