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.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Recipes and Cookbooks

Compiling recipes that I want to cook isn't the hard part. The hard part is getting around to actually cooking them!

I tend to send Peter a URL saying "What about this?", and he either responds non-commitally (by which I know that he doesn't really think so), or is enthusiastic, at which point I start adding ingredients to the weekend shopping list.

At the moment, I'm drooling over two recipes- Pork Loin braised in milk, and Baked Feta with Beetroot and Chickpeas. (Later edit: and Smoked bacon and mackerel cakes!)

I hope to make the first this weekend- the second, I don't know, as I am pretty sure that it will be a recipe that will make Peter grunt in an unimpressed manner. Mainly because Peter, despite being Swiss, isn't actually that enthused... whisper it... by cheese! He likes what he describes as "real" cheese, namely Gruyere, Etivaz, artisanal mountain cheeses, but confront him with a lovely runny Brie or Camembert, and he runs a mile! He even complains about my definitely non-runny Coulommiers, claiming that it smells much too strongly. Which it doesn't- being an industrial, supermarket cheese, it doesn't smell much at all. It's very nice in a sandwich, though!

I bought myself the most fantastic slab of cheese at the weekend. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name, and Peter threw the bag away whilst unpacking it, so I'll have to check this weekend what it was. All I remember was that it was an aged version of a cheese that I usually associate with runniness- and it was firm, yet still soft. It was so good that I actually ate almost all the entire slab in the space of two days! I have to get more. Have to. And make Peter try it. It was so nutty... (Later edit: it was a Vacherin Fribourgeois. Heavenly!)

Going back to recipes, I also have a large folder of recipes torn out of magazines... some of which I really need to sort through and plan out. After all, spring is coming, it's going to be barbecue season, it's time to start preparing for summer entertaining! Not least for Peter's Birthday Party- an event which we usually celebrate by me spending two days cooking and preparing for, after which a large bunch of people turn up, spend a good six hours eating, and then leave with doggy-bags, as I've made far too much!

We skipped holding it last year, as we'd only moved a couple of months earlier. But this year... I think we're back on. Not least because we've still not had our house-warming, so it might be a good idea to combine the two events.

Mm, time to start thinking about that. Making lists, doing trial runs of recipes...

I have just received a message from Peter saying that two book packages have turned up for me at home. I've ordered three books recently- one copy of Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking, which I hope will be as good as it is reviewed, and thus very helpful... and two more copies of La Cuisine des Familles.

This is an odd little cookbook. It appears to be entirely local to Switzerland, which sweeping statement I base entirely on two factors- when searching abebooks for copies, most copies are available in Switzerland; when searching, there are no copies at all.

So, why do I have two copies?

I don't.

I now have six.

I picked up a first copy, dating from I think 1925, about four years ago. A few months later, my parents gave me an earlier copy, from 1898. The latter was the eleventh edition- the 1925 one is, I think, about 54th. At this point, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could pick up other editions. I bought one last year, from the '40s, maybe the 68th edition. Then last week I picked up another one... and now I've been a Bad Girl and have been on abebooks, and have picked up two more.

(I've just noticed a 1961 edition available on abebooks. From a seller in Italy. I don't have one that late.)

I'm wondering quite how many editions this went through before finally going out of print. It really does seem that there was an edition a year! The first one seems to have come out in 1893, judging by the various 2002 re-prints of that edition that I'm seeing advertised.

I'm going to have to be careful over this- I know what I'm like when I get a bee in my bonnet over books, and I'm almost as bad when it comes to collecting something. Combining the two could be quite lethal to my wallet! But I do rather lust over tracking down more copies of this... and, after all, they're not that expensive... I would just love to see a shelf full of the different editions!

On the other hand, I have no idea where I'd put them- I already have an entire bookcase full of cookbooks, and they're starting to have to be double-stacked.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Blood Orange Marmalade

I shot out of work during my lunchbreak last week and managed to track down the last three bags of blood oranges in the supermarket- hidden in a huge pile of bags of "oranges blondes". Three bags of 2 kg each- thus I had to haul 6 kilos of oranges up the hill (see my header pic!) from the train station that evening. Fortunately I bumped into a neighbour, and he carried one of the bags for me. Since I was also carrying 2 packs of four pots each, as well as three cookbooks... I appreciated having 2 kilos less!

The cookbooks I'd picked up at the second-hand bookshop. I had found a copy of the Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, a 1925 copy of Louis Maillard's La Cuisine des Familles (which will be the subject of a future post!), and a book about medieaval feasts.

I had hunted through the Internets, and come up with five recipes for blood orange marmalade/jam. I then realised that two of them were actually based on one recipe- so I pulled that up, and had a look. It looked like a very good recipe, with plenty of detailed explanations, and, after all, the books always say that marmalade is a tricky thing, so I thought we'd better go with that.

I then printed two copies off (by mistake), and, when my friend Mousecatfish turned up at about 13:30, handed her a copy. We divvied up the work, determined that the oranges were far too ripe to be zested before being juiced so we were going to have to do this the long way round, and started.

She juiced the oranges, measuring the juice until we had 8 cups- because, of course, we'd decided to double up! In the mean time, I removed the pulp and segment remains, dropping them into one bowl, and then cut off the white pith, julienning the peel. When she'd finished juicing, she joined me. I think that this part took us well over an hour!

We had 8 cups of juice, and... however many cups of julienned peel, it didn't really matter by that stage, we decided. We then realised that we'd forgotten to add lemons, and, as Greta had suddenly turned up in the kitchen, Mousecatfish played with her whilst I repeated the juicing and julienning with three nicely juicy lemons. We then tipped all the juice and the same amount of water into the big casserole dish, added the zest, I put the segments and pips in a cloth which I'd ironed and tied the top with some string, and we boiled the whole lot for about half an hour. Sort of. We weren't really paying attention- we just fished out a couple of bits of zest, tasted them, determined to cook them a bit longer, tried again, and took it all out.

We measured the juice and zest mixture, with Peter laughing at us in the background as we were saying things like "So that's one of however much this measure is, and another one... So that's 7 of whatever the measurement is, plus up to the two, so that means 7 times up to just about here, plus one up to the 2 on the other side of the measurement." He told Greta that she is to grow up to be an engineer, and take proper measurements.

Hey, these were proper measurements! We just weren't quite sure what the exact nature of the measurements was...

We then measured the sugar out into the cup, measuring seven times (we thought- maybe it was only six and we missed one) up to "just about there", and one time up to 2 on the other side, and tipped it back into the juice and zest mixture. There was some insane giggling here, as the last three jugfuls of sugar made the mixture bubble in a way that... was rather rude. I put on the thick rubber gloves, and squeezed as much pectin as possible out of the cloth bag, finding that although it was mostly juice at first, it was eventually oozing out thick clear/white stuff.

We then added my incredibly stylish and funky brand new sugar thermometer, and started the boiling. Whilst it heated up, we tried my blood orange curd (verdict- nice, tasty, tangy, but needed to be thicker), and my rhubarb and orange jam (verdict- despite only one orange in there, you couldn't taste the rhubarb, and it tasted only of orange. It was nice, but disappointing if you were expecting the taste of rhubarb).

At 18h, the temperature was going up and down by about a degree at a time, but was nowhere near the 220F recommended. As I also had dinner to cook, I took a head of garlic, a pack of thyme, minced them up together in the smacky/choppy, added a couple of slugs of olive oil, some black pepper and the bottom half of a pot of black olive tapenade, smeared it on a leg of lamb, chopped up a red pepper and put that underneath the lamb, and put it in the oven at 180C.

About 20 minutes later, Mousecatfish had to go. I went on boiling the jam, which was slowly creeping up to 217...

At 218 F, it started to try to boil over. I took it off the heat for a moment, turned it down a bit, tried again. It kept on trying to boil over, and I was having to juggle with the heat very carefully, stirring it to cool it a bit whilst making sure that the temperature went on rising, but that I didn't end up with a hob top covered in jam!

Of course, at this point, Greta, who had been sitting happily drawing at the table, wanted out of her chair and into my arms. Impossible! So I took her out of her chair, and set her down on the floor. Unimpressed with me, she stomped out of the room, and closed the door on me. I fiddled with the jam a bit, then went out to see what she was up to... at which point Peter leaned over the mezzanine to look at me- and Greta was in his arms.

We were both horrified. We'd left the stairgate open, and she'd gone upstairs. By herself. On the wooden stairs. With her non-non-slip socks. She could have fallen... But she didn't, thank goodness. Still, I think we'll be being even more careful with keeping that closed!

She stayed upstairs with her father, and I went back to juggling the jam's temperature. I'm very glad I got that sugar thermometer- it made this step a whole lot easier for me to understand! As at first it was boiling over at 218, then was OK at 218 but at 218.5 tried again, then the same at 219F, and I really had to stand over it and keep on turning the temperature up and down. Finally it got to 220F and stayed there, even up to 221 briefly, and I started to jar it.

The result is three big jars for Mousecatfish, and four smaller jars for me.

And a two-thirds full jar to go in the fridge and be tasted this weekend!

And I still have about 8 oranges left... I wonder if Greta would like blood orange jelly?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Blood Orange Curd

Assured by my two source recipes (this recipe and this recipe) that cooking this only took about ten minutes, after putting Greta to bed last night, before Masterchef was due to start, I took up my whisk.

I had already got my ingredients ready, zesting my oranges, juicing them and the lemons. As my citrus fruits weren't very big, I had 8 blood oranges, and 2 lemons, coupled with four eggs, 250g butter, and 290g sugar.

I whisked the eggs in the dish, turned the heat on, realised that I had better get the other ingredients in soon or I'd end up with scrambled eggs, and poured in the juices and the sugar. Stirred everything around until it was well mixed, then added my cubed, room temperature butter.

I stirred that in until it had melted, and went on stirring... and stirring... and stirring. All in all, it took about 40 minutes and the use of a cold plate in the freezer to see if it was anywhere near setting, for me to be sure that it was ready to go in my pots.

I wasn't too pleased about that, but, on the other hand, it did ensure regular tasting- and it does taste very good. I've given one pot away to a colleague, and the other two pots are in the fridge. A tasting will be organised on Sunday morning!

It was still pretty liquid when it went in the pots, but this morning, having left it to cool, it had set sufficiently firm for me not to have to open them and cook it up again. It will no doubt thicken some more in the fridge.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Gratin dauphinois and Citrus Drizzle Cake

These two are both old friends- long term standbys of mine, which both turn up regularly. As you can see, the gratin is very much appreciated- as potatoes and cream tend to be- this is all that was left after four people had been at it!

We had friends over for lunch on Sunday. It being cold and windy, and me trying to use up what is in the freezer, I dug out a ham that we'd bought when on half price over Christmas, and unfrozen it. There's one thing wiped off the board!

I paired it with a gratin dauphinois, made the way my father-in-law taught me, and a green salad. For dessert, we had a citrus drizzle cake, a recipe I've made so many times that I really shouldn't keep on needing to check proportions!

The gratin dauphinois is something I make quite often during the winter. When it's going to be a meal in itself, I add very finely sliced bacon (lard fume, or lard paysan, depending), and can increase the garlic at times... from a head to two!

Gratin dauphinois comme le fait Alain:
- 2kg potatoes (this, of course, depends on the size of your gratin dish!), peeled, sliced, praise all the gods for the invention of the mandoline! Note: do not put your slices into water to keep white
whilst you're slicing, it washes the starch off and your gratin won't "set" into a cake.
- 1 head (or two) of garlic, peeled, chopped, also thank the gods for the invention of the "smacky", which chops your garlic a lot faster than having to do it yourself!
- salt, pepper. Alain adds nutmeg. I'm not wild about nutmeg on it, but I do it sometimes. This time, I was using up a herbed salt that my mother gave me, so I didn't bother.
- optional: 2 packs of finely sliced bacon
- cream. Lots of cream. About a litre. At least.

Heat the oven to 180C. Prepare a layer of tin foil or baking paper to cover the oven tray, which will take the drips from the gratin dish. Don't miss this step, or you'll spend forever cleaning your oven!

Cover the bottom of your gratin dish with a layer of cream, season it with salt and pepper. Having peeled and sliced the potatoes, layer them over this in two layers. Please do it carefully- they can overlap, but not too much, and you really don't want to just chuck them in and swirl them around- if you do that, it won't set properly.

After two layers of potato, then strew all the chopped garlic (if using one head, if two, half) over the potato. Add a layer of potato, then pour cream over it all. Add salt and pepper. Add another layer of potato, then layer the bacon over the slices. Another layer of potato, then a layer of garlic if using two heads. Then layer the remaining slices until you use them up. Your slices should be just over the level of the sides of the dish. Add salt, and pepper, then pour cream over the top. The cream should reach up to the top of the dish!

Put it in the oven, and bake for about 2 and a half hours. You're cooking this slowly so that it absorbs a maximum of cream, and sets like a solid, albeit layered, cake.

Serve with a green salad with a nicely sharp vinaigrette- you'll need it to cut the fat!

I adapt this recipe to make a gratin of other vegetables, such as pumpkin (with onion, otherwise it's too sweet). The cream is totally OTT, but then for a dish which you make once a month, what the hell.

It also freezes very well, either in one slab or in portions, and reheats very well either in the oven, or in the microwave. The only disadvantage of the latter is the nice crispy top just stays soft!

Citrus Drizzle Cake

I got this recipe originally from a magazine. I've fiddled with it quite a few times since, and I think I'm finally getting there!

-150g butter, softened
- 200g brown sugar
- 200g self-raising flour
- 6 tbsp tangerine juice (this is where you can fiddle- I also can just use orange juice, sometimes it's blood orange juice)
- zest of one orange
- 3 eggs

For the syrup drizzle:
- juice of two oranges (again, it could be blood oranges, or tangerines, etc)
- juice of 1 lemon
- 100g sugar

Heat oven to 180C. Cream the butter and sugar, add the flour and zest, stir, tangerine/orange juice, stir, eggs, stir. Scrape into loaf tin, bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending. Leave in the tin.

Warm syrup ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. Stab the cake all over with a toothpick/fine skewer. Pour the syrup over. Leave to cool.

Serve it with creme fraiche, and, ideally, warm. The creme fraiche is just sour enough to cut through all the sugar- so don't serve it with regular cream, it doesn't work.

Now, last time I had left-over syrup, so I heated that until it was thick, and then served the slices of cake with that syrup poured over as well, making a nice semi-topping. That worked well, and I'm going to experiment with that in the future!

However, one thing that gets me is that the first few times I made this, the syrup all soaked right down to the bottom of the cake, so it was lovely and moist all the way through. For a while now, however, just the top half has soaked it up, then it is a nice, but dry cake below. I need to sort this one out, it's annoying!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Rhubarb and Blood Orange Jam

I took this recipe from my Larousse des confitures. The recipe called for regular oranges, but as I had blood oranges, I figured that it wouldn't make too much of a difference. What it has done is ensured that my jam is a glorious pink, and tastes absolutely delicious. I'm looking forward to putting this on toast on a Sunday morning in the summer!

It has, however, inspired me to make blood orange jam/marmalade some time very soon, whilst they're still cheap in the supermarket... and
the search for recipes for that has me also drooling over a recipe for blood orange curd, which I think I will definitely be making equally soon, if not sooner!

What always gets me about jam recipes is the "cook for 20 minutes, then test for set" line. NONE of the jams I have made so far needed cooked for less than an hour. I really ought to give myself two hours of cooking time each time, because I keep on getting caught out making jam in the evenings, and then getting to bed later than I planned.

- 2 blood oranges, sliced very finely
- 1.3 kg rhubarb, chopped into 1cm long pieces
- 1 lemon, sliced very finely
- 1.2 kg sugar

Put the oranges, rhubarb and lemon in a bowl. Add the sugar, stir to coat, leave for twenty-four hours.

Put in a saucepan, cook until it sets!

And it really is absolutely delicious...

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


I am, despite not being Swiss, disgustingly organised. Neurotically organised. My spice and herb shelf is divided with herbs on one side, and spices on the other. To the far left are the spice jars that haven't yet been opened. To the far right are the herbs that I use more often than the others. There is no section for herbs that haven't yet been opened, so it is indeed thought out.

Mess, disorder, untidyness- these are things that get on my nerves. One of the first things that Greta learned to do independently was tidy up at the end of her day, before being put to bed.

The fact that she also shouts at me if there are crumbs on the floor until I clean them up- she gets that from her father. The Swiss parent. Because I'd be quite happy to leave them where they are for a while longer, until I get round to it.

Suffice to say, I like things to be sorted, divided up, and tidily put in their allocated space.

Which is why I don't understand why I left my freezer so untidy for so long. I think it's because when we moved I was so un-used to having a freezer bigger than two pathetically small drawers and an ice-cube tray that whatever I put in there was just rattling around in an empty drawer!

Now, we have a full-length freezer. And now, eleven months after moving in, it was getting pretty near full.

I therefore tidied it. I took out the drawers, listed what was in them, organised it a bit, and then put everything away tidily.

The picture above is the white board on the kitchen wall. It usually has recipes held to it by magnets, but I took the opportunity to tidy those too. I need to get a ring binder to store my recipes-torn-from-magazines, really I do!

However, what the tidying up process showed me was that I really need to start to work my way through the contents of the freezer. Things need unfrozen, cooked, and eaten.

The two drawers of Greta-divided portions also need unfrozen, an attempt made to get her to at least taste them, and then, no doubt, thrown out.

I need to make risotto, or even soup, with my home-made chicken stock. I need to use up the "vegetable water" and make vegetable stock with it. And then use that for a risotto... or even soup.

I think that a couple of weeks with minimal food shopping, just sticking to fresh fruit and vegetables, might be a good idea. That way I could also start clearing out the food cupboards and drawers... which... come to think of it... could also do with being tidied.