Week One : Scratching the surface

In our life before Monday morning, before the surplus hit, I had a meal plan for the week and a refrigerator full of food. We even had things like apples and carrots. So switching our whole diet to tubers was going to take some time. My head spinning and my heart still racing from my impactful decision to single-handedly subsidize most of Normandy, for lunch on Monday I made a bolognaise sauce over zucchini. Not a spud in sight. By dinnertime, I had summoned the courage to start scratching the surface: Medaillons de lotte au cidre (translate: Monkfish in cider).  A mighty four apples down, I reconsidered my timid approach and reworked the meal plan.

On the menu this week:

Medaillons de lotte au cidre (Monkfish in cider)

Baked Potato and Ginger-glazed carrots

Fish pie

Medaillons de lotte au cidre (Monkfish in cider)

We’re pretty sure that lotte translates to monkfish. It’s not a fish we’d ever seen before coming to France and I have no idea why we thought we should try it.  Most likely while trying to buy something mundane like salmon, I pointed a bit too far to the left and with a brave stroke of inter-cultural misunderstanding, we ended up with lotte. In the meantime, it’s become something of a regular in our diet. Lotte is one of those really exceptional delicacies that when meticulously prepared, properly seasoned and painstakingly cooked, tastes just like chicken, at merely four times the price.

Here’s what it looks like at a French market:

and here it is ready for action :

I found this particular recipe, likely a mainstay of the finest French culinary traditions, the way I find most recipes, Google.  I’ll translate the recipe here into real-life, but for die-hard chefs: the original. If you can’t get your hands on any monkfish, you can just use a can of tuna.

Monkfish, tail, 4 pieces (It is only the tail that one can buy, in itself quite impressive, but which begs the questions a) how big is a bloody Monkfish anyway?, and b) what happens to the rest of the fish?)

Shallots, 2  (Our last 2! But still feeling quite self-satisfied that I held my ground against the 20 kilo sack.)

Apples, the recipe calls for 2, so throw in at least 4 or 5.

Cider, 7 fl. oz  (200 ml) (hard, not “hot apple”)

Cream, 3.5 fl. oz. (100 ml)

Light margarine, 1-½ Tbsp.  (20 g)

Salt

Pepper

  1. Peel and finely chop the shallots.
  2. Preheat oven to 400° F (200°C).
  3. Peel and core the apples, cut into small pieces. (As a matter of principle, I only peel apples when not doing so would cause a small riot amongst the under-fives in our household. In this case, skip that step.)
  4. Melt the margarine (double-check, is this really a French recipe? With light margarine? Do they even sell that here? Use butter instead.), and cook the apples until they are soft.
  5. Lightly grease a baking sheet or pan, sprinkle with the chopped shallots, place the fish pieces on top and pour cider over everything. Salt and pepper as desired. (We didn’t happen to have any cider, but I found a half-empty bottle of Pommeau—a mixture of cider and the apple liqueur Calvados, that after a quick swig, seemed a suitable replacement. Don’t be tempted to replace the cider with anything less than your strongest mead. The toddler will thank you.)
  1. Bake 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Remove the fish. Scrape the shallots and juices into a saucepan. Here the recipe suggests reducing the mixture by half, adding the cream and then reducing it again. I don’t generally have the time and patience for such niceties. I added the cream and cooked it for about the time it took me to set the table. *A note on the cream: no skimping. You cannot replace cream with skim milk and should you already be so tempted, I can assure you that you will never rise to the heights of French cooking. Anyway you’ve already made it this far: you’ve cooked the apples in real butter and finished off the rest of the cider, now is not the time to start reading labels.
  3. Serve the fish with the sauce and apples, Season as desired. The correct French translation instructs to “powder with ‘Fleur de sel’ and freshly ground pepper”. If you’re going for authenticity, break out the good stuff, otherwise Morton’s will do.

I took a photo of the final dish but if I post it here you will never ever attempt to make Medaillons de lotte au cidre, even if you happen to have a surplus of monkfish. It turns out food photography under artificial lighting surpasses the capacity of a standard mobile phone.  Instead a tribute to the most important ingredient of the night:

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Medaillons de lotte au cidre (Monkfish in cider)

I found this particular recipe, likely a mainstay of the finest French culinary traditions, the way I find most recipes, Google. If you can’t get your hands on any monkfish, you can just use a can of tuna. (That’s a joke)
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Monkfish tail, 4 pieces
  • Shallots 2
  • Apples the recipe calls for 2, so throw in at least 4 or 5.
  • Cider 7 fl. oz (200 ml) (hard, not “hot apple”)
  • Cream 3.5 fl. oz. (100 ml)
  • Butter 1-½ Tbsp. (20 g)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Instructions

  • Peel and finely chop the shallots.
  • Preheat oven to 400° F (200°C).
  • Peel and core the apples, cut into small pieces. Melt the butter and cook the apples until they are soft.
  • Lightly grease a baking sheet or pan, sprinkle with the chopped shallots, place the fish pieces on top and pour cider over everything. Salt and pepper as desired.
  • Bake 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Remove the fish. Scrape the shallots and juices into a saucepan. Here the recipe suggests reducing the mixture by half, adding the cream and then reducing it again. I don’t generally have the time and patience for such niceties. I added the cream and cooked it for about the time it took me to set the table.
  • Serve the fish with the sauce and apples. Season as desired. The correct French translation instructs to “powder with ‘Fleur de sel’ and freshly ground pepper”.

Notes

*A note on the cream: no skimping. You cannot replace cream with skim milk and should you already be so tempted, I can assure you that you will never rise to the heights of French cooking. Anyway you’ve already made it this far: you’ve cooked the apples in real butter and finished off the rest of the cider, now is not the time to start reading labels.

Admittedly day one didn’t make much of a dent in our surplus. Day 2, I introduced the potato in its highly-renowned and arguably most-popular form, accompanied by a good friend: the carrot.

Baked Potato and Ginger-glazed carrots

While opinions on the best way to bake a potato are divided (google : “how to bake a potato”), I think we can all agree that including “Baked Potato” as a recipe is absolutely preposterous and it’s really the Ginger-glazed carrots that has kept you reading.  So without further ado:

  1. With a sharp knife and great gusto, slice open the first of two 50-lb. sacks of potatoes. Grab as many potatoes as you think you can convince your family to eat in one sitting (this is pretty much how every potato recipe is going to start from here on out…).
  2. Wash them, dry them, stick them with a fork.
  3. Here the roads diverge. To keep it simple, I use an oven. 400 degrees, 40 minutes or so. Done when pricked through easily with a fork. You can add aluminum foil, olive oil, salt, pepper and other fancy gimmicks at your own risk.

Baked Potato

While opinions on the best way to bake a potato are divided (google : “how to bake a potato”), I think we can all agree that including “Baked Potato” as a recipe is absolutely preposterous and it’s really the Ginger-glazed carrots that has kept you reading.  So without further ado:
Print Recipe

Instructions

  • With a sharp knife and great gusto, slice open the first of two 50-lb. sacks of potatoes. Grab as many potatoes as you think you can convince your family to eat in one sitting (this is pretty much how every potato recipe is going to start from here on out…).
  • Wash them, dry them, stick them with a fork.
  • Here the roads diverge. To keep it simple, I use an oven. 400 degrees, 40 minutes or so. Done when pricked through easily with a fork. You can add aluminum foil, olive oil, salt, pepper and other fancy gimmicks at your own risk.

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Ginger-glazed carrots

Adapted from the More-with-Less Cookbook. (a great resource for simple straight-forward recipes with ordinary ingredients, much unlike this blog.)

Carrots, again as many as you think you can eat in a sitting plus a reasonable amount of leftovers for tomorrow.

Butter, a number of tablespoons in proportion to your household size

Ground ginger, at least ½ teaspoon if grinding by hand. Otherwise forget the measuring spoons and add by feel.

Honey, the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon per 8 small carrots. Adjust accordingly, then double.

  1. Boil carrots in small amount of water.
  2. When almost tender, drain. The original recipe suggests saving the water for making soup, but who are we kidding? (Oh no, Noah, stay out of my soup water!)
  3. Heat butter, ginger and honey in heavy skillet.
  4. Add carrots, stirring to cover. Cook gently until coated. I wasn’t really sure at what point the carrots can be deemed properly coated so again the “in the time it takes to set the table” or “in the time it takes to clean up the mess your toddler made while you were carefully pouring soup water into a mason jar” applies.

Ginger-glazed carrots

Adapted from the More-with-Less Cookbook. (a great resource for simple straight-forward recipes with ordinary ingredients, much unlike this blog.)
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Carrots again as many as you think you can eat in a sitting plus a reasonable amount of leftovers for tomorrow.
  • Butter a number of tablespoons in proportion to your household size
  • Ground ginger at least ½ teaspoon if grinding by hand. Otherwise forget the measuring spoons and add by feel.
  • Honey the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon per 8 small carrots. Adjust accordingly, then double.

Instructions

  • Boil carrots in small amount of water.
  • When almost tender, drain.
  • Heat butter, ginger and honey in heavy skillet.
  • Add carrots, stirring to cover.
  • Cook gently until coated.


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Fastforward to Friday and an Anglican favorite :

Fish Pie

Brought to you by the fine folks at The Baby-led Weaning Cookbook, an excellent resource for parents who aren’t thrilled about the idea of washing a blender nine times a day after preparing special three—course meals of mushy stew for a six-month old.  Give the toothless baby a carrot to slobber on and feel good about it!

Potatoes, 14 oz (400 g) (Most European cookbooks give measurements in weight. While it is clearly the more precise method, I don’t have the discipline to get down the kitchen scale to weigh potatoes.  Besides potatoes are not something we’re skimping on at the moment. From experience, use about 4-5 big ones, maybe 7-8 small.)

Carrots, not included in the original recipe but always in season at our house

White fish fillet, 10-½ oz (300 g) (Pollack, cod, haddock, probably save the monkfish for your next bottle of cider.)

Milk, 6 fl.oz. (180 ml)

Butter, 1-½ Tbsp. (20 g)

Flour, 1-½ Tbsp. (15 g)

Parsley, fresh, 1 Tbsp.

Black Pepper, freshly ground, by hand with stone and mortar

Cheese, grated, 2 oz. (60 g)

  1. Start boiling the potatoes because they take ages to cook. In fact best if you started boiling them while you were still reading the recipe for Monkfish.
  2. Cook the carrots until just done. Nonchalantly and without regret, toss the soup water.
  3. Simmer the fish in another saucepan with 4 fl.oz. of milk for about 10 minutes until cooked through. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and reserve the milk.
  4. When the potatoes are cooked, mash them up with some of the uncooked milk and a good slab of butter.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400° F (200°C).
  6. Melt another chunk of butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and whisk together. Remove from heat. Pour in the reserved milk and the leftover milk. Stir constantly. Do not be distracted by the screaming in the living room. Head injuries can wait. Return the pan to the heat, bring to a boil, keep stirring. Do not be distracted by the wailing in the bathroom. Wiping can wait. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, stirring all the time. Don’t be distracted by… wait, it’s suddenly quiet in the house?
  7. Combine the sauce with the fish, the “fresh” wilted yellow parsley that’s been languishing in the crisper box for the last two weeks, the carrots and the black pepper. Pour into an ovenproof dish. (Who’s keeping track of how many pans this recipe has required?)
  1. Spread the mashed potatoes on top. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.

9. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden.


10. Stack all of the pots into the sink for the magic house fairy to tidy up.

Fish Pie

Brought to you by the fine folks at The Baby-led Weaning Cookbook, an excellent resource for parents who aren’t thrilled about the idea of washing a blender nine times a day after preparing special three—course meals of mushy stew for a six-month old.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Potatoes 14 oz (400 g)
  • Carrots not included in the original recipe but always in season at our house
  • White fish fillet 10-½ oz (300 g) (Pollack, cod, haddock)
  • Milk 6 fl.oz. (180 ml)
  • Butter 1-½ Tbsp. (20 g)
  • Flour 1-½ Tbsp. (15 g)
  • Parsley fresh, 1 Tbsp.
  • Black Pepper freshly ground
  • Cheese grated, 2 oz. (60 g)

Instructions

  • Start boiling the potatoes because they take ages to cook.
  • Cook the carrots until just done.
  • Simmer the fish in another saucepan with 4 fl.oz. of milk for about 10 minutes until cooked through.
  • Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and reserve the milk.
  • When the potatoes are cooked, mash them up with some of the uncooked milk and a good slab of butter.
  • Preheat the oven to 400° F (200°C).
  • Melt another chunk of butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and whisk together. Remove from heat. Pour in the reserved milk and the leftover milk. Stir constantly.
  • Return the pan to the heat, bring to a boil, keep stirring.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, stirring all the time.
  • Combine the sauce with the fish, the parsley, the carrots and the black pepper.
  • Pour into an ovenproof dish.
  • Spread the mashed potatoes on top. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden.


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2 Comments

  1. I love your perspectives. I feel like I’m right there with you. I am definitely going to make the fish stew.

  2. Love it Mo, especially your hilarious commentary. Wish we were there to partake in your culinary adventures but I will definitely be following along!

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