Sunday, 31 March 2013

Week 9- Sunday Lunch

The great Easter cookathon has begun- and kicked off in style with Easter Sunday lunch.

Although I love other cuisines- indeed this blog is testament to all the different recipes from around the world that I like to try- you can't beat a British Sunday lunch.

Cooking one is not a Herculean task- it is just simple fare cooked well- but I do love to let someone else
do it and go out every now and then for a pub roast : log fire crackling, rosy cheeks from wine or beer and hearty food. A pub Sunday roast is one of life's great pleasures.

Here are a few roasts I have known and loved:
Roast Turkey at the Pilot

Rolled Roast Belly of Pork at the Royal

Roast beef and yorkshire pud at The Bridge

But  for today, I am doing the cooking and we are having roast chicken.

Today's three course menu starts with an entree gourmand: just like the desserts gourmands that I often feature but with a savoury theme (seafood in this case), followed by roast chicken with all the trimmings and chocolate cake to finish.

For the starter, I laid out little tastes of different seafood entrees- a small prawn cocktail in sauce marie rose (ketchup, tomato sauce and a squeeze of lemon), a smoked salmon parcel ( filled with salmon mousse: 1 cup of smoked or flaked salmon, 1 cup of low fat cream cheese and a squeeze of lemon blitzed together) and blinis topped with creme fraiche and onuga caviar. (Click on the cloud at the top of this blog for the blini recipe from 2 weeks ago- these were made then and frozen. They reheat in a minute or two in a hot oven.)

entree gourmand

To roast chicken to perfection- I like to part-steam/part-roast mine. I place the bird in a casserole dish (glass is best), squeeze lemon juice over it, strategically place the squeezed lemon (in the cavity), drizzle over some olive oil, herbs and salt and pepper- then add a full glass of water to the dish. Pop on the lid and roast for 1- 1and a half hours at 170 degrees depending on the size of the chicken. The water makes the roast beautifully moist and produces a large quantity of jus for gravy- and the glass top ensures that the bird browns nicely in the oven. The chicken is cooked when a knife inserted into the thickest part of the thigh comes out with only clear juices (not pink) bubbling out of the hole.
Cauliflower cheese

Chicken ready for roasting

The secret to a successful Sunday roast is - gravy and vegetable accompaniments. We had cauliflower cheese, steamed leeks with spring greens, maple glazed parsnips, carrots and roast potatoes. (The parsnips are par boiled, then fried in butter and maple syrup and put in the oven to finish browning and crisping). For cauliflower cheese- lightly steam a head of cauliflower and break it into florets. Place in a gratin dish and pour over 500ml of bechamel sauce and 125g grated mature cheddar. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes alongside the roast chicken and the roast potatoes.

Maple glazed parsnips
Pudding has to be something chocolatey for Easter- so I opted for a chocolate cake. The only choc cake I am any good at is a dense French one not unlike a chocolate brownie (called a moelleux au chocolat)- but so delicious and simple:
You need
 200g of dark chocolate
150 g soft butter
100g sugar
50 g self raising flour
2 whole eggs and 2 egg whites

Beat the egg whites until just forming soft peaks, beat the butter with the sugar and then add the whole eggs one by one. Melt the chocolate in the microwave with a splash of water for 1 minute. Mix it into the eggs and butter, then add the flour. Carefully slide in the egg whites, folding them into the mixture rather than stirring them in. Pour into a greased cake tin and bake at 150 degrees for 25-30 minutes- crucially, until the top is firm but a cocktail stick inserted into the very centre still comes out with some gooey mixture on it. That way you have a chocolate cake with a squidgy centre which is the key to it success.
Straight out of the oven

Moelleux- ready to eat

A meal like this one generates loads of leftovers- I have half a chicken, some cauliflower cheese, vegetables of all sorts, gravy and half a chocolate cake to finish up.

With the chicken, leeks and gravy, I plan to make a Chow Phan (Chinese rice dish with chicken, spring onions and leeks, bacon, egg, mushroom and anything else I have to hand. Type it into the search box for the recipe).
Chow Phan
I also plan to use the carcass to make a chicken, noodle and vegetable soup for later in the week.
Noodle soup

With the leftover vegetables, I could make soup or bubble and squeak as you know I often do- but this time I am going to experiment with a vegetable crumble. If it works, I'll post it up on the blog with the recipe.

As for the chocolate cake- it will keep on being munched until the last few slices which I plan to chop and make part of chocolate and caramel ice cream sundaes. Photos will follow!

But for now, it's time to curl up with the Sunday papers, a cup of tea and nibble a little Easter egg from my edible table centre piece:

Don't look so sad little chick- I'll take the cocktail stick out later!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Week 8- Le Weekend

Easter is a time for family gatherings- and I have plenty booked in for the next few weeks. So we decided to have a quick weekend away before it all kicks off!
We chose one of our favourite old haunts- le Touquet Paris- Plage (or Paris by the sea!)

As the seagull flies, this swanky little resort is just diagonally across the channel from Seaford in East Sussex- but the contrast between the two seaside towns could not be more stark.

Le Touquet was made popular in the Twenties and Thirties by the English royalty and aristocracy- who enjoyed hunting on horseback in the forests and sand dunes by day and gambling with unrestricted abandon by night in the casino. It soon became the destination of choice for movie stars and wealthy Parisians too (hence the name). The 'Golden Triangle' in le Touquet's forest is a sort of millionaire's housing estate- with the most eccentrically English country homes recreated as villas and mansions.

The whole place is redolent of wealth, privilege and fashionable chi-chi. I don't think the same could be said of Seaford.

Seafordians might well ask "Where are the aristocracy when you need 'em?"

Well, along with us, they went on holiday to le Touquet.

We've had family holidays here on and off since the Nineties- and have stayed everywhere from the art deco Westminster Hotel to the campsite and all places in between. A few years ago, we discovered a super apartment just between the casino and the Westminster and wouldn't stay anywhere else now. Check it out for yourselves on  . We've only ever stayed in this flat in the winter, when it is uber-cosy- but I'm sure it is great in the summer when le T transforms into a traditional French family seaside resort.

Anyway, on to some food.

Restaurants in le Touquet are pretty pricey- a better name for the town would be le Touquet Paris-Prix- as the business people try to charge as much as they can get away with- but there are exceptions where you can eat fabulous food for reasonable prices. We made it our quest to find them. (Look for my reviews on Trip Advisor.)

The fish market
However, if you can stay self-catering, then this is the place to shop. There is a fabulous covered market selling fish, meat and local veg and produce. There are super bakeries and chocolate shops. It's a cook's dream.

We ate in a simple snack for lunch- but had delicious croques and crepes with salad.


Rabbit saute
Dinner was more refined- rabbit saute, fish straight from the quayside and cafe gourmand with lots of delicious little tastes.

Suitably inspired - I've planned a three course menu for you- facon touquettoise.

To start, French onion soup with mini croques-messieurs. Followed by plaice cooked a la meuniere with steamed asparagus and potatoes, and finished off with pain perdu and ice cream.

For the onion soup, gently cook 4 onions ( red or white, according to your taste) in a little vegetable oil, then add a glass of wine (again red or white). Boil off the alcohol for 6 minutes then add 1 litre of stock. I then put my soup into a slow cooker for 4-5 hours as that makes the onions wonderfully tender and the stock really rich, but you could pressure cook for 30 minutes or simmer for 1 hour for a similar result.

Slow cooked onion soup

Normally, this is served with French bread , sprinkled with grated cheese and flashed under the grill until it melts- but I took my inspiration from my snack bar lunch and served this with tiny croques.

Tiny croques

Use a pastry cutter to cut out small shapes from some soft white bread (I buy aperitif toasts in France which are ready cut to size). Butter them and sandwich a slice of cheese (cheddar, gruyere or emmental) and a slice of ham between the unbuttered sides. Quickly toast in a sandwich machine. Then make a welsh rarebit paste from 125g of grated cheese, a tablespoon of  plain flour, a teaspoon of mustard and a splash of milk. Spread on the top of your little sandwiches and then flash them under a grill until the cheese is brown and bubbling ( about 1 minute).

The fish is simplicity itself.

Choose fresh flat fish such as plaice,  lemon sole or Dover sole and dust with flour and salt and pepper.
Melt a small pat of butter in a frying pan until it starts to foam and add the fish, presentation side down. Cook for 2 minutes and then turn and cook for a further 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish.

Sole meuniere
Allow to rest in the pan for another 2 minutes or so, then slide onto a plate and sprinkle with parsley. I served mine with asparagus steamed over boiled potatoes.

Eggs in the covered market
Pudding is a leftover classic: pain perdu is fried eggy bread. It's most delicious made with sweet bread such as brioche, leftover madeira or lemon cake, fruit loaf or that panettone you were given for Christmas which is nearing its use-by date.

Beat two eggs with some vanilla sugar and a teaspoon of milk. Soak slices of brioche, bread or cake in the egg until it is all absorbed .Heat a little butter in a frying pan until it starts to foam then fry your slices for a few minutes until golden on both sides. Plate up, dusted with cinnamon, icing sugar and some fruit.

Pain perdu
Serve with ice cream or cream.

There are very few leftovers form this meal- but any leftover asparagus and potato from the main course makes a lovely velvety asparagus soup, blitzed with some stock and milk.

It's back to Blighty now for Easter, leaving behind the wealth and chic of le Touquet. But you can still eat like a king without spending a king's ransom, if you keep watching this space!

One did enjoy the shopping!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Week 7- Eggs-tra special!

 It's nearly Easter so I thought I'd get in early with the egg puns.

I also thought I'd go for some slightly more indulgent ingredients, for a bit of luxury- but still not breaking the bank.

I've chosen a four course menu this week - each course celebrating the humble egg, but in a not so humble way.

The appetizer is blini-style buckwheat pancakes, followed by a starter of miso ramen soup. Main course is truffled scrambled egg on toast and dessert is creme caramel with maple syrup.

Blinis are usually made with yeast added to the batter- but this simple version uses baking powder to make these little pancakes light.

Sift together 50g of buckwheat flour, 100g of plain flour, a pinch of salt and a a tsp of baking powder into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add 1 beaten egg, 80g of melted butter or margarine and 185ml of milk. Mix well until you have a creamy batter.

Fry in batches
Heat a frying pan and add a spray of oil and fry teaspoonfuls of the mixture in batches, until golden on both sides. Drain on kitchen paper. This mixture should make 30 or more 'blinis'.

Plenty of bucks for your buckwheat

Top the pancakes with a dollop of creme fraiche mixed with horseradish and a frond of dill for a vegetarian version- or add a few strips of smoked salmon trimmings, or best of all a 1/4 tsp of onuga 'caviar' or black herring roe.

Finished blinis

The miso ramen is a hot vegetable broth with ramen (or egg noodles if you prefer) cooked in it. It is then poured over stir fried veg (and some sliced cooked chicken for non-veggies) and topped with a little beaten egg and soy sauce, swirled into the hot broth to cook it just before serving.

For the broth, dissolve 2 tsp miso paste in 1 litre of hot vegetable or chicken stock, add chopped spring onions or leeks and leave to simmer.
Cook the noodles for 2-3 minutes until tender and then drain and refresh with cold water.

Choose your stir fry veg
Heat a wok and stir fry your veg- I  used beansprouts, baby corn, mangetout, and  peppers - then pour over the hot miso stock.

Swirl through the egg

Layer the noodles (and the cooked chicken if you are using it) into deep soup bowls. Then spoon over the hot soup and quickly stir in a thin stream of beaten egg and soy sauce and swirl it through to cook.

Miso ramen soup

The main course is a real touch of luxury- but can be done frugally. You can buy truffle butter in Italian delis like Carluccios. I bought a jar of salsa truffina in the supermarket and added 2 tsp of it to 50g of melted butter in a non-stick saucepan.

(It is worth planning here what to do with the rest of the jar - take another 2-3 teaspoons and work it into a pack of butter. Roll the butter into a log and wrap in cling film. When firm, unwrap and slice into 'pats', then re-wrap and freeze. That way you have a pat of truffle butter ready to take out whenever you need it. The rest of the jar can be used up later in the week, stirred into pasta.)

Back to the saucepan- warm the butter through and then add 4 beaten eggs ( for 2-3 people) and a splash of milk. Cook on a low heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning until your eggs are scrambled and fluffy.
Truffled scrambled eggs

Serve with toast and dressed salad leaves. Definitely champignomnomnommy.

Finally, creme caramel. I was surprised how easy these were to make from scratch- although I have cheated slightly and used maple syrup rather than make my own caramel. Works brilliantly though.

First of all, butter 6 ramekins lightly, place them in a large roasting pan and pour in some maple or caramel syrup to cover the bases. Then bring 550ml of full cream milk and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract up to a gentle simmer and then turn off the heat. You should use it to make the custard when it is cool enough to put your (clean) little finger in and hold it there for 10 seconds comfortably.
Beat 4 eggs in a jug with 2 tsp of caster sugar and then pour the hot milk onto them, stirring constantly until just thickening slightly. Pour into the ramekins. Next boil a kettle and pour the boiling water into the roasting dish until it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins.

Custards in a bain marie

Cook in a cool oven ( 150 degrees) for 30 minutes or so, until the custards are set when you press the tops.

Allow to cool (this dish is best made the day before you want to serve it). Refrigerate and turn out just before serving. (These puds are silky smooth but quite wobbly as they don't contain any cornflour or thickener.)

If you have custard left over you can make creme brulee- set the custards in little dishes as before, but sprinkle with sugar and flash under a hot grill until the sugar has caramelized and bubbled, then allow to cool and harden before serving.

Creme brulee

The leftover stir fry went well with noodles the next day- and chilli salmon nems: wrap salmon fillets spread with sweet chilli sauce (or red mullet or other meaty fish fillets) in spring roll wrappers or filo pastry, brush with melted butter and a sprinkle of sesame seeds and bake in a hot oven (190 degrees) until the wrapping is golden brown and the salmon should be cooked through (about 15 minutes).
Salmon chilli nems

OK- oven's just pinged....time to get cracking with dinner tonight.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Week 6- Velvet Pants

Mad Apples?

This week's blog celebrates the aubergine or eggplant- for no reason other than the fact that I like them, and they are no longer an expensive and exotic ingredient (most supermarkets have them in their 'everyday' or 'value' ranges.)

The aubergine has gone by many names over time- the quaint 'Velvet Pants' is the one that tickled me most- but in England for a while they were also known as 'mad apples' ( a corruption of the Italian melanzane which was heard as melo insane or mad apple.)

They were also believed to be highly poisonous, as a member of the nightshade family.

Thankfully, we've overcome our fear of this scrummy food.

My first two courses this week are made from aubergine puree- known as caviar d'aubergines in Southern France or baba ganoush throughout the Middle East.

The three course menu is : aubergine tarte salee (savoury tart), then vegetable lasagne with a base of aubergine and mushroom, and I'm giving you a choice of non-aubergine desserts to complement the first two courses.

For the puree- wash then pierce two aubergines (or 1 per person served) with a sharp knife several times. Place them in a baking dish with 3-4 cloves of garlic (still in their skins) and a glug of olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes or so in a hot oven until the aubergines are soft and wrinkly (it happens to us all!) Watch that the garlic doesn't burn.

Tired and emotional aubergines

Allow to cool and then peel off the skins, squeeze the garlic out of its skin, and mash the flesh of both with the juice of a squeezed lime or lemon. You can now add your choice of seasonings- salt and pepper or paprika, cumin, tahini if you have it, tomato puree, honey - it's up to you.
Aubergine Tart
This puree is lovely as a starter with flatbreads- but I am using it mixed with some pine nuts and sultanas, warmed through in a cooked pastry case. (If you don't have tartlet baking dishes, you can just cut discs of pastry, bake blind and place the filling on top to warm through. You can add cubes of chicken or fried halloumi to the mixture as well (as in the illustration.)

This will use up about half the mixture.

Next- with the rest- the lasagne.

Another name for aubergine in Turkey is 'poor man's meat'- which is why it makes such a good base for vegetarian dishes like lasagne, cannelloni etc

You won't miss the meat.

For this dish, you will need- the aubergine puree, 150g mushrooms, 1 large bag spinach, 1 tin chopped tomatoes, 1 onion, some red wine vinegar, 1 tub ricotta cheese, 150g grated hard cheese (eg cheddar with a little parmesan or emmental).
First, make a tomato ragu by frying the finely chopped onion in a little oil, adding the chopped tomatoes and a capful of red wine vinegar and allowing to boil gently until slightly reduced and a  little thicker.
Then finely duxelle your mushrooms either in a food processor or with a sharp knife, mix into the aubergine puree and cook through. If the mixture is too thick and sticky, loosen it with a little stock or water.
Spoon a layer of this mixture into the bottom of your lasagne dish, layer on the lasagne sheets, then add a layer of tomato ragu and another layer of pasta.
In one of the pans used (doesn't matter which), quickly wilt the washed spinach for about a minute and then layer it on. Then more lasagne sheets, of course.
Your final layer should be the ricotta, spread thinly and sprinkled with cheese.
Bake at about 190 degrees until golden on top.

Vegetable lasagne

For dessert, I'm giving you a choice of Pear and Almond Tart, or Chocolate and Coffee Cups with mini Madeleines.
(I made a lot of desserts this weekend because it was Mother's Day- and my Mum has a bit of a sweet tooth these days.)

First of all, make a simple sponge mix from 125g of butter creamed together with 125g of caster sugar, add two small beaten eggs and 125g of flour. Beat until smooth and creamy.

Take 6 teaspoons of the mix and spoon onto a greased baking sheet (or you could pipe them into little swirls.) I found some adorable little mini madeleine silicone moulds when last in France and used these. Bake these at 160 degrees for about 10-15 mins (or less if your oven is fierce) until golden. (Watch them carefully.)

With the leftover cake mix: take a cooked pastry tart shell, lay 8 pear halves in a wheel shape on the base, add a capful of almond essence to your cake mix and pour the mix around the pears.

Bake in a moderate oven - 180 degrees- until golden on top.

Pear and Almond Tart
Next- for the chocolate and coffee cups.

Make a small espresso cup of strong black coffee.
Break 125g of dark chocolate into a bowl and pour over the hot coffee. Stir until melted ( 20 seconds in the microwave helps.) 
Stir in a capful of rum, brandy or liqueur of your choice - or orange juice.
Separate two large eggs and beat the yolks into the chocolate mixture.
Whisk the egg whites until at the very soft peak stage and then fold them carefully into the chocolate mixture.
Spoon into espresso cups, chill and garnish with sprinkled cocoa powder and the mini madeleines.

Chocolate and coffee cup

These are very rich, but you could add a top layer of cream and cocoa powder to resemble a mini cappucino if you're not counting calories.

Cafe gourmand
Or you could construct a cafe gourmand: a plate of tiny little tastes of all your desserts with a cup of coffee- like a little 3D painting of deliciousness.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Week 5- The Magic Potion!

I've just returned from a wonderful weekend in Provence- good food, good company and good things seen and done.

The Mistral however decided to be its most fearsomely freezing yet- and on Sunday night we could do nothing but huddle on the couch under blankets with a delicious bowl of soup and croutons and watch the latest Asterix film- Au Service de sa Majeste.

If you know the book - Asterix in Britain- you know the plot.
Asterix and Obelix come to Britain with magic potion to help the Brits defeat the Romans. They lose the real magic potion and substitute it with tea (previously the Brits had only hot water to drink)- and hey presto! the Brits are filled with vim and vigour and send the Romans packing. Watch a clip here if you want a laugh.

It's true though- tea is magic. Not just as a restorative drink - but as a cooking ingredient too (another tip I discovered this weekend).

So this week's menu celebrates tea- the cup that cheers but doth not inebriate: camembert tart with ginger and lemon tea dressed leaves, lamb parmentier (shepherd's pie) with tea -steamed kale and leeks, and barm brack (Irish black tea fruit bread).

For the camembert tart I am indebted to a family friend who prepared this for me: bake a shortcrust pastry case blind, allow to cool a little and then lay slices of camembert in a wheel shape on the base. Fill in the gaps in between with creme fraiche or ricotta, maybe a sprinkling of chives if you have them, and bake in a moderate oven until golden.

Camembert Tart

This tart is quite rich- especially if, like me, you don't usually eat strong flavoured cheese so it needs just a light salad with it. Make the dressing by preparing a brew of lemon and ginger herb tea. Use an espresso cupful of this tea, cooled and mixed with the juice of half a lemon and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Dress the leaves with the mixture- firm leaves are best such as iceberg, cos and little gem.

Lamb Parmentier

For the lamb parmentier you will need 100g of organic minced lamb per person, one onion, one carrot and one stick of celery, plus seasoning ( salt, pepper, meat stock cube, tomato ketchup and Worcester sauce if you have them and a dash of red wine or red wine vinegar.) You will also need 3-4 Maris Piper potatoes mashed, and a handful of grated cheese.

Fry the finely diced onion, celery and carrot in a tiny amount of vegetable oil. Add the minced lamb and brown it. Mix in your stock or stock cube. If using a cube, now mix in about 200 ml of  hot water and bring to a good bubble. As the mixture reduces, add your seasonings to taste.
Pour into a gratin dish, top with mashed potato and grated cheese and brown under a hot grill.

For the vegetable accompaniment- place a large pan of boiling water on the stove, add an Earl Grey teabag to the water and place a steamer on top. Fill the steamer with chopped green or black kale and sliced leeks. Put  a lid on top and steam until the leeks are tender.

Tea steamed greens

The veg infuses with a lovely sweet tea flavour.

The barm brack needs a bit of planning in advance, but is incredibly easy to make.

Soak 2 cups of dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, dates, whatever you have) overnight or for 5-6 hours in an infusion of 1 cup of hot black tea.
When the fruit is plump and most of the liquid absorbed, mix in one beaten egg, a teaspoon of mixed spice, 4 teaspoons of marmalade or jam, 1 cup of sugar and 2 cups of self-raising flour.

Pour into a 7 inch diameter( 20 cm) or square cake tin and bake at 190 degrees for 30 minutes or so until risen and firm and when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Barm brack

Allow to cool and serve buttered guessed it ...a cup of tea!
With un nuage de lait?

And the leftovers?

The lamb dish freezes well- and the cake will last for up to one week in an air tight tin.

Any leftover kale is delicious stir-fried with some garlic or chili or sundried tomatoes (or all three!) and served with gnocchi dumplings and a drizzle of olive oil and some grated cheese.

After such hearty fare, you should feel fortified and ready for anything.

Romans, anyone?