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Être {ou ne pas être} un tajine de poulet aux olives et kumquats confits


I am not blogging at the moment (because I’m moving house…) but that doesn’t prevent me from sharing a magnificent recipe from Daria’s kitchen.

A scrumptious dessert: omelette soufflée à la confiture


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A French recipe: omelette soufflée à la confiture, a French word: confiture.

Eggs are such good value. And so versatile. And sometimes the only thing one can find in the fridge. Just on their own they can become boiled eggs with soldiers, scrambled eggs on toast;  with maybe a little bacon found in another corner of the fridge, fried eggs and bacon,  a crispy bacon omelette; with a bit of cheese, a cheese soufflé; with a little milk and sugar, crème caramel. I could go on and on. For my recipe today I have chosen eggs with a little bit of jam (or jelly) literally to whip up a spectacularly good dessert.

The French bit: Confiture, feminine noun (la confiture, une confiture, des confitures) = jam, preserve. Isn’t there an old English word “comfit” meaning a sweetmeat? The verb is confire = to preserve

  • Conjugated in the present: je confis, tu confis, il/elle confit, nous confisons, vous confisez, ils/elles confisent (I preserve, you preserve etc.))
  • Past participle : confit (m.), confite (f.), confits (m.pl.), confites (f.pl). Example: du canard confit (preserved duck), une cuisse de canard confite (a preserved duck thigh), des fruits confits (candied fruits), des violettes confites (candied violets).
  • Un confiseur is someone who makes sweets, une confiserie is a sweetmeat.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

For today’s recipe you will need for 2 people:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • a shaker of icing sugar
  • butter for greasing the pan
  • a pot of fig or apricot jam, or quince or crab apple jelly, or anything really, even marmalade
  • a  tbs or two of brandy, rum or other alcohol (optional)
  • a pinch of salt

 CIMG6226 Preparation:

  1. Melt a tbs butter a non stick frying pan. 20cm-30cm diameter should do the trick.
  2. Break the eggs, separating the yolks from the whites into two separate bowls (make sure there is absolutely no yolk (or shell) in the whites and that your bowl is very, very clean, or the whites won’t whisk up firm).
  3. Whisk the yolks with the sugar until they form a ribbon (un ruban)  (i.e. until they pale and thicken).
  4. Beat the whites with a pinch of salt until they are very firm. Half way through the process, add 10gr sugar.
  5. Gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture.
  6. Heat the frying pan and pour the egg in slowly, letting the base sizzle to prevent it spreading. Pat the whites down gently with a spoon, so that they reach the edge of the pan.
  7. Cook slowly for about 4 minutes, shaking gently to prevent sticking. If it does, loosen with a palette knife.
  8. During this time, warm 1-2tbs jam in a small saucepan with the alcohol if you are using it.
  9. Place a large plate over the pan and turn, to deposit the omelette on the plate. Melt a little more butter in the pan and slip the omelette back into the frying pan. Cook the second side for about 2 or 3 minutes. Spread the heated jam over half the soufflé omelette.
  10. Slip it onto a heated serving plate, fold in two, sprinkle with a little icing sugar and serve.

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If you use alcohol, you can actually do without the jam (add the alcohol to the egg mixture instead).  You can also use a small quantity of alcohol pour flamber (to set alight to) your omelette just before you serve. But don’t hang around, the soufflé will start to sink quite rapidly.

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This is an excellent dessert to do when you have unexpected guests, because it uses nothing that you don’t usually have in your cupboards. But it does become complicated when you are cooking it for several people. Four is about the limit.

Bon appétit!

Clams with fresh pasta: Pâtes fraîches aux palourdes


Clams and pasta, pâtes fraîches aux palourdes

Clams and pasta, pâtes fraîches aux palourdes

One French word: frais; a French recipe: Pâtes fraîches aux palourdes

Clams (palourdes in French)

Clams (palourdes in French)

We have just had exceptional tides here in the Finistère, together with storm winds, enormous waves and torrential rain. But when the tide is out, far out, the sands are dotted with people digging for shellfish. Palourdes are plentiful this week, and cheap for once, so I bought a few to spoil myself.

The French bit:

frais (masculine adjective), plural frais, feminine fraîche, plural fraîches.

Examples: de la crème fraîche (fresh cream), du pain frais (fresh bread), une haleine fraîche (nice breath), des fruits frais (fresh fruit), des huîtres fraîches (fresh oysters). The noun is la fraîcheur (freshness), which can also be used of temperature: la fraîcheur du matin (the cool of the morning).

My recipe is simple and delicious, you just have to be able to get hold of palourdes or clams. You can quite well use dried pasta, just adjust cooking times, and it doesn’t have to be tagliatelle.

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 2 shallots (finely chopped)
  • 1 heaped tbs salted butter
  • the outer leaves of a nice, fresh, green lettuce
  • a large glass of dry white wine (you can also use cider, I did)
  • 2 tbs thick fresh cream
  • a handful of chopped green onion stems
  • 1kg small clams (or palourdes if you can get them)
  • 300gr fresh tagiatelle
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Clams and pasta, 068

  • If you are not sure your clams are clean and sand free, place them in a bowl of cold water with a cup of vinegar for half an hour, they will spit their sand out. Drain. (Should you by any chance have harvested them yourself, you can leave them in a bucket of sea water overnight to get rid of their sand.)
  • Wash the lettuce leaves, roll up tightly, and cut into a chiffonnade, that is, very fine slices, excluding the stalks at the end.
Chiffonnade

Chiffonnade

  • Warm your dinner plates.
  • Put salted water on to boil for the pasta.
  • In a heavy bottomed pan, melt the butter and fry the shallot until transparent.
  • Add the glass of white wine, stir, bring to the boil and throw in the clams. Stir and put the lid on the pan. Lift the lid and stir occasionally so that the clams cook evenly. They should just open, if you cook them longer they will be tough and tasteless. This takes only a few minutes.
  • Put the pasta into the boiling water in the other pan. Bring back to the boil. Fresh pasta should only cook for a couple of minutes, watch it carefully so as not to overcook it.
  • Add the cream to the clam saucepan and some freshly ground black pepper, stir well, turn off the heat.
  • Drain the pasta.
  • Place a layer of chiffonnade on each serving plate, place pasta on top, leaving some lettuce showing (it adds colour and some nutrients), ladle clams on the top of the pasta, with a generous serving of juices. You can also, and I think this is more typically Italian, add the pasta to the clams and stir before serving, to coat the pasta with the juices.
  • Serve quickly with fresh, crusty bread.

Bon appétit!

Clams and pasta,  066

Favourite Foodsites in 2013


There are so many foodsites and blogs, my inbox is sometimes a little inundated, since I’m an inveterate  foodie and don’t want to miss anything. I sign up for everything, then find I don’t have the time to read it all. A drastic selection has to be made just from the three or four words appearing in the title line.

But some I always open, knowing from the sender’s details that everything will be worth reading. May I share with you the ones that I find most worthwhile?

Daily Unadventures in Cooking

Katerina is based in Vancouver, and regularly comes up with really interesting recipes, of which a lot are of Asian origin, my favourite food area of the world!

Pork-Belly Unadventures

But I have chosen her Slow Roasted Pork Belly to share here, it is mouthwateringly good and the photo really makes you need to go straight out and buy a piece of pork!

100 Days of Real Food

Lisa Leake really follows and expounds upon my own ethic, that of avoiding processed food at all costs, which is, I should imagine, far easier to do in France than in the States! Her recipes are simple, manageable and delicious. She has just finished her first book of recipes and tips,  which is available for pre-order on her website.

100Days Chicken Enchiladas

Here is her recipe for Chicken Enchiladas.

Laylita’s Recipes

Laylita is from Ecuador, and has a wonderful website with recipes from South America (a special section on Ecuador), as well as others from around the world. She has a stupendous collection of ceviches, as you can see from the photo below.  I like especially the spiciness of her recipes and the wonderful photos.

Laylita's langostino-ceviche-2

This is her recipe for Langostino ceviche, but if you can’t get langoustines, she has other recipes for oysters, plain fish, and even vegetarian ceviches.

Plan to Eat

This is a very nifty, family-run website (which means extremely friendly and quick to react to comments and problems). It allows you, with an app on your toolbar, to copy to your account’s recipe book  any recipe you come across on internet (or manually to enter a recipe you find in a book or by word of mouth). That in itself is unusual and valuable. But it also enables you to make weekly meal plans simply by dragging recipes from your recipe book to any given day. From your mealplan, the  site edits a shopping list for the week. All this saves a lot of time and trouble and wondering what on earth you are going to give your family to eat.

Plan to Eat has a very good periodic blog, dealing with aspects of cooking, buying food, nutrition, recipes and book reviews.

Tortore

Tortore is a fairly new blog. Darya writes in French, but the particularity of her blog is that it is entirely bilingual, she translates everything into English. I have chosen it for that reason and because her approach is healthy and uncomplicated, and her photos quite lovely.

Here is her recipe for gratin dauphinois, a French classic:

Tortore - gratin dauphinois

They Draw and Cook

This is a wonderfully inventive and novel website, illustrated by artists from all over the world. The recipes are often quirky and a bit different. The artwork is amazing and colourful and I for one would like to paper my kitchen with it!

I have chosen Van Dang’s Vietnamese Pork Sandwich:

drawandcook van dang pork sandwich

And since I am incapable of choosing just one, here is Maria Zapis Wymer’s Greek Lamb Shanks:

They draw Greek Lamb Shanks, Maria Zapis Wymer

Do browse the site, it is terribly addictive.

Adora’s Box

So many wonderful recipes, a lot of them Asian and especially Filipino, it’s extremely hard to choose just one. Adora’s blog is attractive, chatty and informative, and once again, superb photos, lots of them!

Adora's Box,lumpiang

Here is her recipe for lumpiang, Filipino spring rolls.

Italian Food Forever

Another site that satisfies. Varied and unfailingly delicious, mouthwateringly tempting photos, and somehow an air of summer and the Mediterranean that soothes and comforts. Here are her Procuitto-wrapped stuffed summer figs, which will confirm everything I have just written!

Italian food forever, stuffed figs

I hope I have tempted you to browse some of these sites and their recipes. I may add that I have no affiliate or other link to any of them whatsoever.

Bon appétit et Bonne Année, pleine de joies culinaires!

Happy New Year, may it be filled with culinary delights!

Guest Post : Claire Maycock’s “Wassail”


Wassail  cups

 

Whilst English and French cuisine are often separated by more than just a body of water, there is one festive tradition that unites that most British of beverages – ale – with a generous serving of French brandy to achieve a true entente cordiale!

The word ‘wassail’ comes from the Old English ‘waes hael’, meaning ‘be healthy’ or ‘good health to you’, and the wassailing tradition can be traced as far back as the 11th century in the South and West of England.

Groups of villagers (usually women or children, but occasionally rowdy young men) would go door to door visiting the homes of the local gentry and offering them a song and a drink from the wassail bowl in return for a gift or payment. This is the origin of the old carol ‘Here We Come A-Wassailing’ with its beautiful chorus:

“Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.”

The custom was also adopted by some agricultural communities who would pour wassail over the roots of fruit trees to bless them and ensure a healthy harvest for the following year:

“Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a plum, and many a peare:
For more or lesse fruits they will bring
As you doe give them wassailing.”

The exact timing of wassailing parties seems to have varied from Christmas Eve through to Twelfth Night, depending on local practice, so it’s a flexible as well as a jolly tradition that will see you right through to 2014.

Wassail main ingredients

Ingredients

  • Three apples
  • One orange
  • The rind of one lemon
  • 1oz (60g) butter
  • 3oz (90g) brown sugar
  • Two Cinnamon sticks
  • A pinch of Ginger
  • Two whole Nutmegs
  • A pinch of Cloves
  • Two pints of English beer
  • Half a pint of dry white wine (you could use French although I used Italian)
  • One cup of French brandy

Wassail preparation

Method

  • Cut the apples into slices, removing the seeds. Slice the orange and grate the rind from the lemon.
  • Gently melt the butter over a low heat then add the sliced fruit, lemon rind, sugar and spices and stir for a few minutes while the flavours combine.

Wassail prep2

  • Add all of the liquid and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
  • Ladle into serving cups, taking care to remove the nutmeg and cinnamon sticks first.

Wassail pre3

Your wassail will taste even better if made in advance and then gently reheated just before serving. You can vary the spices to suit your taste, try mulling cider or apple juice instead of beer or substitute sherry for wine  if you prefer a sweeter drink. The main thing is that you enjoy your wassail in good company, offering a toast of ‘waes hael’ and receiving the traditional reply of “drinc hael’, meaning drink well!

Biography

Claire Maycock is a writer, reiki practitioner and local history enthusiast who moved to Wiltshire at the beginning of 2013. Her blog, ‘Raking the Moon’, is about life in this fascinating county both past and present and looks at country customs, places of interest and current events. To find out more, please visit www.clairemaycock.com

Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach – pommes de terre aux épinards à l’indienne


Spicy potatoes

Spicy potatoes

One French Word: épinards, a recipe for Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach

Spicy potatoes - main ingredients

Spicy potatoes – main ingredients

You either love or hate spinach. Most children won’t even come to table if there is spinach on the menu, but it’s a favourite vegetable of one of my little grandsons. Baby spinach leaves are preferable to larger, more mature ones, but the latter have more flavour. In India, spinach is used in an enormous number of recipes. Just wilted, it keeps its colour and a lot of its nutrients. I add a handful to all sorts of things – last night I had baked eggs with spinach, the day before the recipe I am about to share. I eat baby leaves in salad, wilted by pouring crispy bacon bits and their fat over them.

The French language bit:

épinards (masculine plural noun) (theoretically it has a singular but this is never used) = spinach (never pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of the word).

We saw last year that the circumflex (^^) often denotes a missing s in English, that is, if you put an ‘s’ in the place of the circumflex, you will sometimes be able to guess what the word means. It is often the same with an initial é. Replace it with an s and you will have, sometimes exactly, sometimes near enough, the English word. So épinards = spinach; épice = spice, I can’t think of any more right now.

Just one expression with épinardsmettre du beurre dans les épinards = to ameliorate something, to allow a little luxury (literally to add butter to your spinach), for instance a second salary will make everything easier = un deuxième salaire mettra du beurre dans les épinards.

And so to the recipe.

Ingredients for 1 person as a main meal, 2 people as a vegetable dish accompanying meat :

  • 1 very large potato
  • 2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
  • 4tbs corn or peanut oil
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, about 2cm square, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely sliced (the slices going from top to bottom and not across)
  • 1 smoked cardamom (they are large and black), opened up, the seeds only to be used (if you can’t find this, try green ones, or leave it out altogether)
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbs turmeric (curcuma)
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1tbs mustard seed
  • a little salt
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds

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Preparation:

  • Cut the washed potato into 6 pieces (you do not need to peel it), place in cold salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15mns.
  • Wash and drain the spinach (you don’t need to pat it dry, just get rid of as much water as possible)
  • Drain the potatoes and cut into smaller pieces.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the spices and the garlic, the ginger and the shallot to the hot oil and fry for a minute or two, stirring.
  • Add the potatoes to the pan and stir to coat with the spices. Don’t be gentle with the potato, it is better if it crumbles a bit, it will go crispier later. Fry for 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring and turning the potato pieces so that they brown on all sides. It doesn’t matter if the shallot colours and crisps up.
  • When the potato is quite browned, add the spinach to the pan, stir to wilt thoroughly, salt with great parcimony, as the spices have probably given enough flavour. You can always salt later if you find there is not enough.

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  • Sprinkle with a tsp of nigella seeds before bringing to the table.

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This is an excellent vegetarian dish, very satisfying. But if you feel you need meat, it can accompany any meat dish. Of course I cannot pretend to have invented this, but let us just say that I used no recipe to concoct it! I just pulled spices out of the cupboard and thought very hard of a dish I tasted in India.

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Bon appétit!

Pot au feu – classic beef and vegetable stew


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One French word: pot, a French recipe: pot au feu, classic beef and vegetable stew.

Half of France must eat pot au feu at the weekend in Winter. It’s a staple of the French diet, cheap and easy to do, comforting, and with its different variations on leftovers, lasts all week. If not a pot au feu, then a potée or a ragoût, variously named each according to its region.

Pot au feu literally means pot on the fire, and used to be a cauldron bubbling over an open hearth. Now of course it’s a presssure cooker more often than not (but not in my house, I’ve never understood pressure cookers).

Un pot au feu is always made with beef, cheap cuts that need ample stewing, with onions (des oignons), leeks (des poireaux), carrots (des carottes), turnips (des navets), sometimes swedes (des rutabagas) and parsnips (des panais), and of course potatoes (des pommes de terre). It should stew for hours and hours, until the meat is meltingly tender, and the vegetables, some of which are just added half an hour before serving, tender and colourful.

Une potée is usually made with pork, a hock (un jarret), some fat smoked sausages (des saucisses de Morteau for instance), a piece of salted pork belly (un morceau de petit salé), and maybe a trotter or two (des pieds de porc). Accompanied by vegetables as above, but often also a Savoy cabbage (un chou frisé) cut in two or four pieces, tops the pot. It is then known as une potée au chou.

Un ragoût is usually made with mutton (du mouton ou de l’agneau), pieces of neck (du collier) and belly (du sauté d’agneau), fried first with a large onion, to which beans of one kind or another are often added.

Another variation on this theme is a poule au pot,    an old hen, stuffed with rice (it then becomes une poule au riz), boiled for a couple of hours with vegetables as before.  Legend has it that Henri IV, a popular French king, who was nevertheless assassinated, but not before declaring that he would ensure that each labourer in his kingdom should have the means to place a poule au pot on his Sunday table! Here is a video on the subject which you might like to listen to to practise your comprehension of spoken French http://videos.tf1.fr/jt-13h/2010/henri-iv-et-la-legende-de-la-poule-au-pot-5852134.html

Since the word of the day is pot, here are a few expressions or meanings of the word:

un pot is a pot; a flower pot = un pot de fleurs; a chamber pot = un pot de chambre; a bribe = un pot de vin (literally a pot of wine); a drink = (just) un pot; to be lucky = avoir du pot; an expression “le pot de terre contre le pot de fer“, literally an earthenware pot against an iron pot, in other words, an unequal combat, where one side is stronger than the other.

But my recipe this week is for a pot au feu, the beef and vegetable stew described above.

Pot au feu, main ingredients

Pot au feu, main ingredients

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 1kg500 stewing beef, try a mixture of cuts
  • A marrow bone per person
  • A piece of celery, a bay leaf and some thyme to make a bouquet garni
This is a bouquet garni

This is a bouquet garni

  • 9 large carrots
  • One large onion
  • 4 cloves
  • 8 small turnips
  • 8 leeks
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 4 parsnips (optional)
  • 4 swedes (optional)
  • 8 large potatoes
  • 3 star anise
  • salt, pepper, pickled gherkins

Preparation, Day 1:

  • In a very large saucepan, or a pressure cooker, in which case you will have to modify cooking times all by yourself, place the meat (but not the bones) in enough cold water to cover it all amply. Add the onion, into which you have inserted the cloves (spices, not garlic), the star anise, a small handful of coarse salt, the whole garlic cloves, the whole green top of one leek, and one carrot cut into small pieces.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 4 hours.
  • Place in a cool place until the next day.

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Preparation, Day 2:

  • Skim any solidified fat off the top of the contents of the pan and remove the leek greens, the star anise and the bouquet garni.
  • Peel the carrots, cut them in halves or quarters lengthwise. Top and tail the turnips, leave the peel on.  Wash the leeks and remove the tougher parts of the green leaves, cut them into two pieces. No need to peel the potatoes, just scrub them clean and cut into two or four if they are too enormous. Peel and cut the parsnips and swedes into pieces if you are including them.
  • Place all the vegetables and the marrow bones into the pot (you see why you really need a very large one!). The marrow bones will add flavour and if you like beef marrow, will add an extra treat on your plate.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for half an hour.
  • Serve each person a helping of meat, vegetables and a marrow bone. Add only a little of the bouillon (soup), it is nice to mash the potatoes in it.
  • Place toasted bread, coarse salt and gherkins on the table to accompany.
  • The marrow should be extracted from the bone, spread on toast with a little salt on top.

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Day 3:

  • Strain off some of the liquid into another saucepan, add some very fine vermicelli or alphabet pasta, heat for 10 minutes and serve as soup with crusty bread.

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Day 4:

  • Boil some salad potatoes and season while hot with white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a chopped shallot, a chopped hard boiled egg,some chopped parsley and the rest of the pot au feu meat in 1cm cubes. This is a really excellent cold salad.

Day 5 :

  • Mix up whatever vegetables are left with the remaining bouillon with a soup mixer. I tend not to mix too much, to leave a rich coarse soup. It has become concentrated and is particularly flavoursome.

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So you see that with very little effort on days 1 and 2, you will have readymade dishes on days 3, 4 and 5 as well! Just be careful to keep your pot in the fridge if you have room, or in a very cool place (out of doors if Winter temperatures are near freezing).

Bon appétit!

Tartelettes à l’orange


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One French Word: tartelette, a French recipe: tartelettes à l’orange

When I first worked in Paris, rue de la Glacière in the 13th arrondissement to be precise, and to be even more precise, this was almost 50 years ago, there was a pâtisserie diagonally across the road from my office. I discovered orange tarts there, and it soon became an afternoon ritual to pop out and indulge myself at tea-time! It says a lot about the relaxed working atmosphere in France at the time, that it was not considered at all unusual to leave the workplace to buy a little something to eat at (almost) any time of day.

The French language bit:

tartelette (feminine noun), une tartelette, la tartelette, les tartelettes = little tarts (of the pâtisserie kind of course!)

We looked at diminutives a couple of weeks ago, here’s another one. Une tarte is a tart, une tartelette is a little tart, a tartlet, an individual portion.

And an expression: Ce n’est pas de la tarte = (roughly) it isn’t a piece of cake, it isn’t simple

Oranges are in season in France, they are juicy and full of flavour. Here is a recipe which is a little bit different, and which could quite well grace your table around Christmas time. I advise you to take the trouble to do individual “slices”, that is, to make une tartelette for each of your family members or guests. One large tart is so difficult to cut, the orange doesn’t come apart willingly, and you are likely to mess up all your hard work.

Buy your oranges untreated if possible. In any case, wash them thoroughly because you will be using the skins. Use freshly bought oranges, not ones that have been sitting forlornly in your fruitbowl for a couple of weeks (or more…).

Home candied orange slices

Home candied orange slices

Ingredients per person:

  • 1  orange
  • A rectangle of good quality puff pastry, made with pure butter 12cm x 20cm (about 5″ x 8″). This sounds a lot but you will be rolling the edges inwards to form a ridge all the way round.
  • 1tbs of your favourite orange marmelade
  • 1tbs crème pâtissière (optional but moister, see recipe below)
  • 100gr sugar and a wineglass of water

Preparation:

To prepare the orange pieces:

  • Wash the orange and cut into fine slices (about 3mm). Recuperate the juice. Cut each slice carefully into four quarters without tearing. It doesn’t really matter if your slices become irregular towards the end of the orange!
  • Boil up the sugar with any orange juice and the water to make a syrup, put the orange pieces into this syrup, lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring regularly to ensure even coverage of the pieces, for 15 minutes or so. Do watch them so that they do not burn. They should be soft and translucent, and almost all of the syrup should have gone.
Candied orange ready to dry

Candied orange ready to dry

  • Place the orange slices with tongs on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper  to dry a little in the pre-heating oven. It doesn’t matter if they start to colour. Just 5 minutes. Don’t let them dry too much or they will become stiff and crunchy.

Pastry ready to cook blind

To prepare the tarts for the oven:

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C.
  • Cut the rectangles of puff pastry, roll the edges to form a ridge, prick with a fork, brush the edges with an egg yolk beaten with a little milk, fill with dried peas or beans and cook blind for 8-10 minutes. There is a very fine line between undercooking (the underside is not completely cooked) and overcooking (the pastry is as hard as a board). Better slightly on the undercooked side, in my opinion.

Pastry ready with chickpeas

  • Remove from the oven, take out the beans or peas, when cool spread the bottom of the tartlet with 1tbs marmelade, then a thin layer (about 3/4cm, 1/4″) of crème pâtissière if you are using it.
  • Finish with a layer of orange slices, placed in an attractive pattern like little fans.

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For the optional crème pâtissière (makes about 500ml (1 pint), so do divide the ingredients according to the number of people you are feeding.

  • 500ml (1 pint) milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 50gr corn starch
  • 60gr granulated sugar
  • 1tsp freshly grated orange rind
  • 1tsp vanilla powder

Place all the ingredients in a mixer and mix for 4 minutes. Pour into a saucepan and heat over a moderate flame, never ceasing to stir, until the mixture thickens. A WARNING: if you heat too fast, or stop stirring, your eggs will scramble and you can start all over again. When the mixture coats a spoon thickly, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

This cream can be used to stuff éclairs, sponge cakes or as an ingredient of ice cream. I found this recipe, which is much quicker than other recipes for crème pâtissièrehere    (the site is of course in French).

Now, I didn’t use crème pâtissière, and the result was delicious, but it is definitely moister if one does add a small tablespoonful under the orange slices. The choice shall be yours!

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Bon appétit!

Duck and crispy potatoes


Confit de canard, pommes paillasson

Confit de canard, pommes paillasson

One French Word: paillasson, a French recipe: Confit de canard, pommes paillasson (duck and crispy potatoes)

A thing one should absolutely always have in the storeroom is a tin, or several tins, of confit de canard. Legs and thighs of duck, preserved in their fat, have become much more common in recent years, and much less expensive. You can use them in a dish of cassoulet (haricot beans, duck and pork, shall I give you the recipe here some time soon?), fried into crispy morsels on top of a salad (recipe here), or just heated in the oven and accompanied by chips, sliced sautéed potatoes (pommes sarladaises = potatoes the way they eat them in Sarlat), or, as in my recipe, pommes paillasson, which is the French name for the better known Swiss rösti. This consists of grated potato fried in a thick pancake until it is crisp on the outside and melting on the inside.

This is the very classiest fast food to serve to guests who turn up unannounced forty-five minutes before supper time, and a morale boosting dish when you are feeling low. With a lovingly prepared green salad, and some ice-cream served with the alcoholic raisins I mentioned in last week’s post, you will have rustled up a meal fit for kings in half an hour or so.

The French language bit:

paillasson (masculine noun), un paillasson, le paillasson, les paillassons (a doormat, the doormat, the doormats)

from the word une paille = a straw, which also gives us une paillasse = a straw bed (une paillasse is also said of someone who is weak and gets walked over; and sometimes also, but not very usually, the draining board of a sink).

Une paille is also a drinking straw;  and a colour – jaune paille = straw coloured, literally straw yellow.

Etre sur la paille (literally to be on the straw) = to be broke, to have no money.

Un chapeau de paille = a straw hat

Une botte de paille = a bundle of straw, or a bale (but it would be the old, small bales, not the new enormous round ones)

Paillasson in my recipe refers to the texture and colour of the potato pancake, which is strawlike. Where it is evident that we are not talking about a dessert, potatoes (pommes de terre, literally apples of the earth) can be simply called pommes (which also means apples).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for two people :

  • 2 preserved duck legs and thighs, (I buy mine individually frozen, but they are more usually found tinned), with most of the fat removed. Keep this fat for roasting potatoes, or frying vegetables for soup.
  • 4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and not too finely grated
  • Optional: onion, or garlic, and/or bits of bacon
  • Oil and a little butter for frying
  • Salt and pepper

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Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  • Place the pieces of duck on a non-stick baking sheet, or on an oven tray covered in grease-proof paper (be careful of aluminium foil, they tend to stick; actually they tend to stick anyway!).
  • Place in the oven when it comes up to temperature, 20-25 minutes if tinned, even if cooked from frozen.
  • Peel and grate the potatoes. Place in a sieve, squeeze with your hands to remove a maximum of moisture. You can them pat gently between several layers of kitchen roll to remove still more moisture.
  • Add 1/4 level tsp salt per potato used, and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  • If you are going to add onion or garlic and/or bacon bits, fry these up and mix with the raw potato. I personally prefer my pomme paillasson “nature”, that is, without added trimmings.

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  • Heat a tbs of oil (I used olive) with a small knob of butter in a frying pan, when it sizzles, scrape the potato into the pan and flatten it out with a spatula (choose a size of pan which will allow you to flatten the potato to a thickness of about 1cm or just a little more, so that it reaches the sides of the pan). Press it down, work a fork around it so that it is perfectly formed. It should not be thin around the edges.
  • Turn the heat down to medium. The potato should brown nicely on the outside but soft in the middle. If you fry it too briskly, it will burn without properly cooking on the inside. When you are ready to turn the potato cake, after about 4-5 minutes, run a palette knife under the potato to loosen, place a plate over the frying pan and turn the plate and the frying pan simultaneously. On the plate, the fried side of the potato will be on top.

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  • Put another tbs oil and a little butter into the pan, heat well, and slip the potato from the plate back into the pan, without breaking it, press down, bring the sides in a little to make it regular. Turn the heat down slightly again, and fry until the underside is uniformly golden. About another 5 minutes. When it is ready, slip it onto a clean plate, sprinkle with salt and serve.
  • Take the duck out of the oven and serve onto warmed plates with a portion of potato cake.
  • Serve with a salad : I did an endive (chicory I think it is in English, you can see from the photo below what I mean) and orange salad. Orange goes well with duck. Just slice an endive, peel and slice an orange, pouring the juice over the salad, add some parsley or coriander and a little walnut oil, salt and pepper. It needs no vinegar because of the orange juice.

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Both the duck and the potato should be really crispy. Nothing worse than confit which has not been crisped up properly. And the potato should be melting in the middle. Doesn’t your mouth water just looking at the picture?

Bon appétit!

Baked apples with buttery hazelnut biscuits


Pomme four sablé

One French Word: noisette, a French recipe: pommes au four, sablés aux noisettes

Another delicious autumn recipe, with apples and hazelnuts this time, quick to produce for unexpected guests, comforting as a family supper dessert.

You will see raisins among the ingredients. A little trick I use is to keep raisins, covered with alcohol, in a corked jar. It can be any sort of alcohol, rum, calvados, gin, vodka… The fruit soaks it up and will keep for a very long time this way. You can add a teaspoonful to fromage frais,  baked apples,  ice-cream, French toast… Just top up the jar with raisins and alcohol from time to time. If you have these in your cupboard, you can produce something quite a classy in no time.

Jar of raisins

Jar of raisins

The French language bit (quite a lot this week, if you just want the recipe, scroll down quickly!):

Noisette (feminine noun), une noisette, la noisette, des noisettes = a hazelnut, the hazelnut, hazelnuts.

It is the diminutive of noix of course. We’ve already had une noix, a walnut, in the recipe for celery salad with dates and walnuts. Une noisette is just a “little nut”.

-ette is the diminutive of a feminine noun, a little (feminine) something or other, as in une chevrette = a little goat (chèvre), une maisonette = a little house (maison), une poulette = a little hen (poule), from which we get pullet in English.

The masculine diminutive equivalent is -et or -elet, for example, un garçonnet = a little boy (garçon), un jardinet = a little garden (jardin), un porcelet = a piglet (porc). There are rules as to how to form the diminutive in the masculine, but this is the basic procedure.

There are of course other feminine and masculine forms of the diminutive, and as you will have noticed from the audio clip, the pronunciation differs between the original word and the diminutive.

Une noisette is often used for a hazelnut-sized quantity of something, typically une noisette de beurre = a little blob of butter (if a larger blob of butter is required, it reverts to une noix de beurre, a walnut-sized blob).  

Not to be confused with beurre noisette, which is hazelnut-coloured butter, the colour butter goes when it has been ever-so-slightly burned. This is used in several French dishes, often with fish. The ones that come to mind are skate, scallops and sole (respectively de la raie, des coquilles st jacques and de la sole au beurre noisette). Skate used to be presented with black butter (de la raie au beurre noir), a classic French dish, but this was found to be unhealthy because of the blackened butter, so it lightened a shade to become noisette instead.

So noisette can also be used to denote a colour, as hazel in English. It is usually used to describe eye colour:  des yeux noisette =hazel eyes.    When used as an adjective, it is invariable, that is, one doesn’t add an s even if eyes are in the plural.

The recipe today is in fact two recipes, one for baked apples with hazelnut oil (des pommes au four à l’huile de noisette), and one for crumbly hazelnut biscuits (des sablés aux noisettes)The word sablé comes from sable = sand, and refers to the texture.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for the baked apple, per person:

  • 1 cored apple
  • 1 slice of brioche (or failing that, bread)
  • A little sugar, a little butter, a few raisins
  • Water in oven proof dish
  • 1 tsp hazelnut oil for serving

Baked apple1

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
  • Butter an oven proof dish, or, ideally, individual oven proof dishes.
  • Wash and core the apples.
  • Butter a thick slice of brioche about 10cm square and place in the oven dish.
  • Put the apple on top of the brioche, fill with raisins, scatter a few raisins around the apple.
  • Put a knob of butter (somewhere between a noix and a noisette!) on top of the apple.
  • Sprinkle a little sugar (optional, but this will make a bit of caramel).
  • Cover the bottom of the oven dish with water to half way up the slice of brioche, that is, about 1/3 of a cm,1/8″) of water.
  • Pop it all in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Ingredients for the Sablés aux noisettes (this makes about 18 if you use up all the dough scraps):

  • 1 egg
  • 110gr sugar (if you like sweeter biscuits, add up to 30gr, I have used the minimum)
  • 65gr butter
  • 1tbs hazelnut oil
  • 150gr flour (I think you could use coconut flour if really you do not want to use wheat, but I have not tested this)
  • 1/2 tsp raising agent (baking powder) if you are not using self-raising flour
  • 125 gr powdered hazelnuts (if you can’t find this, just put the same weight of hazelnuts through the blender)
  • A pinch of salt

Pastry

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
  • Melt the butter.
  • Beat the egg, salt and  sugar vigourously  until the sugar has fully absorbed the egg and is pale and frothy.
  • Add the flour, raising agent, salt and hazelnuts, mix well with a fork, and then add the melted butter and the hazelnut oil.
  • Knead by hand until a ball of pastry is formed. If your pastry is too buttery, add some flour until it is dryer. But it should be quite rich!
  • Flour a baking sheet or a silicone mat and press the ball out flat with your hand to a thickness of 1/2″. Flour the top of the pastry lightly so that it does not stick and cut rounds with a glass for instance, or a cookie cutter, ideally no more than  2″ across. I used a cocktail glass.
  • Pop into the oven for about 10  minutes. Watch them, they should go golden, not dark brown. You can do the biscuits in advance, or separately altogether, or the apples can be put in the oven at the same time, but they should cook for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove the biscuits from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Cut biscuits

Cooked biscuits

To serve:  If the  apples are not in individual serving dishes, scoop up an apple with its slice of brioche with a wide spatula,  and place on a warmed dessert plate. If the water and sugar has made some caramel, spoon this over each apple. Pour a good teaspoonful of hazelnut oil over each apple before serving, accompanied by a hazelnut biscuit on the side. Place the rest of the biscuits on an easily accessible plate in the middle of the table.

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There is no hurry to do this, the apples are very, very hot and a little bit dangerous to eat for ten minutes or so.

It is important not to cook the hazelnut oil with the apples. The flavour is much richer when it is raw. It is also fabulously good for your health. (You can use hazelnut oil as seasoning on salads and fish.)

Mmmm… though I say it myself… and I even made the brioche!

Bon appétit.

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