Archive | France

Hello….

Hello ….

When Adele took an unbelievably long break and gave us nothing new in what seemed an eternity she instantly won our forgiveness and grabbed back our attention by belting out the simple word “hello” !

I am no Adele. I do I realise I have also been absent a long while, in blog terms that is. I am not sure you would all appreciate me singing at the top of my lungs to you some slow lament that was likely to induce tears, for one reason or another, so I hope this picture of a very pretty dessert of apricot clafoutis will do the trick.

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Recipe | Watermelon Daiquiri

Water, water everywhere, and plenty drops to drink.

Doping, prima donna like behaviour, wild drunken nights out and faking injuries aside I am always totally in ore of what training and lifestyles sports people put themselves through. (I feel free to say this as I have very few sports clients – even less after this blog post…).

One of my latest jobs took me to Toulouse then across towards the Pyrenees to cook for a group who thought it would be fun in their spare time to cycle three cols of the Pyrenees, part of the cycle route of Tour de France. Yes that’s the really tough looking steep rocky mountain parts, super tough and even more so in the heat. Again I was totally impressed though totally unmoved to try anything like that myself. My challenge was to keep them well-fed and watered pre, during and post cycle … which is not without its logistical challenges and also requires stamina and much planning.

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Recipe | Potato salad

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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Asparagus and roasted Jerusalem artichoke salad recipe

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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French Apple Tart recipe

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

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Raviules with garlic, reblochon, wild mushrooms and parsley

Apple of my Pie

Navigating airports at half term can seem a bit like playing a kid’s 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. On top of that it all has to be completed within a certain time frame or its ‘game over’ or in this scenario, a missed flight.

I didn’t miss the flight from London 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. My very early morning check-in was littered with an obscene amount of suitcases, children, ski kits and parents whose morning coffee had not quite kicked in. 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 lungfuls of chilled mountain air there is that moment of clarity and the motivation behind the turbulent journey suddenly makes perfect sense.

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Recipe | Grilled Goats cheese salad with beetroot, figs and mint

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 Uzès charm from every door.

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On the wild off-chance you didn’t spend your childhood watching My Fair Lady,             “Oozing charm from every pore” is a line from one of Professor Higgins’ numbers. I would heartily recommend the movie if you haven’t seen it in a while and enjoy a good sing along. This tune was not however what I have just spent the week listening to…

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I arrived to the Languedoc region in the South of France to one of the small but very pretty villages just outside Uzés, a day before my clients. This doesn’t often happen but I have to say it was a change not having to do a mad first dash to the shops and get supper on the table for a gaggle of hungry people within 3 hours of landing (though of course those circumstances are not without their great elements of fun). The job was to cook for a group of friends that had been holidaying for a week together for the last 16 years.

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With no one in the house for the first 12 hours it occurred to me I could have carte blanche on the sound system. I then discovered that there was no internet and only 3 cds to choose from. Still with Frank, Abba and Mr Morrison to keep me company while I got the prep underway and laid the table ready for the guest’s arrival the time flew by.

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As the week went by it rather amused me that by the last day at some point or other all of the guests had commented on how much I must like Frank Sinatra.

I finally replied to the host that yes I do like Frank but there are only 3 cds to choose from.

“What about the big shelf of them by the cupboard?” she replied.

“@**@!!!!, I thought, I clearly missed that but on the up side I can now sing his top 20 hits off by heart.

Fortunately I was much more on the ball when it came to the food.

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After morning one, I made an executive decision to change alliance from the local bakery to the one in the adjoining village due to distressingly below par croissants. I find it a slightly dream shattering reality that this is the third bad bakery I’ve come across this year in France and find it hard to believe that the locals haven’t started a riot. Actually in two of the cases the bread was still very good so perhaps locals don’t really eat croissants and only care about their daily baguette.

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I have learnt that in France between the hours of 7 am – and 8 30 am, when most people do their bread run, that there are no rules on the road within 50 m each way of the boulungere -park wherever you like in which ever direction, and not to worry about blocking people in or cutting them off, as what is important is that we all get our morning fix of dough.

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As for the Markets I felt totally on form as not only did I triumph in buying the most beautiful stashes of chanterllles mushrooms but I am also proud to announce I feel I have truly mastered the art of beating the elderly female French shoppers at their own game. Let me explain.

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Picture the scene, a bustling charming southern French market, the sun is hopefully shooting bursts of dappled light through the plain trees onto the various tables and boxes of local goodies. I am there early with the locals (golden rule number one of market shopping) and am standing in line, probably wearing a bright summer dress and some oversized earrings. I wait till it is fairly my turn to place my order or pay and then some little old French lady behind me barges me out the way with their boney elbow, jumps the queue and has the bravado to give me a glass shattering death stare. Well not any more, I now dodge that arm, always make sure I make firm friendly yet assertive eye contact with the stallholder and stand my ground. This has totally worked out and so now all I have to put up with is the old French ladies tutting that I am buying the very item they wanted and that they don’t have all day. In response I bat them off with my perfected French style shrug.

(This is all said with true affection as I very much hope to be as canny as these feisty old ladies in years to come).

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As for the cuisine, the star dish of the week may not have been the luscious chaneterlles cheese and lardon omelettes, or the chilli prawn linguini they couldn’t stop eating and possibly not even the vervaine and pistachio praline ice cream it was probably (according to the owner) his home grown grapes.

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He had a point, they were perfectly ripe, very juicy and sweet, and so successful this year we all wondered about turning the land (as it happens a similar size to Petrus) into a vineyard…we shall watch that space!

In the Languedoc it is around now the farmers are harvesting their grapes for wine making and eating and at the markets I noted there were some amazing sweet and delicious varieties on offer that are well worth looking out for in your local shops back in the UK. We all noted that similar to strawberries although you can buy grapes all year round there are only certain times of year they are truly worth serving.

With several days of heavy rain we all wondered what it might do to this months harvest. After much research (well actually I just sent an email to my good friend at the amazing Yapp Brothers Wine Merchants in Mere) I learnt that,

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“A little rain at harvest time isn’t a major problem in a good, ripe vintage (which this one is, by all accounts) but continued and lengthy rain at harvest time would cause the grapes to swell and even split, allowing such problems as mildew, mould and other nasty things to attack and destroy the grapes. In short rain isn’t good at “vendange” time.”
The weather did turn for the better mid week so I will await with interest what this years harvest brings.

After much feasting, festivity and a few al fresco lunches the week ended all to quickly. On my way back to Montpellier airport I reflected on the dishes I cooked and which one I would like to do for this postcard recipe. Initially tempted by the bouillabaisse which went down rather well I have finally decided on the goats cheese crostini, beetroot, fig and mint salad that I had to stand my ground for to buy the ingredients.

This week:

Home grown grapes picked and eaten: 176

I’m driving: a Fiat 500 L, it’s ok but I expected more power for this ‘super sized’ version.

Every home should have: their own vines (and more than 3 cds).

We are making the most of: the last of the summer peaches and tomatoes.

Grilled goats cheese salad with beetroot, fig and mint.

A major part of my job is knowing how to shop, by this I particularly mean being aware of the seasons and local specialties. When you see something that looks extra special at the market it is always worth buying and then deciding what you want to do with it. When I saw these goat’s cheeses and a tray of what I knew would be the last of this summers figs, that night’s starter just fell in to place.

Serves 4

1 small raw beetroot

4 slices of bagette

2 rounds of goats cheese (a tangy one works well with the sweetness of the figs but creamy is also delicious).

1 tbs olive oil

4 ripe figs (green or black) cut in half.

12 mint leaves

1 head of chicory split into leaves

2 tbs pomegranate seeds ( ours was pockled which made them extra sweet)

For the beetroot dressing

1 tbs red wine vinegar

2 tsp honey

1 tbs olive oil

For the salad dressing

1 tbs white wine vinegar

2 tbs olive oil

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To make the beetroot dressing:

Whisk the vinegar with a pinch of salt and pepper

Then the honey and finally the olive oil.

To make the salad dressing

Whisk the vinegar with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Then whisk in the olive oil.

Turn the grill on medium

Peel and thinly slice the beetroot, use a mandolin if you have one, then toss through the beetroot dressing. Leave this to one side while you

Smear the goats cheese on top of the sliced pieces of baguette, drizzle with a little of the extra olive oil and place under the grill for a couple of minutes till they are bubbling and golden on top.

Toss the chicory, mint and figs through the salad dressing then layer on a plate with the beetroot and goats cheese toasts, sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and serve immediately.

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Next stop, the Wyvis Estate in the Scottish Highlands…

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Recipe | Fried ceps with baked polenta and gruyere

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Did I ‘over cep’ the mark?

The week was not as planned. My diary had me in the dramatic depths of wild Scotland cooking for my first grouse shoot of the season, slapping on the mosquito spray and cooking up a variety of game themed feasts. Tweed cap, puffy jacket, gloves and various layers were ready to be packed.

With a last minute change due to lack of grouse reality had me in the bucolic rural Gascony countryside cooking mostly vegetarian food, slapping on the sun cream, darting round the prettiest of French markets and swimming in a magnificent lake.

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I will save the sad tale of what’s happening in the grouse world for a future postcard. As for now it’s all about the gastronomic delights of Gascony.

The job was to cook for a family and their friends just west of Toulouse. Despite the area being the home of cassoulet and famous for its duck and foie gras my brief was to focus mainly on vegetarian food. This turned out to be an extremely delightful and easy request to fulfil as the markets at this time of year in this part of the world have an impressive over lap of summer and autumn ingredients. My main joy however was that I had arrived in time for the very start of Cep season, that wonderful mushroom so abundant in these parts.

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Ceps as they are called in France or Porcini as they are called in Italy ( meaning piglets) or Stienpilz as they are called in Germany (meaning stone mushroom) or to be ultra highbrow Boletus edulis in Latin are mycorrhizal. Meaning they have a symbiotic relationship with the plant roots they grow around, this in turn means they are pretty hard to cultivate so have to be wild and foraged.

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Not having to do breakfasts I had the chance to go every morning to a different local market in the various medieval towns, all of which seemed more idyllic then the last. Perfectly charming covered squares, roofed with tiles and supported by large wooden beams, bustling with locals doing their weekly shop and catching up on gossip over their morning pastry and coffee.

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At every market I would be drawn towards the cep seller and couldn’t help but buy a few. By the end of the week I had managed to slip them into most of the meals but as they are so special I don’t think anyone minded. My personal favourite was serving them roasted whole with butter and garlic with frites and rocket on the side although this postcard recipe of ceps with baked polenta Gruyere and butter was another triumph.

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Mid way through the stint I was given the chance to take the journey back into Toulouse to shop at the famous Victor Hugo market, the city’s culinary pride. Knowing that you have to be there bright and early to get the best I set off just before the sun was casting its first light over the many sunflower fields and arrived into the city in what I thought was good time.   I dashed straight to the market to find half of the stalls still shut and the other half leisurely getting out their wares. According to the internet and guidebooks this place should have already been open for 3 hours, according to them they were still enjoying their morning coffee and paper.   When the market finally was up and running (about 10 am) it was impressive. Besides the market itself the surrounding streets are dotted with more gastronomic genius, there is Xavier – one of France’s best cheese shops and Olivier, apparently one of the oldest and best chocolatiers in France – though as they were on their two month summer vacation I am yet to form my own opinion.

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The main event of the week was the client’s end of summer party. With mainly vegetarian dishes requested the menu read as follows:

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Cocktails

Watermelon margarita

Canapés

Crispy prawns with chilli and mint

Pea and feta fried pastry with garden mint yogurt

Speck, chateau honey and ricotta

Main

Fried ceps with baked polenta, butter and parmesan

Grilled aubergine and pepper salad with garlic and Bandol vinegar dressing

Baked squash with pomegranates, tahini and tabbouleh

Green fig and tomato salad with pinenut and green herb dressing

Roast potatoes with rosemary

Roast fillet of beef

Dessert

Summer pudding with vanilla cream

Chocolate roulade

Cheese board

 

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It was a beautiful evening and from the cocktails to the obligatory cep dish and the chocolate roulade (amusingly/cheekily billed as a cousin of the artic ‘swiss roll’) to the cheese board everyone had a rather jolly time.

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When not at a market or in the kitchen I was encouraged to take a swim in the beautiful pea green lake. So after lunch had been cleared away and supper prep was under control I took myself down for a cooling dip. I happily jumped in and leisurely swam out to the raft in the centre. Surrounded by the tranquil setting of weeping willows, woods, fig trees and lines of apple trees I couldn’t believe how peaceful it was until… I heard the most enormous splash from the other side of the expanse of water. After the initial surprise I rationally thought it could only be one of two things.

  • A child throwing something into the lake then hiding to tease me

or

  • Mr Darcy

With only one way back to shore I swam back keeping half an eye out for movements in the water not made by me. On return to the house I learnt I had in fact only being sharing the lake with otters and giant carp – harmless!

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I did have to slightly force myself back in the next day and was fine until I heard again that giant splash. I turned in time to see the body of a large fish submerge into the water. Harmless or not it did wonders for improving my time in my swim back to the shore.

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This week

I’ driving: Landrover and a Citroen with an impressive tardis like boot.

I’m in: Equestrian heaven

Dishes cooked with ceps: 9

Attacks by giant carp: 0

Encounters with Mr Darcy: 0

Every home should have: a lake

Job high: no Ketchup required

Job low: not knowing what lurks in the lake.

 

Fried ceps with wet polenta and Gruyere

 

This would make a great starter although I used it as part of the feast for their end of summer party.

For polenta sceptics just try it and think of it as a vehicle for butter and cheese and then make your minds up.

 

Serves 6 as a starter

For the baked polenta

200g Polenta

1 litre whole Milk

150g Gruyere plus extra

3 Egg yolks

150 g Butter

 

For the Ceps

800g Ceps approx 4 /5 large mushrooms sliced fairly thick.

50g butter

2 tbs olive oil

2 cloves garlic

2 tsb finely chopped parsley

 

Place the polenta in a jug (this helps with the pouring).

Heat the milk in a heavy based saucepan, just before boiling pour in the polenta in a steady stream whisking continuously.

 

Stirring constantly, cook on a low heat until no longer grainy in texture – the quick cook usually takes about 5 minutes and the proper stuff takes about 50 mins.

Then add 100g Gruyere, the egg yolks and 100g of the butter. Stir well.

Pour onto a tray and leave to cool and then place in the fridge for 1 hour to firm up.

Pre heat the oven to 180 ° C.

In a wide frying pan melt the butter with the olive oil, when hot add the chopped ceps, fry for a minute then add the garlic. Fry till you just start to smell the garlic ( about 1 minute) then take off the heat, season with salt and pepper and stir through the parsley.

Cut the chilled polenta into shapes and lay slightly overlapping in a lightly buttered baking dish, top with the fried ceps, extra cheese and butter.

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Bake for 15 mins.

Serve hot.

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Next stop… Lisbon.

 

 

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