Welcoming the rooster

The Chinese zodiac year of the Fire Rooster started on January 28, 2017.  Together with a few friends I decided to welcome the year of the rooster, by cooking a Chinese meal.  Our host had selected the dishes for us to cook and done all the shopping!

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As you can tell, we started proceedings with a glass of bubbly – just one glass though, there was work to be done yet!!  We cooked five dishes in total:

Simple Thai-style Lemongrass Shrimp Soup:

The soup only required two ingredients which might not be in your cupboard:  fish sauce and chili paste with garlic.  You should be able to find both of them at an Asian grocery store or in the speciality section of a larger supermarket.  The remaining ingredients are easy to find.

The finished soup was delicious, wonderful flavours of ginger and lemongrass.  Definitely one I will make again!

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Duck pancakes with hoisin sauce:

Preparing that dish was fairly straightforward, but different to the classic way of using crispy duck.  In this recipe, skinless duck breast was cut into strips, then stir fried and finished off with hoisin sauce.  We decided to substitute lettuce leaves for the pancakes, which made the dish lighter and gave it a bit of a crunch.

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King prawn and scallop stir fry:

The king prawn and scallop stir fry required a fair amount of preparation, but it was very quick to cook!  We substituted sherry for the rice wine, and there were some asparagus spears, so they went in as well! :).

It tasted every bit as good as it looked!

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Chicken and cashew nut stir-fry:

The chicken and cashew nut stir fry is an old favourite, which was easy to make.  It was great in that it required no special ingredients.

Once all the vegetables and ingredients were prepared, the cooking was very quick!  Another delicious dish!

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Mandarin Oranges with Grand Marnier and Mascarpone:

We finished our celebratory meal with a light and refreshing dessert.  It was a perfect ending to a delicious meal!

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Flaming hot

Summertime is BBQ time for me – there’s nothing I enjoy more than grilling food over hot coals!!  At the butcher’s shop I usually go to in Saint-Chinian, Boucherie Peyras, I saw some beautiful rump steak.  I thought it would be perfect for a meal with friends, and even more tasty if cooked on the BBQ.  Right now, the garden is yielding a great many tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines, so they were all added to my basket of ingredients, and also some freshly dug potatoes.  Along with the steak, I also got some chicken breasts for one of my invitees.

Here are all my ingredients ready to go on the grill!  I seasoned the steak and chicken breasts with my uncle’s secret spice mixture.  It’s a blend of various herbs and spices, such as caraway, curry, paprika, powdered garlic, oregano, and more, all mixed up with salt.

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The BBQ I use is the type which has a domed cover on it – you’ve probably heard of the German-sounding US brand which seems to have cornered the BBQ market? 🙂  I find it really easy to use and it works very well for me.  Here it is, all set up and ready to light:

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The chimney is a great tool to get the coals heated up without much effort.  Once it was filled with coal (I used charcoal briquettes), I lit a firelighter, which was put on the lower rack, and placed the chimney over it.

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About 20 – 30 minutes later the coals were glowing nicely, and were ready to be turned out onto the grill.

Once the coals had been distributed and the top grill was in place, I put on the potatoes, since they take the longest.

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After about 15 minutes I started the other vegetables.  First were the courgettes, which had been tossed with olive oil and seasoning.

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Next came the aubergine slices, which had been lightly brushed with olive oil on both sides.

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While all this cooking was going on, I was enjoying an aperitif with my friends.  Once we had finished our drinks and nibbles, we moved on to our starter of ice-cold gazpacho, made with tomatoes from the garden, and some cucumbers from the market.

With the vegetables cooked, it was time to put the meat on the grill!

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There was the most wonderful smell coming from the grill as the steak was cooking!  I waited with the chicken until the steak was done on one side.

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The potatoes turned out perfectly, and the flavour was great!

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Here’s what the finished steak looked like – it had had a busy day, so it was resting! 🙂

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The chicken strips were perfectly tender!

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And the courgettes and aubergines were delicious too!

Here’s a picture of a heaped plate – I hope you’re not feeling too hungry!!

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No French meal would be complete without cheese and dessert – we had a selection of local cheeses, bought at the market.  For our dessert I had prepared a flan, or creme caramel, as it’s called in France.

All very yummy and perfect for a summer’s evening!  Do you have any favourite BBQ recipes?

 

Let there be plenty

Soon the festive season will be upon us all – a time of getting together with friends and family, sharing good cheer, good food, and presents – a time when most of us will eat too much, and some of us may drink a little too much…  It’s all part of the festive celebrations, a time-honoured tradition – and seriously, who can resist all that delicious food and drink??

Mindful of the excesses which may be heading our way I thought I would share a special meal with you, which I recently prepared and ate with some very dear friends.  The starting point was “Plenty”, a book by Yottam Ottolenghi, a British based cookery writer with Italian, Israeli and British passports.  “Plenty” is Ottolenghi’s second book, a collection of vegetarian recipes, which he developed for his column in the Guardian Weekend Magazine.  It is a book that draws on many different cuisines and influences.

 

My friends and I selected three dishes from the book:

“Plenty” is not strong on recipes for desserts.  I wanted to stay with a recipe by Ottolenghi for dessert, so I did a search on the net and turned up an interesting sounding recipe for strained ricotta balls with banana fritters, on the Guardian website.

I started the dessert recipe days ahead of our meal, as the ricotta balls need to drain in the fridge for several days.

For the Soba noodles and wakame, I searched the internet for an on-line retailer, and found a Japanese store in Paris which did mail order!!  Great!!  The package arrived on time – five out of five to http://www.kioko.fr !

I had never eaten or worked with wakame before, so it was interesting to try it.  Wakame is an edible seaweed, most often used in soups and salads.   It was very easy to re-hydrate the required quantity:

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Other ingredients for the salad were soba noodles, which are made with buckwheat flour; shredded cucumber (skin on), which is salted and left to drain for some time; as well as toasted sesame seeds, coriander and mint leaves, and radish sprouts.

The dressing was made with rice vinegar, lime juice, grated lime zest, chillies, fresh ginger, sugar, salt, sesame oil, garlic and sweet chilli sauce.

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It was quite a challenge to mix all these ingredients, but the result was worth all the effort – a wonderful combination of flavours and textures!

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The roasted butternut squash called for ingredients which were easy enough to find!  Butternut squashes are plentiful at this time of year, and I think they are the best of all winter squashes for flavour.  The squash was cut into slices, put on a lined baking sheet and liberally anointed with a mixture and oil, ground allspice and coarsely ground cardamom.  A little sprinkle of salt, and 15 minutes in the oven.

The dressing called for Greek yoghurt, lime juice, tahini, a little water and salt.  The sauce was poured over the cooled squash slices, and the whole decorated with lime segments, finely sliced green chilli and chopped fresh coriander.  Another winner!!

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The recipe for the caramelised garlic tart called for an incredible amount of garlic – three whole heads!

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The peeled garlic cloves were blanched in boiling water, drained, fried and then simmered with balsamic vinegar, rosemary and thyme until tender and caramelised.

The tart case was made with ready rolled puff pastry, which was blind-baked (pre-baked).P1010018

For the filling, two types of goat’s cheese (soft and hard) were crumbled and scattered over the base of the pastry case.  The garlic cloves were added, and the whole covered with a custard made of creme fraiche, double cream and eggs.

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The aromas which came from the oven while the tart was baking were heavenly, and the finished tart absolutely delicious!!

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When the time came, the dessert was very simple to prepare.  Having made the ricotta balls ahead, all that was left to do was to slice the bananas, prepare a tempura batter and deep fry the banana pieces.  I love fritters, and these were very delicious!!

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I would definitely make all these recipes again!  They were all straightforward to prepare and oh-so-delicious!!  Vegetarian food does not have to be boring, and “Plenty” is a testament to that!

If you want to try any of the recipes, the links at the beginning of this post will allow you to print them off.  Happy cooking and eating!

 

 

Eggplant bonanza

My garden produced an abundance of aubergines – or eggplants, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re from – this summer.  I love aubergines, they are like a canvas for almost any flavour, blending with whatever you want to cook them with and enhancing flavour and texture.

A few years ago, I was fortunate to be given a recipe for caponata by a friend of a friend, after having heard the praises of that particular recipe sung for several months.

Caponata has its origins in Sicily, and uses similar ingredients to ratatouille.  The first time I prepared caponata, I was somewhat daunted by the process:  grilling and peeling the peppers; salting, draining, rinsing and drying the chopped aubergines; cooking all the vegetables separately, then together – it seemed like a never-ending process!!  BUT when I tasted my first mouthful of caponata, I knew that it was worth every minute of the time which had gone into the preparation!

The main ingredients are aubergines, peppers and tomatoes.  My recipe calls for equal quantities in weight of each of these three.  The recipe also calls for onions, celery, capers, green olives, sugar, vinegar, and salt and pepper.

The aubergines are washed, trimmed and cubed, then sprinkled with salt and left to drain in a colander for 60 minutes.  Older recipes state that the salting will remove any bitterness from the aubergines, but I’ve never come across a bitter aubergine in all the (many) years I’ve been cooking.   What the salting does do is improve the texture of the aubergines when you cook them.  They seem to hold their shape much better.

After the aubergines had drained, they were rinsed to remove the excess salt, and dried with a tea towel.  I fried them in batches with a small amount of olive oil, turning them from time to time to ensure they cooked evenly.

While the aubergines were draining I grilled the peppers on the BBQ, as it meant that I did not have to use the grill in the kitchen.  You can also blister the peppers over an open flame on your gas cooker.  They need to be nicely charred with the skin blistered all over.  Once they were done to perfection, I put them into a glass bowl and covered it tightly with plastic wrap. You could also put them in a plastic or paper bag – they will be easier to peel if the moisture is kept in!

After the peppers had been peeled, they were cut into strips in readiness for the next part of the preparation, which involved cooking the peppers with some olive oil for 15 – 20 minutes.

While the peppers were cooking,  I attacked another part of the preparation.  I fried the chopped onions together with the sliced celery until golden, then added the blanched, peeled, and chopped tomatoes, and cooked that sauce until most of the moisture had evaporated and the sauce had thickened.  At this point the fried aubergines and peppers were added to the sauce, and the whole left to cook very gently for about 30 minutes.

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Are you exhausted already?? 🙂  It does sound like a lot of work, so it’s worth making a large batch of this – I promise you’ll find ways to eat it!!

After 30 minutes the olives and capers were added, along with the sugar and vinegar, and the whole left to simmer gently for another 20 minutes, stirring regularly.  The result was a fragrant and delicious vegetable stew with an almost jam-like consistency.  The recipe says that it should be served up cold, in an earthenware dish! 😉  It also suggests that it could be decorated with pine nuts or hard-boiled eggs.  I’ve never bothered garnishing it, I find it needs nothing added!

Since I made a very large pan of caponata, which wasn’t going to be eaten right away, I bottled part of it in clean jars, and briefly sterilized them – now I can enjoy caponata all winter long 🙂

Caponata

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 600 g aubergines
  • 600 g red peppers
  • 600g ripe tomatoes (plum tomatoes if possible)
  • 2 onions
  • 60 g green olives, stoned
  • 60 g capers
  • 1 to 2 sticks celery
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper

Method

Wash and trim the aubergines, and cut them into 1.5cm cubes. Put the cubes in a colander, sprinkle with salt and mix well.  Leave to drain for 1 hour.  Rinse, drain and pat dry.  Fry them with a little olive oil over medium heat for approx. 20 minutes.  You may have to do this in several batches, depending on the size of your pan.

Grill the red peppers until the skin is blistered all over and charred.  Leave to cool, covered, and peel.  Cut the peeled peppers into strips and fry the strips over medium heat, with a little olive oil, for 15 – 20 minutes.

Peel the onions and chop them.  Slice the celery sticks and fry them together with the chopped onions in some olive oil until golden.  Blanch, peel and chop the tomatoes and add to the fried onions and celery.  Cook until the sauce starts to thicken, then add the fried aubergines and peppers, and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add the capers and green olives (I cut the olives into quarters).  Mix the sugar and the vinegar with 2 tbsp water and add this to the pan.  Mix thoroughly and continue to cook over gentle heat for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Serve cold or at room temperature, garnish with pine nuts or hard-boiled eggs, if desired.

This recipe is modified from the original French recipe, given to me by Marie Helene Laurens.  Merci beaucoup, Helene!

Relishing summer

I have heard that there are places where, in summer, people dare not leave the windows in their parked car open, or their screen doors unlocked, for fear that someone might drop off a bag of courgettes (zucchini if you are from North America!).  Of course that’s a joke, but I’m sure there are people out there who are inundated with courgettes and can’t give them away!!

This has been a year when there was definitely a glut of courgettes in my garden – it didn’t last very long, but it was fun while it lasted!! 🙂

The courgette plants got a little out of hand, and at one point I missed picking one of the dark green courgettes.  Wouldn’t you know that by the time I spotted it, the courgette had turned into a rather monstrous looking thing??

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Is it a cricket bat?  Is it a club?  No, it’s a courgette!!  I didn’t weigh it, but it was pretty heavy!!  Just a few days before the discovery, friends from Georgia (USA) had been telling me about their recipe for courgette relish. I called on them right away, and begged for a copy of the recipe.  Better still, I told them, come on over and help me make it.  They graciously agreed, and we’all got stuck in, peeling and chopping!

Here are the main ingredients – onions, carrots, red peppers, sugar, and cider vinegar:

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We also used mustard seeds, dill seeds, red chillies and all spice.  You’ll see, at the end of this post, that the recipe calls for celery seeds, which I could not find in Saint-Chinian.  The lady who sells spices in Saint-Chinian’s market on Sundays had dill seeds instead, and they were a very good substitute.  I also added chillies and allspice, neither of which was called for in the recipe.

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Dill and mustard seeds and allspice berries

We made two batches of relish since the courgette was rather large.  One batch was made with red peppers and the other with carrots.  The courgette pieces were chopped in the food processor – it took no time at all!!

Here are all the ingredients chopped and grated:

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Once the vegetables had been assembled in their respective bowls, we added salt, mixed it all well and covered the vegetables with cold water.

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Chopped courgettes and onions, grated carrots and salt, before mixing.

Now we had some time to while away – the vegetables were supposed to stand for two hours.  To make the time pass more quickly, I whipped up a batch of scones.  Once we had cleaned the table, we sat down to a rather decadent afternoon tea, complete with the warm, freshly-baked scones, home-made preserves, cream and Earl Grey tea!!

Here are the vegetables, rinsed and drained:

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Vegetables after draining

The cooking was very easy and quick.  Vinegar, sugar and spices were brought to the boil, the vegetables added, and once it boiled again the mixture was simmered for 10 minutes.

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The cooked relish

We potted the relish up right at the end of the cooking time, while it was still boiling hot.  Twist-off jars are great for this – the lids were screwed on right away, and the heat of the relish sterilised the remaining air inside the jar and created a vacuum.


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What didn’t fit into the jars is in the two bowls above – it was great to taste the results of our labours!!  This is a very delicious recipe and a great way to use up courgettes.  I can see that this recipe is going to be a keeper!  Thank you, Jane and Ham!!

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Courgette Relish

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2 cups chopped courgettes
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped red peppers or grated/chopped carrots
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 cup cider vinegar

Method

Combine the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, mix well and cover with cold water. Leave to stand for 2 hours. Strain, rinse thoroughly and leave to drain in a colander. Combine the sugar, celery seed, mustard seed and cider vinegar in large saucepan. Bring to the boil and add the drained vegetables. When it comes to the boil again, turn the heat low and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes. At the end of the cooking time, immediately pot the hot relish in twist-off jars and screw on the lid.  Leave to cool, label, and store in a cool, dry place.

This is a delicious relish which can be eaten right away and goes very well with all kinds of food:  cold meat, cream cheese on crackers, goats cheese . . .

What would you eat it with?

This recipe is modified from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Paella with friends

You might have guessed from the title – I’ve been enjoying the annual visit of friends who have a house in Saint-Chinian.  We had some wonderful meals and days out, and together we have cooked and eaten a lot of delicious food!! 🙂 I don’t know how, but I did manage not to gain a huge amount of weight in the process – perhaps it was the hot weather!?

My friends enjoy food as much as I do, and one day we decided to try and cook paella.  There is a stall in Saint-Chinian market which sells perfectly good paella, but we had a sneaking suspicion that a home-cooked paella could be at least as good if not better

On my cookery book shelf I have a book called Catalan Cuisine (Europe’s Last Great Culinary Secret) by Colman Andrews.  The author gives a number of recipes for Valencian paella, which is not strictly speaking a Catalan dish, but one which has been enthusiastically adopted by the people of Catalunya.  We decided to try the straightforward Valencian Paella, for which rabbit and chicken are used – no seafood here!  You can read an article by Colman Andrews about paella here – he also gives a recipe for a vegetable paella as part of the article.

Our ingredients were 250g rabbit, cut into pieces by the butcher, and 750g chicken, also cut into pieces by the same butcher.  I love my butcher in Saint-Chinian!  I sometimes wonder what I’ll do when he retires!  We also used some chorizo, which was not listed in the recipe, but we felt like it.

Some of the ingredients used for our paella

Some of the ingredients used for our paella

The recipe also called for one chopped onion, three tomatoes, olive oil, 500g of assorted beans (we used broad beans, French beans and a type of flat bean), a sprig of rosemary and 500g of short grain rice.  We also made up 1.2 litres of chicken stock.

More ingredients for our paella

More ingredients for our paella

If you have read Colman Andrews’ article, you’ll know how important it is to use the right kind of rice for your paella.  Long grain rice just won’t do – you’ll have to find the right kind of short grain rice, or use risotto rice.  Where I live I I can find paella rice in almost every supermarket and grocery store – lucky me! 🙂

Paella seems to take its name from the dish in which it is cooked, although in Spain, outside of Catalan territory, the pan is called a paellera, and in Valencia the pan is called a caldero.  I’m sure there are reasons for that!! 🙂  The pan is almost as important as the rice – it has to be wide and shallow, to allow the rice to cook through evenly.

Paella pan

Paella pan ready for action

We started off the cooking by browning the rabbit and the chicken pieces in some olive oil.

Browning the meats

Browning the meats

After the meat was nicely browned and had been removed from the pan, the chopped onion was added and cooked in the remaining fat until golden .

Cooking the onions

Cooking the onions

The tomatoes, which had been peeled, seeded and chopped, were added to the onions and cooked until they had softened.

Tomatoes and onions cooking together

Tomatoes and onions cooking together

Meantime the beans and chorizo had been prepared.

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Ready for action!

The beans went in first:

beans added to the paella pan

Beans ahoy!

Then came the chorizo:

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All topped up with the chicken stock:

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Ooops!

It was at that point that we realised we might be in a bit of trouble! 🙂  The pan might not be quite large enough to hold all our ingredients!!  The rice was next:

Adding the rice

Adding the rice

Once it was all in, the pan looked extremely full:

Almost there!

Almost there!

The meat and rosemary were tucked in, and the pan brought gently to the boil.  Somehow we managed it without making an unholy mess all over the cooker!  If you are going to try this at home, be sure to use gentle heat to avoid burning the rice.  Once it had cooked for about 10 minutes. we covered the pan with aluminium foil and turned the heat to its lowest setting.  Then we had a well-earned glass of wine while we waited!!

Waiting....

Waiting….

The wait was difficult, the smells ever so tempting.  When the cover finally came off, after about 35 minutes, the paella looked like this:

The finished paella

The finished paella

The rice was perfectly cooked and the flavour was divine.  The recipe notes stated the quantity to be enough for 6-8 as an appetizer and 4-6 as a main course.  There were six of us, and despite our best efforts there were plenty of (delicious) leftovers!

It was a truly wonderful dish, and one which I’ll be making again!!