Sunday 30 September 2012

Drying flowers..

I have flowers drying everywhere at the moment.  I like displaying them around the house once they have dried, they cheer-up unused fire places and empty vases.  I use hair-spray to fix them;  they get changed every year as they fade and are hard to dust !  The wood stove went on this morning to help them along!  It is amazing to think they were all white in the summer!

Thursday 27 September 2012

Ricotta gnocchi with girolles...

I love eating (and making) gnocchi and this, pared with mushrooms is to me, just wonderful!!

Gnocchi (for 2)

75g /half a cup flour (more for dusting)
2 egg yolks
250g/1 cup  ricotta
30g/third of cup parmesan cheese 
1 heaped tablespoon of chives (dried to soak up some moisture)
salt and pepper

In a bowl, using a wooden spoon, mix together all the ingredients until evenly mixed.  Let the mix rest half an hour in the fridge to firm up.  Divide into three balls and roll them into even sausage shapes, handling them lightly.  Divide into equal pieces, then pressing on a folk roll away the gnocchi so you have a indentation one side and lines on the other side (see photo - it would be more pronounced if making potato ones, but these are quite delicate).  They need to be cooked straight away or back into the fridge (no more than a few hours) .
For cooking, bring a pan of salted water to the boil, putting them in gently.  When they rise count to ten and with a slotted spoon remove them to your awaiting sauce (see below - using girolles and butter here).

Girolles (or any mushrooms)

I used 250g which is half a pound (you could add more if you want)
Clean the mushrooms with a brush and cut the larger ones so they are all even, trimming any very dirty or sandy parts.  In an open non-stick pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil, add the mushrooms with some salt and keep turning them for about seven minutes.  Add in two heaped tablespoons of butter at the end and put the pan to one side keeping them warm while you cook the gnocchi.  Put in your gnocchi with four tablespoons of the cooking water to make an emulsion with the butter.  Poach the gnocchi and mushrooms for a few more minutes to infuse, then serve.
If you have never made these before, you must give them a go because they are nothing compared to the shop bought ones....

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Sautéed potatoes dusted with almonds...

Select a variety of potato that will crisp up; cut into pieces (peel if so desired) and rinse off the starch.  Into a non-stick pan with a lid, put the potatoes in and about 1 cup or 250 ml of water and 4 table spoons of olive oil.  Bring to the boil and steam off the water and once the water has gone turn the heat down and turn the potatoes every few minutes so they cook evenly in the oil, about 20 more minutes (depending on the size you have cut them to).  Once you are pleased with the crispiness, add in 2 or 3 tablespoons of ground almonds, salt and pepper, stir for 2 more minutes or until golden.  

Sunday 23 September 2012

A whole chicken braised in white wine...

This is simple, but perfect!  The whole free range chicken is cooked in some white wine with salt and pepper for a few hours.  The cooking liquid is used to cook the bulgur wheat at the end as it only takes 12 minutes, using the clear and amazing chicken infused wine stock.  A simple side dish of a green salad, as in France, you can eat it just after. But you will need a good cast iron casserole dish with lid. (Dutch oven)

This is one of my favourite pans, small but ideal!
I cook a lot with it as it doesn't take up all of the oven.  I can get a whole large chicken in, you just have to  press down on the upside down chicken to snap the breast bone and flip over. A lager pan is fine but not too big as you want to infuse the flavours with a smaller amount of liquid, it will be more intense.
Firstly colour the chicken in the pan for a few minutes on each side for a little colour using a table spoon of olive oil.  I then bake the seasoned chicken with 350ml (one and a half cups) of white wine at 125°C/260°F - low and slow for 2 hours.  I use a white wine from Burgundy - use a  dry and light wine, but nothing sweet.  Don't keep opening the lid as you loose the steam which you want to keep inside.  At the end, just remove one and a half cups of the liquid with one cup of water and a cup of bulgur wheat, simmer for 6 minutes and put a lid on and rest for 6 minutes more.  While the bulgur is resting, cut the chicken with a knife and fork as it is hot.  Serve the bulgur in a bowl with the chicken on top, cut up in pieces or whole breast or leg.  Pour over the juices, which is like a soup deliberately unthickened for a taste of simplicity; these three elements just go so well together.  If you are thinking herbs and spices - you could, but try it like this first!  A light stew to start the season off!!

Thursday 20 September 2012

Hazelnut and chocolate biscuits...

These are a quick crunchie fix. This is my favourite tea service which dates from the 1920's, made by Royal Doulton, it is a real pleasure to drink out of it!

 80g sugar(third cup +1 tablespoon)
140g flour(1 cup +1 tablespoon)
110g butter(half cup but remove a tablespoon!)
1 egg yolk
(20g) 2 tablespoons of chocolate powder
(20g) 2 tablespoon of hazelnuts (toasted and crushed)

Mix the flour and sugar. Add the soften butter, once evenly mixed in, incorporate the egg yolk.

Split the dough in two and put each half in a different mixing bowl.  Add the nuts to one bowl and the chocolate powder into the other bowl and mix again.  Once both doughs are an evenly mixed, roll them into a 'sausage' shape.  Twist the two together and cut in half and place side by side.  Repeat this, twist and roll into a 'sausage' shape again until you have the width of the biscuit you desire, slice them about 1 cm wide.  Place on a baking sheet with some parchment paper and cool in a fridge for 20 minutes while the oven heats up to 160°C/320°F.  Cook for 8 to 10 minutes.  Let cool on a rack to they firm up.  Don't forget to make the tea!! 

Tuesday 18 September 2012


I get to go to Rouen about once a week and it is a wonderful place to wander about in.  It is the capital of Normandy.
The 16th century court house (previously the Parliament of Normandy)
There are many narrow streets here with many small boutiques.

These two pictures are of  the cathedral  'Notre-Dame de Rouen'.  It is being renovated at the moment - construction started in the 12th century.  There are a few paintings of the cathedral by Claude Monet, who lived not very far from here. 

Sunday 16 September 2012

Pork, peach and tomato salad...

This is not an obvious choice, but it was a nice balance.   For me, my cooking is all about balancing flavours and textures, even if it is only subtlety.  I always think pork can be heavy and mixing it with the peaches cuts the "heaviness".  If you are thinking this is sweet, it really wasn't as the tang of vinegar in the dressing (more vinegar than I usually put in a dressing) balances the peachy flavour and sweetness.  Teasing the palate further, the addition of mint leaves was strangely right.

For 2 : 
One pork fillet
Three large beef heart tomatoes (skins off and de-seeded please!) or six normal ones
Two normal peaches (skinned - if they just peal off)
One shallot finely sliced
Fourteen small mint leaves

Dressing :
One teaspoon mustard
Two tablespoons vinegar (champagne vinegar)
Six tablespoons olive oil

1. Season pork and cook through for nine minutes with the lid on, deglasing at last minute with tablespoon of vinegar, leaving it for five minutes to rest in the pan so it continues cooking from the residual heat. Cool down to just warm or cold would be fine, if you want to do it ahead of time.

2. Skin the tomatoes and peaches and slices or cubes, (remove the tomato seeds).

3. Assemble the salad in layers and pour the dressing over the salad.

Although summer is almost behind us, we can still have a little colour in our lives!

Friday 14 September 2012

Almond coated Turbot with aubergines.

Usually, turbot is plainly prepared, but this was a small one and not the same price as a larger somewhat royal one you sometimes see. You could do this recipe with most fish, especially flat fish such as plaice.

In a non-stick pan, dry roast the ground almonds until evenly golden.  Keep turning them so they don't burn, then cool on an open tray.

With your fillets of fish, dampen them with water and roll in the almonds.  Pressing lightly the almonds into the fish so they stick. Pan fry in a little olive oil on a low heat.  Turn the fish over midway after 3 minutes and continue cooking, turning off the pan for the last minute.  Baking it would  also work.

I served this with rolled aubergines (skins off and sliced lengthways) that were salted for 20 minutes and then 'painted' with olive oil ; place on a non stick tray and bake for 50 minutes in a medium oven.  To finish, I reheated them in the oven, spreading them with a seasoned soft sheep's milk cheese, mixed with chives  and rolling them up (cow's milk cheese would also work).  For the sauce, I reduced a purée of tomatoes, whisking in a  tablespoon of butter at the end.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Ducklings at the 'lavoir'...

This is an old 'lavoir' (wash house) on one of the two small rivers running through Bernay.  While cutting through the town Tuesday, I came across Mrs.Duck and her new babies.  It was so quiet and peaceful that I would have liked to stay longer.  I could have zoomed in closer with my camera, but it was the whole place that was magical, calm and pretty.  The ducklings couldn't have been more than several days old, it may have even been their first outing! 

Tuesday 11 September 2012

A grilled cheese... but not as we know it!

 So last night we pretended it was mid-summer once again and dined outside even though the rain was on its way.  We always have cheese left over from the weekend, this one didn't even make it to the table as I had forgotten about it, so I thought we would barbecue it for a change.  This is a local soft cheese called "Pont-L'Evêque" that has a stronger character than say a "Camembert".  When cooking these types of cheeses, you can leave them in their boxes (remove paper covering), but I prefer to make a 'boat' for it out of tinfoil, so I can leave it longer to cook and keep my eye on it (you don't want soup either).  I've added some thyme underneath and on top.  The obligatory baguette is just heated through on the barbecue, so it has some extra crunch to it. 

  I whipped up a salad of cucumber (de-seeded, peeled and diced) with radishes (sliced) in greek yoghurt,  adding a shake of celery salt and some black pepper.  The green salad had a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic over it.  The left over couscous from Sunday, had some extra mint and chives added to it.  The whole lot had a big squeeze of lemon juice for added zing!  Dinner was ready!

Sunday 9 September 2012

A September evening ...

What a wonderful September evening!  We had some friends over for dinner to enjoy champagne or  melon Martinis outside, watching the sunset and our "brasero". 

Table set and flowers from the back field...

I filleted sardines and let them pickle in white balsamic vinegar and salt, with a touch of sugar (to balance the flavours).  With barbecued whole grain toasts and butter, they we a real treat!

A carpaccio of veal marinated in lemon juice and Argan oil for four hours and finished with crushed aniseed and a few salted capers...

First course (inside now!) was cod poached in coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves finished off with lime juice with a sprinkle of mango and chilli powder...

I know it seams a lot but they are small portions!
Main course was barbecued tuna with cucumber, paprika and smoked salt mayonnaise with 'straw' chips/fries

Cheese and salad followed and for dessert, I made a maple syrup ice cream with redcurrant preserve and chocolate crumble with a sprinkle of roasted almonds

Coffees and teas were taken outside in front of the fire... a very pleasant evening!

Thursday 6 September 2012

Garden watch.

 In a field, at the back of the house, we planted up extra flowers for the bees to give them an extra boost before winter.  They will be flowering until late October/November.

The blackberry crop is going to be big this year!

 In our new hedge, some chestnuts still growing!

The orchard has a lot less apples this year.  We had ten tons last year, but nothing like that this year! 

Wednesday 5 September 2012

At 'Play' and olive bread (Ottawa memories)...

   I seems like yesterday ; we were eating at 'Play', a lovely restaurant in Ottawa with my brother in-law Pierre and his wife, Sandra.  I like the concept and food.  It always has a fantastic menu which is a delight as they mix in new tastes and combinations.  It has small portion,s so if you are hungry you can order more, the lighter the dish the higher it is up the menu.  They also have wine pairing with each plate in two sizes.  I like the simplicity with good service, there is always things to discover   
To start, we had grilled melon with goat feta, (I am going to make this weekend, post to follow). Also two of us had grilled shrimp with almonds, and another starter was cured meats.  For mains, which included,  hanger steaks and fries (sorry, it started before I remembered to photograph!)
I had gnocchi with pickled cherries, chanterelles, tarragon and bok choy

A really lovely afternoon and evening...

*   *   *   *  *

Olive bread

(Photo to follow)

This bread I made for Nathalie's birthday!  It is good with drinks when you have a lot of people.  I make it as an easier version to a bread recipe in that I use a food mixer (with a bread hook) and I don't do a second rise (it's more bubbly but I quite like that).  I also slightly overcook it, so you have crisp and soft textures to please everyone.  It colours up very well.

500g bread flour
300ml warm water
1 pack of yeast (read back of packet - it may need two packets)
teaspoon of honey (sugar if not)
teaspoon of salt
6 table spoon of olive oil plus some to oil the pan and drizzle on top
half a teaspoon of black pepper
200g or two cups (approx) of pitted olives (green or black or mixed)
one heaped cup of hard cheese (cheddar is good) size of sugar cubes or smaller
bunch of basil (leaves torn)

In to small bowl, add the warm water, honey and yeast and leave for 5 minutes until it bubbles up.  In your food mixer, fix the bread hook on and put the flour in the bowl.  Add the salt and mix so it is evenly dispersed.  Add in the water mix and the olive oil.  It has to be a bit wet to start, so it mixes well.  Mix for 8 minutes adding a little water or flour if need be. The dough can be a little sticky, so just dust with flour to handle it.  Turn out the dough on a floured board and fold in the olives, basil and cheese.  I use a big deep baking tray (one you could roast two chickens in).  Oil it first and put in the dough pressing flat to the sides and in the corners, so it is all even.  Any olives or cheese that falls out just put on top. Put the black pepper on top with a little drizzle of olive oil (and a pinch salt if you like). 
 Let this rise for one hour, then bake in the oven for 45 minutes at 180°c/360°f depending on your oven - it could be longer. I keep it in the oven with the door ajar so it dries out for 20 more minutes, but I do remove the tin and put it on parchment paper. 
Serve just warm and cut into squares.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Dinner and Chocolate mousse recipe...

Island life...
To start, a puff pasty case filled with mussels in white wine and cream, yes, like the soup post, but a thicker sauce.

The main course was
fillets of brill, pan poached in a butter, champagne and Cajun spiced "jus" with garden potatoes and (melon baller scooped) courgettes.

So the star of the show was a chocolate mousse...

You will need electric beater/whisk or an Olympic strong man!

350g cream 
200g   70% chocolate
2 eggs
40-60g fine sugar
250g tub of mascarpone cheese
2 (ish) table spoons of alcohol (optional)
 (I used a chocolate one but go a head and play, orange and pear are nice) 

Bring to the boil HALF of the cream and take off the heat.  Add the chocolate in pieces and stir until melted, add the two egg yolks and whisk for a minute, this cooks them a little but leave them out if that worries you. Once fully smooth add in the rest of the cream so as to cool it down.

In a separate bowl, whisk the whites and add the sugar slowly until they are firm.

From the pan, put the chocolate mixture into your mixing bowl and whisk to cool until it thickens a bit.  Add the alcohol here if using any.  Once cool enough, add the mascarpone and whisk until thick.  Fold in your egg whites.  A big bowl is nice but little bowls are better for a formal dinner.  Chill for 4 hours or over night.

Note:  I felt I may add some cocoa (dark chocolate) powder (table spoon) next time as it was pale although the taste was fine.

Monday 3 September 2012

Tomato and balsamic bites...

I bought myself a much needed (!) "mini" muffin tin while on holiday this summer with the very thought of cooking everything, but muffins within!  So, for our first recipe, we have a puff pastry disc, pushed in with a quarter of a tomato (small sized ones but a whole cherry tomato would work, but beware, they do hold their heat) salted for twenty minutes to draw out excess water.  Place them in and put two drops of reduced balsamic vinegar, this you can buy already done, if not put some in a pot and boil until thick and syrupy - but not burnt!!  Bake for about twenty minutes (I baked them at 200°c/400°f for 7 minutes then turned them down to 160°c/325°f for 13 -15 minutes) until golden and crisp, they maybe slightly sticky but that's good!  Serve and realise you should have bought two tins!!!

I also made it with a "red" pesto in the base which was also nice...
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