September 11, 2023

ROASTED TOMATO SOUP (soup maker recipe) and another note to self.


Having got my copy of "Masterchef Kitchen Bible" off the shelf to look for the tiramisu recipe, I flipped through the pages and turned up quite a few recipes that I wanted to try.  One of which was for this soup.  I adapted it for what I had in stock and for the soup maker.

Our tomato plants are still going strong and this recipe uses quite a few of them.

Essentially, you roast fresh tomatoes with onion and garlic and turn it into soup.  I had taken a few pictures of the tray of roasted tomatoes but when I came to review them I found that the SD card was not in the camera!  I had left it in the slot in the laptop and lost quite a few pictures as a result.  The camera does not have a hard memory of its own so they're gone for good.  Oh well, it will teach me to check before I use it next time!

This is an utterly delicious soup.  Like Heinz tomato soup but even better!  Not the quickest to make due to roasting the veg before putting them in the soup maker, but worth it.  (I put mine in the oven to roast while something else was cooking so it wasn't too much trouble.)  It would probably work just as well with shop bought tomatoes as roasting does bring out the flavour of most things that are a bit feeble in that department.  Using my home grown tomatoes I omitted the tomato paste but if using shop bought ones I would probably add it.

Note to self:  check for the SD card before next using the camera!

For Diane! A picture of my soup maker (next to the kettle).


6-8 large tomatoes, or a combination of any kind of tomato amounting to about 700g

1 large onion

2 cloves of garlic (unpeeled)

2-3 tblsp olive oil (or Fry Light)

home made vegetable or chicken stock plus one stock pot or cube (or use two stock pots or cubes)

3 small potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced

2 tblsp tomato paste (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk 4.

Cut the larger tomatoes into quarters, smaller ones in half and lay on a large baking tray.  Drizzle with the oil, season with salt and pepper and roast for 10 minutes.

Peel the onion and cut into quarters.  Add to the tomatoes with the unpeeled garlic and continue to roast for another 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, onion, carrot and potatoes to the soup maker,  Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and add to the machine.  (Make sure not to go above the bottom line when adding the carrot and potatoes but use all of the tomatoes and onion.)

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

Cook on smooth.

Makes 4 generous portions.

August 27, 2023

TIRAMISU egg free version and a note to self

Some years ago I posted about a Rachel Allen recipe for a strawberry tiramisu (see here) and some time after that a reader left a scathing comment about it.  Apparently this person got as far as assembling the dish before they realised it contained raw egg yolks, was disgusted that they hadn’t been warned about that, and had to throw all the ingredients in the bin!  (The word used was "trash" so I presume the reader was from the other side of the Atlantic somewhere.)

I remember thinking it weird that someone would (a) not read a recipe through before starting to cook it and therefore not realise the eggs were raw and would (b) throw expensive ingredients away without thinking of a different way of using them.  However, I did afterwards label all recipes that contain raw eggs although there are only a few!

Anyway, the other week a friend served us a delicious tiramisu made without any eggs at all.  The recipe was, she said, a John Torode recipe.  I eventually found it in one of my cook books, "Masterchef kitchen bible" and made it myself for visitors the other day.  She said it was a quick and easy tiramisu and it is definitely both of those as well as utterly divine! 

It differs quite a bit from my previous tiramisu recipe, apart from there being no eggs in it.  The alcohol used is coffee liqueur not Amaretto and there is no sprinkling of cocoa powder on the layers other than on the top.  Which just goes to show that, just like a fruit trifle, there are lots of different ways of making it and they are all delicious!

I modified the recipe a bit to account for the fact that a pot of mascarpone generally contains 250g, not the 350g in the original and I didn't want to have to buy two pots (the supermarket only had one pot on the shelf and supermarkets are a good distance apart here in rural France!).  I also found that my 20cm square Pyrex dish was perfect for it, creating the right depth of layers, but I did have to use more sponge fingers than stated due to its dimensions.  Happily there was still just the right amount of coffee liquid mixture to soak all of them.  The end result was a slightly denser, more cakey texture.  It wasn’t quite the same as my previous recipe (see here) being more creamy but somehow less rich but it was lovely.  As always it was even better the next day once the ingredients and flavours had melled together.  Note to self: always make tiramisu the day before you want to serve it!


120ml espresso coffee, cooled

75ml coffee flavoured liqueur such as Kahlua

250g pot mascarpone cheese

3 tblsp caster sugar

250ml double cream

14-20 sponge fingers (Boudoir biscuits) depending on the dimensions of your dish

cocoa powder to decorate

coarsely grated dark chocolate (optional)


Mix the coffee and liqueur together and pour into a large flat dish such as a lasagne dish so that it's in a shallow layer.

In a large bowl whip the mascarpone and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved.

In another bowl whisk the cream until it holds its shape then fold into the mascarpone mixture.  Spread 2 tblsp of this mixture into the bottom of your serving dish.

Dip the sponge fingers one at a time into the coffee mixture, turning once until just soaked both sides, and arrange in a single layer in a serving dish.  A 20 cm square dish worked perfectly for me.

Cover the fingers with half of the mascarpone mixture then repeat with more sponge fingers and the remaining half of the mixture.

Level the top, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Dust liberally with cocoa powder just before serving.  Add a sprinkling of grated chocolate if you like.

Serves 6-8, depending on the portion size!

August 26, 2023

A LEAKY QUICHE RESCUE MISSION success snatched from the jaws of disaster!

With guests arriving for dinner I was flummoxed when, on removing my blind baked quiche pastry from the oven there was a large crack in it and a couple of small ones.  It was bound to leak.

Rats!!  What to do, what to do?  There was no time to make a batch of pastry, or to pop to the shops to buy another pack.  I put my thinking cap on and came up with a solution.

I had half of a "wonderloaf" in the house.  The pappy white sliced bread that’s neither very nutritious nor tasty but is good for cucumber sandwiches and toast with marmalade.  I pinched a bit out of a slice, rolled it into a small sausage, brushed one side liberally with some of the egg filling and squashed it into the cracks with the back of a fork.  I hoped it would stick sufficiently to plug the gap.

It worked!  There was still a little leakage but nothing major.  I shall have to remember this for future and presumably any kind of bread would work. The quiche was delicious and nobody knew how close the leaky leek and goats cheese quiche was to becoming a frittata instead!


One week after the event/almost baking disaster it has just occurred to me that the thing to do would be to save the pastry trimmings until after the quiche shell comes out of the oven.

I could have easily used a bit of the pastry trimmings to plug the hole if I hadn't already discarded them.  Hmmm........I'll try to remember that in future!

August 18, 2023

CINNAMON BAKED PLUMS and a biscuit discovery!

In return for some courgettes and tomatoes, my friend Sally gave me a huge bag of plums the other day.  Our own plum trees have had hardly any fruit on them since the bumper crop a few years ago and we do love plums so I was very grateful!

Knowing what to do with so many at once was a head scratcher.  We were expecting visitors but they have  a long list of things they don’t like.  Plums are on the list (as are courgettes and tomatoes).  So with a need for baking but not with plums I had to do something to preserve them for our own use later.

Cooked plums take up less room in the freezer than whole ones so I decided to roast them.  We sat for a while at a shady table in the garden to halve them and remove all of the stones.  This was a bit fiddly but worth the trouble; the plums were at various stages of ripeness so some of the stones were easier to remove than others.

I then simply spread them in a single layer in roasting tins, sprinkled with demerara sugar and a dusting of ground cinnamon.  I baked them at 180° fan for 20 minutes by which time they were nice and soft and sticky.  We had some on our breakfast cereal and some with ice cream and a mini stroopwafel  The rest went into the freezer for future enjoyment.

Stroopwafels - where have they been all my life?  I had never heard of them until I spotted them in a French discount store called "Action". They are delicious little wafer sandwich biscuits with a caramel filling.  Utterly divine and wickedly sweet but luckily the mini version is not too detrimental to the waistline - as long you don’t eat too many!  They go perfectly with ice cream, fruit salad and Sally's delicious plums!

August 16, 2023


We are up to our necks in produce at the moment and finding ways to keep up with supplies is becoming a challenge.   As fast as we pick them the tomatoes and courgettes keep on coming and as fast as we give them to friends more stuff comes our way.

It's a marvellous yet humbling feeling, being so well supplied with fresh produce when so many people can't afford to eat properly.  Hence I feel even more determined to use it all and not waste any.

We gave two enormous tomatoes and some courgettes (green and yellow) to a friend who sent me a message the next day to say she had made them into a delicious chicken traybake.  I thought that was a good idea but on looking at the contents of our fridge found no chicken but a pack of two salmon fillets.  So "why not" I thought.

Roasting is now my preferred way to cook salmon fillets as I find the timing and the result more reliable.  Sometimes I sprinkle a few herbs on the top but otherwise I just bake them.  The days of foil parcels with herbs and lemon slices and having to peek inside to see if it's done are a distant memory!

The veg are roasted for a while before the salmon goes in as they take much longer to cook and it's very easy to overcook the fish.


1 large or 2-3 smaller tomatoes

1 courgette

2 salmon fillets

olive oil or Olive Fry Light

Herbes de Provence or fresh herbs of your choice (optional)


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

Wash and chop the courgette and tomatoes into large dice and place in a single layer in a suitable baking dish.  Drizzle a little olive oil over or spray with Fry Light, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over some H de P. 

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until nearly done, tossing them once if they begin to brown.

Remove from the oven, place the salmon fillets skin side down on top (coated with herbs if you like) and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.  By this time the salmon should be pink and tender and the veg soft.  If you need to cook for longer do it for only a minute at a time as the salmon quickly becomes overcooked.

Serve with potatoes, rice or pasta and extra veg if you like.

Serves 2.

August 12, 2023



The weather here in the middle of France has been rather English this summer.  However, it's still been warm enough for us to get a bumper crop of delicious tomatoes.  This is in contrast to last year when heatwave followed heatwave, our tomato plants virtually gave up and struggled to produce any fruit at all.

This year I'm scouring my cook books and the internet for imaginative ways to use them up.

This is my version of a number of recipes I found on the internet.
It's dead easy to do and makes an excellent lunch or starter.

Slices of tomato are set on a bed of grated cheese on a pastry sheet then sprinkled with herbs.

It takes next to no time to prepare and is very tasty.

For a different variation, try my friend Susan's recipe here.


1 sheet of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry.  Round or oblong will both work.

1 tblsp Dijon mustard (more if you like a bit more of a kick)

50g cheddar cheese, grated (any hard cheese will work)

2-3 large tomatoes

2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or any other favourite herb, chopped)

A sprinkling of Herbes de Provence

Salt and pepper

A little olive oil or Olive Fry Light


Remove the pastry from the fridge about 15 minutes before you want to use it.  This prevents it from cracking when you unroll it.

Preheat the oven to 200° C / 180° fan / gas mk6.

Place a sheet of baking paper on a large baking sheet.  I usually use the paper the pastry comes wrapped in, trimmed to fit the baking sheet.

Unroll the pastry onto the baking sheet and with a sharp knife score a line about 2.5cm (1") from the edge without cutting all the way through.*

Spread the mustard evenly over the pastry and within the scored border, using the back of a spoon, palette knife or pastry brush.  Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the top.

Arrange the slices of tomato over the cheese, sprinkle with the thyme and Herbes de Provence and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with a little olive oil or spray with a few squirts of Fry Light.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.  Serve warm or cold.

Serves 6-8 as a starter, 4-6 as a lunch with salad.

*You could alternatively cut the pastry into individual tarts before scoring and filling, which just takes a little more time.

August 8, 2023



We joined a walking group when we first came to France this year, back in March.  After each walk (called a randonée) most people retire to the bar in the village, or sometimes to someone's house, for a debriefing - liquid refreshment and a slice of cake!

A traybake is ideal for this as it can easily be cut into squares and passed along the table for people to help themselves.  The resulting chunk of cake tends to look a bit tidier and is easier to handle than a slice from a round cake.  (Loaf cakes are equally good in this respect too.)

I had it in mind to make Mary Berry's lemon drizzle traybake but on reorganising my pantry and kitchen cupboards (what a joy it is to have a pantry!) I found several packets of coconut which, I know, is not everyone's favourite in a cake but needed using up.  

To make the cake I adapted a recipe from a charity shop find - a book called "Cakes, regional and traditional" by Julie Duff which, as the title implies, is full of lovely old fashioned and traditional recipes from all over Britain.  I based this recipe on the one for coconut pound cake and will be delving into the pages of this book again!

The cake was lovely, a nice moist and soft texture with not too much coconut and a delicate lemon flavour. 

For another coconut and lemon cake see here.

For the cake

225g self raising flour

225g caster sugar

225g baking spread or softened butter

3 eggs, lightly beaten

115g desiccated coconut

1 tsp coconut essence (or Malibu)

zest of 1 lemon

For the icing

3 tblsp icing sugar, sifted

lemon juice


Butter and line the base of a large roasting tin or traybake tin that measures roughly 30 x 23 cm (or 12" x 9").  Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat well until thoroughly combined.  I managed this with a wooden spoon but a hand held mixer would have been easier!

Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, spread it out and level the top.

Bake for about an hour or until done.  Mine was ready in 55 minutes.

Cool in the tin for about ten minutes then turn out carefully onto a wire rack.

To make the topping, mix the icing sugar with enough lemon juice to make a runny but creamy consistency and drizzle any way you like over the cooled cake.

Cuts into 24 squares.

August 4, 2023

RUSTIC FRUIT TART and a brilliant little gadget!


What do you do when a rapid dessert is called for?  You make one of these tarts from whatever fruit you have in!

I used a pack of ready made, ready rolled sweet pastry (called pâte sablée), a few sticks of rhubarb and two apples.  This pastry comes as a circle in France which is handy.  In the UK it's usually an oblong which is more awkward, in which case it's probably better to buy the pastry in a block and roll it out yourself into a circle.

I have made tarts like this before but this time I used a suggestion from Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall's excellent book "Love your leftovers".  I used less sugar to sweeten the fruit and spread some strawberry jam on the pastry before filling it instead.  It took very little time to make and was on the table in well under an hour.  Delicious!


Now would be a good time to mention my latest kitchen gadget.  A Jar Key.

I think I first heard about it from Angela over at Tracing Rainbows who mentioned it in a post some time ago.

I spotted one in Zodio in France recently.  This is a chain of stores selling kitchen ware, craft stuff and home wares, like a cross between Dunelm Mill, Hobbycraft and The Range.  It's a fabulous shop and an Aladdin's cave for enthusiastic cooks, crafters and people who need gorgeous new towels!!

Jar Keys are not cheap but by jove they are worth every penny (or centime).  They take all the effort and frustration out of getting the lid off a glass jar.  AND they leave the lid undamaged so that you can reuse the jar.

As time goes by the fight with jam jar lids has become increasingly more difficult and I have tried everything.  I have tried running them under hot water with the consequent scalding, gripping with bits of bubbly rubber stuff, crushing with one of those lid removers that look like a cross between a tin opener and a medieval torture instrument and, ultimately, asking a neighbour or passer by for help!  Nick is able to get them off with a certain amount of grunting and cursing but if he's out I have no chance.

Well, this little gadget has solved that problem.  It has a neat little grip that tucks under the edge of the lid and with one slight tweak the vacuum is released and it comes off effortlessly.  No more dreading the new jar of olives, jam or compôte!  All the stress is now gone!

Every home should have one.  They should be available on the NHS to prevent jar related high blood pressure and minor accidents in the home!  Brilliant!

You can get them from Amazon, Lakeland and I'm sure many other places.  Don't buy any alternatives, this is the one that works!



1 pack of ready made, ready rolled sweet pastry (or plain shortcrust pastry)

4 slim sticks of rhubarb

2 eating apples

2-3 tblsp strawberry jam

2-3 tblsp ground almonds

1 tblsp granulated sugar

1 beaten egg or a little milk

demerara sugar for sprinkling


Remove the pastry from the fridge 15 minutes before you want to make the tart.  

Preheat the oven to 190° / 170° fan / gas mk 5.  Place a sheet of baking parchment on a baking sheet.  I usually use the paper that the pastry comes wrapped in.

Unroll the pastry and spread the jam in a circle leaving a margin of about 5cm (2").*

Sprinkle the ground almonds over the jam.  This helps to absorb any juice from the fruit and avoid the dreaded soggy bottom.

Wash and trim the rhubarb and cut into smallish chunks.  Peel, core and chop the apples.  Arrange the fruit on top of the ground almonds.  Sprinkle the granulated sugar on top.

Fold the pastry over the fruit, overlapping as if to form pleats.  

Brush the pastry with either beaten egg or a little milk and sprinkle demerara sugar over the whole thing.

Bake for 30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the fruit bubbling.

Serve warm with cream, ice cream or custard.

*You can use a narrower margin and use more fruit, which results in a larger tart with less of an overlapping edge to the crust and will make more servings.

Serves 5-6 portions.

July 23, 2023

STUFFED CHICKEN FILLETS with thyme and goats cheese on a bed of courgettes and tomatoes.

When we recently invited some friends round for a bbq the weather decided to turn decidedly English - cool and showery. I was planning to serve the chicken, lemon and thyme kebabs with a ratatouille that I wrote about recently but had to have a quick change of menu that used mostly the same ingredients - especially as our veg patch is proving to be rather successful in producing courgettes this year!  We also have thyme growing in a corner of the garden. 

I spotted this recipe on the Good Food website and it ticked all the boxes.  All I needed in addition was some goats cheese and bacon which I happened to have in the fridge.

We looked at the weather forecast at about the time we would be marinading the kebabs and stuffed the chicken fillets instead, leaving them on a tray in the fridge. The most fiddly part of the recipe was stripping the tiny leaves from the thyme stalks, which I always find annoyingly tedious.   

It turned out well, looked good and was very tasty.   I served it with some buttery new potatoes (instead of the planned potato salad) and a dish of French beans (from the freezer) while the rain poured outside!


One skinless chicken fillet per person (six for this recipe)

1 log of goat’s cheese 

2 courgettes

4 tomatoes

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 pack of streaky bacon (you may need more)

3-4 tblsp olive oil or some Frylight spray


Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170° fan / gas mk 5.

Strip the leaves from two of the sprigs of thyme.

Split each chicken fillet lengthwise but not all the way through.  Open out and flatten slightly by batting with a rolling pin or tin of beans.

Thinly slice the goat’s cheese, place two slices into a chicken fillet and sprinkle with thyme leaves. Fold the fillet over to enclose the cheese and wrap in two rashers of bacon.  Repeat with the remaining chicken fillets.

Slice the courgettes and tomatoes and arrange in a suitable oiled roasting tin or baking dish.  Drizzle with oil or spray with Frylight, season with salt and pepper and put the thyme sprigs on top.  Sit the chicken fillets on top with the ends of the bacon tucked underneath.

Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked, the bacon crisp and the courgettes tender.

Serve with potatoes or other veg of your choice.

Serves 6.

July 20, 2023


A friend in the village has a tree loaded with very small plums and invited us to help ourselves.

I don’t know what variety they are but they’re about the size of a large cherry.

They are slightly sharp, not quite sweet enough to eat like cherries, but are excellent when cooked.  The only problem is the stones.  Plums make a delicious pudding but the stones take the edge off the pleasure of them I think and more so when the fruit is small and the number of stones even greater.  (I also love damsons but the zillions of little stones definitely spoil a damson pie or crumble for me!)

With over a pound of them in the bowl I decided to try using my pink cherry stoner. It worked a treat and I whistled through the whole bowlful in no time at all.  (I put the egg in the picture so you could gauge the size of the plums.)

I decided to use some of them for a favourite recipe by Mary Berry and the rest went into the freezer.

The base is made from slices of brioche and a basic ready sliced brioche loaf from the supermarket is ideal.  It creates a slightly cakey base that has a definite patisserie style to it.  (If a brioche loaf is not available you can use brioche finger rolls.)

The frangipane (almond) filling is quickly made using a food processor but a stick blender and mixing bowl would work.  Then you arrange the fruit on top as randomly or precisely as you fancy.

It looks good when it comes out of the oven but brushing it all over with melted apricot jam to give it a nice glaze is the finishing touch which definitely makes it look the business.  

I have made this recipe many times, or at least my own adaptation of it, using various different fruits.  It makes a great large dessert to feed a crowd and always goes down well.  Hence I make no apology for re-posting it and giving the recipe again.

Here are a few more versions:

I made it recently using apricots.

You can see how the brioche turns into a nice cakey base.

I made it with rhubarb, which you can see here.

It was very good when I accidentally made it upside down - see here.

It was delicious when I made it using apples as per Mary Berry's original recipe - see here.


4-5 slices of a brioche loaf
175g spreadable butter or baking spread
175g caster sugar
1 tsp almond extract
150g ground almonds
3 eggs
50g plain flour
300-400g small plums, stoned and halved
2 tblsp apricot jam for glazing the pie


Preheat the oven to 200° C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Butter a large, shallow baking dish about 28cm dia.

Press slices of brioche into the bottom of the dish, filling in gaps but not overlapping.  (You could also use 5-6 brioche rolls, in which case slice off the top and bottom crusts then slice in half horizontally.)

Put the butter and sugar into a food processor and whizz until light and fluffy.  Add the extract, almonds, eggs and flour and whizz again until nice and smooth.  

Spread the mixture evenly over the brioche base and arrange the fruit on top.  

Bake for about 40 minutes until golden brown and the centre is firm.  Warm the jam in a small saucepan to make it runny then brush it all over the top of the pie to glaze.  

Serve warm or at room temperature, with cream, ice cream or custard.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

July 18, 2023

PEA AND MINT SOUP (soup maker recipe)

I have only had my Morphy Richards soup maker in the UK for a couple of years but it feels like for ever!  It’s become one of the most useful kitchen gadgets I have ever owned and I wouldn’t like to be without it.  In France I spotted a very similar model in a shop called Zodio and swooped when it was on offer for a bargain price of about £28.

The weather in our part of France has been odd so far this year.  Thankfully we haven’t yet had the heatwaves of the last couple of summers.  There have been a few days when the temperatures reached the low thirties but nothing like the high thirties and forty plus degrees that we endured last year. 

So much so that when friends came round for the evening recently, plans for chilled cucumber soup and a bbq were quickly shelved and I made this soup instead!  

Funnily enough, the friend who first recommended getting a soup maker told me this was her favourite soup to make in it but until now I never had.  So, with a bag of frozen peas in the freezer and a robust mint plant in the garden a rapid change of menu was easily achieved!

I found the recipe on the Morphy Richards blog which, at the time of writing, you can see here.  It has a few really nice, basic soup recipes which I shall no doubt work my way through - sooner rather than later if the weather continues to be a bit iffy this summer!

It was absolutely delicious! So easy to make that having a supply of frozen peas available has to be the easiest way to rustle up a super soup as a starter with the minimum effort ever!


1 onion

700g frozen peas

2 cloves of garlic

1 medium potato 

2 vegetable stock cubes (I used one veg stock pot as that’s all I had)

A handful of fresh mint (or 1-2 tblsp dried mint)

700ml boiling water 

A squeeze of lime juice (optional - I omitted it as I didn’t have a handy lime in stock)

Salt and pepper to taste


Peel and chop the onion and garlic.  Peel and dice the potato.

Put everything into the soup maker machine and cook on the smooth setting.  Thin with a little boiling water if it’s too thick.  (You could also add a swirl of cream or crème fraîche for extra glamour before serving if you fancy!)

Makes 4 generous main course servings or 6 smaller portions as a starter.

July 16, 2023



I seem to have been to a lot of picnics lately.  They are usually the kind of event where each person brings a salad, a quiche, sausage rolls, a dessert or so on, ending up with enough food to feed twelve or more people.

For the last picnic I volunteered a tuna salad - a salade Niçoise (or Niçoisée as per the American tourists in the marvelous film "A Good Year"!) 

I looked up what constitutes an authentic salade Niçoise and decided to lay everything out in rows rather than tossed in a large bowl.  That way people could pick out the bits they like without having to rummage around in the bowl too much.  It looked appetising too.

The whole lot was laid on a bed of crisp lettuce and I constructed it straight into a large plastic box to take to the picnic.  It was served with a simple home made French dressing.

One tin of tuna will serve four people if there is plenty of salad and everything can be scaled up or down to suit your taste or the number of servings required.  I reckon the amount shown above would serve six as it is, or twelve when you add a slice of quiche, a sausage roll, etc.

Details to be found here.

The beans were frozen haricots verts and to cook them I used a small steamer basket that came in a set from Sainsbury's - one shallow saucepan and two steamer sections for £20 or thereabouts.  This is what I brought to use here in France but in the UK I use just one steamer section with lid which I found for £2 in a charity shop.  We rarely use more than one steamer section and it fits several of my saucepans - bargain!


For the salad

crisp green lettuce

chopped peeled cucumber

hard boiled eggs (4 here)

cold boiled new potatoes, skin on

cold steamed French beans

halved black olives

quartered small tomatoes

tinned albercore tuna

For the dressing

6 tblsp olive oil

2 tblsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

a pinch of caster sugar


Boil the eggs for 10 minutes.  Plunge immediately into cold water.  When cold, peel and cut into quarters.

Boil the potatoes in salted water for about 15 minutes or until just tender.  Put the frozen beans into a steamer basket on top of the potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes.  Drain and cool.

Wash all the salad ingredients, chop and arrange as in the photo.  

To make the dressing put all the ingredients into a jam jar or bottle with a lid and give it a good shake to combine.  Shake well before serving.

Voilà !!

July 15, 2023


This is one of those recipes I've had my eye on for ages and with four small bananas looking unloved in the fruit bowl the opportunity came along.  Also, I had been chatting to one of the ladies that runs an English tea room at one of the local events every October here in France and she reminded me that I made a cake or two for them last year.  I’m still not eating much more than the occasional small slice of cake myself but it occurred to me that I could make a banana cake, freeze it, and bring it out for the designated day.

The recipe is Nigella Lawson's "banana bread" from her early book "how to be a domestic goddess" which I have very rarely used.  The banana bread appealed to me because it included rum soaked sultanas!  

I stuck to the recipe apart from using golden caster sugar instead of white and did my usual trick of making a couple of muffins from a little of the mixture.  This enables me to do a "quality control" check.  In other words I can taste the cake and make sure it is good enough to sell - otherwise donating a cake I have never made before can be a bit risky.  I also covered the cake loosely with foil for the last fifteen minutes of baking as it was already looking nice and brown - cakes that look over baked do not sell well at cake stalls I have found! 

After tasting the muffin I would have to disagree with Nigella's statement that "the alcohol doesn't pervade". I thought you most definitely could taste the rum! I had used some Kraken spiced rum as that was what was lurking on the booze shelf in the pantry and it worked really well. In fact the rum flavour was so noticeable that I wondered if I had put too much in! (I hadn’t.)

So consequently I have renamed this cake from the rather uninspiring "banana bread" because I think the flavour of the rum soaked sultanas, and the walnuts, made it rather special.  It's my favourite banana cake recipe so far!

(It would also be great if made entirely into muffins, probably at least a dozen I would think.)



Well, as it happens, I fetched the cake from the freezer for an event at home as I ran out of time to bake anything else!  It was delicious, very moist, a lovely texture and you could definitely taste the rum!


100g sultanas

75ml rum

175g plain flour

½ tsp bicarb

½ tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

125g unsalted butter, melted

150g golden caster sugar

2 large eggs

4 small very ripe bananas, or a total peeled weight of 300g, mashed

60g walnuts, roughly chopped

1 tsp vanilla extract


First, put the rum and sultanas into a small saucepan, bring to the boil, turn off the heat and set aside.  Leave them for the sultanas to absorb the rum and plump up for at least an hour.

When ready to make the cake, put a paper liner into a 900g (2lb) loaf tin, or grease the tin well, and preheat the oven to 170°C / 150° fan / gas mk 3.

Put the flour, bicarb, salt and and baking powder into a medium bowl and mix together well.

In a separate large bowl, beat together the melted butter and the sugar.  I used a hand held electric food mixer but a wooden spoon would work fine.

Beat in the eggs one at a time then the mashed bananas.

Drain the soaked sultanas and add to the mixture with the walnuts and vanilla.  Stir well to combine.

Add one third of the flour mixture into the bowl and stir well to combine, then the rest, one third at a time.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and level the top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.  Cover loosely with foil for the last 15 minutes if the cake is already looking nice and brown.

*I used a couple of spoonfuls of the mixture to make separate muffins, taking them out of the oven when cooked, after 25 minutes.

Cool in the tin.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.