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

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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 | 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 | 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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Raviules with garlic, reblochon, wild mushrooms and parsley

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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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I do also have to mention on a travel note that the transfer company, generally staffed by easy going young men on gap years, this time round 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 being screened at base camp this afternoon for that.”

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When cooking in ski chalets daily menu planing with the client is essential. You want to catch them just after their morning coffee has kicked in and before the donning of the ski gear commences, quite a ritual for those in the know.   Shopping has to be done on a daily basis as even in the big private chalets there is not a lot of storage space and the evening menu will be dictated by where the group has managed to get a booking for lunch.   Imagine the anticlimax  of spending love,  time and effort on a delicious steaming hot tartiflette or cheese soufflé only to find out they all went to that trendy famous cheese fondue Alpine restaurant for lunch. Even in the mountain there is only so much cheese a person can eat.

A few ingredients made it on to each day’s shopping list including butter, eggs, cream and …apples. The first three are obvious hearty ski-friendly food that is very much desired and needed after a day throwing oneself down a steep mountain on two  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 no. 3 of the group, declined dessert and requested 2 peeled and chopped up apples. I made a pear tart tatin, vanilla cheesecake, chocolate tart, fruit strudel, panna cotta and  Eton mess but nothing could persuade him. Even the Apple Pie got turned down. I know you are probably thinking why would  someone who spends half their career trying to help children and families eat more healthily be trying to persuade a child to have a sugary dessert over fresh apples BUT I believe it is just unnatural for a  vanilla baked cheesecake to be trumped by two chopped up apples, although I obviously chop a top apple ;).

 

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Just as I was losing all hope and feeling despondent in the dessert department 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. Bang and Bingo! Chocolate Malteaser ice cream – if that doesn’t tempt child 3, I give up!

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The moment of truth approached, the family had been fed a pot roasted chicken with garlic, bay and vermouth with a scrumptious  side of raviules with reblochon and wild mushrooms and it was time to offer dessert,  the chocolate Malteaser ice cream.  Would he or wouldn’t he….he would !

I would find it hard sending you all an ice cream postcard recipe from the chilly mountains as I feel you may all need warming up after these snowy scenes so for the postcard recipe this week I would like to share the cheesy laced side dish, 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 ( oh how we love the French and their abundant usage of butter)! 2016-02-21_0004

 

This week

Battle of Apple vs. desserts: apple wins

Butter used : 14 packs

Mode of transport: unintentional skating

Eggs consumed: 7 dozen

Every home should have: green tomato Jo Malone candles

Every private chef should know: Unicorn in French is La Lincone

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 plain 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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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

whisk

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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