September 29, 2022



This is another very retro dish, but with a twist.  It's coq au vin but made with white wine.

I can actually remember the very first time I ate coq au vin (the red wine version).  Nick and I were on our very first motorcycle tour of France in May 1994.  The weather was decidedly iffy and we were camping.  Nick was keen to show me a place where he had camped a couple of  years before (probably with his previous girlfriend but we won't dwell on that!).

We made our way down through France and landed up in Chinon.  The campsite there is across the river from the town itself.  We pitched the tent and as the light faded the view of the river with its lovely old  bridge, the boulevard along the river bank and the château overlooking everything, in all its splendour, was a sight I shall never forget.

We strolled across the bridge into town for dinner and, being exhausted from a long ride, fell into the first restaurant that was open.  It was the Café des Arts in the beautiful square with the fountain.  There we had coq au vin and crème brulée before staggering back to the tent and our sleeping bags.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  

Chinon became our all time favourite town in France and we went back there for at least part of our holiday every year, often more than once.  Now that we spend half the year in our house in France it is almost just around the corner.  The Café des Arts has been spruced up somewhat in the intervening years but still serves great food.

This white wine version is loosely based on a Nigella Lawson recipe which you will find in her book Nigella Express.


1 pack of lardons, about 150g

1 leek, finely sliced

4 small skinless chicken thighs (or a pack of chicken mini fillets, about 350g)

a handful (half a punnet) of mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 bay leaves

1 tblsp garlic oil for frying

half a bottle of riesling wine


Heat the oil in a sauté or frying pan  that has a lid.  Fry the lardons then add the leeks and cook until softened.

Add the chicken pieces, bay leaves, mushrooms and wine, season with salt and pepper.  Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook with the lid on for 30-40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.  Stir in the cream and heat for another minute or two.  

Remove the bay leaves before serving with pasta, rice or potatoes.  Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley or dill if you like.

Serves 2-4, depending on the amount of chicken.

September 21, 2022


This has to be one of the best soups I have ever made using leftovers in the soup maker.

After our bbq we had half a roasted spaghetti squash left.  You can read how I cooked it here.

We also had a few of these, barbecued mini potatoes.

They were parboiled, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with garlic and herb seasoning before roasting on the bbq as per a James Martin recipe that I found somewhere.

I also used some leftover ratatouille, made roughly to Raymymond Blanc's recipe for "quick ratatouille".



About a pint of leftover ratatouille

Half a roasted spaghetti squash, flesh scraped into the machine (skin discarded)

2 small leftover bbq'd potatoes

3 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced

1 veg stock pot

Enough veg to fill to the bottom line

Enough water to fill to the top line

Cook on "smooth" setting.

Makes 4 generous portions.

September 20, 2022

FIG, APPLE AND ALMOND TORTE (and what makes a cake a torte instead of a cake?)

I'm back in France* and a few days ago I went to lunch at a friend's house.  On arrival I admired her fig tree which was loaded with gorgeous small ripe fruit.  On leaving she gave me some of them.

I looked through my collection of cookbooks and on t'internet for some ideas on what to do with them.

I settled on a recipe for "blackberry and apple torte" by Jo Wheatley (one of the early "bake off" winners) which I thought would adapt nicely.  It’s a recipe in her blog which is an adaptation of one from her book called "A passion for baking" where it was originally a recipe for a raspberry torte.  I do have the recipe book but it's back in the UK so I couldn’t do what I would normally do which is to go and look it up! The raspberry version of the recipe can be found, if you Google it, on the Daily Mail website.   I hope you're keeping up!

My own adaptation was to use the small figs instead of the blackberries. However, with both recipes open on my iPad I spotted a discrepancy; in one it suggested an oven temperature of 170° fan and in the other 160° fan.  Hmmmm……

I decided to split the difference and go with 165° and it was done in 40 minutes.  Next time I would check after thirty because it was if anything a tiny tad over baked.

A puzzle sprang to mind as I was looking at these recipes and that is - what makes a cake a torte rather than a cake?  I Googled it and there were so many different explanations that I decided it's probably  entirely down to the whim of the recipe writer.  For myself I thought a torte would be more of a dessert cake than an afternoon tea kind of cake so that’s what I've stuck with here!  Any other suggestions on a postcard, please!

It was a very nice cake.  Torte.  Whatever.  I like recipes that can be adapted to use whatever fruit you have in and this one is good for that. 


150g each of: 

self raising flour,

softened butter or baking spread,

caster sugar,

ground almonds

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 eggs, beaten

1 eating apple, peeled and cubed, made up to 150g fruit with small figs, quartered.

2 tblsp apricot jam to glaze


Preheat the oven to 165° fan.  Butter and line the base of a 23cm round springform tin.

In a large bowl, beat together the flour, sugar, butter, eggs and cinnamon until smooth.  Stir the cubes of apple through the mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the tin, level the top and tap on the worktop a few times to dispel any trapped air.  Arrange the quartered figs on top and push slightly into the mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until done.  Cool in the tin for five minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Put the apricot jam into a small saucepan and heat gently to melt it.  Brush over the finished cake. (Alternatively, just dust with icing sugar.)

Serve with cream, ice cream or crème anglais.  Also delicious just as it is.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.


*When I say "I'm back in France" it’s because Nick is still in the UK.  Before my dad died I spent several weeks in the UK while Nick was in France with the cat and the dog.  Hence we are significantly out of step with each other in terms of the number of days we have left out of our 180 days.  (Our six month visas expired a couple of weeks ago but we can still go up to 180 days within the Schengen rules.)  Consequently he's spending another ten days in the UK so that he can catch up a bit and we can both stay here until the end of October.  It’s all so complicated since Brexit.  

Our plan was that my brother would be spending the ten days here with me so he could have a bit  of a holiday.  Looking after the care of an elderly person month after month is exhausting, draining and all consuming and we are all in need of some rest and relaxation.

Sadly, not many weeks after the funeral my brother ended up in hospital himself.  He had a pulmonary embolism with complications and has now been there for five weeks, the last four of them in intensive care.  He's very poorly indeed.  It never rains but what it pours.  This has not been the best year for us.

September 9, 2022


Last month a friend in France gave us a spaghetti squash from her new garden where they have grown really well.  I had never seen one before.

The theory is that the cooked squash can be used as an alternative to pasta in numerous dishes.  Like all squashes it doesn't have a great deal of flavour in its own right.  It's a vegetable that carries the flavours that you cook it in, much like pasta in fact.  

I remember how my mum used to make stuffed marrow every autumn, using the marrows that my dad grew in the garden.  The marrow was almost tasteless but the dish was something we looked forward to every year.  You can read about that here.

When the squash is cooked the flesh shreds easily into strands, hence the name spaghetti squash.

My friend had sent me a link to a recipe on how to cook it and another one for barbecued spaghetti squash caught my eye.  It involved roasting it in the oven for a while then finishing it off on the barbecue.  The weather was perfect for barbecuing.

I cut it in half lengthways and scooped out the middle containing the seeds, which was easy to do.  I then cut it into quarters and placed it on a baking sheet.  I then drizzled it generously with garlic flavoured olive oil, seasoned well with salt and pepper and baked in the oven at 180°fan for twenty minutes.  It was almost done and the strands were beginning to form.

I then handed it over to Nick who was in charge of the bbq.  He placed two of the quarters on a foil tray and finished the cooking on the grill.

Once the squash was tender I lifted out the strands of flesh by drawing a fork through it lengthwise.  You can then do all kinds of imaginative things with it by adding other veg, meats and sauces but just because I had no idea what to expect I served it plain as a vegetable side dish to our bbq.  

It was pleasant to eat, as are most things cooked with olive oil and garlic!  I would definitely do this again.  

There were only two of us at the bbq so half of the cooked squash was left.  I turned that into a really good soup along with the other leftovers from the bbq; some ratatouille and bbq'd potatoes.  That was truly delicious and worthy of a post by itself.  

September 7, 2022


I’ve had my eye on this Michel Roux recipe* for a while and when the weather in France last month  turned from heatwave to unsettled muggy showers my thoughts wandered from ice cream to pudding and the opportunity arose.  

For some reason I don't buy oranges all that often but on this occasion I had several in the fruit bowl whispering "cake, cake" as I walked past.  The stars were once again aligned.

The recipe states that the top should be decorated with toasted almonds but I used strands of orange peel instead.  Toasting almonds is one of those tasks that I shy away from as they can turn from sweet and toasty to burnt and bitter in no time at all unless you keep your eye on them.  It's the sort of thing I can do if I have my ducks in a row and brain in gear but somehow those two things don't align quite so often these days, well certainly not this year anyway.

In the recipe it is suggested that you serve the cake with orange segments marinaded in whisky but I didn't do that either.  Instead I served a bowl of poached nectarines and plums alongside - because I had selected them from an abundance of gorgeous fruit in the greengrocer's a couple of days before.  Also because it would offer a choice of dessert for our guests - cake, or cake and fruit, or just fruit.  In the end everybody had both!  I also served a bowl of softly whipped cream to go with all options.  (You can see the recipe for the fruit on my blog here.)

It was a truly fabulous dessert cake!
The orange flavour was lovely and it was very moist, largely due to the syrup that you make and douse the cake with when it's still warm.  Just because of the syrup I have given the recipe two stars in the faff factor, although really it was not that much extra work and maybe one and a half stars would have been fairer.

I kept leftovers in the fridge and the cake was still moist and delicious several days later.  (It only lasted that long because we had a frenzy of catching up with friends and impromptu eating out over the next few days.)  Definitely a cake that I will make again.

*I hesitate to give a link to the original recipe.  On a few occasions recently when I have looked back at older posts on my blog where links have been given, strange things have happened.  Some links have disappeared altogether and some now link to something else entirely.  So I haven't added a link here and might not do again.  In fact I might even, over the long winter evenings, if I can be bothered and have finished all my half knitted jumpers, go back to more posts and delete all links.  

I will always acknowledge where the recipe comes from.  This one comes from a book called "cooking with the master chef" and if you Google the recipe you will find the original easily in several places on t'internet.

For the cake

50g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
225g caster sugar
250g ground almonds
250g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tbslp finely grated orange zest (about two oranges)
4 eggs

For the glaze and decoration

80ml freshly squeezed orange juice (about 1½ oranges)
60g soft light brown sugar
1 tblsp orange marmalade
the coarsely grated zest or peel of 1 orange


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan/ gas mk 4.  Butter a 20cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ground almonds and caster sugar, making sure there are no lumps.  Sift in the flour and baking powder.

In another bowl, using a hand held electric whisk, beat the butter with the orange zest until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Fold the almond and flour mixture into the second bowl until smooth.  Pour into the prepared tin, level the top and bake for 45 minutes or until cooked.

While the cake is baking, put the orange juice and brown sugar into a small pan and bring to the boil to make the syrup.  Set aside to cool.

When the cake is done, remove from the oven, prick the cake all over, right to the bottom, with a skewer and pour the cooled syrup all over.  Leave to cool in the tin.

When the cake is cool, run a knife round the edge of the cake and release carefully as it is slightly fragile.  Place on a cake plate or stand.

Warm the marmalade in a small pan and brush all over the cake.  Scatter the orange peel over the top to decorate.

Cuts into 8-12 slices.

August 11, 2022


This is the cake I made for the afternoon tea for our friend's birthday back in March.  It's on the front cover of Delia Smith's book "Baking" and I remember very clearly the first time I tasted it, many years ago.  It's  a favourite of Nick's family and his youngest sister had made it for his mum's birthday tea.  

The recipe calls for home made lemon curd.  I have made lemon curd successfully in the past but on this occasion I used a jar of Bon Maman.  The curious thing is, Bon Maman is a French product but I have never found the lemon curd for sale anywhere in France, even though I do look for it in the confiture section of every supermarket.  Other lemon curds are available but are not quite as good so this time I brought some to France from the UK with me, which did seem a bizarre thing to do.  

I wan't quite sure whether this was strictly legal.  Does the butter content of lemon curd, even shop bought, mean that it should, strictly speaking, be classed as dairy?  In which case it's no longer legal to bring it to France.  If however it's classed as jam, we're ok.  The joy of Brexit, the gift that keeps on giving and nobody has got what they voted for, whatever that was, and very few actually understand the new rules anyway.

The cake is made in two sandwich tins and each layer is then sliced into two.  This is not my favourite thing to do and gives me the collywobbles every time I even think about it.  What if I didn't make the cut evenly and the cake ended up all wonky?  Luckily on this occasion I had a sufficiently steady hand and it turned out straight, but I did need a bit of a lie down afterwards.  For that reason alone I have given it two stars in the faff factor.

It was easy to make, looked great on the tea table and tasted divine.  You can't really go wrong with a Delia Smith recipe and a cake with such a pedigree, Bon Maman product not withstanding, was bound to be a big hit.  It was lovely.


For the cake
zest of 1 lemon 
1 tblsp of lemon juice 
175g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
175g butter, at room temperature
175g golden caster sugar
3 eggs

For the filling
a jar of good quality lemon curd, shop bought or home made

For the icing
zest of 1 lemon, removed with a zester, not a grater, so as to get long, curly strips of peel
50g icing sugar
2-3 tsp lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150° fan / gas mk3.  Grease two 20cm sandwich tins and line the base of each with baking paper.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, add all the other cake ingredients and beat with an electric whisk until smooth and creamy.

Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins and level the tops.  Bake for around 35 minutes until done.  Remove to cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, first remove the peel from the lemon for the decoration.

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add enough lemon juice to make a runny consistency.

When the cakes are completely cold, carefully slice each one in half using a sharp serrated knife.  Place one layer on a cake plate or stand and spread liberally with the lemon curd.

Repeat with another two layers then place the fourth layer on top.  Spread the icing on the top layer and decorate with the curly strips of lemon peel.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

August 9, 2022


For the afternoon tea in France a few weeks ago (see here) I made some mini muffins to a recipe by Delia Smith.  I spotted the recipe in one of her older cook books, simply called "Baking", when I was actually looking for something else - the lemon curd layer cake that's on the cover (and in the next post).

I wanted some little bite sized cakes to adorn the top layer of the cake stand and these sounded perfect for the job.  I haven't found the recipe anywhere on the internet but it does seem that chocolate, prune and Armagnac (or other alcohol) is a combo that Delia is quite fond of as she has other recipes such as for a cake, mini cakes and a chocolate log.  I can't fault it - they are a match made in heaven...well probably not quite that saintly, owing to the booze!

For the icing I used Lynn Hill's recipe for a chocolate glaze which you can see here although I only made a half quantity.  In the above picture it looks a bit dull because the cakes had been in the fridge for a while, but on the day of making it looked fabulous - dark and glossy.  I decorated my muffins with halved glacé cherries, chocolate raisins and chocolate vermicelli, but you can obviously use your imagination here.  

They were very rich, boozy and chocolatey!  The prunes gave a slightly fruity hint but I doubt anyone would have identified it as prune if they didn't already know.  (Prunes do have a bad press, owing to their 1950's health food connotations !)  Each one was a perfect little morsel.

I froze the leftover muffins to enjoy later and they were just as good.

For the muffins

50g Agen prunes, stoned
55ml Armagnac
150g plain flour
2 tblsp cocoa powder
1 dessertspoon baking powder  (a dessert spoon is about ⅔ of a tablespoon)
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg, beaten
40g golden caster sugar
120 ml milk
50g butter, melted and slightly cooled
50g plain chocolate drops

For the topping

100g dark chocolate, chopped
45g unsalted butter
glacé cherries, halved, chocolate raisins and chocolate vermicelli to decorate.


Chop the prunes into small chunks and soak in the Armagnac overnight or for as long as you can.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Put 24 mini muffin cases into a mini muffin tin.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.

In another large bowl, mix together the beaten egg, sugar, milk and melted butter.

Sift the dry ingredients (again) into the wet mixture and fold them in quickly.  Then add the chocolate drops, prunes and Armagnace and mix briefly again.

Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin cases (about one heaped teaspoonful in each) and bake for 10 minutes.

Cool in the tin for 5 minutes before removing from the tin to cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the topping, melt the butter and chocolate together in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Stir frequently until smooth and allow to cool slightly before using.  Spread about a teaspoonful on the top of each muffin and decorate as you like.

Makes 24 mini muffins.