July 12, 2021

BLANQUETTE DE VEAU MAISON (or veal in white sauce my way).

 


Well, we finally made it to France!  In the end we made a run for it and brought our trip forward by one week, fearing that with the Johnson Variant running rife through the UK, the French might pull up the drawbridge again.  The last few days before we set off were fraught with problems but once we had arrived it was almost as if we had never been away.  You can read about it by looking here.



We have been away for ten months and being back is a total joy in so many ways, one of which is shopping.  In the supermarket I spotted a pack of veal.  It was labelled "pour blanquette à mijoter" which means to stew it in a white sauce.  I can honestly say I have never seen veal for sale in the UK anywhere near to home so it's a treat to find it to both eat it in a restaurant or to cook with.


I consulted my French recipe books and the internet and there are so many different recipes for blanquette de veau to choose from.  Some even require that you start one or two days before serving!  I avoid recipes like those.  In the end, I thought it's just a beef stew, made with no browning, how hard can it be?  I decided to follow my instincts and do a mixture of some of the recipes.


One of the curious things is that you effectively boil the meat.  I suppose that's no surprise considering meat is boiled in any kind of stew, but it reminded me of something a friend once said.  An American living in France for many years, he told me that the French consider English cooking inferior because we boil our meat, which is odd, considering that I have come across plenty of French recipes where the meat is boiled, especially in country cooking, including this one!

The meat and veg are simmered gently until almost tender then the mushrooms are added.  Then a roux is made to thicken the sauce before serving.  I do like a thick, creamy sauce.  Some of the blanquettes I have been served in restaurants have consisted of meat and carrots in a very watery sauce, which is not as good.  Many of the recipes I looked at suggested that the veg cooked with the meat should be discarded, except maybe for the carrots.  Then the dish can be served in a more attractive way with rice, potatoes, pasta and some other kind of veg - often in restaurants a quenelle of some creamed vegetable.  At home there is no way I would throw out perfectly good cooked veg then replace them with something else!

The last step is to season the sauce and this is where I went completely off piste.  I added a splash of cream sherry and it was delicious.  Not really authentic but "my way".


We had ours with some of those slightly golden colour, waxy potatoes that are common in France, and some 'aricot verts - now we're in France it's important to remember not to pronounce our H's!  Oh and of course, a lovely fresh baguette to mop up the juices.

Ingredients

300g veal shoulder or other meat suitable for a casserole, such as chicken, turkey, pork or, if you can get it, rabbit, cut into large bite sized pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 small leeks, wiped and chopped into chunks
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
a large glass of dry white wine
1 bouquet garni
a handful of small button mushrooms or 4-6 larger mushrooms, rinsed and quartered
a large knob of butter, about 30g
1 dessert spoon of plain flour
a splash of cream sherry (optional)
a tblsp cream or crème fraîche (optional)

Method

Put the meat and all the veg except for the mushrooms into a large saucepan or flameproof casserole dish.  Add the bouquet garni and the wine.  Season with salt and white pepper (otherwise known in this house as "canteen pepper").  

Pour over enough cold water to cover, bring to the boil and reduce to a gentle simmer.  Skim off any scum that forms at this point.  Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes until the meat and carrots are almost cooked and tender, removing any more scum that forms a couple of times.

Add the mushrooms and cook gently for about 15 minutes more until the meat, veg and mushrooms are tender.  Remove from the heat and leave covered to keep warm.

Next, make the roux by melting the butter in a small pan.  Sprinkle in the flour and beat into the butter to blend together, beating out any lumps, cook gently for a minute or two.  Off the heat, add some of the liquid from the meat and stir in to make a thick sauce.  Add this to the stew - as much as is needed to get the consistency you like.  Add more water if necessary and stir to combine.

Return the stew to the hob to reheat gently.  Season with more salt and pepper if needed and add that splash of sherry and the cream if you like!  Remember to remove the bouquet garni before serving, with potatoes or rice, and other veg.  Plus a nice fresh baguette to clean the dish!

Serves two.

June 18, 2021

LEMON CAKE

 


The real name for this cake should be "Dom's mum's lemon cake".



It is one of the easiest lemon cakes to make and the recipe comes from Dominic at Bellau Kitchen.  It's his mum's recipe and he recently (two months ago already!) wrote about it as you can see here.


Once I was reminded of it I couldn't wait to make it again myself - I first made it years ago and wrote about it here.  It's a delicious cake with a lovely texture, so quick to rustle up but doesn't hang around - it's very moreish (as my mum used to say).  Highly recommended.


 You may well wonder why there is a picture here of our cat Daisy having forty winks!

Well, at long last we will soon be on our way to France!  It's been a trial getting organised as you might like to read here and there is still much to do.  The blog will be going to sleep for a while and hopefully my next post will be from our house in France!

Night, night!

June 4, 2021

FILET MIGNON DE PORC

Chez Grand Ma.

We have eaten at this restaurant in the village where we live in France many, many times over the years. My favourite dish on the menu is "filet mignons de porc" and it's delicious.  The pork is tender and succulent and usually served with sauté potatoes (pan fried cubes of herby potatoes), a sprig of roasted cherry tomatoes and a small portion of some kind of other veg. 

In winter we eat inside the cosy restaurant and in summer outdoors in its beautiful courtyard. There is a "menu du jour" at lunchtime and two price bands of set menus in the evening.  This is where we ate when we celebrated getting the keys to our little house in the village on a freezing cold evening in November 2007 and the filet mignon de porc is what we both had.  For me, the great thing about this little restaurant is that you can always get a nice meal all year round, regardless of the month or the weather. On a cold and dark Tuesday evening in February, when there are no tourists and the village is deserted, the restaurant's lights on Grande Rue will be drawing you in for dinner.



So, when I spotted a pork fillet on the supermarket shelf the other day, my heart skipped a beat. It's hard to explain to anyone how much I miss being in France at this time of year and as I placed the pork in my basket I was transported back in time.  It’s funny how food can bring back memories with a jolt and launch you back into a previous time.  

Moules et frites for lunch in the courtyard on a summer's day, or the local trio performing a blues session to enthusiastic diners on a warm evening, the swifts and swallows performing their aerobatics to add to the entertainment, or celebrating a birthday on a chilly December night, the clinking of the glasses adding to the merriment. 

Nick recreated the dish at home and we had ours with a small gratin of potatoes (I confess a purchase from the freezer cabinet and baked in the oven at the same time as the pork) and the usual medley of veg. It was not quite the same as Henri the chef's version but close enough. We sipped a nice red wine with it and reminisced, hoping that we'll be able to return to our house in France this summer.

Ingredients 

1 400g pork fillet
1 large shallot, chopped
half a pack of chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
some white wine
1-2 tblsp full fat crème fraîche

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.

Heat a little olive oil and a knob of butter in a frying pan and brown the pork on all sides.  Cutting the fillet in half will help to fit it in the pan and with handling.  Transfer to a small roasting dish, add a splash of wine and roast for about 15-20 minutes depending on how well you like it to be cooked.

While the meat is in the oven, add the shallot and mushrooms to the frying pan with a little more oil if necessary and cook gently until soft but not browned.  Add a little wine and season with salt and pepper.  Then add the crème fraîche and stir in, adding a little more to thicken it as you like.

Remove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest for five minutes.  Slice into thick medallions and serve with the sauce poured over.

Serves 2.

June 3, 2021

RHUBARB AND STRAWBERRY CRUMBLE CAKE

 

I used the same recipe for this cake as for the summer fruit streusal cake which I first made last year.  It's one of those endlessly adaptable recipes that never fails to please and comes from the excellent little book "The Weekend Cookbook" by Catherine Hill.

This time I used a few slim stalks of rhubarb from the garden, choosing the reddest ones in preference to the green, and a handful of strawberries.  The golden caster sugar gives it a slightly caramel flavour and the demerara sugar topping a bit of crunch.  I did wonder about adding a little vanilla extract but it didn't need it.  Rhubarb and strawberries go well together and it was a delicious cake with a nice texture.

The crunch was diminished after a couple of days as I stored the cake in the fridge because of the fresh fruit, but it was still good to eat.  It really is a lovely cake to have either with a cup of tea, a glass of chilled rosé or served warm with custard for dessert.  Highly recommended.



However, I dropped a bit of a clanger with the cake tin, having decided to use a 20cm square tin instead of a round one for a change.  My brain was obviously temporarily disengaged and when the cake came out of the oven I realised that turning it out was going to be a problem.  I had lined the bottom with baking paper but it was a solid tin, not loose bottomed and it suddenly occurred to me that having to tip it upside down to turn it out might mean that I would lose some of the crumble topping.  Rats !!
Luckily, the cake had risen more or less to the top of the tin so once it had cooled for about ten minutes (to make sure it had set and was not too fragile for some athletics) I put a large chopping board on the top, gripped them together firmly, tipped it upside down and removed the tin and the baking paper.  I now had the cake upside down on the board so pressed an oblong cooling rack onto the bottom of it.  With no mean feat of dexterity I gripped the sides of the board and rack with both hands and turned it back the right way up.  It worked and I lost only a few crumbs of the topping.  
*The moral of the story is: either use a loose bottomed tin of some kind, OR, put long strips of foil or paper in the tin so you can lift it out when cooked without inverting it!
In any case, I think it's one of those cakes that cuts more easily into squares than triangles and I would do the same again.....

Ingredients
For the topping
 
50g cold butter, cubed
75g plain flour
50g demerara sugar
50g flaked almonds
 
For the cake
 
125g cold butter, cubed
225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g golden caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 tblsp milk (approx.)
300g of fruit, a mixture of rhubarb and strawberries
 
Method
 
First make the streusel topping by putting the butter and flour into the bowl of a food processor.  Blitz until the stage of large breadcrumbs with a few lumpy bits (so not too fine).  Tip the mixture into a small bowl, add the sugar and flaked almonds and stir to mix together.  Set aside.
(You can of course do the rubbing in part by hand.)
 
Butter and base line a 20cm loose bottomed square cake tin*.  Preheat the oven to 170C / 150 fan / gas mk 4.
 
Without washing the food processor bowl (or the mixing bowl if rubbing in by hand), make the cake mixture.  Put the flour and baking powder in and blitz (or stir) for a couple of seconds to mix.  Add the butter and process until the fine breadcrumbs stage.  Then add the sugar, eggs and 2 tblsp of the milk.  Process  until smooth and add a little more milk if necessary to get a dropping consistency.
 
Transfer the mixture to the tin and level the top.  Chop or cut in half any larger strawberries, chop the rhubarb into 1cm dice and arrange on top of the cake mixture.  Sprinkle the streusel mixture on top of that.
 
Bake for 35-40 minutes (mine took 55 minutes) until done and the cake passes the skewer test.
 
Leave in the tin to cool for 15 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
 
Cuts into 9-12 slices.
* See notes in text!

May 3, 2021

PEA AND HAM SOUP

 

Following on from the previous post about soup weather, another soup that I made recently is pea and ham soup.

One of my dad's favourite things to eat is gammon.  If we were to take him for a pub lunch he would mostly have gammon with egg and chips.  At home we usually have a small smoked gammon joint that you simply bake in the oven, roasted in an old fashioned enamel roaster just like Mum used to use for the Sunday roast every week.  (I spotted one of them in a local charity shop in immaculate condition for 75p a while ago and it's been in regular use ever since.)

When the weather turned chilly again we reverted to comfort food and had cauliflower cheese and mash with our gammon joint.  There is a generous amount of meat on these joints and the leftovers can be used in a multitude of ways  - not least of which sliced, in a excellent ham, cheese and pickle sandwich.  The other thing it's good for is soup.  

I cut the gammon into thick slices then small dice.  Most went into the pot and I reserved a few for garnish when the soup was cooked.  The quantity of meat does not need to be precise and you can use more or less any kind of cooked ham.

It was delicious!

Ingredients

About a third (250g) of a small gammon joint, cooked, or a couple of slices of thick ham

350g frozen peas

1 medium potato

1 medium onion

1 vegetable stock pot

Method

Peel and chop the onion and potato. Chop or cut the gammon or ham into small dice.

Tip the peas into the machine, then the chopped potato and onion.  Reserve a few bits of meat for garnish if you like, otherwise add all of it to the machine with the stock pot.

Cover with water to the lower line. Season with pepper (ham is quite salty enough) and cook on smooth.

Add a swirl of cream or crème fraîche and a sprinkle of chopped parsley before scattering the reserved chopped ham on top. Otherwise just dig straight in!

Serves 4 generously.

April 30, 2021

SOUP WEATHER AGAIN - CAULIFLOWER CHEESE SOUP



In the early part of April the weather was lovely and warm for several days.  Lulled into false sense of security we got the bbq out and even had to use the umbrella (the sunshade kind) for a couple of afternoons.  I donned t-shirts and cropped linen trousers, stocked the fridge with Italian rosé wine and looked forward to the kind of spring we had last year during the early part of the lockdown.

Then over one weekend winter returned.  Cold winds, hail and dull, grey skies.  Out came the soup maker again!


Having found that some soups can turn out slightly bland, I've been looking for ways of adding flavour and spotted this product on the supermarket shelves amongst the stock pots and cubes.  I decided to give it a try.  I expect it's very similar to the Maggi seasoning that you get in France. 

This soup is one that was doing the rounds of the soup maker forums and I was dying to have a go.  It uses frozen cauliflower cheese.  I never knew that such a thing existed!  The finished soup was very much like drinking liquid cauliflower cheese, which is hardly surprising!  Delicious!

I put the cauliflower straight from the freezer into the machine and used hot water, although some recipes said just use cold water as normal.  Most said that either way there was no need to defrost the cauliflower.

Ingredients

1 680g bag frozen cauliflower cheese (mine came from Tesco at £2 a bag)

1 small onion

1 small potato

1 full tsp Knorr liquid seasoning

Method

Peel and chop the onion and potato and add to the machine.  Tip the bag of cauliflower on top.  Season with salt and pepper (I added my pepper afterwards).  Add the liquid seasoning, fill to the top line with hot water and cook on smooth.

Serves 4 generously.

April 14, 2021

DATE AND APPLE CAKE

My blog friend Angela mentioned recently that she had made some date and apple galettes for dessert.  That sounded like a heavenly combination to me and one that would probably be good in a cake.


I looked for recipes on the internet but nothing really appealed so I decided to adapt one I've used before.


I used Mary Berry's recipe for her "American apple and apricot cake" which I wrote about here.  The recipe appears in her "Baking Bible" and "100 cakes and bakes".  Instead of the apricots, almond extract and normal caster sugar I used chopped dates, vanilla extract and golden caster sugar, for a more mellow flavour to fit with the dates.  It was an adaptation that really worked.


It's a lovely, moist cake and less like a full-on fruit cake than many of the internet recipes I found.  Date and apple are truly a lovely combination. Great to go with a cup of tea in the afternoon or, of course, served warm for dessert.  Many thanks to Angela for giving me the idea.

Ingredients

250g self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

225g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

½ tsp vanilla extract

150g butter, melted

225g cooking apples, peeled (I used 1 large Bramley)

100g chopped dates

a splash of milk if needed

25g flaked almonds (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 160° C / 140° fan / gas mk 3.  Butter and line the base of a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Put all the ingredients except for the fruit, milk and almonds into a large bowl, mix well to combine then beat for one minute until smooth.  Slice the apples straight into the bowl, add the dates and stir in to combine evenly,  Add the milk if the mixture seems overly stiff.  (Mine did.)

Spoon into the tin and level the top.  Tap on the worktop a few times to settle the mixture and release any air bubbles.  Sprinkle over the flaked almonds if you are using them.

Bake for 1 - 1½ hours until done.  Check after 1 hour but beware of the cake sinking if you open the oven door too soon (mine did and was done in 1¼ hours).  Cool in the tin for a few minutes before releasing the cake carefully.  Run a knife around the edge of the cake before releasing the clip so that the cake won't split.

Cool on a rack and serve cold or slightly warm.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.