June 2, 2024

SAUSAGE PATTIES or an almost free lunch.

I recently made some mini sausage rolls for a picnic and there was a bit of sausagemeat left over, probably about 75g or two tablespoonfuls.  A couple of days later, with that, the remains of the beaten egg from brushing the pastry and a portion of leftover mashed potatoes an idea sprang to mind.  I added some breadcrumbs made from one slice of "wonderloaf" blitzed in my mini processor.

I first thought of making rissoles or meatballs so mixed everything together in a bowl and divided it into four large balls.  I then decided that the mixture probably wouldn’t hold its shape in a frying pan so patted each one lightly into the well buttered holes of a muffin tin.  

After ten minutes at 180° fan they were coming along nicely and I sprinkled a bit of grated cheddar on top.  They were then baked for another fifteen minutes.  They were absolutely yummy, plenty for two people, and we had ours with some baked beans.  In fact they were so yummy that I would even buy more sausagemeat to make them again!

May 4, 2024


In France there is a chain of frozen food shops called Picard.  Their range of foods goes from basic stuff, like peas and green beans, through to luxury items.  Our favourite purchases include their croissants, which cook from frozen in eighteen minutes, their salmon fillets, which are not cheap but occasionally on special offer, and twin packs of scallops in chardonnay sauce which are a bit pricey but utterly divine as a starter.  These little gratins also come in reusable ceramic dishes, always a bonus in my book.  We have frequently seen little piles of them for sale at village brocantes - the French rarely throw anything away that they might get a few euros for! I have hung on to mine and by now have collected enough of the little blue dishes to feed quite a crowd!

After treating ourselves to another scallop gratin starter I thought I really ought to look for a recipe for something similar that would make a tasty starter without the hefty price tag.

I spotted a recipe for a smoked haddock gratin on a lovely blog which you can see here and which gave me the idea for my starter.  I used frozen spinach which comes chopped and mixed with a little crème fraîche - a combination that I’m not sure if it’s available in the UK but any fresh or frozen spinach would do the job.  I left the quantity I wanted in the fridge to thaw overnight which made it easy to drain off excess liquid.  

The rest of the recipe is really just an assembly job.

They were perfect little starters, quite rich with all the cream and cheese but very tasty and not too filling! Definitely good for a dinner party.  Next time, instead of smoked haddock, I might try a mixture of prawns and smoked salmon - the little packs of diced smoked salmon or trimmings that you can buy would be ideal.

You can find more recipes for the smoked haddock that I used, and other smoked fish, on the manufacturer’s website here. There are English and French versions.  

UPDATE: I made the gratins using smoked salmon trimmings and prawns, which were delicious.  I also made a couple using chicken and chorizo for someone who was allergic to most fish and they were pronounced delicious too.


5 blocks of frozen spinach in crème fraîche, thawed, or equivalent, or a 200g bag of fresh spinach

1 x 140g smoked haddock fillet, skin removed

6 small knobs of butter

6 dessert spoons half fat crème fraîche

3-4 tblsp grated gruyère cheese

3-4 tblsp grated parmesan

6 slices of a large tomato

2 tblsp fresh breadcrumbs made from 1 slice of white bread


Preheat the oven to 220°C / 200° fan / gas mk 7.  Put six small gratin dishes or ramekins on a baking sheet.

First make the breadcrumbs.  Tear a slice of white bread into pieces and drop into a food processor.  Process until you have fine crumbs.

If using fresh spinach wash and cook it for a few minutes until just cooked then chop it.  If using frozen spinach make sure it's completely thawed.  Press out any excess liquid and share between the gratin dishes or ramekins.

Cut the fish into small pieces and sit them on top of the spinach.

Dot the fish with a small knob of butter and spoon some crème fraîche on top.  Sprinkle with the two grated cheeses and place a slice of tomato on top.

Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling.  Serve immediately.

(As the dishes are straight from the oven you may want to serve them sitting on a heatproof plate or dish so as not to damage your table, placemats or tablecloth.  I served mine on a small glass plate protected from the heat by a pad of folded paper serviette.)

Serves 6.

May 3, 2024


A few weeks ago we went for lunch to a restaurant called Le George in Loches which has had a significant makeover since our last visit.  We were not disappointed and for dessert we had something called "nougat de Tours".  It's a traditional dish from our region of France and with similarities to the traditional dish from our region of the UK - the Bakewell tart.  It consists of a pastry case, filled with a layer of jam and candied fruits then topped with an almond mixture.  We both chose it for dessert and really enjoyed it so we started looking for recipes how to make one.

There are plenty of recipes on the internet but in the end I adapted one by my friend Susan which you can see here. I used strips of candied orange peel rather than marmalade and then went slightly off piste adding some chopped green and red glacé cherries as well.  Then I went even more off piste and slightly wrong.

To begin with I had chosen entirely the wrong baking dish, a round Pyrex one, simply because it was to hand and easier than trying to wrestle my loose based tart tin from the back of the cupboard.  Then, as I was spreading the almond topping over the tart there seemed to be barely enough to cover it and it wasn’t until the tart was in the oven and I started stacking the dishwasher that I spotted the third egg white in its little pot on the kitchen worktop!

(When cracking the eggs for a meringue I usually drop the white into a small pot or cup and add them individually to the bowl.  I've done this ever since the time that the fourth egg white for a pavlova contained a blob of unwanted yolk as I dropped it into the mixing bowl with the others!)

It was also the devil's own job to get slices of the tart out of the dish in one piece.  Definitely not the best looking tart I have ever made but tasted delicious so I  made a second one a couple of weeks later using the right tin and all three egg whites! 

Using a loose bottomed tart tin made the tart easy to turn out and the end result looked much neater.

That one turned out much better and will teach me not to be so lazy and to pay more attention to what I’m doing in future!  Mind you, both tarts were equally delicious!

It also occurred to me that mini versions, along the lines of the old Be-Ro tartlets, might work very well.  I shall have to try that when the opportunities presents itself.

This is the tart we had at Le George and the topping was, I think, more like a Bakewell almond sponge than macaroon, but it set us on a little culinary adventure and Nougat de Tours will be on the menu regularly from now on.


Susan's post is worth reading because she explains the history of the tart including the use of local jams.  My jam was an apricot made from local trees by a friend that lives two miles away!  The jar of apricot is now all used up and the next one in line is her peach jam. Tah-dah!


1 pack of sweet pastry

A layer of apricot jam, around 150g

A layer of chopped candied peel and a few chopped glacé cherries, around 150g

75g ground almonds

75g caster sugar

3 egg whites

2 tblsp icing sugar


Remove the pastry from the fridge 20-30 minutes before you want to use it, otherwise it might crack when you unroll it.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Butter the base and sides of a 20cm loose bottomed tart tin. 

Unroll the pastry and use it to line the tart tin, leaving the edges untrimmed and draped over the edge of the tin.  

Spread a generous layer of jam over the pastry then scatter a generous layer of chopped peel over the top.

To make the topping, put the egg whites into a large bowl and whisk until stiff.  In another bowl mix together the ground almonds and caster sugar then fold them carefully into the egg whites.

Spread the topping evenly over the fruit, making sure not to leave any gaps at the edges.  Sprinkle with icing sugar, leave for a few minutes then sprinkle again.

Stand the tart on a baking sheet (this removes the risk of accidentally pushing the loose bottom up on removing the tart from the oven) and bake for 30 minutes.  Cover with foil if it looks too brown after 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven, remove the foil and cool in the tin.

When cool, carefully snap off the overhanging pastry and lift the tart onto a large can of food or small upturned bowl and ease the outer ring so that it drops down. You can then serve the tart from its metal base or transfer it to a flat serving plate by using a large cake lifter.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

March 22, 2024



I've been back in the UK for a short spell.

When I got home, the car we leave in the UK, (officially an old banger) wouldn't start.  The new battery that was fitted only a few weeks ago had failed.  How odd.  The old battery lasted nine years but the new one only eleven weeks.  Very annoying.  However, Halfords came out and changed it two days after I arrived.  My brother drove me everywhere I needed to go whilst the car was out of action, bless him.  

There has been plenty for me to do whilst I've been here and the weather hasn't been too bad, mostly fine.  I managed to cut the grass (once my brother had started the mower) and tidy the garden a bit.  I am mindful of the fact that too much tidying at this time of year can deprive insects and wildlife of their habitat until Spring properly arrives so left piles of leaves and moss undisturbed.  

On the first day of Spring and in the sunshine I fetched the garden table and chairs out of the shed to enjoy it.  I brought the pots of geraniums out from their overwintering spot in the garage, gave them a little drink and a feed and wished them well.  They're in a sunny, sheltered spot so hopefully might survive any frosts until the next visit when they can be restored to their proper place on the patio.  As I sat in the late afternoon sunshine I'll swear I could hear them stretching their stalks as they soaked up the warmth.

Being without a car was a challenge but luckily I live a ten minute walk from the village shop.  There I spotted a bunch of bananas which were past their best for 50p.  Irresistible!  And after a busy week I felt that me and my brother definitely deserved a cake.  A proper cake with icing and decorations.

The recipe is adapted from one in a book by Joanne Wheatley.  She covered hers all over with buttercream and decorated it with caramelised pecan nuts.  I just used what I had in stock so added some bronze sprinkles.  

I used a supermarket own brand flour, which I tend to buy when I'm here because it's so cheap, and, with sometimes long intervals between visits, I don't like the idea of leaving expensive flour that might go to waste.  I sifted it well (not such a chore) and it was perfectly good.  I also used the sugar I had in stock rather than the light soft brown sugar in the original recipe.  That was fine too, possibly adding to the caramel flavour.  My baking powder was a bit out of date but I decided to risk it rather than go out and buy a new pack.....which might then be left unused for some time.  It worked fine.

My icing sugar had gone hard because he who made and iced the Christmas cake hadn't closed up the paper packet!  I whizzed it well in the food processor but it still had some small lumps in it.  In actual fact they added to the crunch of the sprinkles on top and did not spoil what was a perfectly delicious cake.

It rose like a dream, looked very glamorous, had an excellent texture and tasted utterly divine.  Definitely a cake I will make again and it would probably be a good seller at a cake stall.  


For the cake

250g baking spread or softened butter

200g light muscovado sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

2 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed roughly with a fork

300g self raising flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

a splash of milk if needed

For the buttercream

150g spreadable butter, or softened butter.  I used Lurpak Spreadable.

300g icing sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 generous tblsp caramel spread.  I used Bon Maman confiture du lait

splash of milk


Preheat the oven to 170° C / 150° fan / gas mk 3.  Grease two 20cm sandwich tins and line the bases with baking paper.

Put the butter/spread and sugar into a large bowl and beat well with a wooden spoon or hand held electric whisk until light and fluffy (I used my Kenwood stand mixer).

Add the beaten eggs roughly in thirds and beat in.  Add the bananas and beat in.

Fold in the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.  Mix well to combine, adding a little milk if it seems very stiff, and divide between the prepared tins.  

Level the tops and bake for 30-35 minutes until done.  Cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream, put the butter or spread into a large bowl and beat until soft.  Sift in the icing sugar and cinnamon and beat until smooth.  Add the caramel and beat in.  Add a splash of milk to make a soft, spreadable consistency.  (I used the food processor to make mine, blitzing the icing sugar first to remove lumps then adding the other ingredients.)

Sandwich the two cakes together with half of the buttercream and spread the rest on top.  Decorate with sprinkles of your choice.

Cuts into 8-10 generous slices.

February 28, 2024

SUNDAY DINNER SOUP (soup maker recipe)

We are very much fans of Sunday Dinner Pie in this house.  It's very similar to Christmas Dinner Pie which I wrote about here.

Last weekend we roasted a small joint of loin of pork in our usual way, which is in a covered roasting tin, sitting on a layer of sliced onions and covered with a herb crust (breadcrumbs with a few added mixed herbs).  We are not fans of pork crackling on account of it being "rather bad for you"!

Afterwards there were two small slices of pork, two potatoes and a few florets of broccoli and cauliflower left over, but no gravy.  Gravy is an essential element of Sunday Dinner Pie so I decided to turn the leftovers into soup instead.

It was delicious and quite thick because of the quantity of leftover potatoes but none the worse for that.  If I didn't own a soup maker I probably would have persevered with the pie option, making some extra gravy and using ready made pastry, or maybe turned it into some kind of gratin, or had a roast pork salad with the potatoes and discarded the rather tired looking veg.  Or, perish the thought, maybe even a roast pork sandwich and discarded everything else.  This was probably the easiest and quickest option that made use of all the leftovers.

It would probably work with any leftover roast meat.


2 slices of roast pork (with any attached herb crumb) chopped

1 onion (use the one that had been roasted with the meat if you have it)

leftover potatoes and veg

1 large carrot

1 small potato

1 leek

1 garlic and thyme stock pot (or a veg stock cube)

a splash of dry sherry (optional)


Peel and roughly chop the carrot and put it in a layer in the bottom of the soup maker.  Put the Sunday dinner leftovers on top and then add enough prepared leek and potato to fill to the bottom line.

Add the stock pot or cube and enough water to fill to the top line.

Cook on smooth.  Stir the sherry into the finished soup.

Makes 4 generous servings.

February 20, 2024


With my part used packet of chopped dates and a couple of tired bananas I hankered after making something quick and easy.  I have used this recipe for banana loaf before and followed the tips at the end of the recipe to add some chopped dates.  This time I made mini muffins instead.  They are a nice bite sized treat, easy to hand round to a group of people.

They were well risen, nicely spiced and not too sweet.  I think that a bananaphobe would have not been too challenged - they were very moreish and even Nick liked them!

There had been an unfortunate mishap with my brand new jar of English mixed spice the week before.  Hard tiled floors are not very forgiving, spice and broken glass went everywhere. On the advice of a friend I replaced it with a French equivalent called "quatre épices".  The spices are ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.  I looked up the ingredients of British mixed spice and they have a very similar composition although also include coriander, which I usually associate with savoury dishes. Curious! The French version worked perfectly.

The quantity of mixture in the recipe made 48 mini muffins with some still some left over, so I made a few buns as well, which took a few minutes longer to bake.  Definitely a recipe worth remembering if you're short of time but want no shortage of flavour!

The very pretty little cake stand came from a brocante shop in a nearby village.  This place is actually an old barn stuffed with antique furniture, textiles, crockery and every imaginable kind of old or vintage household goods.  Prices are not as cheap as at the average village flea market but affordable.  This little cake stand was one of several that belonged to a huge set of matching crockery, a whole dinner service with numerous serving dishes, tureens and everything else that a large household might have.  The only item of it that I wanted (although all of it was gorgeous) was one of these with the pretty bird and flowers.  I think that had there only been one in the set the shopkeeper might have refused, but there were several so she was happy to sell me one.


3 very ripe bananas, about 225g peeled weight

3 large eggs

100g light soft brown sugar

150ml vegetable oil (I used groundnut oil)

275g self raising flour

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp baking powder

a handful of chopped dates


Put the dates into a small bowl and just cover with boiling water.  Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Grease the holes of two mini muffin tins.

Put the peeled bananas into a large bowl and mash roughly with a fork.  Add the eggs, sugar and oil and whisk with an electric hand held whisk until well combined.

Add the flour, spice and baking powder and whisk again until just combined.  Stir through the soaked dates including the liquid.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tins.  I used a mini ice cream scoop so that they were roughly even.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until done.  (The larger buns took 20 minutes).  Cool in the tins for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack.

Makes more than 48 mini muffins.

February 4, 2024


It's been a dull, grey weekend, the oven whispered "bake a cake" around lunchtime, and with a few parsnips lurking in the fridge, some lonely clementines in the fruit bowl and an unopened packet of chopped dates in the cupboard, a particular cake sprung to mind.  It's many years since I made it and the original comes from one of my most  favourite food blogs written by Dominic Franks.  You can see the last time I made this cake to Dom's recipe here.

Several people expressed a certain amount of scepticism when I made a cake using parsnips a few weeks ago, but on actually tasting it "ate their words".  Parsnips work just as well in a cake as do carrots, courgettes and other vegetables.  (I draw the line at kale.  The kale and apple cake I made a few years ago was truly horrible and I still shudder when I think about it!)

This time I used the dates instead of sultanas and, as both dates and parsnips are fairly sweet, I omitted the small amount of honey.  I also decided not to glaze it with the honey and clementine glaze either.  It was sweet enough without it and the top already looked nice and glossy so I didn't ice it.  I also decided to grate the parsnips a bit finer, using the medium grater on my box grater, which produced a nice cloud of fluffy parsnip which would be more easily concealed in the cake if anyone had doubts about it!

I made it as a traybake, with the walking group debriefing session in mind and it worked beautifully.  It was moist, delicious and kept well - possibly being even better the day after baking.  It was a huge hit with the handful of intrepid walkers that braved a cold, grey and muddy walk then retired to the bar.  There was only the slightest twitch of a raised eyebrow from our French members who by now probably realise that the English, although bonkers, can make a good cake from peculiar ingredients.  One even compared it to pain d'epices - and had a second slice.  Praise indeed!  A winner!


150g chopped dates

juice and zest of 4 clementines (or satsumas, mandarins or maybe 2 small oranges)

3 large eggs 

175ml groundnut or sunflower oil

200g soft light brown sugar

200g self raising flour

50g ground almonds

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cinnamon

200g parsnips


Put the dates and clementine juice into a small pan.  Add a little water if necessary to ensure they are covered.  Bring to the boil, turn off the heat and set aside to cool.

Peel and grate the parsnips, using the medium fine side of your grater, grating only the fleshy part and discarding the tougher core.

Preheat the oven to 170° C / 150° fan / gas mk 3½.  Butter and line the base and sides of a large traybake or roasting tin measuring about 33 x 24 cm.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar and flour until well blended and creamy.  This is easy enough to do with a wooden spoon.

Add the soaked dates including any liquid and all the other ingredients including the clementine zest.  Mix well.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden brown and cooked.  Cool in the tin.

Cuts into 12-16 slices or squares, depending on how many people you want to feed.