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Category Archives: Vegetarian

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!

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!

Pastis gascon – not your average apple tart


Pastis gascon

One French Word: gascon, a French recipe: Pastis gascon

This is the most spectacular apple tart you ever saw. Simple enough once you have practised a little; you will astonish everyone, even yourself. And there are apples galore this autumn thanks to our lovely summer.

But you must use filo pastry, nothing else (unless you are clever enough to make the real pastry they make, or used to make, in Gascony) to make this wonderful dessert.

I can’t remember where I found the recipe – I have been making it for years, but certainly didn’t invent it. All you need is filo pastry, butter, apples, sugar and ideally armagnac, since that comes from Gascony. I use calvados, apple alcohol from Normandy, because it enhances the apple flavour of the whole. Don’t skimp on the alcohol (but don’t drown the pastry either). The spirits will evaporate in the cooking, so even for children will no longer be noticeable, but the flavour will remain.

The French language bit:

gascon (m.), gasconne (f.), adjective = from Gascony (add an s to either in the plural, but never pronounce that s)

Gascon can also denote an inhabitant of Gascony, or someone who originated there, and also the language of the area.  Gascony is actually an ancient region, the boundaries of which often changed. It occupies the farthest south-west corner of France, roughly from Bordeaux to Toulouse and everything south of there to the Pyrenees. It conjures up musketeers and bon vivants (people who eat and live well). It is a land of robust wines, armagnac, ducks and geese, and rugbymen.

Thank you Wikipedia

The changing boundaries of Gascony (thank you Wikipedia)

Pastis means pie in Gascon  (same as the Cornish pasty I should imagine).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 4 to 6 people in a 25cm tart dish

  • 1 packet of filo pastry (Filo pastry is extremely fragile, it dries out really fast and is impossible to work with then as it starts to break up. If you have any left, re-wrap it quickly and freeze it.)
  • About 4-6 apples (I used golden delicious and a few a friend gave me, merci Christine). They must not “melt” in the cooking.
  • Sugar (about a small tsp per layer)
  • About 75gr melted butter (du beurre fondu) 
  • Some armagnac or calvados (about a tsp per layer)
Building the layers

Building the layers

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  • Melt the butter.
  • Peel, core and quarter the apples.
  • Brush the tart dish with melted butter.
  • Open the pack of filo pastry and put two sheets into the bottom of the dish, at angles to each other (see photos). Brush with melted butter (even the pastry that overlaps the dish and is hanging outside). Work fast, so that the filo does not dry out.
  • Finely slice apples over the layer of pastry, to a depth of about 1/4″ (about one and a half apples). The finer the slices the further the apple goes and the quicker it cooks. Sprinkle with a little sugar, and about a tsp alcohol.
  • Start again, put two sheets of filo at right angles, brush liberally with melted butter, slice apples, sprinkle with sugar and alcohol.
  • And again (this is the third layer of pastry),brush with butter, add apples, sugar, alcohol.
  • Brush all the pastry hanging outside the dish with butter. Gather it up artistically, over the last layer of apple, and if you have any pastry left over, use one sheet to make a sort of “rose” in the middle. Brush again with melted butter to make sure the underside of the extraneous pastry and the central rose are covered.
  • Pop it into the oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, watching it closely. It should be golden all over, no uncooked, unbrowned patches of filo.
  • This tart should be served warm, but is also fine cold. But don’t put it in the fridge, it will go soggy and the butter will congeal. Don’t serve cream or ice cream for the same reason (soggy).

Pastis gascon, srunching

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

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Now tell me honestly, even though some of my photos are not brilliant, have you ever seen such an extraordinary apple tart?

Pastis gascon served

Bon appétit!

Chocolate and chestnuts


One French Word : châtaigne, a French recipe: 

Close enough to eat...

Moelleux au chocolat noir et aux châtaignes = little moist dark chocolate cakes with chestnuts

It’s the chestnut season, at least here in Quimper. When I walk the dog, I pick up about a pound of chestnuts daily with no effort. But then they tend to sit around a bit while I decide what to do with them. You can roast them on an open fire, of course, Nat King Cole (or Michael Buble) style. Or stuff the turkey with them. Or make them into ice cream. I freeze a few bags of peeled chestnuts for use during the winter.

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In France, the prime producer of chestnuts is the département de l’Ardèche,   which is a region (very vaguely) to the west of Grenoble and to the north of Montélimar (to the top left  of the bottom eastern quarter of France, if you see what I mean). Chestnut growing (la castanéiculture)   is closely linked with the history of the area.

The French grammar bit:

Une châtaigne (feminine noun), la châtaigne, les châtaignes = sweet chestnut (a horse chestnut is un marron). Horse chestnuts are not edible, but strangely, when a sweet chestnut has been cooked, it becomes un marron, as in marrons glacées (sugar soaked Christmas confectionary), la dinde aux marrons (turkey stuffed with chestnuts), de la crème de marrons (a sort of sticky jam/spread made of chestnuts with loads of sugar, that is eaten as a dessert in France mixed with fresh cream).

Sometime last year, I explained that a circumflex (^^) often denotes an s that has been lost somewhere. Châtaigne is a case in point: castagna in Spanish, and the Spanish instrument castagnettes (little chestnuts). The English word chestnut retains the s. The chestnut tree is un châtaignier, which comes from the Latin castanea and the Greek kastanon. Chestnuts are crammed by twos or threes into a prickly shell which in French is called une bogue. Because of them, dog walking in the chestnut season is, for the dog, a very painful, hoppy skippy process.

Lots of expressions :

Une châtaigne can also mean a black eye.

Etre châtaigne sous bogue”    means to be basically nice under a very prickly exterior.

Tirer les marrons du feu     (literally to get the chestnuts out of the fire) means to obtain something with difficulty,  with effort, and for someone else’s benefit.

Etre marron means to have been tricked, or to have fallen into a trap.

Here is a very quick idea to be done now and eaten around Christmas, with chestnuts, sugar and rum:

Make a cross cut with a knife in the top of the chestnuts, pressure cook covered with water for 15 minutes. Leave to cool slightly but in the hot water. Peel the chestnuts being careful to take off both skins and trying to keep them whole (you can really only use whole ones for this recipe). Make a syrup with 500gr sugar and  180gr water. Simmer the chestnuts gently in this syrup for about 15 minutes. Drain. Put into jars and cover with rum. Wait at least a month before eating them.

But my recipe today is for petits moelleux au chocolat noir et aux châtaignes.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients:

  • About 400gr peeled chestnuts (see method above)
  • 150gr dark cooking chocolate
  • 20gr + 100gr butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 100gr sugar (don’t reduce the sugar, the chestnuts need it)
  • 2 tbs armagnac, or cognac, or whisky (optional)
Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven at 160°C
  • Place the chestnuts (it can be the crumbs that you have not managed to keep whole) in a blender and blend briefly, you can leave some lumps
  • Melt the chocolate over a pan of hot water with 20gr of butter. Add to the chestnuts with the egg yolks, the sugar, the armagnac and the rest of the butter which you have melted (this can be done in the chocolate saucepan, the butter will take up any of the chocolate that has been left in the pan). Beat this mixture together.
  • Spoon the mixture into muffin or cupcake molds and pop them into the oven for about 30 minutes. This seems a long time, but that was what it took mine to solidify enough on the outside. They should be very  moist, almost liquid in the centre. Serve warm with a custard if you like that. Cold they are fine too.

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Mine came out of the oven very glossy. They were quite dense, with little crunchy bits of chestnut, but moist in the middle. If you wish them to be lighter, I suggest adding a little raising agent, and maybe saving the egg whites, beating them up firm, and folding them into the mixture at the last minute.

The following day they were just as melting. I have frozen most of them – there is a limit to the number that one person can ingest…

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I made a frothy custard (not going to tell you how to do that, I use my Thermomix which takes all the pain out of the process), and placed my little cake in the centre of a tasty yellow pool.

Bon appétit!

One French Word: miel, a French recipe: poires vapeur au miel et aux noix


Poires vapeur, main ingredients

Poires vapeur, main ingredients

Pears, walnuts and honey: truly seasonal ingredients, combined in one and the same recipe, all the savour and nostalgia of autumn brought together on your plate.

When I lived in the Loire valley, I had a few walnut trees in the field, planted 25 years earlier when we first arrived, which gave a meagre if increasing crop. And on an adjacent property of mine, there were three great walnut trees, probably hundreds of years old, which produced the most enormous walnuts you’ll ever see. Baskets and baskets of them, some of which we ate fresh and tender, or served to guests at my table d’hôte, but most of which were spread out on racks to dry, so that we could keep eating them until the following harvest.

My next door neighbour was a bee-keeper. Only a few metres separated us from fresh honey. Honeycomb sometimes.  One of the best ways to eat fresh walnuts is with honey. Or a glass of good Bordeaux.

I didn’t quite realize my luck, having both walnuts and honey in ready supply, until I moved away.  But now I have the sea, the beach, fish and seafood in exchange!

The French language bit:

miel (masculine noun) : le miel, du miel, des miels = honey (pronounced mee-ell) (the honey, some honey, honeys). Never pronounce the s in the plural.

There are different types of honey: le miel liquide = runny honey, le miel d’abeille = bee honey (though I’m not sure any other type exists!), le miel d’acacia = acacia honey, le miel toutes fleurs = mixed flower honey, le miel de lavande = lavender honey, etc.

Mielleux (adj.) = honeyed (when used of honeyed tones, is slightly pejorative).

Le miellat = honeydew, not in the sense of melon, but the droplet that exudes from greenfly, collected by ants.

We all have some type of steamer, and probably don’t use it enought, especially not for desserts. So here is my recipe for Poires vapeur au miel et aux noix, steamed pears with honey and walnuts.

Ingredients:

  • One pear per person (choose ripe but very firm pears)

and per pear:

  • 15gr shelled walnuts (about 3 walnuts)
  • 1tsp  honey
  • A few drops of lemon juice
  • A smear of butter
  • A large square of greaseproof paper
  • Kitchen string if you choose to use it

You may add spices, nutmeg maybe or pepper if you wish, but I didn’t.

Preparation:

  • Shell the walnuts. Chop roughly and mix with the honey.
  • Cut a large square of greaseproof paper per pear, and smear butter in the centre generously.
  • Take a slice off the bottom of each pear so that it will stand up by itself.
  • Peel the pear, leaving the stalk in place for presentation purposes.
  • Coat the peeled pear in lemon juice to prevent discolouring.
  • Core the pear from the bottom end, taking out all the bits you don’t want to eat, but being careful not to pierce the shell.
  • Stuff the pear with the walnut/honey mixture.
  • Stand the pear on the buttered greaseproof paper.
  • Bring a litre of water to boil in a steamer.
  • Bring up the sides of the greaseproof paper to form a papillote, an envelope, which you can either twist to close, or tie with kitchen string.
  • When the water is boiling, place the papillotes in the basket of the steamer, cover with the lid, and steam for 12 minutes.
  • Serve either hot or warm, in the papillote, leaving each guest to unfold it and discover the dessert inside.
Papillotes ready to steam

Papillotes ready to steam

The pears should be served in little bowls, because although the greaseproof paper doesn’t budge, the honey has melted and may run when the papillote is opened. It is prettier though to eat the pears out of the papillote, without tipping them out onto the plate.

Cooked pear, papillote

What better way to celebrate Autumn.

Papillote unwrapped

Bon appétit!

One French Word: concentré, a French recipe: sauce tomate maison


There is always a glut of tomatoes at the end of summer. They can be bought cheaply at the farmer’s market and it is an economical and satisfying way of making tomato sauce or concentrate for the freezer. Try to find old variety tomatoes, which are very dense inside, lots of meat and not too many seeds. They are often huge and misshapen. There is frankly little point in doing this recipe with tasteless, waterlogged supermarket tomatoes.

The French language bit:

concentré (masculine noun), le concentré, un concentré, les concentrés (you don’t hear the s) = concentrate as in  tomato concentrate (concentré de tomates), 

but it can also be an adjective: concentré (m), concentrée (f), concentrés (m pl), concentrées (f pl) = concentrated as in du lait concentré (condensed milk) or du jus d’orange concentré (concentrated orange juice), 

and a verb : concentrer = to concentrate (something) or se concentrer (to concentrate oneself on something) as in je me concentre sur mon travail (I am concentrating on my work). 

I don’t seem to be able to find any expressions using the word. If you find any, let me know!

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients:

For every 1kg500 of tomatoes (see conversion tables)

  • 350gr onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • fresh thyme or basil, 
  • 2tbs olive oil
  • salt
  • peppercorns
  • celery leaves (optional)
Cored tomatoes

Cored tomatoes

Preparation:

  • Peel and roughly chop the onion and the garlic
  • Fry gently in olive oil until translucent
  • Wash, core and roughly chop the tomatoes, removing any woody bits of core that remain
  • Add the tomatoes to the translucent onions with seasonings (a sprig or two of fresh thyme, some basil, a little salt and some peppercorns – you can adjust the seasoning later)
  • Chopped celery leaves, if you have some to hand, add greatly to the flavour of the finished product. Add them now.
  • DON’T ADD ANY LIQUID!
  • Stir the mixture well and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down immediately, cover and simmer gently, stirring frequently, for an hour.  Allow to cool.
  • Now for a tip from my Bordeaux grandmother, passed down to me via my (now 96 year old) mother: their advice is to place a piece of muslin on top of the sauce, lying across it, so that the tomato “water” seeps up through the muslin and can easily be removed with a ladle each time you pass by the pot (without removing any tomato at the same time because it is trapped under the muslin). I leave the muslin bit out (too lazy to wash it out afterwards), but I rest a ladle on top of the tomato mixture. I leave it like that and go away and do something else for ten minutes. When I come back, the ladle should be full. The water rises to the top of the tomato mixture and fills it, again and again, until you have the consistency you are looking for. Save the tomato water to make tomato or vegetable soup. Or add it to the juice of a stew.
  • How you proceed from here depends on the result you are aiming at. If you want chunky tomato sauce with all the bits in it (I would remove the sprigs of thyme), wait until it is quite cold and bag it in portions of a suitable size for a meal for your family. Put it in the fridge, and freeze later (do label it, one doesn’t always automatically remember what’s in those bags…). If you like smooth tomato purée, put it in the blender before freezing. If you want real concentré de tomate, purée it and either go through the ladle procedure again, or hang it up on a kitchen tap in a muslin cloth or an ancient tea towel over a bowl to catch the precious juice. It can then be frozen in large ice cube trays, and transferred to bags thereafter, each cube being just the dose needed when real concentré de tomates is called for.

Tomato sauce

I like it thick and chunky as you can see from the photograph of my finished product.

Chunky pasta sauce

Chunky pasta sauce

The amount you will make will vary greatly depending on the variety of tomato that you use. You will usually lose about a third of the starting weight in water, but it can be as much as a half. With my 1kg500 of tomatoes, for instance, I managed four freezer bags each with enough pasta sauce for two people, about 850gr in total.

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

It is not a tricky procedure. It can be done while seeing to something else (cooking another dish, knitting, writing) as long as you remember to stir from time to time.

When in winter you go to the freezer and pull out a pack of home-made sauce for pasta or poulet basquaise, you will smile and think that all this really was worth the effort.

Bon appétit!

Two PSs: 1) I have just topped the 20,000 views! Thank you to all my readers. And 2) WordPress seems to be changing the size of the font in my posts at random, without giving me any choice in the matter. Sorry about this.

One French word: à l’ancienne, a French recipe: chocolat chaud à l’ancienne


Here in Quimper we have a lively cultural season, especially in winter, incuding a series of solo concerts which are entitled “Concerts au chocolat”. We also have one of the best chocolatiers  in France (check out their website, they deliver all over the world). They come to the concert and serve us a cup of chocolat chaud à l’ancienne, and a little saucer with two beautiful chocolates. Their chocolat chaud is thick, rich and creamy, and very hot. Their chocolates are mouthwatering.

 The French language bit:

A l’ancienne (invariable adverbial phrase) = old-style, old-fashioned, traditional (pronounced a laan syenne, one hardly hears the first n at all), 

anything that is made as it was yesteryear, anything that tastes good just as it did in times gone by. It is always nostalgic: ex:  de la moutarde à l’ancienne (usually with whole mustard seeds), and is good marketing. The term is often used in recipes and cooking to denote traditional methods.

My recipe is a real chocolat chaud à l’ancienne = old-fashioned hot chocolate. Nothing like it.

Chocolat chaud à l’ancienne

For two people (two tea-cups) you will need:

  • 325 ml milk of full cream milk (not UHT please)
  • 35gr of dark chocolate squares (I got my cooking chocolate from the Comptoir du Chocolat, see link above)
  • 1 ½ tbs powdered drinking chocolate (slightly sweetened)
  • ½tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½tsp ground coriander
  • 1 heaped tbs of thick cream
  • some sweetened whipped cream and a little extra powdered chocolate

Ingrédients

Preparation:

  1. In a saucepan which will not be damaged by a whisk, heat the milk with the dark chocolate, powdered chocolate and spices. It is important to use a whisk and not a spoon or a fork.
  2. Whisking vigorously all the time, melt the chocolate and heat the milk to nearly boiling.
  3. Add the thick cream and whisk again. The mixture should be frothy.
  4. Pour into pretty cups with pretty saucers (not old mugs) and top with whipped cream sprinkled with a little powdered chocolate.

I think you will quickly find you are in heaven. But a little goes a very long way.

Chocolat chaud

Chocolat chaud

Bon appétit.

One French word: pignon, a French recipe: Tatin d’aubergine


 

Tatin d'aubergine

 

Several people have asked me for this recipe, which I regularly do for vegetarian guests, and was my a contribution to a birthday party a week or so ago. I used to do classy bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley, providing the evening meal for tired and hungry travellers. It was then that I built up a store of really good vegetarian recipes that made those who did not want to eat meat still feel part of the celebration. That is, not as is typical in France, or has been until recently, just taking the meat off the plate and leaving three green beans and some salad!

The recipe is not complicated, in the sense of difficult, but does have a number of steps.

The grammar of it:

pignon (masculine noun), un pignon, le pignon, des pignons = a pine nut    

Have you ever tried cracking the very tough shells that fall with pine cones from parasol pines and extracting the little nuts? My daughter, whose patience is unlimited, used to spend hours as a child cracking them with a stone on the steps under our parasol pine. One year, during a particularly rainy September, a few germinated and I now have the children of that parasol pine, to which I was so attached, growing in pots on my terrace here in Brittany. I think that enormous tree, which my Father planted from seed,  was one of the hardest things to leave behind when I moved here.

One can understand, with all the work involved, why pine nuts are so expensive. But they add a nutty crunch to salads and roasted vegetables that is hard to beat.

A pine cone is une pomme de pin literally a “pine apple”. We called them tisty tosties when we were children, can’t think why, though it might be the noise they make when they hit the ground?

Un pignon is also the gable end of a house.

So my recipe for today is my (famous!) tatin d’aubergine. I have already explained tatin in an earlier post and the fact that any upside down tart now qualifies as a tatin.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for a 27cm-29cm tart (enough for 4 people as a main course, 6 for a starter)

  • A handful of pine nuts – pignons
  • 2 or 3 aubergines, fat ones that are not too long
  • A little olive oil
  • A few handfuls of sea salt
  • 3 heaped tbs sugar
  • A jar of sundried tomatoes (taste them to make sure they are not too salty)
  • A tsp or two of dried Italian herbs
  • A roll of good quality puff pastry, circular if possible (32cm diameter)

Preparation:

  • Wash the aubergines and trim the ends. Cut into half centimetre slices, discarding the outer slices which are just skin. Lay them out on a clean draining board or a large chopping board, a layer at a time, covering each layer with a sprinkling of sea salt before adding another layer on top. Continue in this fashion until all the aubergine has been sliced, stacked and salted. Leave for half an hour. This procedure removes the bitterness and a lot of the water so that, later in the cooking process, the moisture is not released and makes everything soggy. This is called “faire dégorger” in French,  to draw out the liquid.
  • Rinse the slices under lots of running cold water to remove not only the salt, but the saltiness. Squeeze each slice as if you were wringing out a dishcloth, rinse again, squeeze again and set aside.
  • Grease a 27-29cm tart dish with olive oil.
  • Make a small quantity of caramel in a saucepan with three heaped tbs sugar and a dash (just a dash) of water. Cook until it starts to colour (shake do NOT stir, unlike 007’s martinis…), it needs to be caramelly but not burnt. The line is fine, practice makes perfect. Pour quickly into the tart dish and using both hands, tip the dish to spread the caramel as far as possible over the bottom. It will set very rapidly, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t spread too far.
  • In a heavy bottomed frying pan, roast the pine nuts dry (no oil) until they start to colour. Don’t take your eyes off them, they burn really quickly and taste awful. And as soon as they are done, get them out of the pan, which will be very hot and will continue cooking them.
  • Spread the pignons evenly over the bottom of the tart dish on top of the caramel.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (see conversion table page).
  • Place a large dried tomato upside down in the middle of the tart dish and eight more around the edge. This is the side that is going to show when you turn the tart out, so make it pretty.
  • Pour a tbs olive oil into the same pan as you used for the pignons, heat well and fry the aubergine a few slices at a time until it colours well (burns slightly). (This can be done without oil if you wish.) This is the longest part of the recipe. Turn the slices, and when they are done, place them in the tart dish with the wider part of the slice towards the outside, and the thinner end overlapping in the centre (you can even trim off the middle bits if they overlap too much). Cover the whole dish, using any little irregular bits of aubergine to fill up the holes.
  • Place more pieces of dried tomato half way down the aubergine slices (that is, between the edge tomatoes underneath and the centre one underneath, so that each mouthful will have a taste of dried tomato). Sprinkle with italian herbs and finish with another layer of aubergine slices. This uses quite a lot of aubergine, so I always prepare three aubergines in slices, and if there are any left over, I use them the following day in a moussaka or something like that.
  • DO NOT add salt or pepper.
  • Cover the dish with the puff pastry, tucking the edges in roughly. They mustn’t hang over the edge of the dish.
  • Bake in the oven for about half an hour, until the puff pastry is risen and golden brown. Sometimes a bit less, it depends on your oven. Keep watching it for the “just right” moment.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the dish. The tart should be served warm, not hot, and can even be served cold. It can be reheated if you have prepared it  slightly in advance. BUT it should NOT be turned out until just before eating, or the pastry will soak up all the juice and go soggy. This is really important.
  • When you do decide to turn it out, run a knife around the inner edge of the tart dish to loosen the pastry, place a larger dish upturned over the pastry, protect your wrists in case any hot juice leaks out, give the dish a quick shake or two to loosen everything and flip it over quickly. Give another couple of shakes and presto! Your tart should be pastry side down and very decorative dried tomato and pignon side up! (If any bits stick just rearrange the presentation when no one is looking.)
  • Serve with a green salad.
Stacked, salted aubergine slices

Stacked, salted aubergine slices

Toasted pignons and caramel

Toasted pignons and caramel

To show how hard I wring out the aubergine slices!

To show how hard I wring out the aubergine slices!

Tatin just out of the oven

Tatin just out of the oven

Tatin d'aubergine2

Did you manage all that? Not so difficult really, and the result is delicious and quite impressive. And unusual. Nice to find something unusual.

Bon appétit!

One French word: pêche, a French recipe: Pêches pochées


So many people have wondered where I’d disappeared to… A year of doing other things, creating art, writing, and cooking of course. But here I am, I’m back! I shall no longer attempt to post every day, the tasks involved are just too time-consuming. What about Wednesdays or Thursdays, just once a week, to give you time to shop for ingredients before wow-ing your family and friends with a French meal at the weekend? Or no schedule at all, maybe I’ll just write when I have a recipe I just can’t keep to myself?

So let’s get back to work!

You’ll notice I have finally figured out the way to add audio clips of the pronunciation of a few words into the text. I shall gradually update all past posts, I hope this will help you and that you will practise repeating the words and phrases.  I have left the written description of the sound as well.

Pêche is a complicated word, it means several things, and can be written with different accents.

pêche (feminine noun), la pêche, une pêche, des pêches = peach, pronounced paysh  

un pêcher = a peach tree 

NOT to be confused with un péché = a sin, un péché mortel = a mortal sin, pécher = to sin, commettre un péché = to commit a sin, un pécheur = a sinner

or with

la pêche = fishing, pêcher = to fish, un pêcheur = a fisherman

Expressions using pêche (in the sense of peach) :

la peau de pêche  , meaning either literally  complexion, a skin like a peach, but it is also a type of material, sort of suedey, velvety like peach skin.

avoir la pêche  =  to be on good form

And to do with fishing:

une canne à pêche = a fishing rod, “bonne pêche” = tight lines (or have a good day’s fishing), un garde-pêche = a game warden (fishing warden), un droit de pêche = fishing rights, un permis de pêche = a fishing permit

And finally in the sense of a sin:

un péché de jeunesse  = a sin of youth

un péché mignon  = something you have a weakness for, ex. shoes, or chocolate. (What’s your péché mignon ?)

My recipe today is for Pêches Pochées, poached peaches 

CIMG5674

We have had, for once, a really glorious summer, and fruit is plentiful and ripe. This recipe is so simple, but very impressive, and I’ll suggest a few ways in which it can be dressed up.

Ingredients :

  • 1 ripe yellow peach per person (buy the most colourful peaches possible, with deep red skins)
  • Icing sugar
Simple ingredients

Simple ingredients

Preparation:

  • Wash the peaches quickly. Place a pan of water on to boil, large enough for the water to cover all the peaches.
  • When the water simmers, gently lower the peaches WITH THEIR SKINS ON into the pan. Bring back to a very gentle boil and poach for one minute. (If you have doubts as to the ripeness of your peaches, make that 2 minutes, but much better to choose ripe fruit.)
  • Remove with a slotted spoon, place on kitchen paper to drain and cool just enough to be able to handle them.
  • With a sharp unserrated knife (so as not to leave scratches on the surface of the peach), remove the skin. (Actually, once you have made a nick in the skin, it almost slides off with just a little help from your forefinger.)
  • Sprinkle lightly with icing sugar (through a sieve so as not to have little lumps). This will melt with the heat of the peach and glaze the fruit.
Poached but not yet skinned

Poached but not yet skinned

These peaches can be eaten just like that. It is better not to handle them once the icing sugar has been added, so if you do want to make a more complicated dessert, only add the icing sugar at the end, but be aware that if the peach is no longer warm, the sugar will not melt and glaze.

They are tricky to eat just as they are, difficult to “get hold of” even with a fork, and can slip and slide and even shoot across the table on occasion. Best to serve them in bowls or glasses that will prevent them from doing this.

You can also cut them in half and stone them just after peeling, this will make them easier to eat; and use these halves to make peach melba, with cream and ice cream and some red currant jelly. Or serve them on a bed of creamy rice pudding (my favourite!). Or good old English custard (crème anglaise in French).

With creamed rice

With creamed rice

I have photographed two variations, one with creamed rice in the bottom of a martini glass, with a tiny dribble of peach liqueur on top, and the poached peach on top of that. And a slice of wholemeal brioche which I turned into pain perdu, cut into triangles with a poached peach. I just had this for my lunch, and the peach was so beautifully ripe that it was no problem separating it from its stone on the dessert plate. But I have to say that I bought wholemeal brioche to kid myself into thinking I’m eating healthily, and it’s not nearly as nice as ordinary brioche, or gâche vendéenne (a speciality of the Vendée region of France) with which I usually do my pain perdu.

With pain perdu

With pain perdu

The colour that transfers from the skin to the peach is simply stunning and the sheen of the icing sugar sets this off beautifully. Good for candlelit dinners, they glow. Guests are usually pretty impressed and never guess it has been so easy to prepare.

Do take advantage of the summer season to buy some really ripe, tasty peaches for the weekend.

Bon appétit!

One French word: navet, one French recipe: pétales de légumes

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navet, masculine noun (un navet, le navet, des navets) = turnip (pronounced nah-vey)  .

Not most people’s favourite vegetable, but when they are young and fresh in spring their flavour is delicate and not overpowering as it often is in autumn and winter, and they can easily be eaten raw. Or used to accompany a meat dish, boiled briefly then glazed in a sugar and butter mixture.

Un navet is also currently used to denote a flop, when talking of a bad film, theatre performance or book.

My recipe today is a little different to the taste buds: pétales de légumes = vegetable petals

Main ingredients – looks a bit like a still life, doesn’t it…

For each person you will need:

  • One small raw spring turnip
  • One small raw beetroot
  • One ripe tomato (I used a beef tomato)
  • One small courgette (zuccchini)
  • and any other vegetables you may feel like that can be cut into fine slices (radishes?), or fruits (oranges, strawberries?)
  • salt
  • chili flakes
  • olive oil
  • raspberry vinegar

Preparation:

Wash and trim all the vegetables. Peel the beetroot but do not peel either the turnip or the courgette.

Slice the courgette into as many thin lengthways strips as possible, discarding the first slice, which is just skin (simply for aethetic reasons), and place around the edge of each person’s plate in wavy, curly shapes.

Peel and slice the beetroot into very fine slices and being careful not to taint the courgette with beetroot juice (again for the aesthetics), place an overlapping circle of beetroot slices inside the ring of courgettes.

Wash your hands, the knife and the chopping board. Finely slice the turnip and place another ring inside the beetroot ring. Do not season.

Core and skin the tomato (plunge it into boiling water for a minute or so, the skin will come off easily). Cut into small cubes, place in a bowl with the equivalent of one smallish dried chili (outside and seeds), flaked. Quite a lot of salt (tomatoes need salt), but you can rectify later. One tbs raspberry vinegar. 2 tbs olive oil (if you are several at table increase the oil and vinegar). Mix to a smooth paste with a soup mixer. It makes a sort of rather thick gazpacho-like mixture. Taste and rectify seasoning. It should be fairly chili hot, vinegary, with a good strong flavour of olive oil.  Place a spoonful of this mixture in a tiny bowl in the centre of your vegetable plate. Leave the rest of the tomato dressing in a larger bowl on the table, because it is more-ish and people can help themselves and drown their plates in it if they like. But it looks better to present only a small quantity.

This is an excellent starter, fresh and appetizing-looking, but you can also make a main course of it if you are feeling fragile and only want raw vegetables, maybe accompanied with crusty bread and butter, or viande des grisons (thin cured beef slices). Or parma ham.

Bon appétit!

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