Friday, 30 August 2013

Week 29- Farewell French Feast

The table set for farewll lunch
Another lovely summer draws to a close- the shops are full of pencil cases and calculators for la rentree- and my suitcase (and cool box) is filling up with caviare d'aubergine, cheese and wine, cream, meringues, sirop and all the French goodies I love to take home.
It's time to go- but not before we invite friends over for a last French feast.

On the menu- canapes and cocktails, tarte aux blettes and stuffed chicken breast wrapped in jambon fume with salads. There will of course (as this is France) be cheese as well. And dessert - in the modern French tradition- comes via the local patisserie.

The canapes are made from melon and mozzarella on sticks, dried apricots wrapped in Italian meats and blinis topped with creme fraiche and little red fish eggs. Simple to do- but very pleasing to the eye. (The recipe for blinis can be found on the blog 'Cooking for a Crowd' or click on blinis in the cloud above.)
blinis and canapes

The next course features blettes or Swiss Chard.

This vegetable is abundant in August here- everyone's garden is full of it. It's white stems are like celery- and make a lovely soup with garlic croutons and grated gruyere.
Soupe aux blettes
The dark green leaves can be used like spinach. In this case, we used the leaves to make a tart.

Bake a pastry case blind (see blog entry 'Who ate all the pies?' for a step-by-step instruction.) As the cooked case cools, sprinkle with a grating of parmesan along the base. This melts to form a seal so that any liquid which seeps from the chard won't give you a soggy bottom. (This is a tip from my French neighbour- one of the best things about cooking is sharing ideas with like-minded people. Blogging in a way has become the new 'chatting over the fence'. Still nice to do the real thing sometimes though).

Chop your chard with some spring onions. Steam very quickly to cook- then wrap in a tea towel and squeeze hard to remove as much moisture as you can. Mix with 2-3 eggs depending on the size of your tart case, a little extra milk and a heavy dose of salt, pepper and nutmeg (the secret ingredient). You can add bacon lardons if you wish and extra grated cheese to your taste.
Tarte aux blettes

Bake in a moderate oven (170 degrees) until firm to the touch. Serve at room temperature.

For the main course, I took chicken breasts and butterflied them (use a sharp knife to cut them almost in half lengthways and then open them out like a book). Stuffing was made from chopped sun dried tomatoes and two teaspoons per fillet of Boursin with herbs and garlic. Fold the chicken 'books' back together and wrap in a piece of jambon cru/fume/Parma ham.
Wrapping the chicken parcels
Secure the ends with a cocktail stick (but remove it before serving!). Place on a baking tray lightly greased with the oil from the sun dried tomatoes and bake in a moderate oven 170 degrees for 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

The juice from the chicken/Boursin should be drained off and served in a jug with the meal.
Stuffed chicken in jambon fume 

I served this with a rice salad, mixed with all the bountiful veg in the garden: tomatoes, cucumbers
And in the market
chives, mint and parsley, spring onions and big, yellow tomates ananas from the market.
Cucumbers in the garden
Pineapple tomatoes

Dress with a lemon vinaigrette and plenty of seasoning.
Rice salad with herbs

I'm not a great cheese eater- but there were plenty of people who were- so much was consumed.

In France these days, it has become increasingly rare for a host to make a dessert themselves. Guests arrive bearing boxes of goodies form the local patissier. This would seem a little odd in the UK- where we pride ourselves on so many delicious desserts and where show-stopping puddings have become very popular- but it is considered good form in France.

We went with the flow on this one.

It is tempting though when you look at all the goodies on display :

Le Patissier

All this feasting took many hours, and guests could do little more afterwards but loll on sunbeds and snooze whilst I wrapped up the leftovers.

What was left over?

Well, all the canapes were scoffed, the chicken made another meal with green beans and potatoes the next day, the tart packed up nicely for our picnic on the way up the motorway- and the cheese was wrapped in foil and braised on the barbecue to be served with toasts for an indulgent snack.
Braised camembert with toasts

So, it's au revoir Provence for another year.

Of course, there's the Auvergne to stop over on the way home and more cuisine to sample there and maybe even the fishy delights of Dieppe before we get on the ferry.

So much food, so little time....I'll just have to do my best.

Farewell French food!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Week 28- Chateau Virant- cooking with wine

My summer in Provence continues- with more food and wine than you can imagine possible- and many delectable combinations of the two. Only fair to share with you.

At Christmas, my Provencal Pere Noel gave me a cookery book called 'Chateau Virant- Saveurs Provencales'- recipes using produce (wine, olive oil, mustard, honey, jams etc) from the local vineyard, just outside Salon-de-Provence. I took the book out with me this summer as I wanted  to try out some of the recipes - using the local wine itself.

First, of course, I had to go to the domaine and sample the wine.
Rosy cheeked at the degustation
Climbing at Chateau Virant

Other family members had other plans- as Chateau Virant has rocky outcrops much favoured by climbers. If you want to read more about these escapades - look at

Suitably refreshed, I planned the menu: a courgette salad for entree, pork escalopes with red wine rice for main course and a fruit salad petillant for dessert.

These recipes use the Chateau Virant white wine, red and sparkling in that order. Plus of course olive oil and mustard.

For the starter- dice 4 courgettes and soften them with a clove of garlic in some olive oil. Cover with a glassful of white wine and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed. Strain over a bowl and leave to cool. When cold, mix any juices from the bowl with olive oil, mustard and the juice of 1/2 lemon, along with some chopped mint.
Season well and serve- either as part of a mixed hors d'oeuvre- or on it's own with some salad leaves and bread.
Courgette salad

A similar process is used for the red wine rice which accompanies the main course. Allow 60g of rice per person. Soften an onion and some garlic in olive oil and add the rice, stirring util it becomes translucent.
Add a glassful of red wine per person and bring to the boil. As the liquid evaporates, add more water until the rice is tender. Cover with a lid and allow to steam for 10 minutes or so.
Red wine rice
When ready to serve, stir through some grated gruyere cheese.
I served this with pork escalopes- thin slices of pork coated with flour, egg and breadcrumbs and fried until golden and cooked through.
An accompaniment for pork escalopes

For dessert, I made a fruit salad with seasonal fruit- melon, raspberries and peach. I added a little mango (or orange) juice. Spoon into champagne flutes. Just before serving, pour over some sparkling wine or champagne. I served it here with watermelon sorbet.
Sparkling fruit salad with watermelon sorbet

You may need to sober up a bit before using up the leftovers- but there are plenty of uses for them.

Courgette and coconut soup
Coeur de boeuf tomatoes at the market
The courgettes can be pureed with some coconut milk for a scrumptious soup; the rice makes a savoury stuffing for the huge coeur de boeuf tomatoes which are in season here; and the fruit goes well in a jug for cocktails.
Stuffed tomatoes with rice and cheese


Friday, 9 August 2013

Week 27- To market..

Provencal markets
In many ways, the markets of Provence are the inspiration for this year's blog challenge: everything in abundance, everything seasonal, fresh and inexpensive.

It's summer again and I'm back in the land of plenty- between Aix and Avignon- enjoying the wonderful markets and cooking up delicious fresh dishes.

There is so much fresh produce to choose from- and when I cycled home from the market laden with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, fish, fruit and eggs- I found my neighbour had brought me a basket of bounty from her garden too:
From the land of plenty..

So, what should I cook with all these bountiful things? Well, I opted for a starter of gazpacho soup with bruschetta of caviare d'aubergine. Main course was swordfish cooked on the barbecue. Pudding was fresh fruit three ways.

For the soup, I covered a kilo of ripe tomatoes in a bowl with some boiling water. In another bowl I soaked two slices of white bread (no crusts- save them for croutons) in some water. In a pan I softened 3 cloves of garlic (minced) with 2 shallots, 1 red and 1 green pepper. Slip the skins from the tomatoes, slice them into quarters and take out the seeds and the pulp. Stand those in a sieve over a bowl and press hard to extract all the juice form the pulp. Squeeze the liquid from the bread and then put it, along with the tomato flesh, the garlic, shallots, peppers and a diced cucumber into a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into a large jug or bowl and season with a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons of sugar, a glug of olive oil and lots of salt and pepper. Serve chilled and garnished with ice cubes, some chopped cucumber and some more minced garlic and olive oil.

For the toasts, halve some petits pains, rub them with a clove of garlic and a little olive oil and bake in a moderate oven (170 degrees) for 10 minutes. The caviare d'aubergine is made from aubergines baked whole (again at 170 degrees for 25 minutes or so until tender). Scoop out the flesh, blend it with lemon juice, minced garlic to taste and salt and pepper. Yummy!
Gazpacho Shots with Aubergine toasts

The fish from the fish market is fresh and tasty- if a little expensive. Nevertheless, we went mad and bought swordfish steaks. On the recommendation of the fishmonger, we marinaded them in a little pastis (Pernod) and olive oil before barbecuing.

Swordfish on the stall

On the barbecue

And on the plate!
Barbecued swordfish steaks

Finally, for dessert I used the fruit in 3 different ways. My dinner guest brought melon en brochettes (watermelon and Cavaillon melons on skewers with a sprinkling of verveine- verbena- which set the flavours off beautifully):
Melons en brochettes

I also made fresh fruit jellies with Muscat: bring a glass of Muscat to the boil and then dissolve either some lemon jelly crystals and water or some gelatine and fruit juice in the wine to make it up to 500 ml. Pour into wine glasses and drop in some soft fruit: I used blackberries and raspberries from my neighbour's garden. Allow to cool and then place to set for 4 hours in the fridge:

Muscat jelly with fruit

Finally, a fresh fruit salad with the remaining fruit, flavoured with mint:
Fresh fruit salad with mint

As for the leftovers, the caviare d'aubergine is lovely stirred through pasta with a little grated cheese. I'm also bottling some in sterilized jars to take home.

Caviare d'aubergine

The gazpacho soup makes a great sauce for fish:
Salmon carrozza with gazpacho dip

And finally- even though it's the 9th of August and not the 25th November (official gazpacho soup day for Red Dwarf fans)- we had it piping hot for lunch, served with baguette and Brie!

Hot Gazpacho a l'Arnold Rimmer!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Week 26- P..p..pack up a picnic

Picnic time!
I confess, I do keep lots of plastic containers.
Not in a Channel 4-documentary-freaky-hoarder sort of way of course. More of an eco-friendly-frugal-recycling sort of way.

I keep everything from tiny little jam jars (great for vinaigrette in a lunch box) to big ice cream containers (for storing leftover salad, pasta, potatoes etc)- and all shapes and sizes in between.

And they really come into their own in the summer- especially a nice warm summer like this one- when everyone is going to go on at least one picnic.
My plastic container 'installation'

Packing up your picnic thoughtfully can make all the difference between a squishy, unappetizing, soggy mess and a portable feast fit for a king.

So today's menu is all about picnic foods-what's good and how to get them from A to B.

Strictly speaking, the best food shouldn't really require cutlery- sandwiches, sausage rolls, pasties, nibbles and crisps, samosas etc but it can also be fun to make a picnic more special by having plates, forks and glasses.

In my picnic basket today I have a spinach and bacon quiche with individual salad pots, a selection of sandwiches and a tart rhubarb and berry summer pudding.

Over the weeks and months, I've made a lot of quiches and featured them on the blog- chick pea quiche, tarte au camembert, chicken curry tart, aubergine tartlets, salmon and watercress, quiche lorraine etc. The principle is always the same - a nice crisp 20cm pastry case (bought or baked blind in advance), a choice of filling, 3 eggs beaten with a cup of milk and plenty of seasoning.
Chicken curry tart
Tarte au camembert
Aubergine tartlets
Quiche Lorraine

The filling for this picnic pie requires smoked bacon lardons, fried off and drained and a bag of spinach, washed and cooked for 2-3 minutes until wilted. Let the spinach cool and then squeeze it hard in clean hands until no more moisture can be extracted. Scatter the lardons over the pastry base, tear the spinach up and distribute it over the bacon. Pour on the egg and milk mixture, sprinkle on a little grated cheddar cheese and bake in a moderate oven 175 degrees for 20 minutes or so until risen and golden. (I like my quiches firm and golden - not wobbly and pale, but if you prefer yours that way, just cook at a slightly lower temperature and take out to rest when it is just set.)
Spinach and Bacon Quiche

To pack this up for a picnic, slice it into 1/8ths and layer in a plastic container with some baking paper between each layer.

For easy-eating salad, make individual pots with a fork tied on with string or a rubber band. I've used mustard glasses with lids which I hoard after French holidays.- but you could use any jar with a screw top lid. You can either put some dressing in the bottom of the glass before adding the salad or carry some separately for adding later in a little jar (hotel breakfast jam pots are excellent for this.)
Picnic salad jars

I like either a potato salad (leftover new potatoes mixed with plain yoghurt and chives) with mixed leaves
Potato salad
or a mixed tomato salad ( lots of unusual shapes and colours at my greengrocers- mix and match for an attractive effect.)
Mixed tomato salad

Everybody has their own tastes in sandwiches and spreads. I like dainty sandwiches for an afternoon tea but hearty ones for a main meal. Here are two of my favourites- roast beef with horseradish
Roast beef with horseradish sandwiches
and fish finger with tartare sauce. Pack them up in plastic containers but serve them on a plate with garnishes.
Fish finger sandwiches with tartare sauce

For pudding I have made a summer pudding in a pot.

Cut the crusts from 4 slices of white bread ( save these for croutons to have with soup) and line a pudding basin (one which has a lid for later) with three of them cut to fit. Stew some rhubarb and summer berries with a tablespoon of sugar (more if you have a sweet tooth) and 1/2 cup of water until the rhubarb is tender. Pour the mixture, including all the juice into the bread mould. Take the last slice of bread and push it down over the top to make a seal. Place a saucer over the top and a heavy can to weight it down. Leave to cool and set overnight in the fridge.
Summer Pudding in a Pot

Snap on the lid and take it to the picnic. You can then either serve it straight from the pot or turn it out on a plate. I like to serve it with mascapone- which comes in its own handy pot. Great for the picnic - and ready to be added to my plastic container collection afterwards!
Summer Pudding Revealed!

Wherever you are and wherever you're going, long may the picnic weather continue!

PS. I'm halfway through my blog challenge this week. Phew!

I hope you think it's worth carrying on.