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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!

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!

Rich chicken “basquaise”, the French recipe. One French Word: basquaise


One French Word: basquaise, a French recipe : poulet basquaise

Poulet basquaise

Basquaise is a feminine adjective, pronounced bass-kezz and means “from the Pays Basque”.

In fact, it should be “à la basquaise“: chicken in the manner in which it is cooked in the Pays Basque. Like “à la bordelaise” is a dish as it is cooked in and around Bordeaux.

The Pays Basque is situated in the south western corner of France (Biarritz, Bayonne, St Jean de Luz) but also the north western corner of Spain. The Basque people are a cultural and linguistic entity, who have for a long time demanded their autonomy, with some force, from both Spain and France. But I won’t go into politics, it is not the vocation of this blog, and I’m hardly qualified.

(A la) basquaise” denotes a dish cooked with green bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and piment d’Espelette.  Green and red are traditional Basque colours. Basquaise does NOT include aubergine/eggplant or courgette/zucchini. That would be ratatouille,

 something quite different.

Espelette is a village in the Pays Basque where this particular hot pepper is grown. In the autumn, you can see strings of peppers drying on south facing house fronts, before being ground into coarse, fragrant powder for sale. It is the only pepper which has an “appellation d’origine contrôlée” (AOC),  which means that any pepper sold as “Espelette” must have been produced there, and only there.  It is extremely fashionable at the moment, and rightly so, it is quite delicious and adds a distinctive flavour to any dish.  It is easily found anywhere in France. Abroad I don’t know… if you can’t find it, use a pepper which is slightly hot, but very flavoursome. Not simple cayenne, something Mexican maybe?

When I was a very small child, I spent some time with my family on the outskirts of St Jean de Luz, a Basque fishing village, because my Father’s work had taken him there. I remember little, but have retained a love of Basque crockery and table linen, some of which has been handed down to me by my Mother, and which dates back to that time. It is the deep red and navy pattern you see so often in my photos. I have collected it over the years, and have far more than I really need! The only original pieces are four raviers (hors d’oeuvre dishes, often oval) and a table cloth and napkins. 

This dish was always a favourite with guests eating at my table d’hôte. It is not difficult to make, but requires fresh, high grade ingredients. Good quality chicken, ripe tomatoes and if possible “old variety” (I used tomates cornues,  horned tomatoes, large, long pointed ones).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 2 people with good appetites, or 4 with smaller appetites:

  • 2 chicken legs and thighs, separated at the joint, or 4 thigh pieces
  • One very large onion, roughly chopped
  • 500gr tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
  • One large green bell pepper, cored and sliced into rings (or two if you are fond of bell pepper)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed with a cleaver
  • 2tbs olive oil
  • 1 level tsp piment d’Espelette
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/4 bottle of dry white wine

Rice to accompany

Basque colours - red and green

Basque colours – red and green

Preparation:

  • Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan and fry the chicken pieces so that they are golden all over
  • Remove the chicken from the pan, and fry the onion, browning it slightly
  • Replace the chicken in the pan, together with the tomato, garlic, bell pepper, a tsp sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper and a tsp of piment d’Espelette. Do not stir.
  • Add the white wine, and as soon as it looks like boiling, turn down to a simmer.
  • After 10 minutes, put water on to boil for the rice, or start getting your rice cooker ready.
  • After 20 minutes, stir gently to mix the ingredients top to bottom to cook evenly. Put the rice on.
  • Cook for a further 20 minutes. Your rice should be ready. Make a bed of rice, and serve the chicken and the sauce on top of it.

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The white wine makes a far finer sauce than chicken stock, water, or chicken cubes. But you cannot really identify the fact that it is white wine. So if you wish to drink red with the dish, you can do so perfectly well. Or the remainder of the bottle which you opened to cook with.

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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: 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: 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: ananas, a French recipe: magret de canard froid à l’ananas confit


Ananas, masculine noun (l’ananas, un ananas, des ananas) = pineapple (pronounced a-na-nasse, you say the s for once!, but only in the singular. Then again, in certain regions, they don’t say the s.  In the plural, you don’t hear the s any longer anywhere).

Pronunciation: a word about “liaison”: la liaison is when you run one word into another, as here, un ananas, you join the n of un to the a of ananas, and the s of des into the a of ananas in the plural. The rule is roughly that when a noun begins with a vowel, you run the consonant into the vowel. For example: deux beaux ananas, two lovely pineapples, you run the x of beaux into the a of ananas, to make deu bozanana.

 

Cold duck breast

Magret de canard froid à l’ananas confit

My recipe for today is magret de canard froid à l’ananas confit (cold duck breast with caramelized pineapple). Very often, a duck breast (magret) is so enormous, that it is too much for one meal. You can eat one half hot, and the other cold.  But you can also cook duck breast ahead of time, chill it in the fridge, and slice it for a cold meal, picnic or lunchbox.  To use cold, duck really needs to be nice and pink inside, or it will just be dull and dry.

For 4 people you will need:

  • 2 good sized duck breasts
  • 4 thick slices of fresh ripe pineapple
  • 1 tbs acacia or other runny honey
  • 6cl (half a glass) of dry white wine
  • Butter, salt, pepper, vinegar
  • 2 green bell peppers (poivrons verts)

 

Preparation:

  1. Do not score the duck breasts for this recipe, so that you can make neat slices across the width when it is cold. Pat the duck breasts with kitchen paper to remove all moisture. Season on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan so that it is really quite hot and put the duck breasts to cook, skin side down to begin with. Fry for about 4 minutes, pressing down with a spatula to make sure all the surface of the skin is in contact with the pan. Pour off the excess duck fat as it melts. When the skin is nice and crispy and the layer of fat under the skin has melted to a certain extent, turn and cook the other side for about 3 or 4 minutes depending on the thickness of the duck breast. Remove from the pan and place on a plate to cool before putting in the fridge.
  3. Peel, slice and core a fresh pineapple, cut into generous chunks and keep all the juice that runs off.
  4. In a non stick frying pan, melt some butter, and fry the pineapple gently. Add 1tbs acacia (or other runny) honey and a tbs of your preferred vinegar (but not balsamic which will discolour the pineapple and make it look unappetizing). Salt lightly, and add any pineapple juice and half a glass of white wine. Cook quite briskly until the pineapple is tender and the liquid has boiled down to a coating syrup. Remove from the pan into a bowl, cool and refrigerate.
  5. To serve, place the duck breast flat on a chopping board, skin side up. With a very sharp knife, cut slices on the diagonal (as in the picture above)  about 1/4 inch thick. Overlap half a dozen slices on each plate. Toss the pineapple in the juices to glaze. Place a heaped spoonful or two, without juice, next to the duck breast. Slice two green peppers, and garnish the plates with pepper slices.

This is a really delicious and attractive cold meal, and is easy to eat out of a lunch box or on a picnic, no sauces to drip, no difficult-to-pick-up pieces.

Bon appétit.

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