Friday, 24 December 2010


Just a quickie before I head off into the Wild West for a week of he-man, self-deprivation, eating-sticks-and-rocks in the frozen highlands of New Mexico, our most beautiful state. I've pretty much cleaned out the fridge of perishables, but there was this perfect potato in the fruit bowl—welll, not quite too perfect as it was turning green and starting to sprout. As my German grandma would say, "Diese Kartoffel ist noch essbar," and remembering Granny's frugality I decided to have it for dinner instead of throwing it out.

No, I really don't have a German granny. But Karen doesn't have a Jewish one either, and she has Hannukah parties all the same. This is going to be my tribute to both of our imaginary ancestors, with a froggy spin. Pommes Annette is a single-serving variant (okay, I just made this up now) on the classic Pommes Anna—made with one potato, salt, and olive oil. Yeah, I know butter is traditional, but I think olive oil tastes better, and you can throw in a wad of butter at the end for flavor if you absolutely must.

The Jewish angle is that this could be considered a version of Latke—eat it with applesauce if you like—in fact the potato I cooked was a remnant of those I had gotten for latkes during Hannukah. It's also super simple, fun to make, and it's very elegant to look at—just like Pommes Anna.

While the oil is heating in a skillet (preferably cast iron), cut the ends off the potato, peel and slice (a Benriner mandoline is great for this!). Spread out the slices on the cutting board and sprinkle with salt—just one side is fine. After making sure that the oil is sloshed all around the skillet, arrange the slices artfully. I like to start around the outside with the larger pieces, overlapping somewhat—the result is kind of chrysanthemum-like. It's got to be thin, because we're not going to turn it—it's going to cook through just from one side.

That's pretty much it. By the time the tater is fully cooked, there will be a very nice crust on the side that's down. If you're using cast iron, you may need to coax the browned slices off of the metal. [And if the skillet is not properly seasoned, you'll end up with crunchy mashed potatoes!] Flip it over onto a plate and eat.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Zabaglione-Persimmon Bread Pudding

Actually it's challah pudding, because the eggy loaf is one of the few things we ever have on hand to make bread pudding. I'll admit to not being a huge fan of challah—the word itself is Hebrew for "good to dry cars with"—and I am guessing it's one of those things you need to grow up with in order to actually like. Consumed within hours of emerging from the oven, a challah has the redeeming quality of being fresh. After that, well…it does make good bread pudding.

We're up to our earballs in persimmons, too. Dad has a tree. Mom's friends have trees, and drive-by persimmon donations are daily occurrences this time of year. Unfortunately, the ripening gets ahead the consumption, and through the magic of ethylene one overly-soft persimmon will turn a whole fruit bowl in a flash. Faced with one mostly neglected challah and a brace of ripe persimmons that had been isolated from the rest, a bread-persimmon pudding seemed like just the logical thing to do.

In place of a typical binder, I substituted zabaglione: four eggs, about a cup of sugar, half a cup of marsala are mixed continuously in a double boiler until thoroughly warm and frothy. The pulp of three very ripe persimmons (no seeds!) are blended in.

Meanwhile, in bowl number two, a torn-to-shreds most-of-a-challah is doused with milk and the persimmon/zabaglione mixture is added. The whole mess then gets put into a parchment-lined loaf pan, and then into the oven at 120°C (350°F) until cooked, which depends on the size of your loaf pan.

Served warm, it's actually pretty light.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lemony Snickett/Chicken ...

For the life of me, I cannot remember if I've posted this one before. If I have, please excuse me. If not, excuse me for not doing so earlier. It is, apparently, Italian in origin: what would I know?

The good thing is that it requires a bit of white wine, which means that you really have to open that bottle in the downstairs fridge and check it out. It will be fine, but you can never be too careful.

Anyway, you should start with some chicken: leg + thigh, which you need to cut into two bits: at the joint, please, or you'll bugger your knife for no good reason. If you really wish you can remove the skin: personally I have no problems with cholesterol so I leave it on, but if you're paranoid feel free to remove it.

Next step is to brown those bits all over: don't use a non-stick pan if you can help it, because the brown burnt-on bits are your friends, and don't use a cast-iron pan because lemon juice is not good for it. Whatever, brown them nicely: if they have their skins on you won't need to add any fat (see? remove the skins, need to add fat when cooking: leave skins on, don't. It all balances out, somewhere along the line. Karma, or something like that.)

That will take about 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Ensuring that there is some left, have some more wine at this point. When finally everything's nicely browned, turn the burner down low and chuck in a couple of chopped onions and some garlic and let them sweat in the fat until they soften and start to turn golden. At which point you need to fling in a good heaping tbsp of chopped fresh rosemary, and let it cook a little more.

Assuming there's still some white wine left (if not, open another bottle and hide the empty one somewhere no-one will find it for a while), slosh in a glass of that and the juice of a lemon and stir in all those lovely brown crispy bits.  Bring to a simmer, then cover and let it cook for about 40 minutes.

Which gives you forty minutes to drink, chat, and think about what goes with it. Personally I'd go (do, in fact, go) with buttered tagliatelle and a green salad, all of which are last-minute jobs and so need not concern us at this time.

Should, at any point during the cooking, the pan start to look a bit dry, just add a bit more wine. Or water, if you're that sort.

When the chicken is definitely cooked it's time to add a bit more lemon juice and white wine and get it seriously bubbling to reduce: then turn the heat right down, add 20cl of cream (I never promised this was lo-cal) , stir it in and keep on stirring until the whole lot thickens nicely.

At which point you may congratulate yourself on a job well done, serve it on top of the buttered pasta, and hit the bottle. Sophie's not keen on white, had to open some rosé. What a shame.

Credit for this one to Julie Biuso, whose book "Viva Italia" came into my sweaty hands at some point.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Baccalata: Glory to Cod in the Highest

For our little group’s most recent soiree gastronomique I proposed the theme of baccalà, or cod that has been transformed by the process of salting, storage, and desalting into something different and distinctly better than the rather bland, white protein favored for fish and chips (and rather little else). I also volunteered to procure the main ingredient for whomever wanted, and that turned out to be the event’s biggest challenge. It may be easy over there in Europe—just toodle on in to your local epicerie—but here in land of sliced bread it ain’t so easy. After a couple of chowhound inquiries, a few phone calls, and a mad rush-hour dash from San Diego to Harbor City I finally got some from a Spanish sausage company (where I couldn’t resist also buying some chorizo and pricey-but-worth-it Bellota ham).

For a Saturday night dinner party, I started soaking the fish in fresh, cold water on Tuesday evening, keeping things in the fridge and changing the water once every 24 hours or so. Tasting the water when you change is a good way of telling how much more you need to desalt—when the water is just mildly saline after the baccalà has been soaking in it for a day then the fish is about ready to use. I have overdone it with the desalting before, and the results are not so good. Friday morning I divided the fish three ways: Giusy needed quite a bit for her baccalà alla vicentina, Veronique needed less for a brandade, and I needed even less for either the quenelles or the salgadinhas, but since I was making two dishes I made sure to keep enough.

Here are the four baccalà dishes.

Quenelles: This is basically a classic fish dumpling usually made with pike. I substituted cod, of course, and ground about 300 grams of uncooked baccalà (desalted) into a pasty mass, then ran the paste through a food mill to remove any stringy matter. Added a pinch of white pepper and put this away for later.

The other part of these quenelles was a choux dough: 1 stick (½ cup) butter and 1 cup water, brought to a boil and to which I added 1 cup of flour. Stirring continuously the dough gets very solid and greasy and pulls nicely away from the side of the saucepan. Transferring that to a glass bowl, I then added three eggs, one at a time. This part is kinda fun. The mixture gets all slimy and lumpy after each egg is added but it soon turns smooth and the dough gets stickier with each egg. I let this cool to room temp until it was time to add the fish. [But see Karen's recipe on this blog if you want to make cream puffs.]

My take on quenelles is to mix the fish paste with the non-sweet pate choux in about a 40-60 mix (40% fish)—no need to be too precise. The fully mixed fishy choux dough then gets formed into the quenelle shape (do this with two tablespoons as you drop them into the simmering liquid--I used a court bouillon with chinese chives, parsley and oregano) and poached until they puff and float for a minute or so. I like to transfer the poached quenelles into a baking dish with a light tomato sauce on the bottom, and bake them for a bit longer—they get even puffier and lighter and develop a more interesting texture than only-poached quenelles.

So anyways, I thought the cod quenelles were pretty good, though I think they come out better with fresh fish. I also overbaked them a bit, hoping that they would puff out more. Oh well, they got eaten.

Salgadinhas de bacalhau e ervilhas: This is my take on a standard croquette made throughout Spain and Portugal--my brilliant innovation is the addition of peas, which was inspired by a conversation with my distant Brazilian cousin Pamela.

After prepping some of my aliquot of fish for quenelles, I poached the rest and flaked it (getting rid of the darker parts) and added a nice handful of frozen peas. Boiled some potatoes, ran them through a ricer, added a splash of heavy cream. I also had a sofrito with onions and garlic cooked down in some bacon fat, and I added that to the potatoes. When the potato/sofrito mixture was cool, I adjusted salt to taste and then added two eggs, the cod/pea mixture. The breading was good ol' Japanese panko crumbs.

You can form and bread these guys a couple of hours ahead of time, but make sure to fry them shortly before serving. I have the oil heating at around the time guests arrive and fry them (not too awkward in this group) while we drink. Put the quenelles in one oven while the other cooks warm their dishes in the other oven. More drinks (and I'm starting to sound like Trevor). It's terribly nice to hang with cooks. Anyways, the salgadinhas were good, though I do think that croquettes are generally neither horrifically bad nor insanely good. Being fried and crunchy and potato-ey, they were the preferred cod dish among the F1, who were all in my son's room playing Wii games while the rest of us blasphemed away (yes, lots of Cod jokes) in the kitchen.

Brandade de morue: Veronique (yes, a real French person) made this lovely dish, also based on baccalà and potatoes but working very nicely as a spread on crusty bread. Here's her recipe:

1 lb of baccalà, 1 lb of potatoes, sage, laurel leaves, thyme, warm milk, olive oil, garlic, black pepper

Poach the fish with the thyme, laurel and sage for about 10 min. Boil or steam the potatoes and cut them in pieces. Put in a blender with 2 cloves of garlic, and pepper. Blend well and add warm milk (about ¼ cups and olive oil until you get a smooth puree but not liquid; taste it as you go as you do not want the olive oil to dominate. You can also add a little bit of heavy cream if you want. Top with grated Swiss cheese and put in the oven to warm up and broil. Enjoy!

Baccalà alla vicentina con polenta: Giusy (yes, a real Italian person) made this, and it was excellent.

Cut the desalted baccalà into smallish pieces. Thinly slice up some onion (however much you want) and cook it down with some good olive oil until it's transparent. Add a couple of desalted anchovy fillets to the onion and keep it going on for about five more minutes, then turn off the fire and add some chopped parsley. Coat the baccalà with flour and spread them out in a glass baking dish. Spread out the sofrito over the fish pieces and pour in some whole milk, just enough to cover the fish. Top with grated parmigiano reggiano, salt and pepper (don't go crazy with the salt). Drizzle on a nice dose of olive oil, and cook this all in the oven (covered with foil presumably), at 250°F (125°C) for 3-4 hours. This dish is best if prepared a day in advance.

For the polenta, heat up a stick of butter (½ cup) with ¼ cup of olive oil in an amply-sized pot, and add three cloves of garlic (minced), salt, pepper and a healthy pinch of Italian seasoning (which here means a mix of dried basil, oregano, marjoram, and sage). After the garlic has cooked a bit add 2 cups of milk and 3 cups of chicken stock, and just when it come to a boil (i.e. before the milk curdles), add 2 cups of corn meal in a thin stream, stirring continuously and taking care not to get burned by the splashy bubbles of hot polenta. This will get pretty thick by the time the cornmeal is fully cooked, and that's the time to add ½ cup of grated parmigiano. Buon appetito. [translation by Jeff]

Giusy's take on polenta is quite different from mine—where I use salted water she uses an elaborate mixture of milk and chicken broth, butter and olive oil and dried herbs. This adds considerable flavor and makes a polenta that is lighter and better able to keep a nice texture for some time after being made and transported—an important consideration when you're taking polenta to someone else's house. She also insists that her dish is not a brasato, although I really like the thought that this is an example of how one can be perfectly secular while still braising Cod.

We also had the contribution of wine and a cheese platter from Claudia (yes, a real German person) and Mary (yes, a real Scottish person), who normally cooks, though their kitchen was under repair (another good reason for having a basement instead of building your house on a friggin' concrete slab!). Morgane, Veronique's daughter provided a chocolate torte. Giusy also brought a Pugliese dish of mashed fava beans and greens (should be puntarelle, a kind of chicory, but she could only find baby collards). I added a pavlova with zabaglione-tinged whipped cream.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Me, I love porridge. My children do too. But I am so lousy in the morning. If it's a choice between an extra ten minutes in bed and my kids going hungry, well, I know what I choose. Always, every day, I choose the extra time coasting (I think I first came across the term coasting in Peanuts. Lucy, or Linus perhaps, also made a habit of it).

But yesterday I figured out a way to get warm oatmeal into my children and still not have to get up. Baked oatmeal! And you know what, it's nicer than porridge. It's sweet and buttery, a bit like a hodgepodge of a pancake. And it couldn't be more straightforward to make.

1 1/2 cups oats (any kind will do, I should think, but I used rolled rather than porridge and it did make for a nice texture)
1/4 cup dark soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
2 tbs linseeds and/or wheatgerm (both of these are optional but a good way of sneaking nutritious things into your children first thing in the morning)
1/4 melted butter
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the dry ingredients together. Add the butter, milk, egg and vanilla extract and mix well.

Spread out in a baking dish of appropriate size. It will puff up a bit when it bakes.

Refrigerate overnight.

Choose a helpful child. Explain to him or her how to turn the oven on to 175 C.

The next morning instruct Helpful Child to put the dish of oatmeal in the oven for 25 minutes, by which time you should have got out of bed. Scoop it into bowls and serve adorned with nothing more than a splash of milk.

Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave the next day - and the day after that, if you make enough. Instant goodness!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Pasta with crab

It's been a while, I confess I've been very busy with the faéily. Had to choose between cooking for them or writing about cooking... But I'm back!
It's late summer now, here in the Alps I can feel autumn in the wind. So I'm cooking in between seasons foods. Which basically means going back to hot dishes instead of cold ones but still employing all the herbs & other goodies fresh from the garden.
Today's Sunday lunch was an example of this. We still eat outside every lunch time, but dinner is not a given, as the wind comes up or the rain comes down.
Last Thurs. there was a special at the supermarket on live crabs. Obviously, we couldn't pass this up. With the exception of my youngest, we all go mad for crab! So we picked them out, with enthusiastic participation of the verry child who refuses to eat them, then went back home in gleeful anticipation (ignoring the scuffling noises from the grocery bag) of a Sunday lunch.
Yes, Sunday, not the day after buying the crabs. Quandry: when to cook them? I consulted the helpful but slightly freaked out lady who sold me the crabs (clearly, alive & kicking seafood was too much, especially since she told us a few of the crabs had made a run for it) who insisted they must be cooked the next day.
So the next day I consulted a fellow foodie, crab expert in my mind, as she is the one who gave me the original crab pasta recipe. The big question was how to kill them with maximum of flavor and minimum guilt. Her suggestion was to freeze them for 30 min then toss the in boiling water for 20 min. This I could do. And did. With minimum discomfort to my conscience ( they slept thru it, I swear!). As always, the real nightmare was cleaning them: that made me swear off fresh crab for ever! Afterwards, I froze the meat until Sunday morning.
Anyway, the following is the pasta sauce recipe, using the precooked crab:
TIP: the crab sauce can be made ahead of time, it allows the flavors to settle.
NEVER serve with parmesan! DOES NOT go with seafood!

3 crabs
1 celery stick
2 shallots
3 mild chilis (optional)
olive oil
white wine
salt & pepper
(I grow all the herbs and chilis myself in pots)

Sauté the celery, onions & chilis in olive oil.
When onions are translucent, add the precooked crab. Stir well, sprinkle with paprika then add the white wine.
After mixing in the pasta ( I do this directly in the pan), sprinkle liberally with fresh basil, chives & parsely.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

That's what little boys are made of ...

Not all those ghastly things like puppy-dog tails, give 'em a chance and it'll be spice cake and other things nice. Karen kind of beat me to the gun on this one, as I promise I really did have it in mind to put up the recipe I use for pain d'épices, and out of sheer spite (I can be very petty) I'm going to do it anyway. And as I was up in Beaujolais on Saturday, delivering sewing tables to Margo and, incidentally, buying a few bottles of wine, I didn't actually have the occasion to head off for brunch with Sophie so I could not, in all honesty, tell you about that instead even if I weren't being bitchy.

So here goes with Gaston Lenôtre's pain d'épices gâtinais. The gâtinais is a region of France (extreme northern end of Burgundy, unless I'm mistaken - you can always check it up on Wikifibs if you want to) which is - at least within its borders - renowned for its honey. Which is a major ingredient in this cake. So go get some, I'll wait.

Whatever, you are going to need the following:
  • 200gm honey
  • 125gm sugar
  • 80 gm butter
  • 20cl water
  • peel of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • 2tsp anis seeds
  • 50gm slivered almonds
  • 280gm flour (plain or rye, it's up to you)
  • 2tbsp baking powder
If you have problems getting hold of anis seeds, you could always try grinding up some star anise in a spice grinder (I use the little Braun electric coffee grinder we bought yonks back, when we still used to buy coffee beans; these days it's reserved for spices and does a really good job): it should make a good substitute.

You'll also need a square cake tin, which you should carefully line with parchment paper. If you don't you may have a few problems getting the cake out in one piece, which would be a shame now, wouldn't it?

Anyway, the first thing you need to do is melt the butter, honey and sugar with the water: in a saucepan if you really insist but I can't see any reason not to give it a quick zap in the microwave. Now mix the flour and baking powder in a bowl and slowly beat in the liquid: when that's all incorporated, add the finely chopped peels, the almonds and the anis, and beat all that in as well until well mixed. Especially if you're using rye flour, you may need to add more: the dough shouldn't be too disgustingly runny.

Now pour the lot into the lined tin and stick it in the oven at 200°C for half an hour, then lower the temperature to 175° and let it cook for up to another hour. Watch it: if it starts looking as though it's going to go too brown, stick a sheet of tinfoil over the top.

Remove when cooked and let it cool in the tin overnight, then turn it out and either eat it or, if you have any self-control at all, wrap it in tinfoil and let it sit in the fridge for two or three days: the flavours mix and improve with time, and it also settles and is easier to cut. It's true, I promise. Sliced and buttered, it makes a lovely breakfast: alternatively, you could pair it with some fig jam and a slice of foie gras pôelé for an entrée.

But right now I'm going to don the Armour of Righteousness and the Cod-piece of Profusion, fire up the lawnmower and do battle with the green stuff in the paddock. Wish me luck.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Pain d'épices - Spice bread

Last weekend hubby and I kissed the kids and grandma goodbye and drove off for a weekend in Burgundy. As you know, Burgundy is one of those regions reknown even in France for its gastronomie. In English this translates to excellent wine, cuisine & of course it's trademark condiment, mustard. We stayed in a lovely chambre d'hõtes (fancy B&B), called La Cure, run by a charming couple, Aline and Daniel. This blog is not the place to give a review of the place, suffice to say we recommend it highly to anyone traveling through Burgundy. Travelers (whether of the mind or body) may click on the link I've helpfully provided to virtually visit their web site. Tell them Karen sent you, as we became quite friendly in a few days as their generous offers of apéritif every night, not to mention the breakfasts, clinched our natural affinities. Aline is a woman of my own heart. Her breakfasts are illustrated above: homemade jams, breads, cakes, yogurt.... Of course, foodies being what they are, we spent the breakfast hour swapping recipes. Aline graciously gave me her spice cake or pain d'épices recipe, a favorite of my youngest step-daughter, which I'm sharing with you (translated from the French). All compliments must go to Aline!

Tips: Aline confessed to me she zaps the butter in the microwave & mixes all the ingredients together at the same time. Like I said, a woman of my own heart!
The recipe makes 2 mid-size loaves. Properly sealed in foil or wax paper, these last easily several days, if for some reason their not devoured immediately.

600g flour
300g brown or unrefined sugar
300g honey
2 eggs
250 ml milk
2 tsps baking soda
2 tsps baking powder
2 tsps cinnamon
2 tsps ginger
2 tsps four spices mix (quatre épices)
60g butter

Preheat oven to high-medium heat.
Melt butter.
Mix butter and remaining ingredients until smooth.
Pour into lined bread or cake pans.
Bake 45 to 60 minutes, until golden & firm.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Once more unto the pig, dear friends ...

As usual, lunch with Sophie again: I decided to have another go at my mille-feuille au trois fromages again (just to make sure that it was as good as I thought) and, somewhat to my surprise, it was. Provided you like cheese, anyway. It's a simple but relatively elegant dish which doesn't take much time, and the only exotic ingredient is the batusson. I suppose you could use cottage cheese beaten up with herbs to replace that, but as cottage cheese is rather exotic around here I can't say with any certainty.

In any case, all you need to do is stack up some phyllo sheets: paint one with melted butter, sprinkle with paprika, herbes de Provence and a bit of gros sel, put another sheet on top of that and repeat the performance ... four or five sheets should do the trick. Cut this into three rectangles and pop them into a hot oven for about ten minutes, until they go nicely crispy. While that's going on, chop a small red bell pepper and fry that up in butter till it goes soft, then stir it into about 200gm of batusson.

And when the pastry's ready, put one rectangle onto a serving dish (one that can go into the oven, please) and carefully spread the batusson over it: put the second sheet on top and cover with sliced mozzarella, then put the last sheet on top of that and sprinkle liberally with parmesan and a bit more paprika. Put the whole thing back in the oven for five or ten minutes to heat everything through before taking it out and eating it. It is a bit rich: makes a good light lunch in itself, or a flash entrée for dinner.

Anyway, I promised you filet de porc normande, amongst other things, so here goes.

First of all, a warning: you will need some white wine for this one, so get a couple of bottles in just to be sure. It also does need to be flambé, so make sure you have some calva to hand - or failing that, some whisky. Good stuff, not the bottle you keep for uninvited guests.

To begin, you'll need a pork fillet or two. Around 700 gm should be fine for four. Now take a sharp knife (is there any other kind?) and pare off all the sinew and any fatty bits around the meat. There's what's called the "chain", which is a very thin strip of meat attached to the actual fillet: you may or may not be able to get some meat out of that as well, if not the dog'll love it.

Now you need to cut the meat into half-inch slices against the grain this is important, to ensure that it's tender) and then cut the slices into strips. Once that's done, you should have a large pile of pork strips, which is good. Put them in a bowl (or, even better, a plastic tub with a lid) and contemplate them while you check out the wine. Personally, I'd go for something not too dry - a reisling would probably be good. And don't worry about authenticity - it's not as though they actually make wine in Normandy. (You could, I suppose, use cider. But that wouldn't be as much fun.)

Okay, now you need to flour the meat. This is why a plastic tub with a lid is a good idea: you put the meat in, add a quarter-cup of flour, some salt and herbs of choice, then put the lid on and shake it all about so that each strip of piggy-meat is nicely floured. You can do it in a bowl, with a fork, but it's harder and messier.

From here on it's remarkably easy. Heat some butter in a pan along with a bit of oil (so the butter doesn't burn) until sizzling, then fling the meat in and stir constantly until nicely browned on all sides. When it gets to that point would be a good time to add a quarter-cup of alcohol, wait 30 seconds and set fire to it. Do not hover over it whilst doing this, unless you feel you'd look better without eyebrows. Which is, I suppose, perfectly valid as a fashion statement, even if it does make you look like a prat.

Once the flames have been extinguished, add a half-bottle of white, turn the heat down low, and let the mess simmer. You have about half an hour during which you've nowt to do but stir it occasionally: you could profitably use this time finishing off the first bottle of white, opening the second, and getting whatever it is you plan on eating with it ready. Traditionally, that'd be buttered noodles, and I must admit that I can live with that. The other possibility is plain rice, but the noodles are better. You could also get a salad ready, and maybe fry up some apple slices in butter and finish them off with a dusting of sugar so that they caramelise.

I said to open a second bottle because you may, during that half-hour or so of cooking, need to top up the level in the pan, let alone your glass. You will also need to get some button mushrooms ready: this may involve opening a tin of them or, if you feel that way inclined, slicing and frying up some fresh ones. Either way, now would be a good time to sling them into the pan with the pork, which should be bathing in a fairly thick wine'n'herb sauce by now. We'll do something about that too, which is as simple as stirring in about 20cl of thick cream (they don't call this "normand" for nothing, you know).

Turn the heat up a bit and stir well until the whole mess thickens nicely again, at which point you could arrange the caramelised apple slices on top (these are optional, but I rather like them. Margo won't eat fruit with her meat, so she misses out.) and dust the whole lot with chopped parsley before serving. Don't forget the noodles. With lashings of butter, please.

The other thing I promised was clafouti. Way back when this was a simple peasant treat: fruit in some mangy batter, cooked in the oven. Everyone agrees that the original comes from the Auvergne, and that the fruit concerned has to be cherries. Unpitted. Personally I can't be having with that, and if I do make one with cherries I will in fact pit them first, mainly because I can't be arsed putting a spittoon next to every guest along with the dessert plates.

Of course, the original was just a thick pancake batter: egg, milk, and flour. We've evolved since then, and the recipe has forked (that's IT-speak for "has diverged in multiple directions") to produce some rather startling results. I have even seen clafouti, in an otherwise reputable patisserie, which was in a pastry case; this is an abomination. Not a good idea. I mean, just call it a flan and be done with it, why not? A lot of them tend to be rather stodgy, and I suppose there's nowt wrong with that if you like stodge, but we like this version, which is light and fluffy.

The other vexed question concerns the fruit. As I said, the original involves cherries and I must admit that it is delicious, but not everyone has a cherry tree close to hand (and anyway, the cherry season is short and it seems a shame to eat this only during a three-week period) nor a freezer full of cherries. Although bottled or tinned cherries work rather well. But in fact any firm fruit works well, and apricots exceptionally so. Or at least, that's the general opinion around here. And tinned apricots are, let's face it, easier - and cheaper - to get hold of than cherries.

First off, you will need to butter a large baking dish. I use one that's about 50cm x 25cm. It serves four, after everyone's taken seconds. Whatever, butter it, then sprinkle the butter with castor sugar and swirl that around a bit. It should caramelise during cooking, which is good.

Now it's time to make the actual batter, which is actually rather simple. Two cups of flour in a bowl with maybe a 1/4 cup of sugar, some cinnamon (which is not at all traditional but I like it), maybe some orange-flower water or a drop of lemon essence, and three egg yolks. Use a balloon whisk to mix all that together and add milk, whisking all the time, until you get something a bit thicker than thick cream, then whisk in about 50gm of butter, softened and cut into small chunks. Set that aside and turn your attention to the three egg whites (which I hope you didn't chuck, that'd be a waste): beat them well until you get, as they say, "stiff peaks", which just means that when you pull the beater out the beaten whites form a peak which doesn't slump sadly back into the mass. At which point add 1/4 cup of caster sugar and beat that in too.

I hope you can remember how to put a soufflé batter together, because that's what you have to do now. Scoop about a third of the whites into the batter and stir in with a rubber spatula until well mixed, then pour the result onto the rest of the whites and incorporate gently. You don't want enormous lumps of beaten white sitting sullenly around, but neither do you want to get rid of all those lovely microscopic air bubbles trapped in there which are going to make it rise when cooked.

Having got this far, open a 500gm tin of apricot halves or, in season, halve some fresh apricots. Note that if you're using fresh one you may need to sprinkle a little extra sugar over them when they go in, 'cos the little buggers can be acid: if you're using tinned ones, do try not to cut your wrists on the sharp edges. Anyway, pour half the batter into the buttered baking dish, arrange as many apricots as you think necessary on top, then pour the rest of the batter over and smooth it out a bit. At this point you can stick it into the fridge if required; it'll sit there happily for an hour or two without deflating.

Whatever, when the time comes to cook it, stick it in a hot oven for about 20 minutes, until it's starting to set and the top is going golden. It should also have risen rather nicely by then. So now take it out of the oven, sprinkle heavily with icing sugar, and put it back in for another five minutes. Then remove and serve to general applause.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

This little sea-kitten got caught in a net and died thrashing with dolphins ...

And bloody good riddance, if you ask me. Anything that goes around calling itself a "sea-kitten" deserves to die, preferably TWEPed. But anyway, I changed my mind, not going to talk about fish.

Actually, what I'm going to talk about is the last few Saturdays with Sophie. Last week I needed something quick so I went for steak Diane: today, now that spring is - reportedly - on the way I decided on eggs Benedict, which is also quick and decidedly brunchy. And just a bit decadent, with a glass or two of white.

Steak Diane is, I suspect, an American recipe - or if it's Frog, it dates from after 1940. (It's not in Pellaprat, nor in my Larousse, nor in "Jane's Big Book of All The World's Armoured Cars")  I'm not complaining, it's quick and easy and impressive, which pushes all my buttons. And as Sophie had asked epecially for something involving red meat (not something she usually runs after) it really did fit the bill.

Unfortunately it involves little or no alcohol (unless you really want to try flambé-ing it at the end - we'll get to that) but on the bright side, if you do decide to open a bottle anyway there'll be no wastage. So go ahead, open a bottle anyway.

When I say it's quick, I mean really quick - traditionally it's prepared at the table, and quite frankly most people are not prepared to wait for hours. Which is fair enough, they're paying for it after all. What I really mean is, get everything ready ahead of time, and don't count on drinking too much. So first of all I would organise the salad, get the bread sliced - if you want carbohydrates get some potatoes ready however you want them, but basically you start cooking the meat about 10 minutes before you're ready to sit up.

Start off with the two slices of fillet steak that you happen to have lying about. Sear them rapidly on each side in a good hot pan (can't beat cast iron) and then put them on a plate so that they can contemplate their apotheosis whilst you get everything else ready.

Which involves finely chopping a couple of shallots, and rehydrating some dried mushrooms - or chopping some button mushrooms if that's all you've got. Then the shallots go into the pan with some butter on a gentle heat so that they sweat - about five minutes should get them tender - then add the mushrooms and let them sweat a bit longer. If you're using fresh button mushrooms this may take a little while, as you want them to get rid of most of the water that makes up about 95% of their little bodies.

Once that's done, turn the heat down low and add a good 10cl of crême fraîche and let it melt: bring it to a simmer but don't let it boil unless you really want curdled crap. Then add as many chives as you want, a tsp of worcester sauce and another tsp of lemon juice and mix all that up, then plonk yer steaks back in, turning them once after a couple of minutes. The idea is to finish cooking them by poaching in the sauce, which'll result in lovely pink, unctuous meat.

Traditionally, you should flambé this with brandy or whisky - your choice. Normally you'd do this by flinging a shot-glass of the alcohol of your choice into the hot pan with the meat and setting fire to the alcohol as it boils off: unfortunately you can't do that here as the pan is full of low-temperature soggy sauce. So if you really insist, you'll need to put the alcohol in a small saucepan (I've got a really nice silver-tinned copper one that came with the house when we bought it) and bring it to the boil rather quickly, then light it and pour it, still flaming, over the meat. Be careful of your eyebrows and children, this is not something you want to try doing alone. Unless you really want to see the nice firemen at your house.

Eggs benedict are surprisingly nice, given that they're basically eggs on toast. Served with a good salad, or asparagus if it happens to be that time of year, with fresh goat's cheese on granary bread to follow, they make a lovely brunch. And luckily, you can get everything ready ahead of time and put it together at the last minute.

Basically, you need eggs, muffins, and bacon. Plus a bit of vinegar and lots of butter, but that's by the way. You may also need a bit of patience, if this is the first time you've poached an egg.

When I was little, we had an egg-poacher: a sort of plate with egg-sized indentations which went into a special pan with a lid: you'd fill the pan with water and get that simmering, then break an egg into each indentation, set the plate into the pan and stick the lid on and presto! five minutes later, perfect poached eggs (or, if you want to be technical, shirred eggs. Because they've been steamed on top, and get a mirrory appearance. Don't ask me, I didn't make the words up). No-one seems to do poached eggs anymore and the little pans are introuvable (sorry, can't be found - at least not around here) so I had to do them the old-fashioned way and discovered - rather to my surprise - that I still can do that.

All it involves is bringing a saucepan of water to a simmer (definitely not a full rolling boil), adding a slosh of vinegar (it's supposed to help coagulate the egg protein: given that you've got maybe a 1% solution of vinegar, which itself is only 4% acetic acid, I rather doubt it does any good, but I do it anyway - part of the ritual) and then stirring it with a spoon until you get a little whirlpool of hot excited water. Then you plop an egg (minus its shell, obviously) straight into the middle of the whirlpool - like that the white will wrap around the yolk rather than spreading out like some demented jellyfish. After three minutes it should be good - white firm, yolk still runny - so fish it out with a slotted spoon, set it on a plate, and do the next one. And so on until you've cooked as many as needed. I did four: there was Sophie and I (that makes two) and Lucas (who eats like any adolescent  ie enormously).

Then you just need to fry the bacon and make some bastard béarnaise, which I know I've told you about before but I'll repeat myself anyway: put an egg-yolk in a small saucepan along with a tbsp of good cider vinegar and the herbs of your choice (chives are always good) and put that on a low heat and whisk shit out of it. (Most books recommend doing this in a bain-marie, but I can't see the point in extra washing-up - just keep the temperature low or you will wind up with scrambled eggs.) When it starts to go frothy and thick it's time to take it off the heat and whisk in as much butter as you think it can handle - about 50gm should be right.

To assemble, stick yer buttered toasted muffins (no, I didn't forget them) on a serving dish with slabs of bacon on each and (delicately) slide a poached egg on top of the bacon. Then stick that into the oven for five minutes or so to warm it all up before serving, at which point you should slosh a spoonful of the bastard sauce over each one.

See? Easy.

Next time, I think - if you're good - it'll be filet de porc normand and maybe clafouti aux abricots, which is a favourite fall-back dessert around here and, quite honestly, delicious. No matter how much I make, there never seem to be leftovers. Strange, really.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

a winter vegetable-salsify

A friend of mine sent me a link to Zester daily, which has some interesting cooking ideas. I added the link to the blog: look it up! One of the winter vegetables mentioned is the salsify, which, honestly, I discovered in France. My impression (correct me if I'm wrong!) is that this is not a well known vegetable in the US. Since I happen to have a recipe, thought I'd share it!
TIPS: Like all roots, choose the firm ones. Peel like a carrot. To make a decent gratin for 4, buy at least 1 kilo or 2 lbs of the vegetable.

Gratin de salsify
2lbs or 1 kilo salsify

Bechamel (see post)
flour or corn starch
Parmesan or other grated cheese.
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to medium.
Clean and peel the salsify. 
Slice into rounds.
Parboil until cooked but firm.
Meanwhile make a thick bechamel, with nutmeg.
Butter a baking dish.
Put the cooked salsify into the dish, cover with bechamel, sprinkle cheese, salt & pepper to taste.
Bake in oven until golden, about 30 mins.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Raspberry Meringue cake

Birthday cakes here in Europe are not the colorful frosting slathered affairs typical of the US. In keeping with family tradition, each birthdaygirl or boy can assk for the cake s/he wants. So this year, hubby asked for the raspberry meringue cake. In the end he got a strawberry meringue cake, as even frozen raspberries were not to be found in our part of the world. Which leads me to say that this is a cake you can make anytime of year, as long as you have access to frozen fruit when fresh fruit is not available. In the end I bought 1 kilo of overpriced early fresh strawberries....
TIPS: Beat egg shite in a high bordered bowl. Before whipping the cream, place a metal bowl & beaters in the freezer or fridge for at least an hour. Remember, when folding ingredients into a mix (especially egg whites!) always sprinkle on while scooping the mix from the bottom: the result is much fluffier! Also, the berries destined to decorate the cake can be mixed with a few tablespoons of sweet wine or liquer, sugar & lemon, or orange water.

The recipe as given is for 9 or 10 inch pans.

Raspberry Meringue Cake

1 1/4 c sugar
1 1/4 c ground almonds
5 egg whits (6 for a 10 inch pan)
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

8 fl oz whipping cream

Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F (medium)
Grease & flour pan or line with wax paper (my preferred method)

Beat egg whites until stiff.
Gradually add sugar.
Add vinegar.
Add vanilla.
Fold in almonds.
Divide mix into the pans:
Bake around 30 minutes, until lightly golden & spongy. DO NOT OVER BAKE!
Let cool. Remove from pan.

About 20 minutes before serving, beat the cream until thick, add about 4 tablespoons sugar.
Slice fresh berries or place thawed frozen one on the bottom cake layer.
Spread cream evenly over the berries, leaving about a 1/2 inch or centimeter from the border (to avoid oozing while cutting the cake).
Place 2nd cake layer over the filling.
Decorate with remaining fruit.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Serve immediately.

Duck à l'orange

This dish was requested as the pièce de resistance for hubby's birthday. The tradition in our family is that the birthday person decides the menu (except for me, I want to be taken out for dinner on my birthday!) & most of the time the person in question comes up with elaborate, time consuming & expensive menus. So duck à l'orange was a reasonable request, since excellent duck is easy to find at the local atélier butcher.
TIP: Before cooking the duck, dry it inside & out with paper towels. By removing excess liquid, the duck will crisp better.
Never throw away the fat drippings from the duck. They keep very well in fridge or freezer and are wonderful in dishes from roast potatoes to scrambled eggs.

The recipe that follows is for about a 10lb or 4.5k duck: if making a smaller one, reduce the cooking times.

Canard à l'orange
1 duck
6 oranges
1 medium onion
1 carrot (optional)
4 tbsp sugar or honey
2 tbsp white vinegar
any orange flavored liquer (Cointreau, Grand Margnier...)

Place duck in hot oven as is (do not add anything to it). Let cook about 1 1/2 hours, draining the fat & putting it aside.
While the duck is crisping, prepare the sauce.
Grate the zest of 2 of the oranges, set it aside in a bowl with the orange liquer.
Remove the zest in peels from the other oranges. With a sharp knife, carefully remove the colored skin of the orange, without taking the thicker white (which is bitter).
Scald all the oranges in boiling water about 4 minutes, set aside to cool.
Slice the peels thinly, just cover them with boiling water until liquid evaporates.
Slice the onion (and carrot) thinly, add to the peels, cover with sugar or honey & vinegar. Let carmelize over medium heat.
Peel the oranges, slice two thinly and add to the zest & liquer mixture. Set aside for decoration.
Chop the remaining oranges and add to the carmalizing sauce. Cook it down.
Splash the orange liquer on the crisping duck. Cook another 10 minutes or so until liquid is absorbed.
When the duck is crisped, cover with the carmalized mixture (this should be done about 3 times during the cooking process) until the duck is cooked (about another 1 1/2 hours).
Just before serving, pour the zest & liquer mixture on the duck, decorate with the sliced orange and put back in the oven another 10 minutes or until excess liquid is absorbed.
Serve with roast potatoes or a gratin.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Food For Flatters ...

Back in the dim distant past, when I acquired what I now refer to as an "education" (and, incidentally, taking seven years to complete a three-year degree, but that's another story) it was more or less traditional to spend the first year in the university hostels before moving out to go flatting. The university always tried to keep some second- and third-year students on in the hostels, probably under the impression that they would provide a rôle model of some sort to the impressionable fresh-faced first-years: I'm not convinced that this always worked quite as they expected.

Anyway, the first year was thus exposure to industrial food. Bit like a piggery, only perhaps not as clean. It was where I learnt that it was physically possible to keep toast warm in steamers, although that does rather negate the basic purpose of toast, which is to be crisp. I also learnt that baked beans on rubbery toast with "bacon" that may once have dreamt of being part of a pig can in fact be eaten and even held down, especially if weighted with enough "scrambled eggs" (which I now suspect to have been slices cut from a foam rubber mattress). And that was just breakfast. Dinner could be even more inventively horrible.

After that I, like most of my fellows, moved out and went flatting, which was also pretty much a dog's breakfast. My first flatmate (who also happened to own the flat) had spent a lot of time in Indonesia, I think, and his idea of a good meal was a curry. Now, I can agree: I still think that his habit of crumbling one or two dried, extremely hot chilis onto it because it was a bit dull was somewhat excessive.

In any case, the first book that was tremblingly thrust into the outstretched hands of spotty youths such as myself heading for the adventure of life was, 90% probable, a slim volume entitled "Food For Flatters". It still exists, having gone through a number of editions, and contained nutritional advice, hints on useful cooking utensils, and some actually rather reasonable recipes. Like, "Things to do with Mince", and "Semi-Hungarian Goulash". It unfortunately had a number of typos: one of which, calling for 4 tbsp of baking powder rather than 4 tsp, led to Julianne's Browneye Pudding. Which I'm ashamed to say I've never let her forget. Mind you, I've never forgotten it either, so I don't see why she should.

Personally, once I'd got a job (although still, technically, a student at the time) I went out and bought a couple of French cookbooks and started working my way through them. (I still have them, by the way, and still use them. Bloody good investment.) This was partly because I'd discovered that I actually liked food, and that cooking wasn't in fact all that difficult, partly because I thought I'd commit suicide if I had to face too many of Rodney's Rancid Roasts or Boil-Inna-Bag Ready-Made Rice Dinners, but mainly because it was an immutable law at our flat that the cook didn't have to do the washing-up. And as Julianne was capable of using every pot in the house just to cook some porridge, it was a pretty easy call to volunteer for the cooking ...

Today's meal then, as a tribute to past glories and the first cookbook I ever owned, is Imperial Meatloaf. Not, rest assured, that dry gray bootleather that I'm sure you've eaten: this is - if you do it properly, anyway - succulent and tasty, and damn good cold too.

You should really start by putting half a cup of breadcrumbs in a bowl along with a decent amount of whatever dried (or fresh) herbs take your fancy; I'd recommend something relatively assertive, like herbes de provence, considering what they'll be smothered under. Then add a quarter-cup of milk, and let that sit for a few minutes until it's all absorbed, at which point add an egg and beat it all up until you have a thick, smooth paste.

The next thing to do, whilst your hands are still relatively clean, is open a bottle of wine and fortify yourself with some of it. Exceptionally, none of it goes into the cooking so you don't have to be too light-handed: unless of course you have kitchen help that also requires lubrication. (Confession - I didn't do this for Sophie, so no-one was standing around in the kitchen looking thirsty. An advantage that small kitchens have over open-plan living spaces. Whatever, I did not have to share the bottle.)

In any case, finely chop a smallish onion and cut a carrot into thin rounds: put them in to stew in some butter whilst you slice up some red and green pepper. When the onion's golden and the carrot's started to soften add the sliced pepper, and after a couple more minutes dump two tsp of decent curry powder into the pot and stir it all around. (Or add more, if you like. Just make sure it's good stuff. Most commercial curry powders available here are kind of like hot tasteless dust, which rather misses the point.) If, like us, you always seem to have a half-tin of sweetcorn in the fridge which hasn't quite gone furry, fling that in too.

Before the next glass, slice some bacon into fine strips and strech them out on a sheet of tinfoil; once that's done, we're ready to go. But it will be kind of messy, so drink now.

This is the fun part, where you take the mince (about 300gm should be fine for two), put it in the bowl with the breadcrumb paste, and knead it with your fingers until the two are intimately mixed. But before doing that I would suggest rolling up your sleeves and taking your watch off; probably preemptively scratching your nose would not be a bad idea either.

The breadcrumbs serve to bind and soften the mix, and will help keep it nice and moist during the cooking. I'm not sure if they absorb some of the fat that'd otherwise leak out and be lost or whatever, but it does work. Whatever, spread the mixture out over the bacon strips and, one way or another, try to get a slab about the size of an A4 sheet of paper. If you haven't got enough, just make it smaller - resist the urge to get it too thin.

Now scrape what you can off your hands with the back of a knife or whatever, and have a good wash. There's a fair bit of fat even in 5% mince, and for some reason it always seems to collect around your fingernails and under rings and suchlike. Having someone around to turn the hot tap on for you might be a good idea, otherwise it too will be covered in grease.

Anyway, you could now have yet another glass before spreading a good dose (about a quarter cup, maybe) of plum sauce all over the meat. Not Chinese plum sauce, good antipodean plum sauce made by boiling plums down with onions, cloves, sugar and vinegar. At a pinch I suppose you could use some good ketchup, but I'd be tempted to try some spicy mango chutney if I were going to substitute. Or perhaps some decent salsa.

And once that's done, spread the curried vegetables out over the lot. If you really want to - and I'm not trying to discourage you on this one - crumble some Roquefort over it, or spread out some slices of fresh goat cheese. (I'm not a great fan of Roquefort myself, but I did get some rather nice fresh cendré at the market this moaning, so that's what I used.) Finally, using the tinfoil to help, roll it all up along the long side into a hopefully not too deformed log before tipping it into a loaf tin, preferably without dropping it on the floor or getting the tinfoil hopelessly entangled in the process.

Now at this point it's not going anywhere by itself, so you can just leave it to sit while you consider what you're going to eat with it. (Don't forget that at some point you will actually need to cook it - about 45 minutes in the oven should do the trick.) I think roast potatoes are a good idea, but a slightly liquidy gratin wouldn't be too bad either. Nor, come to that, would nice crisp frites. As for the greenery department, I'd be tempted just to go for a good salad - mind you, I do have vast quantities of magali-dressing in the fridge (got a bit enthusiastic making some up the other day) and that could bias me.

And for dessert, we just had banana cake with crême anglaise (aka custard), but I'll leave that up to you.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Beef stew

It's cold here in February, so to warm up the members of the family, I often make stews. Since all the male members are serious carnivors, stew is an easy way to make them happy & get them to eat their veggies. The secret to a good stew is to let it simmer for hours, which has the added benefit of warming up my rather cold kitchen.
Tips: I buy a boeuf bourguinion cut, which I dice up into about 2cm chunks. The meat cooks better this way & is bite size. If you have any left over broth, substitute it for water. Split peas may be substituted by beans. Without beans, the recipe is the basis for goulash.

Classic beef stew
1 lb or 500g beef
1 large carrot
2 medium onions
1 large potato
Tomato sauce
Peas or split peas

Slice onions& carrots, sauté in oliveoil. 
Add meat& brown. 
Add a glass of wine & paprika. Simmer
When wine cooks down, add cubed potato & tomato sauce. Leave to simmer.
Add peas or split peas (if so, add hot water).
Salt & pepper to tase, simmer untilsplit peas& meat are cooked.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

This little chicken crossed the road ...

And whilst we're still on the subject of leftovers, what's wrong with chicken pie?

Last weekend at Carrefour I thought I'd get a chicken to roast for dinner, which I did - only cost 6 euros but unfortunately it must have been on a body-building course or on steroids because it weighed about 1.5 kg, which is rather more than enough for three. In fact, it kept me in chicken salad sandwiches for the next few days, and then as the Heap of meat showed few signs of diminishing I shamefacedly shovelled the lot into a ziploc bag and flang it (past perfect, you'll get used to grammar) into the freezer.

From whence, requiring nourishment for two tonight, I extricated it, thinking that perhaps I could pair it up with the chicken breast that's been sitting forlornly in the fridge for the past two days. So I thought, why not a chicken pie? And as Margo's up in Paris and I am thus allowed to cook things that only I like, why not dumplings? Come to that, why not the two together?

So it was chicken dumpling pie which was, let's face it, well suited to the weather - which is, in case you're interested, frikkin' frigid around here. Godnose why the bloody Parisians want to come - maybe they enjoy freezing their arses off on the chairlifts and paying ten euros for a three-euro sandwich. Can't think of any other rational explanation.

(Please note. if you don't have leftover chicken - you're doing well - use four chicken breasts. Whatever, you need enough chicken to feed however many people you have at the table.)

Whatever, you will need some white wine for this one. So open it now. Then gently stew a shallot (on an onion) in butter until soft, sprinkle with some good chicken or veal stock powder (or, if you're a little goody-two-shoes, use some of the stock you've made yourself) and add some wine - not too much, remembering that you should leave some for yourself. Once that's simmering, stick the chicken breast(s) in and let them simmer for twenty minutes or so.

During this frenzy of activity, you could usefully make up some lardy pastry. Which is no more than a short pastry made with lard instead of butter. Do remember not to work it too much so that you still have lumps of lard in it when you roll it out: like that it should puff up as it cooks. You could also boil some potatos, for the dumplings.

Once the chicken breast is done, fish it out and slice it, then fling it back in together with the (defrosted) leftover chicken and bring it to a simmer. Add some sour cream (just for fun) and let it simmer some more: if it looks a bit runny add some beurre manié (we discussed that last time round) and then let it cool for ten minutes. Which I do by sticking it out on the balcony: at -10° it chills out quite quickly. So would you.

Now would be a good time to roll out the lardy pastry and line a pie dish with it. Do not slice off the overhanging edges, it's much more fun to fold them over onto the filling. But we'll get to that later.

At this point, if I may recapitulate, we have
  • pie dish lined with pastry
  • tasty chicken filling slowly freezing out there
  • some boiled potatoes
So, take the boiled potatoes and mash them well, add two or three tbsp of lard, some salt and some fines herbes. At a minimum, thyme and chives (or ciboulette, if you're Frog), whatever takes your fancy. And a good tsp or two of baking powder. Beat the whole lot together, adding milk (or fresh goat cheese, if you happen to have that handy) as required until you get a soft dough.

Proceeding to the assemblage, just stick the chicken filling into the lined pie dish, spread the dumpling mixture out over the top, and fold any pastry edges over and onto the top. Then stick the whole damn lot into a hot oven and let it cook, until done. About thirty minutes, I reckon.

Easy as that, really. You could sprinkle the dumpling with grated cheese, or paprika, or whatever - the recipe is not patented. In fact, I hereby place it in the public domain, and renounce my rights to sue anyone.

Bon appetit, les enfants.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Tortellini al brodo

February in the French Alps means snow. Lots of snow. A week of continuous snowfall. Snow means chilly weather. The best remedy for chills is my Northern Italian grandmother's: soup! Many people find soup boring, but in our household we love soup, or zuppa or minestrone or minestra... but then Italian soups are full of yummy things, like pasta!
Tortellini are always a treat, so put them in soup and it's a sure to be a success. It's also a very simple & quick recipe.
Usually I make my own broth from a chicken carcass (or beef, lamb, fish), celery, carrots, onion, garlic & laurel (add whatever other vegetables are in the fridge) and I do occasionally add homemade tortellini (on the rare occasions that there are leftovers). Broth keeps 5 days in the fridge & freezes well, so I automatically make some when I have the ingredients. However, commercially available broths can be substituted when in a rush, as well as the tortellini.
Just bring the broth to a boil, add the tortellini, simmer until cooked (al dente). Serve with grated parmesan.

TIPS: Use dried tortellini (as they tend to absorb liquid so will over cook), preferably with a meat filling.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

This little piggy stayed home ...

One of the things that you have to learn when your household down-sizes is creative ways to deal with leftovers. Case in point - Malyon ran off to Glasgow a few years ago, which left three of us, and now that Jeremy's boarding at the lycée technique hotelière (where you'd have thought he'd have learnt enough to help out with the cooking around here, but that's another story) there's just the pair of us for most of the week. And as I've still not quite come to grips with little things like quantities for two, that usually means there's more than enough food, even after we've both pigged out.

Like the other weekend, when I did a rather nice pork roast. A bit of rolled shoulder so it was just nicely marbled with fat which melted into the flesh as it cooked, and on top of that cooked just right so it was still pink inside. (No, I'm not advocating eating your pig all wobbly, but as sanitary controls are so strict these days that you're far likelier to have a grand piano fall on you in the bath than you are to catch trichinosis,  there's no need to cremate the joint until it becomes gray tasteless cardboard. Unless, of course, you actually like it that way, in which case you probably shouldn't be reading this. Just saying.)

So, what to do with it? Honestly, what I often do is grind the rest up in the whizz and stick it in the freezer in ziplock bags ready for making steamed pork buns, but this time (as the freezer's full anyway) I thought I'd go for a little gratin, sauce piquante. (Which, incidentally, is rather nice done with left-over tongue, if that's what you happen to have.)

First of all, make yer sauce piquante. Start by finely chopping an onion and stewing it gently for ten minutes or so in butter so it goes all soft and lightly golden (I said, "gently"), at which point you could usefully sprinkle over a teaspoon of sugar and carry on cooking for another few minutes until that caramelises. Then sprinkle with a tbsp or so of flour (you will probably have to add more butter) and stir that around, and add a tsp or so of instant beef stock (good stuff, please), and stir some more.

Add some water (not too much just yet) and whisk it round to incorporate, and then add 2 tbsp of vinegar (I like to use my vinaigre aux piments for a bit of added excitement, but cider vinegar's fine if that's all you have) or more if you really like piquante qui pique, and whisk that in too. Some would add a bit of mustard powder: I leave that to your discretion. Add more water if required to get a nice thick sauce, add some finely chopped gherkins and/or capers, and leave that to cook very gently (off to one side on top of the wood-burner is good) for ten minutes so that it doesn't have that faint whiff of wallpaper paste about it.

While that's going on, pour yourself a glass of white (you could use that instead of water for the sauce, which gives you a good reason to open the bottle, should you need one), butter a gratin dish, and slice the meat into thickish slices. This should only take five minutes, which leaves you five minutes for another glass before putting the dish together.

Which involves nothing more complicated than spreading a layer of sauce in  the gratin dish, arranging the slices of meat on top of that, covering them with the rest of the sauce and then sprinkling the whole lot with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Into a hot oven with it until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumbs have formed a nice crust (another ten minutes or so, I reckon) and it's fit for purpose.

Were it summer I'd serve it accompanied with a decent salad and lots of bread for lunch: as it's not, I found buttery mashed potatoes and petits pois à la française went pretty well.

The latter, by the way, provide an excellent way of cooking frozen peas. Put as many of these as you think you're likely to need into a saucepan with a lump of sugar, a 1/2tsp salt and the bare minimum of water: bring to the boil. When that comes to pass add five or six lettuce leaves (I use my old favourite, rougette, but you may have to make do with feuille de chêne) either ripped into pieces or sliced into strips (some hold that slicing lettuce leaves makes them bitter. This is utter crap.) and a sliced spring onion or a shallot or heaps of chives, and turn the heat right down whilst the lettuce wilts and you stir in a bit of beurre manié to thicken it up.

This is no more than a heaped tsp of softened butter into which you've incorporated a tsp or two of flour to get a smooth paste. It means you'll have no nasty floury lumps appear when you stir it into the peas. With any luck the mixture will be quite (very) thick: stir in cream (personally, I like to use crême fraîche, aka sour cream, but ordinary pouring cream is fine) until it's the consistency you like, and cook gently for another five minutes or so before serving.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Pumpkin jam

Moving to Frangy  allowed my eldest son to fulfill his fantasy of growing pumpkins. A few seedlings soon multiplied into a pumpkin patch that threatened to take over not just a good part of the garden, but engulf the driveway and even obscure the view of our ground floor bedroom as vines climbed up the wall. Needless to say, I have had to cook all the pumpkins I couldn't give away. I've made pumpkin everything, from every ethnic group possible, from Italian tortelloni to Indian dals. Which eventually meant canning or experimenting with jam making, a VERY new experience for me. After a few not-so wonderful recipes, I've adapted the first one I tried and actually came up with something yummy. I even gave out jars of pumpkin jam to friends & family (including the mother-in-law, so it must be good!).

TIP: When canning, place spices in the last jar for extra flavorful jam.

1 kilo pumpkin
150 ml  water
375g jam sugar
50ml kirsch, schnapps or rum

fresh vanilla
fresh ginger
6-8 empty jam jars

Cube pumpkin, peel an almond size of ginger. Slice vanilla pod & break cinnamonstick to release flavor.
Bring water, sugar & alcohol to boil. Maintain boiling for about 3 minutes, until all the sugar is dissolved.
Add pumpkin, ginger, cinnamonstick & vanilla. Turn heat down and let simmer about 20 minutes, stirring regularly.
 Prepare jam jars by placing them in a bassin or large pot and pouring boiling water around them. Keep them heated.
When mixture begins to thicken, check consistency by placing a few drops on a plate. If it gels quickly, the jam is ready for canning.
Pour jam mixture into jars, keeping them slanted to avoid airpockets. Overfill, then screw lid on tightly. Place upside down, checking for air bubbles, until cooled.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Honey glaze

Honey glaze is delicious on ham, try it on poultry as well, wether in the oven or on the bbq.
1 cup honey
1/4 cup mustard (best with grains)
1 finely chopped shallot
1 tbsp soy sauce (to taste)
ginger powder

Endives: savory bread & other ideas

Endive inspires love or hate, but not indifference. In our family we're evenly split on the issue. Most will eat it in salads, but there is an even split on cooked endives. Here are a few recipes that seem to please nearly everyone.

A mix of thinly sliced endive & watercress makes a lovely salad since the sweetness of the watercress is balanced by the bitterness of the endive. Grate a small garlic clove (or a thinly chopped shallot) in the bottom of the bowl, add the salad, serve with olive oil & white balsamic vinegar.

Chopped endive with walnuts & blue cheese, served with classic French vinaigrette (see recipe).

Or just add thinly sliced endive to mixed salads!

Endive can be grilled on the stove top or in the oven, with olive oil dribbled on top. Usually I wrap it in bacon or ham. Occasionally I add a slice of cheese and a dash of white wine. For a crispy effect, try a mixture of breadcrumbs, parmesan & parsely.

This is a way of getting endive past the palates of those that usually won't eat it. Makes a lovely accompaniement to aperitif or soup.

2 small endives or 1 large
180g flour
10g baking powder
3 eggs
100ml oil
100ml milk
30g sugar
50g parmesan
green olives

Preheat oven to medium, line bread pan with wax paper or use a silicon mould.
Beat eggs, then blend in milk, oil, sugar, salt & pepper, paprika & nutmeg.
Add flour & baking powder.
Mix in thinly sliced endive, chopped olives & walnuts.
Pour mixture into pan, bake for about an hour.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Seville oranges

When it's as relentlessly cold as it has been all over Europe, the best place to be in just about any house is by the stove, where the endless stirring of stews and other warming foodstuffs at least keeps you busy and warm, especially if you've had the good sense to put the oven on at the same time. You might even find your children want to help, if you're clever enough to ensure that the rest of the house is woefully underheated. 

Making marmalade is an excellent means of staying warm, as it involves a goodly amount of stirring and you put the oven on to sterilise the jars. It is also madly seasonal, since Seville oranges are only in season for a couple of weeks in January and they don't keep. Apparently sales of marmalade are going down; one can only assume that it is because more and more people are discovering that there is nothing like surveying a dozen pots of home-made marmalade to fill you with the warming glow of domestic smugness.

 Seville Orange Marmalade (adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe)
Makes ten jars
10 Seville oranges
1 navel orange
15 cups water
pinch of salt

2.5 kg sugar
1. Wash oranges and wipe them dry. Cut each orange in half, crosswise around the equator. Squeeze the oranges, manually or mechanically, depending on how well your kitchen is equipped, and then set a wide mesh non-reactive strainer over a bowl and strain the juice to remove the seeds. Scoop out all the interior pith from each orange half, so you are left with just a shell. 

2. Tie the seeds and pith up in cheesecloth or muslin very securely.

3. Cut each rind into 3 pieces and use a sharp chef's knife to cut the rinds into slices or cubes as thin as possible. Or do what I do and put them through the slicer attachment of your food processor.

4. In a large stockpot, add the orange slices, seed pouch, water, and salt, as well as the juice from the oranges from step #1. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook until the peels are translucent, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove it from the heat and let the mixture stand overnight, to help the seeds release any additional pectin.

5. Stir the sugar into the mixture and bring the mixture to a full boil again, then reduce heat to a gentle boil. Stir occasionally while cooking to make sure it does not burn on the bottom. Midway during cooking, remove the seed pouch and discard.

6. Continue cooking until it has reached the jelling point, 104 degrees centigrade, if using a sugar thermometer. To test the marmalade, turn off the heat and put a small amount on a plate that has been chilled in the freezer and briefly return it to the freezer. Check it in a few minutes; it should be slightly jelled and will wrinkle just a bit when you slide your finger through it. If not, continue to cook until it is.

7. Meanwhile, put some clean jars into the oven at 125 degrees C. When the marmalade is ready, ladle it into the hot jars. Screw the lids on firmly and turn each jar upside down. Stored in a cool place, the marmalade will keep for months. 
If you have any leftover Seville oranges you can make a jar of vin d'orange to look forward to when the sun comes out. 
1 bottle rosé wine
5 Seville oranges
1 unwaxed lemon
200g sugar
150 ml vodka
1 vanilla pod
slug of brandy/rum/masala
Slice the citrus fruit thinly. Mix with the other ingredients and decant into a 2 litre mason jar. Refrigerate. Every couple of days or so turn the jar upside down so that the fruit comes into contact with all the alcohol. Leave for a minimum of 8 weeks, or longer. When you are ready to drink it, filter the wine (using a funnel lined with fine cheesecloth) into clean bottles. Serve chilled.