Monday, 31 August 2009

Jurassic Cooking

Greta, as I do believe I have mentioned several times before, is a toddler with... particular tastes in food. She likes what she likes, and most of the time, she doesn't like whatever it is that I'm waving in front of her mouth, hoping like mad that she'll actually open up and try a bite.

Except for things like garlic sausage, cheese with garlic, Cenovis (Swiss Marmite/Vegemite), old gruyère, radishes (the hotter the better), and assorted other foods that babies are just not supposed to like. On the other hand- mashed potato is disgusting, mashed banana is beyond even contemplation, cooked carrot is evil, and all the usual baby foods recommended in the books are utterly rejected.

Greta therefore spent her first few months of "solids" being fed out of jars, as I got tired of her throwing everything that I cooked for her with love and devotion onto the floor. At least with jarred food, when she screamed the place down at every spoon, I didn't feel like she was rejecting my cooking! However, once we moved, I decided to try again. And to add garlic.

She started eating a bit more, but then the warm weather intervened. Greta, rather like her parents, is a cold-weather person. And for the last couple of months, whenever the temperature went over 25C (i.e. most of the time), well... Greta didn't want to eat. We managed by feeding her Petits Suisses at every meal, but that's not hugely healthy. I did usually manage to get the odd spoonful of apple-sauce into her to salve my vitamin-conscious soul, but more than that, well, NO, Mama! And so my carefully crafted home-made portions of baby food have been either washed down the sink (in the case of, for example, courgette risotto with chicken), or dumped in the bin (pasta with tomato sauce and tofu).

Finally, praise the lords and pass the biscuits, the weather has begun to cool. And the effect on Greta's appetite has been quite impressive. From an average daily consumption (excluding milk and water) of maybe 2 Petits Suisses, 2 tablespoonfuls of fruit, and a couple of mouthfuls of something else random, usually all accompanied by howls and much struggling... she's suddenly chomping down on 200g of food at a sitting. The only reason it's not more is that I find myself holding back, worried that she's going to throw up!

On the way back from the walk today I stopped off at the farm, and picked up another 3kg of tomatoes, as well as some plums and some mirabelles. I intend to make plum jam later in the week, but as I'm out of sugar, it won't be today.

I put aside about 1kg of the tomatoes for salads and sandwiches- the others I skinned, de-seeded, chopped extremely roughly, and put in a pan. I cooked them for I think about 45 minutes, crushing them with a wooden spoon, adding only a bit of salt and pepper. In the mean time, in the water I'd used to briefly boil the tomatoes to help with the peeling, I cooked some small pasta shapes. Next to that, I steamed a chopped courgette.

Having bottled most of the tomato coulis, once it was thick enough (this is going in the basement for winter), I added what was left to a small bowl of the pasta, with some of the courgettes, and a good dollop of olive oil. Let's see what she makes of that for her dinner.

My food plans for this week, other than the aforementioned plum jam, includes making a lot more tomato coulis, as well as tomato sauce, for jarring and stashing for the cold season. I'm thinking tomato and basil sauce, tomato and courgette sauce, tomato and aubergine...


Later edit: She did not like it. She spat out five teaspoonfuls one after the other, making a face, then started shaking her head NO and preparing to cry. I gave up. Peter ate it instead, and said it was delicious.

Back to the drawing board!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Swiss stocks and spinach salad

A couple of mornings ago, I was listening to Swiss radio with half of a quarter of one ear, distractedly, whilst trying to get Greta to eat a yoghurt for breakfast, and failing utterly to do so. She did, however, have a few pieces of dry muesli. I swear the child will drive me to distraction...

On the radio, they were interviewing somebody from the Office Federal pour l'approvisionnement economique du pays (Federal Office for National Economic Supply), about how Switzerland is going to manage in the case of a global pandemic- which will, of course, be affecting the food supply. He said that the Office publishes a brochure which lists all that you should have at home, and made a few jokes about having updated it recently, as food tastes had changed. For example, he said, they removed the "choucroute garnie" (sauerkraut with sausages and slab bacon) from the list.

As it sounded relatively useful, I dug up the website, and ordered a copy of the brochure.

The list, however, is available here. And a right giggle it is too, it being the old list, with sauerkraut (listed as Berner Platte, under 10: prepared meals). I looove that it includes one packet of fondue mixture! And that jam and chocolate are emergency rations.

Now I just need to get all of this together (as if), and then store it in the nuclear bomb shelter, like a good Swiss housewife.

Of course we have a bomb shelter! It's still the law here- whenever you build, there needs to be a fallout shelter. The fact that most of them are used as storage areas is irrelevant. They Are There In Case Of Emergency. And that makes all good little Swiss persons happy.

Rather like the annual test of the country-wide siren to warn everybody to get to the shelters now, the... erm... foreigners are invading. It's time to blow up the (mined) autoroutes and bridges! And for the men to take to the mountains with their guns and helmets so that they can fight a rearguard guerilla action. Presumably whilst we poor women stay in the valleys and either offer comfort to the poor misguided enemy, or emulate Judith and Holofernes.

Back to food...

For dinner tonight, having snacked on Italian salami and Manchego with Greta whilst she had supper (made up of said salami, Manchego, a couple of mouthfuls of cucumber, 3 spoonfuls of yoghurt and one of mashed strawberries, which only went in because I promised her it was the last one), Peter and I will be having a spinach salad.

We eat a lot of salads.

This one will include, besides the spinach, hardboiled eggs and walnuts (Greta discovered walnuts today, and decided that she likes them- I really need to manage to get her to eat cereal bars). Normally I'd also add some lardons, but I stopped buying bacon regularly at the beginning of the summer, and haven't needed to start again yet.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Chicken casserole with Orzo

Despite a leaking under-sink and a dishwasher suffering from reflux, I managed to cook a three-course dinner last night for Peter, a colleague, and myself.

And quite pleased I was too.

The weather has broken recently, and it's been quite a bit cooler, due to the absolutely incredibly beautiful thunderstorms. I therefore did not cook too much "height of summer" food, but didn't go too far in the other direction either.

We started off with a traditional insalata caprese- buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes from the farm, and basil that I was given by a neighbour. A drizzle of olive oil, some cracked black pepper, and a nice seed-covered crunchy baguette.

This gave me a chance to practise my presentation skills- which, quite frankly, suck. I'm working on it!

We then moved to the East, and had a main course from Vefa's Kitchen, which I've been meaning to peruse in detail ever since I got my hands on a copy about 3 months ago. I love Greek food- its flavours appeal to almost all of my tastebuds at the same time! Mm, I'll never forget having dinner with Peter in Nafplio and having grilled octopus tentacles- they were absolutely delicious. The suckers were all crunchy, the meat soft, and the lemon and olive sauce on top was just perfect...

Back to last night's dinner!

Chicken Casserole with Orzo (adapted from Vefa's Kitchen)
- 3 small aubergines, cut into bite-size pieces
- olive oil
- 1 humungous courgette, given to me by the same neighbour who gave me the basil, sliced
- 1kg skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
- 3 small-ish onions, chopped (there should have been 2 cloves of garlic, but my last head had dried out so went in the bin- and I'd have put in probably at least half the head to boot)
- 5 large Roma tomatoes, seeded, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper and 1 yellow, julienned
- 1 cup orzo
- dried thyme, oregano, and marjoram

Sprinkle the aubergine with salt and leave to drain in a colander for an hour. Rinse, squeeze out the water, pat dry.

I've read that instead of this step, which is pretty much pointless these days as our aubergines are not as bitter as they used to be, you can stick them in the microwave for a few tens of seconds. As the other point of the maneuvre is to bust the cells so that the aubergines don't gulp all the olive oil as soon as you drop them in.

Heat the olive oil in a casserole dish, add the pieces of aubergine, cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until lightly brouwned. Remove, set aside, add courgette slices, do the same, remove. Heat some more oil if necessary, add the chicken, cook 6-8 mns until lightly browned, stirring. Add the onion (and garlic!), cook stirring frequently until softened. Add tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and courgettes, season, add herbs, cover, simmer until the vegetables are half cooked.

Heat olive oil in a small frying-pan. Add the orzo, cook over high heat, stirring constantly (like you'd start off rice for a risotto) for a couple of minutes, then stir into the pan.

Vefa says you should add stock here- I added a little bit of boiling water, not much, covered, simmered until the orzo was tender, and served it up in the dish.

It was perfectly pleasant- but it needs a little something. I'll definitely be making it again, once I've figured out what that little something is. A friend has suggested lemon juice, and that might be it.

On the other hand, Peter and I finished it for dinner tonight, and, re-heated in the casserole dish over the gas, with plenty of fresh olive oil, it was absolutely a perfect dinner.

For dessert (which we also finished tonight), I had made a fruit salad- left-over greengages, nectarines, muscat grapes, and watermelon. And we had it with crême de Gruyère, which my parents had brought us on Monday, as they were in Gruyère over the weekend. This is one of Switzerland's great specialties- a thick, very sweet cream (although it's not sweetened), which is often served with meringues. An absolutely lethal dessert, but very yummy.

I was quite pleased with the meal. It could have been better, but, for a mid-week supper which I hadn't had more than 24 hours to plan, it wasn't bad. And the fact that I had to stop half-way through cooking the courgettes and rescue Greta from a glass-covered floor (she had knocked a glass off the kitchen table and we were both standing in the middle of it in bare feet) and put her to bed didn't do more than make it all a bit later than I had planned!

Fortunately, the sink and the dishwasher were fixed today.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Roast lamb with preserved lemons

Yesterday, Sunday, was very busy. The village throws a meal for all inhabitants once a year, just before the kids go back to school, and yesterday was the day. Peter, Greta and I walked across the road to the village "square" at about 12:15... and didn't get home until after 17h. It was a very enjoyable way to meet the neighbours and talk about things- and the meal wasn't bad either.

With the aperitif (white wine, of course, that's usually what is served for the "apéro" in French-speaking Switzerland), we were given cubes of a rather nice pizza bread, a smear of tomato and a thin layer of crunchy cheese on top of what I think was sourdough loaf. Then the first course was melon with jambon cru, followed by what we think was longeole, served with polenta with four cheeses and an onion sauce. Very nice. Then a green salad (a shame they were running low on the salad dressing when I got my second helping!), a berry tiramisu for dessert, and finally coffees and limoncello.

At about 16h I inquired of Peter whether he was still expecting me to cook roast lamb- it turned out, to my utter lack of surprise, that he was.

We'd picked up a half leg of lamb on special offer on Saturday, and, as I'd been reading food magazines in bed and come across this recipe for lamb with preserved lemons, and had liked it, I'd torn it out.

Incidentally, in the same article, there was a recipe for 6-8 servings, which called for, among the rather extensive list of ingredients, 3/4 of a teaspoon of lemon zest and 1/4 of a teaspoon of lime zest. When I read ingredients like that, I can't help wondering who on earth would actually do that. It's the sort of ingredient that makes me skip to the next recipe. As I do with most recipes with more than ten ingredients.

Often, it's American recipes that seem to have ridiculous numbers of ingredients. Which explains why I cook very few American recipes. When I do, however, I know several things- first of all, I'm going to estimate a number of things (a stick of butter? and how much is a cup of butter?), as I'm used to weighing things... and second, I'm going to at least double the spices. Most American recipes seem so woefully underspiced, half the time, you can barely taste them. The recipe for oatmeal and raisin cookies in the Joy of Cooking, for example- that needs a serious tripling of the amount of cinnamon and whatever-the-other-spice is.

Anyway, going back to our dinner, which we ended up having at 22:10, very late for us, as the lamb had to cook for 4 hours, and I didn't get it in the oven until 18h.

I cut the meat off the bone, and cut it roughly into chunks. In my blender, I put 3 slightly-bigger-than-small onions, 1.5 preserved lemons (all I had left), 1.5 heads garlic, the leaves off 4 sprigs of marjoram from my father-in-law's garden, and the leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary from the same place (the recipe specifies coriander leaves, which seemed odd, as after 4 hours, they'd just not be there any more!). Blended that, then added 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds, blended again, then added about 100cl water. Maybe 150cl. I tossed the lamb together with the mix, put it in a pyrex dish (the top half of my chicken roaster, put some slices of butter on top (unnecessary, I think), then popped it in the oven at 150C.

It cooked slowly for four hours, after which I spooned some of the fat off the top, and served it up with boiled potatoes. It made the whole apartment smell deliciously of garlic (despite me having the kitchen windows open and the door closed)- but I noticed that about half way through the cooking, the lemons started to come out. Mm.

The meat just fell apart at the prod of a fork, but could maybe have done with another forty minutes. Or a slightly fattier cut. Notwithstanding this, it was very nice, and I'll be making it again. Peter had two helpings, I did too! The crusty bits on the top of the lamb, where it was poking out of the mush, were just delicious.

I do think that next time it deserves a far more assertive side-dish- something with a bit more kick. A rocket salad might be an option, or at least a salad with quite an acidic vinaigrette, in order to cut some of the fat.

Greta didn't have any, as she was long in bed- for the last few days, she's refused anything other than bread, cheese, and garlic sausage. I've been lucky and got her to understand that one quarter slice of garlic sausage is a fair exchange for one spoonful of yoghurt/vegetable/fruit. I should probably put garlic in her fruit mush- but I don't think it would go with the apricot and blueberry compote I made her yesterday morning!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Green Queens

Last night, I made greengage and vanilla bean jam.

I never stick to recipes, normally, but as I'd never made jam before, I thought that it would probably be a good idea to do so this time. Even if that did seem like an awful lot of sugar! However, as the jam has turned out... oooh, lip-puckeringly tangy, it definitely wasn't too much sugar.

It took a long time to cool down last night, so at 21:20 I headed over to start making it... at which point I remembered that I was supposed to macerate the fruit and sugar together for an hour. Botheration. So I chopped and pitted my greengages (which have the lovely name of reine-claude in French, named after the wife of Francois I), put them in my Le Creuset casserole dish, poured the sugar over the top, added the lemon juice, stirred it around, put the lid on, and went off to do other things for an hour.

When I came back, a lot of juice had come out of the fruit. I added the vanilla, having split and seeded the pods, adding both the seeds and the pods in, and then turned the gas on. I'm so glad I had a gas hob-top put in! It's so much easier to control the heat than it was with the electric top I had before.

I cooked, stirring, until the sugar had melted down, then wandered off. I came back to stir a while later, and found there was a thick foam over the top. I know that in some recipes you skim this off, but as it had lifted most of the vanilla seeds with it, I certainly wasn't going to do that, so I stirred it back in instead.

I pretty much left it to its own devices, coming back to stir now and again as it simmered, and discovering that boiling jam, when it spatters on your skin, is indeed rather painful. And when you stir simmering jam, it bubbles up a lot harder than it was, and spits at you. Ouch. Fortunately I only got a couple of very minor splashes on me.

After about an hour, I started to test. I'd read, heavens knows where, it seems that I've always known it, despite never having made jam before, that the best thing to do was to put a plate in the fridge, then drop a teaspoonful of jam on it to see if it was thick enough (the cold plate cools it faster, so it thickens). I tested a couple of times before it was right- which gave Peter and I an opportunity to taste it. Mmmm...

He went to bed before I'd finished. At 23:30 I started putting it into pots, ending up with one large and one small pot... and half a small pot to go into the fridge. Most of which has already been eaten, as even Greta, who is not a fan of being fed anything from a spoon early in the day, had several spoonfuls at breakfast time.

As you can see, from very green fruits, it came out a lovely gold. It rather worried me, at one point! I wonder what colour other fruit jams will turn...

I need to make more of this. It's perfect for Christmas presents... although I do have so many other jam recipes begging for attention! And a friend was telling me earlier via chat that the plums in his garden are almost ripe, and he has a kilo ear-marked for me. He better make it two kilos- one for him, one for us!

Greengage and vanilla jam, courtesy of Chez Pim
- about 1kg Greengages, pitted and chopped
- 500g sugar (in my case, brown, organic, fair-trade sugar- making it Worthy Jam!)
- juice from 1 lemon
- 2 vanilla beans, cut in half, seeded

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Summer dishes

For a day when it's been over 34C, I've certainly done a lot of cooking! Fortunately, however, other than the bulghur for the tabbouleh, it was all chopping and mixing and stirring.

Peter was making calf's eyes at me last night, reminding me that I'd promised to make tabbouleh and guacamole for him this week. These two are some of our default Summer Foods, and we get through a lot of them over the hot months.

I stopped by the farm on the way home from Greta's daily walk and picked up another three kilos of tomatoes. They're so good, I can't get over how much flavour they have. I was speaking to the farmer's wife (and the farmer, who was boldly displaying a grey-haired torso and fuzzy belly), and she told me they have masses more tomatoes, even in the "cold room", as well as mirabelles and plums. I might have to make more jam than planned, as I have a feeling that mirabelles and honey might go very well together.

Even more so as there's a place across the road and along a few metres advertising local honey... and I should also go up the road in the other direction to the Domaine and buy some of their peaches.

But to get back to what I did with the tomatoes. After I staggered in and put Greta down, gave her plenty of water to drink, gulped a couple of pints myself, I started chopping.

First up, gazpacho, adapted from Not Derby Pie. What is Derby Pie, I wonder?

- 1 chunk, about 3 cm thick, of stale wholemeal pain de campagne
- 5 garlic cloves
- a couple of big pinches of sel de mer aux herbes de provence
- 2.5 tablespoons vinaigre de Xeres
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1.3 kilos ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used a really nice olive oil that Peter bought from his caviste in Gland)

I soaked the chunk of bread in water for a couple of minutes, then squeezed it dry-ish. Put that in the blender, with just over half the tomatoes (what was left was one whole tomato of about 600g!). I put the cumin seeds in my mortar and pestle, bashed at them a minute or so, then added the garlic cloves and the salt, and pounded them down together. Put that and the sugar in the blender, then turned it on. It took a bare half minute to be nice and smooth, so I then added the rest of the tomato, blended that in, then slowly poured the olive oil in through the top.

That then went into the fridge to meld and settle.

Peter and I had a bowl each for supper (well, he had two), and it was very good. Richly flavoured, punch-y with the garlic, and, as Peter put it, "It's smooth, but it has texture. It scrapes across my tongue in a good way."

I might knock up a jar (with half the garlic) for my parents some time soon, they'd like it.

I then cooked just under a mug-ful of organic bulghur. It would have been a mug-ful, but it was the end of the packet!

The trick to making a good tabbouleh, I am convinced, is to not overcook your grain. I was at a bbq last weekend where the one salad that stood practically untouched was a tabbouleh made with couscous that was so wet that the whole thing just looked like a bowl of mush. It's a good idea to actually slightly undercook the grain, as it is going to be snuggled up to tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as having olive oil and lemon juice poured over it.

Unfortunately, I had a small squally Greta clinging to my ankle at this point, demanding to be picked up before she got eaten by hyenas, so I overcooked the bulghur a bit. Annoying, but not the end of the world, as I think I got it just in time.

To the cooked bulghur, I added:
- 2 large (the size of my fist and a bit over!) tomatoes, seeded, and diced
- 2/3 of a cucumber, seeded, diced
- a handful of golden sultanas that I had left over from making chutney- normally I'd put in a couple of handfuls of raisins, although I have put in mango at times, which works well
- a chopped spring onion (it should have been two, but I only had two left, and needed the other one for guacamole)
- 2 packs (0.020 kg each) of mint, leaves sliced finely into a chiffonade
- 2 bundles of flat parsley, leaves chopped extremely roughly- sometimes I use rocket instead
- juice of two lemons
- plenty of olive oil
- salt, freshly-ground black pepper

All mixed together, and left for a couple of hours. I make this for summer parties, and it always vanishes very fast! I think the difference to how tabbouleh is usually made around here is that I stick to a more "traditional" interpretation, i.e. I make sure that there is lots and lots of green herbs, whereas when you buy it ready-made here, it's usually a lot of couscous and a few flecks of mint, so that is how most people make it.

Peter says that I did catch the bulghur in time. As he had two bowls of that as well for dinner, I suppose he's right. He did complain that I hadn't chopped the parsley small enough, though. What is left, I will split up into individual tupperwares, and stack in the fridge, as otherwise he'll eat all the rest of the bowl in one sitting. If it's divided up, he's a bit more reasonable!

Having finished making the tabbouleh, I handed Greta over to her father for long enough for me to make the guacamole, as it's a bit difficult to chop coriander with a toddler in one arm.

I also make a relatively "traditional" version of guacamole. Instead of the absolutely smooth green paste that for some reason some people seem to think is about right (I blame the back of the Old El Paso packets of spice for guacamole, which say "take two avocadoes, mush them up, add this packet, you're done"), I make quite a chunky one.

- 3-4 avocadoes, as ripe as possible before going off (and I've had some "guacamole" served to me where the avocadoes were so unripe that they were actually diced!)
- 2 spring onions, chopped (I only had one left due to using the other in the tabbouleh- often I put the white part of just one in, and the green of two)
- 2 packs (0.020 kg) of coriander, thick stems removed, chopped
- 1 medium tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes), seeded, diced
- lime juice (a few tablespoons)
- and... erm... the Old El Paso packet. Because I've tried making my own mix, and this is the best. But I do add chili flakes to it.

Tip the OEP packet contents into a small bowl, add the lime juice and chili flakes, stir. Leave whilst you remove the avocado flesh and put it into a bowl (I put it straight into the tupperware I'm going to keep it in). Mash, not too smoothly, but not leaving any big lumps. Add the lime juice and OEP, stir well. Don't beat any air into it, however- air is what makes the colour turn, and you don't want that! Add the onions, tomato, and chopped coriander, and a bit of salt. Mix it in, smooth the top, cover it with a layer of plastic wrap smoothed down onto the surface to keep the air out, put the lid on the tupperware, put it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

These days, I serve it with pita crisps. It used to be chili tortilla crisps, but pita crisps are a nice change. Unfortunately, we're out at the moment, so we didn't have any tonight. I shall try and pick some up tomorrow at Coop.

My jam is currently at the steeping stage in the saucepan. I'll start cooking it in about 45 minutes, now that the weather has finally cooled down enough to be bearable!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Salmon trout with coriander

On Saturday, Peter bought himself a salmon trout. He didn't get me one, because I didn't want it. Ever since I had Greta, I've had a hard time eating things which were manifestly killed for me to eat them. Not that I've gone vegetarian- I love my saucisson sec far too much! But I'm eating even less meat than before.

I put off cooking it last night, as I was making chutney, but it needed cooked today, or it was going in the bin.

I wasn't feeling particularly inspired, but I dug around, and ended up doing the following:

I turned the oven to 175C, and lined the roasting tin with parchment paper, which I brushed with olive oil and then ground the pepper mill over. I sliced one of the huge tomatoes from the farm, and put most of that underneath the fish, which I stuffed with sliced preserved lemon (I made some a couple of years ago- they're a great standby, and you can keep on renewing it by dropping in bits of lemon) and a few more bits of the tomato. I then put crushed coriander inside the fish, and dusted the rest over the top. (Thinking about it now, I should probably have put harissa inside the fish, but I forgot that I had some- I only bought it today!). I then baked the fish for 40 minutes, which was longer than planned.

I could have served it with a grain, but he's going to eat the whole fish, so he really doesn't need any more than he's got! Even more so as he named the fish Bob.

I didn't have any, but he says it was quite nice. Here's the finished beast:

I went over to Thoiry in France today, and went into the Bio-Santoriz shop for the first time. Not only did they have a little restaurant which gave us a lovely lunch (and was sufficiently clean for me to be quite happy to allow Greta to toodle around barefoot) with beetroot gazpacho, a delicious salad with all sorts of grains in it and a very yummy lentil and rice vegetarian paté, but I also found yet another range of products that I haven't seen around before, including seaweed called "sea spaghetti", miso paste in a pot and not in powder or cubes (which I bought to make soups for Peter, who has a passion for miso soup when he's home alone and there's nobody to cook for him), organic black chocolate, and a mix of spices to go on tabbouleh. Because I promised Peter I'd make him tabbouleh (and guacamole) this week...

Monday, 17 August 2009

Peach Chutney, Tomato Chutney, Watermelon Rind Pickles

This evening, I made four pots (two half-litre, two 250 ml) of tomato chutney, having finally managed to find nigella seeds in an organic/diet shop in town. I'd spent the last week trying to find nigella, having identified them variously as onion seed, kalonji, and black cumin. People mainly just looked at me strangely when I asked if they had it- I tried Globus, Manor, Coop... Then on Saturday morning I bumped into my best friend in town, told her what I was looking for, and she suggested an Asian shop up near Placette (sorry- Manor!). So I went there on Monday morning. No luck, but I did find that it has all sorts of things that I had no idea I could find around here- such as tamarind. I've been reading recipes with tamarind in them for a couple of years now, but always assumed that it hadn't made it to Switzerland yet. Serves me right for not poking around more! However, on the way to the shop, I walked past the above-mentioned organic shop, so I stepped in there on the off chance. I found all sorts of other things there too, such as teff (to make injera with- I've only had injera once, but I loved it), and dulse. Will bear the two shops in mind in future!

So that was my final ingredient for the chutney. I've been making chutney on and off for about two weeks now. It started off with a white peach, ginger and chili chutney which I made up due to having too many white peaches that were turning too fast to mold. I put two red chilis in there, making it lethally hot- hence the single pot was handed over to my parents with instructions to let it mature for a few weeks! Since then, I've made it again, with yellow peaches and only one chili.

- peaches
- mustard seeds
- chili
- red wine vinegar
- onion (I think)
- brown sugar

Chop peaches, without skinning them, put in large enamel casserole dish, simmer until softened, add the other ingredients, simmer until thick. No doubt not at all the right way to make it, but sometimes you just make things up as you go along...

Having made a watermelon and feta salad for a family party, I remembered reading about watermelon rind pickles. I then spent a few days trying to round up what I needed for that- and now have two jars sitting maturing in the cupboard. Not so sure how that's going to go. They look... interesting. Probably more interesting than tasty. But I might be pleasantly surprised. I more or less used this recipe.

The tomato chutney, I had an urge towards making due to the farm around the corner selling some glorious big red tomatoes that looked absolutely yummy. And we've been meaning to start buying fruit and vegetables in the village anyway- can't get less food miles than that! Assuming that it would be "cooler" at about 16h, I waited until then, popped Greta on my back, and walked down the road.

It may have been cooler than earlier... but it was still incredibly hot, about 32C. Thank goodness it was only a 3 minute shuffle, or we would have melted away, leaving nothing but a pile of clothes and a baby carrier on the road.

The farmer's wife (why do we always assume she's the farmer's wife and not the farmer herself?) was having a nap, but a little old lady who turned out to be my neighbour-from-across-the-road hauled herself out of the shade of a parasol under a tree to sell me three kilos of tomatoes for very cheap, and have a chat about who she knew in my building. I'd have loved to stay and be friendly, but we were standing right in the sun, and although I'd smeared Greta with sunblock before coming out, I wasn't happy about it. Besides that I was also slowly wilting!

So we said our goodbyes, Greta waving politely, and walked back home. Of course, I wanted to start up my chutney immediately, as you do when you've finally got all your ingredients together, but Greta got very clingy and didn't want put down when we got back. I managed to measure spices out and tip them into a bowl, ditto the sugar, and I even managed to par-cook and then skin 2 kg of tomatoes (1 kg saved for salads and sandwiches), which was pretty impressive with only one hand. But then, as I've discovered since having Greta- most things can be done with one hand. Including breaking and separating eggs. As long as you don't mind egg white all over your fingers!

After she went to bed, I had a final review of my two source recipes. I'd picked this recipe from Becks and Posh, and another from allrecipes, and had decided to pretty much meld the two.

- olive oil
- 2 tsp brown mustard seeds
- 2 tsp nigella seeds
- 2 tsp fennel seeds (a leap of faith, this, as I dislike anise flavour intensely!)
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 6-8 cloves garlic, chopped finely
- 2 inches ginger root, chopped finely (I put the ginger and the garlic through the mini-chopper together)
- 1 cup golden raisins (which was too many- it should have been about half)
- 4 dried red chilis (not quite dried- I used ones I bought in a pack a few weeks ago when I was making a proper red Thai fish curry, and hadn't used these ones, so they've been sitting out drying)
- 1 tsp piment d'Espelette
- 2 cups organic cane sugar
- 2 1/2 cups apple vinegar
- 2 kg tomatoes

I heated the oil, added the spices and chilis, stirred, left a minute or two, then added the garlic and ginger, stirred that around briefly, then added the vinegar followed by the sugar. Stirred until the sugar had dissolved, then added the tomatoes and the sultanas. I simmered the pot for just under two hours. Becks and Posh said that it should be sloppy, and it was. Much sloppier than I had thought it would be, even with the warning! I spooned out one half litre into a jar, then the two 250ml jars, then did another half litre, and that was it. Inverted the jars, left for a bit, then labelled them with these great labels that dissolve in the dishwater, and left them to cool over night.

I'm now contemplating either plum or greengage jam (or both) with vanilla. Probably based on this recipe from Chez Pim.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Easy Summer Fruits Cake

We had a birthday party to go to today. The son of a friend- said friend said we could only come "If Heidi bakes a cake". And since I'd been looking at this recipe from Everybody loves sandwiches, I decided to make that. Only with my usual tweaks. First of all, as strawberries were out of season, I used peaches. And second, since I have no idea what canola oil is (rape-seed oil?), I used about 150g melted butter instead. I forgot to put the lemon zest in... and I put a tablespoon and a half of vanilla in. Because I wasn't paying attention!

The batter wasn't as thick as advertised, which was a shame, as I'd saved a sliced peach to go on top, and it just sank into the batter. Not so bad, as my presentation skills are, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty crappy, and something I really need to work on.

I also managed to put my thumb in the top of the cake when I took it out of the mould. Not the end of the world, but inconvenient.

I handed the cake over when we got there. I'd had to put it in a covered dish for the transport, so the top wasn't crunchy any more... but it was still devoured. Two people asked me for the recipe, and several people asked what was in it. One guy was convinced that there were several types of fruit in it, and was surprised when I said there were just peaches. And another thought there was almond in it (now that's a thought for next time).

It turned out to be a very moist, very soft cake. Not one that would age well, I don't think- definitely one that would need eaten within two days of baking at the outside. I'll definitely be making it again!

(Apologies for no pictures- I'm new at the food blogging!)

Easiest Cake In The Galaxy
1 cup flour
1 tbs baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
150g melted butter
1 1/2 tbs vanilla
5 peaches (or equivalent in other juicy fruit!)
1 tbs sugar

Preheat oven to 175C. In a large bowl, stir the sugar into the melted butter. Add eggs, stir to combine. Add flour and baking powder, stir. Add fruit so that it bulks up a bit, because it looks like there's not much there! But don't worry. Butter and flour an 8 or 9 inch cake pan and add in batter. Maybe decorate the top with fruit (hoping). Sprinkle with sugar to make a crunchy top. Bake for 1 hr or until a cake tester inserted comes out clean.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Heidi, Peter and Greta make their bows

My name is most definitely not Heidi. I do not live in a farm on an Alp, nor do I live with a grouchy grandfather. I do, however, live in Switzerland. In a small, wine-growing, farming village; from my kitchen window, I can see goats and orchards- from my living-room window, I look across the road at the village school, behind which vineyards cover a steep hill going down to the train station. On one side of the house, it's the edge of the village- on the other, the centre. It's that small.

I live with my husband, whom I'm going to horrify by referring to as Peter (just to continue the Heidi idea- in case you've never read it, Peter was the goatherd), and our little daughter, whom I'm going to call Greta, because it's Germanic and fits with the other two names.

We moved to the village about four months ago, in April 2009. Before, we were living in an apartment in the growing suburbs of our Swiss city. A very nice apartment, but with a kitchen, alas, in one corner of the living room. An "open kitchen".

I hate open kitchens. Every time you fry an onion, you have to run around closing doors, or your pillow smells of fried onions. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but isn't always desirable. And as every good recipe (in my book) starts with "chop an onion"...

Peter, having a Lyonnaise grandmother, would point out that every good recipe then continues with "add 250g butter, half a bottle of white wine, half a litre of cream, then figure out what you're going to cook tonight", but then he doesn't cook. He just eats. Fortunately for me, he's actually quite happy with a salad for dinner too.

Greta, to our occasional despair, would probably say, if she were suddenly to figure out how to talk, "who needs all that stuff, take it away, just add garlic!" Our baby girl has a passion for garlic. Regular baby food, such as mashed potato, banana, apple sauce, is rejected with a wave of the hand that sends it hurtling to the floor, and any spoonful that has tricked its way into her mouth (nasty tricksy things, Mamas are) is spat out with disgust, as likely as not accompanied by wails and howls of despair, angst, and suffering.

Give her half a pot of Boursin, or Tartare, and she's very happy. When I make her risotto or pasta, I find myself adding 5 to 6 cloves of garlic... Come to think of it, after I portion it all out, she usually ends up with at least a clove of garlic per meal.

She is also very fond of radishes (the ones that make you sneeze, they're so strong), garlic sausage, raw carrots, and very expensive, well-aged cheese. Oh, and black chocolate. Milk chocolate, not so much, but she'll tolerate it. And she does love her Petit Suisses. After all, she is a little Swiss Miss!

As for me... well, other than fennel or anything that is aniseed-flavoured, I'll eat anything. But, oddly, I'd rather cook. Cook, and watch people eat what I cooked!

Hence this blog, which I hope will be a good record of what we eat.

We eat pretty healthily as it is- a lot of organic food (relatively cheap and very easy to find here), I try to not buy anything that has been shipped further than North Africa (but I do sometimes slip up), pretty seasonally (I don't buy apples in summer, for example), and, now that we've moved to the village and there are a number of farms selling their own produce... with the smallest number of food miles! None of this is really for health reasons- it's just that this is the food that we're both happy to eat.

I've also started foraging- blackberries from down by the river, mirabelles, apples, damsons and plums from trees growing wild nearby. I'm hoping to be able to pick mushrooms in autumn, but I will definitely be taking them to be identified by somebody who knows what they're doing.

As I was able to design my own kitchen (within certain limits!), I was able to cater to some long-cherished fantasies, and have put in a humungous freezer. And a similar fridge- here in Switzerland, most refrigerators are big enough for a litre of milk, a litre of juice, a hunk of cheese, a carton of eggs... and a lettuce takes up a whole shelf! Refrigerators for a person and a half! As long as they don't like cooking. So my new fridge is a joy, being taller than I am... and the freezer ditto, as I can now cook for Greta and freeze individual portions (instead of trying to fit half a portion down the side of the ice-cubes).

How do I cook? I cook a lot of vegetable-based meals- we're not vegetarians, but I tend to do one big meat meal every week, on a Sunday, and hope to extend it out over a few days. In the winter, this is often something like boeuf bourguignon, blanquette de veau... In the summer, more roast chicken. We eat a lot of pastas, a lot of risottos. In summer, a lot of salads for dinner- with Peter's only contribution to the cooking, an absolute gift for making the perfect dressing, and without measuring anything!

We hope to entertain more now that we have a bigger home, so there will be recipes there. I try to surprise our guests with dishes that they wouldn't expect- either going the very traditional route, as the above-mentioned recipes show, or going quite in the other direction! Being "anglo-saxon", most people around here expect me to be an atrocious cook (prejudice is alive and kicking!)- but our friends know that I'm really not that bad.

Especially when it comes to baking. I'm good at cakes. And I love to bake. Not that it does me much good- Peter isn't interested in "sweets"- he by far prefers savoury. Last weekend we went to a birthday party for a two-year old, whose father had invited us "on condition that Heidi bakes a cake". My cake was devoured, two people asked me for the recipe- and Peter didn't even bother trying it. Oh well- his loss!

I don't bake bread- I have in the past, when we lived in the Caribbean and I could only find steam-baked sandwich bread (which always tasted as though it had had sugar added to it!), and I might start again.

So you can expect a good hodge-podge, with links and photos where I can fit them in, of everything from Christmas pudding (I'm planning to make my own this year), to baby/toddler meals, and the occasional restaurant meal.