Did you ever have those moments in your life, like little signs, that you were on the right track to something good? I've had a few, and not to get all Oprah on y'all, but I'm lucky I paid attention. Because if you don't pay attention to the sign, then what's the point?
Flashback: 1997. A young, rosy cheeked Renee, fresh out of University with her shiny new Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. Confused beyond confused as to what to do with this expensive and impractical degree. Why, go get more education! Why not? It's only money, and for god's sake study something PRACTICAL this time. The only catch had to be that it was something I was passionate about, creative, and something I loved to do. Cooking had always been in my blood, so enrolling in Culinary School at NAIT in Edmonton was really a no brainer. The first few classes were okay...lots of training on how to make soups and sauces, braise meat, make potato salad, and crèmè Anglaisè. I was a little underwhelmed, but then I met Mr. Butler in second semester, and my eyes were opened to having a culinary career that did not have to be about line cooking and deep frying. Cooking could be creative and intuitive and artistic. Imagine that!
John Butler taught a class called "International". His class went something like this: one day we would research and discuss food from a particular country, and the next day we would whip up the recipes we wanted to make. There were no guidelines other than the recipes had to be from that country and we had to style and plate the items so they looked beautiful. You can imagine how I loved this class. Free reign to make whatever I wanted, and make it look pretty! Yes! This was my absolute FAVOURITE class, and Mr. Butler saw something in my keen eye for design (and my food didn't taste half bad either.) He encouraged me to think more about food styling and design, and his words never left me.
His encouragement kept me going, and because I finally had confidence in being good at something, I knew that cooking was the right thing for me. My love of the "International" class was one important hint that I was on the right track to something good. Thankfully I stuck with the rest of the culinary program, and landed some pretty great jobs throughout my career. (Some jobs were better than others, but that's another story for another time.) Though John Butler has passed on now, I think he would love what appears on these pages.
When we were researching France, I came across a recipe for Clafoutis. I had never tried this dessert before, but the photo probably looked amazing and I was curious, so I made it. What a revelation! Such a simple dessert, but with so much flavour and versatility. All it entails is whipping up a light egg batter, pouring this into a buttered baking dish, and then arranging fruit on top. (I love baking it in my cast iron, just because it looks so pretty.) Clafoutis originated in the Limousin region of France, to showcase their spectacular cherries. Some recipes even say to leave the pits inside the cherries, but I value my dental work too much, so I pitted them (if you do not have a cherry pitter you can do what I do and use a large piping tip (star tip or round) just twist and out they come like magic.
No cherries? No problem! You can use any fruit you like except strawberries (too juicy!). Raspberries and apricots, peaches and blueberries, cranberries and pears, plums and blackberries. Whatever you fancy! Clafoutis only takes about 40 minutes to bake and voila!!! The eggs make the batter puff up into golden gorgeousness. Almost breathtaking really. There's a buttery crust and the fruit almost melts into the velvety, flan-like centre. Let it cool a bit before you dust it with icing sugar and cut into wedges. Most excellent for breakfast noshing too. This recipe has been with me since the last millennium, and it never gets boring.
2 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups pitted cherries, or any fruit you like
Preheat oven o 375 degrees. Melt butter in an 8 or 10 inch oven proof baking dish, with deep sides. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with milk and vanilla. Add the flour and salt and sugar. Mix well. Take the baking dish out of the oven and swoosh the melted butter all around, being careful to get the butter on the sides too. Just don't get any on yourself! Pour the eggy batter into the dish. Arrange your selected fruit on top. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, or granulated, and place back in oven. Bake for 40 minutes, until it's golden and gorgeous. Serves 4-6.