October 17, 2022

DESPERATION SOUP! (soup maker recipe)

The fuel shortages carry on here in France but at least it has for now stopped raining and it has started raining again but at least our colds are on the mend.  However, we are keenly focussed on getting the bedroom ready for its new carpet so still keen desperate not to have to spend time food shopping if at all possible.  Therefore, when looking for something we could have for lunch yesterday I put together an extreme version of "fridge bottom soup".   In the fridge there was one portion of blanquette de veau (made the night before from a pack of stewing veal found in the freezer) and a few veg oddments.  

It made an interestingly delicious soup and just goes to show how a bit of lateral thinking can produce a nice meal.  I'm so glad I bought the soup maker - if I'd had to get the blender out we might have had beans on toast instead!

Speaking of toast, with it we had a "pain de campagne".  I sacrificed five minutes and some of our precious petrol to nip to the village for a baguette from the village "shop".  This is in the former bar café and consists of racks of vending machines and a baguette machine.  You pop your euro coin in the slot and a beautiful baguette from the boulangerie in Ligueil pops out.  They fill it up twice a day so timing can be crucial and I knew I was in trouble as soon as I pulled up outside.

The very large gite in the village was clearly occupied and this usually means that the shop has been cleared out of baguettes and croissants by mid morning.  Sure enough the machine displayed the word "vide" above the coin slot.  I perused the racks of display cabinets to find all those normally containing bread and pastries of any kind empty.  The locusts from the gite had obviously got there before me.  Then I spotted a single loaf lurking in the depths of one cabinet, its pointy end only just visible.  Thinking to myself  "ha, you missed this one!" I nabbed it.  It was a tasty brown loaf, moist and delicious and we will have one again, a great discovery.  Every cloud and all that!


About a pint of leftover casserole of any kind
4 medium carrots
1 small turnip
Half a punnet of mushrooms
1 large onion
Home made stock or a stock pot of some kind
Splash of sherry and a swirl of cream (optional)


Tip the casserole into the machine then prepare enough veg to fill the machine to the bottom line.
Give it all a stir.

Add the stock or stock pot and enough water to fill to the top line and cook on smooth.
Stir in the sherry when cooked and serve with the swirl of cream.

Makes 4 generous portions.

October 14, 2022

CARROT, LEEK AND APPLE SOUP (soup maker recipe) and home made stock

Our new velux windows are fitted here in France and we're now on with decorating the master bedroom.  It's a big job because it’s a big room.  However the timing is right as the very day after the last window was finished off it started raining, so being confined to indoors seems like less of a sacrifice.  On top of that we both have colds.  As per usual Nick's has been mild but mine is what my mum would have called "a stinker".  Neither of us has had a cold for three years so we're not going out and I had quite forgotten how much of a hinderance they can be.

On top of that we have another fuel crisis on this side of the Channel.  The tanker drivers have "downed tools" (do tanker drivers have tools?) and supplies are patchy.  I knew nothing about it until my Nick's sister mentioned it after seeing it on the BBC news.  Filling stations are all a good distance apart in rural France and it's risky to head off in one direction only to find no petrol to be had.   With our petrol tank already very low we managed to fill up but are conserving our supply for essential use.  Going to buy more paint might be the next trip.

Consequently we haven’t done any food shopping for a while and are eating what we have in.  The carrots looked a bit tired and there was one leek but plenty of potatoes and a huge bowlful of apples.  A very tasty soup they made!

THE UGLY BAG - home made stock (broth in the USA)

For the stock I used home made. Never in a million years did I think I would turn into the kind of person that made her own stock but then I read somewhere about something called an "ugly bag".  (At the risk of going against my own most recent rule I'll give the link for it here.)  The idea is simple in that every time you prepare a meal you put all the carrot tops, onion trimmings, celery leaves, chicken bones, tomato ends etc into a large bag in the freezer.  

When the bag is full you tip the contents into a large pan, cover with water, add any fresh herbs you have, bring to the boil and simmer for an hour, no longer.  Strain through a colander into another large container and discard the veg.  Fill sturdy freezer bags with quantities suitable for your needs and pop in the freezer. I even reuse the same ugly bag!  Clever or what!


5 medium carrots

1 large leek

4 smallish potatoes

1 eating apple

350 ml home made stock (or use a stock pot/cube) - save your trimmings for your ugly bag!


dry sherry

salt and pepper


Prepare enough veg to fill the soup maker to the lower line.  Add the stock and enough water to the top line.

Cook on smooth.

When it's done, add a little grated nutmeg, fresh if possible but otherwise from a jar.  Add a good splash of sherry, season to taste and stir.  Serve with a swirl of cream if you have any.

Makes 4 generous portions.

October 13, 2022


I recently made two cakes for the Tea Garden at an event here in France; a caramel apple cake and this lime and coconut cake.  With my cookbooks all safely under dust sheets because of the ongoing building work I looked to the internet for ideas and spotted this recipe on the Carnation website.

Once the mixture was made I tasted it and thought it was not very sweet.  I looked at the recipe and noticed that it contained no sugar.  "How very odd" I thought.  The recipe must be wrong!

I Googled other recipes for lime and coconut cake and saw that they all contained sugar.  In fact sugar is surely a principal ingredient of all cakes.  The recipe had loads of complimentary reviews, no mention of sugar.  So I decided to add some.  Thinking that evaporated milk is itself slightly sweet I just added 100g.

In accordance with my recent lightbulb moment regarding the conundrum of giving away cakes made to an untried recipe I made a couple of muffins with a spoonful of the mixture.  They tasted good, a nice flavour of lime with a hint of coconut, just as I would expect, moist and with a nice even crumb, which confirmed my conclusion that the recipe on the internet must be wrong and the sugar had been omitted.  The lime flavoured icing was delicious.

It wasn't until I looked at the recipe again for writing up the blog post that I realised my mistake........I should have used condensed milk, not evaporated milk, condensed milk being an already sweetened product.  No wonder the recipe contained no actual sugar!  I can't believe I did that but brain fog has been a feature of my life so far this year!  

In the words of René Artois from "Allo, allo":  "you stoopid wooman!!"

The cake sold well, every slice devoured, so I leave it up to you whether you make it with evaporated milk or condensed milk.  I will add this cake to my tweaking list and try the condensed product myself next time!

(You can buy tinned condensed milk everywhere in France and I think also evaporated milk, sold as an addition for coffee, although I haven't tried it.  I brought mine from the UK in the pre-Brexit days when that was allowed.)

A word here about zesters.

The above is a microplane grater or zester.  It will give you very finely grated zest such as would be ideal for incorporating into cake mixtures and other recipes.  Flecks of the zest are not usually visible.  They are extremely sharp and you have to be very careful not to brush your hand over it as they will easily remove a layer of skin.  They can be quite expensive but a worthwhile investment if you want to get fine, almost powdery, zest.
This is a lemon zester.  It will give you strips or strands of peel that are good for decorating a cake or dessert.  Until I invested in a microplane grater this was all I ever used as I didn't mind the visible strips of zest in a cake.  They are quite cheap and available in most supermarkets.


For the cake

175g softened butter or baking spread

3 large eggs, beaten

55g desiccated coconut

zest of 2 limes

175g self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

250g evaporated milk*

100g caster sugar*

For the icing and decoration

100g icing sugar, sifted

juice of 2 limes

as sprinkling of desiccated coconut

strands of lime zest (optional)**


Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150° fan / gas mk 3.  Butter a 900g / 2lb loaf tin and line the base with a strip of baking paper, or use a paper liner.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and using a hand held electric whisk beat together until pale and creamy.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin, level the top and bake for 50-60 minutes.  If the top is looking brown before the middle is cooked, cover with a piece of baking paper or foil.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix the icing sugar with enough of the lime juice to make a thick pouring consistency and drizzle imaginatively over the cake.

Sprinkle coconut over the cake for decoration.  If using an extra lime, scatter strips of lime zest over the cake.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

*instead of evaporated milk and sugar use 250g condensed milk

**if using the extra lime to create the topping it occurred to me that you could drizzle the juice from it over the cake before icing it.

October 10, 2022


There has been more baking than you would expect going on chez nous lately.  We are up to our eyes in dust and scaffolding here in France, with major work on the house going on.  Roof repairs and five new velux windows; four replacements and one brand new one (in the bathroom - how we put up with no window in the bathroom for eight years is now baffling).  Followed by decorating in the master bedroom and a new carpet.  

The whole house is affected.  The carpet extends into the walk in wardrobe so that has had to be emptied.  The stuff from in there has more or less filled the living room.  The furniture from the bedroom has filled everywhere else.  Oh the joys of home improvements!

Before the work started I volunteered to make a couple of cakes for the Tea Garden at a local event.  The French love British cakes, it seems.  French patisserie is a thing of wonder but British home baking always sells well around here.

All of my cookbooks are safely under dust sheets so I resorted to the internet for ideas.  I was going to make Phil's apple cake recipe (see here) as I've been hankering after making it ever since he posted it.  But then I spotted one by Miranda Gore Browne, a former GBBO contestant from a few years ago, called caramel apple cake, and remembered my golden rule of bake sales.  That the cakes slathered in the most icing sell the best.  Sad but true (in my experience - see here).  I'll risk giving the link for the recipe here as the recipes on the Sainsbury's Magazine website do tend to not disappear or turn into something completely different.

It took longer to clean down the kitchen sufficiently than to make the cake.  I didn't make the apple crisps to decorate the cake as per Miranda's original recipe because a) for me they were possibly a step too far and b) the timing was wrong.  I was making the cake the night before the event and it occurred to me that the crisps might not be quite so crisp by the time the cake was on sale.  I scattered a few fudge squares over the cake instead.

However, they looked so pretty in the picture that the next time I make this cake I will definitely give them a try.

I also had a lightbulb moment regarding the conundrum of making cakes to recipes I had not tried before that were destined to be given away.  I used a spoonful of the mixture to make a separate muffin.  That way I could taste the cake myself and make sure I was not presenting something inedible.  Why did I never think of that before?

Consequently I can confirm that the cake is delightful and the icing is fabulous - very, very sweet but delicious, so I shall definitely be making this recipe again.  Like many apple cakes that contain chunks or slices of apple, the cake was quite fragile.  Even when completely cold the top layer developed a crack when I lifted it on top of the bottom layer, as you can see in the picture.  Luckily the icing disguised it pretty well!  Apple cakes that contain grated apple tend to hold together much better - or maybe it's due to the variety of apple.  The recipe stated Bramley apples but I have never found them for sale in France so I used Reinette apples instead.

At 10.00 when I delivered my cakes the Tea Garden was a sea of cake and the first few customers were trickling in.  When I returned at 5.00pm to collect my plates it was still in full swing but the only cakes left were a few slices of fruit cake.  Amazing.  I was dead chuffed when my friend who was helping on the counter said that the first slices of cake sold were of my caramel apple cake!


I made this cake again the next year.  This time, instead of making the caramel glaze for the top I made 1½ times the quantity of buttercream filling and topped it with that instead.  It still looked fabulous and I didn't get to taste a slice!  By the time I arrived at 2pm to do an afternoon shift on the cake stall it had long since sold out.

(The photos give it a darker appearance because at 8.00 in the morning the light was so dull when I finished the cake and delivered it in gloomy mist to the event!)


For the cake

500g cooking apples

zest and juice of 1 lemon

225g unsalted butter, softened, or spreadable butter

225g caster sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

200g self raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

50g ground almonds

1 tsp mixed spice

For the buttercream filling

100g unsalted butter, softened, or spreadable butter

200g icing sugar, sifted

2 tblsp caramel, either from a tin of Carnation caramel or a jar of Bon Maman confiture de lait

1 tblsp semi skimmed milk

For the caramel icing

75g unsalted butter

75g icing sugar, sifted

1 tblsp caramel (see above)

For decoration

a handful of fudge pieces (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line the bases with baking paper.

Peel the apples and chop into 2cm dice.  Toss the pieces in the lemon juice to prevent browning and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and lemon zest, either by hand or using a hand held mixer.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Fold in the flour, baking powder, ground almonds and spice.  Tip in the diced apples, draining off any excess lemon juice first and mix well to evenly distribute through the mixture.

Divide the mixture equally between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Be careful as they are quite fragile.

While the cakes are in the oven make the caramel buttercream by beating all the ingredients together until smooth and well combined.

When the cakes are out of the oven make the caramel icing by putting all the ingredients into a medium saucepan.  Heat gently until melted together and smooth.  Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

When the cakes are cold, place one onto a serving plate or cake stand and spread the top liberally with the buttercream.

Place the second cake on top and pour the still warm caramel icing over, allowing it to dribble down the sides.  Decorate with the fudge pieces (or any other decoration of your choice).

Cuts into 10-12 slices.