Tarte de Cambrai -- Easy French "Cake" with Fresh Fruit

Tarte de Cambrai, also known as Tarte Normande, is a easily made cake-like dessert with fresh fruit baked into the top. The original was made with apples, the major fruit of Normandy, in the northwest of France, where this dessert is a traditional specialty. Pears are also used, as are fresh plums, which are my favorite. Sometimes the apple version, reportedly, contains some Calvados, the apple brandy of Normandy. 

In our house, this tarte has become a standard dessert that my wife, Christina, makes. having found a recipe in a cooking magazine 40 years or more ago, possible "Cuisine." Depending on what fruit is in season, she makes the treat with any of the three typical fruits. Right now with prune plums in season she just used those, as pictured in this posting.

The traditional topping in France is Crème Fraiche, the French version of sour cream. Sour cream or whipped cream, or even a little vanilla ice cream can be used here when serving the tarte. 

The recipe makes a 10-inch round cake, enough to serve six to eight for dessert or tea snack. 

5 large ripe apples or pears, or 10-12 medium-small dark-colored plums

1 tablespoon lemon juice for the fruit 


10 tablespoons (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) flour

6 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt (the French use less)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla


2 tablespoons sliced almonds (optional)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

Set oven for 375 degrees.

Peel apples or pears, if used. Quarter them and cut out the cores. Cut the fruit lengthwise into 1/4-inch wide wedge-like slices. Toss them with the lemon juice. Or, if using plums, rinse them but do not peel. Cut them in half around the pit, twist them to free up the pit, or cut along it with a knife to remove it. Keep the plum halves intact if they are small, or cut them in half if large. Toss them with the lemon juice.

In a mixing bowl, place all the batter ingredients and mix them together well by hand using a whisk or large fork. 

Grease a 10-inch round baking dish that the tarte will be served from. Spread the batter evenly in the dish. Arrange the fruit attractively on top of the batter. If using sliced almonds, scatter them over the surface. Sprinkle the top evenly with the 2 tablespoons of sugar, then cut the butter into bits and scatter them evenly on top.  

Bake 40-50 minutes or until the tarte has risen and the top is golde
n brown. 

Eat warm with whipped cream, sour cream, or vanilla ice cream.



Cauliflower-Cheese Rissoles -- a little like Vegetarian Crab Cakes

Experimenting recently with ”Riced Cauliflower,” which has come into a certain vogue, particularly among vegetarians and gluten avoiders, I tried making a vegetarian “meatball” for my granddaughter Clara, who does not eat meat. In the course of those trials, I realized I can make something as useful as Riced Cauliflower, but much cheaper, as well as easier to source, from actual cauliflower. And I could then turn that into a baked cauliflower-cheese cake, or “rissole.” With a little sauce over it, that rissole makes a very nice appetizer, hot or at room temperature. Conceivably I could also make a larger cauliflower-cheese “burger” by shaping the cake differently and serve it on a toasted bun..


Here is the appetizer rissole version, small, somewhat flat, baked cakes. With a little sauce, like a rémoulade for example, the rissoles are suggestive of vegetarian crab cakes and make a very nice appetizer. For this demonstration, I used my current favorite rémoulade sauce, “Rose Sauce,” which I described in a separate blog post. I’m repeating the recipe here for convenience. Other cold sauces, or even a cocktail sauce, would also work with these rissoles.


It’s convenient to make these rissoles ahead of time, then serve them at room temperature, or quickly reheat them in the oven to serve them warm. Similarly, the sauce, which is very easy, should be made ahead.


The recipe, based on a small cauliflower, makes enough rissoles for appetizers for 4 to 6 people. To make a larger batch, use a medium-sized cauliflower and increase the other ingredients, except for the egg, by 50%. Or double the entire recipe.


The rissoles


1 small cauliflower (about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds, including leaves)

1 cup (lightly packed) grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs, plus 2 extra tablespoons for finishing

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

A large pinch of cayenne

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons Dijon or brown mustard

1 egg, lightly beaten


Cut away the leaves from the cauliflower and cut cauliflower pieces and their stems off the main stalk. Place those on a microwaveable plate and cook in the microwave at full power for three minutes at a time up to a total of 12 minutes. Test for doneness by cutting off a little piece and biting into it. If it’s tender, cool the cauliflower. If still crunchy, roast another 3 minutes.


Put a third of the cooked cauliflower pieces on a cutting board and chop them finely with a chef’s knife. Transfer to a bowl, and do the same chopping twice more for the remaining cauliflower.


To the chopped cauliflower in the bowl, add all the remaining ingredients except the egg, and mix together well. Taste the mixture (before the egg is added), to be sure the salt is enough, since cauliflowers vary in size. Add a little salt if necessary. Beat the egg lightly in a bowl and combine it thoroughly into the cauliflower mixture. The mixture is somewhat sticky. It’s easier to handle if refrigerated for half an hour or more.


Set oven for 325 degrees. Grease or oil a baking sheet, such as a cookie pan. Put the extra 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs on a small plate. With hands (rub them with a little oil to make the mixture stick to them less), make small cakes, all about the same size, of the cauliflower mixture and touch them on the breadcrumbs plus sprinkle them with a little more of the crumbs. Flatten cakes somewhat and place them on the greased pan.


Bake the cakes ten minutes in the preheated oven. Slide a thin metal spatula under them and turn them over. Bake another ten minutes, then turn the cakes again. Bake for a final ten minutes, or until they are looking a little golden.


Serve warm,or at room temperature, arranged on a platter, accompanied with a sauce for spooning over them. Or they can be refrigerated, then reheated briefly in the oven on a flat pan to serve hot.


Quick Rose Sauce (a Rémoulade)


3 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons tomato ketchup

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

A large pinch of salt


Mix all ingredients together well. Place in a decorative small bowl to serve with the cauliflower rissoles.



 Tomato and Avocado Appetizer "Salad"

Avocadoes make an easy and delicious appetizer course. As simple a dish as a halved avocado with  a simple salad dressing or just balsamic vinegar and salt starts a dinner well. But combined with fresh, sweet tomatoes and a fancier dressing. avocado can be quite elegant, yet very simple to prepare.

Here's an appetizer "salad" of avocado and tomato topped lightly with my favorite Rose Sauce and a bit of chive or shredded green onion top. I wrote a blog post just on the sauce, but here I'm applying it to enhance these delightful vegetables (which are technically both "fruits"). Since fresh local farm-raised tomatoes aren't readily available right now, I'm using the Campari tomatoes that are available at supermarkets year round, which are reliably sweet and beautifully dark red. They are specially developed hybrids (not GMO) for hydroponic and greenhouse production. I believe this same type of tomatoes are also marketed as "Cocktail" tomatoes, and come on the stems.

The recipe serves six, and should be made and served on individual appetizer plates.

3 ripe avocadoes

6 medium-small ripe tomatoes, preferably "Campari" or "Cocktail"

Finely cut chives or green onion top for garnish

Rose sauce

3 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons tomato ketchup

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

A large pinch of salt

Mix the sauce ingredients together well.

Cut avocadoes in half and remove the pits. Peel the avocado halves and cut each half into pieces on a separate appetizer plate. Cut a tomato into either four or six wedges, depending on size, and place them attractively among the avocado pieces on
a plate. Spoon about a tablespoon of rose sauce over the vegetable pieces on each plate. Sprinkle a small amount of cut chive or green onion top over the dressed plate, allowing a few to fall onto the plate outside the vegetables and sauce.

Serve as the appetizer course for your dinner.



Pasta al Tonno, Pasta with Tuna and Tomato



In the United States, we are familiar with a limited number of pasta dishes. By contrast, in Italy, where pasta is ubiquitous, there are dozens if not hundreds of different, named, pasta dishes. Many of those are lighter, or simpler, than what we are used to. But in Italy, pasta typically serves as an early course in the dinner, or sometimes as a snack or light lunch, and not as the main dinner dish.


I first encountered pasta with tuna in Sicily, in Syracusa specifically. As I recall it was made with a “long” pasta, spaghetti or possibly linguine. But the dish can also be made with “short” pasta.


I’ve since learned that most of the tuna fishing by Italian fishermen is based out of coastal villages in Sicily. And while pasta with tuna and tomato is made elsewhere in Italy, it is a specialty in Sicily, particularly when made with fresh tuna. I’m pretty sure, though, that the pasta al tonno I first ate had canned tuna, as the dish typically does in Italy.


Here’s a delightful, fairly light, Pasta al Tonno, that can serve as part of a dinner, or as a light meal in its own right, accompanied by a simple salad. This dish is relatively quick and easy to make, but should be cooked shortly before eating.


In Italian cooking, pasta dishes that feature seafood, rather than meat or vegetables, rarely also contain cheese. Cheese makes a pasta dish heavy, and the point of seafood is lightness.


The best canned tuna for this dish is imported from Italy and is solid and packed in olive oil. At our local supermarket the closest I can get is Yellow Fin tuna canned in olive oil with the brand name “Genova.” which though not actually from Italy works satisfactorily for the dish.


The Italian trick of gently frying the garlic, somewhat crushed, in olive oil till golden then removing it keeps the floral essence of garlic without any of the bitterness or coarseness.


The recipe serves 6 people as the pasta course of a bigger dinner or as a light lunch or supper meal. In Italy, salad is served after the main course, but here we’d typically have the salad along with the pasta or dinner.


1 (4 to 5 ounce) can solid-meat tuna packed in oil, preferably olive oil

3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and partially crushed (with the bottom of a tumbler)

2 tablespoons capers, drained (optional)

1/4 teaspoon dry crushed red pepper flakes

1 (14-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 medium-sized fresh basil leaves, or leaves from 4 sprigs flat (“Italian”) parsley

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces (1/2 pound) spaghetti, or short pasta, such as Rotini or Ziti


Have all the ingredients ready, cans opened, etc. Keep the juices in the tuna can, since they are used in the recipe. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a teaspoon of salt, ready to boil the pasta.


Heat a heavy, shallow pan to medium-low, and gently fry the crushed garlic in the olive oil, stirring very frequently, until the garlic is golden colored. Lift garlic out of the pan, keeping the now-flavored oil in the pan. Add the drained capers, if used, and stir and fry about 10 seconds. Add the crushed dry pepper and stir and fry 5 seconds. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pan. Press the lid of the tuna can gently into the tuna and add the juices to the pan. Stir and fry the tomatoes over medium heat a few minutes until the liquid is reduced somewhat. Stir in the salt and basil or parsley leaves and turn off the heat.


While the tomatoes are cooking, add the pasta to the boiling, salted water, and stir well for the first minute so the pasta doesn’t stick together. Then stir it less frequently. After 5 minutes or so, begin biting into a bit of the pasta to check for tenderness. When no crunch is present, and the pasta reaches the tenderness you want, drain it in a colander, catching some of the pasta water in a small bowl.


Put drained pasta into a bowl to mix, add the cooked tomato sauce. Using a fork, break up the tuna in its can and add it to the pasta. Toss this all together briefly. If the mixture is dry, add a little of the reserved pasta-boiling water to moisten it. Taste for salt, and if needed add a bit. Transfer mixed pasta to a serving bowl and serve immediately.




Rose Sauce, a Simple but Luscious Condiment



Rose (or Pink) Sauce is a sort of “rémoulade” that I developed based on several more traditional similar sauces. It works well as a condiment with vegetarian dishes, French fries, and crab cakes. (Elsewhere in this blog -- check the index -- the sauce is the topping for cauliflower-cheese rissoles.)


The sauce was influenced by “Salsa Rosa,” a Puerto Rican topping for fried ripe plantains. (That salsa couldn’t be easier to make: a mixture of mayonnaise and tomato ketchup.) Another influence was an originally French sauce we encountered in West Africa used both on cooked shrimp and on avocado. Finally, I couldn’t resist adding a little horseradish, which is a key flavor in the sauce used on American shrimp cocktail.


Here’s the recipe for a batch big enough to serve as the condiment for a meal for six. It will store, refrigerated, for a few days, but it’s quick enough to make fresh as needed.


3 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons tomato ketchup

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

A pinch of sea salt


In a small bowl, mix the five ingredients together well with a fork. Taste and add a tiny bit of salt if needed.


Place in a small dish to spoon onto whatever you’re serving it with.





Chicken and Biscuits, for my Grandson



Simple, down-home favorites, like chicken and biscuits, often to go over well with kids -- like my grand kids. The trick is to make the dish simple enough so they don’t get turned off (no unusual seasonings, no green bits in there), yet interesting enough to satisfy the adults eating with them.


Here’s my try at a simple-to-make “Chicken and Biscuits” for a recent dinner for a chicken-loving grandson, Roscoe, and his family. For convenience I used boneless, skinless chicken breast, commercially available buttermilk biscuits, and fresh broccoli (which my grandson likes) as our side vegetable and some color on the plate.


Suddenly, this is Roscoe’s third favorite meal that I cook, after Indian Butter Chicken with naan and Chinese stir-fried chicken with vegetable and rice.


The recipe serves six


2 medium-large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1-1/2 pounds)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 small clove garlic, put through a press or finely minced

6 tablespoons sour cream


6 large homemade biscuits, or 1 tube package of 10-12 refrigerated commercial biscuits, baked following directions, and served warm when the chicken is done.


Trim off any tough parts or excess fat from the chicken breasts. Sprinkle them on both sides with a mixture of the salt, paprika and black pepper. Let sit at least 10 minutes.


Heat a heavy frying pan to medium hot. Add olive oil and butter. As soon as they are hot, place the chicken breasts in the pan and cover it. After one minute, turn the chicken breasts with a metal spatula. Cover pan and cook another minute on the second side. Then, on medium low heat, continue to fry the chicken, with the cover on the pan, turning the chicken pieces every 2 minutes, until it they are dark golden and feel somewhat firm. Turn off heat and keep the pan covered another 20 minutes.


Remove the chicken pieces to a cutting board, keeping the pan juices. With sharp knife, slice the chicken across into 1/4-inch slices. Hold this chicken until ready to finish the dish.


Bake the biscuits just before starting to finish the chicken dish.


Reheat the pan used to fry the chicken, still containing the juices from the frying. Add the pressed or minced garlic and stir for 10 seconds. Add the sour cream, and stir until it comes to a bubble. Add the sliced, precooked chicken and heat quickly over high heat, stirring and turning the chicken pieces. If the sauce is dry, add a little water to make it soupier. Taste the sauce and add a little salt if needed.


Serve chicken and sauce on a plate near one large or 1-2 smaller biscuits. Accompany with a colorful vegetable, such as broccoli. 



Chicken Créole with Chayote

Chicken cooked in the “Creole” manner means many different things, from Louisiana, to Haiti (“Poulet á la Créole”), to cooking I encountered in Madagascar at a restaurant featuring food from the French Pacific island of Réunion. “Créole” (which has the counterpart terms “Criollo” in Spanish and “Crioulo” in Portuguese) originally indicated a person of European French ancestry who was born and raised in the colonies or overseas territories. The meaning of Creole has broadened over time to include other ancestries, but there was at least some French background. The term now applies to ethnicity, language, and particularly cooking.


Creole cooking in Louisiana shares influences with Spanish Caribbean and Haitian cooking. These include local meats, seafood, vegetables and spices.


Chayote Squash
The recipe below combines several influences I experienced in French-speaking tropical countries. Chicken is common, though usually cooked on the bone, unlike my easier version. And a wonderful vegetable in the squash family, most familiar to Americans  under its Spanish name “Chayote,” is frequent in areas with Creole cooking, including Louisiana and Haiti (where it’s called “Mirliton”) and elsewhere in the French-speaking Caribbean (called “Christophine”) and Jamaica (“Cho-Cho”). Chayote is available at Mexican and Latino grocery stores and some supermarkets.

In Louisiana and Haitian cuisine, a braised Creole chicken dish would be served with plain rice or with a seasoned rice dish. (There is a suitable “spiced rice” in this blog that can be found through the index.)


The recipe serves six, and should be accompanied by a rice dish.


1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 tablespoon flour for the chicken

3/4 teaspoon salt plus 1/4 teaspoon black pepper for seasoning chicken

1 large chayote squash

1/2 of a large stick of celery, minced

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large jalapeño, including seeds, minced

1 poblano or green bell pepper, diced

1 medium onion, diced

3 tablespoons olive oil for frying, plus 2 more later

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes plus 1/2 can of water

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice


On a cutting board trim tough or fatty parts off the chicken. Cut the flesh into 1-inch pieces. Season with the flour, salt and pepper, and set aside.


Rinse the chayote, but do not peel it. Split it lengthwise, and scoop out the small seed. Cut flesh into 1-inch pieces and set aside.


Prepare the other vegetables, putting them in separate piles on a tray for easy access.

In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil. Add the chicken and fry it on high heat, scraping under it very frequently with a metal spatula. Cook till raw color is gone and chicken just begins to turn golden. Lift chicken out to a bowl. 


Add 2 more tablespoons oil to the pot then add minced celery, and stir and fry about 2 minutes. Add minced garlic and jalapeño and fry, stirring another 2 minutes. Add diced onion and poblano or bell pepper and fry several minutes, stirring frequently, until onion starts to soften.


Add canned tomatoes and water, plus the seasonings and salt. Bring to a boil, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pepper is becoming tender.


Add the cut chayote, and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pre-fried chicken and any juices. Bring back to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes. Test a piece of chayote to see if it has become tender. If not, simmer a little more. But do not overcook the chayote.


Turn off the heat. Stir well and taste for salt, adding a little if needed.


Serve now or, preferably, cool the dish and reheat later to serve. Taste for salt just before serving and adjust if needed. Accompany with a rice dish.



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