Back again!!

It’s been a long time since my last post – my apologies to all of you who have been wondering what had happened to me!! ¬†To answer that in detail would take a long time (and might not be all that interesting), so I’ll keep it brief! ūüôā What I had thought of as a short summer break turned into a more prolonged vacation! ¬†The summer in Saint-Chinian was busy, filled with visitors, endless days of hot and sunny weather, and lots of work in helping to organise the music festival in July. ¬†As soon as the July festival was over, work started on another series of concerts in September. ¬†The good weather continued until fairly recently, and with it the flow of visitors.

Some of you will have read reports of the devastating floods which hit our area in Languedoc recently.  Saint-Chinian did get a huge amount of rain, but our river did not do any serious damage to the village.  Some of the gardens along the river were completely flattened, and the nursery downstream outside the village suffered some damage and loss to their plant stock, but that was pretty much it.

My heart went out to the people around Carcassonne who lost so much to this devastating flood, and I counted myself to have been very lucky.

Now that things have settled down, I am writing once more.  I thought I would start off with a food post.  I recently taught a couple of friends how to make chocolate mousse and i would like to share that with you.

Making chocolate mousse is not difficult and it requires very few ingredients: good chocolate, eggs, cream and water. ¬†Depending on your taste, the chocolate can be dark, milk or white. ¬†It needs to be of a good quality as the final result depends very much on the chocolate. ¬†It goes without saying that the eggs should be very fresh. ¬†(You’ll find a printable recipe at the end of this post.)

Ingredients for chocolate mousse

Ingredients for chocolate mousse

For my tutorial, I decided to use two different kinds of chocolate, white and dark. ¬†The dark chocolate was 72% cocoa; white chocolate contains no cocoa solids at all. ¬†This way, both of my friends could have some hands-on experience! ¬†ūüôā

Preparing chcolate mousse - melting the chocolate

Preparing chocolate mousse – melting the chocolate

The chocolate pieces were melted in separate bowls set in bowls filled with hot water. ¬†Melting chocolate takes very little effort – just give it a stir from time to time and wait until it is all melted. ¬†The main thing is to not over-heat the chocolate, which can happen when it is melted in the microwave. ¬†When melting the chocolate, be careful not to splash water into the melted chocolate, as this would cause the chocolate to “seize up” and become granular.

While the chocolate was melting, we separated¬†the egg yolks from the whites. ¬†Once the chocolate had melted, the egg yolks were stirred into the chocolate. ¬†This was easier with white the chocolate than with the dark. ¬†Don’t worry if the chocolate goes granular or gritty to begin with, just keep stirring/beating until it becomes a shiny mass or lump.

The water was added next. ¬†In this recipe, the water is used to make the chocolate and egg yolk mixture a little less stiff, so that the whipped egg whites don’t deflate as you try to fold them in. ¬†For the white chocolate only a very little water was required – about half a tablespoon was enough for 135g of white chocolate. ¬†For the dark chocolate we added about 5 tablespoons to 135g of chocolate. ¬†Every chocolate reacts differently, so you’ll need to use your own discretion with the water. ¬†The finished mixture should have the consistency of softened butter.

All ready for folding in the egg whites

We first whipped the egg whites, taking care not to over-beat them, until they formed soft peaks when¬†the (stationary) whisks were pulled out. ¬†I added a tiny pinch of salt to the egg whites, which improved the flavour of the finished mousse. ¬†Next, we whipped the cream to soft peaks – it remained somewhat “floppy”.

The egg whites being folded in

The whipped egg whites were divided between the two bowls, and folded in gently.  The reason that we added the egg whites first was that they would not have deflated if the chocolate mixture had still been a little warm.  The whipped cream would have gone runny had it been added to a warm mixture.

We added the whipped cream before the egg whites were completely blended in.  Further careful folding helped to keep the mixture as light as possible!

The finished mousse.

The white chocolate mousse turned out to be more runny than the dark, most likely due to the lack of cocoa solids in the white chocolate.  We filled eight bowls and ramekins with some of each colour mousse.

Ready to go in the fridge!

The filled bowls looked very pretty!!  Before they went into the fridge, each bowl was covered with cling film/plastic wrap.

Chocolate mousse needs a minimum of four hours in the fridge, so it is best made the day before you want to eat it, or in the morning if you want to serve it for dinner.

Delicious!!

We ate it the following evening – it was delicious!!

Chocolate Mousse

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A light and airy chocolate mousse, the perfect ending to a meal.

Ingredients

  • 270g chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 200ml whipping cream
  • 100ml water

Directions

  1. Chop the chocolate or break it into small pieces.  Separate the egg yolks from the whites
  2. Melt the chocolate in a medium-sized bowl over hot water.
  3. Beat the egg yolks into the melted chocolate until the mixture is glossy and clears the sides of the bowl.
  4. Add water one tablespoon at a time, mixing it in until the chocolate mixture has the consistency of soft butter.  You may not need to add the full amount of water.
  5. Whip the egg whites with a tiny pinch of salt until soft peaks form.
  6. Whip the cream until soft peaks form.
  7. With a spatula or spoon, fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture, followed by the whipped cream.
  8. Divide the mixture between your individual serving bowls, or use one large serving bowl. Cover with film and refrigerate for a minimum of four hours before serving.

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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??

A cherry classic

On one of my recent flea market forays, I found these lovely porcelain dishes – they just called out to me from their crate! ¬†They weren’t all that expensive so I bought six!!

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With the cherries in season, it was time to put the dishes to work. ¬†I had a feeling that they would be the perfect size for an individual cherry clafoutis. ¬†You might have heard of clafoutis – it is a kind of flan, traditionally made with black cherries. ¬†I had some red cherries, but I thought they would work just fine too! ūüėÄ

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The basic ngredients are very simple: cherries, cream, milk, eggs, sugar and a tiny bit of butter to grease the dishes.

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Here’s a completely gratuitous picture of the cherries in one of my new dishes:

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The cherries can be pitted or not Рas you wish.  Traditionally the stones are left in the cherries, as they are supposed to release some additional flavour during cooking.  To my mind, the advantage of leaving the stones in the cherries is that it makes for faster preparation.  The washed cherries are simply stemmed and arranged in the dishes Рthere are 17 cherries in each dish!

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For the batter, the eggs are beaten with the sugar, then the cream, milk and kirsch are added.  Once all is well mixed the batter is evenly divided between the four dishes.

After 30 minutes the clafoutis should be nicely browned and puffed up.

Now you just have to wait until the clafoutis¬†are lukewarm, before you tuck in! ūüėÄ ¬†The tops can be dusted with icing (confectioners) sugar, but I prefer mine without. ¬†Bonne degustation!

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Cherry Clafoutis

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

500 g cherries
90 ml creme fraiche
60 ml milk
2 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp kirsch (replace with milk if making this for children)
butter for greasing

Pre-heat the oven to 185¬įC.¬† Butter four individual¬†oven-proof dishes, just large enough to hold your cherries in a single layer; ¬†my dishes measure 10cm across the bottom and 14cm across the outer rim. ¬†You could also use a single (larger) dish, just be sure that the fruits fit snugly. A square baking dish, approx 23 x 23cm should work well.

Wash your cherries, remove the stems and decide on whether or not you want to remove the pits.  Arrange the cherries in the dishes.

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl; add the sugar and beat to mix well.  Add the creme fraiche, milk and kirsch and stir until well blended.  Divide the batter evenly between the four dishes and bake in a pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until nicely browned, and puffed around the edges.

Serve lukewarm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar if you like.  This can be prepared ahead of time, but be sure to allow the clafoutis to come to room temperature before serving.

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!

 

 

A is for Apricot

With the apricot season under way, I thought I would give you a little virtual taste of a few ways these wonderful fruits can be enjoyed.

This year I was lucky enough to have the pick of the crop from a tree belonging to friends – they were away while their tree was full of ripe fruit!!

When I started to think about what to do with this bounty, the first thing which came to mind was apricot jam Р beautifully orange coloured, and full of the flavours of the sun!!

Whenever I make jam these days, I try to use the kind of jam sugar where you can use 500g of sugar for 1kg of fruit, which makes for a much fruitier jam.

For this apricot jam I cut the apricots in half to remove the stones, and then cut each half again into four pieces.

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Once all the apricots were cut, I mixed them with the sugar, and put them in the refrigerator to stand overnight.

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Whilst the apricots are standing, the sugar draws out the juice, and the fruit tends to hold its shape better during cooking, rather than simply turning into mush. ¬†This¬†time I also cracked some of the apricot stones open, and added the ‘almonds’ to the mixture, hoping they would impart some of their lovely almond flavour to the jam. ¬†Apricot ‘almonds’ do concern small amounts of cyanide, so if you are at all concerned about this, please leave them out.

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The following morning the mixture looked like this:

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The sugar had done its work, drawing out lots of juice from the apricots. ¬†Boiling time is only four minutes, so that the vitamins won’t get boiled to death altogether! ¬†The sugar which I use contains the right amount of pectin, so that the jam will always set. ¬†In France it is available under the name of Fruttina Extra,¬†and you’ll be able to find the international websites for the company here.

Et voila!! ¬†Apricot jam always seems to froth quite a lot, so use a large pan and keep stirring! ¬†I potted my jam the moment the boiling time was over, in twist-off jars. ¬†It keeps well, except for when it gets eaten!! ūüôā

I still had a fair amount of apricots left, so I started to wonder what else I could prepare with them.

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Some time ago a friend told me about grilled peaches, so I thought I would try that with the apricots.  For this recipe I chose the firmest apricots I had, as they could otherwise turn to mush very quickly.  I pressed my trusted cast-iron griddle pan into action, and grilled the apricots on the pre-heated griddle, cut side down, for about 5 minutes.

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I topped each apricot with some fresh goat’s cheese, and sprinkled them with freshly ground black pepper and fresh thyme leaves.

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A final drizzle of olive oil, and I had a plate full of the most delicious appetizers.

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They were every bit as good as they look, and really quick and easy to prepare!!

Another recipe I came across during my search was Mary Berry’s apricot frangipane tart. ¬†I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter, except for using fresh apricots where the recipe indicated tinned. ¬†And I’ll admit it right now: ¬†I used ready rolled pastry – time was short, as was the pastry!! ¬†I also ground my own almonds, which accounts for the darker colour of the frangipane.

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The recipe is very straightforward and quick to make, especially if you use ready rolled pastry.

I was getting a little worried when I started to spread the frangipane mixture over the apricots – there seemed to be far too little!

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But I needn’t have worried – Mary Berry is not called the ‘Queen of Baking’ for nothing!! ¬†After 40 minutes in the oven the tart was looking beautiful, and after a couple of hours of cooling off it tasted divine!! ūüôā

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There are many more delicious recipes out there, which use apricots – what is your favourite??

Three Kings and cake?

Walk into any bakery in France at this time of year and you’ll see rows of flat cakes with little paper crowns on top lining the counters.¬† These are the famous galettes des rois, which are traditionally eaten around Epiphany all over France.¬† The galettes are made of puff pastry, filled with frangipane and they all contain a feve, a small trinket, most often made of porcelain, but in the old days it would have been a dried bean.¬† The person who finds the trinket or bean in his piece of cake is king or queen for the day.¬† Wikipedia has a good article about this tradition here, for those of you who’d like to read a little more.¬†¬†¬† Of course this being the South of France, there is another traditional Epiphany cake:¬† ring-shaped and made of brioche dough with candied fruit, glazed and sprinkled with decorating sugar.¬† It’s lighter than the frangipane version and of course it also contains a trinket, AND you get the paper crown with it too!

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I decided to make my own galette des rois this year, and thought I would share the recipe with you.¬† I used ready rolled puff pastry (two sheets), but if you like to (and have the time) you can of course make your own.¬† A 10″ dinner plate was my guide for the rounds, one for the base, one for the top.¬† Keep the trimmings, you can re-roll them and make cheese straws or such with them.

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For the almond cream I used a recipe found in my old Constance Spry Cookery Book:
3 1/2 oz blanched almonds
3 1/2 oz caster sugar
1 1/4 oz butter (good weight)
2 egg yolks
vanilla or a liqueur glass of orange flower water or rum (you could also add some almond essence)

To blanch the almonds put them in a pan and cover with water, bring to the boil and leave to stand for a couple of minutes.  Drain and refresh under the cold tap, then slip off the skins and leave the almonds to dry.

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Once dry grind the almonds finely.  Cream the butter with the sugar, add the yolks and beat well, then add the almonds and flavouring of your choice.

You’ll need some egg wash to assemble the cake – beat an egg yolk with a tablespoon of milk and a pinch of salt.¬† Spread the almond paste evenly to within 3/4″ of the edge of your puff pastry disk.

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Brush the edge with egg wash.

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And don’t forget to put the bean into the almond paste!¬† I put it towards the edge to minimise the chance of cutting it when dividing the cake.

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Then the top goes on – I scalloped the edges using my fingers and the back of a knife.

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With the back of a knife you trace a pattern Рthe traditional pattern is a wheel, with the spokes radiating out from the centre.  I always curve my spokes, but decorate it any way you like, allow your fantasy full reign!

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And then you brush the top with some more egg wash.¬† Careful around the edges, it shouldn’t run down the sides as it’ll stop the puff pastry from rising.¬† For a deep and extra glossy finish you can put the cake in the fridge and leave the egg wash to dry a little, then go over it again lightly.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 centigrade for 20 – 30 minutes.¬† Start watching the cake after 25 minutes, and don’t hesitate to leave it a little longer if you think it needs it.¬† Leave to cool on a wire rack and serve lukewarm.¬† You’ll have to make your own paper crown, or save one from a Christmas cracker?¬† What do you drink with it, I hear you ask?¬† Anything you like, a glass of champagne or sparkling wine, cider, white wine or a cup of tea will all go well with it.¬† This size cake will give you eight servings.¬† If you think that sounds a bit mean: I’m usually pretty greedy when it comes to desserts, but an eighth of this cake is just about enough for me; the filling is pretty rich!

Just as an aside – I had some pecans and maple sirup so decided to make another batch of frangipane replacing the almonds and sugar with that.¬† I’ll be baking it tonight – fingers crossed!!

ADDENDUM  Here is a picture of the pecan and maple frangipane galette.  Not in the traditional round shape, but very delicious!

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