Recipe | Olive oil, orange and rosemary cake

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Greece lightening

When most families pack a car and set off for their holidays it is not unusual for to go through last minute panic checks.

“Did we turn off the lights”

“Did we pack my new bathing suit”

“Did we remember all the kids?”

So it was much to my amusement when we set off, car full of kids, bags, flippers and beach balls that client one exclaims,

“Stop the car! Did we remember the Olive oil?!”

It’s going to be my kind of trip I thought as client 2 assures client 1 that yes all 17 litres of the stuff is on board and safety packed.

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Flicking through my photos of Paros from the last two weeks I am struck by several things.

1)The brilliant white that gleams off every building (similar to my skin tone apparently the day I arrived).

2)The amount of produce Paros produces including most things from grapes to goats.

3)The amount of Greek Extra Virgin olive oil we managed to go through (therefore meaning butter consumption alarmingly low).

4) My new love for ouzo (though not sure if this will travel back with me to the UK as although it works phonemically well in the lingering heat of the Grecian evening sun I’m not sure it will be quite the same in Dorset).

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Ouzo here is often drunk before dinner on ice with splashes of water. It works incredibly well with taramaslata and grilled octopus. The octopus interestingly are caught and killed then beaten to tenderise them then left to dry in the sun and you can often see them draped over poles in the heat. Simply grilled with a splash of vinegar, lemon juice, parsley or dill and olive oil they make the most perfect aperitif.

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Sea urchins are also very popular here and can just be served simply with olive oil or my new favourite way scooped out and served on half a lemon. You then gently scrape your spoon across gathering up the sea urchin and getting a twang of lemon. Perfect.

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There were half-hearted mutterings from some of the group when I arrived of fear that they would pile on a few pounds having read some of my heartier statistics from postcards earlier on this year. I think they were referring to the 1 ½ packs of butter, 500ml double cream and 5 eggs per person per day scenarios that occasionally seem to occur. Fear not, I said as I was totally geared up and ready to start on my summer inspired salads, grills and healthier desserts and of course replacing as far as possible butter with Greek extra virgin Olive oil.

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Menus involved using the baskets full of fresh local vegetables and fruits, local meats from our cheeky island senior butcher but unfortunately no fish as the sea was too rough due to the wind (although the wind in compensation in tandem with the dazzling sun made for perfect weather).

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Food was kept light, refreshing and mostly healthy. With the lack of fish we kept meat dishes light by grilling or slow cooking with lots of herbs and light sauces. We tried to buy some goat, the island is scattered with them, but sadly it looked rather scrawny, however their pork and 41 day aged beef was excellent.

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Stand out produce included the large capers which were plump and had a clean tang, olives from kalamata which were of incredible quality, brilliant white feta which is served from big barrels and chunks sliced off to order and of course the olive oil.

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It is only more recently that I have started using and loving  Greek olive oil as my days at the River Café firmly swayed me to the beauty of a good Italian extra virgin olive oil. You would not know from looking in the shops but Greece is the worlds third largest producer. Once you start looking into the murky and not quite so liquid green gold world of it on a global scale you find out that there are many troubles, grey areas and mysteries. For instance Italy sells far more Italian extra virgin olive oil than it can actually produce (they say  that 60% of Greek olive oil is shipped too Italy and then sold as Italian).  As a consumer it is another lesson of watching out who and where you buy from, reading labels and staying alert. It is worth knowing that the cheaper olive oils are often from trucks going around various farms / co ops sucking up anything left in the barrel ( so unknown age/ quality ) then mixing, filtering before bottling and selling it on. Once you taste quality extra virgin olive oil it is hard to want to use anything else.

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We had enough to bathe in but we managed to resist and keep it just for cooking. Not only the obvious things like cooked meats, vegetables and making dressings but also in desserts and cakes.

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For this postcard recipe I want to share with you one of the cakes I made for afternoon tea that although may not have helped us in Greece with any lightening of the figures it uses olive oil rather than butter and mostly honey rather than sugar so seemed a good comprise for a treat.

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This week

My favourite Greek Extra virgin olive oil: Olive tree London 

Olive oil used : 6 litres

Greek yogurt eaten : 2.5 kilos

Percentage of dishes involving olive oil : 91%

I’m reading : The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield : Ok but had to chew my way through the last third.

Ouzo habit: good

I’m loving : properly made tarmasalata and grilled octopus

Every Greek villa should have: caper berry bushes

Greek wine to try : Mayiko Bouvo , Magic Mountain, Nico Lazaridi

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Extra virgin Olive oil, orange, rosemary and honey cake

1 long spring of rosemary

150g sr flour

½ tsp baking powder

150g cup ground almonds

3 eggs

100g sugar

75 g runny honey

seeds from 1 vanilla pod

2 orange zest

1 sprig rosemary

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Pre heat the oven to 170 ° C

Line a 2 lb loaf tin with baking parchment and place a sprig of rosemary at the bottom.

In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and ground almonds.

In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar and eggs until pale an thick ( about 3 minutes if using an electric whisk) then mix in the honey , vanilla seeds, orange zest and juice.

Gradually mix the eggs into the flour mixture and stir until you have a smooth batter.

Pout into the tin and bake on a lower shelf for 40 – 5omins or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Remove the rosemary sprig

Serve with spoonfuls of Greek yogurt.

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Next stop… Im visiting the East Hamptons.

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Recipe | Vlita, saffron and feta pie

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My big fat Greek….Pie

An overnight stay in Athens was swiftly followed by a few hours boat ride across the Aegean to the pretty island of Paros where the gleaming white washed buildings lay backdrop to the colourful myths, legends and modern day lives of the Greeks. The winding streets of the towns, so designed to make attacking pirates lives more difficult, were filled with cafes, boutiques, ouzerias and restaurants. I soon decided this was my kind of place.

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Our villa instantly filled with guests and I quickly got my first taste of Greek family life. They are similar to the French and Italians in terms of passion and excitement over food, the amusing uncontrollable urge to stir pots on the stove every time they walk by and the wonderful ability to discuss recipes at length. Even the children were overheard debating which their favourite dish of the week had been.   In my books however I have to currently admit the Greeks edge ahead with their friendliness. Firstly they do not look at you like you have just blasphemed every time you attempt to utter a few words of their language (the French, as much as I love them, have I am sure given most of us puzzled glaring looks when pronouncing words fractionally wrong then follow it with a mini lesson that they are never satisfied with the result in). Secondly, unlike the Italians (of whom I am also very fond) who fiercely defend their recipes and dictate that theirs is the best and only way to make a certain dish, the Greeks seem much more easy going and delighted and interested in their food culture being an inspiration for a new dish.

With the mercury easily hitting the 30°C each day but a delightful breeze keeping us all in a very pleasant state, food was light, summary and involved of course a lot of extra virgin Greek olive oil. 2016-07-10_0014

I instantly loved that shopping for fruit and vegetables was dictated by what was fresh, local and in season and it was very much one of those places here you go to the shop/market and then decide what to cook. There are permanent stalls/benches set up in the towns that farmers can just come and sell there produce at when they have it and some farmers shops that although are certainly more shi shi than a few old wooden crates by the side of the road still fully focus on what the very productive island has to offer.

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Feeling plucky and encouraged by the feed back by day three I decided it was time to cook them a lamb dish

“ Ooh that’s brave, cooking lamb for the Greeks”, the hostess playfully told me as I splashed extra of the local excellent wine, Moraitis over the young legs of lamb and returned them to the oven.

Well too late now, I thought as suppertime shortly loomed. Again they were delighted with it loved that I had used local wine and the wild thyme and oregano that had been picked by the path that led down to the beach.

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With encouragement from this and courage from a little outing with the group the night before for a pre dinner ouzo I decided it was time to have a go at my version of their practically national dish, Spanakopita (surely the name of the next bond girl)  this postcards recipe.

Having never been one to feel totally compelled to follow the well-trodden path I had been thinking of ways I could beneficially twist the dish.

Saffron and vlita became my answers.

 

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In the middle ages the charmingly named Essex town of Cheppinge Waldron became Englands epicentre for saffron and so great was its importance that the places’ name was changed to Saffron Waldron. Sadly with a puritan sway sweeping the land as we emerged from the Middle Ages, our tastes became plainer, the saffron use declined and so did the industry.

Legend has in ancient Greek that when the bold and ‘easy on the eye ‘ youth Crocus set his amorous heart of the nymph Smilax she indulged him in some frolics in a wood near Athens. Enjoyment, on her part at first, soon turned to boredom and when he continued to persist in bothering her she turned him into the flower ‘saffron crocus’ and still to this day the fiery glow of the stigmas reveals his smouldering but unrequited passions…or so the story goes.

The Mediterranean island of Santonrini has had discoveries of wall murals dating back a few thousand years BC of beautiful breast baring female saffron gathers that tells us of the exotic spices long history with this land. I cant imagine a similar dress code or look for the Middle Ages saffron pickers in Essex but then again perhaps it was dress down Fridays that sparked a puritanical turn in our ways.

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So on a bold Friday morning I made my big fat greek pie and presented it at the table. We sat down to lunch, slices were shared out and we began to eat.

Then the head of the table says;

“ That was the best spinach pie I have ever had”!

Inwardly I was thinking OMG are the woman going to throw plates/daggers/a wild cat ( there are quite a few here) at him?! Would this be the beginning of the end for me? Will this bring and end to the holiday harmony and bliss? ….

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No of course not, more wine was poured, the laughter and chat levels rose, various methods, twists and recipe ideas were discussed and the party continued…

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This Week

Greek Extra Virgin Olive oil used : 8 Litres

Raw Greek Honey used : 2 lbs

I’m loving: Ouzo

Im reading : Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, totally gripping and can’t believe I hadn’t read it before.

Mode of transport : Boats, trains, Planes and cars

Every Greek Villa should have: poolside beanbag loungers and be within skipping distance to the Aegean.

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Vlita, feta and saffron pie

Serves 8

In the UK although the leaf vlita is not wildly available, it is a bit like a chard / spinach / nettle cross (but with out the sting), you will have seen its seed Amaranth in many food shops, a so called super food packed full of protein.

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4 or 5 thick sheets of filo

pinch of saffron

150g butter

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 red onions finely chopped

1 tsp dried oregano

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

3 good handfulls of blanched vlita (or spinach / chard)

200g top quality feta

4 organic eggs

1 1/2 tbs each of finely chopped parsley, mint and dill

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Pre heat the oven to 180 °C

Melt the butter in a small pan with saffron then leave to one side to infuse

In a frying pan sauté the onions and garlic with the olive oil until softened and sweet.

In a bowl lightly beat the eggs, crumble in the cheese then add the herbs.

Add the cooked vlita to the egg mix and season with salt and pepper.

Brush a pie dish or baking tin of approx. 8” by 10” with the saffron butter.

Lay a sheet of filo down, it should come up over the sides and brush with butter.

Repeat with 2 more layers .

Tip the filling in and level out.

Then crinkling and rucking up the rest of the sheets of filo and the overhanging sides enclose the pie and drizzle with the rest of the saffron butter.

Bake for 45mins to 1 hour, the pie should be golden.

Can be eaten warm or cold.

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Next postcard recipe….I’m staying put !

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Recipe | Potato salad

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Le Tour de Carbs

This week I’ve been cooking for a group of 30 athletes cycling 3 cols of the Pyrenees.

It was like discovering a secret bizarre club and then finding out that half the people I knew were members.

“I’m off to cook for a group doing some crazy Tour de France style cycle over the Pyrenees”

“Oooh how interesting, yes we did that last month”

or

“ Wonderful! Nothing more fun than a 5 hour bike ride up some hills”

and

“Ah yes, Milly and I often take our bikes on a challenging weeks ride across Scotland. Jolly good fun”!

Everyone I talked to seemed to be into cycling thing, in a serious way. Even the girl at the checkout when I was buying obscene amounts of jaffa cakes and jelly babies  ( for the cyclists not me..ok I had a few) to take with me had just come back from a weekend of cycling with her friends.

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I really cannot think of many ways I would less like to spend my time.

I have tried it (sort of) and just didn’t derive the pleasure of reaching the top of the hills or particularly the kamikaze nature of coming down them.   Give me a horse as alternative transport any day of the week.   What really did interest and excite me about this cycling extravaganza however was researching and creating a menu for the weekend.

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There was to be a party on the Friday night to get everyone in the mood, a carb happy lunch and dinner on the Saturday to help fuel them for their gruelling ride, take away breakfast and cycle snacks to be distributed between three support vehicles following them up the mountains to go on the Sunday then a grand feast Sunday night to welcome home the champions.

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The Friday and Saturday carb happy meals were easy to come up with ideas for and there was plenty of advice on the Internet about the best slow release energy foods and protein dishes to help with muscle performance.

I should warn you however if you ever find yourself doing your own research do not to type in “ what to eat before and during a cycle” as you will be bombarded with menstrual related information.

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It was the ‘what would people want to eat during the cycle’ that was the most challenging and conflicting in results. Everyone I asked seemed to have different opinions. Some swore that a cheese sandwich and a few jelly babies in your back pocket were all you needed, some liked to delve into gels, mineral drinks and other lab concoctions of alarming colours that are available in the sporty fanatic world and then I even heard stories of members of this group last year happy to stop for a 2 course lunch and glass or two of wine to help fuel them through the day. The only consistent item of food was bananas.

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The food for the ride had to be split between three support vehicles (also carrying spare tyres, pumps, water, extra Lycra ect..). It had to be appealing to those on the ride but also transportable and survive a day of being lugged up and down mountains. It helped that we bought half of Frances supply of Tupperware to aid us in this challenge.

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Their take away breakfast and extreme picnic menu in the end read as follows.

 

Breakfast

Banana

Bircher muesli, strawberry and blueberry pots

Sausage sandwiches

Roast mushroom rolls.

Fresh fruit smoothie with honey

Coffee / tea

Mountain sustenance

Bananas

Cut up oranges

Cheese sandwiches

Home made Sausage Rolls

Peanut sandwiches

Power balls

Home made Flapjacks

Jaffa cakes

Banana and maple syrup cake

Brownies

Crisps

Chocolate bars

Jelly babies

 

So come Sunday morning, after a very jolly Friday night (I was not sure at this point how seriously they were taking this) a slightly more subdued Saturday night , the 30 Lycra clad cyclists piled onto the bus and headed to the Pyrenees. It was like watching the start of a stage of the tour de France (though with less egos, doping and politics clouding the enjoyment).

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They were equipped with supplies that I hoped would satisfy any cravings that may appear and a few large boxes of iced cold beer ready for the end of the day.

 

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Meanwhile back at base the team regrouped after an early start to prepare for the evenings feast.

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When the victors returned it was fun hearing as they all tumbled back in how their day went and how they got on with the supplies…

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“oooh your sausage rolls, the thought of them at the next stop helped me up that last 20 km”

“Gosh it really is all about power balls isn’t it ?”

or my favourite feedback

“ I basically rewarded myself with a jelly baby every km” (that’s 110)

 

I confess having seen the pictures of the ride, hearing the stories of team work and camaraderie, observing the joy of triumph and achievement… I still have zero desire to ever do it myself.

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For this weeks postcard I will give you a carb happy recipe for potato salad.

This week

Pasta eaten: 7.2 kilo

Potatoes eaten: 8.1 kilos

Cocktails drunk: xxx

Admiration levels: 100 %

Inclination to do it myself: 0 %

Every home should have: 30 bicycle pumps

Problems caused by corroded spoke nipples: 1

Potato salad

Serves 10

1 kilo waxy potatoes

Mayonnaise

2 egg yolks

squeeze of lemon

150 ml sunflower oil

150 ml olive oil

1 dsp Dijon mustard

30 gherkins roughly chopped

6 spring onions finely chopped

3 tbs roughly chopped parsley

Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water, drain and cool.

To make the mayonnaise

Whizz the eggs yolks in a blender with lemon juice until thick and pale.

Slowly pour in the two oils, then add the mustard and season with salt and pepper.

Mix the mayo through the cold potatoes along with the gherkins, spring onions and parsley. Serve room temperature at least a day before a big cycle as potatoes are a slow release carbohydrate.

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Next stop… Greece

 

Some photos from this postcard recipe have been given and used with kind permission of the group

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Recipe | Barbecued flatbread with sprinkles

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Hatched, matched and dispatched

The salmon and I were leaping for joy at the prospect of spending a jolly few weeks on the Findhorn. Though on second thoughts we probably had different motives.

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There is nothing that comes even close in salmon perfection as the Scottish wild variety. Its texture, colour and above all flavour cannot be beaten. I could not wait to get my hands on one and there was poetic beauty in knowing it was hatched, matched ( with a sauce) and dispatched in pretty much the same spot.

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I had to restrain myself from shooing the fishermen out of the lodge in the morning to maximise their time on the river bank, though I was delighted that a few of the first jolly group of 18 were up and out before breakfast and even returned for some late night fishing when the light is said to be particularly good for the sport.

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This year there is a 70 % catch and release policy with anything caught over 9 lb, basically meaning you need to catch two before you can keep one.   The tradition is to beep the horn of your 4 x 4 as you pull up to the lodge if you have been successful. For our first group it was also the signal to dash out with a wee dram ( it was G and T’s if you returned empty netted so a pretty win-win situation if you ask me).

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The second group who came to fish had rather a turn in the weather (the sun came out) and a drop in the river, making it harder sport. It did however make it perfect conditions for their BBQ lunches on the river banks.

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Relatively obsessed (ok totally) with BBQ s, over my years as a chef and opinionated eater I have formed firm ideas on BBQ’S.

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If you have a gas one, really don’t bother, just cook inside. You are adding very little in terms of flavour to your meal, they rarely stay hot enough, unless you keep closing the lid in which case you are basically cooking it in a gas oven, I could rant on…but wont. No, it has to be charcoal.

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Mastering the smoky flavour giving intense heat is a satisfying thing. Learning to successfully light, maintain and use the heat is an art. I confess one rainy day 2 packs of firelighters and 2 weeks worth of Sunday Times were invaluable.

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Over the week I would do some prep in the lodge kitchen, load the Range Rover chock-a-block with food, drinks, tables and charcoal and head to the assigned fishing hut (you can watch videos of week on my instgram feed). Upon arrival the Range Rover would get unloaded, a makeshift outdoor kitchen erected, the table laid and the BBQ lit.

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Guests would be welcomed with a tin cup of soup then a grill themed lunch would follow. Over the week they had fillets and legs of estate venison, grilled crispy skinned chicken, pork chops, whole bass, bream, squid and of course wild salmon.

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Packing for these BBQs was like a memory game, you couldn’t forget anything and if you did ,well you had to get creative. The week confirmed my approach that with BBQ’s, simple is generally best and at bare minimum al I really needed to remember to pack was

The meat or fish

Olive oil

A lemon

And some fresh herbs.

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Sauces are always important as you generally don’t create much gravy / juice so jars of fresh horseradish, salsa verde, chilli sauce, home made mayonnaise and tartar sauce came out each day.

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One of my favourite foods I cooked over the week, besides the grilled and whole foil baked salmon was the fresh flatbreads, this postcards’ recipe.

This week

Eggs: 157

Butter: 19 packs

Salmon caught: 9

Salmon caught leaping: 23

Kilos of charcoal used: 18

Every home should have: a drone

I learnt : the salmon on the Findhorn are the prettiest ( possibly slightly biased source)

 

Barbequed Flatbread

Makes about 8 large circles

You can knead and rest the dough then transport it to the riverbank / bbq to grill.

500g White Bread Flour plus a few handfuls extra for rolling

2 tsp. Dried Yeast

1 tsp. Fine sea salt

300ml – 350ml Warm water

1 tbs. runny honey

1 tbs Olive oil plus a little extra

1 tbs plain yogurt

2 -3 tbs of Sprinkles e.g. sumac, poppy seeds, zatar or cumin

In a large bowl mix the flour and sea salt

In a jug stir the yeast into 300ml of the water with the honey, leave for 5 minutes (it should have started to foam) then pour into the flour and start to mix.

Add the olive oil and yogurt and knead on a clean surface for about 10 minutes. . The dough should be quite wet so if it feels stiff add a little more warm water.

When smooth and elastic place it back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to double in size, this will take about an hour in a warm kitchen.

I then took the bowl to the river bank and rolled my flatbreads there.

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To roll the flatbread make sure you have a hot clean grill.

Roll all the dough into equal sized balls (in-between a golf and a tennis ball is good).

Lightly flour the surface and one by one roll the balls into circles about 2 – 3 mm thick. Lightly brush one side with olive oil and then scatter on your choice of sprinkle ( my current favourite is sumac mixed with ground cumin).

Grill on both sides for a couple of minutes till golden and serve as soon as possible.

If doing a batch you can lightly warp them in foil and give them a quick flash on the bbq to warm them up.

These are delicious with juicy grilled meats, vegetables or fish or with dipping sauced like labneh, hummus ect.

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Next stop…cooking for a group cycling the Pyrenees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recipe | Deep fried Wild Garlic flowers

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Fashion flower…

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The fashion shoot really whizzed by in a flash. The days were long but fun and everyone was on constant alert in case they were needed. The stoves in the kitchen fired up around 430 am in order to make first breakfasts for the cast and crew before they had to venture to the chilly outside to make the most of the amazing morning light. Like hobbits (all be it very super, tall and beautiful ones) they would return a few hours later for second breakfast and a rest before lunch and then head back out for more shooting. They would all start to pile back in for tea time around 5pm and spend a few hours tying up jobs from the day and prepping for the next before tucking in to a late supper.

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It amuses me that when I tell people I am off to cook for a fashion shoot every one always assumes its all about lettuce leaves and the trendiest grain of the moment (I believe we are meant to be still obsessed with teff) but I can tell you the early morning bacon butties were immensely popular although power balls once again seemed to be in high demand.

They also assume that the crowd will all be rather high maintenance and requests like “Go and find 48 local blue flamingos, quick!” or “ Love the mountain in the back drop but can you just move it 3 meters to the left?” would not be uncommon but in my experience everyone is super organised, reasonable and works their socks off!

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Once the shoot was over I headed home for a few days where the garden was putting on an outrageously beautiful fashion show, declaring big, bright and blousy was in.

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In the food world although ingredients aren’t quite so subject to going in and out of fashion they certainly can come quickly in and out of season.

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For this postcard recipe I wanted to make sure we were all making the most of the wild garlic. Like many spring ingredients the season is short so we have to make the most of it and although the leaves may be past their best the flowers still make delicious eating.

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This Week

Power balls consumed: 178

In fashion: Wild garlic flowers

Out of fashion: sleeping

I’m driving: Evoque Range Rover

New Facebook videos on top tips and trends from a private chef: 2

 

Deep fried wild garlic flowers

This makes a tasty pre dinner nibble with a glass or two of fizz but would also work well as part of a main dish for fish or meat.

Serves 5 as a pre dinner nibble.

10 wild garlic heads

5 tbs plain flour

1 level tsp. baking powder

200ml approx. chilled beer

1 lemon

Oil for deep-frying.

Cut the stalks so they are about 2 inches long

In a bowl whisk the flour and baking powder with a pinch of salt the slowly pour in the beer, whisking continually, until you have reached the consistency of a loose double cream.

Dip the flower heads in the batter, shake off the excess, and then fry for 10 – 15 seconds until they go golden.  

Carefully remove and drain on kitchen paper.

Sprinkle with salt and add a little squeeze of lemon, eat instantly.

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Next Stop, Salmon Fishing in the Highlands….

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Recipe | Asparagus and roasted Jerusalem artichoke salad

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 Perked up by Spring !

Last week I almost fainted. By instruction of a client I was purchasing some relatively good-looking apples from a trendy west London shop. The fruits were prettily laid out in pristine new wicker baskets and they had an impressive range of varieties. I loved that they were not all textbook apple shape and that alarmingly uniform and same size you generally get in the supermarkets. When it came to totting up the bill however I really couldn’t quite believe the price they were asking.

“That will be a bajillion pounds please”

The young cool bearded dude behind the rustic counter casually said.

“A bajillion pounds (?!*!?*%$!?$)” says I?

“Er, yes well, they’re local, ain’t they?”

“Local? To Kensington”?

“Erm well…”

I left bemused and very carefully carrying my expensive cargo.

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I think part of the trouble was the shock in comparison to the rural markets surrounding Toulouse from where I had just returned.   Deep in the south west of France you could pop to a market, buy 3 huge bags full of fresh local, seasonal fruit and veg and still have change out of a 50 Euro note for a croissant and morning café. You will find few fancy selling tactics, just muddy plastic crates or old wooden boxes stacked on the floors and wobbly tables packed full of fresh delicious produce.

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I was down there to cook for a family and their friends. The brief for the food, despite us being firmly located in fois gras and duck land, was to focus mainly on vegetarian dishes. With spring well underway in those parts creating non meat based feasts was easy and enjoyable. Being that much ahead of the British season I was delighted on my first visit to the market to see tables full of white and green asparagus, artichokes, broad beans, peas, strawberries, rapeseed tops and spring onions.

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Obviously I was delighted with this abundance of choice but what really kept grabbing my attention were the boxes of kiwis being sold, a fruit I have never really associated with French cuisine.

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Originally from China, the kiwi fruit grows on a vine and are mostly produced in New Zealand, Chili, Greece, Italy and France.  Apparently they are notoriously difficult to pollinate, as bees are not very attracted to the flowers. Growers will often have a good amount of beehives in the actual orchards so competition for pollen becomes fierce and the bees have to feed on the kiwi pollen. Once picked, if kept correctly, they will not ripen but are very sensitive to ethylene so once ready to eat they should be kept away from other fruit.

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The other showstopper in the market that is now also in season in the UK was Green and White Asparagus (white asparagus is the same as green it is just grown under mulch so the chlorophyll never gets to photosynthesise).

The photo below shows some plants in their second year. To get the best of results you harvest them in the third year of growing.

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If I were ever to buy into this crazy fad of calling certain foods “Super Foods” (this clearly is not likely to happen) asparagus would be near the top of the list. It has heaps of nutrients, fibre and vitamins and it is a great source of glutathione, a compound that detoxifies the body and helps break down carcinogens and free radicals.

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But most interestingly it is regarded as an aphrodisiac

People usually mention its phallic shape here but I am not so sure how many people go in for long slender green things but what science tells us is that they are a diuretic so increase the amount of urine excreted which ‘excites’ the passages. Plus with its high amounts of aspartic acid it helps get rid of excess ammonia, which can make people feel tired and sexually disinterested.

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For this postcards recipe I couldn’t settle on a kiwi recipe as I really only like them raw in a fruit salad, on a cake or in Pavlova so I would like to share instead a delicious Asparagus dish to make the most of this slender green beauty.

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This week

Its all about asparagus and Kiwis

Every home should have: a cuisine art ice cream maker

Asparagus spears served: 169

Libidos : I didn’t ask.

I’m reading: My brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I travelled by: citron, horse, plane and train

 

Roasted Jerusalem artichoke and asparagus salad with toasted almonds, Dijon and parsley dressing.

Make the most of English asparagus season as it can whizz by before you know it. The asparagus and artichokes can be served cold or warm in this salad – I personally prefer them warm.

Serves 4

16 – 20 spears of green asparagus

16 – 20 Jerusalem artichokes

2 tbs olive oil

4 spring onions finely chopped

2 heads of red chicory, leaves separated.

One handful of toasted almonds

Dressing

2 tbs Dijon mustard

2 tbs sherry vinegar

1 tbs honey

3 bs extra virgin olive oil

2 tbs finely chopped parsley

To make the dressing …

Add a sprinkle of salt to a bowl then add the vinegar and mustard then whisk in the honey, parsley and olive oil.

For the Jerusalem Artichokes…

Pre heat the oven to 180°C.

Wash then chop the artichokes in half lengthways .

Season with salt and pepper and coat in the 2 tbs of olive oil.

Lay them flat on a baking tray and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until they are cooked through and starting to caramelise.

For the asparagus…

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.

Rinse the asparagus and snap off the woody ends (these can be discarded or I sometimes use them to make a stock for asparagus based soups).

Blanch the tender ends for a couple of minutes then drain.

To assemble the salad in a large bowl toss the cooked asparagus and artichokes with the chicory, nuts and dressing pile onto a plate and serve.

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Next stop, I’m off to cook for a fashion shoot…

 

 

 

 

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Recipe | Clams with white wine, jamon and coriander

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It’s all about the birdie….

Its all about the birdie

The sun was out, I had front row seats to the hottest Easter party in the Algarve ( OK I was coking for it) and we had more chocolate than Willy Wonker for the Easter Egg Hunt of 2016, I just knew it was going to be a great week.

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On the Southern coast of Portugal there are numerous activities one can pursue, eating and drinking some of the excellent local produce is of course top of my list but everyone else seemed to be there for the birdies.

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Whilst out for a potter along the coast I stumbled across what I initially thought was a ‘clash’ (I couldn’t find the collective pronoun for paparazzi) of photographers. Blocking the path and all totally focused on something on the distant sands. I wondered if it was Sir Cliff Richard catching some cheeky rays or perhaps José Mourinho that had caught their attention, but on closer inspection it turned out to be this lot.

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Bird watching was obviously big in these parts.

On the other side of the water anther activity, that was hopeful for birdies, was taking place. Golf.

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One of my more junior clients for the week was trying to explain to me the rules, skills, scoring and excitements of the game. Birdies, an albatross and eagles were all mentioned as good things but I decided to move the conversation on when he started talking about bogeys.

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The food available down here is generally excellent; there are some wonderful local markets and impressively stocked supermarkets. Fish is particularly good including stone bass and clams and there are lots of fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits.  Shopping trips were made even more exciting by my bumbling but enthusiastic poor mix of Portuguese / Spanish / Italian that came out in a Russia accent. Thank goodness for hand gestures.

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I love some of the strong gutsy flavors of Portugal from the well known Piri Piri Chicken and chips – done well this is a very fine meal, to the classier clams with garlic and coriander, this Postcards recipe.

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This week

Chocolate stolen from small children – 28 mini eggs ( so much easier than having to find it in the garden)

Birdies scored: 0

Birdies sighted:123

Bogeys :0

Watch the birdie – was originally used when photographs took a long time to take and the children’s attenetion was focused on a mechanical moving bird above the camera .

A Birdie – is a score in golf where you get the ball in the hole 1 stroke under the ideal score. The bigger and more impressive the bird (Eagle, Albatross, Condor) the more strokes under par you are.

 

Garlic clams with jamon, white wine and coriander

Serves 2 as a starter or light lunch

500g clams

1 tbs oats

3 cloves of garlic peeled and lightly smashed with the back of a knief

2 thin slices of jamon finely chopped

2 tbs olive oil

Slosh of dry white wine

Finely chopped green chilli 1 – 2 tsp depending on preference of heat

2 tbs freshly chopped corrander ( stalks finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped).

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Rinse the clams then let them sit in cold water with a sprinkling of oats for 1.2 hour – this will help get rid of any grit.

Lift the clams out of the water ( so any grit stays in the bowl).

In a pan with a lid big enough to hold the clams gently fry the garlic and jamon in the olive oil until just starting to take colour.

Add the clams, white wine, half the coriander and some freshly milled black pepper.

Place the lid on and steam for about 4 minutes or until the clams have all opened.

Add the chilli and rest of the coriander, mix and serve.

Best eaten with a very cold glass of white wine.

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Next stop, South West France…

 

 

 

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Recipe | Prawn, chicken and chorizo paella

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Leaping into spring some exciting developments have happened,

Firstly Philippa Davis, postcard recipes now has a face book page which I would love you all to like and share, I will be posting more photos, videos, cooking tips and recipes. Click here to like face book 

I also have been on the radio chatting to the lovely William Sitwell, editor of Waitrose Food, about life as a private chef. You can listen to the interview by clicking this link Radio Soho 

If you see a crocodile…

‘Row, row, row your boat’ has got to be a top classic when it comes to kids songs, this was made clear to me when my 5 year old niece recently gave me all her variations. Favourite renditions would have to include:

“Row, row, row your boat gently down the river

If you see a polar bear don’t forget to quiver”

Row, row, row your boat gently to the bay

If you see a pirate ship sail the other way “

Row, row, row your boat gently to the shore,

If you see a lion there don’t forget to roar”

These lines were unfortunately swimming round my head as I went to my job cooking for a party of 50 people celebrating the start of a rather serious and successful female London rowing team.

 

I love cooking for parties whether there are 2 or 150 guests expected (just providing I haven’t been told to cater for 2 and 150 show up). I know some find it more stressful then pleasurable catering for numbers so I thought I would use this blog post to give a few tips and tricks for preparing for a party.

Firstly anything you can prepare before the day, do and if you don’t have a fleet of staff at your disposable get some friends or family to help, its more fun.

The Table

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Laying tables, this can be done up to two days before the event if you turn the glasses up side down.

Flower arranging can be done the day before, if you have some where cool to keep them, and moved into situ on the morning, make sure they are either low enough to talk over or will tower high like a canopy above the seated guests. You can use anything from jam jars to Milano glass just try and get some sort of continuity with either colours, shapes or style. When decorating a large table it can take more time and flowers than you think.

 

Linen

Think how formal you want it to be and what sort of occasion you are catering for, if its for a rather fun loving and rowdy crowd you probably don’t want to get out your best white linen and spend the evening worrying that someone’s going to decorate it with their red wine.

Napkins – for large numbers believe me everyone hesitates whether it’s acceptable to use good quality paper instead of cloth. Trust me no one will ever go home tutting that the evening was spoilt not being able to dab their mouths with a Weissfee napkin.

Sort out serving dishes and utensils the day before (carefully dusting down that wedding gift dinner service you only use every seven years).

 

Drinks

Chilling drinks.

Nothing is worse than a warm glass of white wine (ok that’s a bit of an exaggeration but its not nice). Drinks can all be bought in advance and put in the chiller, remember it can take longer then usual when there are lots and the fridges and freezers are fuller than normal with food ect.

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Cocktails – are a thoughtful and fun way to start the party, I like to put seasonal twists on mine so at the moment it’s all about forced rhubarb or blood oranges.

Water – make sure you have lots of jugs or bottles at the ready and that they are refilled, no one will thank you for a hangover due to dehydration. If using jugs it delicious to put slices of lemon, lime or cucumber or sprigs of mint in.

 

Food shopping

In a ‘Stepford Wife’ (or husband as men these days are in the kitchen more than ever) perfect style world you would of course calmly gather all the ingredients from local shops and markets in ones wicker basket. In reality you are probably trying to juggle preparing for the party, taking little Johnny to the dentist and keeping a watch on that piece from 1stdibs that has caught your eye. So if short of time there is no shame in getting the bulk of ingredients in an Ocado delivery.

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The Menu

If you are a fearless and experienced cook its fine, you can choose to put soufflés for 16 on your menu or make 5 different flavoured macaroons for petit fours if not…choose dishes you have made before and that are not too complicated. It’s meant to be a fun occasion for everyone so it doesn’t make sense to choose something that causes tears and tantrums in the run up.

Don’t plan on making too many different dishes, its best to do a few really well then prepare a Caesar like feast.

Make sure one course is completely finished before guests arrived (I usually do the desserts) so there is less pressure and distraction on you as the host during the event.

Buffets (although not a word I love) or platters of food popped in the middle of the table are a brilliant way to feed a group and take my word for it everyone from Dukes to Captains of industry are doing it. This style of serving food has various advantages in that guests can control their own portion size, its saves time and space on plating up food and passing round food or gathering at the feeding trough can help break at the ice at the beginning.

 

Remember if you decide on using a buffet table think about the flow of people – centre isles are great as guests can work their way round and not cause a human traffic jam but if you have to serve from a table in the corner make sure they start at the wall end with the empty plates then work their way into the room finishing with picking up their cutlery and napkin.

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Choosing your menu

Good dishes to prepare for parties are ones that don’t take up too many pots and pans ( you don’t want a pile of washing up as guests arrive) or that can be made ahead and cooked or reheated on the day.

Curries, pies, cobblers, lasagnes and tagines are all good for this as well as paella which is the recipe for this postcard.

 

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This week

Philippa Davis postcard recipes now has a face book page, please click here to like and share face book

Boats rowed to shore: 9

This seasons party cocktail: Rhubarb, gin and prosecco

Paper vs Linen : Paper

Chilled drinks and hosts: 100 %

If you see a crocodile ; run!

Ive been on William Sitwells radio show Biting talk, click hear to listen

Biting talk 

 

Chicken, Chorizo and Prawn paella

Serves 12

The stock

Amazing soups, risottos and paellas start with an amazing stock so it is totally worth investing time and money in it.

If you don’t have a paella pan you can make it in one or two large frying pans and transfer it onto platters for serving.

2 tbs olive oil

2 large handfuls of prawn shells or 300g of prawns with their shell on

1 glass of white wine

½ a glass of dry sherry or brandy

1 free-range chicken carcasses

1 white onion peeled and roughly chopped

1 head of garlic sliced horizonattly in half

bunch of parsley stalks

1 tbs black peppercorns

1tbs fennel seeds

In a large pot fry the prawns shells in the oil until starting to slight;y brown then slosh in the wine and brady or sherry.

Add the there stock ingredients then fill the pot 1 inch from the top with cold water.

Bring to a boil then turn down and simmer for about 1 hour ( preferably 2).

Drain the stock through a sieve into another sauce pan and leave to one side.

The Paella.

There are of course many variations including a rabbit and snail one, but no ones ever requested it. My favourite is this chicken, prawn and chorizo.

2 tbs olive oil plus a little extra for the chicken

2 white onions peeled and chopped into approx. 1 cm squares

2 red peppers chopped the same size as the onions

4 cloves of garlic finely chopped

6 bay leaves

300g cooking chorizo chopped into small chunks ( can be the spicy sort if that’s what you like).

10 skinless and boneless chicken breasts cut into 3’s (you can use more or less depending on how hungry the crowd you are feeding are)

840g paella rice

700g peeled raw prawns

2 handfuls of cooked peas

3 tbs finely chopped parsley

3 lemons

1 x large pinch of saffron mixed wih 50ml just boiled water

Bring the prepared stock to a simmer

In your frying / paella pan sear all the chicken pieces in a little of the olive oil till browned on each side then remove from the pan and put to one side (you are not cooking them through at this stage).

Then on a medium heat fry the onions, pepper, chorizo, garlic and bay leaves in the olive oil for about 10 minutes until lightly caramelised, stirring regularly.

Add the rice and stir well so everything is hot .

Carefully pour the stock onto the rice so it comes about 2 cm above the rice, add the chicken and season with salt and pepper.

Let the pan simmer till most of the liquid has been absorbed then test the rice to see if it needs more cooking and liquid.

Once the rice is almost there add the prawns and peas. Cook for another couple of minutes so the prawns cook through and the peas are hot.

Once everything is cooked sprinkle over the saffron water and parsley. Squeeze over the juice from one lemon then cut up the other 2 into wedges and place on top of the rice

Serve with garlicky aioli and a fresh crunchy green salad.

Note – You don’t want the paella too sloppy or dry so you will have to judge for yourself how much stock to add in the final stages of cooking.

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Next stop, Portugal…

 

 

 

 

 

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Recipe | French Apple Tart

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Car parks, whisky, wine and tarts

The recent weeks have involved cooking for a Shabbat in West London, a whisky tasting lunch and photographic exhibition in a Soho car park, a wine tasting at the fabulous Whirly Wines down in Tooting Bec, working on an brilliant Dorset book project and a trip to Nice and Monaco.   2016-03-09_0006

I was excited to cook for my first Shabbat, a day of rest and celebration in the Jewish week.   The Middle Eastern themed meal was to take place in a very cosmopolitan feeling Kensington. When designing the menu there were certain rules I had to bare in mind, so of course no pork, no shellfish, fish with only gills and scales – meaning no turbot, monkfish, catfish etc.. and it was also important not to mix meat and dairy so couldn’t include yogurt sauces with some dishes in the Middle eastern feast.

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The Shabbat meal begins with candle lighting and blessings then the food is bought in and the feast begins. Here was their menu :

 

Children’s Supper

Home made burgers, potato wedges and broccoli

Adults Canapés and cocktails

Vodka, champagne and rhubarb fizz 

Beetroot hummus with garlic and lemon on crisp breads

Chicken and orange blossom pastries with harrissa

Adult Mains

Roast Bass with ras al hanout, white wine and garlic with roasted squash and herbed couscous, chopped salad with lime and sumac.

Slow roast shoulder of lamb with cinnamon, cumin and coriander with saffron pilaf, tomato and chickpea sauce, crispy onions, pomegranates and tahini sauce.

Desserts 

Children   – Chocolate caramel brownies

Adults – Pressed chocolate cake with roasted rhubarb

Apple tart tatin and cream

As kosher meat is salted in order to help remove the blood it is recommended that you wash it before cooking, also you need to be more sensitive when seasoning.

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The whisky tasting lunch in the trendy car park was all rather jolly helping to celebrate the launch of an exhibition by the photographer James Stroud. The photographs were of the Balvenie Distillery on Speyside. The party kicked off with whisky based cocktails and canapés and then continued with three courses all of which were paired with various aged whiskies. Tentatively reflecting on it the next day I am not fully convinced that it is a great idea to have whisky pre lunch AND with every course but I am totally won over by serving it with the cheese.

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Though in fairness to the whisky it probably didn’t help that in true trooper chef style, having said my thank yous and goodbyes to the whisky infused crowd, I headed south for a wine tasting. For anyone enthusiastic about interesting wines from small producers around the world, Whirly Wines is a place I would highly recommend to visit. When we arrived at the tasting there were some top foodies around the table including chefs from Bibendum, the Begging Bowl and people from some of London’s most interesting wine clubs as well as locals, passing by that were then drawn in by the merriment kicking off inside.

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The next day my much needed detoxing had to wait, as I was on a plane heading to the somewhat warmer Riviera.

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So much wonderful food originates here, Salad Nicoise ( though shockingly I didn’t actually experience or see particularly good ones), socca – thin chickpea flour pancakes (the perfect snack with an ice cold beer), daube – a beef stew , deep fried courgettes flowers, farcais – veal stuffed vegetable, Pissaladiére   – sweet onion and anchovy pastry tart and tourtes de blettes – a chard tart with raisons and pinenuts. All of which I managed to sample.

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The stand out show stopper of the culinary tour however has to have been the apple tarts (I tried several) that are so ubiquitous in French bistros. Very simple – no spices, no purees and very delicious, they can make even those who find it hard to stop, linger for a few moments extra at the table.

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So for this postcard I would like to share my French Apple tart recipe, the perfect way to end a lunch, enjoy the moment and toast absent friends

This week:

Lunches in car parks : 1

Wine tastings in Tooting Bec:1

Not nice Nicoise salads : 2

Shabbats cooked for:1

I joined Facebook : please like my page here  Philippa Davis face book 

 

French Apple Tart

Makes 8 – 10 6 cm individual tarts

Pastry

180g plain flour

20g icing sugar

100g cold salted butter

1 egg yolk

2 – 4 tbs iced water

6 -8 large crunchy Apples like Gala, Braeburn, Pink lady, Jazz.

8- 10 tsp soft butter

8- 10 tsp golden caster sugar

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbs milk

4 tbs apricot jam

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In a food processor pulse the flour and icing sugar a couple of times.

On the large side of the cheese grater, grate the butter then add to the flour. Pulse a couple of times.

Add the egg yolk and pulse a couple more times.

Add 2 – 4 tbs of the very cold water, whilst pulsing, until the pastry only just starts coming together into a ball.

Tip into a bowl and bring together.

Flatten out into a 2 cm fat disk, wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for ½ hour.

Once rested…

Pre heat the oven to 180 ° c

Roll out the pastry to a couple of mm thick then cut out 8 – 10 circles and lay them on flat baking sheets lined with non stick paper (you will need to re ball and re roll the pastry but try not to over handle it).

Brush the pastry with the egg yolk and milk mix,

Peel, core and chop the apples into thin crescents.

Lay them in a pretty pattern on top of the pastry circles trying to get them slightly upright.

Dot on the butter and sprinkle on the sugar.

Bake for 45 mins until golden and the apple is soft.

Once cooked melt the apricot jam with 1 tbs water in a pan on a low heat and brush onto the tarts.

Enjoy hot or cold but certainly with a big pile of cream.

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Next stop, a party in Mayfair to celebrate the start of the rowing season.

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Raviolis with garlic, reblochon, wild mushrooms and parsley

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Apple of my Pie

Navigating airports at half term are a bit like playing a kids computer game. The route from departures in one country to arrivals in another is thwarted with challenges, obstacles and tasks to test your intuition and skill that all has to be completed within a certain time frame or its game over or at least a missed flight. I didn’t miss my flight from Gatwick to Geneva for my weeks ski job (it would certainly be a postcard lacking in scenic snow shots and plates of warming food if I had) but I did feel challenged. At my early morning check-in there was an obscene amount of suitcases, children, ski kits and parents whose morning coffee had not quite kicked in yet. My trick in these circumstances is to keep my head down, find the queue with the oldest average age and make sure my caffeine levels are fully dosed. It has to be said though, when you do finally reach the snowy peaks and get your first lungful of chilled mountain air the journey makes perfect sense.

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I do also have to mention on a travel note that the transfer company, generally staffed by young men on gap years, were impressively prompt, speedy and swift. We were unusually briskly, but politely, herded from airport to car park. As soon as the mini bus was loaded the doors slammed shut and we were speedily on our way across the border from Switzerland to France. The rep proudly announced that this was the first time in the company’s history the departure was not only on time but also ahead of schedule! My neighbour nudged me and said with a wink,

“You can thank the Six Nations rugby match this afternoon for that.”

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My week’s cooking was filled with butter, eggs, cream and apples. The first three ingredients are obvious, hearty ski food that is exactly what is desired and needed after a day throwing oneself down a steep mountain on two plastic planks in freezing conditions. The last ingredient, the apple, became my private nemesis.

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No matter what dessert I made, after every meal child 3 of the group, declined dessert and requested 2 chopped up apples. I made tart tatins, cheesecakes, chocolate tarts, strudels, panna cottas, Eton mess but nothing could persuade him. Even the Apple Pie got turned down. I know you are probably thinking why would I want to persuade a child to have dessert over apples BUT let me assure you that they generally eat a good balanced diet, were spending all day out on the slopes and happy to tuck into various candies so I just couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t try dessert!

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Just as I was losing all hope the answer hit me, quite literally. I was planning to make a batch of ice cream for that night and as I opened the treat cupboard to get some chocolate to melt for sauce, down fell a bag of Malteasers. Bingo! Chocolate Malteaser ice cream – if that doesn’t tempt child 3, I give up!

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The chocolate Malteaser ice cream….was indeed tempting enough to be tried, although alongside two chopped up apples of course.

For the postcard recipe this week I would like to share with you one of the side dishes I made for the week’s big celebration dinner, raviules with wild mushrooms and reblouchon. Raviules are the French equivalent of the Italian potato dumplings, gnocchi but they have the added luxury of being fried in butter. I served mine as a side to beef wellington and for that added lushness I massaged white truffle oil into the fillet before encasing it in mushrooms and puff pastry.

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This week

Battle of Apple vs. desserts: apple wins

Butter: 12 packs

Eggs: 7 dozen

I’m loving: green tomato Jo Malone candles

Every private chef should know: Unicorn in French is La Lincone and Pocahontas didn’t marry John Smith.

Raviules with reblochon and wild mushrooms.

I confess the Raviules are quite fussy to make so the perfect request when you have a private chef to hand or fancy a few hours in the kitchen.

Makes enough for 4 as a lunch or 8 as a side dish.

1 kilo of similar sized floury potatoes (King Edwards or Maris piper are good)

100g flour + extra for dusting

2 eggs lightly beaten

3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

100g Semolina

150g butter plus 1 tbs extra

20g flat leaf parsley roughly chopped

200g wild mushrooms

200g reblochon

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With their skins on boil the potatoes in salted water till cooked.

Drain, then whilst still hot, using a tea towel to hold them, peel and mash – this is best done through a ricer a mouli or a sieve into a large bowl.

To the potato add 2/3 of the finely chopped garlic, season with salt then stir in the eggs and the 100g flour. Knead lightly with your hand to bring together into a ball.

Lightly dust a tray with semolina then using the extra plain flour to dust your spoons make quenelles out of the potato mix (you will need to re-dust your spoons roughly after every three). Lay the quenelles on the tray and when you have finished the mix lightly sprinkle the tops with semolina.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and poach the raviules in batches – they will float to the top then leave them to cook for 10 seconds. Once cooked lay out to drain on kitchen paper. They can be made to this stage several hours in advance.

When ready to serve:

Melt 1 tbs of the butter in a large frying pan on a medium heat. When the butter starts to foam add the raviules in batches and fry on the 3 sides until golden then remove and keep warm. Repeat in batches with the rest of the 150g of butter and raviules.

When finished, using the same frying pan add the extra butter, mushrooms and the last 1/3 of garlic, fry for a couple of minutes until the mushrooms are just cooked and you can smell the garlic. Take off the heat add the reblochon and parsley stir then tip over the fried raviules. Serve hot.

Delicious as lunch with a crisp green salad with French dressing or as a side to roasted beef or lamb.

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Next stop, cooking for Shabbat in London.

 

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