Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Cinnamon Swirls / Palmiers à la cannelle

What to do with the left-over pull pastry from my Galette des Rois? Make these delicious cinnamon swirls of course!

Roll all leftover pastry scraps into a ball and use a rolling pin to form a large thin rectangle. Sprinkle with a mix of cinnamon and sugar then roll the two longest edges towards the middle so that they meet halfway. Cut into 1cm pieces and lay on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Pop in a warm oven until golden brown.


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Galette des Rois

A few days after my first Christmas spent in France, I began to see these interesting puff pastry pies popping up in bakeries and supermarkets all over Saintes, bearing the majestic name 'Galette des Rois' or 'King's Cake' in plain old English. I was a little intrigued as to why a country that got rid of their monarchy many years ago would be celebrating it.

After some hasty Internet research, I discovered that the King in question is actually Jesus, and that the galette is the rather commercialised part of the Christian Epiphany celebration. As French tradition would have it, a small ceramic object, la feve, is hidden in the Galette des Rois and after the distribution of slices the person that finds the feve becomes the King or Queen.

Always up for becoming Queen for a day,and not too impressed with the unappetising galettes available at our local supermarket, I decided to try making my own. Unfortunately my plan backfired as it was Cheri that came across the feve and not me, but I think we both agreed the galette in itself was a success!

Recette: Galette des Rois 

Using a normal-sized round plate, cut out two circles from two sheets of ready-made puff pastry

In a large bowl, whisk 75g soft unsalted butter to a cream with 75g icing sugar. Mix in 75g ground almonds, followed by 1 egg, 1 egg yolk and 1 tbsp cognac. Mix until smooth and then cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Place on pastry disc on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Spoon the almond cream into the centre and spread into an even circle leaving a 4cm border. Brush some beaten egg glaze over the border and carefully drape the other pastry circle over the top, pressing on the border to seal the edge. Score the edge all around with the back of a knife to completely seal the pastry.

Brush the top of the galette with the rest of the glaze, avoiding the outside edge. Refrigerate for 10 minutes before using the knife once more to score the galette and create a nice spiral pattern.

Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown, leave to cool slightly and serve.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Happy New Year / Bonne année

Any excuse to eat is a good excuse, and what better excuse than my first New Year's Eve off in three years? While this year's festivities were somewhat low-key (dinner for four) it couldn't have been better. 

Champagne followed by more champagne followed by three sorts of wine means that I forgot to keep taking photos as the evening went on, but at least the beginning of the fun was well documented! 

Cheri and our good friend T got down to the hard graft: opening the 24 oysters that made up part of our starter, an enormous seafood platter. Despite some dubious knife techniques, no fingers were cut in the opening of these Marennes-Oleron oysters.

The platter itself was comprised of massive king prawns, langoustines (tasty but hard to unshell), whelks and the aformentioned oysters. I found the oysters quite delicate and didn't need to drown them in lemon as I normally do, and the prawns were delicious dipped in a homemade mayonaise.

T's girlfriend, N, had also fashioned some impressive looking skewers with three different types of bread. 

The skewers were put to good use while eating through the impressive cheese platter: Epoisses, Comte, goat's cheese and a square-shaped soft cheese. The actual platter and accessories were one of my Christmas presents from Cheri on a culinary theme. 

No photos of the dessert as I was far too full/happy/tipsy to take any but I can assure you it was just as delightful! 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

No place like home / La maison comme nulle part ailleurs

Sunday, apart from being cold and rainy, was the occasion to celebrate my 24th birthday. I would have happily stopped at 21 but apparently this isn't (yet) possible so I am going to have to keep getting older! 

Thanks to all of my lovely family and friends who sent cards, presents and general well-wishes. It made me feel very blessed to have all of you in my life. 

Highlight of the cards had to be the one sent by my beautiful little sister, where she informed my in very neat joined-up handwriting that she loves me 'very very very so so so very very much'. 

As living in different countries means I don't see my siblings very much, I try and make the most of every moment we have togther. Now my little sis is getting older, she has started helping out her Mum in the kitchen and a recent trip back home was the perfect time to show me her mean crostini-making skills.

After cutting out little flower shapes from sliced bread using a cookie cutter, sis got to work brushing them with chilli oil. Pop them into a hot oven (I did this bit to avoid any burns!) and a few minutes later you have delicious crostini bites, perfect with rillettes or houmous. 

Can't wait to see what she's going to impress me with next time!

Friday, 4 January 2013

A very Marmite Christmas / Un Noel 'So Marmite'

A little bit late with the shout-out but thanks so much to everyone who made my pre-Christmas trip back home to England so amazing. 

Firstly, my beautiful Uni girls who all made the effort to come dine with me in London and especially my amazing, thoughtful and talented friend Style Mouth. Fab cocktails, lovely food, extra-special company: what more could a girl ask for? 

Well, maybe just a walk down Oxford Street to see the Christmas lights. To my surprise and delight, there was a Marmite theme going on this year. I love Marmite and have even managed to convince Cheri; not a bowl of soup goes by without him adding a massive spoon of Marmite. I rest somewhat traditionalist - marmite on toast all the way! 

The trip just kept getting better once safely back home in sunny(?) Newcastle. Fitting my two families into 5 days was a challenge and I would have loved to spend more time with everyone, but it was definitely just what I needed. Christmas shopping with my Mam was one of the highlights, especially when I came across these limited edition Marmite Gold pots in Debenhams! 

A bit of Christmas-elf style hinting meant that Cheri even got one in his Christmas stocking. The lucky devil! Blog post to follow when he finally opens it. 

Hope you all had an amazing Christmas and New Year full of happiness, good food and most importantly, the people you love and who love you.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

One-pan chicken / Poulet d'une casserole

There are many things that I love about my flat. For sarters, it's a duplex, which makes it feel like a proper home. My neighbours aren't too annoying, if I exclude the elderly lady underneath us who enjoys tapping on her ceiling/our kitchen floor with her broom. I couldn't be any closer to the town centre, which means I don't always have to use the car. The list of bonheurs is endless. 

However, all of these avantages are quickly forgotten by your frustrated Gourmande when it comes to cooking dinner in what seems to be the world's worst thought-out kitchen. Or kitchenette. Calling it a kitchen would be a slight overstatement. With absolutely NO workbench, I therefore have to do all food prep on either the dining room table (not too practical when hosting dinner party) or the American-style bar (too high, makes my arms hurt!). 

The other thing that annoys me about the kitchen is the teeny tiny sink. Put a coffee cup and a plate in there and there's no room for anything else. OK, maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the gist!

I have thus become a huge fan of any meal that avoids both complicated preparation and washing-up, like this easy and stress-free one-pan chicken dish.

Simply chop up whatever vegetables you fancy (I chose sweet potato, carrots and red peppers), chop them and pop them in an ovenproof dish, then add 10-15 garlic cloves. Don't take the skin off the garlic, just separate the cloves and throw them in to the dish whole. When they cook the overpowering taste will give way to a slightly sweet, delicate garlicky paste. Add 4-6 chicken thighs depending on how many people you need to feed and how hungry they are. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with whatever herbs you have in the kitchen and cook in the oven for 1 hour 15 mins at 190C. Drizzle with honey 15 minutes before serving if you like your vegetables a bit caramelised. 

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Walnut cake with cognac icing / Gâteau aux noix avec nappage au cognac

What to do with a kilo of walnuts kindly given to me by Cheri's aunt? 

As I'm not a huge fan of just chowing down on nuts as a snack, even though I know they are good for me, I decided to make something decidely less healthy but undeniably delicious: a walnut cake with a decadent cognac icing. After all, what's the point of trying to be healthy over the festive period?

Walnut cake with cognac icing

Shell 450g walnuts and set aside 16 for decoration. Put the rest in a blender with 150g brown sugar. Blend for 10 seconds, until the mixture is roughly but evenly chopped. 

Heat the oven to 170C/gas 5. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl and add a pinch of salt and 80g flour, followed by 3 eggs and 130g melted butter. 

Grease a high-edged baking tin and sprinkle with flour. Pour in the cake mixture and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for 40 mins, then leave to cool before turning out onto a wire rack.

To make the icing, mix 80g icing sugar with 1tsp cognac. Add a little water if necessary. Pour over the cake, coating evenly. Place the walnuts around the edge of the cake and leave to set before serving.