Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas 2010

- Macaroons
- Spicy nuts
- Granola
- Sloe gin (with honey)
- Better than Ketchup (with added nigella seeds and ground coriander)
- Jam!

Christmas lunch:
- Roast potatoes in duck fat
- Glazed carrots in orange juice (very popular!)
- Stuffing balls (ditto)
- Roast capon with sage
- Green salad
- Christmas pudding with whisky butter and creme fraiche

Monday, 31 May 2010

Merguez: Better rude than red

The problem with merguez is that they spit.

Which isn't always ideal.

The other problem with merguez is, bcause they spit, they dry up really fast.

And yet another problem with merguez is that it's much easier to find not-so-good merguez than it is to find the good stuff. The only way to find the latter, I've been told, is to locate a friendly halal butcher. Well, he doesn't necessarily have to be friendly. But halal is a must- because his will have the right ingredients, at least.

Notwithstanding this particular point, on Saturday, during our weekly shop, as I was feeling quite uninspired by what was on special offer (fricasee de porc? It's 25 degrees and sunny. I'm not cooking something that needs to braise in my Staub casserole for three hours!), and suggested to Peter that we fire up the barbecue (for the first time this summer), what went into the shopping trolley was.. a pack of merguez.

Nineteen of them, to be precise. Why they were being sold in packs of nineteen, I fail to understand. There's no way you can divide nineteen merguez and make it fair- unless of course you have nineteen guests. Not that one merguez each is fair either.

Sunday morning dawned... grey, cold, and rainy. A generally miserable day. A "curl up on the sofa, read a book, drink tea" day. Not a day fit to be the penultimate day of May. Nor a day to go pick elderflower and make jelly/syrup/champagne, which was what I'd wanted to do.

And when dinnertime came around... we didn't really feel like going out on the balcony and turning on the barbecue.

To go back to my initial point- in our last apartment, I'd ended up banning merguez from the balcony barbecue. Not only would Peter have to clean his glasses with industrial cleaning fluid afterwards (OK, a slight exaggeration, but not much of one!), but I'd then spend several days intermittently boiling water and pouring it on the balcony floor to get rid of the grease. I remember looking out there one evening to see fat swirling through the air- a sight which has not exactly remained one of my favourite memories! No wonder the merguez almost invariably proved to be dried out and pretty much tasteless.

Thus, the idea of having to start scrubbing the new balcony floor was not something that filled me with joy. Especially when I'm not going to be home much for the next three weeks.

I once fried merguez on the hobtop, on a similarly rainy day. Again, not something that I looked forward to doing again... as I had to employ cleaning solutions somewhat similar to a nuclear strike afterwards.

So, what were we going to have for dinner?

Merguez stew.

- 1 pack of merguez, each cut into three
- 6 courgettes, chopped into thick slices
- 1 red pepper, in slices
- 2 onions, in thick slices
- 3 sweet potatoes, in chunks
- 1 bottle of passata
- olive oil

I heated the olive oil in the Staub casserole (!), added the onions and the red pepper, stirred, put the lid on for a couple of minutes, added the courgettes and sweet potatoes, stirred, put the lid back on for a few minutes, then added the merguez. Stirred them in, left the lid on again for a couple of minutes. (At this point, if I'd had any, I'd have added a tin of chickpeas, but, for some mysterious reason, I was out.) I then added the bottle of passata, a bit of water (to rinse out the bottle!), put the lid on until it reached a simmer, opened it, stirred it around, decided from the smell that I didn't really need to add any spices, and left the lid slightly open until the sauce was as thick as I thought it should be. After which the lid went back on tight, and I turned it all down, as Peter was putting Greta to bed.

I think that all in all, it cooked for about 50 minutes.

And very yummy it was- Peter had two bowls, I had the same, we left just about enough to make one bowlful, if eked out with some couscous and some extra fried onions! Next time, though, I'd add chickpeas and some salt.

As for the merguez, they were the best I've ever had. Soft, juicy, spicy... and no insane orange grease to spend days cleaning up!

Saturday, 22 May 2010


I've always loved this word. Say it again. Spanakotiropita! And again! Spanakotiropita! Woo-hoo!

I'm quite fond of the actual thing as well. And it's something I've wanted to make for a long while.

Spotting feuilles de brik (really thin North African sheets of pastry) in the supermarket earlier in the week was all I needed.

I knew I had spinach at home, as well as feta, so I didn't get anything else. When I got home, I dug out Diane Kochilas' The Glorious Foods of Greece, a cookbook I've had for about 8 years, and never made anything from, despite the best of intentions. Why I didn't reach for Vefa's Kitchen is something that only crossed my mind half-way through cooking this evening. Who knows?

Brik, however, isn't quite filo pastry.

And Peter eating half the pack of spinach for lunch when I was out wasn't what I had expected.

Nor was the fact that Diane didn't actually have a recipe for ... say it again... Spanakotiropita! in her book.

However, I browsed through, and came up with a recipe for Scallion and Feta Pie (Kremmydopita). I then headed off to the supermarket again, with nothing more in my head than the fact that I needed more spinach and some spring onions. Needless to say, I didn't come home with the "2 pounds scallions or spring onions" the recipe required when I had a look at it this evening. Nor did I have 1 pound Greek feta cheese, nor 1 pound myzithra cheese.

I did have, however, 1 1/2 packs of spinach, a pack of rocket (300g each, I think), 2 packs of 220g each of not-feta, i.e. feta-like cheese made with 100% sheep's milk but not in Greece, 5 spring onions, and assorted other bits and pieces.

Thus, my take on Not Really Spanakotiropita!

- 1 pack of brik containing 10 sheets
- 2 x 220 g pack of "feta" (maybe a bit too much. One and a half packs would have been better.), chopped
- 5 spring onions with lots of green tops
- (about) 1 cup milk
- 300 g rocket
- 450 g (approx) young spinach
- the greens from the radishes that I'd also bought- very satisfying, that as I've always hated throwing them away!
- 4 large eggs
- lots of butter
- pepper, salt

Chop the spring onions, greens and bulb and all. Soften in a frying pan with some of the butter. After a few minutes, when beginning to wilt, add the spinach, cook until wilted. My frying pan wouldn't take all the greens in one go, otherwise I'd have had them all in- so I then cooked the rocket and radish leaves in the same pan, then tipped the first batch back in, added the milk, freshly-ground black pepper, and cooked that for about 5 minutes.

Tipped it all into a bowl, left to cool for a few minutes (would you believe I was also making strawberry and rhubarb jam at the same time?), then add the beaten eggs and the chopped "feta".

Then, working fast, as all the books tell you too, I layered the brik in a dish (actually the lid of my Pyrex chicken roaster), brushing each layer with some melted butter, keeping the rest covered with a damp (clean) dishtowel. Ms. Kochilas' recipe had 12 sheets, I only had 10, it didn't really matter, did it? I layered 5, making sure that there was enough overhang to fold over, then put in my filling (I should have mixed it a bit better- there were bits where it was mostly cheese, and other places where it was mostly greens), then layered the remaining five over the top, brushing them with more butter.

Into the oven at 190C for 50 minutes. Of course, at 50 minutes, I decided to leave it another 5, and then my jam jelled (well, I took the sugar thermometer off the side and put it in the middle and found that I was well above jelling temperature, argh!), so I had to jar that in a hurry. But I turned the oven off and opened the door on the way past, after it had been in for about an hour.

Verdict: Well, there isn't much left. It was yummy. Even Peter liked it enough to say that I should make it again. Not twenty times a year, he hastened to specify, but again.

As I pointed out- now that brik is available, I can make all sorts of fillings... If only I could find ground lamb! I think I need to find a good halal butcher.

Friday, 21 May 2010

I Can Has My Dream!

Behold. A brand-new, copper, jam-making pan.

My jam brings all the boys to the yard...


Lunch: organic whole-meal bread, home-made mayonnaise, noix de jambon (ham from the centre of the joint), and raw milk, six months aged Abondance.

It almost made up for Greta only having a post-prandial nap of a grand total of 26 minutes.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

I Am Insane: Two Birthday Cakes in one day

Greta's second birthday is next week- right in the middle of the week, which makes it awkward for people to come share some cake, bring her a present, and generally exclaim over how much she's grown since she took her first breath.

Therefore, we decided to hold it this Sunday. Which was made slightly awkward by the fact that it is Peter's brother's birthday.

Peter's brother, who is responsible for Greta turning up two weeks early (he had his birthday over three different evenings and three different parties, inviting us out to each one- with the result that in the early hours of the morning after the third dinner, I exploded), agreed to share his Special Day, on one condition.

He got his own cake. And it had to be chocolate. And have thirty-two candles. And have his name on it in pink frosting.

He thought he was being funny with the last one.

Well, he got what he wanted.

Giving it a second try, I turned once again to Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.

This time, however, the Flourless Chocolate Cake (copyright as above, slightly amended by me) was what grabbed my attention.

Thus, on Saturday afternoon, after spending the day in town and doing the supermarket shop, at 4 p.m. I girded my loins, and dug out the blender again.

- 300g black chocolate (i.e. three chocolate bars. I bought the Migros organic chocolate, as I like it's caramel-sugar taste)
- 140 g butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 7 large eggs, separated
- 3 vanilla pods, seeded (again, the recipe asked for pure vanilla extract, which I couldn't find)
- 1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Butter and flour the sides and bottom of a 9-inch/24cm springform pan. Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool. In the bowl of the electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until pale, light, and thoroughly combined. Add the egg yolks, beating well after each addition (I did it in three batches). After they've all been incorporated, scrape down the bowl and beat again for a few seconds. Add the cooled chocolate, mix until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the bowl, add the vanilla, beat until just incorporated.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form (stiff, you got it?). Now here I again had the problem with the bowl of my blender being too small to add the egg whites to the chocolate mix, so I shoved my egg whites to the side of my very large bowl (having planned this one in advance), plopped in about a cup of the chocolate mix, then folded that into the egg whites, gently, with a spatula. I then added the rest of the chocolate mix, and continued, very slowly and gently so as not to knock the air out of the egg whites.

Pour the mix into the pan and don't bother smoothing the top, even if the book says to, because it will even out in a minute. Bake for 30-35 mns (I set the timer for 35), until the top of the cake seems set or firm to the touch. The book says "Be careful not to overbake this cake", so I took it out at 35 mns, although as the top was firm, it still seemed a bit jiggly to me. This caused a little bit of trauma until it was cut and I was sure it was indeed cooked through.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before removing from the mold.

However, I also had Greta's birthday cake to make. And Betty Bossi had come up trumps again, with a recipe for Fraisier au yogourt.

- 100g flour
- 60g sugar
- pinch of salt
- 55 g cold butter, in cubes
- 1 small beaten egg.

Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter, work by hand until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg, bring quickly to a soft dough, without working it.

Butter a 24-cm mold (I used a 20cm one), flour it. My recipe then said to roll out the dough- no way that this dough was going to be rolled out! So I just dropped it into the mold and smoothed it out with the backs of my fingers. Refrigerate for 30mns, says the recipe, but I didn't have time for this. Because we were going out for dinner at 6:30, and I was making two cakes at the same time!

Prick the base with a fork (erm... I did this, but I don't think it was necessary, mine was too soft!), bake for, according to the recipe, 15mns in the oven, preheated to 200C. I did mine an extra 5 minutes, because it looked undercooked. Leave to cool in the mold, then take out and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Yoghurt mix:
- 500g plain yoghurt
- 140g sugar (I used vanilla sugar, made from shoving de-seeded vanilla pods into the sugar and leaving them there)
- 3 vanilla pods, seeded

Mix the three together in a bowl. Leave to infuse.

At which point, with two cakes on the rack, we went out for dinner.

Which ran on much later than we'd thought it would- so I was back in the kitchen at midnight!

I unmolded the base for the fraisier, put it on a glass cake dish, then put the sides of the mold around it again.

Going back to the chocolate cake, I started the ganache.

- 300 g black chocolate
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche epaisse
- 1/4 cup liquid sugar (the recipe asked for light corn syrup, which is unavailable in Switzerland)
(optional, and I didn't have any- 1 tbs coffee-flavoured liqueur such as Kahlua)

I started by making a mistake, putting the bowl of chocolate into the microwave to melt, then hauling it out fast after 20 seconds. Do not melt the chocolate!

In a small saucepan, combine the cream and liquid sugar/corn syrup, and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour the cream mixture over the chocolate. Let stand for two minutes (whilst doing things with strawberries for the other recipe), then stir the mixture together slowly until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk for another few minutes to cool the ganache slightly. (Add the liqueur and whisk again.)

To glaze the cake, the book says to put the cake on the wire rack, and glaze there, then put on a plate. As I had to use three spatulas and Peter to get my cake off the base of the tin without it breaking up, I put it straight on my cake plate. No way I was going to mess around with such a fragile thing.

Pour 3/4 cup over the cake, and smooth out to the edges. Place the cake in the freezer for five minutes to set the ganache. Remove from the freezer, and then the book says to slowly pour the glaze over the cake, "it should run down the sides and cover the cake completely". My ganache was much too thick for this, so I took my spatula and glazed the sides carefully, then put the last two tablespoons of ganache on top, smoothed them out, covered the cake, and put it on the balcony for the night, as there was definitely not room for "chill the glazed cake for two hours" in my fridge!

During all of this, I had continued the Fraisier.

900g (says the recipe, I used about 600-700 g, I think) strawberries. Slice in half enough strawberries to go around the edges of the cake, points pointing upwards, and cut side on the outside. Then fill the inside with whole strawberries.

This is when it got noisy, especially for a Swiss apartment at gone half-past-midnight!

- 2 sheets of instant gelatine
- 1 dl warm water
- 2 1/2 dl cream, whipped into chantilly.

At this point, Peter turned up, told me I was making too much noise, and asked me to whip the cream quietly. Do you know how much muscle control it takes to whip cream as quietly as possible? Well, it's a good thing that I carry Greta around so much, and have consequently impressive biceps. I did my best, but was still a bit noisy for a few minutes.

Soften the gelatine in the water, add to the yoghurt and vanilla mixture with the whisk (I've never dealt with gelatine before, and I didn't get it quite soft enough, unfortunately- there were some bits of it in the finished cake, as I found out the next day! Also, as this was a first time, I spent the next 15 hours or so worrying about it setting properly.). Add the chantilly cream, gently. Leave to sit for ten minutes. Pour over the strawberries, smooth the top, and leave for at least three hours, covered, in the fridge.

Or, in my case, go to bed, it being 1 a.m.!

The next day I brought the chocolate cake in off the balcony a couple of hours beforehand, and, with a tube of hot-pink icing with sparkles, wrote the above on it. And managed to fit two candles, one in the shape of a 3, the other in a 2, into the cake without anything catastrophic happening. I was still worried about the inside/middle not being cooked, but it seemed OK...

I was very worried about unmolding the Fraisier, and did it very slowly and carefully, convinced that the whole thing was going to collapse- but it didn't, hurray! I was so proud of myself that I did a little dance.

Unlike her cake last year, Greta actually ate a few mouthfuls of her slice- in between busily running around and showing off her amazing cuteness skills.

As for the chocolate cake, my brother-in-law was very happy. And impressed, as was everybody else. He took the remains of the chocolate cake home, and the Fraisier is in the fridge for us.

The chocolate cake went down extremely well. Even Peter, who isn't a big fan of sweet things or of chocolate cake, loved it. It was definitely a keeper recipe. The inside was soft, gooey, chocolatey, and definitely not undercooked.

The Fraisier is also a recipe I'll hang on to, as it makes a nice, simple cake, perfect for strawberry season. I had expected the base to stay crispy, but it had soaked up quite a bit of moisture, and was all soft, without, however, being soaked to the point of collapse. Maybe next time, a little pre-soak in some strawberry liqueur?

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Thank you, last summer, for the tomato sauce...

When you're home late, you're cold, you shouldn't be because it's mid-May, but it's been raining on and off all day... pasta with sauce made last August is all that anybody really needs.

Last summer, I made an utterly basic tomato sauce with tomatoes from the farm down the road. The pots had just sat in the cupboard all through winter, me periodically glancing at them, and thinking that winter hadn't got that bad yet.

Winter never did get that bad. But spring did. We had three weeks of spring, everything blossomed, flowered, there were drifts of petals swirling past our windows, then we had two weeks of glorious summer during which I got sunburned twice, and ... suddenly... it became early spring again.

By which I mean it got cold, started to rain, got colder, went on raining, and was generally unpleasant. Is generally unpleasant. I have had to put my sandals away and get my wellies back out! Brrrr...

And therefore, after spending the day outside at a barbecue, we were all cold, hoping that we hadn't caught cold, and craving something warm, smooth, and ultimately comforting.

There are few things more comforting than pasta. Pasta with lots of rich, oily tomato sauce. Pasta that you can bury your head in, and pull up over your cold feet like a lovely fleece blanket. Pasta that loves you, and loves your tummy, and doesn't care that it's been waiting in the cupboard for the last 9 months...

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

American Layer Cake- not Swiss enough!

Acting on a tip-off from David Lebovitz, who said it was one of the best cookbooks this year (or last year), I purchased (from abebooks, I'm cheap), Baked: New Adventures in Baking.

A few days later, reminded that Peter's Annual Family Reunion was coming up, and having been volunteered to make a first course (not a difficult task- my faithful tabbouleh came to the rescue) and a dessert, I opened it up at the cakes section (real cakes, not French cakes!), and came up with The Whiteout Cake.

Which looked pretty nice. A long recipe, longer than what I'd usually make, but a challenge is always good. And I need to break out of my usual habits and recipes I've repeated so many times...

The problem was... I didn't start until just before 9 p.m.

Nor did I realise that I was going to end up using my blender (and wishing I had a second blender), four mixing bowls, two measuring cups, two measuring spoons, numerous other spoons and forks, several knives, both spatulas, and a heap of other tools.

Yeah. Well. A professional kitchen would have been nice too.

Ingredients (copyright Baked, as above; slightly tweaked by me as indicated):
- 2.5 cups farine fleur (cake flour)
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 tbs baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 115 g butter (my apologies, but although I have an American measuring cup, and am quite happy to measure things like flour and sugar in it, I'm not trying to cram butter into it! Hence, I convert, with a handy online tool)
- 1/2 cup vegetable fat for cooking (vegetable shortening- I had to figure this one out by cramming it into the cup, and very annoying it was too)
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 3 vanilla pods, seeded (my change- I couldn't find pure vanilla extract, so couldn't put it one tbs thereof)
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 cups ice cold water
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature (I then made mayonnaise with the yolks)
(- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar- in brackets because I didn't have any and have no idea what it is in French nor where to get it, so I didn't bother)

Preheat the oven to 325F/170C. Butter three (two, in my case) 8-inch (20 cm) round cake pans, flour them, tip out excess flour.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.

In the bowl of the blender, fitted with the paddle attachment (first time I've used that, and I've had the blender about 5 years!), beat the butter and vegetable fat together until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Scrape down the bowl repeatedly. Add the egg whites, beat until "just" combined, whatever that means. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture (read that twice- it means you add the water twice, and the flour three times). Scrape down the bowl, mix again.

In another bowl (!), whisk the egg whites (and cream of tartar) until soft peaks form. Just soft ones. Not firm ones. Not hard ones. Soft. OK?

Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Which, in my case, meant using a fourth bowl, as the mixing bowl of my blender wasn't big enough for the egg whites to go in too, besides having the great big paddle thingy at the bottom.

Divide the batter into the pans, and smooth the top. I did this by weighing my bowl at the beginning, then weighing my batter, dividing it into three in my small but perfectly formed head (OK, I did it on the calculator), and spooning it into the tins one by one, as they sat on the weighing machine. And only doing two tins, as I'd only bought two, thinking that I'd just do the third one afterwards.

Bake the cakes for 40-45 mns (I did 45), rotating the pans half-way through, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Remove the molds, slide onto rack, allow to cool completely.

Aren't my cakes pretty? And the tops, when I cut them off, tasted really good too. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

White Chocolate Frosting:
- 175g white chocolate, broken up
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/3 cup creme fraiche
- 340g (three. hundred. and. forty!!!) butter, soft but cool (erm, yeah, right, I just left it out for half an hour), cut into small pieces (torn into them, more like!)
(- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract- I didn't bother at all, thinking the cake had plenty of vanilla in it)

Melt the chocolate however you think best (I use the microwave), stir, and set aside to cool.

In a saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking quite attentively or you'll burn the bottom the way I almost did (OK, did in one little edge, as I paid attention to the book's instructions to "whisk occasionally"), until the mixture has come to a boil and thickened, which takes as long as it takes, no matter the book saying "about 20 minutes", because it was nowhere near that.

Now comes the really annoying part. As you'll have read ahead, you will have washed up your blender, since you only have one. Because you now pour the mixture into the blender, fitted-with-the-paddle-attachment, and, wait for it, you're supposed to "beat on high speed until cool".

Erm, yeah, right. How long is that supposed to take?

And, in my case, there was no way that it was going to cool like that. I kept on having to take the lid off to let steam out. I found the best way was to leave it with the lid off for a few minutes, then whisk the cool layer into the hotter layer, and repeat. It took... oh, quite a while. A good 40 minutes. In the meantime, I baked my other cake, and let that cool.

You then add the butter, mix until thoroughly amalgamated. Increase the speed and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, whatever that is supposed to mean. I made a stab at what I thought it meant- spreadable, without being concrete.

Add the (vanilla and) white chocolate, and continue mixing until combined. The book then says that if the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. Which is what I did. It also tells you that if it's too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency. Me, I'd just turn the blender on again...

Assembling the cake: Refrigerate the frosting for only a few minutes, until it can hold its shape. Place one cake on a serving platter, and trim the top to create a flat surface. Um. Yeah. Sort of. Evenly spread about 1 1/4 cups of the frosting on top. Add the next layer, having trimmed it first (the book says to do it second, no, bad idea), frost it, add the third layer.

The book then says to "crumb coat" the cake, i.e. to put a thin layer of frosting on it to catch the crumbs, then put the cake in the refrigerator for about 15 mns to firm up the frosting. I did, but my layer had no crumbs in it anyway, so I wasn't too bothered. Frost the top and the sides with the remaining frosting.

Now, I'd also bought white sprinkles, as the book called this "whiteout", and said to decorate with white sprinkles or nonpareils. Well, my cake wasn't white. If I'd have been being nice, I'd have said "cream-coloured", but it wasn't, it was butter-coloured. White sprinkles would have looked awful. So I didn't have anything to decorate it with. It would have looked OK with multi-coloured ones, but I didn't have any. So I left it as it was. And went to bed. Because it was gone 1 a.m.!

The verdict:
I'd use the cake base again. Definitely. It was delicate, it was moist, it tasted delicious.

The frosting I'd make again, if I had the sort of sweet tooth that would render me toothless by the age of 40, instead of being 35 and not having a single cavity. It was... rich, it was gooey, it was sweet, it was like eating butter and sugar together, and although some older members of the extremely extended family liked it, once they got over the way it looked (I heard two different people ask others "What on earth is that?!?" when the cloche was taken off), it was just far too sweet for most of them.

Besides the way it looked. It was... alien. Too alien for a good, Swiss family. Too much of everything, in fact.

But I will probably use the cake recipe, in two layers, sandwiched with some home-made strawberry jam, and a dusting of icing sugar over the top. Because that would give a much nicer fate to the cake- instead of what happened to this one.

Just under half of it got tipped into the garbage earlier this evening.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Feeding the Beast

If the kid is going to turn the food down... then it may as well look good.

And if you're going to eat your kid's dinner after they've gone to bed, you had better like lovely, buttery, young Gouda.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Pumpkin Gratin- when spring isn't living up to expectations!

As I've mentioned in recent entries- spring came, passed, summer came, passed, and we went back to it being late winter. It's been cold, it's been raining, it's been generally the sort of weather where you wish it weren't.

As such, a Sunday dinner of roast lamb, roasted courgettes with thyme, and a pumpkin gratin is definitely comforting.

I love pumpkin. I love buying big slices of it- thick, green and gold ridged skin, bright golden-orange inside. Mm, all the things that can be done with pumpkin! Pumpkin risotto and pumpkin soup are ones that spring to mind immediately- not least because pumpkin with bacon is definitely a happy-making combination.

And it's an easy thing to cook- you peel it (I either use a vegetable peeler or just chop bits off with a sharp knife, depending on the depths of the ridules between sections), chop it, and you're ready to do whatever you want to do with it.

In this case, obviously, gratin.

Now, some of my older French cookbooks say that the problem with pumpkin, and other vegetables such as endive/chicory, when you gratinée them, is the amount of water they ooze out into the surrounding cream, diluting it and making the whole thing taste rather bleah. They therefore recommend a pre-cooking, followed by much squeezing-out of water, followed by the gratin process.

I'll go with that on endive/chicory, but I've never had that problem with pumpkin. I just chop it, chop an onion, chuck them into my dish, stir them around, add black pepper, pour cream over until just below the edge of the dish, and stick it in the oven. In this case, for as long as the lamb took to cook- about 70-80 minutes at 200C.

Result- nice crunchy sweet burnt bits in a few spots on top, and lovely, sweet, creamy pumpkin underneath.

Perfect for an evening when you should have been out all day, but couldn't be without wearing a sou'wester. And I don't own a sou'wester.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Strawberries in April. Dumb, or what?

Why do we buy strawberries in April? Even though we know they won't taste of anything?

Because... well, because the weather tells us to. The glorious, warm, it-can't-be-summer-already weather. The weather that causes us to go out in a sleeveless vest-top, and get sunburned. Twice. In three days.

There is also the fact that Greta seems to like strawberries quite extensively. And, as I'm still watching everything that goes into her mouth (despite days where she appears to be quite prepared to devour the entire planet- as they're usually followed by several where she quite obviously thinks that I'm trying to poison her with all this horrible evil nasty stuff like Petit Suisses- I liked those yesterday, Mama, aren't you keeping up?), I'm quite happy to buy anything that is remotely healthy, and stuff it down her.

It makes up for the saucissons-apéritifs. Really it does.

Strawberries, however, rarely taste of anything much this time of year.

Not without applying various techniques to them- the main one of course being the addition of a certain quantity of brown sugar, and then leaving them to macerate for a while. My other semi-secret addition at the moment is an extremely generous dusting of freshly-ground cinnamon. It seems to do the trick...

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Mayonnaise- not as hard as they said!

Making mayonnaise isn't actually that difficult. As long as you have the right tools, and you're not in a rush.

I haven't made mayonnaise in years- quite literally, as I can tell you that the last time I made it semi-regularly was in 2002, when we were living in New York, and, for the life of me, I couldn't find what we consider "real" mayonnaise.

Hellman's, yes, but that's not real. It's not the right colour, it's not the right texture, and it's not made with the right oil.

As far as I'm concerned, anyway. I didn't grow up with Hellman's, that means that it's just Not Right.

Therefore, rather like the year before, when we were living in the Caribbean and the only bread I could find was steam-baked and tasted sweet, I started to make my own.

With, in this case, a bottle of sunflower oil, tracked down at vast expense. Why it was so expensive, I wouldn't know, but I remember it being something insane like 10$ for a 220ml bottle. Or thereabouts. No doubt that my brain has preferred to wipe the memory from my wallet.

So I made mayonnaise, a few times, and I remember it taking a while, being a bit tricky the first time, but being generally OK. My Larousse Gastronomique told me that everything ought to be room temperature, and I seem to remember that I only read that after making it the first time!

However, having friends staying who were stuck due to Volcano Ejs-something-or-other, I was determined to feed them properly in order to cheer them up. French and Spanish asparagus having finally hit the market, I fed them twice in three days on asparagus for a first course. Once hot, and once cold.

Both times, I made the mayonnaise about an hour or so beforehand. The first time, having forgotten about the room-temperature rule, I had to stick my eggs in warm water for about ten minutes beforehand. It really didn't seem to make much difference.

Mayonnaise for four:
- 3 egg yolks
- olive oil
- sunflower oil
- mustard ("prepared" mustard is, I believe, the technical term)
- salt flakes
- ground pepper

Making mayonnaise easily depends, very much, I think, on being comfortable whilst you work. Therefore, I use a small bowl with a handle, which means that I can hold the bowl without getting cramp in my palm, and also hold the bowl at different heights in order to give my wrist a rest. Also, you really need a whisk with a thick handle. A small whisk, obviously, as you're only whisking three eggs, but you don't want one with a thin handle- it will just give you cramp in your palm and make the whole thing uncomfortable.

Whisk your egg yolks briefly, to mix them and break them up.

Now, all the books say to start with a teensy drop of oil, whisk like mad, and work your way up very slowly from there. I don't hugely agree with this. A drop, yes, whisk, then keep going, but you really don't have to put in the teensiest drop at the start. As long as you whisk hard and fast, you'll be OK.

Take your time. The first five, six times, a small drop, then you can go for a teaspoon at a time. Not that you need to measure it out! Just what looks about right.

The whole thing shouldn't take more than ten minutes. And that includes breaks to rest your shoulder- you don't have to keep going the whole time.

Now, I haven't given measurements for the oils. This is because I have no idea. I taste mine as I go along. Olive oil gives quite a strong flavour, and you may not want this. If you've got to a flavour that's too strong, stick to sunflower oil from then on in. I tend to swap my oils about after 4-5 additions. But my finished product is probably about 2/5 olive, 3/5 sunflower.

At the end, I add mustard, salt, pepper. This dilutes the mayonnaise, and you have to add more oil. I also add the mustard to taste- whatever seems right to me, which seems to end up being about 3 tsp.

That was my basic recipe- however, the last time I made it (I didn't really mean to, but I had four egg yolks from a recipe I was making, so I stopped half-way through and made mayonnaise), I made some changes.

English mayonnaise:
- 4 eggs
- 2 tsp English mustard powder (Colman's!)
- 4 tsp white wine vinegar
- olive oil
- sunflower oil
- salt, pepper

This time, I whisked the eggs, added the mustard powder and white wine vinegar, then added the oils. Salt and pepper at the end.

It then went in a labeled jam jar in the fridge, and Peter has been very happily smearing it on bread and eating it like bread-and-butter ever since! It's funny- the olive oil taste shows up first, and it's only after you've swallowed that the mustard sneaks up and whacks you across the back of the throat. Which, I think, makes it fine for sandwiches, fine for eating on bread, but not quite so fine for eating with asparagus.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Cupboard Cake- Dried apricot and flaked almonds

Why are you torturing me with this cake, Mama? Why?

I have mentioned Betty Bossi before.

Betty Bossi is the Swiss Betty Crocker. I understand that the identical first names is coincidence, although it is rather amusing.

Betty Bossi does not produce cake mixes. It primarily produces a little magazine, sent to subscribers ten times a year, with seasonal recipes. Of course, over the years, it has expanded into cookbooks, and into an online shop selling cake tins (d'you see that one just above?), measuring spoons, Useful Household Items (that are pretty useless in some cases), cleaning items, all that sort of stuff. Some of which I own, such as the sunflowers for putting in between your non-stick casseroles/frying pans, so they don't scratch each other.

Absolutely vital for the harmony of your drawers, I assure you.

I probably have about 15 Betty Bossi cookbooks, as I am a good, Swiss-emulating semi-hausfrau.

Really, I am. Honest. Pay no attention to my tattoo, OK? It was a youthful aberration, now safely covered over by the dirndl.

Well, not quite.

To get back to my point, and the cookbooks. Over the years, although I've collected them, I've never really been inspired by any of the recipes enough to actually cook from them. I remember one, the only one I made, being Poulet au Paprika, from a "Betty's Greatest Hits" cookbook, which was given such a write-up that I couldn't not make it.

I ended up making it twice, just to be sure that it really was as disappointing as it seemed on the plate. Basically, it was a lot of melted butter, a couple of tablespoons of paprika, and you basted the chicken with it multiple times during cooking, in order to ensure that the flavours sank into the chicken. Except that they didn't. It looked very pretty, though.

And yet... oddly... the last few months, I've been tearing out recipes to make from my semi-monthly magazine. Instead of flipping through it and dropping it straight into the recycling, which is what I've been doing for years.

The April issue had a section on "cake" recipes. I use inverted commas, as this is "cake" in the French sense, not in the Anglo-Saxon sense- namely a loaf, or a bread. Banana bread would be called a "cake" in French.

This section is made up of one basic recipe, and various recipes for additions to that basic mix- starting with chocolate, moving on to nuts, rhubarb, lemon and strawberry, blueberries, and ending with one including apples and caramels (as in sweets), and another with chocolate truffles.

The basic recipe is as follows:
- 150g butter, softened, in cubes
- 200g sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 4 eggs
- 250g flour
- 1 coffee spoon baking powder

Cream the butter, sugar, and salt. Add one egg after the other, mix for about 5 mn, until it lightens in colour. Mix the flour and baking powder, add to the butter mix, stir. Pour into the mold, bake for about 50 mns in a pre-heated oven at 180C. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly, remove from mold, allow to cool on a wire rack.

The other recipes just add ingredients to this basic mix, sometimes with an extra egg, occasionally extending the cooking time.

It's a pretty good base, I think.

And thus, when I had some friends call up from Italy with a cry of "Help, the volcano has stranded us, please take us in until we can fly home!", one of my first thoughts for their sustenance (both emotional and gustatory) was to make "cake".

Not having any of the ingredients in the variations, however, other than the chocolate, I made up my own version, using ingredients left over from my marathon baking sessions before Christmas. And using them up, thank goodness!

My version had
- 2 packs (300g?) of dried apricots, chopped into rough cubes
- 1 pack (200g?) of flaked almonds

It was very, very nice.

My friends got here at about 11 p.m. one evening a few days later, and we sat down and ate about half of it. I left the rest of it out (covered) to be snacked on, and it was gone by the next evening.

I then made a version using a left-over apple, chopped, and some dried cranberries, but it just wasn't as good.

No matter- it's a good basic recipe to have! Even if Greta... wasn't too impressed.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Pork Paprikash (sort of)

I try to do a lot of cooking of the "What's on special offer at the supermarket" variety. As we all do these days.

The other day, ragout de porc being on cheap, that was obviously what we were going to be eating.

Last time I bought such packs, the meat was in reasonably large chunks- this time, each piece came with at least one long thin bone running right through it, and although I could have chopped them through with a cleaver and a call to Peter to come and use some muscle power, I didn't bother.

First I browned the pieces, then took them out of the casserole, and left them to sit whilst I tipped in onions in thick slices, softening them gently and slowly in the fat from the pork. I added a heap of spices: about 2 tbs of mild paprika (I find this has so little taste, I usually only use it for colouring!), 1 tbs of hot paprika, about a tsp and a half of cumin seeds, about 1/2 a tsp of cinnamon, black pepper, a couple of big pinches of marjoram, and a bit of herbed salt.

I let all the spices warm up with the onions, stirring, then added a whole bottle of white wine- a Petite Recolte from Nicolas, Cotes de Ceressou Moelleux from 2004. I really liked this wine back in 2004, so I had some crates of it, and this was the last bottle. I poured myself a glass before tipping the rest into the casserole- then tasted my glass, and poured that in too. It had no depth of flavour left at all- just a surface layer of "hello, this is a grape-based alcohol".

I have very little palate for wine, but I do know when there's nothing there.

I brought the stew up to the simmer, then added a bottle of passata- about 700 ml. Back up to simmer, put the meat back in, and simmered it gently, with the lid on, for three hours.

Very gently removed the meat, which was falling apart, and pulled out most of the big bits of bone. I then reduced the sauce like mad, boiling it fast with the lid off, and it thickened very satisfactorily. I had originally planned to add mushrooms, but once I'd put in the tomato, I changed my mind.

I really must use up those mushrooms.

Put the meat back in, warmed it all up, and served it over egg noodles. Yummy- it did Peter and I two meals, and a third one for him.

This week, there was a special offer of cote de boeuf (one bought for Peter, I will nibble around the edges and probably eat vegetables instead), and liver. I love liver. There are two lobes for each of us in the fridge... probably to be cooked dredged in seasoned flour, then fried quickly, and served in slices either with mushrooms and onions, or just onions, or maybe with egg noodles again.

We have some friends turning up on Monday night, rather unexpectedly, as they were on holiday in Italy and are now, due to the volcano, stuck there and can't get home. So they're coming here until they can get a flight out. So I'm going to have to do some food shopping and planning for the coming week, as I'll be feeding double the usual number! Besides having to plan it more than my usual "open the fridge, then decide what I'm cooking" method.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Palate me no palette!

I've been busy the last week, rocketing around, dealing with the spring weather (i.e. the horrendous rain and cold winds), all of which combined has gifted me with an atrocious cold.

Really, an atrocious cold.

The sort of cold where you make a lovely Easter Sunday lunch for family, making a recipe that you've looked forward to making for a while, having saved it up... and you have to ask other people to taste for seasoning, because you cannot taste a thing.

How unfair.

I think most of it was due to being generally over-tired, but I certainly didn't improve matters by spending an hour on the balcony in a bitter cold wind on the Saturday, oiling my butcher's block. I'd sanded it down on Friday, looked around for my paintbrush to oil it, and realised that the brush had managed to vanish at the last move. So I had to leave it, and oil it on Saturday afternoon, in said cold wind, with Greta hurtling around on the balcony as well, trying to eat my lavender plant (No, baby! Eat the mint! Or the chives! Leave the lavender alone!), and I think that just finished me off.

And I'm not wildly happy about the butcher's block either. Before, it was a lovely soft, drift-wood colour. Now, it's quite aggressively golden. I strongly suspect that I might have to sand it down again in a few months... And even if the water does now bead off, it's still not as pretty as it was.

On Sunday morning, however, I bravely strapped on a box of kleenex, opened the book to page 441, and headed into the kitchen, to attack the braised pork in milk from Marcella Hazan.

Now, I'd read that this recipe was trickier than it seemed. That it didn't necessarily work. But I'm usually an optimist about recipes, and I can usually make things come out right at the end, and I really liked the look of this recipe, and Peter didn't say No, which is a definite step in the right direction...

I first browned my long, thick chunk of "cou de porc", to which the very nice butcher (not in the slightest bit inspired by my batting eyelashes) had added a large, and free, chunk of bone, "to thicken the sauce". Ooo-er, Mister!

Having browned my pork, I took a look at my Staub casserole, looked at the space around the meat, re-read the instruction about using a dish that was just bigger than the meat, and took out the Le Creuset casserole instead. I put my browned meat in there, poured a cup of milk, poured it over the meat, looked at it, and added about the same again. And then a bit more.

I really fail to see how you can "braise" a piece of meat in a pan with more than 2/3 of the meat out of the liquid. And I was right on that, as it transpired later...

Enough to say that I then brought it to a simmer, put the lid on slightly askew as instructed, and went in the shower.

The meat cooked for three hours. In the meantime, I knocked up a small gratin de cotes de bettes (Swiss chard), followed by a boiled salad of Swiss chard. All of which are on this webpage, btw. I wouldn't normally follow a whole menu like this, but there were lots of yummy heads of bettes at the supermarket, and we like them. Well, Peter and I do- Greta refused to even try a mouthful of one. No biggie, I will try again some other time!

(Cotes de bettes in my fruit bowl, as it normally lives on the butcher's block and said block wasn't dry yet.)

Normally, I'd have made a gratin by slicing the ribs and then adding them to a dish with a load of cream, some onion and garlic, and baking that, or I'd have cooked the ribs in a deep deep frying pan/wok in olive oil with some garlic until soft, then right at the end have added the chopped leaves and cooked them until wilted, and served that up by itself... Or amalgamated the two, cooking the stalks, then cooking the leaves, mixing them together and putting them in a gratin dish with cream... Anyway, it's certainly never occurred to me to gratin them "naked", and I don't think I'll bother again, as it didn't really work.

It tasted fine, but it didn't really work. Which was pretty much the leitmotiv for the whole meal.

After three hours, I took the meat out and set it to rest. In the mean time, I boiled the hell out of the sauce, reducing it down, but after ten minutes I'd had enough, so we served up.

The top half of the pork, that hadn't been covered by the milk (despite me basting it frequently with the simmering milk), wasn't cooked through. It was very pink and squishy. We cut around the outside, then I put the meat back in the remaining sauce, turned the heat up, and left it to cook whilst we ate.

The family said it tasted good. Me, I wasn't so convinced.

The second helping, with the meat cooked through, and the sauce finally reduced down to the "nut-brown clusters" (why couldn't she just say "cook until the milk congeals and separates"?), was much better.

Still, I'm not wildly happy with it. I don't think I'll bother again.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Dances With Baskets

Peter and I went out for dinner on Friday evening to to the Auberge de Collex-Bossy, and had a very yummy dinner indeed.

The Auberge specialises in bison meat, from the farm at the other end of the village. And you've never seen impressive until you've seen 30 or so bison suddenly get up from munching buttercups, and pound across a field, determined to catch up with that damn bus!

It's... got a serious wow factor.

And they taste good too. I've never been the type to not eat something just because it looks good... I remember a girlfriend telling me a few years ago that she didn't eat lamb "because they're so cute!", which had me rolling on the floor in hysterics and pointing out to her that they're pretty damn tasty too. Not that she wanted to know!

The waiter remembered us, which was cool, as we haven't been there for over a year. We sat down, had a kir royal each (and mine lasted me right through until I'd finished my main course), and ordered.

We started off with an amuse-bouch which we argued about afterwards. It was definitely tomato-based, that was screamingly obvious, but Peter thinks it was a sort of tartare of bison, whereas I'm pretty sure there was fish in there- probably anchovy. Anyway, we won't agree on that, so moving on... It was a small canelle, with a slice of toasted pain paysanne next to it. Tasty, but I had to add salt. Not hugely exciting.

Then I had Terrine de foie gras maison aux poires confites et brioche au pain d'épices. The foie gras was delicious, melting on my tongue in seconds, with a heart of caramelised pear to share out through my portion. The brioche, I really wasn't wild about at first (and still think it was over-baked), but tasting the foie gras without it after eating about half my slice with it... yeah, it worked. Definitely. But it shouldn't have been quite so crispy on the outside!

Peter had the Saint Jacques rôties, with a yummy sauce. I'm not quite sure what it was. Nice and tangy. The menu says mousseline d'artichauts parfumée à la truffe. Maybe.

Then we each had entrecôte de bison, both saignant (bloody). Which came with a little pot of mashed potato (very nice, lots of cream in it, but mine the other week was better!), and a weird little mushroom thing which neither of us liked much (turned out to be a "crème brulée de champignons", and the waiter agreed it wasn't hugely successful). We also each got a little marrow bone... mine was good, I looove marrow bone, but there was nowhere near enough! The entrecôte itself was tender and tasty and mine had a melting ribbon of fat running through the centre... um. Diet? Oh, that was earlier in the day!

Then Peter had a plate of cheeses for dessert, no idea how they were as I was busy enjoying my "banane en trois façons"- banana ice-cream (the best banana ice-cream I've ever had, not that that's saying much, as although it was very tasty, I don't think I've actually eaten that much banana ice-cream in my life!), a mini banana crème brulée that was definitely more successful than the mushroom one but it needed the top cooked a little bit longer as it was still quite grainy, and two slices of deep-fried banana wrapped in filo pastry, on cocktail sticks balanced over (not touching) a very tart passion-fruit nectar... which was a damn good touch, as it cleared my palate every time I switched between the crème brulée and the ice-cream, once I'd finished off the deep-fried banana.

Peter drank two glasses of a wine called Fée Noire, a local assemblage, which he seemed quite happy with.

Home afterwards, the whatever-final of Masterchef, and then to bed.

Peter left on a business trip this morning, so it's carrots and apples and celery for me until he gets back. On the other hand, I went into town this morning and met Peter's father and sister at the market in town, and Peter's father is going to have a look at his spare saucepans and probably give me a copper-inox pan to make jams in, hurray! And I went to the puces (fleamarket) on Plainpalais, and found a basket which is just right (despite a small damaged area, which gave me grounds to bargain the man down a few francs) for me to take on foraging trips! I've mended the broken part with a ribbon, and it should do fine. We've had a wave of cold rainy weather for the last 3 days, but it should clear by next week, and I'll be down the hill in the nature reserve with Greta looking for elderflowers once it warms up again.

I also found two "draining cloths" for making cheese and for filtering berry juice, which means that I won't have to use Ikea's cheapest dishcloths any more... although, come to think of it, there's nothing wrong with the dishcloths! And I picked up a slightly larger Oxo Measuring Cup, as my one is the smallest version, which means every time I have to measure out my fruit/sugar/liquid in cups, it takes me forever!

I don't know why nobody came up with the slanted measure inside before. Talk about logical, Captain...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

More of that Spring!

A girl may be on a diet (well, this girl is), but it doesn't have to be all celery and apples. Even if that's what it feels like!

And, fortunately, it being spring, some of my favourite vegetables are re-appearing.

Such as green asparagus.

Peter and I far prefer green asparagus to the white, and prefer the really thin, whippy stems to the fat ones.

But this time of year, I'll take what I can get. Although I shouldn't have been indulging myself in these yet- I try not to buy anything that comes from further South than Morocco, and definitely nothing that has to be shipped across a major ocean. But, whoops, how did that end up in my shopping? Dammit. I'm going to have to eat it now...

I won't buy any more, though, I'll wait for a few more weeks until the local stuff starts showing up- and I'll be buying it by the kilo then.

What I usually do is boil a kilo quickly, until it's just soft but still got a bite to it (only way of checking that is by taking a spear out and eating it!), then I either drain it, dump it into cold water for a couple of minutes, and put it in a tupperware to be snacked on for the next few days, or, like this evening, drain it, pop some on my plate, drizzle it with balsalmic vinegar (who needs olive oil?), add some fleur de sel, and settle down with a knife and fork.

After which, as nobody else was around, I licked my plate clean before putting it in the dishwasher.

There's half of them left for tomorrow night, and with Peter away, I don't have to share.... that is, if my mother doesn't discover them in the fridge tomorrow morning whilst minding Greta!

In other things, I just booked the Auberge Communale de Collex-Bossy for dinner for Peter and I on Friday night. We need a night out together (I honestly cannot remember last time we had one, it must have been at least January), and his mother has offered to baby sit.

We're very fond of the Auberge. We used to live near there, and we kicked ourselves repeatedly after first going there for dinner one night- mainly as we'd lived 10 minutes down the road for three years already, and hadn't been before! Their specialty is bison, raised in the farm at the edge of the village. I used to walk with Greta past the paddocks, but she won't remember them.

It's pretty damn impressive when they take off running, though. And they're very curious beasts- I'd stop by the side of a field, and they'd invariably come over to investigate and look back at us.

Mm, bison entrecôte on Friday after work...

Monday, 22 March 2010

Shepherd's Pie and more jam!

Saturday afternoon, after the reglementary Trip to the Supermarket (which didn't involve much food shopping, other than for Greta- Peter is away most of this week, and then most of next week as well), I started off by re-boiling my blood orange jelly, as it hadn't set.

I think I didn't get enough pectin out of the skins during the initial cooking phase- despite keeping it at 221F/105C for a while, it's still pretty gloopy. However, it tastes unutterably yummy, so I'm just going to keep it, and use it to drizzle on things (hey, my Citrus Cake!), and in things (yoghurt!). I've labelled it as Blood Orange "Honey".

Whilst that was boiling, I chopped strawberries and rhubarb up, weighed them (just over 2kg, about half of each), and put them in to macerate with the same weight of sugar. And the juice of (my last) two small lemons. One of them was getting a bit hard, but fortunately it was still pretty juicy.

I did surf around, looking for Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam recipes, but I couldn't find any that floated my boat- every single one I found used pectin, and I don't do pectin. Christine Ferber says that pectin is unnecessary, as long as you cook things down long enough, or use fruits that have a higher concentration of pectin in with ones that are low. I don't really like that sort of dogmatism on recipes, but it's worked so far (mutters darkly about orange jelly).

Thus, I made my jam without a recipe, adapting what I've been doing so far.

I did discover a couple of interesting other blogs, though, which I shall wander through before deciding whether to add them to my blogroll!

After setting my fruit to macerate, I peeled and boiled a kilo of potatoes, and put them on to boil. There was a whole thread on the Guardian Word of Mouth blog last week about mashed potatoes, and I found it all very interesting. I know about the discussion on whether to use a ricer or a masher when making your mash, if that makes it lighter/fluffier, but I must say that I've never used either. I boil my potatoes, drain them, then chop them with a knife in the saucepan, after which I add either milk or cream, then mash them with a fork. Then butter.

In this case, I added a tablespoon of mascarpone (using it up), then about 3-4 tablespoons of double creme de Gruyere (ditto), then a few slices of butter, then thinned it out with some milk. None of which I heated, although I do sometimes. I then salted it, and left it all to sit in the saucepan.

In the meantime, I'd taken the remains of the leg of lamb from last week out of the fridge, removed all the remaining meat, and cut it into mouthfuls. I put that in a frying pan with one onion, chopped, and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I fried them up until the meat, which had been very pink, was slightly less so, and the onion was translucent. I then added a bottle (700ml) of passata, lots of black pepper, some herbed salt, some herbes de Provence, and let it simmer until thick- but not too thick.

I then tipped the whole lot into a pyrex casserole dish, left it to cool a bit, and topped it with mashed potato. It all went in the oven at 200C for about 45 minutes that evening (with a piece of greaseproof paper underneath to catch the drips!), and we ate it with much pleasure. A surprising amount of pleasure, in fact, as it was absolutely delicious.

And, a definite bonus, Greta actually tolerated a few mouthfuls of mashed potato! Last time I tried her with it, she spat it all out in utter disgust. I so hope this new period of eating things continues- I'm going to keep trying her with all sorts of things!

(She did spit out a mouthful of cauliflower the other day, and gave me such a look for having snuck it in around the side! But at least she didn't burst into tears and refuse to continue to eat her chicken...)

On Sunday, I cooked my rhubarb and strawberry jam (having to use my friend Mousecatfish's casserole dish again, as mine is too small- reminding me that I really do need to get my hands on a proper dish to cook my jam in!) bringing it up to the boil and keeping it going until it hit 221F/105C, and stayed there. It was very bubbly at the beginning, and kept on threatening to boil over, but the last half hour it was calm enough for me to have my lunch, Peter and Greta having had theirs. And I got to finish off the shepherd's pie, yum! And eat strawberry jam scum for dessert, also very yum.

Of course, the whole thing was so relaxed that I burned the bottom of the jam, but I was careful and didn't stir it in- and it really seems to only have affected the very bottom level of the pan, and that layer has gone in the one pot, which latter is already in the fridge, not being full, and, actually, tastes pretty damn good.

I didn't want to stir it too much anyway, because my rhubarb and orange jam I stirred a lot, and the rhubarb all broke up, and various other recipes that I've read since (including Alice B. Toklas!) say to stir rhubarb jam as little as possible to avoid this. Nevertheless, the rhubarb seems to be pretty much mush, whereas the strawberry quarters have stayed in nice chunks. It is a bit darker than I expected, and a bit caramelised, but the flavour has a nice few layers in it- sweet strawberry (also sweeter than I expected, as when raw they were as tasteless as strawberries bought in March should be!), nicely sour rhubarb, and then this odd caramel layer.

Tonight I have to roast a chicken (for Peter's dinner, then to feed Greta with for the rest of the week), but myself, I shall be back to eating apples and celery, as I've had the most outrageous craving for chocolate the last 10 days, and have given in to it to an extent that I really should not have...

Friday, 19 March 2010

Feuilleté au poulet et paprika

Greta has been thrown from pillar to post this week, and she hasn't liked it. This week she spent three days with the maman de jour, then a day with Peter's brother's ex-girlfriend's elder sister, who lives in the village down the road towards town, and who is also setting up as a maman de jour.

This isn't the place for my extremely well-practiced rant about the abysmal nature of childcare in Switzerland, so I'll spare you that.

Suffice to say that Greta has not been happy this week- she's used to being looked after by my mother when I'm working. Fortunately I only work half the year and my mother can manage for the other six months!

Today, she got to stay home with her daddy (who was working from home), and his aunt came over to look after her great-niece. And I went off to work.

However, as I've mentioned before, I do believe, Peter does not cook.

No. Not at all. Oh, he'll put on the water for pasta, but having rung him up once and told him to put the rice on, I'd be home in 20 minutes, and having come home to find the rice boiled into mush, I don't tend to bother asking him anymore. He loves to eat, but, other than the summer Homo Erectus ritual of "Man light fire, Man put meat on fire, Man eat meat", by which I snarkily mean that he will actually use the barbecue (and, TBH, he does barbecue vegetables too)... He does not cook.

Peter eats. Peter loves to eat. Peter is tall and skinny and if I ate what he eats, I'd be too big to get through the door. At one point, many many moons ago, I decided that, having a peculiar letch for a man with a belly, I was going to make him put on weight. I threw my healthy cooking habits out of the window, put the olive oil at the back of the cupboard, and started pouring butter and cream into everything.

Peter ate.

I ate.

Peter put on 3 kg. I put on 5 kg. Peter went off to the US for a conference for a week, ate like a horse, came back having lost more than the 3kg. It took me... too long to get rid of those 5kg!

At which point, I gave up.

To get (finally) to my point, I was going to have to prepare lunch for him, his aunt (who is lactose-intolerant, and when I remembered that bang! went my original idea to try making a chicken pot pie), and for Greta. It being Friday morning, and me having not been able to shop on Thursday, the contents of the fridge were as low as they tend to be when one does a weekly big shop on a Saturday, and just does small top-up shops during the week.

It was going to have to be something that could be cooked with no effort whatsoever, and made from the ingredients of the fridge- and, my secret weapon, the freezer. I had a look at the list on the whiteboard on Thursday night, pulled a couple of things out to defrost, wiped them off the board, and went to bed.

I considered getting up early, but as I already get up two hours before I have to leave in the morning (not that hard- I have to leave at 9, as I have to be at work at 10, and it's a 40-mn trip door to door), I didn't bother. I wake up early anyway at the moment.

Up, therefore, and I wandered into the kitchen in my nightshirt. I got out an oven tray, lined it with the reusable liner, got out a package of puff pastry I'd defrosted overnight in the fridge, took out a pack of chicken bits ditto, grabbed an onion, two big fat orange sweet potatoes, and got the bowl of tomatoes.

I chopped three tomatoes and the onion, put them in a bowl. Chopped the sweet potatoes, added them in, added the chicken. Plenty of black pepper, a bit of herbed salt (still trying to use that up!), a drizzle of olive oil, stir it all around, and then a thick dusting of sweet paprika. If I'd had a red pepper, it would have gone in too.

I unrolled the pastry half way, poured a small puddle of olive oil onto it and brushed it over the surface. Tipped the contents of my bowl on top, carefully spread it around, then brought the other half of the pastry over. I crimped it closed with a fork, then brushed the whole thing with a beaten egg-yolk. More pepper on top, and I covered the tray with tin foil, cleared a shelf in the fridge, put it in there, and gave Peter his instructions. "Turn the oven on to 200C, no fan, leave it to heat up, take the foil off, put it in the oven for 45 minutes."

I obviously wasn't here when it came out of the oven hot, but apparently Greta's Great-Aunt liked it very much. Greta didn't have any, but apparently ate the smoked salmon out of a small stack of breakfast sandwiches that her Great-Aunt had brought with her. Peter I think had a bit. They all liked it. I had some when I got home for my dinner, and it was indeed quite nice.

It's a handy basic recipe to have around, this feuilleté. I make it in the summer with a layer of onion topped with a layer of courgettes with a layer of red peppers and a layer of sliced tomato, and sometimes a layer of cooking mozzarella over that. I make it in the winter with smoked salmon layered with crème fraîche mixed with lots of chopped dill and plenty of black pepper. Sometimes I make it as though it were a cooked version of a salade niçoise- with tuna-fish, black olives, onions, tomatoes, sometimes potatoes, sometimes that's more than enough.

The trick, of course, is not to cover quite half the bottom with your ingredients, or you won't have enough pastry on the other side to cover it over with without having to stretch it. It's a handy recipe, as long as you keep puff pastry in the freezer. It unfreezes fast, and as long as it hasn't been in there too long, it's still pretty pliable when unfrozen.

Thursday, 18 March 2010


It's a beautiful day outside again, winter seeming to have finally given up its firm grasp on us, and I have a terrible craving.

What I want, what I really really want, is to be outside. Ideally with Greta. She needs to get to know the grass and the mud properly, she needs to stomp around in the flowers, pick them, no doubt try to eat them, shove them down her clothes so I find them in her nappy next time I change her (I really cannot figure out how she gets food down there whenever she eats!). And I really want to get my hands into the earth.

Our new home, however lovely it is, has a slight drawback. Although our balcony is huge, it is on an east-west angle, facing not quite south. So we do get the sun a lot of the day- but we have a vast sycamore just at an angle which ensures that from early to mid-afternoon, it's in the shade. Then the roof covers it, and that also keeps it in the shade.

In our last apartment, our balcony was about a quarter of the size, but it wasn't covered, faced due south, and was baking in the sun all summer. I grew tomatoes out there one summer, and they were so happy that I had to promise Peter not to do it again- we couldn't actually get out onto the balcony without pushing branches away from the door! I had eight plants, and except for one (Golden Grape, I think it was called), which, of course, was the tastiest one and the least producing, they grew to over two metres tall.

Imagine a balcony crowded with seven vast tomato plants, tapering down to pots that ended up looking tiny, with so many branches that each pot had at least three canes stuffed into it to support the plants...

And imagine all the tomatoes! I had as many different types as I had plants. I remember White Wonder, Red Plum, Yellow Plum, something Zebra, a purply-black one...

But it really was a bit much, even though they were delicious to munch on, and I did end up making different sauces with each one, including tasting notes so that I'd remember the next time I planted tomatoes which ones worked well. I bought the seeds from Tomato Bob, by the way- a sampler pack.

I'd do that again like a shot, but our balcony really isn't ideal for tomatoes. It doesn't really seem to be ideal for anything (although my olive tree, cherished for five summers and winters, now seems to be quite happy, and the Christmas tree is also much happier in the semi-shade). And I can't put up "window" boxes until the guys have come to repaint and repair the scratches and dents made by the scaffolding whilst it was all being built. So I'm thinking it could be a bit of a sad, bare summer out there...

If it weren't for herbs. I'm thinking thyme, rosemary, sage, definitely chives... I'm thinking lavender might also do well, and I do love lavender.

At least I'm getting rid of my spring fever in other ways- yesterday evening, whilst making blood orange jelly (which doesn't seem to have set very well- I have a small tupperware of it in the fridge and will see tonight if the cold has helped it solidify. If not, I'm going to have to boil it again), inspired by noticing that Apartment Therapy had a series on de-cluttering your kitchen... well, I de-cluttered a few drawers, resolutely taking out things that may have been gifts, but, quite honestly, are never going to be used. Things like the tool that cores and slices your apple into 8 in one movement- it always hurts my wrists to use it, and, unless the apple is absolutely perfectly aligned internally, you always end up having to trim a few of the slices anyway.

I also got rid of a couple of bamboo steamer baskets, which I've never used, and probably never will. A mini, battery-operated whisk. Who needs that? A mysterious piece of wood from the Philippines that my mother bought there and gave to me for Christmas, gleefully telling me she had no idea what it was for. A silicone brush for pastry- I have four, I don't need that many! Two for inside, one large one for the barbecue. And a few other bits and pieces.

On the other hand, I really need to get myself a new Oxo Good Grips vegetable peeler. I used to have two of these, and they've both vanished, to my disgust. It's the only peeler I've ever had that I could peel 2 kilos of potatoes with without getting blisters. Unfortunately, I can only find the Y peeler here, and I don't like Y peelers. I'm going to have to send off for a couple of them- and I'm currently browsing the Lakeland website.

I love Lakeland. They have lovely stuff. In particular these metal pie tins, which I really wish I already had, as Peter is working from home tomorrow and his Aunt is coming to keep an eye on Greta, and I need to make sure that there is lunch ready for all of them. What does this have to do with the pie tins? Well, I was thinking that I also need to continue to work through the contents of the freezer... and there's masses of puff pastry in there, as well as chicken, and a chicken pot pie could be an option.

Not that I've ever made a chicken pot pie, but these pie tins are inspiring me!

Either that, or the fact that I was reading Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's Cross Creek on the train this morning has me thinking about "traditional American dishes". I also have a copy of her Cross Creek Cookery book, and that, no doubt, will have a recipe in it. As, of course, will the Joy of Cooking, not that I'm that enthused about the latter, as I find the American system of cups and spoons for measuring things incredibly annoying. It's alright to measure something like milk in a cup, but butter?!? How on earth are you supposed to pack butter into a cup and get the same amount twice?

Give me a little weighing machine any day. Thank goodness there are assorted tools online that can convert "two cups of flour" to however many grams that is.

Back to Cross Creek, though, the fact that my copy is a first (UK) edition, and that my copy of Cross Creek Cookery is a rather garish modern paperback rather has me tempted to go on abebooks (again!) and find myself an old copy of the latter to go with the former!

Get thee behind me, abebooks. Thou art evil for my wallet and my lust for old, classic cookbooks. Deliver us not into temptation... Especially considering that I'm still trying to track down the copy of the Scandinavian Cookbook that my mother used to have and which vanished. Personally, I suspect my elder sister has it. The problem is, we're not quite sure what the actual name of the book was!

This weekend, there will be a trip to the DIY store, and much earth and seedlings will be bought. I must measure up the balustrade for window boxes, even if I can't put any up yet.