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Category Archives: Feminine Nouns

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

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!

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.

Portuguese baked fish and crispy potatoes


One French Word: morue, a recipe for Morue à la portugaise (salt cod and potatoes as they cook it in Portugal)

Morue à la portugaise

Morue à la portugaise

Cod, fresh or especially salted and/or dried, has long been a staple of the peoples living along the Atlantic coast of Europe (and probably of America and Canada too). Now cod is becoming rare, but in the last couple of centuries, men in rather small boats would leave on extended trips to colder waters around Iceland and Newfoundland, braving dangerous seas and foul weather, to earn a living catching this precious fish. Nowadays trawlers are small factories, with freezers. Then the fish was gutted, spread open, salted and dried, and the result was a sort of elongated triangular board.

It is still sold like that, the cook must soak it for days to ready it for cooking. But it is also sold rehydrated in vacuum packs, which only need soaking for a matter of hours to rid it of excess salt. The taste is quite different from fresh cod and the Portuguese especially are past masters at preparing it.

One of the most famous and delicious dishes using salt cod is the French Caribbean recipe for accras de morue, crispy mouthfuls of fiery fish and chili, which I shall certainly publish here one of these days. And brandade de morue, a sort of garlicky mixture of mashed potato and salt cod.

The French language bit:

morue (feminine noun), une morue, la morue, les morues = salt cod

Fresh cod, that has not been salted, is cabillaud (le cabillaud, du cabillaud), a fillet of cod is un filet de cabillaud, a slice of cod is une darne de cabillaud, a nice fat chunk from the back of the fish is du dos de cabillaud.  

De l’huile de foie de morue = cod liver oil   

Un pinceau queue de morue = a broad flat brush used by painters (literally cod’s tail paintbrush)  

My recipe today is for morue à la portugaise, a dish of baked cod layered with a little tomato and a lot of potato, the top layer of which crisps up beautifully in the oven. It should be eaten as soon as it is cooked, it does not re-heat well especially because the potato loses its crackle.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 4-6 people:

  • 400gr salt cod
  • 600gr potatoes
  • 1 hard boiled egg per person
  • 2 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed with a cleaver and roughly chopped
  • A little tomato sauce (optional) (homemade, or in a jar, spaghetti sauce with olives is what I used)
  • A dozen stoned black olives (unless they are already in your tomato sauce)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Mixed chopped herbs to garnish

You should need NO salt

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Preparation:

  • Soak the pieces of cod for about 10 hours changing the water regularly (unless you have found already de-salted cod). Carry out this stage carefully; nothing worse than going to all this trouble only to find your dish is too salty to eat.
  • Tear the cod into large bite-sized pieces or strips.
  • Pre-heat the oven at 180°C.
  • Wash the potatoes (no need to peel them) and cut into very fine slices (1mm or 2 thick).
  • Fry the onion in a little olive oil until transparent, add the pieces of cod, stir and turn off the heat.
  • Coat the bottom of a casserole dish with a little olive oil.
  • Place a good layer of potatoes in the bottom of the dish. Pour all the cod and onion mixture on top, and add the crushed chopped garlic and a spoonful of olive oil.
  • Grind some black pepper over this mixture, and sprinkle the olives and tomato sauce sparingly over the top.
  • Place another layer of potato on top of this, and end with an artistic layer, carefully overlapping the slices.
  • Dribble about 3tbs olive oil over the whole top layer. (The Portuguese put much more than this!)
  • Pop the dish into the oven for about 45 minutes. The top layer of potato should be browned and very crispy.
  • While the cod is cooking, hardboil an egg per person, shell and slice.
  • Serve piping hot with crusty bread, green salad, and slices of hard boiled egg (optional but this is the way it is done in Portugal), sprinkled with fresh herbs.

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This is not an expensive dish, the only difficulty being to remember to start soaking the salt cod well enough ahead of time.

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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: moutarde, a French recipe: maquereau à la moutarde


Maquereau à la moutarde

Maquereau à la moutarde

Mackerel is just about the cheapest fish you can buy. And one of the healthiest. It is full of the fish oils we should all be eating, and it is caught wild, it cannot be farmed. When I was a child in Dorset, my father used to take us mackerel fishing from Weymouth, in a small fishing boat.  The catch was always abundant, which was exciting, and we had mackerel in the freezer for quite a few meals. They are such attractive fish, a bit bony, but iridescently  beautiful.

At the fishmonger in France, you can ask to have your mackerel filleted. It makes it easier to avoid the bones, of which few remain. I don’t know if you can get your local fishmonger to do this. If not, mackerel is actually one of the easiest fish to deal with oneself.

The French language bit:

moutarde (feminine noun), une moutarde, la moutarde = mustard. Pronounced mootard (see header audio clip above).

France produces several types of mustard, of which the most famous comes from Dijon. It is strong, and there are several variations, often flavoured with other ingredients such as tarragon or grape must.

Moutarde comes from the Latin mustum ardens (burning (hot) grape must, also the origin of the English word “mustard”). The Chinese cultivated mustard for its seed 3000 years ago, and the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans used it to add savour to their food.

There is a French expression La moutarde me monte au nez!”

which means literally, “the mustard is going to my nose”, in other words, “I am getting angry” or “I am growing impatient”.

My recipe is for mackerel with a cream and mustard sauce, maquereau à la moutarde. It is quite simple, calls for few ingredients, and doesn’t make the whole house smell of fish!

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for two people:

  • 1 large mackerel, filleted (or if you really can’t fillet it or get it filleted, leave it whole, but cook it for twice as long to make sure it is cooked through).
  • 100ml liquid cream
  • 2tbs Dijon mustard (if you can’t find Dijon, use a good strong flavoursome mustard, nothing sweet)
  • half a glass of dry white wine
  • 2 fresh figs, or fresh apricots, or another sweet, fresh fruit
  • freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

  • Spread the underside of the mackerel fillets with the mustard. Grind fresh pepper on top of that.
  • In a shallow pan with a lid, heat the cream and place the mackerel fillets skin side up (mustard side down). Place the lid on the pan, and simmer gently for 3 minutes.
  • Turn the fillets with two spatulas so that you don’t break them, add a teeny bit of water if the sauce is too thick, replace the lid and simmer for another 3 minutes.
  • Check that the fish is cooked through, but not over-cooked or it will crumble as you serve it. Remove the fillets to two separate, warmed, plates. Add the white wine to the cream and mustard remaining in the pan, and use a gravy whisk to mix it into the cream and get rid of any little lumps there may be.  Spoon the sauce over the fillets, garnish with the fig opened up into four from the top side (see photo)  and serve with boiled potatoes if you wish, or just a green salad.

Maquereau moutarde1

In your country, are fishmongers accommodating? Do they offer to scale and fillet fish? I’d be really interested to know whether we are indeed privileged in France!

One French word: framboise, a French recipe: crème à la framboise meringuée


Crème à la framboise meringuée

Crème à la framboise meringuée

The raspberry is the queen of all summer fruits, delicious guzzled straight from the sun-warmed cane. Raspberries are best used fresh, very fresh, as they spoil quickly. Frozen (or rather defrosted) they go mushy and lose a great deal of their interest. Although… although… I do use frozen raspberries on occasion, about three of them, straight out of the freezer, as ice cubes in champagne. They melt gently, keeping the champagne chilled longer, suffuse it with a delicate pale pink, and can be slurped in an unmannerly fashion from the bottom of the glass.

Champagne and frozen rasberries

Champagne and frozen rasberries

Late raspberries are still available. They cost gold of course, but maybe you have a few in the garden?

The French grammar bit:

Framboise = raspberry, feminine noun, une framboise, la framboise, les framboises, pronounced fraam-bouahz

The origins of the word are bram- (bramble bush) and -basi (berry) in old low French.

My recipe today is for Crème à la framboise meringuée, a delicious, quick, easy summer dessert. In England it is of course known as “Eton Mess”, and is traditionally served in summer, on the occasion of Eton College’s annual cricket match against Harrow (two of the most famous schools in the country).

Main ingredients: raspberries, cream, meringue

Main ingredients: raspberries, cream, meringue

You will need for 6 people:

  • 6 good handfuls of fresh raspberries
  • 1 scant tbs of eau de vie de framboise (raspberry alcohol or raspberry gin (see recipe below) (optional)
  • 6 small white meringues
  • 1/2 litre of whipping cream

Preparation:

  • Pick through the raspberries to ensure there are no bugs, but try to avoid washing them, unless you are unsure of their source, in which case it is better to rinse them.
  • Stiffly whip the cream. You need no sugar unless you have a particularly sweet tooth. Add the alcohol if you are using it.
  • Roughly crush all the raspberries except for 6 (if you are doing this recipe in winter, do try using frozen raspberries, but drain them well so that their juice doesn’t liquefy the cream.
  • Roughly crush three of the meringues.
  • Mix the crushed raspberries with the whipped cream.

In tall glasses (tulip shaped champagne glasses work well, or martini glasses) alternate layers of raspberry cream with layers of meringue bits. The last layer should be raspberry cream. Top with a fresh raspberry and a meringue.

This dessert should really be assembled at the last minute from chilled ingredients. If prepared in advance, the meringue goes soft.

CIMG5784

Simple, delicious.

Bon appétit!

PS The recipe for raspberry gin:

A pound of raspberries, a bottle of gin, sugar to taste

At the height of the raspberry season, when they are nice and ripe, slightly crush a pound of raspberries and, in a litre bottle, add to a bottle of gin. You can use frozen raspberries if you must. Add sugar, it needs a bit, not a lot, and actually you can always add it later. This is not a liqueur, not sweet, but dry, with punch. Store in a dark cupboard, shaking daily (make sure the cork is firmly in place!) for the first week, once a week for the next month. Forget about it for at least another month. Strain out all the pulp and pour into a clean bottle, labelled clearly. This can be used in fruit desserts, or drunk in small quantities neat or on the rocks. You can do the same thing with sloes (prunelles), sloe gin. Am I meant to put the standard warning: alcohol is dangerous for your health, here?

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: moules, a French recipe: moules marinières

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The French language bit:

moule, feminine noun (une moule, la moule, des moules) = mussel (pronounced mool, never say the s in the plural) 

I remember in 1965, arriving at my grandparents’ house in Bordeaux in south-western France with my younger brother on one of the hottest days in living memory. My diminutive grandmother, still then a fantastic cook, although she forgot how at the end of her life, trotted out to the fishmonger next door to get fresh mussels, and made us a big panful of moules marinières. Here’s how she did it:

Main ingredients for moules marinières

For 4 people as a main course you will need:

  • 2-3 litres (or kilos, depending on how they are sold) of fresh mussels
  • a bunch of fresh parsley
  • 4 plump shallots
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 60gr butter
  • a glass or two of dry white wine
  • pepper (you shouldn’t need much salt)

Mussels cleaned and ready to cook

A word about buying mussels: there is a season for mussels, which varies depending where you are in the world. Mussels are best and plumpest when they are in season and should be firmly closed when you buy them. There are always a few that are not; these should be discarded. They should be cooked immediately and eaten the day they are bought, from a reputable fishmonger where the fish is fresh, well prepared and on lots of ice. Best not to buy them when it is too hot, best also to have a cold bag to bring them home in.

To prepare mussels, tip them all into the sink, and under running water and with a small sharp knife, check through each and every one. Any that are broken or that do not close promptly when you press them shut, throw in the bin. Debeard them by pulling on the bit of weed that comes out of one side of the shell with the knife. As you prepare them, put the clean ones into a colander. It doesn’t matter much if, after sorting them, any of the ones in the colander open up. They were closed a short while ago, and are about to be cooked. If any mussels have barnacles on the outside of their shells, scrape them off.

Peel and chop the shallot and garlic. Wash and chop the bunch of parsley.

In a very large pan, over moderate to high heat, put the butter, the shallot and garlic and a little pepper. Add the glass of wine and boil briskly to reduce a little and soften the shallot and garlic. (You can also use good quality wine vinegar instead of wine if you wish, they are very good that way too and in fact that is how I usually cook them.) Add the mussels all in one go, put the lid on the pan, and shake quite vigorously. Cook for a minute or two, raising the lid to see if the mussels are opening, stir to bring the bottom mussels up to the top and distribute the shallot evenly.  Add the parsley and a couple of grinds of the pepper mill. You should not need to add salt. Put the lid back on, stir again, and as soon as all the mussels are open, serve without delay. There is NOTHING worse than an overcooked, shrivelled mussel. They should be steamed in their own liquid, just open, and very moist. Ladle into large individual bowls with some of the liquid, and keep the unserved ones warm.

Don’t use forks to eat mussels, choose a largish shell, remove and eat the mussel, and then use that shell as an eating iron, pinching and grabbing successive mussels with it. And to save space, don’t just chuck your shells into a bowl, pile them up neatly as in the photo below.

Don’t forget to spoon up the juice or to pump it up with pieces of fresh bread. Serve the mussels with chips (French fries) as the Belgians do (the French copy them more and more). Moules frites   you will see that on menus all over France.

Bon appétit!

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