Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year!

I need a 36 hour day!!  Our friends arrive in an an hour and I am nearly ready!!  I just wanted to wish everybody a fabulous and magical 2013...

My best wishes and a Happy New Year!

Ivan x

Friday, 28 December 2012

My chicken Tikka

Christmas was blissfully lazy and not much was achieved, but with all our favourite classic foods cooked and eaten we needed a change.  This is by no means authentic but it is just how I do my chicken tikka. I might also add that this has been made to be chilled and eaten in home-made naan bread tomorrow.  You, of course, can have this dish hot with the usual rice and pickles/chutneys, but make extra for an amazing treat in a sandwich.

I like to marinate the meat over night in yoghurt with the spice blend below; however, a pre bought paste or powder is fine.

For 6 skinless chicken breasts, each cut into 4 portions, mix in two pots of plain yoghurt (250 ml/ 1 cup) and 2 to 3 tablespoons of spice. Cover and put into the fridge over night. It can be grilled on the barbecue (but I wimped out as it is raining!!).  Take out and place onto a non-stick baking tray (with a lip as there is liquid that will be released while cooking) and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes at a low oven of 140°c / 285°f .  I don't oil the tray as I cook it slowly so it doesn't dry out.  Remove the chicken and you can serve with some yoghurt mixed with a tablespoon or two of the spice and a good trick is to add a little bit of fresh mint finely chopped and stirred in.


2 tablespoons of coriander seeds
1 tablespoon of fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
1 tablespoon of caraway seeds
1 teaspoon of chilli seeds

Put the whole seeds in a non-stick pan and you want to heat them through so they start to toast; you will start smelling them toast (not burn!) - keep them moving and add in the rest ground spice for the last minute of cooking :
3 tablespoons of paprika (the sweet mild one, smoked if you like)
2 tablespoons of  turmeric - ground
1 tablespoon of  ginger - ground
1/4 nutmeg grated in
1 tablespoon of onion powder or garlic powder (or bit of each)

Once cooled, grind in an electric coffee grinder (used only for spice - or your coffee with taste spicy) or in a pestle and mortar (if you have neither then you could buy all the spice already ground). You can add or remove what spices you want, that is the point of going to all the bother of doing it at home. I still think it is worth it as you end up with a fresher blend and something more delicately perfumed. Keep this in a jar for freshness - it was the same mixture that I used on the spatchcock chicken.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Gravlax and a Merry Christmas!

I posted this recipe in July but this is an update... it is also now in "cups"!  I have added  seaweed (dried, bought from my health food store) this time, which is optional.  I made it lastnight for later in the week and ready for New Year's eve  - it takes two days to cure (dehydrating the fish with salt) but keeps very well in the fridge for over a week if wrapped properly.  I have left the skin on unlike the last post as I am ahead of time.

100g / 1/2 cup of 'gros sel de guerande' / course grey sea salt
80 g /  1/3 cup of brown sugar
10 g / 1/2 cup of dried seaweed (dulse, sea lettuce and nori)
2 teaspoons of caraway seeds crushed
2 teaspoons of dill seeds crushed
2 teaspoons of crushed juniper berries (if you like them)
2 tablespoons of dried dill (for the rub as it is more intense - or fresh but triple the quantity)
a small bunch of fresh dill (to dress after the salting)
3 tablespoon of vodka

Sauces - Greek yoghurt mixed with chopped dill, shallots and chives or a rustic mayonnaise made with grainy mustard, lemon juice and peanut oil for thickness.


You need a very fresh fish, scaled,  filleted with the pin bones removed - a good fish monger will do this if you order in advance.  You can also buy a side of salmon and pull out the pin bones with (new for the kitchen!) tweezers/baby pliers - the bones run down one side and you can feel them, just keep pulling!!

Assemble all the ingredients, except the vodka. Rub the mix in the fish, adding 2/3 to the middle and the rest on the  two skin sides.  If using vodka, sprinkle it on the inside fillets now.  Put the fillets together and into a plastic zip-lock bag (a big one!).  They should be weighed down in the fridge, so I put a small cutting board on top and  bowl with wine bottles or heavy items.  You want to turn them every 12 hours and do this for 48 hours.

Remove the fish after the two days and brush all the salt and herbs off - you can rinse it if your salt is finer than I suggested.  I redress it with fresh dill and a tablespoon of oil to make it stay on.  Slice across ways long  slices starting from the tail end.  A sharp knife makes this easier (!)  

Note : if slicing scares you, then start at the other end and do thinnish slices though the thicker part (best to remove the skin first. You may need to start it off with a knife, start from the tail end and go slowly - if any of the fish gets stuck to the skin, just cut underneath and carry on).

*   *   *   *   *

Wishing everybody a most Happy Christmas, Happy Holidays et Joyeux Nöel...

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog; it means a lot to me. I have a log fire, a box of soft centers, a book with my name on it and a pug needing to be squeezed - it's Christmas!!  The tourtière is waiting to go in the oven later!  Have a wonderful few days and I shall be back with food for New Years Eve as we may even be hungry by then!

All the best  -  Ivan x

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Don't forget your puppy!!!

So, I made my pug some cookies for Christmas (because it's fun!) and this year, I ate more than him as they were so good; so if you want to make a biscuit to go with cheese, these are better than the ones I bought in the store the other week!! - You could add salt if you are not making them for a dog or cat!

So, here is the recipe :

75 g or 1/2 cup rye flour 
75 g or 1/2 cup rice flour
80 g or 1/2 cup white or wholemeal flour
30 g or 1/2 cup ground oats
half a teaspoon of baking powder
180 ml or 3/4 cup of water
60 ml or 1/4 cup of olive oil
one tablespoon of dry parsley
one tablespoon of linen seed
optional Christmas extra - a fine grating of parmesan cheese (2 tablespoons)

(Note that you can substitute flours if you don't have the ones listed above)

Mix all together in a bowl, roll the pastry out and cut into different shapes (bone shapes are especially appreciated)!

Put the biscuits on a non-stick tray and bake in the oven at 175°c or 350 °f between 9 and 15 minutes depending on how thick your biscuits are.  They should be a nice golden brown when cooked.

Let the biscuits cool down and serve to your puppy when deserved....

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Apéritif circle!!

This is about using one sheet of rolled out puff pastry for quickness - that said you may need to do more if there is a crowd as they go quick.  There is also a 'pork stick' (with sage, shallots and apple - rolled in oats); these I made while waiting for the pastry to cook! (This is for tomorrow, so I have only put a few together as a taste test!! - the pastry (cooled) keeps fine in an air tight container).

Just cut into desired shapes and size (I usually make them bigger for friends, smaller for business). I like to use a different shape for each filling.  For the long sticks, I egg washed (a yolk with 2 tablespoons of milk) and dusted with parmesan and smoked paprika.  You can also egg wash the pastry shapes and sprinkle the top with seeds.  Once you cut out your shapes, put them on a baking sheet and into the freezer for ten minutes to chill down.  Place the baking sheet into the heated oven for about 15 -20 minutes, but follow the directions on the pack as some pastries are rolled thinner than others. Oven about 190°c/ 375°f . If rolling out by yourself, it will cook longer and they will rise more. 

Tip : a cake tin with boiling water in on the bottom shelf as you bake as the steam will help the rise.

Cool, split in half with a knife and fill....

I piped in soft goats cheese with pink pepper corns; the other with horseradish cream with ham.  Alternatively smoked salmon, seafood, diced cold meats, soft cheeses with herbs, garlic snails (serve these hot), blue cheese and walnuts, pesto, anchovies.... the list is endless!!!
 Just don't fill too early and stay away from wet things like cucumber, etc.....

* * * 

Pork sticks with apple, shallots and sage, rolled in oats with a mustard cream dipping sauce.
(CELIAC version, not using the oats but a gluten free organic rice crumbs)

450 g / 1 lb pork tenderloin (or a lean cut)
170 g / 6 oz smoked bacon
2 chopped shallots (or 1 small oinion)
half an apple - grated
1 egg (+1 for the coating)
ground oats for coating (or rice crumbs)
tablespoon of sage (or herb of choice)
salt and pepper
Sauce - 2 tablespoons of grainy mustard to six of cream or yoghurt.
Grind the meat (in a processor - as it is lean - or a grinder; just cut it up before, especially the bacon so you don't over work the meat in the machine, add the egg and shallots halfway).  Form into sausage shapes or balls and dip into some rice or normal flour then into the egg mixed, then into the rice crumbs or ground oats (the fine ground oats can be bought if not, (before you whiz up the meat) whiz up the oats to make a crumb) - see below photo.

 Alternatively, they can just be cooked without a coating and are still good.
Fry or bake them for about 20-25 minutes in a little olive oil on a low to medium heat; they should take on a nice golden colour - turn them a few times.
They are nice cold or just warmed, serve with the sauce on the side or on a cocktail stick if you prefer.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Spiced spatchcock chicken...

 This recipe makes two meals : slow roasted chicken (spices you can change each time ) and soup for lunch next day - trust me it's worth the extra work...
Spatchcock is a term used for flattening out the bird for an even cooking and as it is flat, you can cook it slower and at a lower heat with it saying moist.

(CLICK BELOW for the recipe and more photos!)

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Christmas cake (part 2)...

The Marzipan bit...

I decided to roast the ground almonds to give it more taste and as I didn't want to add any essence of almond, it did help with taste.  Just put into an oven for 25/35 minutes (depending on quantity - it has to turn golden) at 180°c/350°f  turning every 7-8 minutes especially the corners and the base. It's an option but if you want to add food colour to make it yellow this will make it darker so just skip this part.

230 g/1 cup + 2 tablespoons or sugar
4 tablespoons of water
180 g/1 and1/2 cups less 2 tablespoon of ground almonds
1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar
1 egg white
(option: 2 teaspoons of brandy, Calvados or 1 teaspoon of almond essence or just water)

Heat the sugar and water in a pan and don't stir or touch (swirl a bit if you want!); it will start to bubble and you want to heat it to 116°c/240°f (sugar terms =soft ball stage).  Put the pan immediately into a bowl of cold water to cool and stop the cooking.  Add the cream of tartar and whisk this back on the heat (low now) until it changes texture (glue-ish), then stir in the almonds, followed by the egg white and the optional Calvados as above.  Cook for a good minute while stirring.  Let the mix cool and kneed (adding food colour at this point - if using).  Roll out as if it were pastry using icing/powdered sugar. Use either apricot or marmalade (2 tablespoons with 2 teaspoons of water heated in a pan as the glue, painting it over the cake).

Alternatively the uncooked version is - 180 g or 1 and 1/3 cups icing/powdered sugar and 180 g or 1 and 1/2 cups less 2 tablespoons of ground almonds, mixed with an egg white and a tablespoon of brandy.  Mix and follow the stages above but be aware of raw egg whites with the old and young (and alcohol) - third option is to buy it!! 

Cover the cake and let it stand a day before icing.

The icing bit...
Fondant icing, is a cooked sugar that you can roll out - again it can be bought or made...

500 g / 3 and 3/4 cups  icing/powdered sugar (plus more for correcting the texture and rolling out)
40 g or 1 and 1/2 oz  water
6 g  or 1/4 oz sheet leaf gelatine (3 sheets)
50 g or 2 oz  glucose syrup
-Put the leaf gelatine into cold water for 5 minutes.
-Heat the water with glucose syrup, but just hot (do not boil); melt in the gelatine.
Whisk in a machine the icing/powdered sugar with the warmed glucose mixture; let the machine run a few minutes to let the icing cool down.  I like to stop it half way and scrape the sides and base so all is mixed in well - you may want to add more sugar.  It has to be solid and not too much liquid. Turn it out on to your work area and work like bread to make a dough adding more icing/powdered sugar if it is sticky. It rolls out as shown in the picture above and just proceed as pastry rolling big enough to cover the cake (use a piece of string to measure the cake).  Paint on water or marmalade diluted (as above) on to the marzipan. Trim the excess and just add a ribbon or pipe royal icing as per the recipe below.  I added some marzipan leaves and flowers.

Alternatively   you can use only royal icing, which you spread over the cake as a snow scape using a pallet knife to spread on and then the back of a folk to lift up into peaks - or smooth it round and pipe a design on top. 
About 2 cups of icing/powdered sugar mixed with 2 egg whites (or water if whites are a problem), whisk in machine until firm and the sugar holds it shape.  It generally can take a bit more icing/powdered sugar than you think
Note - remember to tightly wrap up all icing and marzipan so it does not dry out!

This is the texture you are looking for...
Cover and press down with your hands firming it all around then trim off the excesses.
My icing is bit wobbly but I am thinking... by the time we eat it, it will be beautiful or will that be the Calvados talking!!

It's not perfect but it tastes good and was a lot of fun to do!!

 Baked with love...

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Cookies for Vincent...

This is a quick post for my friend Vincent who has been searching for a chocolate cookie recipe. These are made how I like them,  a bit chunky with just a 'moëlleux' heart to them ;

130 g Butter (2/3 cup)
85 g Brown sugar (1/3 cup)
65 g Fine white sugar (1/3 cup - a teaspoon less)
230 g Flour (1 and 3/4 cups)
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder (unsweetened)
3/4 teaspoon of Baking powder
1 teaspoon of good vanilla essence
One egg
95 g Chocolate chips

With a wooden spoon (or in the machine!), cream together the SOFT butter and sugars; you want it not to just mix but be light and just change colour (about three minutes of mixing please!)
Add in the egg; vanilla and the cocoa powder - the cocoa is an option for colour and taste but could be left out  (also you could add in more if you wanted, say three tablespoons of cocoa, but take off two tablespoons of flour for balance).
Mix in but don't over work the flour, adding it in slowly with the baking powder; it should be an even colour. Finally, put in chocolate chips, just folding them in evenly.

I make about 9...OK 8 as it is a bit testable at this stage!!
I use a small ice cream scoop, and I like to press down on top and roughly shape them  - you could make them thinner if you want them crisper.

Bake at 190°c/375°f  (for me) 9 minutes but you will have to decide if you want them cooked more (8 to 12 minutes guide line)

I could post these to you Vince... but then you wouldn't make them! Beside they WERE so good!
... and as they say :  'no panier a salade' - no cookies...
Happy baking!

Update.... and yes, Vince made them in his Paris kitchen, as promise on Saturday!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Finally... the wreaths!

 Made a simple white linen bow in the end as this is staying inside... tones in with the tea-soaked linen curtains I made.  But it could all change by next week!
(Folded a length of linen in three, iron it flat and spray starched it - then just tied)  

Re-made the front ones as they were too small, just Ivy and hearts for now! (red or tartan ribbon being hunted for by my better half right now!).

Straw base and just adding two or three sprigs of ivy each second turn.  Use thin florists wire, trimming off the excesses stalks and leaves that stick out.

These were for the front doors but looked 'lost', so keeping them inside...

Some of the cards I made... now all sent!

Even the fountain/roundabout was made festive this week in Bernay...

 Poinsettia in place!!

 Even a Christmas frosting for the garden...

May I take this opportunity to wish everybody a Joyeux Nöel,  Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays! 
Ivan x

Monday, 10 December 2012

Last minute guests...

First, I would like to say a very special thank you to Aina  at Modern Country who gave me a very kind shout out today on her beautiful blog.
Today, I have been testing new recipes for the Christmas festivities (post to follow!) and finishing off bits of decoration for the house - our tree goes up this coming weekend.  No food shopping today as I rested from a weekend trip to the Loire Valley with some friends, but the phone rang at nearly six o'clock to say some friends were just popping in for 'one' glass... I could kick myself for 'grazing' all day on my test food because I had nothing much to offer - so this is what I made... simple and just really quick!

 I have a stock of things in my much loved larder - such as organic nuts, bags of them, which I oven roast or today pan heated.  I had that little time - very hot pan, keep turning quickly so they colour, about half a minute then one teaspoon of olive oil stir for ten seconds and then add some spice for just another ten seconds.  I chose smoked salt and paprika (experiment it is a lot of fun from curry powders to ground spices...)

Smoked salmon was sliced and sprinkled with crushed coriander seeds and wrapped around a thin slice of long black radish . The courgette (zucchini) sandwich, was just two thin slices with a slice of aged Comté cheese, a slither of dried fig and some grainy mustard (the glue!)

With batons of carrots, parsnips (so good raw),  pepper and pickles.  A quick dip of 0% fromage blanc mixed my 'green booster' from November 29th post (add to taste) - any thick yoghurt or cream, for that matter would work well, just fold it in gently.

With bread sticks, apple oh... and bubbles make anything taste better!

It was fun and quick, the thing is to use what you have...

Friday, 7 December 2012

Crab Linguine.

This is a dish I often make in the summer but I really wanted to eat this sweet-seafood-feast - some 'sunshine food' after today's snowfall no doubt...
I have to say I love picking over crabs, but you can get dressed crab or just claws;  I even recently sampled some frozen crab, which was good if you are in a hurry.  The difference will be in the sauce if you don't have the shells to cook with, but a little more butter will help readdress the balance!

My crab was cooked by my fishmonger but this size would take 8 minutes.  If preparing a crab, split the meat into white and brown meat.  Crush the shells once the meat is removed, I use a rolling pin to crush the shells down. Remove the 'feathers' on the sides of the main body (the lungs) which are the only toxic part.  A crab this size will feed 2 but can be stretched to 4 easily as it is so perfumed.

Over the heat, add in a chopped onion and 3 heaped tablespoons of tomato paste. Cook out the acidity for a few minutes and add in 2 or 3 tablespoons of Pernod (or any aniseed alcohol);  then, fill with 3 cups or 720 ml of water.  Further cook for about 20 -30 minutes and pass through a sieve -  you want 2 cups or 480 ml of liquid (add water if needed)  and after bringing to the heat, add a cup or 240 ml of cream.  Reduce for 10 minutes so you have two cups of liquid. Season with salt and white pepper.
 Whisk in 60 g or 1/4 cup of butter (more if it is your birthday...or Friday!)

CHOICES:  the dark meat could now go in the sauce...  but I have to mix the dark meat (and sometimes the crab roe) with mayonnaise and put it on little toasts before dinner with a cold glass of white, you choose!
Also, if you have no shell, the dark meat will help the richness of the sauce.  If you are only using white meat, for the sauce use a good quality tin of Italian tomatoes and just one tablespoon of tomato paste and some fresh herbs like tarragon or chives.  Reduce as the other sauce, adding the same amount of cream.  You may need to add more butter to lift it a bit - it is not the same sauce but very pleasant.

Cook your pasta (linguine) and one minute before it is cooked, put into the awaiting (heated) sauce and let it finish cooking, add a few tablespoons of the pasta water if needed.
I serve the pasta with the crab on top, not heated as it warms naturally - you may want to mix it in but it is nice to see the crab.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

My Christmas cake and wreaths... work in progress!

 200 g sultanas (1 and 1/3 cup)
200 g golden raisins (1 and 1/3 cup)
50 g dried cranberries (1/3 cup)
 Soak these over night in...
 120 ml (1/2 cup) Calvados (or brandy), 120 ml (1/2 cup) of boiling Earl grey tea and 60 ml (1/4 cup) port.

*  *  *
225 g brown sugar (1 cup and 2 tablespoons)
225 g butter(8 oz or 2 sticks)
250 g plain flour(1 and 2/3 cups)
4 eggs
100 g ground almonds(2/3 cup)
70 g chopped nuts of choice (Brazil nuts) (1/2 cup)
1 and 1/2 teaspoon of ginger (ground)
1 teaspoon of cinnamon (ground)
1 teaspoon of cloves (ground)
1 teaspoon of nutmeg (grated)
1/2 teaspoon of aniseed (ground)

Cream the butter with sugar and spice, so fluffy, add in one egg at a time. 
Fold in the dry ingredients and add the pre-soaked fruits and nuts. 
Put into you tin of choice and line it with parchment paper, below you can see I have filled the tin to the top as it will rise only a bit.
Bake it for 4 to 5 hours hours at 135°c /275° f  (roughly - if using a wider tin you may want to check after 3 and 1/2 hours) 
To test, a small knife or metal skewer should come out clean.
Let cool down completely for a good few hours, before wrapping in foil and into a zip-lock bag.

Let rest at least three days before icing (to follow next week!)

*   *   *   *   *
 This is one of my wreaths for Christmas, using the  branches of our lime trees.  I started Sunday, but have still to finish them, there are three in all.  I like the three colours you find in the wood - brown, red and green.  I still have not decided how to finish them - it feels like it maybe a 'natural' Christmas this year...

Monday, 3 December 2012

Beef cheeks + polenta = comfort food...

These are two rib sticking recipes which together are a real pleasure, when you are craving 'filling-home-food'.  The cheeks are something not used enough but the melting meat is like no other.   I would choose these over say, the best steak on offer.  I don't imagine they are easy to get, but hunt them down at a reliable butcher.  They have a gelatinous quality but as they are cooked for 5 and a half hours, so they become 'melting' and the texture is so, so rich and soft.
The hot, smooth polenta or cornmeal (maize) is a change with a beef dish. The dense but creamy texture really complements the rich beef.  I choose a finely ground cornmeal and I add more liquid than usual required. The thing is to make it the way you like.  I also have to add some cream... and butter too!

(For 4)
 The beef ...
Two beef cheeks (about 500 g/1 lb each), - trimmed of fat, kept whole and tied with string.
Vegetables diced (2 carrots, 2 sticks of celery, 3 onions and 2 leeks)
1 litre/ 4 cups stock (just over)
460 ml/ 2 cups red wine

Make this in a cast-iron casserole pan with a tight fitting lid.  Firstly brown the meat and then remove.  Put the onions in to brown and cook for 10 minutes. Add the other vegetables for 5 minutes, then de-glaze with the red wine and cook for 5 minutes then add the stock and bring to the boil - put into the oven at 120°c/ 250°f for 5 hours.  After cooking, take out gently and remove the string.  Cut each cheek into 4 pieces (it will be delicate).  Remove the veg and push through a sieve.  Reduce the sauce on the stove top until thick. Put the meat back into the sauce and cover with the sauce and put back into the oven for an half an hour  to finish off.

The polenta bit...
160 g/1 cup of cornmeal or polenta  (you can choose if you want to use the quick cook or not)
480 ml/2 cups stock
280 ml/1 cup of milk
280 ml/1 cup of cream
2 tablespoons of dried chives
1 teaspoon of tyme
salt and ground pepper to taste
as much butter as you dare...

The cooking will depend on the polenta you choose (8 minute precooked or the 40 minute stirring all the time one!  I do both... depends on time - more butter goes into the quick version!)
Whisk in the stock, milk, chives and adding the cream last. Cook as instructions indicate and I like to add the butter last, then let it sit for 10 minutes after cooking.  Add a little more cream if you find it too thick still.

*  *  *  *  *

The leftovers are amazing, the beef for me has to be frozen, ready for the most delicious samosas.  As for the polenta, I use it on hot crusty crostini; as it is just about spreadable - a real vegetarian treat!

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