Monday, 31 December 2012

My Big Fat French Christmas

I realize I'm a bit late with this Christmas leftover post- it is New Year's Eve- and most of you have already used up all the turkey and gravy and veg. Indeed, some of you have already told me about your turkey curries, Boxing Day buffets, Chow Phan and soups.

My Christmas was a bit different this year - as we spent the week in Provence and had a Franglais Feast instead of the usual menu.

Gardianne de Taureau
Christmas in the South of France begins with the Gros Souper (Big Fat Supper) on Christmas Eve, followed by midnight mass and then a family meal on Christmas Day (often a stew such as Gardianne de Taureau or Daube).

Torchlight procession to mass
We decided (and French family members and friends grudgingly agreed) to have the best of both worlds : torchlight procession to mass on Christmas Eve, mass in Provencal but no Gros Souper- Christmas dinner on the 25th instead.

To start we had foie gras toasts, snail vol aux vents and champagne (no leftovers there.)


For the main meal, we had roast veal and a roast guinea fowl stuffed with chestnuts and all the trimmings- including of course and much to the chagrin of les francais: roast parsnips and brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce and bread sauce. All washed down with loads of the local wine.

Chateau Virant

Dessert was another matter.

13 Desserts

The culmination of the Gros Souper is traditionally The 13 Desserts.

Now thirteen might seem a little excessive- as indeed it would be if they were made up of puddings like profiteroles, Black Forest gateau and mince pies- but in fact these are just little tastes: nuts, fruit, dried fruits, nougat, sugared almonds and so on. (Of course we did add Christmas pudding to the list.)

You nibble these after dinner- and then they keep for the rest of the week as your puddings. A sentiment I appreciate.

I undertook to make one of the crucial elements- pain d'epice ( a dark spiced gingerbread loaf.)

I searched for the recipe online - and made a creditable loaf. I was struck however as to how much it resembled an old family recipe from home - the ginger cake recipe featured below is from a family cookbook circa 1955. The only difference was that I added butter rather than 'Trex' (let's avoid too much hydrogenated fat), some extra mixed spice,  and honey rather than treacle (treacle being impossible/extortionate to source in Southern France.) Either way this is a foolproof cake, simple, involves no patisserie skill, and keeps for ages- it's wonderful with butter on or (apparently, according to Frenchmen, dipped in morning coffee.) My kind of cake recipe.

Ginger Cake Recipe (click to enlarge)

Fab food- but what was left over?

We had parsnips and carrots, bread sauce, potato gratin, large quantities of meat and stuffing, gravy and -unsurprisingly- brussels sprouts to use up.

Guests had been invited - so we decided to do a 'Best of Les Restes'- leftover meal.

Main course was Boxing Day Pie: a delicious confection of guinea fowl, stuffing, parsnips and carrots, mixed into a bechamel sauce, thickened with leftover bread sauce and then baked in a rough puff pastry pie.

Boxing Day Pie with Bubble and Squeak

You can of course make this pie with any leftover roast, veg,  stuffing, pigs in blankets, whatever- give it a try!

To accompany it, we had Bubble and Squeak made from the sprouts mashed with the gratin and fried in patties in a little olive oil.

Who would have thought that a duo of Frenchmen would wolf down brussels sprouts without realizing - and compliment the chef on the dish! I barely had time to take a photo as everybody was already digging in!Take note if you have children who won't eat their greens!

Sadly, all good things come to an end at some point, and we have now returned to Blighty for the New Year.

Luckily, the cheery woman on the Easyjet desk (no sarcasm- she was delightful) only weighed our hold luggage. Our big fat Franglais stomachs would surely have incurred a fine!

And a Happy New Year!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Use it up!

Just time to squeeze in a quick blog before Christmas.

Talking of squeezing things in, I imagine most people are making room in their fridges and freezers for the Big Shop this weekend.

Time to use up all those little bits and bobs that I have been encouraging you to keep throughout the last few months: vegetables, breadcrumbs, leftover casserole, ends of cheese etc

I've given over quite a bit of blog space to soups and stews so far this winter- and so won't spend time on that now except to say, you can't beat a good vegetable soup or curry to use up the contents of your vegetable drawer or freezer basket.

Bronze Vegetable Curry

However, a leftover classic - Bubble and Squeak- comes a close second if you have veg awaiting sentence in your fridge.

Cold mashed potato is pretty much essential for this dish, but sweet potato works well too. Take what leftover cooked veg you have in the fridge: potato( of course) , broccoli , onion or leek, swede, etc. Blitz the greens and mash everything together with the potato, season well and shape into patties. Dust with flour and fry in hot oil until golden on both sides. Serve hot with a poached egg on top.

Bubble and Squeak
Good enough to dress up for a restaurant meal.
Posh Bubble and Squeak

If you have a few pieces left from a garlic loaf, blitz these up and use them as a gratin topping for vegetable bakes, pasta bakes or fish. Or make cheesy breadcrumbs with the little ends of cheese I've been exhorting you to save in the freezer and use in the same way.

Blitz that garlic bread
Grilled Plaice with Crunchy Topping

Grated cheese- especially if it is a mixture of different cheeses- can be used up as a topping for pizzas, with any leftover ham,vegetables, olives now.

Frying Pan Pizza

Leftover casserole can be made to go for another meal: make individual pies with shortcrust pastry and fill with a spoonful each of meat or top with puff pastry for a pot pie.

Pot Pie
Meat Pies

Finally, don't forget to use up any leftover pastry ( and cheese ) in cheese straws or twists for canap├ęs,  leftover tortillas baked in the oven with seasoning for dipping chips and leftover pitta or naan bread for nibbles.

Has that made some room? I'll be back with many a post- Christmas blog- so don't even think about throwing away leftover Christmas dinner until you check here first!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my readers!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Slowing Things Down

I know it's nearly Christmas when everyone is rushing around like bluebottles to get everything done in time, and the idea of doing anything slowly seems impossible - but there is a way to take your time and get everything done too.

If you have a slow cooker- and Santa's sleigh might well be carrying a few of these around this year- you can save effort but still eat well (and cheaply). You can buy inexpensive cuts of meat like pork shoulder, ox cheek or tail, lamb shanks or duck legs and then , with just a few minutes preparation you can put your meal on to cook whilst you resume the rushing around.

I've had one for a year now and it is brilliant.

Brown the meat first
Add vegetables and cooking liquor
Casseroles are the easiest and simplest dish: brown your meat before putting it into the slow cooker, add the vegetables of your choice and the stock or cooking liquor of your choice (red wine, white wine, beer, cider, water, stock or juice), put in enough to not quite cover the meat,  switch it to high for a short while ( an hour or so) then low for as long as you want:

Coq au Vin
Bean and lentil dishes cook beautifully too- no problem with chewy pulses.
Bonfire Baked Beans

Sausages with Lentils and Vegetables

Rich Beef Stew
You can roast meat too- hand of pork (shoulder) or gammon are particularly good. They need very little liquid. Gammon roasts well in just a glass (250 ml) of orange juice for example.

After 6 hours or so, the meat falls apart - you could almost eat it with a spoon.

Fancier dishes can easily be achieved- like braised duck legs in vermouth: Brown the duck legs in a dry frying pan until the fat starts to run out readily, (one duck leg per person),then two glasses of vermouth and a bay leaf go into the slow cooker with the duck, cook on high for an hour or two and then low for another couple of hours. Good enough for any dinner party.

Braised Duck Legs in Vermouth

You can also make a big pot of  beef mince ragout- and then use it for quick and easy meals through the week (like bolognaise, chilli con carne, lasagne, or chilli chips !)

Chilli Chips

Beef Mince Ragout

I've only made one pudding so far in the slow cooker- but it was a good one- coconut rice pudding with mulled wine fruit compote: 1 cup of rice (I used arborio but long grain is fine), two cups of coconut milk or 1 carton coconut cream and 1 cup skimmed milk, 100 g of sugar, a grating of nutmeg and a tsp of cinnamon. Cook on low for 3 hours. Meanwhile, simmer a choice of red and orange fruits in a half glass red wine or red vermouth, add a splash of orange juice, some cinnamon and nutmeg and keep warm until you are ready to eat the rice pudding. Very festive.

Coconut rice pudding with mulled fruit

I had a big family party coming up so cooked a 'pulled' pork casserole a week in advance, froze it in the slow cooker casserole and then heated it up on the day. Take note though- if you have a plastic knob on the lid, it won't stand up to the oven temperatures- as I discovered. Luckily we could unscrew the blobby melted bit and screw on a new knob from an old pan lid.

Check your slow cooker is oven proof!

It's not just food leftovers that get used up in our house !

By the way, the casserole was unharmed- and much enjoyed by all.

Pulled Pork Casserole