I would like to dedicate this post to my dear friend Monica Hodson, who lost her battle with cancer last Monday – I will miss her!
Losing Monica has been a shock to the system, having seen her battle and rally always left me with a vague hope that she might yet pull through, but alas it was not to be. It’s made me supremely aware that friends are very important to my life and all too often I don’t spend enough time with them, as our lives get increasingly busy. It was one of the reasons behind our cooking group – to get together on a regular basis, and to share food and good times. And we’ve been doing this ever since it all started back in March.
I’ve not been keeping you abreast of what we’ve been cooking (and eating :-)) so here’s a run-down of the last three occasions; I’ll start with the most recent first!
Hand-raised pies – typically British food and very traditional. In Britain they can be bought in almost any shop, and when they are good they are very good. But who would go to the bother of making them at home? Well, in France the only equivalent is pate en croute, so we decided to give them a try. Ingredients are simple – the pastry is a hot water crust, made with flour, lard, egg, salt and water. The filling has varying ingredients, but most seem to call for pork. We decided to make three different kinds: “pork, apple and elderberry pie”, where we substituted cranberries for the elderberries which are out of season, “chicken and bacon pie” and “small pork pies with quails’ eggs”. The pork, apple and elderberry pie was made in a raised pie mould, to be eaten hot for our dinner. The other pies were topped up with jellied stock after cooking and left to mature in the fridge for a day or two before being eaten.
The verdict: The pastry was very soft and not easy to work with. We tied a strip of grease-proof paper around the outside of the raised pies to stop them collapsing, which worked great, but this instruction was missing from the recipes we were using. All three pies tasted delicious and were well worth the effort. Would I make them again? Yes!!
The time before it was my turn to host the get-together, and the theme was Autumn Food. I drew on all kinds of influences and came up with a menu of pumpkin and chestnut soup for starter, goulash with bread dumplings, and apple strudel. A fair bit of work but we had three extra pairs of hands, and it all worked beautifully. As the goulash took the longest to cook we started that first, only onions, beef, paprika, with some garlic, caraway seeds and some tomato paste – no water added! We made our own strudel paste and tried to pull it as thin as possible – the idea is that one should be able to read the paper through it! My grandmother was able to do that, but I think it comes with practice 🙂 – she made it practically once a week when there were apples around. It still turned out very nicely though and tasted delicious! The bread dumplings use up stale French bread, which gets moistened with some boiling milk and left to steam. Eggs are added along with chopped parsley, finely chopped sweated onions and seasoning, and then the paste is formed into mandarin sized balls which are simmered in salted water for about 20 minutes. The pumpkin and chestnut soup was delicious and simple. Chopped onions, carrots, celery and leeks are sweated in olive oil to develop the flavour, the pumpkin and chestnuts added and brought to a boil with some vegetable or chicken stock. When everything is tender the soup is blended to a smooth texture, and served with a dollop of creme fraiche and a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil.
The verdict: I would make all of it again, and have actually made the pumpkin soup twice since. The goulash takes fairly long to cook as the onions need to be cooked slowly until very soft, and the meat is added only at that point, and needs some cooking time itself, so not a dish for a speedy supper!
The time before our theme was Lebanese food and we had some very delicious food on our plates. On the menu we had kibbet aadas (lentil fingers); stuffed vine leaves; filo parcels (brik); yoghurt cheese (labneh); Kibbeh & salad for main course and for dessert there was cardamom yoghurt mousse with orange compote.
The verdict: All of it was delicious, and some of it was very simple and easy to prepare. I would definitely make the yoghurt cheese balls, lentil fingers and filo parcels again. The tahini dip was simplicity in itself and very yummy. The vine leaves tasted delicious but were a lot of work and the kibbet was good but a little dry. The yoghurt mousse and orange compote were very good too and I’ve kept that recipe in my file.