Archive | France

Climb every mountain


Climb every mountain…

If one felt so inclined (or capable) the area surrounding St Remy de Provence is perfect for getting on a bike and busting up some crazily steep hills and mountains. Numerous cyclists of all ages get up early to miss the blazing sun and test their endurance to reach the tops. My week was spent in a state of perseverance, determination and effort… on the tennis court.

Though of course my main focus was the food.


Cooking here is always a pleasure and ideas come easily due to the mass of perfect produce available. There are few places I have been that can match the abundance of tasty fruits and vegetables. The peaches are always juicy and for lack of a better description ‘ peachy’, the cherries are shiny and sweet, the figs fleshy and perfect, the Provençal Rosé is famous for good reason and the olive oil is so good you sometimes need nothing else to finish a simple salad.


Having been here at various times of year I am always impressed with how seasonal the shops and markets are and noted how that one day the boxes of tumbling cherries suddenly stopped appearing. Season over. The sadness was only eased by the appearance of the next ingredient coming in – the most extraordinary green figs.


The working day started early with the bread run to the local bolangerie. It wasn’t the closest of the bakeries but my alliances had to change when we noted that the croissants at our local now lacked that flaky butteryness our morning cafes demanded. Our new bakery of choice was clearly the towns favourite as there was always an impressive queue of people by 7:30 , 95% of whom were French. There was then the food shop dash where I have started to play ‘spot the private chef’ as there seemed to be a collection of us down there (if you ever want to play look out for extensive shopping lists, speedy trolley manoeuvres, skills at catching the fishmongers eyes at 50 yards and speed packing). Lunch was long and chatty then siestas and swims were had before the evening amusements began.


With long warm evenings (I promise I’m not trying to rub it in for those of you back in Blighty where I understand you have had an abundance of wet stuff fall from the sky) dinners were served later in the evenings. This was also due to the fact that the clients and chef were battling it out on the tennis court. An improved performance was hoped by all from last year and rumour had it that one of us had taken time off work just to get in extra practice.


Culinary highlights of the week included a fig, honey and mascarpone tart and this postcard recipe of grilled aubergine and tomato salad with anchovy and lime dressing.


This Week

I’m driving: A Nissan Note – zippier than expected but easily bullied by the Mistrals.

Tennis game victories: 1

Tennis game defeats: too ashamed to say.

Every home should have: a collection French grey table linen

We are drinking: Angelina and Brads Rosé

Espressos drunk: 124 (not all be me but I had my fair share).

Skin tone: has turned from blanched almond to lightly toasted.

Mountains climbed: 0 (unless you count success in getting children to eat new vegetables).



Grilled tomato, aubergine and olive salad with anchovy and lime dressing

This has been my favourite new salad this summer, the anchovy should be very subtle and only add base notes rather than dominate the flavours. It is a perfect BBQ salad.

Serves 4 as a side

3 aubergines

4 large tomatoes

1 salted anchovy, rinsed, deboned and finely chopped

1 lime

2 tsp sherry vinegar

4 tbs pitted green olives

3 tbs olive oil

20g coriander finely chopped (stalks and leaves)

1- 3 dried chillies, crushed (depending on how hot you like it)


Light the BBQ, when the coals are grey with ash grill the whole aubergines on all sides until soft (this will take about 10 minutes and the outside will look a bit burnt and the inside will be soft). Place in a colander over a bowl to cool and drain.

Grill the whole tomatoes till just blacked all over.

In a large bowl whisk the anchovy with the zest and juice of the lime, the sherry vinegar and olive oil. Add the coriander and olives. Season with salt, pepper and the dried chilli.

Peel the skin from the aubergines and tomatoes and roughly chop (adding any tomato juice in to the dressing). Mix into the dressing and leave to mingle for at least 20 mins

Serve at room temperature as part of your BBQ spread.


 Bags packed and my adieux said I am now heading west to Gascony …



Recipe | Pistachio, mint and vodka ice cream with pistachio praline


Cooking for numbers

The party had already started when I arrived at the villa in Provence and so the first days of my week were spent in top gear getting up to speed with the shopping and cooking for the 23 guests. Apparently, akin to a duckling, above the surface I was calm, collected and easily floating but underneath I was paddling like hell!


I know that for some shopping for a group of 16 people and above can seem extraordinary and there is a small voice in me that occasionally goes:

“Philippa are you really going to use THAT much milk / fish / cheese” ?

Luckily I always ignore it as the answer always turns out to be ‘YES’!

There are a few tricks and rules I set myself when I am doing jobs like this and may be useful for you to bare in mind if you ever find yourself cooking for what seems a biljillion ( I have it on excellent authority from a top financial that this is indeed a number) people.


Try and shop for at least two days at a time.

Yes the fridges and store cupboards will be crammed but shopping for this many can take at least an hour plus travel time and there generally isn’t time to do it everyday.

When buying fruit buy half of it unripe and half ready to eat. This works particularly well in hot climates where it ripens quickly. We had bowls of fruit out on the tables for guests to help themselves and went through about 4 kilos of the delicious local Provencal cherries, apricots and peaches a day!


When menu planning, always have a back up plan.

Generally when catering for this many there will always be a few who cant eat certain foods weather its allergies/ intolerances / religious reasons or simple dislikes. Chicken and salmon or white fish are obvious easy non controversial standbys and I always make sure I have a good cheese that can be used into salads and a section of interesting vegetables and some good grains or pulses if I need to go vegan.


Get ahead when you can.

If there is a lull (!?) use your time to make a few puddings as its great to have a few up your sleeve and easier to make if you have the kitchen in dessert mode. Ice creams and sorbets obviously keep well and desserts like tiramisu and summer pudding not only keep well but also improve after a day or two.

Though of course the simplest solution to all this is to hire a private chef!

The villa was in full swing all week and with breakfasts, lunches, tea time treats, kids tea and adult suppers keeping me occupied the week has flown by. I have managed to shave 3 minutes off my table laying times and now know the butcher the baker and the cashiers of the local shops all by name.


I did learn this week that tomatoes really should never be stored in the fridge, as not only are they extremely sensitive to the slightest bit of cold but also the volatiles that produce the aromas are destroyed so you end up with a less tasty and more watery tomato. They are particularly amazing at this time of year in Provence so have been treated with the ultimate respect.


Menu wise I have been totally enjoying the impressive produce that is so easy to come by locally and as an outside kitchen with a charcoal BBQ has been built in my honour, I have been making the most of that. Temperatures have been dallying around the mid 30 ° ’s so various ice creams and sorbets have been making appearances and for this postcard recipe I wanted to share with you one of the ice creams I made.


On a recent visit to a very good ice cream parlour in St David’s (Wales) I realised that I go through the same process and emotions in choosing ice cream as when I’m in a cocktail bar deciding on drinks and I’m not talking about getting over excited and having one too many. No, it’s the attraction of trying something new then regretting it. Yes the quadruple chocolate marshmallow, ginger fluff with popping candy and dehydrated hibiscus flower ice cream may sound interesting but it will never beat a simple pistachio or mint (without the choc chips) in the same way a perfect dry martini can not be ousted by some over engineered cocktail with a ridiculous name.

With this is mind I will share with you my pistachio, mint and vodka ice cream that is a classic in my repertoire.

 This week:

Table places laid : 1 biljillion

Apricots consumed : 235

Olive oil used : 7 litres (no I was not bathing in it but down here it’s my butter)

Every home should have: French linen

Times surprised by Lizards: 7


Pistachio, mint and vodka ice cream with pistachio praline

Makes 12 scoops

 800 ml double cream

200 ml whole milk

1 vanilla pod

4 – 6 tsp pistachio extract

small handful of powerful mint

 10 egg yolks

100 g sugar

 good splash of vodka

 Pistachio praline

 200g caster sugar

splash of cold water

175 g bright green pistachios


To make the ice cream base

Swill out a large heavy based pan with water (this is said to help stop the cream from sticking to the sides) and add the cream, milk, mint and vanilla.

Bring to a boil then turn off and leave to infuse while you separate the eggs.

Put the yolks in a large bowl (you can freeze the egg white for use at a later date) and add the 100g caster sugar. Whisk till pale (a couple of minutes).

 Strain the hot cream into the yolks, whisking immediately once combined, then pour back into the heavy based pan.

 Place the pan back on a low heat and cook till thickened. You will need to stir constantly and I have found a heat proof spatula best for this.

 Once thickened add the pistachio extract and vodka and stir (you want to be able to just taste the vodka but if you add too much the ice cream will not freeze that well) then pour into a wide dish to cool.

 Once cool you can use an ice cream machine to churn it or semi freeze ( which takes about 3 hours) then blitz in a food processor then return to the freezer – it should be ready after another 4 hours.


To make the praline coating

Line a wide tray or dish with baking paper

In a heavy based pan melt the 200 g of caster sugar with a splash of water.

The sugar will melt then start turning to caramel (its best not to stir but only give the pan an occasional jiggle) . Once darkened add the pistachios, stir and pour onto the tray.

When cool and hard blitz in a food processor – you want it mostly in small dusty bits with a few larger lumps.

To serve make balls of the ice cream and roll in the blitzed pistachio praline. Serve in chilled bowls.


Bags are now packed and I’m en-route to the next gig in …Ibiza



Recipe | Tartiflette


She’ll be comin’ down the mountain…

‘Whether she likes it or not’, My ski buddy for the day cheerfully chanted.

It had a been a while since I had donned some ‘Iron Man’ like boots, strapped two planks to them and willingly thrown myself down a mountain  in – 10 ° C conditions (we all have to get our kicks some how). Ascending up the craggy mountain face on a chair lift I began to wonder if I remembered how to do this.  Spat out at the top and surrounded by buzzing mix of cool dude snow boarders, stylish fur trimmed skiers and more kamikaze children than I wanted to count I had a split second thought of “why?”.  Then I looked up and it all came flooding back: incredibly stunning views, literally breath-taking clean air, powerful adrenalin rushes and above all the prospect of a fantastic mountain side lunch.


The first run of the day, an easy blue, I skied well ( i.e. I didn’t fly off the edge of the mountain),  and my confidence began to build.  Next lift up and we arrived in front of two signposts, a black run to the left ( the most challenging) and a red run to the right ( the second most challenging of on piste skiing).

“Really ?” I said,

My ski buddy grinned.

“ May I remind you that if anything happens to me you will be cooking 6 x breakfasts, afternoon teas and five course dinners  for 10 people next week!? As well as having to polish 500 glasses!

The grinning stopped.

Not wanting to fail the challenge (or having much choice on ways to get down) I headed off down the red run.  I felt amazing, didn’t bump into anyone and remained upright! Wow I thought I must have improved…then I saw the video where it turns out I look as stiff as a Lego man figure when I ski, ah well.


Skiing is definitely one of those activities (a bit like shooting and stalking) where it is just as much about the social interaction between fellow participants and the food and wine as it is the sport.   Though I possibly have my priorities askew as on my days skiing the routes had to be based around where I wanted to go for lunch and après ski


With the arrival of Sunday, playtime was over and our chalet was filled again with new guests.  Cooking on this type of job definitely has its challenges. The kitchens are often tight for space with only 1 small oven so there’s always a queue of goodies waiting to go in and it’s a challenge juggling everything to be hot for service.  Menu planning very much has to be done at the shops so you can see what is actually available, which is actually a great way to shop unless there are specific requests and due to the extreme location, prices of goods are often crazily high.   That said, I love a challenge and it makes other jobs that are below 2000 meters seem easy.


For this weeks postcard I give you a recipe for Tartiflette, a typical mountain dish that was re-invented in the 1980s as a marketing ploy to promote Reblochon.  Reblochon is an Alpine cheese made from the second milking of the cattle making it very rich and therefore very tasty.


Legend has it this was a 14th century tax dodge as the mountain farmers were taxed on the amount of milk their cows produced so they held some back for a secret second milking after the Landowner’s man had departed. Literally milking the system, but the cheese is good so let’s forgive them.


This week

Glasses polished: 473 (though not by me thank goodness).

It’s all about: saffron butter

I’ve discovered: “Ouvert non stop “ to the French means we don’t take a 3 hour lunch break.

Job perks : we all have great hair thanks to the Chalets’ Aqua di Parma bath product left overs.

Job lows: walking to work in a blizzard.

I’ve learnt: to add less baking powder when cooking in high altitudes (unless you want an imploded cake).




Tartiflette can be found at practically every mountain side restaurant, consisting of baked potatoes, onions, cheese and lardons. Its filling, high in calories and potentially super tasty so is the perfect ski food.

 I admit however I haven’t ever had a good one out as they often lacked in flavour and are usually too dry (perhaps an outcome of being prepared en mass and made in advance so ready to serve quickly once the lunch crowds pour/ski in).

 However make one at home and for any family who enjoys dishes like a pasta bake the Tarttiflette will soon become a favourite in the repertoire.


Serves  4

You will need a baking dish large enough to hold the potato mix ( taller is better than wider as it allows the cheese to drip through the entire dish).


750g clean small waxy potatoes – skin on

1 tbs olive oil

2 large white onions

1 garlic clove

160g smoked lardons

20g chives finely chopped

2 tbs crème friache

150ml dry white wine or dry rosé

250g Reblochon cheese


Pre heat the oven to 200 °C.

1)Peel and chop the garlic clove in half and rub around the inside of your tartiflette baking dish then finely chop the garlic.

2)Peel and small dice the onions, fry on a medium heat with the lardons and chopped garlic until soft and sweet (about 15  minutes).

3)Meanwhile place the potatoes in a large pan of salted cold water and bring to a simmer.  Cook until just tender then drain

4)Mix the potatoes and onion mix,  add the chives, crème fraiche and wine, season with pepper and mix well.

5)Slice the Reblochon in half horizontally.

6)Layer half the potato mix in the baking dish and lay ½ the cheese on top (skin side down).

7)Add the rest of the potatoes then top with the other half of Reblochon skin side up like a crown.

8)Bake for 15   – 20 mins. until bubbling hot, slightly browned and very melted.


Enjoy with a crisp green salad with mustardy dressing and a glass or two of Rose or dry white wine from the Savoie like Chignin Bergeron or chignon.




Job done and fun had, I am now safely coming down the mountain and heading for my next stop in the West Country…


Recipe | Thai flavoured chicken and sesame balls


The Thigh who came in from the cold..

Having recently been on quite a few flights I realise you don’t have to be in Sherlock’s league to decipher the purpose of everyone’s trip.  For instance:

-Dublin to London early morning flights to City airport are full of suits, ties and busy Blackberries off to seal their deals (though afternoon City flights are full of suits, no ties and a few empty miniature bottles).

-London to Inverness flights are full of well spoken tweeds, Barbours’and swathes of cashmere off to inspect their Highland acreages.

-February half term flights are packed with stressed out parents, grunting teenagers and excited children, with at least 5 layers on who tend to waddle round like sweet little star fish, all off to clog the Alpine slopes.

In my experience this makes security very slow as everyone has to peel off their various coats and jackets to go through the scanners then put them all back on again. I think the game is to wear as much as possible in order to keep the weight of the  checked-in bag under 15Kg.  To be fair to parents probably to get a child dressed once a day is stressful enough, let alone having to do it twice and in a busy airport .

However it all seems worthwhile when you get to the end of the journey and you see the first glimpse of those beautiful snowy mountains.  Which for me this week were the ones surrounding Tignes in the French Alps.


I was working on behalf of the delightful company Bramble Ski, who although mainly based in Switzerland and Austria, are now venturing into France and have snapped up the lushest chalets in the Tignes resort.


Tignes is not perhaps the most beautiful of  ski resorts, there are a fair few 60s/70s/80s monster builds, but the new chalets and hotels are all very attractive and more importantly to the keen skier, there is a fantastic expanse of skiing area, pretty much guaranteed snow and high chance of one of the longest seasons in the Alps.


The job began with a mammoth shop in Bourg St Maurice, a town  just below Tignes, where my chalet host had to patiently wait for 3 hours as my bus from Lyon got caught in every traffic jam going that day.  Having spoken to the clients about their food preferences before leaving Blighty I had a rough idea what to cook for the week but bearing in mind that you are heading up to 2000metres and despite knowing there will be a few small shops for emergencies, you are never quite sure what you will find.  You have to be super organised and prepared… and depending on your idea of fun it can be a bit of a struggle lugging shopping around in blizzards and on ice rink like pavements once there.


The food as you can imagine for such an action packed holiday needs to be nourishing and energy boosting.  There is a definite trend however by day three having had a few croissant breakfasts, hearty mountain lunches (often involving cream, butter and excellent fries) and some 5 course evening meals, clients are crying out for something lighter and I note don’t make it through to the cheese board.  Then by the end of the week, maybe through exhaustion, hunger levels are back up and there is a final push to make it thorough the canapés, starter, main, dessert and the cheese board after their final days skiing.


This postcard recipe is based on a canapé idea given to me form the chef from the adjoining chalet, who came out for the busy half term week.  The thai flavours really do pack a punch and they have a fantastically light texture.  You can replace the chicken with raw fish.


This week;

Job high: 2000 metres

Job low: not being able to get out and ski on some cracking sunny days

Milk drunk: 14 litres (there were quite a few ‘petits enfant’)!

Pain au chocolat to croissant ratio : 2:1.

Altitude baking disasters that had to be discarded: 1

New canapés added to repertoire :3

Abominable snowmen avoided : 3


Thai flavoured Chicken sesame balls


Two raw free range/ organic chicken thighs

10 g green chilli with seeds and membrane

15g ginger

15 spring onion

1 garlic glove

1 egg white

20g coriander (stalks and leaves)

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

50 g of toasted sesame seeds


1)Place everything (apart from the sesame seeds) into a food processor and blitz till a paste (about 2 minutes).

2)Spoon out into a bowl and form into 16 small balls.

3)Roll the balls in the sesame seeds and pop them onto a baking tray.

4)Place in the fridge for 30 mins or until ready to use ( you can make a day in advance).

When ready to eat

5)Pre heat the oven to 180°C then bake for 15 mins or until cooked through and piping hot in the middle.

6)To serve squeeze  a little lime juice over each one, and place on a skewer topped with a coriander leaf.


(You could also make this into a main course and serve with fried garlic and soy rice and greens).


I’m here for another week so will be whisking up more Alpine postcard recipes for you to try…



Recipe | Tomato and Dijon tart with herbs of the Garrigue


Shrugs, shrubs, scrubs and snubs

Down in the region of Languedoc Roussillon the usually sleepy countryside was abuzz with activity. The acres of vines were bursting with ripe grapes, vicious looking mechanical pickers methodically went from row to row severing the bunches then trailers packed full of the juicy bounty chugged down the narrow lanes to the local wine co-operative.


Work started around 7am and kept going all the way into the early evening – except of course for the necessary two-hour lunch break (the grape pickers that is, not me)!


 Shrubs in scrubs

A noticeable feature of regions like this is the wild flora and fauna. Taking myself for a little nature walk one morning I weaved my way up the winding tracks and scrambled through patches of scrubland to head towards the vines. Never one to miss a foraging opportunity I was delighted by the clumps of wild thyme and the twigs of rosemary that seemed to be thriving in the dry soil. These strikingly fragrant herbs form part of the famous herbs de provence mix and are used to describe characteristics of other local products, like the wine, as flavours of the Garrigue – shrubland.   I was so taken with my find that I couldn’t help keep slipping them into most of the weeks dishes.


On my way back from my little exploration I did a bit more ‘ foraging’, or what we in Dorset would call ‘scrumping’ . The neighbour to the villa where I was cooking had trees bursting with figs that were throwing themselves to the ground and hedges spiked with almond trees all going to criminal waste so I must confess I alleviated him of a few.

After a successful trip I arrived back in time for a group outing to the local market.


 Snubs and Shrugs

I had for once planned a menu before I got to the market so I arrived determined and on a mission. I knew there should be at least one table of wild mushrooms – it is that time of year and I was determined to get some to cook for lunch to go with my mornings bounty.

I scuttled down every row of tables and began to loose heart. There where piles of onion squashes, rabbits, honey, figs but no fungi’s.


But then, just as I had begun to re plan my menu, an ethereal light shone down on the trestle table ahead of me and there they sat, boxes and boxes of beautiful, wonderful wild mushrooms.

“What was I going to do with them?” asked the lady with one eyebrow severely raised as I paid for my 1 1/2  kilo mix.

Now I knew exactly what I had planned for these beauties. Nothing too fancy, nothing cheffy, but when asked I suddenly became nervous – when I told her would she think it was a waste, would she think badly of the English chef, would she demand I give the mushrooms back….?!

“omelettes…..with cheese”

“Bon” (and a little shrug and smile).


Now for those of you who don’t have much interaction with French culture that “Bon” and semi shrug/smile is the equivalent of a high five and a mini round of applause, especially where food is concerned. So I merrily went on my way, mushrooms in hand knowing I had aced it.

The cheese man was a different story. Firstly I waited ages as he was getting the weekly catch up from every client – that’s fine as it is the South of France and that’s what happens at the market but then he tried to charge me an eye watering amount for a mouse’s portion of unmarked Gruyere, all while having a fag and shiftily refusing to make eye contact. I told him he could keep his cheese, I gave him a “so there” shrug he gave me a “whatever shrug” and I pressed onto the next stall. I had a lump of Tomme I could use anyway back at the kitchen.


So the omelettes where delicious especially with a few glasses of Rose, however the recipe I would like to share for this postcard is my tomato and Dijon tart (with herbs of the Garrigues of course). Tomatoes are coming to an end now for this season but I find the final batches some of the most tasty as they have not been rushed and have had most of the summer sun.




This Week

I hope you enjoyed my first short cookery video for The Field magazine, for anyone who missed

it you can view it at:

Driving: Peugeot 308 (good enough drive but would rather have had a new Jag XE…)

Every home should have: neighbours with foraging potential

Job high – getting shrugged at.

Job low – getting shrugged at.

Napkins folded: 221


Tomato and Dijon tart with herbs of the Garrigue

1 round sheet of puff pastry

2 tbs crème fraiche

2 tbs Dijon mustard

1 tbs herbs de Provence or Garrigues

150g grated cheese like gruyere or comte

5 to 8 tomatoes depending on size


Pre heat the oven to 200 °C

Lay the pastry circle on a flat baking sheet lined with baking paper.

Mix the crème fraiche and mustard in a bowl then spread over the pastry.

Sprinkle over the herbs and the cheese.

Thinly slice the tomatoes and lay on top of the pastry forming circles starting from the outside in.

Drizzle with olive oil

Bake for 20 mins at 200°C (the tart will look very wet) then turn the oven down to 150 °c and bake for a further 1 hour ( this will dry the tart out to concentrate the flavour of the tomatoes ).


Next stop…the wilds of Inverness…..


Recipe | Toasted buttered cobnut salad with garden plums, steamed marrow and Comte cheese


 Pigs are pets not pork….

I am not sure I should admit how delighted I was to be woken by a handsome stranger quietly standing at my door. Hoping to catch what I am sure would have been an impressive display I lay quietly in my bed watching… but apparently to shy to get it up he eventually just wondered off. An intriguing start to my week in the south west of France…


The fields all around us were ablaze with sunflowers and although uncharacteristically cool for this time of year the countryside looked completely stunning.


It didn’t take long for the children to drag me out of the kitchen and show me the new arrivals to their animal collection, which by the way would put Noah’s one to shame. Its not often I ponder whether or not I would eat something as tasty as a pink little piglet but I had to admit she was outrageously cute even I might have dithered if I had to cook it. Restraining from putting my camera on ‘food’ setting and remembering I had strictly been told pigs are pets not pork I made do with just petting them and went to check out the vegetable garden.


The garden was absolutely bubbling over with produce and I admit I felt that during my week here I almost struggled keeping up with all the wonderful fresh veggies and fruits it produced.

The key I decided was to constantly pick away at it and put out big bowls of freshly picked plums and tomatoes in the house so the guests dug in as they walked past them. That and slipping the veggies and fruits into as many dishes as I could.


I had been asked a few years ago by a friend what was the best way to deal with the glut of marrows that her garden kept producing year after year

“Next year, plant less” I suggested.

This was clearly not the answer she was hoping for and recently having had more personal experience with growing your own I understand the overwhelming sensation vegetable gardens can cause at this time of year.


Tomatoes are relatively easy to use up and there is something rather special about making fresh tomato sauce for pastas, soups, and braises besides of course the wonderful salads they can create.

Marrows are slightly more challenging. Few would claim them to be the most fashionable of vegetables ( note this postcard recipe title starts with ‘butter’ and ‘cobnuts’ rather than the ‘steamed marrow’ for lure factor) but they certainly can have their appeal. Their shape and texture lend themselves to being easily stuffed horizontally or vertically, and due to their subtly in flavour ( I wont say bland as it is unfair to the vegetable that has just appeared in about 10 of my recent meals in some form or another rather successfully ) you can add lots of punchy flavours like smoky bacon, chanterlles, truffle oil, crispy onions, sweet fruit like plums and apples to contrast with the marrows’ soft texture and gentle flavour and if they are not too big and watery you can still grill them for salads and tarts.


For this weeks’ postcard I am sharing a warm marrow salad I made with cobnuts, a wild type of hazelnut, that appears at this time of year and back in the UK is particularly found in Kent. I have also included a stuffed marrow recipe with bacon, chanterelles and truffle oil.

This Week

Every home should have: a Ridgeback – I love them dearly although they are shameless thieves and would not think twice about stealing a whole fillet of just roasted beef (yes a whole fillet)!!

Job High: Perched up ladders picking 6 kilos of plums on a beautiful Sunday morning.

Job Low: Child no. 2 would rather do maths homework than try one of my sausage rolls, sad and shocking.

Driving: A faithful Landover



Toasted Buttered Cobnut Salad with garden plums, steamed marrow and Comte Cheese


Serves 4 as a side salad

800g marrow having been peeled, chopped lengthways and the middle taken out.

About 16 plums that are tasty and sweet cut in half and de stoned.

150g of shelled cobnuts

1 tbs salted butter

Juice from ½ lemon

50g comte cheese

20g of parsley leaves

3 tbs olive oil


Chop the marrow into 2 cm wide new moon shape pieces

Season with salt and pepper and steam till tender (about 15 – 20 mins)

Meanwhile toast the cobnuts ( they will have probably broken in half from being shelled but if not it is a good idea to very roughly chop them)

Toast the cobnuts in a frying pan with butter

 When ready to serve lay the warm marrow on the serving dish, squeeze over the lemon and half the olive oil.

Layer on top the plums, warm cobuts , cheese and parsley.

Sprinkle over some salt and pepper and drizzle over the rest of the olive oil.


Marrow stuffed with bacon and chanterelles

Serves 4 adults as a main course ( or 1 ridgeback as a light snack)

1 kilo marrow

2 white onions finely chopped

150g lardons

2 tbs butter

2 tbs olive oil

2 garlic cloves

200g chanterelle

400g fresh porcini roughly chopped

200g grated parmesan

200g goats cheese

200g bread crumbs

2 tbs chopped parsley

100g gruyere

1 tbs truffle oil to serve


You will need a large roasting dish or baking sheet that will fit the marrow and some foil.

Pre heat the oven to 200°C

In a wide frying pan add the onions and lardons with the butter and the olive oil, fry until the onions are sweet and translucent.

Then add the porcini and chanterlles (you need a wide frying pan as you want to fry rather than steam the porcini when they are added which is what will happen if they are too crowded).

After about 3 – 4 mins when the porcini are cooked add the parmesan, goats cheese, breadcrumbs and parsley and mix well. Take off the heat.

Split the marrow ( with the skin on ) lengthways.

Season with salt and pepper.

On a baking sheet lay a long sheet of foil ( the idea is to wrap the stuffed marrow so it steams and cooks then to undo the parcel for the last 10 minutes to brown the top).

Put the two marrow ½ s on top of the foil and fill with the stuffing mixture.

Sprinkle the gruyere on top.

Wrap the foil around the marrow to form a parcel and bake for 40 – 50 minutes until the marrow is cooked.

Undo the top of the parcel and roast for 10 minutes at the same temperature to brown the top.

When out of the oven drizzle on the truffle oil and keep out the way of the dog.

I served mine with Camargue rice cooked n lamb stock but I a crisp green salad with a tangy French dressing would also work well.

Next stop I am taking the high road to Stirlingshire in Scotland…..




Recipe | Camargue red rice with roast fillet of beef, chard and black olive sauce



Wild horses and rice…. kept me from leaving


This week I ventured forth into the depths of the Camargue, a beautiful unique landscape and quite different to anything I had seen before.


There were vast stretches of fields calmly covered in water. Little green shoots popped out of the surface in impossibly long rows that had a bizarrely soothing effect. The bright pink salt lakes contrasting against the off white salt flats seemed almost extra terrestrial and with the wildlife flying at you from every direction it just all seemed such a wonderful spectacle. In fact I was in such a high state of admiration I even got excited about watching a smallish black bird swoop down close to where I was standing to peck at the ground…. until I realised it was a magpie!


In fairness to me though the Camargue is a pretty extraordinary place. The water of the salt lakes turns a pretty pink due to the presence of an organism that produces a red pigment to help it absorb more sunlight and therefore produce more energy. Some of the salt that is harvested there is used to produce Fleur de Sel de Camargue, a hand raked salt that has the faint aroma of violets.

There are wild grey horses that are looked after by the rather dashing guardians (southern France’s answer to cowboys) and flocks of flamingos. The area also produces the seriously tasty Camargue rice, which is featured in this postcard recipe.


While I am on my nature loving high, I also have to mention that all the olive trees down here have been flowering and their dainty white petals have been blowing across the rows of scented lavender.


On an educational note, most French table olives are not cured so should be eaten within 6 months of harvesting which is done around November in Provence . They are all hand picked or rather ‘cajoled’ as they like to say down here from the tree. These ‘Nyons’ variety that I bought at the market were in perfect condition to make into the sauce for the evening’s supper.


Job nearly done here, I realise I have been so absorbed in lapping up the seasons fresh produce I have completely forgotten to visit one of my favourite chocolate makers Joel Durad in Saint Remy…oh well maybe next time.

Next week I am off to cook in Tuscany for a gathering of adults whose brief simply read

“We eat everything and anything!”. As it will be easy to get my hands on the 4th stomach of the cow maybe time to try out my Trippa alla Fiorentina recipes and put them to the test….



Camargue red rice with rare roast beef and  blanched chard with black olive sauce

Camargue red rice has not been around that long with 1988 being recorded as the first harvest. It is a cross between a wild rice and a short grain rice and it has a very pleasant nutty flavour and firm texture.


Pre heat the oven to 190 C


Serves 4

For the Rice

1 litre of cold stock (I used lamb stock but you could use chicken/vegetable/ pigeon etc)

350 g rice

4 sticks celery cut into 1/2cm pieces

60 g butter

Splash of olive oil


In a saucepan sauté the celery in the butter for about 5 minutes

Add the rice and continue to fry for 2 more minutes then add the stock.

Cook for 40 minutes at a simmer or until the rice is cooked (it still tends to have a little bit of bite in comparison to white rice)

Season with salt and pepper


Once the rice is on you can cook your beef :

For the beef


1 x 800g piece of beef fillet at room temperature

2 tbs chopped thyme leaves

1 tbs olive oil

Massage the beef briefly with the olive oil

Then roll the beef fillet in chopped thyme and a good sprinkle of sea salt

In a hot frying pan sear the beef on all sides (including the two ends)

Then roast for about 18 – 22 minutes in the pre heated 190 C oven.

Take out and lightly cover in foil and REST for at least 8 minutes,



For Black Olive Sauce

200g black olives

2 salted anchovies de boned and lightly rinsed

1 tbs of parsley/ chives/ chervil – all finely chopped

4 tbs olive oil

2tbs water

1 tsp Dijon mustard


De-stone and roughly chop the olives

Finely chop the anchovies

Mix the anchovies and olives with the parsley, chives chervil and Dijon mustard

Stir in the olive oil then add the 2tbs water ( I add the water as for me without it there is just too much of a kick and the flavours fight but with the water everything just mellows and works)

Season with salt and pepper



For the Chard


750g chard

Chop the chard stalks into 1 inch pieces but keep the leaf whole

Bring a large pan of water to the boil then add a sprinkle of fine sea salt

Blanch the chard leaves and stalks in separate batches as the leaves only take about 2 minutes and the stalks about 4

When cooked scoop the chard out of the water and drain through a colander.

Place the warm chard into a bowl and toss through half of the olive mixture


To serve

Thinly slice the beef and serve with a spoon of the warm Camargue rice and a heap of warm chard. Place the rest of the olive mix in a bowl on the table for people to help themselves….



Recipe | Cherry Clafoutis


Feeling Fruity?


Well I am down in the south of France and things are hotting up. Stationed near Les-Baux de Provence, a stunning commune chiselled into the Alpilles mountains, I am cooking for a family who are keen to embrace the fantastic local produce.

Now being savvy to the ways of the local markets, I always try to get there early to miss the tourist crowds that are drawn to the splendiferous offerings. I headed straight to the fruit and veg section and was delighted to see the first of the local fruit; apricots bursting with flavour; crates of juicy scented peaches and avalanches of bright red cherries in their lycra-tight shiny skins.


‘ Lycra’ springs to mind as this is a prime cycling area. No matter what time of day it is when I am out and about I am on average passing at least 25 cyclists within 30 minuets!


Firstly it amazes me that anyone would do this for fun around here. For those of you who don’t know this part of the country it is seriously steep with many a James Bond-esque switchbacking road, windy (with the Mistrals) and to top it off at this time of year it is starting to get really hot. The other thing that really amazes me is the age of these cyclists – a lot of them are no spring chickens yet they are out there making it to the top and no doubt enjoying the pay-off of the speedy, twisty decents.

I salute you, but will not be rising to the challenge myself.




A challenge however I did tackle was one raised by my client.  I had been putting piles of fresh cherries on the table and we had all been tucking in to them and I had of course been making lots of cherry based desserts. After supper was finished one night the question was raised –

“How do you feel about cherry clafloutis”


Now generally I am positive about most things but cherry clafloutis? My trouble was I felt I had never made a really nice one so had shelved the concept about 5 years ago.

She continued..

“Mine always turn out eggy”

“Mine too” I muttered.

Unlike a crazy cycle ride up the mountain I decided I could conquer this cherry challenge and so with a bit of research, a lot of kirsch (for the cherries, not me) and the idea that most things can be improved with a lashing of cream, I made what turned out to be a very successful cherry clafoutis that not only was not eggy but it was also delicious warm for dinner and cold for breakfast the next day. So this postcards recipe is a delicious non eggy delicious cherry clafoutis.


This week;

Cyclists seen on road 213

Cherries consumed 423 ( including 48 in a delicious cherry clafoutis)

Driving   – a Nissan Micra (excellent for zipping down the winding roads of Les Baux, less successful at accelerating into a Mistral headwind).


Cherry Clafoutis

600g fresh cherries
de stoned

100g demerara sugar

6 tbsp kirsch

20g salted butter, melted plus extra to grease

50g plain flour

2 medium eggs,

180ml milk

100ml single cream

zest of 1 orange


At least 3 hours before baking take the de-stoned cherries and macerate them in 3 tbs taken from the 100g of demerara sugar and all the kirsch. Leave this at room temperature.



Butter a round 25cm baking dish and sprinkle it with demerara sugar (also taken from the 100g)

When about 1 1/2 hours away from wanting to eat the clafoutis –

Pre heat the oven to 170 C

Make the batter by ;

Mixing in a bowl the eggs/cream/milk/orange zest/melted butter.

Briefly whisk in the flour (this is best done by dumping the flour in the middle of the liquid and whisking at first only in the middle then gradually incorporating the rest).

Pour the cherries and their juice into the buttered and sugared dish.

Pour over the batter.


Bake for 40 mins (its should still have a little wobble in the middle) then leave to rest for at least 15minutes.

Eat with a lashing of pouring cream

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Recipe | Pan fried duck breast with fennel, hazelnut and orange salad and a white bean, sausage and tomato salad


 Getting your ducks (and goats, sheep, pigs and alpacas) all in a row

Well here we all are the other side of Easter. I hope disrespectable amounts of chocolate were eaten and you are now thoroughly gorging on anything you gave up for lent.   I had a great week cooking for a lovely family west of Toulouse in the Midi-Pyrénées .  Besides the party of amorous frogs (the amphibian kind) outside my bedroom croaking their love songs all night it was a very tranquil setting.  Surrounded by lush green undulating fields and a landscape spattered with huge  farmhouses, you really felt you were in deep rural France.


As rural as we may have been there was of course a local boulangerie and weekly market.  The nearby Monday one in Samatan was very traditional. As well as the butcher vans, vegetable stalls of which asparagus and artichokes were clearly in season, massive lumps of nougat for sale and barrels full of olives, there was also a huge shed filled with live animals for sale.


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It turns out the family I was cooking for found it nigh on impossible to visit without buying some new livestock to add to their already delightfully eclectic menagerie, of which I was strictly forbidden to incorporate into any of the weeks menus.


I was however encouraged to use one of the major specialities of this area – duck.  Every other crossroad seemed to have a casual hand painted sign for foie gras with rustic shops in the farm yard selling their home made patés, terrines, sausages, fresh and mi cuit foie gras lobes as well as their delicious duck meat. I was particularly keen to get hold of some Magret Duck breasts, which is the meat from the corn fed birds that produce the foie gras. Magret duck breasts are extremely tender and tasty and so it was no wonder we decided to serve this as our Easter feast.



The Sunday Lunch menu went as follows:

Blanched White asparagus with hollandaise

Seared Foie Gras on brioche with stewed rhubarb and apple


Pan fried Magret duck breasts

Orange and fennel salad with hazelnuts and lime

White bean salad with tomato, pork sausage and parsley

Whole globe artichokes with French vinaigrette



Rhubarb mille feuille

 For this postcard I wanted to share the method for cooking the duck breasts to get that perfect crispy skin and juicy tender pink meat with tasty salads to accompany it that pay homage to the local dish of cassoulet and the classic Duck a l’Orange.



This week in numbers:

6.28 kilos of French cheese

56 spears of asparagus

0 pets from the field eaten


Job done and au revoirs said, I am heading off next to cater for a fashion shoot in the UK, where I ashamedly would be happily paid in luxury goodies….



Pan fried Magret duck breasts

serves 6

Magret duck breasts are larger than most other ducks so 1 breast should serve 2 people as a main course.

3 duck breasts

salt/ pepper


To cook the duck breasts score the skin being careful not to cut as far down as the meat and season with salt.

Lay skin side down in a cold frying pan ( with NO oil or fat) and turn on the heat to medium.

Leave to cook there until the skin goes crispy and brown (about 10 – 15 minutes).

A lot of fat will be rendered off the breasts which you should keep pouring into a pan and keep for future use (roast potatoes or fried bread?…)

Once the skin is crispy turn flesh side down and fry for another 5  – 8 minutes. Take off the heat, season with pepper and loosely cover in foil to rest for another 5  – 8 minutes.

Slice at an angle and serve warm.

Fennel and Orange salad with toasted hazelnuts

2 fennel finely sliced

2 oranges peeled and finely sliced

3 tbs roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts


1 lime

1 tbs olive oil

1 tbs roughly chopped mint

It is important when using nuts to think about what kind of flavour and texture you want them to give the dish. For this salad you want to toast the hazelnuts to give a fuller and crunchier flavour.

To make the dressing zest and juice the lime, season with salt and pepper then whisk in the oil and chopped mint.

To make the salad:

Mix the sliced fennel, oranges and chopped nuts together and toss through the dressing.


White bean, tomato, sausage and parsley salad

I heartily recommend starting this salad from scratch and using dried beans, although I confess I have occasionally had to use last minute emergency beans from a jar which still made a very tasty end product.

250g dried beans, soaked over night in cold water with 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda.

2 large ripe tomatoes – blanched in boiling water for about 10 secs then peeled and roughly chopped

2 tbs chopped parsley

2 tsp red wine vinegar

3 tbs olive oil

300g good pork or duck sausages cooked and cut into rounds

100g raw sausage cooked into rounds


To cook the beans pour away the soaking water and wash well in a colander.

Tip the beans into a saucepan and cover with above with about 5 cm of cold water

Add the 100g of chopped raw sausage, ground black pepper and some parsley stalks.

Bring to the boil and simmer until cooked – this could take from 1 – 2 hours.

Once cooked if there is lots of cooking liquid pour away some until the level is just below the beans then while still warm season with salt, the olive oil and chopped parsley.

Leave for at least half an hour to let the beans soak up the flavours.

To serve

Add the rest of the cooked sausages and the tomatoes and mix well, check for seasoning then serve.



Recipe | Asparagus and Wild Garlic Galette AND a Rhubarb Ramos Gin Fizz


 Paris, the city of light, love and lunch…

I confess the trip to Paris was a jolly.  It involved lots of walking to counter balance the lots of eating that always happens when I take a sojourn.  Fortunately  it is a very charming city to take a stroll around so it all worked out rather well.


 Besides being completely romanced by the bridges, grand buildings and general Parisian chic my ever lasting memory will be my final lunch there.   I had already consumed steaks, duck legs, oysters, calves kidneys, rabbit stew, veal chops, and the odd croissant, all of which were fine.  The Breton galette though on the last day….. now that was special.


Galettes are made from buckwheat flour which any gluten and / or wheat intolerant readers will be pleased to know is not actually a wheat.  It is in fact a seed and the plant is related to rhubarb and sorrel.  The flour has an extraordinary scent, like a snapped stalk or the freshly broken pea pod.  Galettes are traditionally from Brittany and only have savoury fillings such as cheese, ham and egg yolk.  My Galette in Paris had smoked herring, caviar, potato and sour cream and was SO good especially accompanied by some Breton Cider.


For this postcard I HAD to try making my own galettes at home. I chose some seasonal fillings of asparagus and wild garlic which fits perfectly as their spring like flavours are allowed to shine through.  As it is traditional just to use just the egg yolk, and there is nothing worse than food waste, I thought I would also give you a recipe to use up the egg white.  A seasonal Rhubarb Gin fizz cocktail that should solve the problem and make a delightful start to any spring party.  


Next I am off to Wiltshire where I am looking forward to cooking some delicious local pork as well using up some of the rhubarb that is flourishing in the garden.

Asparagus and wild garlic galette


makes about 6

Pancake Batter

250g Buckwheat flour

400ml  – 500ml water

good pinch of salt

150 ml cider

5  – 6 tsp buttter


1 handful of wilted wild garlic

10 spears of asparagus, prepped, blanched and sliced lengthways

150 g gruyere cheese

a free range yolk for each pancake



1) In a bowl pour the cider then water into the flour while whisking.  You want the constancy of double cream. Keep whisking once combined for a few more minutes as apparently this helps  the mix hold together.

2)Leave to rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.


3)Heat a crepe pan or large non stick frying pan so really hot.  Add a small tsp of butter.  It will brown but this is a delicious wanted flavour.

4) Add a ladle of batter and drag it round the pan.  It should be thinnish and slightly lacy.


5)  Once it has started to go brown and crispy flip it over.  Add a thin sprinkling of grated gruyere cheese, a little wild garlic, a few sliced asparagus spears  and the egg yolk.

6)Once the other side is cooked fold in the sides to create a square.  Then eat.



My galette in Paris was from Briezh Cafe and now appears on my edible map France/ Paris/where to eat section.

Rhubarb Ramos Gin Fizz

A traditional Ramos gin fizz was said to be shaken for 12 minutes.  I wouldn’t go quite so far as to insist on  this but it does need a good old shake and it is excellent exercise for the arms.

 1 part gin

1 part lemon juice

2 parts rhubarb syrup ( you will need rhubarb/caster sugar and water)

1 egg white

2 handfulls ice

2 good splashes of soda water


1)To make the rhubarb syrup bring to a simmer 1 part water to 1 part caster sugar. Add 1 or 2 sticks of chopped rhubarb for about 150 g sugar) and  cook till soft.  Leave to cool with the rhubarb in the syrup then drain retaining the syrup.  ( Eat the rhubarb)

2)Shake everything apart from the soda water in a sealable jar or cocktail shaker.  This may take a couple of minutes but you want the egg white to form a thick foam.

3) Serve with a sprig of mint and a good splash of soda water.




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