Oui, oui, bring me seven-course dinners

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By Nina Gustafson

My younger sister and I have a thing for French and British classic details, clothes being one of them. Think escape from the ordinary and old fashioned. We tend to buy these types of gifts to each other. If not sooner, it definitely started with my sister buying the book “The Audrey Hepburn way of life: How to be lovely” during a trip to the USA. I think you get where we are going…

 

Baked chestnuts, strawberry and vanilla tart, cheese dish

 

Madame Chic and her influence on our dinner times

My sister was also following a blog by Jennifer L. Scott and given our common interest in clothes, she thought I would like the book “Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 stylish secrets I learned while living in Paris”. While my sister focused on the “de-clutter your wardrobe” bits, I was rather excited about the bits on FOOD. A girl has to have her priorities straight! Quotes like “dinner was always at least a three-course sit-down affair at home” and “mealtimes were an event” caught my interest. Not that I am a very hungry person but I like the extra ordinary, extra ordinary food being no exception. After an earlier binge on British movies, our little family had already talked about starting to incorporate Sunday dinners in our routines. The book gave me the idea to try it every single day. I do like to dive all in with new things, to get the right feeling, so that’s what I did! What could go wrong?!

In the book, Jennifer describes mealtimes consisting of:

  • Appetizer/apértifs – I had already picked up the habit of occasional “apéro” (pre-dinner drink and finger food) for example cheese from a Swiss friend, so we usually had something simple for this.
  • Soup: Something light like onion or leek soup.
  • Starters/Entrés: These are not mentioned separately in the book. Sometimes we only had a soup but occasionally we switched it to a starter, or had both.
  • Main course: roast, chicken, whole fish with potatoes dish or similar. We did eat quiche at some occasions but according to the book it seems to be a lunch dish first and foremost.
  • Salad: Sometimes eaten separately, sometimes with the main course.
  • Dessert: Very often tarts (the rest saved for breakfast), other times pannacotta or meringue.
  • Cheese course: By this time we were usually pretty full and only took a small piece of cheese.
  • Coffee and digestif, which we usually combined with the dessert rather than save it for last.

Our dinners had a strong focus on French dining mixed up with elements of Italian, Swedish and Asian cuisine.

 

Onion soup, fougasse and wine and an entré with asparagus and almonds

 

During this relatively short period (I must say) of food indulgence, our movie choices also tended to strive towards those focusing on food, such as “No reservations” with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart and “Julie and Julia” with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. Strongest impression did Meryl Streep do in her interpretation of Julia Child. How can you not love Julia with her personal approach to French cooking, usually dressed in pearls (yes, of course I had to add that element as well. Why do it halfway when you can exaggerate?). As a result, still being a meat eater back then, we made her signature dish Boeuf Bourguignon as one of our main dishes. Watch and learn how to cook from Julia Child.

 

 

Boeuf Bourguignon with potato rose, chicken in clay cooker, sweet potato and spinach quiche

 

Our family dinners were so much more than just the food. It was a family moment! We decided to dress up to these events. No tights or joggers, but dresses and shirts with tie was more the melody, and pearls of course. During the dinners, we had time to talk while listening to calm, often classical music in the background (this choice of music does happen on other occasions but I our general music taste is far away from it). After dinner, we played board games such as Chess, Othello and Kalaha and if it was not to late we watched a movie with (you guessed it) food theme.

 

Drawbacks and lessons learned

Because I am not a big fan of ready-cooked at any stage, these meals claimed quite a lot of time as meals were prepared from scratch including mayonnaise and similar things which most people buy. Everything around like shopping and setting the table also demanded a fair share of time, as did the actual dinners. Besides being time consuming, you cannot have a seven-course dinner every day without feeling you have had enough. You can only eat a limited amount of food at each meal and after a while we run out of space in our fridge and freezer. C’est la vie! All good things must come to an end… Although we have continued to have similar dinners now and then, I must admit that I have let myself slack, mainly because we moved to a new location and I left all my cutlery behind, but it is not too late to make a new attempt. New books like “A kitchen in France” by Mimi Thorisson, “Dinner with Mr Darcy” by Pen Vogler and “Sunday Suppers” by Karen Mordechai are really inspirational. So basically, I haven’t learned a thing! I would do it again anytime, and I think I will start already this Sunday. Bon appetite!

 

Nina Gustafson is originally from the Stockholm area in Sweden but currently lives in Cambridge in the UK. She is a sociologist by training and works in academia. Her blog posts cover high and low subjects but with a clear focus on the academic life and other joys of life such as cooking/dinners, yoga, travels and much more.

The Love Jam Recipe

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What makes a great jam? I think a great jam is made from different types of fruit and uses different types of sugars.

The Love Jam is a little bit runnier than the usual jam, but the flavor is amazing and very addictive. Why? Because of the different types of sugar that I have used for this recipe.

 

Ingredients:

500g frozen summer fruits 

350g frozen raspberries

425g sugar: 105g  dark muscovado (unrefined cane) sugar, 120g unrefined cane sugar, 200g jam sugar

For a more intense taste use 225g dark muscovado (unrefined cane) sugar and 200g jam sugar (or alternatively unrefined cane sugar or the natural sugar substitute xylitol).

 

Before you start, sterilize three jam jars and their lids. Put the jars and lids in the sink and cover them with boiling water for 10 minutes. Alternatively you can lay the jars and lids on a baking tray in the oven and heat them at around 100°C , or put them in the dishwasher.

Put the fruit and sugar in a saucepan and heat it up to 100°C and then let the jam cook for about 15 min to 20 min. Don’t forget to keep stirring the mix so it doesn’t burn.

Put the jam immediately in the sterilized  jam jars. Close the jars and turn them on their heads, leaving them like that for 5 minutes.

 

Tips to know the jam has set:

  • Put two or three metal spoons in the freezer an hour before you start making your jam. After your jam has boiled for the prescribed amount of time, dribble some of the hot jam from the pot onto one of the frozen spoons and wait a few seconds for it to cool. If the jam runs right off the spoon and looks thin and runny, it’s not done yet.
  • Marisa McClellan suggests to “swirl your spatula through your cooking jam, hold it up over the pot, and watch how it falls. However, if the jam runs right off the spoon and looks thin and runny, it’s not done yet. If it forms thick droplets that hang heavily off the bowl of the utensil, but don’t immediately fall off, it is either nearing completion or is done.”

Roasted Vegetables, Halloumi and Tahini

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15 min preparation time

4 servings

 

Ingredients:

2 large sweet potatoes (peel and cut into 2cm x 1 cm wedges)

2 red onions (cut into 3 cm wedges)

2 large aubergines (cut into 2cm x 1 cm wedges)

300 – 400g of Halloumi (cut in slices)

1 tbsp za’atar

2 gloves of garlic

2 tbsp roughly chopped flat-leave parsley

Olive oil

Maldon sea salt and black pepper

 

Tahini Sauce:

3 ½ tbsp tahini paste

Salt & Pepper

1 tsp of cayenne pepper

Juice of ½  lemon

1 large garlic clove, cut into small pieces or crushed

 

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees. Put the sweet potatoes, onions, and aubergines plus 2 gloves of garlic on a large baking sheet. Drizzle salt and pepper and olive oil over the mix and toss well. Put the mix in the oven and leave in there for 25 to 30 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting in the oven, you can make the sauce:  place the tahini in a small bowl along with the lemon juice, garlic and spices. Add 3 to 5 tablespoons of water and whisk to give it the consistency of thick honey; adding more water or tahini if necessary.

When ready take the vegetable mix out of the oven and cover it with slices of halloumi and put it back into the oven for another 3 to 5 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden brown.

To serve, sprinkle the tahini sauce plus za’atar and parsley over the vegetables and cheese platter.

The Vegetable Mix without Cheese.
The Vegetable Mix without Cheese

 

Note: I used Ottholenghi’s recipe ‘Roast butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za’atar’ from his cookbook Jerusalem for inspiration.

Healthy Bircher Muesli with Blueberry Compote

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Nutritious Bircher muesli made with low-calorie almond milk and healthy blueberry compote; both contain antioxidant properties, which are essential to your skin’s health.

 

5 min preparation time

3 servings

 

Muesli:

150g rolled oats

350ml almond milk

1 tsp vanilla powder or extract

Mix all ingredients together, stir well and leave overnight in the fridge.

 

Compote:

300g fresh or defrosted blueberries

2 tbsp chia seeds

1 ½ tbsp honey

 

Puree the blueberries in a food processor or blender until smooth and stir in the chia seeds plus honey. The chia seeds will expand overnight and bind the ingredients into delicious compote. In the morning, serve the Bircher muesli with the blueberry compote on top and perhaps add some pistachios for a salty edge.

Note: I used Madeleine Shaw’s cookbook Ready Steady Glow for inspiration