Quick ‘n easy!

The apricot season has started!!  Last Sunday I bought my first apricots of the season from one of the vendors in the market in Saint-Chinian.  Mr Cathala grows all kinds of fruit in Argeliers, not far from Saint-Chinian, and he sells his fruit at the market on Thursdays and Sundays!

I bought two different kinds of apricots from Mr Cathala.  I’m no longer sure what the names of the two varieties were – they were both delicious even though they were very different from one another!

The red ones were somewhat smaller than the apricot coloured ones, and their flesh was softer.  Both were juicy, with the apricot coloured ones tasting sweeter.

When I went last fall to visit Top Fruits, a pick-your-own farm also in Argeliers, I signed up to their mailing list.  With the fruit-picking season now under way, I receive weekly newsletters from Sarah Pearce at Top Fruits.  She always concludes her newsletter with a couple of recipes, and this week’s apricot recipe was perfectly timed for my purchases!

I decided to use the firmer apricots for Sarah’s Poele d’abricots aux pain d’epices, pan-fried apricots with gingerbread.  The ingredients are simply apricots, butter, and pain d’epices.

Sarah’s recipe called for 16 apricots, 15g butter and four slices of pain d’epices.  Since my apricots were on the large side, I decided to use only five (they were about double the size of a regular apricot), but kept the butter and pain d’epices quantities of the original recipe.

I cut the apricots in half, removed the stones and sliced the apricot halves thickly.  The pain d’epices was cut into small dice.

As my frying pan is on the small side, and since I didn’t want the apricot slices to be too crowded in the pan, I fried the apricots in two batches.  I heated the butter over high heat until it started to brown, then added the apricots.

After about a minute I gave the apricot slices a gentle stir.

After a further minute of cooking, it was time to add the diced pain d’epices.

Another gentle stir, and voila, dessert was ready!!

This was a wonderfully tangy dessert with great flavour!!  There was too much for two people, so we ate the leftovers on the following day.  It tasted even better, as the flavour of the  pain d’epices had had a chance to meld with the apricots!  Better still was the scoop of vanilla ice cream I had bought to go with the leftovers :)!!

How do you like your apricots??

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It’s artichoke time!

The artichoke season is under way in my garden, and I am very fortunate with my crop this year!  I re-planted a row of artichokes last year – and I am reaping the rewards!! 🙂  Artichokes are a delicious vegetable that I never tire of!

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When I bought some new plants last year, I asked the vendor how far to space them.  He recommended a distance of 1 metre between plants, and added some advice: he told me to dig holes halfway between two plants and to bury a bucketful of compost.  The plants would  find the nutrients and take what they needed.  Good advice!!

What with the rain we had over the winter, and the compost, the artichoke plants are looking magnificent.  As a result of their lush growth, they have sent up many flower stalks and an impressive number of large, beautiful artichokes!!

I’ve not yet completely solved the problem of earwigs, which started a few years ago – they just seem to love squatting under the outer layer of leaves of the artichokes!!  I imagine that I could resort to insecticides, but that wouldn’t do!  I would rather live with the fact that I’ll have to shake them out of their hiding places!! 🙂

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One of my favourite recipes is called “Barcelona Grilled Artichokes” from Patricia Wells’ book, “Patricia Wells at home in Provence”. For this delicious dish the prepared artichokes are sliced, marinated in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, and grilled – the result is totally yummy!

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Talking to other people about food and cooking is always rewarding and interesting.  One of my neighbours told me to braise artichokes with potatoes – I tried that, but the result didn’t taste exceptional.  The same neighbour also gave me the idea of adding tomatoes, so I tried cooking the artichokes with smoked bacon and tomato, which worked wonderfully well!

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In Claudia Roden’s “Middle Eastern Cookbook” I found two recipes I enjoyed. The first used honey, lemon juice and preserved lemons, the second paired the artichokes with broad beans and almonds. Both produced delicious dishes and I’ll be preparing them again.

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My overall favorite dish was the artichokes cooked with bacon and tomato and I will attempt to give you the recipe below.  Pictures of the progress are at the end of the recipe.

Artichokes with bacon and tomato

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

5 globe artichokes
200g smoked bacon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
1 large clove of garlic
1 tin chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
1 lemon, juiced

Prepare the artichokes:  Pour the lemon juice into a bowl large enough to hold all the artichokes and add enough cold water to submerge the trimmed artichokes in.  Trim the artichokes by snapping off the leaves, starting at the base and working your way up.  Once in a while dip the artichoke into the acidulated water – the newly exposed flesh can turn brown very quickly.  Once the leaves remaining on the artichoke start to look yellow-ish you can stop snapping.

Trim the top with a sharp knife.

You will probably be able to see the choke now – a mass of fine white hairs at the centre of the artichoke.  I imagine that they would make you choke and hence the name?

Remove the choke with the aid of a teaspoon, and keep the trimmed artichoke bottoms in the bowl of water.

Cut each artichoke bottom into eight wedges.

Chop the onion and bacon into small dice and cook gently in the olive oil until the onion is softened.

Add the garlic (chopped finely or pushed through a garlic press) and cook for a minute longer.  Turn up the heat and add the drained artichoke pieces.

Fry, stirring from time to time until the artichokes start to brown around the edges, then add the chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.

Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the artichokes are tender and the sauce is reduced.

Serve hot on their own as a vegetable course, or allow to cool, dress with a little olive oil and lemon juice and serve as tapas or an appetizer.

Note: you can of course use frozen artichoke bottoms for this recipe, which will reduce the preparation time and will produce very similar results!

Melting moments

You may know that I adore chocolate in all its forms: on its own, in desserts, in cakes, Belgian chocolates – you name it, I’ll probably have eaten it!!  🙂

Many years ago, I ate the most wonderful fondant au chocolat in a restaurant.  A fondant au chocolat is a chocolate pudding with a melting interior!!  I’ve been intrigued ever since, and a few weeks ago I decided to make some at home, purely in the interest of research on your behalf, you understand!! 🙂

I searched the internet for recipes, and finally settled on this one from the BBC Good Food website.

The ingredients were very simple:  butter, eggs, sugar, flour, a little coffee, some cocoa powder and, of course, chocolate!!

The preparation was not difficult either.  To start with, I brushed the moulds with melted butter and dusted them with cocoa powder.  The recipe specified dariole moulds or individual pudding basins, but omitted to give an idea of the size.  I had some dariole moulds, so used two of them, and I replaced the individual pudding basins with ramekins.

Next, I put the butter to melt over a very low heat, then added the chocolate pieces to that.  While the chocolate was melting, I beat the eggs with the sugar until they were very fluffy and thick.

I added the melted butter/chocolate mixture to the beaten eggs, and mixed the two, then added the coffee and the flour, and folded everything together until well blended.

My mixing bowl had a pouring lip, so it was very easy to fill the moulds.  The recipe called for six moulds – I managed to fill the two dariole moulds and five ramekins.  The darioles are kind of small, so the ramekins might have been the right size.

I cooked the two darioles right away.  The ramekins all went in the fridge.

After exactly 12 minutes, the puddings were well risen!

I ran a knife around the inside of the mould to help ease them out,  and served them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

The fondants were very delicious – the interior was still squishy, although not as runny as on recipe photograph.  Next time, I would reduce the cooking time for the dariole moulds by a minute or two.  They would probably turn out to be100% perfect.

A couple of days later, I cooked three of the larger ones, the ramekins that I had put in the fridge.  After 12 minutes cooking, the fondants turned out almost exactly like on the picture in the recipe!!

I have two more in the freezer for another day!!

Have you tried making these delicious puddings or something along the same lines?  Do you have your own foolproof recipe?

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!