Wednesday, December 23, 2009

spiced nuts, stuffed dates, joyeuses fêtes

I'm cooking Christmas dinner this year, which is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve in this region (and called le réveillon), so I shall be up bright and early tomorrow morning for an eight-hour cooking fest: oysters, foie gras, roast turkey and bacon with  sage and onion stuffing and bread sauce, sautéd sprouts with chestnuts, carrots steamed with lemon and butter, melon sorbet, cheeses and Katie Bear's Mum's Christmas pud. All that's missing is snow!

I've just made these spiced nuts (based on a recipe served in the Union Square Café in New York) and  stuffed Medjool dates to serve with apéros when friends drop by. Wishing you all joyeuses fêtes!

Union Square Café bar nuts
1 lb / 550 g assorted unsalted nuts (brazils, hazels, walnuts, almonds)
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp dark muscovado sugar
2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp melted unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F. Spread the nuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 10 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and toss the nuts in the spiced butter. Serve warm.

Dates stuffed with mascarpone, orange zest and walnuts
This was inspired by three things which remind me of my childhood Christmases - tangerines, dates and nuts.
30 large dates such as Medjool
250 g mascarpone
zest of 1 orange
a handful of walnuts, crushed
Make a slit in the side of each date and remove the pit. Mix the mascarpone with the orange zest and crushed walnuts. Place the mixture in the freezer for 10 minutes then place a quenelle of the filling in each date.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

tartiflette and good news

I was expecting to hear by email, this news that I've been anxiously awaiting for ten days, but it arrived by post, as I was lying on the sofa in a trance, covered in a purring cat fur coat watching the snow falling and listening to St. Paul's cathedral choir singing Christmas carols. Between ding, dong, merrily on high and silent night the post lady gave a toot toot and handed BB a thick white envelope bearing a Paris postmark. For years now I've been talking about doing a cookery course and I finally went ahead and applied to the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cookery school in Paris last week and I've been accepted to do the basic cuisine course in March. So I'm off to live in Paris for three months. How good does that sound?

The envelope contained the usual admin stuff - terms and conditions of payment, tuition fees payment form, internal rules of the school, housing information - and a measurement sheet for my uniform. I've never worn a uniform for work before - unless you count the Batman cape I had to wear in court. BB, whilst happy for me, is sad that I'm going away for so long but I can always pop back for the odd weekend (three hours by TGV) to re-stock the freezer with PC dinners. I'm so excited.

To celebrate I made my favourite winter comfort food - tartiflette - and because I was feeling in such a generous mood, I didn't fight BB for the crusty cheese bits stuck to the sides of the (chipped) dish.

Serves 4-6
2½ lb/1.1 kg potatoes, peeled
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
½ lb/225 g bacon, diced
½ cup white wine
1 large Reblochin cheese, cut in half horizontally
salt and pepper

1. Boil the potatoes until just cooked. Drain and cut into chunks.

2. Heat the oil in a frying-pan and fry the onion for about 5 minutes until golden brown then add the bacon and cook for another 5 minutes.

3. Place the potatoes, onion and bacon in a large ovenproof dish and season with salt and pepper. Place the cheese halves rind side up on top and pour over the wine. Bake in the oven at 350°F/175°C for 20 minutes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

rabbit stew, Fidel Castro and the ice-cream van

Our freezer is fit to burst at the moment with all the meat we've been given in the last few days: wild boar from Roquin, half a goat from Mini-B, red deer from a jubilant Jean-Yves - who shot the only stag of the season* and his first in 20 years of hunting - and a rabbit from Pierre.

The goat was delivered in an old clapped-out ice-cream van that Mini-B is currently using to deliver hay to his cows now that all his tractors and his C15 are broken down. As if that wasn't ridiculous enough, he's grown a long beard that looks like a packet of dry Weetabix and taken to wearing combat gear (trousers held up with a bungee cord) and a military cap that make him look like a young Fidel Castro. He's a sight to behold driving round the village.

The rabbit from Pierre was still warm, having just been shot down by the lake, and after BB had skinned and jointed it I made a rabbit stew. Wild rabbit has a much stronger, gamier flavour than its farmed cousin and it went very well with olives in this recipe by Anthony Bourdain.

Lapin aux olives
Serves 4
4 rabbit legs
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery stick, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig flat leaf parsley
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1½ cups white wine
flour for dredging, plus 1 tbsp
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp tomato paste
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 cups chicken stock
handful of pitted green olives
salt and pepper

1. Combine the rabbit with the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay leaves, herbs, peppercorns and wine. Marinate for 2 hours.

2. Drain the marinade and reserve the liquid and vegetables separately. Pat the rabbit dry, season with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. In a pan heat the olive oil until hot and add the butter then brown the rabbit on both sides until golden brown (about 3-4 minutes per side) and remove.

3. In the same pan, brown the vegetables from the marinade until caramelised, add tomato paste and flour then stir in the vinegar and marinade liquid. Cook until the liquid is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon then add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Add the rabbit pieces and cook over a low heat until the meat is tender (about 1 hour).

4. Remove the rabbit and set aside. Strain the cooking liquid and return to the pan. Add the rabbit, bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper and stir in the olives.

*Gun hunting is tightly controlled in France in terms of the species and number that may be hunted and is managed at a regional level according to the ecological needs of the area and its animal life. In our commune this season, the quota is 4 red deer (one stag, one doe and two fawns) and 14 roe deer - with an unlimited number of wild boar.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Geneva: caviar, Chinese and a naked man

Glimpses of tangerine skies and mountains embroidered with snow between ancient four-storey shuttered buildings; a €150 spoonful of caviar washed down with a shot of Beluga vodka; an epic Chinese banquet with perfectly formed dim sum and a naked man in the bottom of a sake glass. Oh, Geneva.

Five of us - Nainbo and his wife (who come from Geneva), Papou, BB and I - set off early on Friday morning under a clear blue sky for the one-and-a-half-hour trip to Geneva. First stop, Planet Caviar (where Nainbo's son works) - importer and exporter of some of the finest caviar and smoked salmon in the world - for a tasting.

We were extremely privileged to taste some Black Beluga from Iran - there's about 150 euros' worth shown there - which we licked straight off our hands without any kind of garnish. It tasted like a breath of fresh sea air with a note of something earthy and the eggs just melted in the mouth like butter. It was wonderful - and nothing like the cheap imitation stuff you buy in the supermarket. This was followed by a chaser of smooth Beluga vodka in these cool glasses which you'd be tempted to slip in your pocket if you were that way inclined.

Next stop, the supermarket, to stock up on Tête De Moine cheese for my Swiss Girolle cheese cutter which makes beautiful curled flowers of cheese, and Swiss chocolate.

Laden down with our purchases and still giddy (and slightly smug, it has to be said) from the tasting, we stopped off at a brasserie for an apéro before lunch, where BB and Nainbo sat staring out the window at cars playing spot-the-latest-model.

Lunch was an extravaganza, a kaleidoscope of aromas and flavours which made me briefly pine for the city and a Chinese restaurant on my doorstep: beef balls with pickled ginger; dumplings - pork, translucent shrimp, scallop and steamed vegetable; prawn spring rolls wearing a mohair coat of crispy white shavings of bread; crab balls; steamed sea bass with chilli; fried scallop with asparagus; stir fried sliced duck with pickled ginger and pineapple; chicken with black bean sauce and green pepper. I tried everything and had to loosen my jeans before I could squeeze in a miniature dessert of sponge cake sandwiched with ice-cream and red berries, rounded off with sake, which held a little surprise in the bottom of the cup.

As we left the city, the sun was setting on the snowy mountain peaks, illuminating them a dramatic tangerine and I fell asleep in the car making little snuffling noises of contentment.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

sheep and chickpea salad

I couldn't get to sleep last night, it was raining so hard, but I had to be up early so I started counting sheep.

The sheep of my sleep-deprived imagination are cartoon sheep, thick and white as bales of cotton wool, doing split leaps over a fence (this is apparently the stereotype - even though I've never been taught how to count sheep or discussed it with anybody else) but by number 12 my sheep was looking lightly grilled round the edges and had a sprig of rosemary in its mouth and my mind started wandering to recipes and I had to start all  over again.

We're going to Geneva on Friday to do some shopping and have lunch in my favourite Chinese restaurant - so the iron and the R&B boots will get two outings this year.

I made this chickpea and carrot salad with orange vinaigrette using organic sunflower oil which added a subtle smoky flavour to the nuttiness of the chickpeas and the sweetness of the carrot and orange. Warning: You may be tempted to eat the whole lot straight out of the bowl before it reaches the table.

1 tin chickpeas
1 carrot, grated
Chopped flat leaf parsley
For the vinaigrette
1 dsp cider vinegar
1 dsp orange juice
2 dsp organic sunflower oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

Make the vinaigrette by placing all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake to combine everything. Place the chickpeas and carrot in a bowl and pour over the vinaigrette. Mix well and garnish with chopped parsley.

Friday, December 4, 2009

the law is a (horse's) ass

Our fireman friend Titi came round yesterday looking for some legal advice on French planning law - from me, a Scottish criminal lawyer. I'm quite often asked for advice on legal problems as varied as (French) divorce, (French) debt recovery, (French) liquidation, (French) land disputes, (Italian!) consumer law, (American!!) consumer law (I actually wrote a vague 'I know my consumer rights and will take you to court unless ...' letter on that occasion and got some money back for the boy), but they all look at me in disbelief when I try to explain that the law is completely different in every country and anyway, I'm not an expert in any of these fields in Scotland, never mind anywhere else. But they just don't get it.

Titi's being taken to court by the mairie for building an impressive wooden shelter for his beautiful new horse (unlike Nainbo's unimpressive one for his donkeys) without planning permission.

I appreciate you can't have people building willy-nilly all over the shop, but we're talking about a horse-box-sized construction in the middle of the woods to protect his animal from the harsh winter elements - not the Elysée Palace. Ultimately the mairie  could allow him to leave it there but they're making him pull it down and we can't help thinking that this is an act of petty retribution for Titi resigning from the local council. (I could say a lot more here about local planning laws and how zones suddenly change from non-constructable to constructable depending on who's in office and how much land the incumbents have - but then I would probably become an (involuntary) expert in (French) libel law.)

Anyway, he's refusing to pull it down so we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

BB managed to wrench himself away from the kitchen table and Adventure Rider today (it almost required medical intervention and skin grafts!) but left 25 metres of water pipe for the new house uncoiled round and round the kitchen and the sitting-room in an attempt to straighten it out. Have you ever tried balancing a hot tray of chicken kievs whilst playing Chinese Ropes with 25 mm plastic piping at knee height? Thought not.

This was a Ready Steady Cook meal because all I had in the fridge were two chicken breasts, an egg and some butter - and some two day-old bread, a clove of garlic and potatoes and herbs from the garden. So I made chicken kiev and hasselback potatoes with sage - which was very, very tasty.

Chicken Kiev

Serves 2
2 skinless chicken breasts
2 large knobs of butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 dessert spoon finely chopped herbs, such as parsley and/or chives
1 egg
Plain flour for dusting
Olive oil

1. Place each chicken breast between clingfilm and pound using the flat side of a mallet to about ½ cm / ¼  inch thickness.

2. Mash the butter, garlic and herbs together and form into 2 log shapes.

3. Place the butter at one end of the chicken breast and roll up, folding the sides in as you go, to completely enclose the butter. Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.

4. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. Coat the chicken in flour, dip in the egg mixture then coat with breadcrumbs.

5. Heat some olive oil in a frying-pan and shallow fry until the kievs are golden brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and place in a moderately hot oven for 15-20 minutes until cooked through.

Hasselback Potatoes with Sage

Peel some potatoes and make small slices ¾ of the way through each one all along it. Tuck some torn sage into each slit, brush with olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in a moderately hot oven for 45-60 minutes until soft in the middle.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

sleeping injuries and kidneys

You, dear readers, must be as sick of looking at those pictures of the crane as I was looking at the real thing for so many months. I really must try and write more frequently. So without further ado ...

BB is working on pre-plumbing and pre-electrics at the moment which would appear to involve sitting at the kitchen table in front of his laptop reading the news out loud or following the threads in the Adventure Rider Ride the World forum - when he should be swotting up on the latest French building regs. He was in the kitchen again today as I was trying to cook in peace, shrieking: "Dingy! Dingy! The man was rescued in a dingy!" (many of his few words are exclamations of disbelief at poor spelling), followed rather too gleefully I thought by: "Man walks free after strangling wife in his sleep".

Actually, I've been on the receiving end of something similar a couple of times - nothing as drastic as death by strangulation, obviously - but I've woken up with a yelp after BB has hit me in his sleep. He woke himself up the first time and said: "I'm sorry my love. I thought you were Mini-B"! As a result I've taken to sleeping turned away and as far over from him as possible and wake up looking as if someone has rolled a pizza wheel across my face, where it's been pressed into the edge of the mattress all night.

You realise things may be off to a rocky start when a recipe begins: "Soak in warm salted water for 2 hours to get rid of the vile smell." So began the recipe for rognons de porc aux tomates (pig's kidneys in tomato sauce). This is confirmed when the cat flees the house squawking like a wailing baby when you place a morsel of the offending article before him. But this turned out to be a big hit with BB, who likes his offal, and with me, who doesn't - thanks to the rich tomato sauce. For the rognon cognoscenti out there, this one's for you.

Rognons de porc aux tomates
Serves 2
10 oz / 275 g trimmed pig's kidneys
4 oz / 100 g chopped bacon
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 glass white wine
1 tsp sugar
A handful of fresh basil
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Soak the kidneys in warm salted water for 2 hours. Remove and pat dry.

2. Fry the bacon and kidneys gently in some olive oil for 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and brown the onion in the same pan in the remaining bacon fat. Add the tomatoes, wine, sugar, basil, seasoning and cook for 15-20 minutes until the sauce has reduced by a third. Return the bacon and kidneys to the pan and cook for a further 15 minutes. Serve with buttered toast.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

We arrived at the bar last night to find dozens of people packed into the small heaving space beneath fluttering banners proclaiming le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

The third Thursday of November is, of course, when the barely-weeks-old Beaujolais Nouveau arrives, when bars and restaurants compete to cash in on this brilliant marketing coup by serving the new wine with local delicacies such as (here in Savoie) tête de veau, cochonnaille (pork by-products such as ears and feet - egads!) and potée (a hotpot of pork and cabbage). Framboise, my dieting friend and owner of the bar, thankfully opted for platters of garlic and herb saucisson and cornichons, salty goats' cheese with walnuts and slices of fresh baguette.

Many of our friends were there, including Mini-B, Nainbo, Papou (who was playing the accordion), Roquin, Top Modèl and the Swivel Chair, M. Boule De Billard - and old man Marcel (kleenex alert!) with his crocus-yellow teeth and slobbery basset chops.

As we jostled for space, two glasses of wine were passed to us with a: "That's from Thierry over there". Thierry is a man we've met maybe four times and on three of those occasions he's bought us a drink. This isn't an isolated incident; the generosity of the people here is overwhelming and it can be almost impossible to buy a round of drinks sometimes. But we tried and before we knew it, the last accordion note had died out, the bar was closing and we'd missed our pizzas. Instead, we stood in the kitchen when we got home eating cold vegetable curry straight out of the saucepan making farmyard noises of contentment. Yum.

Meanwhile, over in England, a musical event of an entirely different kind was taking place:

Biannual event in our small village hall is a spectacle to behold.

A Musical Evening: fiddlers, pipers, whistlers, piddlers. All hopelessly out of tune. Morris Dancers - twelve of - all thumping round the hall with their bells jangling and their sticks cracking. Two of them performed a rather inelegant dance BLINDFOLDED around 12 freshly-laid hens' eggs strategically placed 60cms apart on the floor. Yes they used a tape measure and no they didn't break one.

The best is yet to come: three morbidly obese lady clog dancers. No music. Rictus grins. Arms by their sides but feet and ample bosoms going like the clappers.

Five hours later I staggered home full of gin to find the cat had been sick on my bed. I do so look forward to these Musical Evenings.

Guest blogeuse, Miss Took, England

Friday, November 20, 2009

azure skies and cranes

Oh, glorious day!

Not only was the sun shining in a cloudless azure sky, but the little Italian man who arrived exactly 15 months ago to erect the crane, returned this morning to take it down. Yes - we've sold it - and for exactly the same price as we paid for it. I thought the chances of selling it at all were between slim and non-existent - so this is a huge result.

Every time I glanced out of the window to see how things were getting on, the Italian's mouth was motoring away and BB's head was moving like a nodding donkey, politely pretending to be listening. BB is a man of few words but prefers to hear even fewer. Four hours later, job done, he staggered into the kitchen and stood, shoulders slumped and head hung like a broken sunflower, exhausted from all that ear-bashing.

The crane is now sitting folded up, like a gigantic yellow insect, waiting to be pulled up onto the plateau and thence on to the buyer's site. It's removal feels like a bigger milestone than the completion of the roof somehow - probably due to the sleepless stormy nights I spent worrying about it toppling over.

Tonight we're going out for take-away pizza and a couple of beers in that bar so I'm off to doll myself up a bit and put on my best socks and shoes.

These pork and apple meatballs with apple sauce - based on another Delia recipe - were a huge hit at lunchtime. They're quick and easy and cooked completely in the oven, sparing all that messy frying business.

Serves 4
1 lb/450 g minced pork
4 oz/110 g breadcrumbs
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and quartered
1 heaped tsp dried sage (I used fresh)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the sauce
½ onion, peeled and chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and sliced
1 oz/25 g butter
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp sugar

1. Pass the onion and apple through a mincer (I used my food processor) then mix with the pork, breadcrumbs and sage and season. Form into balls and place in a buttered ovenproof dish and cover with buttered foil. Place in the oven at 375°F/190°C for 45 minutes. Then remove the foil and raise the oven temperature to 400F/200C and continue to bake for a further 30 minutes, basting now and then, until the meatballs are nicely browned on top.

2. To make the sauce, soften the onion in the butter for 10 minutes, then stir in the sliced apple and 1 tablespoon water. Put a lid on and simmer till soft, then add a little freshly grated nutmeg and the sugar. Beat the sauce till fluffy and serve hot with the meatballs and mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

always be prepared

BB's had a bug for the last few days so there's been no activity on the mill and his loss of appetite has meant that my cooking repertoire has been restricted to soup and soft-boiled eggs. On Saturday morning, convinced that he had a temperature of 120 (as men do!), he stayed in bed while I went out to buy bread.

I don't know what possessed me to do this (actually I do, it was laziness), but I left the house wearing an old pair of three-quarter-length tracky bottoms with holes in the knees, my bubble gum-pink bed socks with silver hearts on the sides (a present from BB's aunt - great for slobbing around the house but should never be worn out in public) and my old paint-spattered gardening shoes with the unstuck right sole. I figured I would park right outside the boulangerie, approach the counter where nothing below my waist would be visible, buy the bread and dash back to the car without anyone spotting me.

Only, when I parked outside the shop, I clipped the kerb and watched in dismay as the back tyre deflated like a balloon.

When I couldn't get the wheel off I had to walk down the high street, loose sole slapping the pavement beneath dayglo sock like someone needing care in the community, and into the busy bar to call BB. Oh, the embarrassment. And BB wasn't exactly thrilled at being dragged out of bed (his death bed by this time) either.

"Always be prepared", as they say in the Girl Guides.

Chestnut soup with rosemary seemed like a good use of all those sweet chestnuts I collected from our trees last month, but after an hour peeling them with a sharp knife, two puncture wounds to my hand, three broken nails and an eye injury caused by flying shell shrapnel - here's a top tip: buy ready-peeled chestnuts!

Serves 4
8 oz/225 g peeled sweet chestnuts
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
2 medium potatoes, chopped
2 pints/1.2 l ham bone stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary to serve

Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan, bring up to simmering point, then put a lid on and simmer very gently for 45 minutes. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth. Serve with the chopped rosemary.

♫ Cook along to: Glen Miller & His Orchestra The Chestnut Tree

Saturday, November 7, 2009

honey roast pork

We've had miserable weather lately - wind and torrential rain - which has seen the stream go from the lowest we've ever seen it to the highest in a matter of hours. We finished the mill roof just in the nick of time.

There is now floor decking down upstairs (the nice oak floorboards will go down right at the end) so I can walk around planning where furniture and light switches and bathroom fittings will go and I can walk out onto the balcony outside the bedrooms. I was tempted to put my hammock up straight away until BB pointed out that, given my accident-proneness, I would in all likelihood roll out of the hammock and over the edge and fall 20 feet into the river.

(I just asked BB: What do you call the thingy you're going to put along the edge of the balcony [so I don't fall off]?

BB: Grease.

I meant balustrade! Charming!)

The windows and doors arrive on 17 December (I don't know why it takes so long for standard-sized doors and windows to arrive) and will be fitted starting from the following day, so all being well, we should have a completely weatherproof house by Christmas.

The cider is still fermenting away and the bottles have acquired a foamy scum on the surface with what looks like frogspawn floating in it. It looks evil but I'm told this is normal.

I made honey roast pork with spices the other day with some of that award-winning honey. To make a honey glaze just mix some runny honey with a little water, 3 or 4 star anise and a heaped tsp of crushed coriander seeds. Heat in a pan, pour over the pork and roast in the oven.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

pasta heaven

I've just made pasta for the first time and it was a huge success - a floury adventure with a happy-ever-after ending. I was nervous about making it, but Jamie Oliver whispered reassurances from the pages of his book, telling me he really wanted me to make this, that it was quick and simple and something I was going to be extremely proud of. And he was right.

The inspiration was a plate of spinach and ricotta-stuffed tortellini with chestnut sauce that I ate in Mamma Rosa, a tiny cramped pizzeria tucked away down a narrow cobbled street in Lisbon on my way back from the Azores. I watched a raisin-faced man pummelling the dough behind the counter before coaxing it into dainty tortellini shapes and as soon as it passed my lips I knew I had to recreate that pasta heaven.

I resisted the temptation to splash out immediately on a pasta machine, fearing that it would join that graveyard of 'things-I-have-bought-and-used-once' (windsurfer, roller blades, exercise bike to name but a few) and invested instead in a €4 rolling-pin - which only heightened my gratification at the end result.

I made the pasta in a food processor using Jamie's Everyday Quick Pasta Recipe and filled it with spinach, ricotta, sweet chestnuts and parmesan. Wicked (as Jamie would say).

Ravioli of spinach, ricotta and sweet chestnuts

Quick pasta
Serves 4
1 lb/500 g strong pasta flour
5 fresh eggs
semolina flour for dusting

9 oz/250 g ricotta
5 oz/150 g cooked spinach
2 oz/50 g cooked sweet chestnuts, smashed up
2 oz/50 g finely grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the flour and eggs in a food processor and switch on. Leave until it all comes together into a ball. Take it out (the bowl should be clean) and work by hand for 2 minutes or until smooth, silky and elastic. Wrap in clingfilm and allow to rest in the fridge for 1 hour.

2. Mix all the filling ingredients together. After an hour remove the dough from the fridge and divide into 2 balls. Re-cover one of the balls and with the base of your palm, flatten the other one slightly. Lightly flour a clean surface and roll out the dough until you have a very thin sheet of pasta about 1-2 mm thick.

3. Cut the pasta sheet into circles (about 10 cm/4 inches - or whatever size you want). Place a teaspoon of filling just off centre, brush the edges of the pasta with water and fold in half. Press down the edges with a fork.

4. To cook, place in a pan of boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes.

PS: That giant chestnut in the picture is from the same tree as the tennis ball-sized chestnut that looked like a medieval spiked battle flail.

Friday, October 23, 2009

honey revisited (because I like the pictures)

A dieting friend came for lunch today and it pains me to say this, but at her request and under duress we ate grilled chicken with steamed vegetables. The pleasure of food has as much to do with the preparation as the eating as far as I'm concerned, and tossing some veg in a steamer and a couple of chicken breasts under the grill doesn't quite cut the mustard. We may as well have feasted on roasted woodland troll with sautéed bladder wrack on a bed of straw for all the sensual enjoyment it gave me - but hey, there are people starving so I'll quit whingeing.

I could've joined BB in slow-cooked chevreuil (roe deer, shot last weekend by Roquin) with red wine, bacon and onions, the sticky tender meat falling off the bone like wet toast, but I didn't want my friend to feel left out. Instead I took vicarious pleasure in watching BB devour it, salivating like a dog waiting to be thrown a bone.

The garden produce that's been sitting in the kitchen for the last two weeks has been dispatched freezerwards in various incarnations and all that's left to do (for the moment anyway) is make green tomato chutney with the last of the tomatoes.

I leave you with a recipe for venison cooked in red wine à l' Elizabeth David - so simple, so slow and oh so delicious.

2 lb shoulder or flank of venison
4 tbsp port (or red wine)
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp flour
1 large onion, sliced
6 rashers of bacon
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Tie the venison in a sausage shape and leave to marinate in a large bowl with the port (or red wine), vinegar and olive oil for 24 hours.

2. Take the meat out (reserving the marinade), roll in the flour and place in an ovenproof dish. Place a layer of onions on top and then cover with the bacon rashers. Pour over the marinade, season with salt and pepper, cover with greaseproof paper and the lid and cook in the oven at a low temperature ( 140°C/ 310°F) for 4 - 4½ hours.

3. Serve with a purée of celeriac and potatoes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


This gold medal-winning honey is made here in the village by the father (or rather the father's bees) of a friend of ours. It tastes like the distillation of toffee, Alpine meadows and mountain forests and looks like a liquid jewel. Perfect with fresh baguette and butter for breakfast. Lovely!

Monday, October 19, 2009

cider house rules

What do Hoary Morning, Slap-Ma-Girdle, Pig Snout and Hangy Down Cluster all have in common?

The answer is: they're all varieties of apple and I know this from googling "cider making" searching for technical terms to describe how we made ours yesterday.

A few people in the village still have traditional cider making equipment and an elderly couple (relatives of Mini-B) offered to let us use theirs. This is what it looks like:

To begin with, we crushed (or 'scratted', to use the technical term) the apples in a 'scrattter' - a wooden box with two rotating drums studded with nails in the bottom resembling a medieval torture device (photo 1). This one has been fitted with an electric motor to turn the drums instead of by hand using the wheel on the left. As the apples are thrown into the box they pass between the drums and emerge underneath as a rough pulp known as the 'pomace' (or pommage) which is placed in the press (photo 2). The pomace is then covered with a layer of straw and wooden blocks, cut to fit the barrel, are placed on top which squeeze out the juice by applying equal pressure when the screw at the top is turned (photo 3). The bottled juice will now be left to ferment for three weeks au naturel.

We made cider for the first time five years ago and some of the plastic bottles we'd brought into the house from the woodshed exploded because we hadn't left the tops unscrewed. We came back from the bar one night to find every surface - walls, ceiling, floor, furniture - shining with tiny points of bright light as if the glitter fairy had been in. That time we made 150 litres of the stuff and what we didn't drink (or the house didn't wear) we turned into Calvados the following autumn.

I made an apple cheesecake using some of the unfermented apple juice and some puréed apples which was yummy, although I have to admit it tasted more of lemon than apple.

2 oz/50 g butter
2 oz/50 g caster sugar
4 oz/100 g scratted digestive biscuits

8 oz/225 g full fat soft cheese
2 eggs, separated
4 oz/100 g caster sugar
grated rind and juice of ½ lemon
¼ pint/150 ml crème fraîche
½ pint/300 ml apple purée
1 x 11 g sachet powdered gelatine
8 tbsp apple juice

1. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan and stir in the biscuit crumbs. Press evenly over the bottom of a greased loose-bottomed 7-8 inch/18-20 cm round cake tin.

2. Soften the cheese in a large bowl. Beat in the egg yolks, 2 oz/50 g of the sugar, the lemon rind and juice, crème fraîche and apple purée. Put the gelatine and apple juice in a small heatproof bowl over a pan of hot water and stir until the gelatine has dissolved. Beat the gelatine into the cheese mixture and leave until on the point of setting.

3. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and whisk in the remaining sugar. Fold lightly into the cheese mixture and spoon into the tin. Chill for 3-4 hours until set.

♫ Cook along to: Divine Comedy Something For The Weekend

Thursday, October 15, 2009

folders\dream house\dream on\round kitchen

We're on to fun things like kitchen design now and working out where services will go. For years I've been cutting pages out of interior design mags and adding them to my "dream house" folder and these have been passed to BB for approval.

My dream house has a round kitchen in it, as per the glossy magazine article on a round house in my folder, but BB said putting a round kitchen in a square room would be like putting a round peg in a square hole - i.e. it wouldn't work - so I've had to file that particular dream in a subfolder called "dream on". There's still much remaining in the parent folder however, swimming pool and wine cellar (amongst others) having been given top-level approval.

The kitchen table is groaning under the weight of apples and sweet chestnuts from our trees, the last of the red tomatoes and green peppers from the garden, caulis and turnips from Roquin and a large wild boar casserole I made with sanglier given to us by one of our hunter friends. So there's much to do in the kitchen at the weekend - and we may have a go at making cider.

Serves 4
2 lbs/900 g wild boar (or beef), cut into 2 inch/5 cm cubes
1 small onion, sliced
1 small carrot, cut into chunks
1 celery stick, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup/225 ml plus ½ cup/110 ml red wine
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 cup/225 ml veal stock
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
8 oz/225 g smoked bacon cut into cubes
4 oz/110 g button mushrooms fried in a tbsp butter
chopped flat leaf parsley to serve

1. Place the meat in a large bowl with the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cover with 1 cup/225 ml of red wine then cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate for 24 hours in the fridge.

2. Drain the liquid from the marinade and set aside to use later. Reserve the meat and vegetables separately. Pat the meat dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof dish and once hot, add the butter. Brown the meat in batches and set aside.

3. Add the reserved vegetables and brown over a medium heat until caramelized. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the the red wine vinegar and the remaining red wine and reduce by half, then add the veal stock, the reserved marinade, the herbs and the meat. Bring to the boil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 2 hours at 150°C/300°F.

4. Fry the bacon to colour slightly and set aside. Gently fry the mushrooms in the butter for 2-3 minutes. Add the bacon and mushrooms to the casserole and cook for a further hour. When ready to serve, garnish with the chopped parsley.

♫ Cook along to:
Aerosmith Dream On

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Autumn is here and it seems to have arrived with the suddenness of the guillotine. Maybe it's because I've just returned from the Azores where everything is cast in the spectrum of Dulux Paradise Green, but I'm sure there wasn't so much Ginger Glow, Flame Frenzy and Delhi Bazaar this time last year. There's frost on the car windscreen at 6 a.m. (this is hearsay obviously!) and the comforting fragrance of wood smoke with a base note of apples in the air.
We went to order the windows and doors today and it will work out cheaper to engage a professional to fit them than to do it ourselves: 5.5% TVA (VAT) as opposed to 19.6% to be exact because it's a renovation - and we can reclaim 25% on "green items" (e.g. high insulation windows - which all of ours are) against next year's tax bill. Bit of a no-brainer really.

It's not really the kind of weather for chilled puddings, but I recently acquired an ice-cream maker + a couple of kilos of figs = fig ice-cream, which was pretty amazing (I thought so anyway, for a first-time ice-cream-maker) but I used such an amalgam of recipes that I can't remember what I did - so you'll just have to make do with the picture I'm afraid.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Singaporean fish wraps

Help ma boab (quelle surprise)! The roof is finished. While I've been rainbathing in the Azores, BB has been toiling under the relentless Savoyard sun, et voilà - 4,000 slates, €15,000 and three months later ...

The window problem alluded to in his brief email was this: the glass had to be removed from the Velux windows before the brackets could be fixed, then reinserted. So he had to hold the glass with one hand (weighing 70 kg - or two sacks of cement) while trying to disengage two small pins in the hinges with his other three in order to slot the glass back in. All whilst balancing at a precarious angel on the roof!

He then realised that he'd put the copper flashing on incorrectly on the first two windows and had to take all the slates off above them (200) to correct the mistake and put them all back on again. This is his fourth - and last - roof and the relief is palpable. Not bad for someone who's petrified of heights. Windows and doors next.

I came across this recipe for Singaporean fish wraps in a Homes & Gardens magazine recently which uses banana leaves. But since banana trees are hard to come by in the French Alps (unless you grow them in your front garden like Poire) I substituted vine leaves which I picked when we helped Roquin with la vendange (grape harvest) just before I left for the Azores. The result is a kind of light fluffy fish mousse with all those amazing Asian flavours - although I should have blanched the leaves first to make them more pliable because it was a bit like wrestling with live bats, the leaves were so tricky to tie up.

Serves 4-6
25 g fresh ginger
750 g boneless, skinless white fish cut into chunks
2 tsp ground turmeric
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp chilli oil
2 tbsp fish sauce
150 ml coconut cream
fresh banana leaves (to be used as wrapping only)
peanut or corn oil
1 kaffir lime leaf, shredded

1. Peel and finely slice the ginger and put in a food processor with the fish, turmeric, garlic, sugar, chilli oil, fish sauce and coconut cream. Blitz for 30 seconds to form a paste.

2. Brush the banana leaves with oil on one side and cut into rectangles. Place a teaspoon of paste in the centre of each rectangle and top with shreds of kaffir lime leaf. Fold the parcels and secure with string. Cook under a very hot grill for 2 minutes each side.

♫ Cook along to: Meat Loaf Bat Out of Hell

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Azorean diary - a quick olá

Well, here I am with my chums At Flores in the Azores.

I'd like to be able to give you (and me!) an update, from afar, on the building work back home but when I emailed BB to ask how things were progressing (and to tell him that my lost luggage had turned up) I received the following chatty missive: "roof good. velux bad." Four words, leaving me to assume that there are problems putting the roof windows in. On vera.

My hosts are fellow foodies and it makes a nice change having someone else do all the (fabulous) cooking. Yesterday we gathered watercress from the riverbank and made Delia's watercress soup, which we all agreed was in our top 5 soup hits.

Serves 6-8
8 oz/225 g watercress, de-stalked (reserve a few leaves for garnishing)
4 oz/110 g butter
white parts of 5 leeks, chopped
4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 pints/1.75 litres stock made with vegetable bouillon powder
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt the butter in a large pan and add the leeks, potato and watercress. Stir around to coat with the butter.

2. Add some salt, cover with a lid and leave the vegetables to sweat for about 20 minutes.

3. Add the stock, bring to simmering point and simmer, covered, for about 15-20 minutes. Leave to cool and liquidise.

4. To serve, reheat and garnish with some watercress leaves.

Monday, September 28, 2009

state of play

I'm off on my annual pilgrimage to the Azores tomorrow morning to visit my best friends so I leave you with pictures of the roof as it looked at the close of play today. It's a long shot - but it could just be finished by the time I come back in a week.