Tuesday, November 23, 2010

pickled walnuts


Have you noticed how the French have a tendency to make exaggerated Stan Laurel expressions of disgust at the mention of British food? They must imagine we eat unspeakably vile things, for they aren't able to articulate what they are when challenged.

Which is a bit rich considering they eat  tête de veau and rognons blancs and where all manner of things that could have been pulled from a vet's bucket are on display in supermarkets and boucheries. 

Back by popular demand

But I have to admit, even I was reluctant to try these pickled walnuts, a traditional English accompaniment to strong cheese and cold meat, especially after seeing them at the drying-out stage, when they resembled cremated golf balls. But once they're placed in spice-infused vinegar and left to mature for a bit, they wheeze back into life.

These are last year's vintage, so the harsh vinegary taste has been replaced with a top note of oriental spices. Even my French amis enjoyed them - begrudgingly.

Ingredients
2 kg young green walnuts (you should be able to slice through them easily with a knife)
brine to cover (150 g of salt per litre of water)
1 litre malt vinegar
400 g brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cloves
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 tsp coriander seeds

1. Prick the green walnuts a few times with a fork. (Be careful: the juice stains any porous surface dark brown and you may want to wear rubber gloves.) Place the walnuts in a bucket and fill with enough water to cover. Stir in the salt. Soak for 1 week, then drain and make the brine again. Soak for 1 more week.

2. After the second week, drain the walnuts and lay them out on trays to dry in an airy place. In 3-5 days they will turn black. Once they have all turned black, they are ready to pickle.

3. In a large pot, stir together the malt vinegar, brown sugar, allspice, cloves and cinnamon. Bring to the boil and then add the walnuts. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

4. Spoon the walnuts into sterile jars and fill with the syrup to within 1 cm of the top. Seal with lids and rings. Store in the refrigerator or sterilise in a hot water bath for 10 minutes before cooling to room temperature and storing in a cool dark cupboard.

Monday, November 8, 2010

chou-rave gratin


This is not Ann Widdecombe. I lied. It's a chou-rave (kohlrabi or cabbage turnip in English) and I'd never seen one until Nainbo gave me some from his garden last week. The bulbous part looks like a small white cabbage, but it peels like a turnip and has the same texture and firmness; and it tastes like cabbage and turnip but slightly sweeter and milder than both. The leaves can also be eaten -raw in salad or cooked in the same way as spinach.

You're supposed to pick them when they're golf ball-sized or they can be woody, but here in the mountains they like to wait until their vegetables are growing bark, so this one was a little past its prime.

But like the plucky Ann, I set about making a meal of it - and made a potato and chou-rave gratin.


You want equal quantities of chou-rave and potato. Peel and thinly slice the veg and cook in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Drain and place the veg in a shallow ovenproof dish and cover with single cream, a couple of handfuls of grated cheese and top with seasoned breadcrumbs. Place in the oven on a medium heat for about 25 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are crispy and the veg is cooked.

♫ Cook along to: The Troggs Wild Thing

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ann Widdecombe and Anton Chou-Rave Gratin


Is it a vegetable - or Ann Widdecombe doing the paso doble? That's what I wondered when I saw this:

 

Funny looking thing, isn't it?

For those of you not in the know, Ann Widdecombe is a former British cabinet minister (shadow home secretary) who's currently appearing on Strictly Come Dancing - the UK version of Dancing with the Stars. And what a star she is!

I'm sure it's Ann in that photo. The fabulous fiery silk confection she wore may have been toned down using Photoshop, but there's no mistaking that thin desperate arm (on the right) hanging on to Anton Du Beke as he drags her round the dance floor like the Statue of Liberty.

It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen on telly.

To be continued ...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

fennel remoulade


My copy of Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook finally arrived today. I've been on postie alert for days now because the book doesn't have a hard cover and I feared the post lady might try to wrestle it into the mailbox in the manner of my monthly magazine and other bulky items, rather than exerting herself by getting out of the post van and taking a couple of steps to our front door.

As it turned out, it arrived by courier (DHL), but they seem to have the same attitude to customer service. At least the postie comes to within a few feet of the door; when the DHL guy phoned up, he said our little village was too far out of his way (read: wanted to slope off work early) and that he'd leave my package in the newsagents 12 km away.

The joys of living in the mountains!


This is where I should segue into a recipe from the book (which is full of anecdotes accompanying great recipes from around the world - she said, shamelessly promoting it), but I'm not going to because this week I've been in a remoulade groove.

Remoulade is a mayonnaise-based sauce flavoured with mustard and lemon juice generally, but it can also include capers, anchovies, herbs etc. Here in France it's commonly used in céleri rémoulade - grated celeriac in a mustard-flavored remoulade - which we had at the beginning of the week, but today I made it with two fennel bulbs I found lurking in the bottom of the fridge. It's a great way to eat raw veg - as a starter or with fish.

Fennel remoulade

Ingredients
Serves 2
2 fennel bulbs
mayonnaise
lemon juice
grain mustard
salt

1. Remove the outer leaves of the fennel and thinly slice the remaining leaves.

2. Combine the lemon juice with the mayonnaise, mustard and salt and adjust to your taste (I used 1 dsp mayo, the juice of half a lemon and a tsp of mustard).

3. Add the sauce to the sliced fennel a little at a time and toss until the fennel is lightly coated.

♫ Cook along to: Ben Folds Gracie

Sunday, October 31, 2010

wild mushroom, hazelnut and parmesan tarts


I'm having a freezer clear-out at the moment and what do you imagine I should find in the bottom drawer? Yep - those PC dinners I made for BB before I left for Paris. One even has a note on it saying: I bet this is still here when I get back - next to the one that says: Don't forget to feed Flippo.

They all happen to be fish pie, so I'm not sure whether it was due to BB's aversion to bending down or the fact that he'd gone off fish pie for some reason. Guilty associations with Flippo (deceased), perhaps!

I thought it best not to ask.

Anyway - the day before yesterday I took out a piece of venison (shot by Roquin last month) and a bag of chanterelles (picked by me in July) and left the meat to marinade overnight in a little white wine with some chopped carrot, onion and a couple of bay leaves. Normally at this point I would reach for Anthony Bourdain or Elizabeth David for ideas on what to do next - which would invariably involve straining and browning and caramelizing - but this time I simply heated the whole lot up on the stove, added a little of my precious veal stock, a heaped tsp of tomato paste, some seasoning and placed in the oven on a very low heat for 3 hours.


Meanwhile, I made the pastry for the wild mushroom tarts and sautéed the chanterelles in butter, before adding some chopped hazelnuts and a generous handful of grated parmesan. Then baked in the oven for 15 minutes - voilà.

Well, at lunch yesterday, we ate in a pocket of silence, save for the odd small animal noise of contentment. It was the best meal I've cooked this year - and the most simple.

And now I'm having to justify three side-cars' worth of cookery lessons!

♫ Cook along to: Brian Wilson Heroes And Villains

Monday, October 25, 2010

the American dream and sweet & sour pork


Many of my childhood summer holidays were spent on the west coast of Scotland, in a place called Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan - the most westerly point of mainland Great Britain - where every day for a week, the six of us would squish into our little yellow Mini and bump six miles down a single track road until we hit the deserted beach at Sanna.


Here, we kids would leap into the dunes and race towards the sea while Mum settled in the soft white sand with Woman's Weekly and Dad rolled up his shirt sleeves and went to work under the bonnet of the car.

I'm thinking about the summer of 1976 in particular, when Candi Staton was singing about young hearts running free and the Bee Gees were telling us we should be dancing (yeah!) - when we had a heatwave in Scotland.

Imagine! Heatwave and Scotland co-existing in the same sentence!

When we weren't racing around under those high blue skies, panting in the heat, we were swimming in the sea or poking around in rock pools, collecting shells and dead sea urchins and writing messages in the sand - or just marvelling at our nut brown toes, thanks to Mum's liberal application of Ambre Solaire SPF1. The only time Dad ever ventured onto the beach, in his socks and shoes, was to help with the construction of our dam, which had to slope at a 30 degree angel and have a stone-lined slipway for controlled overspill. On one of these rare forays onto the sand, Dad pointed out over the turquoise sea and said: America is straight over there.

I dropped my bucket and spade and followed his gaze, open-mouthed, hoping to catch a glimpse of America, an alien land I'd learned all about from watching Starsky and Hutch, where they spoke with funny accents and called "chips" "fries" and the women had hair like an Alpine ski chalet.

That night when I flopped into bed and pulled the thin cotton sheet over my sunburnt body (thanks to Mum's liberal application of Ambre Solaire SPF1), I dreamed of going to America - and did so for many years to come.

Years later I did go to America - many times - and on the last occasion I had the best pork dumplings I've ever tasted, at Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown, New York. This restaurant is famous for them and as soon as you're seated, the waiter asks: do you want regular dumplings or crab? We ordered regular (pork) and a bamboo steamer arrived nestling eight plump pagoda-shaped buns containing little pork meatballs surrounded by a scalding meaty broth. They were utterly delicious.

I've never made pork dumplings, but the other day I made the next best thing: sweet and sour pork balls. This is based on a Ken Hom recipe.


Ingredients
Serves 4
450 g /1 lb fatty minced pork
1 egg white
4 tbsp water
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
½ green pepper, cut into squares
½ red pepper, cut into squares
4 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
cornflour for dusting
groundnut oil for frying

For the sauce
150 ml / 5 fl oz home-made chicken stock
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp salt
½ white pepper
1½  tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp cornflour, blended with 1 tbsp water
fresh coriander leaves to garnish

1. Mix the pork with the egg white and water using your hands then add the soy sauces, rice wine, sugar and salt and pepper. Shape into balls and dust with cornflour.

2. In a pan of boiling water, blanch the carrots and pepper until nearly tender (about 3 minutes). Drain and set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the pork balls until crisp and golden (3-4 minutes). Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

4. Combine all the sauce ingredients except the cornflour mixture in a large pan and bring to the boil. Add the carrots, pepper and spring onions, then stir in the cornflour mixture and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Add the pork balls and warm through and serve with chopped corander leaves.

♫ Cook along to: Rogue Wave California

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Azorean dreams and corned beef hash




It's normally around this time that I make my annual pilgrimage to Flores in the Azores to see my old friends Carol (aka Mung) and Neil.

But what with one thing (three months in Paris) and another (a trip to Scotland last month), I didn't think it fair to leave BB slaving away at the coalface while I disappeared off again on a jolly.

I'm sad not to be going this year. There's something about the peaceful rhythms of this tiny island, its savage beauty, the luminous sea, that makes me resolve to do - and be - something different.
 
Flores, Azores

But living in a little pocket of paradise bang in the middle of the Atlantic has its drawbacks; for one thing, you can't buy a tin of corned beef. The Mung and I have a great affinity for corned beef. In fact, it was over a corned beef and Branston Pickle filled roll that we first bonded, in a little caf opposite Edinburgh Sheriff Court not long after we met.

And we both agree that the tastiest thing to do with corned beef is corned beef hash with a fried egg on top.


Ingredients
Serves 2

tin of corned beef (the best quality you can find)
10 oz / 275 g waxy potatoes
1 large onion
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp grain mustard
2 eggs
2 - 3 tbsp oil for frying
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Cut the corned beef into chunks and mix in a bowl with the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and grain mustard and set aside. In the meantime, peel and cut the potatoes into chunks and steam until nearly tender. Finely slice the onion. 

2. Fry the onion in the oil until soft and browned at the edges. Add the potatoes and corned beef, some salt and pepper and  heat through. Fry the eggs in a separate pan and serve on top of the hash.

Friday, September 3, 2010

yippee


All my badgering of friends, family and you, my readers, paid off because my vegetarian Scotch egg recipe has been voted a winner in the Foodista cookbook competition and will feature in the Foodista Best of Blogs Cookbook.

You can read reviews and/or pre-order a copy from Amazon here. It's out on 19 October 2010.

A huge thanks to everyone who voted.

Coming soon: How not to make veal stock.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

spicy pomelo salad


I started writing this post on 14th July, when we were going through a mini heatwave, when the average daily temperature was 36 degrees. And it's now past 15th August, the end of summer according to the Savoyards, because the temperature always noticeably drops after this date. Already I'm reminiscing about red fruit stains on picnic linen and sausages sizzling on the BBQ and swimming capers in the lake - and my favourite Ray-Ban sunglasses, now lying on the lake bottom, seeing and seeing while the fish slip past.

We ate a lot of this spicy pomelo salad when it was hot. The pomelo is similar to a grapefruit but bigger, with a thicker skin and a milder sweeter taste. If you can't find pomelos, use pink grapefruit instead. A lovely refreshing summer salad.


Ingredients
1 large pomelo
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 shallots, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 or 2 small red chillies, seeded and chopped
3 spring onions, finely sliced
3 tbsp chopped peanuts
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
fresh coriander leaves to garnish

1. Peel the pomelo and separate into segments, removing the membrane. Break each segment into 3 or 4 pieces.

2. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the shallots and garlic until golden brown and crispy and drain on kitchen paper.

3. Mix the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar and pour over all the other ingredients which have been gently mixed together. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

curry magic

 

From sublime Joël Robuchon recipes to the ridiculous: curry that looks like fish food in a poly bag.


But I have to share this with you because it's the best curry, outside India, that I've ever tasted - and I'm a bit of a curry aficionado. I would estimate that 80% of non home-cooked meals (restaurants and take-aways) I had when I lived in Scotland were curries. An ex-boyfriend (and fellow aficionado) and I would scour Edinburgh for the wettest curry - because a curry has to be wet, you see.

Sadly, every curry I've had since I've been in France (including Paris, disappointingly) has been revolting: dry cloying sauces tasting predominantly of curry paste from a jar, kicking to death any other flavour threatening to make itself known. There's been nothing fresh or fragrant about any of them. The worst was in Méribel, where the chicken pieces had been coated in a torrid desiccated paste then heated in the oven. 

So imagine my joy when this little bag arrived (from my Aunt Hils) and it turned out to be so good.

At first glance the contents look like wood shavings and bark and other detritus swept up off the forest floor, but when you add water and cook for five minutes, some strange kind of alchemy takes place and you're left with the most amazing wet curry sauce, to which you simply add your meat/fish of choice. It's made by a company called Curry Magic - and they deliver to France.

I'm going to decorate the kitchen with flock wallpaper and pictures of the Taj Mahal that light up and play sitar music - so it will just be like sitting in my favourite Indian restaurant in Scotland.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

fine food

I've been getting a lot of stick about the crisp sandwich and the burgers. After all my banging on about "Cordon Bleu this" and "Cordon Bleu that", you expected more from me.

So I give you ... 


langoustes en fines ravioles.

I bet they don't serve these down your local chippy.


This is based on a Joël Robuchon recipe from his book Robuchon Facile - and it really is easy, yet could conceivably feature on the menu of one of his Michelin starred restaurants.

The ravioli are made with layers of paper-thin slices of blanched turnip, their strong peppery flavour perfectly balancing the sweetness of the langoustines and the red pepper sauce. One to impress your dinner party guests with.

To make the ravioli sandwiches

Slice a small turnip very finely using a mandolin and cut into circles (about 7 cm) using a pastry cutter. Blanche the turnip slices in boiling salted water for 15 seconds, refresh in cold water and pat dry with kitchen roll. On top of 2 turnip discs, place 2 or 3 cooked langoustines, some very finely sliced fresh ginger and a flat parsley leaf and top with another disc of turnip. Stack a ravioli sandwich on top of another and serve with red pepper sauce.

Red pepper sauce

50 g onions
100 g red pepper
15 g fresh ginger
½ garlic clove, crushed with the flat side of a knife
45 g butter
pinch of paprika
100 cl fish stock
11 cl crème fraîche
salt and pepper

1. Peel and finely chop the onions. Peel the red pepper, remove the seeds and cut into big chunks. Peel and finely slice the ginger.

2. Melt 30 g of butter in a pan and add the garlic and onions and sweat for a couple of minutes. Add the paprika, salt and pepper, ginger, red pepper and fish stock and cook on a low heat for 20 minutes.

3. Add the crème fraîche and set aside for 5 minutes then add 15 g of chilled butter and sieve.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

earthquakes, pillow talk and the great American burger


We had an earthquake here today. I was working on my laptop after lunch when the whole house started shaking and making shifting sounds, as if someone was moving furniture around. I thought I'd imagined it but when I checked on the Centre Sismologique Euro-Méditerranéen website, it was mentioned as having a magnitude of 4.2. Not exactly a force majeure, I grant you, but disconcerting none the less.

In Savoie, new builds and renovations have to be constructed to zone 2 seismic standards, or "elastically", to quote BB tonight, and regretting it instantly, I asked him what that meant:

"Do you understand the difference between elastic deformation and plastic deformation (here we go). Take an elastic band and a plastic ring pack on a pack of beer (I'm not listening. Look! I've got my hands over my ears and I'm humming loudly. La la la la).  If you pull the elastic band, bla bla bla ..."


After the miserable wet start to the summer, we're into our fourth consecutive week of glorious BBQ weather and my recipe de l'été is this, from Jamie Oliver: great American burgers. The pre-cooked translucent red onions keep them moist and the addition of breadcrumbs and parmesan stops them from shrivelling up to half their size the way most home-made burgers do. An absolute must for the barbie season.


Ingredients
olive oil
2 medium red onions, peeled and finely chopped
breadcrumbs from 4 slices of bread, crusts removed
500g (1lb 2oz) good-quality lean minced beef
1tsp sea salt
1 heaped tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, preferably free-range or organic, beaten
handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Fry the onions in some olive oil until softened (about 10 minutes) and leave to cool.

2. Put the cooled onions into a large bowl with the rest of the burger ingredients. Use clean hands to mix everything together really well, then divide into 6 equal balls for burgers and 18 equal balls for smaller sliders. Roll into burger-shaped patties about 2cm thick.

3. Cook on a BBQ or in a griddle pan - about 3-4 minutes each side.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

quick message part 2


That was a pretty feeble re-entry into the blogosphere, I know. About as impressive as a dull thud. But I just needed to get the ball rolling again. And talking of balls: I've been glued to Wimbledon, but I have a small window of opportunity before Federer v Bozoljac, so here goes.

I got back from Paris after three months away and BB looked as if he'd been dining on dry crusts, he was so thin. I had omitted to leave instructions on what to do when the frozen dinners run out! So what tasty Cordon Bleu repast do you suppose I whipped up for him? Sea scallop carpaccio with cauliflower cream and Imperial caviar? Herb-encrusted breast of plover with a red wine and elderberry reduction? Blue lobster stew with sage, caramelized onions and young leeks?

Nope. A crisp sandwich.

What you do is: take yesterday's bread, spread it with some unsalted butter and sprinkle on a packet of salt and vinegar crisps which you've bashed up with a rolling pin. Oh, the irony!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

this little piggy went to market


I've had some great food experiences recently: dinner chez my Dutch friend Sjoerd (from superior class); dinner at Le Hide - a fabulous restaurant in the 17th run by a Japanese chef who trained under Joël Robuchon; dinner round at H's for her birthday last week; a fondue night at Le Refuge des Fondues in Montmartre where they serve wine in baby bottles; several market trips; and a visit to the world-famous Poilâne bakery where you can buy a very cool bread box for a cool 244€.

Our class dinner at L'Atelier Maître Albert however - "a restaurant with Guy Savoy" - was disappointing. The amuse bouche of tiny grilled mussels on cocktail sticks had bits of shell and dirt in them and the chilled tomato soup tasted just like Heinz. The cod with herb mash was very good, if a bit basic, and the lamb shanks, while perfectly cooked, could have done with some figs or prunes or similar to sex up the sauce. Not really what you'd expect from a restaurant with links to a Michelin starred chef (actually, chefs aren't awarded Michelin stars, their restaurants are, but let's not split mussel beards).

***

H is determined to be fluent in French by the time she leaves Paris in five weeks - which for someone starting from scratch and who sounds as if she's convulsing when she speaks it - will require a miracle of biblical proportions. She's started reading children's books, the French equivalent of Janet and John, and she likes someone, anyone - me, J, waiters, shop assistants, unsuspecting passengers on the Metro - to read words out to her to help her with the pronunciation. So I spent an excruciating 20 minutes in a posh coffee shop in chic St-Germain-des-Prés last week, reading Jeanette et Jean: Allons-y jouer (let's go and play)  aloud.

This badgering even continues in class. I'm pretty focused in our practicals and don't like to engage in idle chitchat, so I'll be concentrating on filleting a lemon sole or making a brunoise of carrots when I'll look round and see H through a haze of smoke, leaning casually against the wall admiring her nails, and she'll say: "Mate, how do you say in French, my saucepan's on fire?"

Strewth!

We have our written exam in just under two weeks so I'm going to have to knuckle down and start studying - which means no time for frivolous blogging I'm afraid.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

a busman's holiday




When I arrived home last weekend I was surprised, in a Samuel Johnson 'dog walking on its hind legs' kind of way, to find that BB had cleaned the house. Not that it had been done well; but that it had been done at all!

It was great to be home. Before I came to Paris I was afraid I would love it so much I would never want to leave, but it transpires I'm a simple country girl at heart. I miss the mountains and the wide-open spaces ...


... and not having neighbours. I left my building here in Paris yesterday at the same time as my hobnailed-booted upstairs neighbour (who turns out to be a  Little Old Lady!) and found myself tailing her, trying to check out her footwear. I reckon she's a European size 36 so I'm going to send her a pair of soft slippers.

On Saturday the usual suspects turned up at Nainbo's for apéros and we watched with amusement as he went round the garden scattering grass seed, closely followed by La Blonde, scattering weedkiller. Bit of a communication problem going on there I think.

Everyone wanted to know about my course and after a lengthy discussion about recipes there was a long expectant pause, at the end of which I tried to say: "I'm going skiing tomorrow", but it came out all funny and sounded like: "Why don't you all come round for lunch tomorrow?"

So instead of hitting the slopes or just lounging in bed with my cats, a cup of green tea and a good cookery book, Sunday morning was spent in the kitchen.

Now that the frost's gone my leeks are ready for pulling up so we started with leeks gribiche - braised leeks smothered in a smooth sharp caper-laden vinaigrette with a generous handful of snipped chives. Then we had pot roasted rabbit with rosemary sage and lemon served with turned artichokes and roast potatoes with saffron, followed by home-made vanilla ice-cream. Miam.

Since I'm struggling to find time to blog, a friend suggested I sign up to Twitter, so you can follow me at twitter.com/atasteofsavoie.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

vegetable turning and nasty chefs


We're into week four and already a third of the way through the course - I can't believe it.

To give you some background info on the school: Le Cordon Bleu offers certificate courses in cuisine and patisserie with students progressing through basic, intermediate and superior levels, after which they gain Le Diplôme de Cuisine, Le Diplôme de Patisserie or Le Grand Diplôme (if you do both cuisine and patisserie at the same time). I enrolled for the basic cuisine course only (as did J and H) but we're loving it so much that the three of us are thinking of coming back in the autumn to do the intermediate course.

We had our first blip last week when we were set upon by 'Gordon Ramsay' Chef. We have nicknames for all the Chefs, so there's 'Mr Bean' Chef (our favourite, who looks like, er, Mr Bean), 'Blackberry' Chef (who plays on his Blackberry when he should be supervising us in practicals), 'Hot' Chef (no explanation needed), 'Short' Chef (ditto) - and now 'Gordon Ramsay' Chef. Not only is he thoroughly unpleasant in a shouting and bullying way but he's plainly never heard of sexual harassment in the workplace (maybe it's not against the law in France - I wouldn't be surprised) as evidenced by his unwelcome and unnecessary physical contact with female students. Hopefull we won't see too much of him because he's a patisserie chef.
 
 
We're on to stuffings and tournage de légumes (vegetable turning) now - when you spend an hour paring down a carrot into a small barrel shape with seven sides. It's very traditional and very French, but extremely slow and repetitive and Paris is full of restaurants where dishwashers and commis spend hours a day locked in this seven-sided-servitude hell.

I'm going back to Savoie on Friday for three days. I actually made a surprise flying visit at Easter - only it was me who got the surprise when I saw the state of the house, so BB's been warned. He's just called to say he's down to the last of the beef stew PC dinners "which is a result" - and I don't think he meant that in a kind way!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

puff pastry with leeks, poached eggs and albufera sauce

We had a nice civilized 12.30 p.m. start today - after our group photo at midday. In today's demonstration the Chef showed us how to make puff pastry with leeks and poached eggs with albufera sauce and pear and raspberry tarts with almond butter and an apricot glaze. We actually made the puff pastry in our last practical - or rather, we started it off. I've never made puff pastry before and I don't think I will, through choice, again because it's quite a lengthy process and it's very hard to source the main ingredient (even here in Paris!) - beurre sec ("dry" butter) - so called because it has a low moisture content and high fat content which helps to keep the flour from turning into a greasy mess.

You start off by making your basic pastry in the same way that you would choux pastry - by adding melted butter, water and salt to flour - then leaving to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes. After that you roll out the pastry in a cross shape and place a heart-stoppingly large pat of beurre sec in the middle and then fold and roll and fold, flip over and do the same all over again, six times - or six "turns", to give it it's technical term (resting in the fridge for 20 minutes after every two turns) . My Canadian friend J, says she only gives her puff pastry one turn - she jumps in her car, turns the key in the ignition and goes to the shop to buy it! She has a point though because we were all agreed that Chef's puff pastry wasn't so earth-shatteringly different to bought stuff - so why bother?

The leeks and poached eggs in puff pastry recipe was sublime. You gently cook julienne of leeks with a little bit of butter and water until there's no liquid left, add some cream and seasoning and fill your vol-au-vents with this mixture and a poached egg then drizzle with albufera sauce (reduced chicken stock, cream, lemon juice and brunoise of red pepper). I think this is one that I'll be cooking over and over again once I get home.

Big exciting day tomorrow. You know my favourite shop - kitchen shop heaven in Moutiers? - well tomorrow, J (who's lived here for more than three years and knows all the really cool places to go) is taking H (our Australian friend) and I to kitchen shop nirvana - more than four kitchen shops even bigger than the one in Moutiers on the same street. I shall be like a kid in a sweetie shop!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quiche Lorraine


After fish we moved on to chicken and poularde pochée sauce suprême (poached chicken with sauce suprême) last week, and in our practical we had to truss a chicken after we'd burned off all the tiny feathers with a chef's torch - which was quite scary. We've all been taught how to correctly pass a knife to someone (yes?), but few in our class had logically transposed that rule to the blow torch, so when I turned round to accept it from a Chinese girl with singed eyebrows, the blue flame licked all the hairs off my arm.

As I looked down the marble-topped work station at the poulardes flambées (the chickens on fire), the smell of burning hair in my nostrils, I realised just how dangerous a place a kitchen full of 14 wannabe chefs can be.

This week it's pastry and some of you will know that I'm a wee bit scared of pastry - but not as scared as I am of getting third degree burns from holding a hot tray of Quiches Lorraines whilst waiting for someone to shimmy past me as if they were moving from their office chair to the coffee machine.

The cooking's the easy part - so far.

Friday, March 26, 2010

filets de limande bercy

Where to start? It's all a bit mental - and I have so little time to write.

There are 44 of us in basic cuisine from over 15 countries (you can tell who's just jetted in from California or Brazil or Taiwan because they're the ones with creased faces, like old maps that have been folded and refolded a thousand times, from jet lag) and after three days we're all starting to find our own little clique. I'm in with an Australian and a Canadian - and surprisingly, I'm the only Brit.

Yesterday I was in school from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., caught the Métro home, had a quick chat with BB on Skype, then went to bed. The French have an expression: "Métro, boulot, dodo" (commute, work, sleep) and that pretty much sums up yesterday and how many of my days are going to be for the next few weeks.

We've been given a full set of Wüsthof kitchen knives (dangerously sharp) and the first practical lesson yesterday was learning different ways to cut vegetables without cutting your fingers off. So, there was mirepoix - cutting the veg into 1 cm cubes; brunoise - 2 mm cubes;  julienne - very thin strips, 1 mm thick and 5 cm long; and paysanne - 1 cm triangles. The recipe we had to create was rustic vegetable soup using the paysanne technique - which I thought was a bit ironic. I can't imagine Mini-B's Mum spending an hour cutting veg into tiny triangles for soup - or BB noticing for that matter.

Anyway, Chef said my soup was "très bien" (very good) and I was able to hold up 10 whole fingers when BB asked to see them on Skype.

Today's lesson was on stocks and how to fillet fish, so in our practical we made filets de limande bercy (lemon sole fillets in white wine sauce) using fish stock (after filleting our own fish of course). I'm afraid the recipes are LCB copyright and we're not allowed to reproduce them but this is a common French recipe which involves poaching lemon sole fillets in white wine and fish stock with some chopped shallots and then reducing the sauce and adding butter and parsley.

There are so many things to remember - what to wear in which classes, what to take to practicals and we're all battling for space in the tiny locker rooms - but I'm loving it. Most of the photos will be taken using a flash so they won't be up to the usual standard. Must dash to school now. Later.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

lessons


These are the lessons I've learned so far, after three days in Paris:

Some Metro stations require you to insert your ticket again to exit - so hold on to it. On Sunday, when I went to wave BB off at Gare de Lyon (sniffle), I threw my ticket away before the exit barrier and then had to rummage around in the bin like a plankton to retrieve it - which was rather embarrassing.

Don't walk around staring up at buildings admiring the architecture. It's true what they say about Paris and dog merde! Keep your eyes on the ground.

When viewing apartments for the first time, if the landlord says, "it's very quiet here", he is lying. I have a sideways neighbour who plays the piano (well) which is acceptable, but an upstairs neighbour who clops around in hobnailed boots on bare wooden floors which isn't. But I've found a solution - leave the extractor fan on in the bathroom to create white noise (which I'm used to at home with the sound of the river) and drown out everything else. Sorted.

I have my first lesson tomorrow morning. My school bag is packed (with a tarte tatin for the teacher!), my uniform ironed - and I'm just a little bit nervous.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Groundhog Day


It's 2 a.m. and I can't sleep. Strewth - it's Groundhog Day!

We're off on the train to Paris in the morning. BB's coming with me because he thinks I'll have trouble getting the WiFi and the telly to work in my studio (duh!) but I'm happy to play along because I need him to carry my bags after I knackered my back at step class on Monday!


But seriously, I'm glad he's coming with me, to help shoe me in to my new (albeit brief) life in Paris. It's a huge comfort.

School starts on Monday - so until then.

P.S. I made a chicken and sweetcorn pie for lunch today which BB said tasted like a pile of cack! (a bit uncharitable I thought!), so instead of the unsavoury cack pie, here are some pictures of fragrant spring flowers from my garden.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

the cat is a hat


It's 2 a.m. and I can't sleep so I've just extracted myself from a cat sandwich and come downstairs to write. The cats aren't allowed in the bedroom (BB's rule) but occasionally I accidentally on purpose leave the door open and as soon as they don't hear it closing, all three shoot up the stairs like rats up a drainpipe and assume their positions on the bed. Always the same positions - all three giving BB a wide berth.

If I've just washed my hair before going to bed, Loti lies on my head with her face buried in my hair - but only if it's just been washed. She's fussy that way. Otherwise she lies at my feet. (And when I say on my head, I mean literally on my head, like a hat. Once I sat up and she was attached, gripping on with her claws to stay on board - which smarted a bit - and nearly broke my neck as she's quite a big girl.) The other two take port and starboard, leaning in to achieve maximum body heat, making it impossible for me to turn over.

As I lay there, wedged in, staring up at the exposed beams, BB shouted out in his sleep: TWENTY FIVE KILOS! MINI-B! and fearing another one of his somnattacks, I decided to get up.

Only three days to departure.

We've been away a lot the last few days (hence my lack of blogging), visiting our 'winter' friends in Courchevel and Meribel for the last time this season and getting in as much skiing as possible.

The freezer is full to bursting with PC dinners, each one with a little bon mot scribbled on the lid. I know how BB operates - he will take the path of least bending down until he absolutely has to - so he'll start in the top freezer drawer (even if it contains 14 chicken curries - which it doesn't because I've mixed them all up for a bit of variety) and work his way down. Accordingly, the notes in the top drawer are gentle reminders such as: Remember to water the plants and Don't forget to feed Flippo (the goldfish) because he won't flip his bowl over to remind you like the cats do.

Then further down, round about drawer three and week six, they become slightly more pleading: PLEASE change the sheets and You REALLY OUGHT to hoover until finally, in the bottom drawer: Call an industrial cleaner NOW! and Buy new plants! and Replace Flippo!


To make space in the freezer I've had to use up all of last year's garden produce, including about 10 kilos of green beans. Green beans with mustard and garlic is a very tasty way to spice up the plain old French bean. For 4-6 people, place 1 lb/450 g French beans in boiling salted water and simmer until al dente. Drain and mix in 1-2 cloves of finely chopped garlic and 1 heaped tbsp of Dijon mustard and serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

country life


BB borrowed a scary bit of kit from Poire last week called a Spit Pulsa (a cordless nail gun that allows you to fix directly into concrete and steel without the need to drill, plug and screw), to nail plasterboard rails to the concrete floor in the new house. I won't bore you with the finer details of its workings except to say that it involves a gas cartridge, a combustion chamber, sparks and explosions - oh, and nails, obviously. Just reading all those words in the same sentence makes me want to call an ambulance.

BB is using the 'shotgun' version which takes ¾ inch nails, but the other week, a roofer we know was using the 'bazooka' version (for 6 inch nails) and when he tried to nail a rafter to a purlin (a piece of wood to another piece of wood basically) the nail hit something hard, deflected and went right through his knee, impaling him to the roof!

I've mentioned this before, about the dangers of living in the country, about the accidents with circular saws and axes and forestry equipment - and then just this week, three houses in our village burned down after a chimney caught fire. Thankfully, no-one was injured, but what a horrendous thing to happen!

Life in the country - in our country village anyway - isn't quite the tranquil pastoral image exuding from the glossy pages of Country Living magazine. Paris will seem like a trip to Disneyland in comparison.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

celery soup and 21st century existentialism


So there I was in Montmartre, sitting in this fabulous three-storey artist's "studio" sipping green tea with said artist and two musicians - one of whom is my new landlord. Ok, we weren't discussing existentialism exactly (more the latest Porsche 911, which one of them was about to take delivery of!) and there wasn't a ruffled floral skirt in sight, but it was pretty close to my romantic notion of living in Paris.

Yes, I've found a little studio - small but perfectly formed - in a lovely old building on a quiet cobbled street in Montmartre. This was my last appointment yesterday, having viewed beforehand: a squat above a Chinese restaurant in the 15th, a window-less cat's coffin in the 4th and an apartment with a fireman's pole in the living-room in the 16th! So when the Montmartre musician asked if I was interested in his studio, I was like: Helloooo? Take this cheque as a deposit toot sweet! And then we went off and had tea with his friends.


I'm back home now, exhausted after all that zipping around (and relieved to have found somewhere to stay), about to tuck into a bowl of celery soup. Bonne nuit.

Monday, March 1, 2010

spiced lamb ragout


The berger brought round some lamb for us the other day, all neatly bagged (in brand-new poly bags) and labelled: épaule, côtelettes, côtes baronnes, ragout. It was a million miles away from Mini-B's rustic presentation, when he delivers his goat meat wrapped in a bit of old bed sheet, probably off his own bed, which I doubt he sleeps in very much given the number of times he crashes on our sofa or in the field behind the salle des fêtes. That guy can sleep anywhere. Last summer a few of us spent the night in a hunting cabin way up in the mountains and as we all set about bedding down - unfurling camping mats and sleeping bags and plumping up pillows sultan's divan-style - Mini-B just curled up under the table on the concrete floor and went to sleep like a dog.

I'm off to Paris tomorrow for a couple of days to sort out accommodation so I leave you with this very tasty recipe for spiced lamb ragout which uses relatively inexpensive neck of lamb. It's even better reheated the following day.

Ingredients
Serves 4
2 lb (900 g) neck of lamb
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 heaped tablespoon flour
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 dried red chilli
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
12 oz (350 g) potatoes, larger ones cut in half
1 tin tomatoes (without the juice)
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Smash up the coriander seeds and chilli and mix with the oregano and rosemary. Roll the lamb pieces in this mixture. Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole dish and brown the meat a few pieces at a time then remove from the pan. Fry the onions in the fat left in the pan for about 10 minutes until softened and browned round the edges, add the garlic.

Next stir in the flour and gradually pour in 1 pint (570 ml) boiling water then return the pieces of meat to the casserole and season. As soon as it comes back to simmering point, put the lid on and transfer the casserole to the oven and cook for about an hour at 275°F/140°C. After an hour add the potatoes and tinned tomatoes and return to the oven for another hour.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Foodista Food Blogs Cookbook - please vote

I was recently contacted by Foodista.com, the online cooking encyclopedia, saying they were looking for recipes to feature in their upcoming Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook and would I like to enter some. So I have submitted the following four and I would be very, very chuffed if you could all vote. You can vote for each one by clicking on the Foodista button beneath each photo below - and you can rate all four.

The site is jaw-droppingly user-unfriendly but I've outlined the quickest way to do it at the end of this post. Voting ends on Sunday 28 February and I've got a lot of catching up to do since the competition has been open since the beginning of December - so I'm relying on you, my trusty readers. Yours, grovellingly!

To vote for Vegetarian Scotch Eggs:






To vote for Egg Mayo:


How to vote:
  1. Go to www.foodista.com and go to "sign up" at the top of the page.
  2. Enter your name, email and password and click "sign up".
  3. You will be taken to a "Taste Profile" page. Click on "skip step" bottom right.
  4. You will then be taken to a "Tell us more about yourself" page. Don't put anything in and click save profile.
  5. Leaving that window open, open another tab/window and open my blog http://atasteofsavoie.blogspot.com/
  6. Click on the first recipe to vote. You will still be signed in to Foodista so just click on the star ratings below the recipe heading and it will say "Rating Saved".
  7. Then back-click and click on the next recipe and repeat etc.