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

SMOKED HADDOCK GRATINS

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.

Ingredients

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

Method

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

NOUGAT DE TOURS


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!

Ingredients

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

Method

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

CARAMEL BANANA CAKE

 

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.  

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

Ingredients

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)

Method

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

DATE AND BANANA MINI MUFFINS


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.

Ingredients

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

Method

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

PARSNIP, DATE AND CLEMENTINE CAKE



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!

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

February 3, 2024

CHICKEN WITH THIRTY CLOVES OF GARLIC


I have made this dish many times before, although not for a few years, but never posted about it.  You can find versions of it all over the place on the internet but I usually follow, as a guide, the recipe for "Provencal garlic chicken" from a great little book by Jill Dupleix called "good cooking"**.

It’s one of those recipes that’s staggeringly easy but delicious and warrants ferreting around in the back of the kitchen cupboard for a much loved bit of old kitchen equipment - the chicken brick!

I acquired a chicken brick back in the 70’s or 80’s, or whenever it was that they were all the rage.  It was made of a terracotta pottery (possibly from Habitat) and was probably a Christmas or birthday present, but it didn’t get much use and I don’t remember when I noticed it was no longer around.  Then, about twelve years ago, we held a Pampered Chef party at our house - a kind of Tupperware party but for cooking equipment.  I bought quite a few items and they were not cheap but have turned out to be a good investment.  One of the things I lashed out on was a new chicken brick, or updated version thereof, as it's also very good for casseroles, slow roasted meats and other things.

I remember the Pampered Chef agent saying that these pots should not be put in the dishwasher, that they should be washed in hot soapy water to remove any food bits but should otherwise be allowed to develop their own "patina".  This rather goes against the grain for someone like me who was brought up to scrub things to within an inch of their lives to ward off nasty tummy bugs - and whose very first domestic science lesson (from a very stern Mrs Stafford) was about how to clean a kitchen worktop properly and look after your dishcloth (having first knitted it from cotton string in the needlework class).  But I have to say that the residue hasn't killed us yet, however unappealing it may look! 

Any suitable casserole or roasting dish that has a tight fitting lid will do the job.  You can ensure a tight seal by covering the chicken with foil or baking paper before putting the lid on.  With my chicken brick I don't have to do this.

The original recipe is for forty cloves of garlic but when I checked the larder all I had in stock was thirty! It turned out beautifully; moist and delicious.  The leftover meat was excellent in a chicken and leek pie, the carcass went into the stock pot and was turned into a tasty soup with the leftover potatoes and garlic.

Retirement does have benefits.  Our food bill and wastage are both significantly lower than when we were working.  I never thought I would turn into a person that makes their own stock (and uses leftovers so enthusiastically) but having the time to do it is the key.  

**Other recipes from this excellent little book that I have made and posted about before include:

Airport potatoes 

Cranberry blondies

Ingredients

1 oven ready chicken, about 1.2 kg in weight

2 bay leaves

3 sprigs of thyme

4 tblsp olive oil plus extra for oiling the dish

30 garlic cloves, unpeeled

6-8 smallish potatoes, washed but skin on

75ml dry white wine

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Lightly oil the inside of the baking dish.

Rub the chicken with a little salt and put it in the pot, surrounded by the potatoes, garlic and herbs.  Drizzle with the olive oil, pour over the wine and season again with salt and pepper.

Fit the lid tightly (see notes in text) and bake for about an hour.  Remove the lid, increase the oven temperature to 220°C / 200° fan / gas mk 7 and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through* and the skin is a golden brown.

Serve with the potatoes and garlic cloves, which are delicious when squished so the puréed garlic oozes out.  Serve the cooking juices from the bottom of the chicken in a jug and any greens or salad of your choice.

*You can judge this by either poking a knife into the thickest part of the breast and making sure the juices run clear, not pink, or by using a meat thermometer.

Serves 6 with leftovers to use as you wish.

February 2, 2024

MARMALADE BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING


For my Burns Night Supper I decided to make this as well as the traditional Cranachan.  Marmalade was thought to have been invented in Scotland after all although this is now disputed.  (See here.) 

One of the guests was tee total and as the recipes I had settled on for both desserts contained whisky, I made two versions of each; with and without it.  I had an idea that whisky is not to everyone’s taste, not even the Scots, and as it turned out both versions were equally popular!  For this pudding I simply divided the ingredients between two separate baking dishes and put a good dollop of whisky into half of the egg mixture. 

It was delicious and you can see the original recipe here.  I used "wonderloaf" but it would also be good made with brioche or sliced croissants - for a Franco-Scots variation!

Ingredients 

8 slices of white bread, crusts removed

approximately 50g very soft butter

approximately 4 tblsp orange marmalade, plus a few extra tsp

300ml milk (I used semi skimmed as that's what we have)

250 ml double cream

3 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 tblsp golden caster sugar (white sugar would be fine)

1 tblsp whisky (optional)

icing sugar for dusting (I forgot this step!)

Method

Butter a suitable ovenproof pie dish.

Butter both sides of each slice of bread.  Make four marmalade sandwiches by spreading 4 of the slices generously with marmalade and topping them with the other 4 slices.

Cut each sandwich into four triangles and arrange them, pointed end up, in the pie dish.

Put the milk, cream, eggs, vanilla, whisky and sugar into a large jug and beat well together.  Pour this mixture over the sandwiches and set aside to soak in for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 160°C / 140° fan / gas mk4. 

Dot a few teaspoons of extra marmalade over the pudding and dust with icing sugar.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the edges of the bread are brown and crisp and the custard is set.

Serve straight away or just warm.

Serves 6-8.

January 30, 2024

COCK-A-LEEKIE SOUP



I made cock-a-leekie soup as the first course at our Burns Night Supper.  There were five guests plus ourselves so seven people in total.  This was more than my soup maker could handle so I made it like I always used to - in my large stock pot.  As the name suggests it is essentially a chunky chicken and leek soup!

Most of the recipes I consulted suggested cooking a chicken with the veg, taking the meat off the bones after it was cooked and adding it back into the soup.  I already had some home made chicken stock in the freezer so I cooked some chicken breasts separately (in the air fryer) and used those.  

Some recipes suggested adding prunes to the soup.  Prunes are a favourite in this house but not everyone is a fan so I left them out.  I would add some next time if I made a smaller quantity just for the two of us.  Another ingredient I left out was some smoked bacon because one of the guests eats only fish or chicken, no red meat. They would also be a good addition for next time I think!

It turned out really well - chunky veg, very tasty and this amount of ingredients made eight good servings.  It would also be an excellent way of using up leftover chicken.

Ingredients 

2 skinless chicken breasts, cooked 

A twinpack of smoked bacon lardons (optional)

4 large carrots

2 large leeks

4 sticks of celery 

50g butter

2 tblsp olive oil 

1 litre of chicken stock (home made or using water and two chicken stock pots or cubes)

1 bouquet garni

A good handful of stoned prunes (optional)

Method 

Peel and chop the carrots into small dice of about 1cm.  Trim and thinly slice the leeks.  Wash and thinly slice the celery.  

In a large saucepan or stock pot heat the oil and butter gently until the butter has melted, add the lardons if using, then add all the veg.  Cook gently until the veg are softened which will take about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally or shaking the pan so that they don’t stick.  

Add the stock and approximately a litre of water.  The liquid should cover the veg completely so use your judgment to add more water if needed.  Add the bouquet garni and season well with salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.  If using the prunes add them half way through the cooking time.

Chop or tear the cooked chicken into small pieces and add into the pan.  Cook for another 5 minutes, check the seasoning and serve with a nice fresh baguette.

Makes 6-8 generous servings.

January 29, 2024

VEGETABLE PIE


For our our Burns Night Supper I had planned to make Scotch pies for the main course, which are made with lamb or mutton.  One of the guests eats no red meat, only fish or chicken, so I wondered about making a vegetable version.  I was not sure how well it would hold together so made a large top crust pie instead.  

A common term for this kind of pie nowadays is a "pot pie".  It’s basically a pie filling topped with either shortcrust or flaky pastry.  This one was served with tatties and neeps - mashed potatoes and swede - but normally it would be good with a pile of greens - sprouts, broccoli, cabbage or beans.

The first time I made this pie was about fifty years ago.  I was a student, just married to husband number one, and money was very tight.  I remember it so well because we had asked friends round for dinner, which was my very first dinner party.  We couldn’t afford enough meat of any kind for four people but I had spotted a recipe for vegetable pie in a magazine in a waiting room somewhere.  It was essentially cooked veg in a cheese sauce with a pastry top.

I baked it in the Pyrex pie dish that came in a set with a mixing bowl and jug as a wedding present.  I still have and use the pie dish and bowl.  For this pie I included some broccoli but back then I’m sure I would have used brussels sprouts.  If broccoli had been available it would have seemed far too expensive and exotic.  I would have made the pastry myself from flour and lard as I’m not sure that ready made pastry - even if I could have afforded it - was a thing in the early seventies.  

I also remember that we served grilled grapefruit as a starter and crème caramel for dessert.  Remember those?!

Ingredients 

1 pack of ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pastry

1 large carrot 

1 large leek

1 chunk of swede

1 stick of celery 

A few florets of broccoli 

A chunk of broccoli stalk

1 egg, beaten 

For the cheese sauce 

1 heaped dessertspoon of plain flour 

1 large knob of butter 

1 pint of milk 

50g of grated cheese such as cheddar

A pinch of mace or mustard powder 

Method

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

Peel the carrots and swede and chop into small dice of about 1cm.  Wash and thinly slice the leek and celery.  Trim the broccoli stalk and chop into 1cm dice.

Put all the vegetables apart from the broccoli florets into a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil.  Cook for 10-15 minutes until cooked but still firm, adding the broccoli florets for the last few minutes so that they don’t get too soft.  Drain the veg and tip back into the pan.

To make the sauce put the flour, butter and about half of the milk into a medium saucepan and bring gently to the boil, whisking all the time until it thickens.  Add enough of the rest of the milk to get the thickness you want, remembering that the cheese will also thicken it up slightly.  You should aim for a "coating" consistency, i.e. a bit thicker than "pouring " and not too runny.  Add the cheese and spice, and a little more milk if needed.  It’s easier to thin the sauce by adding more milk than to thicken it up if it’s too thin!

Add the sauce to the veg, season with salt and pepper and stir well until the veg are all coated.  Tip into a suitable pie dish, top with the pastry and decorate with leaves made from the trimmings.  Make a hole in the middle to let out the steam, plus a few around the edge, brush with beaten egg and bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.  Rest for a few minutes before serving.

Cuts into 6 generous servings.

January 27, 2024

SCOTCH PIES


In a moment of  madness I proposed that we should host a Burns Supper.  
The missing ingredient was the haggis.  

Haggis is not to everyone’s taste but I have enjoyed it in the past.  It’s now one of the items we are no longer permitted to bring into France post Brexit.  All meat and dairy products are banned so those expats who used to buy a couple of haggis during their Christmas UK visit to bring back to France for their Burns Suppers have to either smuggle them in their luggage or get creative.  In a moment of pure insanity I proposed that I should make Scotch pies.  How hard can they be?!

There is a recipe on the BBC Good Food website by Paul Hollywood which comes from his TV series "Pies and Puds". You can see the recipe here. It includes a video of how to construct the pies but I can’t view it from outside of the UK! ** Luckily I also have a copy of the book from the TV series, a charity shop find, and there’s a couple of pages of helpful photos.

To say they are fiddly is a gross understatement!

I practised two days before the event using some leftover roast pork from our Sunday lunch, scaling down the ingredients to make just two of them.  I had never made hot water crust pastry before and the two pies took me about an hour to make, plus baking time.  BUT they looked the part and were delicious! I was very proud of them.  However, it dawned on me that at the rate of production it could literally take me all day to make the six I needed for the evening’s festivities and there was also the tatties, neeps, cock-a-leekie soup and cranachan to make!

I decided that the way to go was to cook the lamb the day before and mince it for the filling "shepherd’s pie" fashion.  No risk of serving undercooked meat to our guests.  I also decided I would make them in the morning and reheat for dinner.  No risk of me still being up to my elbows in flour and pastry when the guests arrived!

I set to early, deciding to make the pies one by one as I thought that would be easier than rolling out such a huge amount of pastry.  The website instructions are for four pies and the book for eight so I split the difference and portioned out the pastry for individual pies.

*Moulding the pastry around the filling is immensely fiddly.  I found that for me the quickest way to get them made was to put a ball of filling in the middle of a circle of pastry, pat it down a bit, brush the edge with water and then place a circle of pastry for the lid straight on top.  I then brought the bottom pastry up to meet the lid at four points, north, east, south and west, pinching it together to secure it.  I then gathered up the rest of the pastry, pleating to fit, and pinched the edges together.  This got my production time down to less than ten minutes per pie from rolling out to stringing up!

They were not the prettiest pies you have ever seen but they were really tasty and went down well with our guests.  I have given the quantity of ingredients for six pies and my own adaptions to the recipe but suggest you look it up and work out your own best method!  I have given it three stars in the faff factor but in reality they were about three and a half - incredibly fiddly but very definitely worth it!

Next time I think I would try to make them a bit smaller!

Ingredients 

For the filling

900g cooked lamb

A pinch of mace

1 onion, cooked.  Mine had been roasted under the joint of lamb

For the pastry

540g Plain flour

180g Lard or other white cooking fat.  I used Trex.

240ml Water

A pinch of salt 

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Method 

Begin by choosing a small plate of about 18cm diameter and a saucer or jar of about 10cm diameter.  These will be used as templates to cut the circles of pastry.  Cut six strips of baking paper about 30cm long and 10cm deep, folded over lengthways.  These will be used to encase the pies so they keep their shape while baking. Also cut six pieces of string long enough to tie around the pies.

Mince the lamb coarsely in a food processor.  Add the onion and mace and process for a few seconds until blended in.

Tip the lamb onto a board and mould into a ball.  Divide into six even portions and roll each one into a smaller ball.  Place on a tray or dish and chill in the fridge while you make the pastry.

Put the flour into a large bowl.  Put the fat, salt and water into a saucepan on medium heat and bring to the boil.  Pour this liquid onto the flour and mix in with a spoon.  (The flour will fizz briefly as you add the liquid.) 

When the pastry starts to come together and is cool enough to handle tip it onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.  (This took longer than I expected.)

Mould the pastry into a patty and cut into quarters, setting one aside for the lids.  Divide each of the three remaining quarters into two giving you six equal portions of pastry.  Divide the first quarter into six equal smaller portions.

On a floured surface roll a portion of pastry into a circle of about 18cm using your plate to cut it out.  Roll one of the lid portions using your jar or saucer template.

Place a ball of meat on the large pastry and flatten slightly. Moisten the edges of the pastry with water and with your hands bring the sides up around the meat.  Place a lid on top and pinch them together.  (*See text for how I found the best way of doing this.)

Wrap a strip of paper around the pie and secure with string.  Place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.  Repeat with the remaining pies.

Make a hole in the top of each pie and brush with the beaten egg.  Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Bake for 35-40 minutes at 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6 until golden brown.  Serve hot.

Makes 6 pies.

** I have since been able to watch the video on a different device and it's for a single large pie, so nothing like PH's recipe and instructions!  However, if I ever want to make a large pork pie, I'll definitely give it a try!

January 14, 2024

VICTORIA SPONGE

I very rarely make a Victoria sponge, just once every few years.  To me there always seem to be so many other, more interesting cakes, I could make.  I have made exactly three in the last ten years and all were as a special request.

Ten years ago I made one for the charity cake stall at work.  I had retired but still helped out with the cake stall and the ladies running it asked for a Victoria sponge, specifically with no cream or buttercream filling, just jam and a sprinkling of caster sugar on top.  It was sold out within the first hour.

The next was for a picnic which was being held in summer 2022 for Ukranian refugees that have come to live in our part of France.  The request was for people to bring food that represented their own part of the world.  That was fascinating as the area is home to so many different nationalities.  There was a huge amount of food but most of my cake got eaten.


The third and latest time I made a Victoria sponge was last autumn for the English tea rooms at the annual craft and food fair in the next village to us in France.  It was requested by the lady who runs it and when I asked about the filling she said she always puts cream in hers so I did too.

I delivered the cake along with several others at 9am and when I went back at 2pm to help with the washing up was told it sold out very quickly and had received several compliments.

So what does that tell you?  Obviously a Victoria sponge is very popular even though it is, in my book, rather a plain cake.  People love it.

I used a Mary Berry recipe for an all in one method.  I toyed with the idea of using the creaming method (which my mum always did) and even the "weigh the eggs" method where you use the weight of the eggs to determine the weight of the other ingredients.  In the end, I went for the quickest method as I had several cakes to make.  I have to say, it looked the part and by all accounts ticked all the boxes. 

If I am invited to bake for this year's tea rooms I shall make two Victoria sponges, so that the people who come in the afternoon still have that as a choice.  And it was, after all, so easy and quick to make and is clearly very popular!

Ingredients

225g each of

    baking spread

    caster sugar

    self raising flour

4 large eggs

1 level tsp baking powder

For the filling

strawberry or raspberry jam

150ml double or whipping cream*

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease and line the base of two 20cm sandwich tins.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat well with a hand held electric whisk until thoroughly smooth and creamy.  You could also use a stand mixer.

Divide the mixture evenly between the two sandwich tins and level the tops.  Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown and done.  (See the tip on my sidebar on how to tell if a cake is done.)

Leave in the tins for a few minutes then remove carefully onto a wire rack to finish cooling, removing the base lining paper.

When cold, put one cake upside down on a serving plate and spread generously with the jam.  Spread the whipped cream over this and place the other cake right way up on top.

Sprinkle a little caster sugar on top before serving.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

*You could, alternatively, fill with buttercream instead of real cream.  Some would say this is not the right thing for a Victoria sponge but I know it is still very popular!