Friday, 30 November 2012

Paris in the Morning...

 A quick half day trip to Paris this morning.  Arriving at just gone 7 o'clock, it is a wonderful time to visit Paris as you can walk everywhere so quickly.  After a coffee with a warm croissant at Café Marly, time for some shopping... once the stores opened!

Madame Eiffel waking up!
The 'Pyramide at the Louvre'
 Ile de la Cité
 Christmas windows!
More Christmas windows...
Place Vendôme.
 Café Marly in the Louvre.
... I had a really enjoyable day!

Thank you all and welcome to my new 'followers', so very happy you are here!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Green booster...

So, what is this! Well, it is not pesto but it's along those lines.  Its ingredients change every time I make it and it is seasonal.  As I am not eating salt at the moment, I need a real boost of taste - so this is where I am finding it!  This batch is to be cooked because of the garlic onion content.  It is made of flat leaf parsley and the stalk are included - which add  a lot of taste.  It is amazing in a home-made soup of a stock cube, water, rice flour and a big spoon of the booster.  It also goes into pasta, rice and pulses.  I will give my guidelines, but you can use things you prefer or have already in the cupboard - see below for combinations.  You will need a food processor and I use a small one so it processes easily -  if you only have a large one, you may need to make a bigger batch which you could freeze.  There is no cheese in this batch but it can easily be added.

(100 g or 3.5 oz) One big bunch of fresh parsley (flat leaf preferably)  or herbs of choice  (coriander, chives, basil...)
(100 g or 3.5 oz) Brazil nuts (cashew nuts, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts ...  they all work just think of what it is principally going to go with )
(100 g or 3.5 oz) Shallots or onions (spring onions/scallions are good if using raw but use half the amount)
120 ml or half cup of olive oil
2 gloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of vinegar
3 teaspoons of crushed coriander seeds (or spices you like)
Options (cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, chillies... )
season to taste

In a food processor, put in the parsley roughly pre-chopped and blitz first then, add the rest of the ingredients.  Once well mixed, put into a container and pour over a little more oil to keep it from drying out.

Added to split wheat, it makes a wonderful and quick dinner.  Simply add to one volume of split wheat and two volumes of water and cook for 12 minutes adding in a heaped spoon of the booster for the last few minutes.  The chicken breasts were also sautéed in some, with a dusting of chilli powder.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

La "Tourtière" de Carmen...

This is the time of year to prepare the traditional French Canadian spiced meat pie, that is served on Christmas eve (and tested before!!).  The recipe can vary from family to family, but this is the best of course!!  It has become part of my tradition for the past 22 years and it is a dinner I look forward to eating.  The tender cooked meat is lightly spiced with cloves and a touch of cinnamon, wrapped in a short crisp pastry case which brings the spirt of Christmas to the dinner table.  The Tourtiére freezes really well and are perfect to reheat Christmas eve while you are busy relaxing and drinking champagne!  It will cook away slowly in the oven without having to watch over it.   One less job to do...

Pastry for four (five) pies :
1 kg or 7 cups of plain four 
500 g or 1 lb of fat (butter or margarine)
480 ml or two cups of water
two eggs (+1 more egg for the egg wash)
2 teaspoons of vinegar
2 teaspoons of salt
 (there was enough pastry to make an apple pie too! )

Filling for four pies :
800 g or 1 lb 12 oz of minced veal (shoulder)
800 g lb 12 oz of pork (shoulder)
2 sticks of celery finely diced
4 onions finely diced
1.5 teaspoon of ground cloves
1.5 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon of celery salt
1 teaspoon of ground white pepper
2 cloves of garlic

Make you pastry as you usual do, cutting the fat into pea sized pieces. Mix and bring together until smooth - putting into a zip lock with flour in it.  Leave it to rest for an hour in the refrigerator.

Finely dice the onions and the celery.  Cook them on a low heat in a big pan without colouring them for ten minutes.
Add the two meats, cooking and turning without browning.
Add the spices and the crushed garlic.
Cover (just up to the top of the meat) with water, bring to the boil and leave it simmering for an hour.
 (Do not let boil dry - you need a small amount of liquid to go in the pies).

Once the meat has cooled down, make the pies.  
Roll out the pastry in sections, two circles per pie with a larger circle for the base, brushing egg white in the base so the pastry doesn't go soggy. I like to use tinfoil cases but pie tins are good too.
Fill the pies without pressing too heavily down.
Cover the top with the second circle and seal the pastry - more importantly, make a hole in the middle for the steam to escape.
Decorate your pie and brush the top with a mixture of egg yolk and milk (twice the quantity of the yolk).
Cook in the oven at 180 °c / 350° f  for 15 minutes and then turning it down to 150°c / 300° f for an hour.

If eating right away, add 15 more minutes or until golden.  If you want to freeze them, cool them down and freeze putting a foil cover on them - when you are ready to use them, they can go into the oven from frozen at 150° c or 300° f for an hour.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Salsify and crosne...

 These are two vegetables available on the food markets at the moment in France.  I am not sure how easy they are to buy elsewhere, but at least you will know what to do with them if you find some!  I really like eating different vegetables and I like putting these two together. 

  Salsify is a root from the sunflower family.  It is peeled and boiled for 12 minutes in water with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice.  They can stain your hands when peeling and you have to work quick as they oxidise, so peel, cut and place in the lemon water quickly and cook when ready - they can be reheat.  Once cooked, they still remain firm to the bite, but have a smooth texture.

Dress with butter and more lemon or you can have them in a reduced cream sauce.

 So, the crosnes are a vegetable and not maggots (see below - LOL)!  Belonging to the mint family and originating from Japan, they became popular in France from the end of the nineteenth century.  They are rinsed in water and rolled about in a tea towel to clean the skins .  Place in boiling water with some lemon juice and boil up for about 8 minutes. They have a delicate taste not dissimilar to artichokes and have a slight crunch.  They too can be dressed in butter and seasoned.

Thank you  for all the energy sent - I am now on the mend! 

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Totally floored...

This is a picture of our entrance hall floor, it is a typical cement tile circa 1900.  Laid when the house was first built, it is fairly typical in style,but I am quite happy with the colour way, as some can be quite dark.  I especially love the edging tiles which frame it.  I doubt it would be my choice if I had to choose a new floor today, but it's distinctiveness is always reassuring when we arrive home.  It is a little battered and laid on a sand base (the whole thing would need to come up to repair it).   There are a few chips and wobbles which just add to its character.  The funny thing is in the silence of the night we can hear our pug walk about if he is up and not happy (rabbits or poachers!)  -  which means, it is time to get up and investigate!! 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Christmas Chutney!

For the last  few years, I have made a tiny batch of chutney just for the Christmas period.  For me, I really appreciate a large Christmas ham ready in the fridge and chutney always sets off that Christmas feast.  The chutney or pickle also has to be something new to me, without it being of the Letitia Cropley's extraction in "The vicar of Dibley"!  Previous years, I have used our blackberries with mace, balsamic and red onion ; another year was black cherries, dill, chilli and champagne vinegar.  It's all good fun!

For two jars you will need...
2  quinces
1 apple
6 shallots (or onions - 240 g or 8.5 oz) 
thumb of ginger (20 g or third of an oz)
225 g or 1 cup of fine sugar
118 ml or half cup of cider vinegar
240 ml  or 1 cup of water (with some on standby if too thick)
1 teaspoon of salt
small sprig of rosemary
1 teaspoon of crushed pink peppercorns

Into a saucepan, bring your water, vinegar and sugar to a boil while you peel and dice the quinces.  Put the quinces in the pan immediately so they do not oxidise. The quinces will take 35 minutes to cook down, so reduce the heat after five minutes of a good boiling heat.  Start slicing the shallots or onions very finely and add in once you are done (these need 20 minutes cooking minimum so if you are slow, do it before!!) .  Next, grate or slice the ginger - I like thin slices - place in the rosemary whole so you can remove it later. Finally, in the last 10 minutes, add the diced apple which needs less cooking as you want to see the chunks in the mix without forgetting to add the salt.  There should be some liquid but not too much (carry on cooking if need be - also testing if the quinces are soft.  Remove the rosemary making sure you use a teaspoon to get the precious juices around the stem).  Put into sterilised jars and keep in the fridge or a cool cupboard until Christmas.

ALTERNATIVELY:  If you can not fine quince you could use pear or apple but just cook for 15 minutes - also reduce the water by a third adding more if too thick.

Ginger and quinces...

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Paprika chicken with lemon ricotta...

The main thing about this dish is the lemon ricotta.  
It will also go nicely with other meat and vegetable dishes.  I really like lemony savoury dishes; so you will have to decide how strong you want it to be.  I serve it in the shape of a quenelles made by using two teaspoons.

Put the zest and juice of two lemons into a pan and reduce right down to two tablespoons worth
(make sure you only use the zest, as the white pith will spoil the taste - a fine microplane grater or a zester is good).  Cool the liquid down and whisk into 125 ml/ half a cup ricotta.  It may not seem a lot, but think of it as a condiment.  Chill it down for an hour so the tastes can develop   You may only want to use one lemon the first time to gage how you like it!

The rest of this dish was skinless chicken breasts, lightly dampened and rolled in sweet paprika and left in the fridge to form a crust for about and hour.  On a low heat, melt a little butter and colour the chicken using a teaspoon to cover/baste the chicken (you can put into the oven to finish off).  Sliced lengthways.

Potatoes where boiled for 5 minutes, then put into a non-stick pan with just a few tablespoons of olive oil.  You need to keep them turning and on a lowish heat.  It takes about 35 minutes, they are not greasy but need watching!

The courgettes/zucchini were cut on a julienne grater and just baked in the oven for 5 minutes - so they are hot but crunchy (drizzle with olive oil and season to taste).

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A room with a view... (and update)

This is my bedroom window view, which expands every winter when the leaves fall.  It is a really beautiful day today...

For my health update, just click below - but don't think you have to, I will be better soon!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Remembrance Sunday...

Hello everybody, I am posting this early as I am not that well at the moment, so please forgive me if I am not about, not sure how long it's going to be.   I do hope to visit your blogs even if I can't post for a bit...

Ivan x

*  *  *   *  *

This Sunday, I am remembering my great uncle, my mother's young uncle: Flying Officer Peter Blackham,who died in France at the age of 21 on the 8th of July 1944, husband  for just three weeks.
He was the pilot of the plane (a Lancaster bomber) that was shot down that night near Ecquevilly, just a few kilometres west of Paris.  Aboard were four Canadian airmen and three British airmen.  Only one of them survived, Sergeant Murrie who was saved by the villagers who hid him quickly.  He is standing in front of the graves in the picture below during a memorial service in 1995.  It was quite unusual for airmen or soldiers to be buried in a French cemetery and not in a war cemetery, but local people took the poor airmen to heart, buried them in their cemetery and have cared for their graves ever since.  We had a hard time finding my great uncle's grave before internet came into fashion, but with a few exchanges of letters, we managed to eventually make my mother's wish to visit her uncle's last resting place and lay flowers at all of the graves.  It was with contentment that she wrote a thank you letter to the local mayor for keeping the graves so well tended.  My great grandmother stood in that very spot as she was taken there after the war, but the address was lost.
This Sunday is Remembrance Sunday.  He would have been 89 years old and be possibly alive, but he died so young for King and country.  He fought for a better place, a place where people can be free, happy and safe...

... remembering and thinking of, all those who have served and are serving now.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


I hesitated to post a sandwich, but I so love eating this.  It really is about the ingredients which, for me and without coming over pedantic, is about finding your favourite combinations.  The "madame" bit is in fact the addition of an egg, which I like to be cooked in the bread, not just added on top! 

So to start, I love using the famous Poilâne bread (a real treat that we can get in Normandy) - you can use your favourite bread.  The cheese is an aged (18 months) Comté grated and thick slices of Normandy ham from the butcher with thick cream from a local farm, again your favourite hard cheese and any good quality ham...

So, oven on at 200°c /400°f!  Place the bottom slice of bread on a baking sheet and once hot, put in to cook for two minutes; take the slice out and flip it over, spread "crème fraîche" (or heavy cream) thick as you choose and then, put on your grated cheese (a thin layer as there are two or three layers). ¨Place the ham on top and finally another layer of cheese (quantities are really as you like).  Put back in the oven for three more minutes while you make the top!  In a non-stick pan/skillet, put in a teaspoon of olive oil and cut a hole in the bread for the egg.  I have to make three small holes overlapping as my bread is long!  Put the bread in the pan/skillet, break the egg into the hole and cook for two minutes.  Place the 'egg' slice on top of the base (it will finish cooking in the oven) with a little more cheese if desired and cook for two more minutes (more if you want the yolk harder).  It seems a lot of work, but it goes quickly and it is so worth it!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Blackberry and yoghurt cake...

Finishing off the last of the blackberries picked from the hedgerow, this cake made a nice change. The fruits came through beautifully and it was quite light.  Although cake is not recommended for diets - this is not too bad if you use honey and olive oil, which adds a delicious back note to it.  There is a lot of fruit in this cake to compensate for using less sugar.  To be honest, this cake was a trial, but I shall certainly be making it again and I may try some different fruit next time.
250 ml/ 1 cup of yoghurt
100 g /half cup brown sugar
400 g / 3 cups of flour
125 ml / half cup of honey
125 ml/ half cup olive oil
3 eggs
one and a half teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
250 g / half lb blackberries (keeping a third back for the base).

Oil a 25 cm / 10 inch tin with a cut circle of baking paper in the base.

Mix into a bowl the flour, the yoghurt, sugar, honey and oil.  Add in the eggs one at a time. Mix well but not excessively.  Put the baking powder and vanilla.  Put in about two tablespoons of the blackberries and crush them into the mix for colour.  Fold in the rest of the fruit (except for a third).    Put into the base of the tin the last third of the blackberries and pour on the cake mixture. 

Bake for 30 - 35 minutes at 175°c / 350° f -   let rest for five minutes, but turn out warm and peel off the paper slowly.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Putting the garden to bed...

With the last jobs now done, we finished putting the garden to 'sleep' for the winter months.  Conkers are all picked up, hedges trimmed and most of this year leaves swept by the high winds!  With a gloomy start to this morning, the afternoon was gloriously bright and sunny.

A lot of the apples are picked but there are still a few trees that are late ripening.  I also spied a lot of red berried holly branches ready for my Christmas wreaths for the entrance doors.

 Nearing leafless.

Extreme free range Sundays and a bone for a puppy, a towel was put down but it tastes so much better on the grass!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Potato crown.

Just a quick idea for serving baby potatoes at a dinner party when you want to let people help themselves.  Alternatively, this could be adapted to individual portions in ramekins.  Simply boil the potatoes for 10 minutes, place in a oven proof dish with a 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom, salt and pepper.  Keep back 8 potatoes and mash them with a fork with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and put on top.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes in an oven of 180° c/ 360° f  until golden .  Turn out on to a platter (run a knife around the sides first) and keep warm until needed.
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