Sunday, May 17, 2009

holiday time

We were invited round for apéros last night chez La Blonde and JP and on the way there we passed Mini-B trying to move two horses into a neighbouring field. Now, running after farm animals waving a big stick shouting "allez!" will normally have the desired effect and they will run away from you. In fact you could shout anything: "albuminoid!" or "albatross!" or "alberkerky!" but you wouldn't really consider shouting "stop!" if that's what you really meant because that would be stupid. But for 40 minutes we watched Mini-B's head bobbing up and down in the long grass as he ran after the horses with a stick shouting "arrête!" - and quelle surprise, they kept running. When he finally gave up and approached us panting, his face the colour of a radish, BB casually removed a stale baguette from the car (as you do), approached the perimeter of the field and made some clucking noises whereupon the horses arrived and were happily trotted off to the next field.

The apéros continued until the wee small hours so a hearty breakfast/lunch was required today. Brunch in the pub with friends and the Sunday papers is one of the things I miss about the UK, but I shall be able to do it next week because I'm leaving for Scotland tomorrow for 10 days!

Scrambled eggs with smoked trout
Serves 2
4 large eggs
½ oz/10g butter
4½ oz/125 g smoked trout trimmings, cut into small pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
snipped chives

♫ Cook along to: Hildegard Knef Holiday Time

1. Break the eggs into a pan, add the butter and place on a low heat. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon, moving the pan on and off the heat so the eggs don't burn.

2. As the mixture begins to set, fold in the smoked trout and chives and continue stirring until the eggs are soft and creamy. Season at the last minute.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

roasted red peppers with tomatoes, anchovy and garlic

Roasted red peppers with tomatoes, anchovy and garlic. This is something I had in Italy once and it's very simple and very tasty. You'll need lots of crusty bread for mopping up.

Serves 2
2 red peppers, halved and seeds removed
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 large ripe tomatoes, quartered
8 anchovy fillets
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

Place 2 tomato quarters in each pepper half and tuck in some slices of garlic and 2 anchovy fillets. Season with pepper, drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for 1 hour at 350°F/180°C.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

running with the bulls

BB was helping Mini-B vaccinate his livestock this morning. Anything involving Mini-B and animals usually entails a lot of running around in fields shouting "allez!" and invariably spells drama - and today was no exception, because when they returned at lunchtime, BB's hand was lacerated where he'd been gored by a bull and they were both covered in cow shit up to their necks.

Now, if I was paying a vet €100 an hour to come and stick needles in my cows' bums I might have thought about rounding them up first, preferably somewhere secure where they couldn't run away, like the milking parlour for instance (and maybe switched on the milking machine for some soothing background music). But instead they spent four frantic hours running around in fields shouting "allez!" with a hypodermic needle, which to a casual passer-by must have looked a bit like a Benny Hill sketch as the vet ran after the bull with BB and Mini-B attached to its horns being dragged through the cowpats. Honestly, you couldn't make this stuff up!

Carrot and coriander - what a great pairing - which up until today I had only ever married in a soup, but in this salad it's fantastic, especially to accompany fish such as sea bass coated with breadcrumbs and chopped coriander. This is adapted from Jamie Oliver's carrot and coriander treat for all.

Serves 4
2 large handfuls of fresh coriander leaves
1 large carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
1 tbsp sesame seeds

For the dressing
zest and juice of 1 orange
juice of 1 lemon
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

♫ Cook along to: Randy Crawford Secret Combination

1. Put the coriander, carrots and sesame seeds in a salad bowl.

2. Finely grate the zest of the orange into another bowl and add the orange juice and lemon juice and 4 times that amount of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and use to dress the salad.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

strawberry and cream dreaming days

It was like a summer's day today - one of those long, blue, strawberry and cream dreaming days when you want to lie in the grass staring up at the sky - and I did briefly, until I remembered my meringues were in the oven!

This has to be the best summer dessert of all time - Delia's Eton Mess.
Serves 6
6 oz/175 g castor sugar
3 large egg whites
1 lb/450 g fresh strawberries, hulled
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 pint/570 ml double cream

♫ Cook along to: Minnie Riperton Lovin' You

1. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time until thoroughly whisked in. Take rounded dessertspoonfuls of the mixture and place in rows on a lined baking tray. Place in the oven at 275°F/140°C for an hour. After that, turn the oven off and leave the meringues in the oven to dry out overnight, or until the oven is completely cold.

2. When you're ready to go, chop half the strawberries and place in a blender with the icing sugar. Whiz to a purée and pass through a sieve to remove the seeds. Chop up the rest of the strawberries and whip up the cream to the floppy stage.

3. Break up the meringues, place in a bowl with the chopped strawberries and fold in the cream and the purée.

Friday, May 8, 2009


I went up to the col this morning into the forest to collect some sphagnum moss for my hanging baskets. I love sphagnum moss - the earthy smell and the spongy texture just make me want to lie down in it and go to sleep.

This year I'm planting tomatoes in my baskets. I ordered tumbler seeds on the internet which are supposed to produce "attractive clusters of fruit on trusses that trail down from all sides" and yield over 4 lbs of small, cherry-sized fruit. I line the baskets with the moss first then add a plastic liner cut out of an old compost sack, some broken-up terracotta pots for water retention (plenty of them around here since the builders' rampage!) and fill up with compost. All being well, I shall be in tomato heaven this summer.

At this point I should segue into a recipe featuring tomatoes ... but today friture was on the menu - fresh whitebait dusted with seasoned flour and fried in corn oil until just crispy. Don't overcook them or they'll taste like dried-out, burnt chips (fries) and not taste of fish at all. Serve with lemon/mayo/chopped parsley/garlic oil and eat with your fingers.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

egg soldier skirmishes

Egg soldiers - the top dog, the Colonel of the breakfast table chez nous. There's something so simple and comforting about a soft-boiled egg with hot buttered toast cut into fingers the way your Mum used to make, to mop up the rivers of yolk spilling onto the plate.

But beware of skirmishes. You may be ambushed for that last finger of toast if your other half has charged ahead and finished his before the mopping-up manoeuvre. In these circumstances I recommend a counter attack using a teaspoon over the knuckles, tapping continuously until he has withdrawn and unconditionally surrendered. Alternatively, launch a pre-emptive strike and nick his first!

For the perfect soft-boiled egg where the white is just set and the yolk is runny, place your eggs in a pan and cover with cold water by about ½ inch/1 cm. Place over a high heat and as soon as the water is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 4 minutes. Serve with fingers of buttered toast, lined up in single file on the plate.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

chocolate mousse

The principal structure for the mill is finished and BB is now putting in the joists for the first floor which will act as the launching pad (technical engineering term) for the roof. He spent all day adjusting the top surfaces of the joists to make them level (BB works to within 1 mm, the builders 10 mm) and hammering 10 inch nails into oak beams. This, after rotavating my vegetable garden - so I figured he deserved a treat.

This is taken from Delia Smith's very chocolatey mousse recipe.

Serves 6
7 oz/200 g dark chocolate (75% cocoa solids)
4 fl oz/120 ml warm water
3 large eggs separated
1½ oz/40 g castor sugar

1. Place the broken-up chocolate and water in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't touch the water. When the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and give it a good stir until smooth and glossy then cool for 2-3 minutes before stirring in the egg yolks.

2. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to a soft peak, then whisk in the sugar one third at a time until the whites are glossy. Using a metal spoon, carefully fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, divide between ramekins and chill for at least 2 hours - after licking the bowl!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

asparagus and prosciutto rolls

I made these little asparagus and prosciutto rolls today, which don't look too tempting in the picture (bad light!) but BB said were delicious and made up for his (imagined) hemlock poisoning. This is a lovely combination of textures and flavours - melted cheese and salty ham, contrasting with crunchy asparagus and crispy garlic pastry.

2 garlic cloves
2 oz/55 g butter
8 thin asparagus spears
2 oz/55 g parmesan cheese, grated
8 sheets filo pastry
8 thin slices of prosciutto
1 lemon to serve

1. Crush and finely chop the garlic, add to the butter in a pan and melt over a low heat. Remove from the heat and leave for 10 minutes to allow the garlic flavour to infuse then pass through a sieve. Trim the asparagus.

2. Brush each filo sheet with the garlic butter and double over. Sprinkle with the cheese then lay a slice of ham and an asparagus spear across and roll up. Brush with more garlic butter. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden at 230°C/450°F. Cut into 2 inch/5 cm lengths and serve with lemon.

Friday, May 1, 2009

mayday mayday mayday

May 1st - a public holiday known as la fête du muguet in France - which I'd completely forgotten about when I went shopping for ingredients for wild garlic recipes and found everything shut. Muguet (lily of the valley) is traditionally sold in little bouquets all over France today and given to loved ones as a token of good luck and to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Coincidentally, the leaves of wild garlic look a bit like the leaves of lily of the valley, and the white flowers, according to BB, a bit like hemlock (they don't - see below) - so he refused to finish my salad of wild garlic after he became convinced that his mouth had become anaesthetized and he'd been poisoned. He'll do anything to get out of eating his greens!