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!! ¬†ūüôā

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!! ūüôā

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 РI 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 Рthe 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?

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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? ūüôā ¬†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! ūüôā

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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 Рfive 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 Рthree 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 Рit 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 Рthey 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 Р20 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?? ūüôā ¬†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! ūüėČ ¬†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 ūüôā

Caponata

  • Difficulty: easy
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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 Р20 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!! ūüôā

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 Рit 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 Рthe 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 Рthe 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.