May 21, 2020


Did you know that yesterday was National Quiche Day and International Chardonnay Day?  (Or maybe the other way round.)
No, I didn't either until after we had had quiche with salad and a nicely chilled glass of the aforementioned for lunch!
I was inspired to make this particular quiche after reading my friend Ken's blog post which you can see here.  He and Walt make one of these every year when the French white asparagus first appears for sale.  It always looks so delicious and I have meant to make one for a long time, but never got around to it.  Or never remembered when our English green asparagus is in the shops.
The asparagus spears are boiled until just tender, cooled then wrapped in slices of ham.  I made mine slightly differently from Ken's because I only had a small pack of asparagus in the house.  So I filled in the gaps with a few extra bits of ham and some cooked sprigs of broccoli.  I also sprinkled some cheddar on top, just because it seemed like a good idea.
We ate ours outdoors in the glorious sunshine that seemed more like July than the end of May.
You can see how I constructed it and what ingredients I used from the photos.  For a detailed account of how to make it, it's a variation on my standard quiche recipe which you can see here.

1 pack ready made ready rolled shortcrust pastry
5 slices of cooked ham, plus extra for filling in the gaps
10 spears of asparagus, trimmed and boiled until just tender
a few small sprigs of broccoli to fill in the gaps, boiled until just cooked
a handful of grated cheddar cheese
3 eggs, beaten
a good dollop of double cream or crème fraiche
approx. 200ml milk
salt and pepper

May 18, 2020


For a few years now I have become increasingly unable to eat chillies.  About ten years ago I developed an acid reflux and heartburn problem which was treated with medication called PPI's (proton pump inhibitors) which prevent the stomach producing the acid which leaks into the gullet and causes the pain, (usually in the middle of the night).  The treatment works really well and with a little thought I have been able to keep the condition under control.

Gradually I have been able to identify the foods that make the symptoms worse.  Above all I have a problem with chilli.  Which is rather awkward because nowadays you get chilli in everything.  Or so it seems.

For a few years now chilli has become the must have ingredient, either chopped fresh chilli, chilli paste or chilli flakes.  It's everywhere and for me that is a real pain, literally.  I now seem to have reached the point where I am allergic to chilli. 
It's not that I'm a wuss when it comes to a good curry.  I've had my fair share of decent and spicy curries in the past but sadly that ship has long since sailed.  If I accidentally consume a small amount of chilli in any shape or form my mouth furs up, tongue tingles and a couple of hours later there is intense chest pain.  The kind of debilitating pain that earlier this year caused me to go to A&E thinking surely I must be having a heart attack.  Several hours later I emerged from the hospital having had chest x-rays, multiple blood tests for absolutely everything, several ECG's and a reassurance that I was not going to die, it was just the old war wound playing up.

Chilli has become the ingredient that gets thrown into everything willy nilly.  It's in soups when you wouldn't expect it, pasta dishes, sausages, you name it, there's chilli in it.  Why?

Is it because it's fashionable and all the TV chefs use it with gay abandon?  Or is it because it's a good way to perk up otherwise bland and unpalatable processed food?  Ready meals are a real minefield.  I recently shared a pack of that ultra quick to boil pasta with Nick only to realise after two mouthfuls that the tortellini filling had chilli in it.  Yes, it was listed in the very small print on the back of the pack - but why was it there?  I swear we have had the very same pasta many times before for a quick snack lunch and they have changed the recipe.
It was also in the cauliflower and tomato gratin that came as a starter with a take away meal from the local pub.  You would not expect to find chilli in cauliflower cheese - would you?  Well, I wouldn't anyway.

Interestingly, it's less of a problem in France.  The French don't go for spicy food to the same extent as we Brits so there's less of it about.  Even when a French dish is advertised as "piquant" most of us would be hard pressed to find it spicy at all.  It's also obviously no problem with home cooking.  Nowadays we simply leave the chilli out of the recipe and rarely do we miss it.  We even make a very tasty non chilli version of chilli con carne.

Sadly I have now become not only a wuss where spicy food is concerned, but one of those people who has to study the ingredients on every pack of processed food in detail before I buy.  It no longer appears on the front of the pack as a significant flavour, they just put it in the food.  I also have to inform anyone who invites us round for a meal that I am allergic to chilli.  Restaurant meals are a nightmare.  When the server asks if we have any allergies the face goes completely blank when I say chilli and they usually have no idea if what I have ordered has any chilli in it.
It's a real pain and I shall be glad when the fashion for chilli with everything is replaced by something else.  Fresh herbs would be good.

May 16, 2020


Made using my usual way of making a quiche, which you can see here.
I had four thick slices of black pudding left over from a brunch and I wondered if it would work.  A kind of Bury in Lancashire meets Lorraine in France!  It worked!


1 pack ready made ready rolled shortcrust pastry
4 slices black pudding, grilled and diced
6 chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
a handful of wild garlic leaves
a few slices of goat's cheese
3 eggs, beaten
a good dollop of double cream or crème fraiche
approx. 200ml milk
salt and pepper
a sprinkling of mixed herbs
See the link above.

May 13, 2020


It was summer and ice cream weather here last week.  This week it's back to winter.  We had a frost overnight and it was perishing cold when walking the dog this morning.  Soup weather.  Luckily my over zealous click and collect internet shopping adventures have meant that there are always the ingredients for some kind of soup in the house.  What's more, it doesn't need any flour and not much cooking either.
The very first soup I ever made was a vegetable soup and it was probably less than ten years ago.  Which means that for the first forty of my cooking years (so excluding childhood and teenage years) I never made a soup from scratch.  I only ever opened a tin or a packet of dried soup mix.  I just assumed it would be terribly complicated and needed special equipment.  As it turns out, it's really easy and all you need is a big enough saucepan.  I bought my stock pot in a supermarket sale.  The other useful gadget is a food processor which makes short work of all the chopping.  In reality a knife would do it just as well but takes more time.
I have Nigella Lawson to thank for the idea that soup need not be fiddly and faffy to make.  In her preposterously named book "How to Eat" she has a recipe for vegetable soup that she describes as a "working model for a plain but infinitely variable soup".  The first time I made it I couldn't believe how good home made soup could taste.
These are the basic ingredients.
I don't always use turnip as they don't often appear in UK shops, so I would use about a third of a swede instead.  In France it's the other way round.  Turnips are much more readily available whereas swede is still regarded as animal food.
Having chopped all the veg fairly small you sweat them in a mixture of butter and oil before adding the stock and simmering for a while.
The final step is to blitz the soup in the pan using a stick blender which is less fiddly than transferring the liquid back into the food processor or blender.
The final, final step is to add a dash of what we have come to call "mystery ingredient".  A generous splash of dry sherry and a good grating of whole nutmeg.  Most of the soup I make now has some version of mystery ingredient in it.  A splash of some kind of wine enhances so many things!
(I have also lost count of the number of times I have dropped the nutmeg into the pan and had to go fishing!)
I like my soup fairly thick and with a few lumps of veg.  With or without chopped fresh herbs sprinkled on top or a swirl of cream or crème fraîche. 
(depending on the size of the veg you have)
1-2 onions
1-2 carrots
1 maincrop potato or 2 smaller ones
1-2 stalks celery
1 large or 2 small leeks (Nigella says white part only but I use it all)
1 small sweet potato or part of (optional)
1 turnip or a chunk of swede
a large knob of butter and a good splash of olive oil (about 1 tblsp)
1 litre of vegetable stock (made with Marigold powder and boiling water)
1 bouquet garni
grated fresh nutmeg
dry sherry, small glass
fresh parsley, chives or coriander (optional)
a spoonful of cream or crème fraiche (optional)
Wash and peel the veg as appropriate.  Cut into chunks and put into a food processor.  You may need two batches in which case I usually do the potatoes last.  Process until medium fine.  (Or chop everything as small as you can with a sharp knife.)
Heat the oil and butter together in a stock pot or large saucepan.  Add the veg, season with salt and cook uncovered until softened, about 10 minutes.  Shake the pan or stir occasionally to make sure they don't stick.
Add the stock, a good grind of black pepper and the bouquet garni.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently, covered for 25-35 minutes until cooked and mushy. 
Remove from the heat and either transfer to the processor or a blender to blend until smooth, or use a stick blender in the pan.  I like to leave it fairly lumpy and even with a few larger lumps of veg.  If it's a bit too thick add a splash of extra stock or just water and reheat if necessary.
Before serving, stir in a good splash of dry sherry and a sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg to taste.  Ladle into bowls and add some chopped fresh herbs and a swirl of cream or crème fraiche if you like.  It's perfectly good without.
Makes 6 servings.

May 4, 2020

MUSHROOM, BACON AND SPINACH QUICHE with variations on filling.

It's still the case that ready made pastry is easier to get than flour in most places, and it's ideal for a quick quiche.

The ready rolled shortcrust pastry in the UK comes in an oblong shape.  In France it is circular.  (The only rectangular pastry you can buy in France is a puff pastry, which is very handy for sausage rolls.)

In the UK you either get a squareish brick of unrolled pastry or an oblong if it is rolled.  Luckily you can also buy an oblong loose-bottomed tart tin exactly the right size for ready rolled UK pastry.  I wonder which came first - the tin or the dough?

For this quiche I used mushrooms, bacon, onion, spinach and Cheddar cheese but the possible variations are endless.

A quiche will usually contain onion and cheese as well as the other flavours.  If you don't have an onion a thin smear of onion chutney or any other chutney over the pastry will be delicious instead.  I recently saw a recipe for a quiche made of just Branston pickle and Cheddar cheese - it looked and sounded delicious.
If you don't have Cheddar cheese virtually any other cheese will do; grated parmesan, crumbled feta, crumbled Cheshire or blue cheese, sliced goats cheese, Brie or Camembert are all delicious.  Instead of spinach leaves you can use lightly cooked sprigs of broccoli.  Or asparagus......the season is almost here.  Peas are good too.
In place of the bacon you can use bits of ham, cooked sausage, cooked chicken or cooked salmon.  The variations are endless - although be careful what you put together - not sure Branston pickle and salmon would work!


1 pack ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pastry, at room temperature*
4 rashers smoked streaky bacon (or any bacon you have), sliced into chunks
1 onion, chopped
a good handful of mushrooms, white, brown or a mixture, sliced (not too thin)
a handful of spinach leaves, rinsed
Cheddar cheese for grating
3 eggs
a spoonful or dollop of double cream (or crème fraiche)
about 200ml milk


Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan.  Grease an oblong or large round tart tin or flan dish, unroll the pastry, line the tin and trim the edges.  Use the paper from the packet to line the pastry case, fill with baking beans and blind bake for 15 minutes.

While the pastry is cooking, fry the onion and bacon in a little oil until soft (not too brown).  Remove from the pan and add the mushrooms.  Cook until soft.

When the pastry is cooked, remove from the oven, remove and discard the paper.  Reduce the oven temperature to 160C / 140 fan.  Arrange the onion, bacon and mushrooms evenly over the pastry then lay the spinach leaves over the top.  Sprinkle with grated cheese, as much as you like to taste.

Put the eggs into a jug and beat.  Add the cream or crème fraiche and beat together.  Season with salt and pepper and add enough milk to make up to 400ml.  Mix together and pour gently over the filling.  It's best not to over fill and have some liquid left over rather than it overflow.  Arrange some slices of tomato or pepper on the top to decorate if you like.

Return to the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until nicely browned and the filling is just about set.  It should have a slight wobble in the middle and will firm up as it cools.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cuts into 6-8 portions.
*The pastry will crack if you try to unroll it straight from the fridge.  Bringing it up to room temperature (about 30 minutes out of the fridge) will make it more pliable and easier to unroll.

May 1, 2020


My brother, who lives 60 miles away, has been in more or less solitary confinement for six weeks and has barely ventured out except to buy food, most of which he gets from his small local Co-op. 
One of the things he struggled to get was bread.  No problem, he thought, as he has a breadmaking machine.  Then he discovered, like the rest of us, that there was no flour to be had in the shops, even extending his search to larger supermarkets. 
 Anyway, I have been lucky.
In our local Tesco and Aldi I managed to get some self raising flour - Homepride in Tesco and own brand in Aldi.  I didn't have high expectations of the Aldi flour but in fact it was perfectly ok.
We also have in our area a small chain of shops called Taylor's who are actually corn merchants.  They look like pet shops as they sell pet food and accessories, but they also sell excellent flour.  Apparently the local flour hoarders haven't realised that you can buy flour in a pet shop so there is usually some available.
I parcelled up a supply of bread flour to send to my brother so that he could make himself some bread.  Also some dried yeast, granulated sugar and a few other bits and pieces that the panic buying locusts had cleared from his local shops, including soap.  I also included a loaf tin (in case he preferred to just make the dough in the machine and bake the bread in the oven and apologising for the colour - pink), the box of Homepride SR flour and a jar of ground ginger so that he could make a cake. 
I thought about what recipe he could use with what he was likely to have in stock, adapted this recipe for sticky ginger cake from the Clandestine Cake website, and decided it might be best to try it out myself first.  I substituted granulated sugar for the brown sugar, more ground ginger for the preserved ginger, used Stork instead of butter because it creams so easily by hand and drizzled it with golden syrup as I didn't think he would have icing sugar in stock.  Because it was baked in a loaf tin, not a round tin, it took 15 minutes longer to bake.

I explained how to line the tin with baking paper, although a bigger piece than this would have been better.
 It turned out to be a very nice cake. 
It would of course have had a different flavour using the brown sugar and preserved ginger in the recipe, but it was lovely.  It was nice and gingery with a soft, even crumb and would also be excellent as a pudding with some custard.  Most people could make it from what they have in the kitchen cupboard.
180g Stork margarine (or any spreadable butter, or really soft butter)
180g granulated sugar
3 eggs, beaten together in a small bowl
180g self raising flour
5 tsp ground ginger
2 tblsp golden syrup
1 tblsp golden syrup for drizzling
Grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin.  Cut an oblong of baking paper and use it to line the tin.  Slashing the corners will make it easier to fit neatly into the tin.  Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk 4.
Put the margarine into a large bowl with the sugar and beat like hell with a wooden spoon until smooth and creamy.
Add the eggs in thirds, beating in well.  Add a spoonful of flour if the mixture seems to curdle.
Add the flour, ginger and golden syrup and stir in gently.  (Don't beat.)
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top.  Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown and done.
Remove from the oven and poke holes in the top of the cake with a skewer or knife point.  Drizzle some more golden syrup over the cake, probably about a tablespoonful, and spread over the cake with the back of a spoon.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes.  Use the edges of the baking paper to carefully lift the cake out onto a wire rack. 
Remember it will be fragile while still warm so, if it doesn't lift out easily, place a plate on top of the cake tin and invert it so that the cake drops out of the tin.  Then lift off the tin and place the wire rack on top of the bottom of the cake and tip it upside down again so that the cake ends up the right way up on the rack.
Cuts into 10-12 slices.