Monday 30 July 2012

Soup for thought...

Last Saturday evening, we went to the coast to have a late supper with some friends in Trouville.  Our friends booked a small restaurant with a terrace overlooking the sea where we could enjoy the sunset.  Half-way through supper, I overheard a lady sitting at the next table not complaining, but correcting the description of one of the dishes, the exact one I was about to eat.  The lady renamed the dish for the owner more fittingly (I love that precision in France and so correct).  I suddenly had a lower expectation of what was about to arrive, but still happy to eat it.  I really enjoyed what I ate, but I only enjoyed it because I had the correct description of the dish, so was not disappointed, - really silly, but true.  

 It got me thinking all about titles we give or expectations we have of food, but as then, a simple name changed everything and made me enjoy the food more.  Today, I wanted to make mushroom soup, which made me think that when I say mushroom soup to myself, I automatically assume what will be in it (i.e. thick cream, chives, garlic, black pepper, butter and, bien sûr, mushrooms).  So, I 
decided to challenge myself and not use any of the usual ingredients, even if would not be as good the soup I know and love.  

500g of diced mushrooms
half a teaspoon of brown sugar
200g diced courgettes
30 ml of white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of tahini (sesame seed paste)
4 tablespoons of tomato purée
1 litre of water
salt, pepper and chilli to taste

In a non stick pan with olive oil, brown your mushrooms until dark amber, adding your sugar at the end to caramelise and help the colour.  De-glaze with white wine vinegar.  Let that reduce for 15 seconds adding your tomato purée and tahini.  Stir through and add the courgettes (less some for the garnish) and the water.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Put in a blender to make it smooth and serve with a bit of the raw courgette diced.

So...  we enjoyed the soup for being different.

Friday 27 July 2012

Barbecued liquorice powdered pork.

This recipe, in my view, is perfectly balanced.  You may think it is a strange spice to use, but it really cuts through the heaviness of the pork.  The natural sweetness of the liquorice is  less of a sugary note, more of a freshness and I think it adds interest.  I have only included one other element (broad beans in parsley butter) as we had quite enough to eat already and my guests always thank me for leaving room for pudding!  As for a sauce, no need,with the buttery broad beans doing that job, you could drizzle a little extra butter from the pan!

Trim off any fat and skin. Keep the fillet whole (feeding 2 to 4 per fillet depending on their size).  Rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Now, sprinkle liberally with the powdered liquorice root, between 1 and 3 tablespoons depending on size and preference.  I barbecued mine in a medium-high heat 3 to 4 minutes each side (depending on the thickness, you may need to continue a little more).  You can alternatively pan fry the pork in the same way.

 Once cooked, wrap in foil and leave it to rest for 10 minutes before carving.  Broad beans are one of my favourite things to eat at this time of year and I skin them because they really are worth the effort (especially if you make your guests help... thanks kids!!!!).  Cover in water and boil for a few minutes and then drain.  Add the parsley, salt and butter to broad beans and cook out a few minutes... heaven!

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Gravlax of salmon.

This is something that we love to eat, hence something I make a lot.  The base stays the same, but you can change a few ingredients to make it a bit different each time.  Also the sauces and dressings can make a big change - so we do not get tired of it!

How I make it is a little different as I buy a whole fish, fillet it, bone it and also skin it (I find skinning the fish speeds up the salting process by having both sides exposed.  This way, I use less salt and avoid scaling, which is always such a messy job).  It goes without saying that you have to use the freshest fish you can find.

So once prepared, rub all four sides with your mix of :

-70g rock salt or large grained sea salt
-55g  of brown sugar
-black or I prefer white pepper (good half tablespoon)
-you could include ground up spices like nutmeg, cumin or coriander, I have even used a teaspoon of curry powder
-a shot of alcohol is optional (vodka is traditional, but gin or whisky works too)
-two handfuls of herbs (one being dill, the other a mix of what you like - parsley, tarragon, thyme, basil...)

Into a thick zip-lock bag, I place the fillets together and fold over in half.  It is good to weight it, but I don't always and it still comes out fine.  As a rule, after 48 hours maximum , (24 - 36 hours being better as the skin has been removed).   Take the fish out of the bag and pour away any liquid, wipe off the excess herbs and any salt (you can rinse the fish if it was very salty, but there should be no need).

You can re-herb it if you like with a little more fresh dill chopped finely.  Re-wrap the salmon until you need it.  I use it over two weekends which is about 10 days.  Slice before serving with a serrated or very sharp knife (cut across the grain in a slow up and down motion don't try to push your knife, I cut mine as if it was in three sections.  Sauces could be anything from lime mayonnaise with grape-seed oil to honey and grainy mustard or sour cream with dill.  I have also used Greek yoghurt and crushed caraway seed and even, home-made chilli and tomato jam goes well.

Plated for a starter with bread and lime mayonnaise (as shown), or in a salad for a main course or on toasts for canapés with horseradish cream.  We don't tire of it as there is so much to make from it, even in a risotto with the leftovers with some lemon juice on a Monday evening...

Monday 23 July 2012

Raspberries and some crunch!

So, this is very quick, but so good after a long dinner.  There is mascarpone whisked up with a bit of icing sugar (to your taste).  Raspberries dusted with icing sugar not that they needed it - more for presentation!  The crushed honeycomb added last so it doesn't dissolve.  You could of course use sorbet or ice cream.


In a non-stick saucepan, put in around 200g or a cup of fine sugar.  Put on a low heat (I prefer to not add water) and slowly melt down the sugar.  Don't stir it and make sure it doesn't colour too much.  Remove from the heat if it does as it is too high.  Once liquid, whisk to get an even colour.   I look for a pale caramel, less coloured than you would normally.  At this point, I put in a big tablespoon of honey (if runny add some more).  Stir in the honey off the heat and then add one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda - keep stirring and pour out onto parchment paper or a silicon sheet.  Work quickly spreading in the same motion as to not loose any bubbles.  Let it cool for a good half hour or more and keep in a zip lock bag.  You can break it up in the bag if you want small pieces.

Le Chateau de Beaumesnil

(Sorry, food coming!  Pictures done, but I make my recipes up as I go along and I was having such a nice time I wrote nothing down, again .... I get told off all the time!!!  So they are on the way....)


This Chateau is near where we live, we often take our guest for a walk here (to digest too much lunch! - Saturday was no exception).  It is deceptive in size, ornate but much smaller than you imagine when you visit inside.  It does not detract from its beauty, more you have dreams, you could manage a place like this!!! (me anyway!...OK still in dreamland!).   The other chateau we really enjoy going to near us is the 'Chateau de Champ de Bataille', we go to the open air opera there once a year with fireworks after.  The interior there is stunning, now that is an even bigger dream!!!

Friday 20 July 2012

Just an omelet?

OK, so it is a soufflé omelet, but really worth a little extra effort.  Just separate 6 eggs, whisk up the whites until they are firm, but not quite meringues. Mix the yolks with salt and pepper and fold into the whisked whites.  Into a lightly oiled pan (with a lid) heat to a medium temperature, put in enough grated parmesan cheese to cover the base.  Spoon in the eggs, level out evenly and put the lid on (and leave on as the heat will escape!) to cook for a good few minutes, remove from the heat (still not removing the lid!) and let stand another 2 minutes, to finish off cooking. Folding as you turn out the omelet onto a serving platter. Cut into wedges and serve with a crunchy green salad.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Peppers, roasted and filled...

I like making this dish as you can change the filling every time.  We are in between guests visiting, so while I am ironing miles of linen sheets, my better half, he is on the tractor attacking the triffid like grass in the orchard.  So quick food tonight, I am serving this with some smoked French ham. 

Half your peppers, you could leave the green stalk on. Clean out seeds and any white bits.  Into a hot oven with a drizzle of olive oil, cup side up.  After 10 minutes turn them over, be careful as they may have liquid in them.  Continue to cook them for about 5 to 10 minutes until just soft.  Today, I filled the bases with sweated off leeks (OK, leftovers!!) and skinned baby tomatoes (just plunged into boiling water for 15 seconds, then shock into cold water, pinching off the skin - worth the effort for this dish) put them back in the oven to warm.  You want the tomatoes hot and raw, so only a few minutes before serving.  The mozzarella must go in really at the last minute, as it will melt too much (hard cheeses can go in for longer).  I put it back in the warm oven and the door open for a minute because of all the residue heat (remove your mozzarella from the fridge half hour before so it can get to room temperature).  Herbs - I used here marjoram and a little aniseed, salt and black Pepper. They are really good for buffet lunches or a starter for a big group of friends.  Fillings are endless!  Serving them hot or cold.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Monday 16 July 2012

Tomato and spaghetti of courgette salad.

 Two ripe giant 'beef heart' tomatoes or six ripe normal ones, cores removed and plunged into boiling water for twelve seconds and dropped into iced water.  Peel the tomatoes and remove the seeds, cut or tear into pieces.  Cut two courgettes with a vegetable 'spaghetti' cutter or just grate.  Cut just up to the seeds and discard the core.  Dress with rice vinegar (or your favourite vinegar) and olive oil (1 to5).  Just before serving season well and mix in a small handful of basil.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Summer... Really?

Unseasonally, our wood stove is on in the kitchen to chase away the chill....  


It's true, we love to have fires in the garden in the summer months.  The difference at the moment is that we are huddled around the fire to keep warm!

The view was still pleasing, we were waiting for the local fireworks display for the Bastille day celebrations. 

Saturday 14 July 2012

Family dinner...

Table set

Our Canadian family guests requested a lighter dinner after a two week tour of Ireland. So I tried!! Crudités and a local soft cheese with my home assembled curry powder, crostini topped with strips of flash fried fillet of beef marinated in olive oil and basil served with a lot of champagne...

To start, a salad of locally smoked duck,  grapefruit segments, lamb's lettuce, tomatoes with garlic and thyme croutons.  The dressing was the juice of an orange reduced (think marmalade) with lemon juice added when cooled, a dash of mustard, olive oil, salt (Malvern) and white pepper.

 Roasted salmon followed.  I  filleted, skinned and de-boned the salmon, filling it with  mascarpone spiced with 'espelette' chilli powder, herbs and smoked salt.  I baked it in a foil envelope with a splash of champagne, at a very low temperature for an hour.  The new potatoes were roasted in olive oil in a hot oven for an hour and finished the last hour on a low heat with the fish.  No sauce was needed as the salmon was very moist and the mascarpone added a softness.

A rather large plate of cheese followed.  Finally, a small but perfect, crème brûlée with a glug of a friend's pear William liqueur. 

Friday 13 July 2012

flat peaches, our sun for today...

Flat peaches, doughnut peaches, saturn peaches whatever you like to call them.  They are very special and if you find some, buy them and just enjoy, they need no recipe...

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Cannelloni of roasted chicken and chestnut mushrooms

Using a batch of the pasta in the previous post, roll the dough out and fill with almost anything!  Here, I have used chestnut mushrooms (precooked, but always add extra moisture, which is what you need so the cannelloni can cook inside).  I also used leftover chicken from a roasted chicken, a good way to use up the wonderful meat off the bones.  I minced (or just chop) up both in equal quantities, choose your own percentages.  If your filling is dry, add a little stock or sauce to your mix for the required moisture.  Place the filling on the pasta and roll making sure it overlaps a good few centimeters and keeping the seam underneath.  Cut into portions so as to fill the dish you have chosen (see below).  

Something that I like to do is to put some vegetables on the base.  Usually, I use sautéed spinach, which is a good combination and makes it a 'one dish wonder'.  I place the cannelloni on the spinach bed, with little spaces between them, so they cook evenly and they can expand.  I then cover with tomato sauce.  You can use a cheese sauce or a mix of both.  I then cover with a layer of parmesan cheese.  If your sauce does not cover the cannelloni completely, don't worry, just cover tightly with tin foil so as the steam stays in.  Bake for about an hour on a low heat (it may be quicker if you are not using an earthenware dish).  The sauce should be boiling, which means the pasta is cooked.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Homemade Pasta...

This is the gateway to a world of real homemade food :  food that gives me equal pleasure to make as to eat.  It does take efforts to perfect, but it's worth it.  As shown below, I still occasionally make it the old fashion way, even if I own more pasta machines that I care to mention!  Cutting it a little imperfectly, just so people notice!!!

200g flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon of olive oil

I used to do this by hand.  Now, I start this off in a food processor.  Putting in three quarters of your flour with the eggs, water and oil.  Pulse and let mix for a minute adding the rest of the flour so it forms a ball (you may add a little more water or flour, depending on the size of eggs and the flour).  It should be slightly sticky as you have to knead it for a few minutes.

Kneading, on a work surface, throw the ball of pasta down hard, stretch with two hands, fold and quarter turn.  It will become less sticky and really smooth.  Dust with flour and wrap, resting in the fridge for an hour more.

Roll out with some flour, if using a machine let the pasta rest between rolling. The same by hand -  pushing and rolling in short movements as you work upwards.  Keep the pasta moving around by turning, so that it does not stick.  It tends to retract, so roll a little thinner than you want.  I go through phases of thick or thin pasta.  It is all in your hands...

 To cook, plunge in boiling salted water.  Keep the water turning with a spoon and once it floats:  it's done.  Drain and dress.  Here, I have gone with thick and wide pasta with just butter and olive oil, black pepper, salt and marjoram. 

Monday 9 July 2012

Garden watch...

 Black currents almost ready.
 We have three old pear trees growing up against the side of the house, they have fruit even if it is a little late.
My beloved fennel seeds coming on fine. 
 Hydrangeas only two years old doing very well against the stables.
 Hedges trimmed but still growing.
 Courgettes really behind due to late planting!
 Geraniums waiting for more sun.
 Lime walk tidy.
 Enjoying this new colour mix the wild sage was already there a few years, but needed  warming up.
 And by no means last our favourite King Edward potatoes doing just fine and loving the rain...

Tomato soup my way...

This soup has to be made with tomatoes that taste amazing, as they are the main ingredient .   I make this when I have overripe tomatoes to use up.  I try to thicken soups in different  ways as I find flour can make them sometimes taste more 'sauce like' and here by using lentils, it adds an extra depth of taste as well as the perfect texture. 

Cut up tomatoes and put them into a pan and cover half way up the tomato mass with vegetable stock and bring to a simmering heat.  Add  two handful of coral lentils per 750ml (less or more depending on how thick you like your soup).  Cook for about twenty minutes.  Using a hand blender, blend and then sieve to remove all the skins and pips.  Season with white pepper and a touch of salt.

You may say add basil and cream or some cheese but looking at the colour here, you can see sometimes less is so much more.  Just soup?   No, it was a bowl of summer...

Saturday 7 July 2012

Swiss chard gratin

This is one of my favourite 'gratin' dishes.  Remove the green leaves (put to one side) and slice the white stalks into batons (1cm x 6cm).  Put them into boiling water with a few tablespoons of lemon juice or white vinegar (they can blackened if not).  Cook for about 10 minutes or until tender.  Drain and add the leaves with some butter to the pan just for 2 minutes and drain the liquid.  You can just add cream or make a bechamel sauce with some good cheese of your liking.  Mix the sauce with the leaves and stalks and put on top a little more cheese and bread crumbs and bake for 40 minutes. It goes well with fish or meat.

Friday 6 July 2012

Raspberry Tart

In our garden, we do not grow a lot of raspberries, yet they are one of our favourite soft fruits.  The fact is that we live right next to a raspberry farm and they are hand picked or machine picked (for jam) daily throughout the month of July.  It's such a treat to just go and buy some with no work!  They are wonderful in this tart!  I bake it in a 'pastry ring' on a baking sheet with the excess cut off after baking.  The "Crème Pâtissière" is piped in once the case has cooled down.  I make mine really unsweetened and if you adore sugar, you can double it but it's worth trying it if you have amazing raspberries as it adds to their perfume by not being overly sweetened. There is also sugar in the base to consider.  

200g flour
110g soft unsalted butter
1 egg
60g icing sugar
35g toasted almonds

Rub in the butter with the flour, adding the sugar and almonds at the end.  Add the egg and bring together with a wooden spoon until it forms a ball.  Press into 'slab' and dust, wrap in cling film so it is ready to roll out after letting rest in the fridge for an hour.  Bake blind for 20 minutes at 175°C/350°F) and then remove what you use for weighing the pastry down and bake a further 15 (or so) minutes more.  Let case cool down before filling.

Pastry cream
450ml milk
4 yolks
65g sugar (or up to110g)
30g flour
25g corn starch
1 vanilla pod

Boil up the milk adding the vanilla pod and let the vanilla infuse.  Once the milk is just warm, split the pod and scrape in the seeds (middle part) with a teaspoon.  Whisk yolks with the sugar adding the flours.  Pour in a cup or so of the warmed milk and whisk.  Then add the eggs and sugar mix to the rest of the milk putting it back on the heat stirring constantly.  It will thicken quite quickly.  So when you see it start to thicken, turn the heat to the lowest even removing the pan every so often so it can cook out the flour slowly without reaching too higher temperature.  Leave to cool with a cling film over it.  Keep in the fridge until ready to pipe. 

Thursday 5 July 2012

Two dancing Princesses paying us a visit...


Our nieces getting ready for bed!!! Oh so tired.... 

Ravishing Radishes

 This was just a quick salad of roquette leaves and ribbons of radish (diakon /mooli/large white radish see photo below).   I peeled it with a vegetable peeler (discarding the outer skin), carried on peeling strips and finely sliced the middle core, which is milder.  Make a dressing of three tablespoons of rice-wine vinegar, dissolve in this, half a teaspoon of brown sugar (to balance the acids and bitter - it should not be sweet once mixed in).  Mixing in half olive oil and half grape-seed oil to six times the vinegar.  Whisk well.  I served this with some grilled chicken breasts marinated in hazelnut oil, salt, thyme and pink pepper corns.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Aubergines baked with Beaufort cheese

As I bought too many aubergines at the market this weekend, I thought I would grill them all on the barbecue (peeled, sliced lengthways, salted - leave an hour and brush with olive oil, then grilled).  From this point on, I usually go off in an Italian direction (parmesan, basil..), but not always.  I also had unwrapped cheeses that didn't even make the cheese platter at dinner at the weekend.  Selecting the Beaufort (from the Savoie region, it is a hard cows' milk cheese with a unique sharp taste).  So, I made a thin bechamel sauce (about 400 ml), melting in some grated Beaufort cheese (any strong mountain cheese should work, hard ewes' milk cheese or Swiss styled ones also).  Once the cheese has melted, add half a glass of dry white wine to the sauce, black pepper (no herbs - there is enough taste).  Then, alternately layering up on a deep ceramic dish, topping with bread crumbs and baking for an hour on a low heat.  As you can see, the sauce did not overtake the dish - it just adds a beautiful back note along with the barbecue taste.  It is really good served hot or cold and it freezes well  for a lazy day.

Monday 2 July 2012

Lean and Dip


I used to make this dip with left over 'Puy' lentils (the green French ones!).  Now, I have started to just cook them for this. It has very little fat content, which has to be a plus, but really I make it because it tastes so good.  If you can't stand the taste of lentils, then you probably won't like this either!!!!

Boil up the desired quantity for around the 7 minutes, drain and change the water (quite dark and bubbly). Refill with stock (or water and good quality vegetable stock cube) to just cover and bring back to the boil for about 10-12 minutes -  they should have a pleasant bite to them. (check they don't boil too dry, there should be just a little stock left).

Leave to cool and add plain yoghurt of your choice (Greek, low fat, cream or cream cheese if you want) and blitz up with a hand blender adding spices and seasoning . I went with flat leaf parsley, chopped first then blitzed with the lentils and black pepper.  The texture is for you to choose.  It makes a change from hummus, which can hide a lot of oil especially with the commercial ones.

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