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.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Sunday cakes / Patisserie de dimanche

No better way to make the most of a lazy Sunday afternoon than with a good cake. These two beauties come from one of our five (yes, five) local bakery-patisseries, on the Avenue Gambetta in Saintes. 

Cheri chose the fresh fruit tart, beautifully decorated and topped with a dark chocolate swirl:

Sorry for the photo quality - didn't have time to find my DSLR before Cheri gobbled his cake up!
While tempted by a rhubarb and blackberry crumble, I gave into my gourmande side and chose the fraisier, a delightful combination of strawberries placed on a delicate mousse and layered with a sweet and airy sponge: 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Salmon stir-fry / Saumon a l'asiatique

What makes this salmon stir-fry extra special? Good quality salmon fillets, fresh seasonal vegetables, and a sauce realised from scratch that my Chinese friend, H, would be proud of. 

Easy, quick, and bursting with flavour, this is a healthy dinner that can be changed endlessly depending on which vegetables you have at hand or which oils and vinegars you prefer. 

Salmon stir-fry (serves 4)

In a bowl mix together 4 tsp soya sauce, 4 tsp sherry or white wine, 1 tsp brown sugar, 4 tsp groundnut oil, 2 tsp water and season with black pepper. Marinate 4 salmon fillets in the mixture for at least 30 mins.

Peel and chop your chosen vegetables. Boil for 10 minutes in salted water and drain.

Grill the salmon for 5 minutes under a hot grill, turning the fillets half-way. During this time, cook a packet of dried noodles in salted water and drain. 

Heat the remaining marinade in a pan, add the vegetables and the noodles and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Divide between 4 deep plates, top with the salmon and serve hot.

Greedy notes:

I chose broccoli, red peppers and carrots and this is what I had available but celery, mange-tout or mini-sweetcorn would all work, as well as mushrooms and bean-sprouts. 

Living in the Charente-Maritime region of France, I decided to replace the sherry with the same amount of red Pineau des Charentes. This delicious, sweet mixture of grape juice and cognac has the same syrupy consistency as sherry and is one of the specialities of the area.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Arizona Beverage Co

After being unashamedly sucked in by the snazzy packaging, I couldn't resist buying these flavoured tea drinks from the AriZona Beverage Co. I should know better than buying something just because it's pretty but I just couldn't help myself. 

After musing over the various flavours available, I decided on three: blueberry white tea, iced tea with peach and green tea with honey, though I did fancy trying the pomegranate green tea too (4 bottles seemed a little excessive for an impulse purchase!)

Cheri and I tried out the teas and were most impressed with how refreshing they are and the fact that they aren't too sweet. You can tell from the taste and colour of each drink that AriZona use 100% natural ingredients, no artificial flavours and colours and good quality tea.

My only regret is that the whole range isn't available yet outside of America. I will just have to content myself to a limited selection of products until then! 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Snowman Cookies / Bonhommes de neige

As mentioned in my previous post, I have a lovely stinking winter cold which has taken away the things I hold dearest: my tastebuds. 

Fortunately, these ginger and cinammon snowman cookies made specially by Cheri have found a way to break through the lurgy barrier and have become my favourite food over the last couple of days. 

The buttercream icing and generous sprinkling of raisins is just what a girl needs to keep her spirits up on these cold winter nights. Artistically speaking, however, I think they look a little more like barn owls than snowmen, but I'm not complaining!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Chestnut and pumpkin soup / Soupe de potiron aux chataignes

There are many things I love about winter: Christmas, snow, big woollen scarves, hot chocolate...

Getting ill, however, is one of those winter staples that I could  do without. The flu fairies obviously did not hear my heartfelt plea this year and have instead decided to curse me with the December cold. 

This means lots of rubbish daytime TV, vitamins and soup. This chestnut and pumpkin soup is just the thing to make me feel better and is so easy to make. I decided to top mine off with some scallops (it is the season after all) but it is just as delicious on it's own or with some chopped country ham or pancetta. 

Autumn soup with scallops (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main)

Peel 800g of pumpkin and cut it into cubes. You won't need a whole pumpkin, just a decent slice will do. Melt 20g of butter in a deep pan with 1tsp sunflower oil and add one chopped onion. Sweat for 5 minutes.

Add the pumkin cubes and 250g chestnuts (tinned work well for this recipe, although they can be a little salty so rinse them before use). Cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly, then add 800ml chicken stock. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down and leave to simmer for 25 minutes. 

Once cooked, blend until smooth. Season and keep warm.

Fry the scallops in some butter for 5 minutes over a medium heat until cooked to your liking. I like my scallops slightly tender in the middle so 5 minutes is the maximum cooking time. 

Pour the soup into 4 bowls, top with the scallops and sprinkle with chopped chervil or flat-leaf parsely. Sprinkle with ground black pepper and serve.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Raclette season / La saison de raclette

Raclette has to be one of my favourite French winter meals. Not only does it combine some of my favourite foodie ingredients, potatoes, melted cheese, sliced meats and gherkins, but I just find the whole principle very convivial as everyone is reunited around the table together. 

Cheri got given this raclette machine for Christmas last year and I think we waited about a week before trying it out. The basic idea is that you take a stack of little rectangular slices of cheese and that you put them one at a time in a mini tray before sliding them under the grill of the machine so that they can melt away nicely. This melted cheese is then smothered over some pre-cooked new potatoes (keep them warm by putting them on top of the machine with a little water so that they don't dry out). Serve with bacon, ham, sausage or whatever meat takes your fancy.

The good thing about the raclette machine is that they are all non-stick, meaning that you don't have to worry about the cheese sticking and you can just get on with the most important part...eating!

All that remains to be done is to invite round some friends to share the fun (there are 6 little trays) and then pour out a glass of crisp white. Satisfaction guaranteed!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Fruity pork curry / Curry de porc aux fruits secs

While I am aware that pork is not the healthiest choice of meats, due to the higher fat content in our piggy friends compared to chicken or turkey, I think it is one of the tastiest when cooked well. It's also one of the cheaper cuts and I think we can all agree that in today's financial climate of doom and gloom we could all do with a little cheap!

Here's a quick and easy way to use a packet of diced pork to spice up those cold winter evenings while dreaming of faraway island shores. 

Greedy veggies could easily subsitute some tofu or Quorn-esque meat pieces instead of the pork.

Fruity pork curry (serves 4)

Peel and roughly dice 3 garlic cloves and a 3cm piece of ginger. Crush using a pestle and mortar to make your aromatic curry paste. Ginger and garlic are also perfect in winter for warding off infections and viruses so don't be afraid to be a bit heavy handed!

Heat some sunflower oil in a large pan and sweat the curry paste for 2 minutes over a high heat, then add 800g of diced pork and fry for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Season well, then add 2 diced onions and 1 diced apple. Cook for a further 5 minutes. Add 2 tsp turmeric (a delicate spice that adds both flavour and colour), 600g chopped tomatoes and 200ml water. Turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes until the sauce has reduced. 

Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve hot with rice. 

Greedy note: I didn't find this version of the curry fruity enough for my liking as I am a huge fan of mixing sweet and savoury...I decided to add a generous handful of dried raisins to the pan to sweeten things up and the result was perfect!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Woof Woof

Absolutely love these doggie style cupcakes. Not too sure where this photo originally comes from as I have seen it on quite a few websites and on Facebook but couldn't resist sharing it.

My Mam gave me a lovely cupcake and cheescake recipe book for Christmas a couple of years ago, as well as some fancy cookie cutters and an icing and piping bag set so I have no excuses not to be baking away this Christmas. 

Not sure if I could pull of this level of icing skill yet but you never know. I'm going to try and do some in the image of Fifi, now that the little fella is back at home recovering!


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Get well soon Fifi

My beautiful Fifi is still at the vets with a serious urinary tract blockage and crystals in his urine. Seeing him hooked up to the IV and all alone in his little cage breaks my heart but I know he is getting the treatment he needs and that we were lucky to spot that something was wrong with him before things got any worse. We just have to wait now, the hardest part.

Get well soon my little sweetheart, I miss having you at home.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Baked fennel / Gratin de fenouil

Before going in the oven

This quick and easy oven baked fennel dish is perfect for keeping warm on the not too far off cold winter nights. The delicate, slightly sweet taste of the baked fennel goes very well with the salty melted cheese, and while I am not a huge fan of raw fennel as it has quite a strong liquorice taste, I find that once cooked it is simply greedylicious! 

All you need to do is cook the fennel bulbs until soft, cut into slices, layer them in an ovenproof dish, cover with melted cheese and grill until the cheese is bubbling. I used a pressure cooker as this methods allows you to keep the maximum of nutrients in the fennel and also saves time but if you don't have a pressure cooker you can steam or boil the bulbs.

Any grated cheese will do: I used Emmenthal as that was what we had left-over in the fridge but parmesan, cheddar, crumbled stilton or even some smoked mozzarella would do the job nicely. 

Try with marinated pork chops, steamed fish or a roast chicken leg for a speedy and delicious winter supper.
Ready to eat

Saturday, 17 November 2012

La Rochelle: Salon de la Gastronomie

It's that time of year again..No, not Christmas (not yet!) but La Rochelle's annual Salon de la Gastronomie. After discovering this greedy event last year with Cheri, I was eager to see what this year would have to offer. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see on arriving that the entry fee hadn't increased from last year: 3 euros is nothing for an afternoon of wine-tasting, cake-nibbling and general foodie merriment in a world where everything seems to be expensive. 

We started by doing the once round to try a bit of everything (well I wasn't going to say no to homemade butternut squash soup, pineau jelly or a glass of champagne!) I knew I'd have to make some hard decisions. What to buy out of the tens of delicious products? 

After a lot of deliberation, a bit more tasting and another glass of champagne, Cheri and I managed to whittle down the list to a manageable four items. 

Grape jam with safran 

This French-grown safran from the Gers region is used by Domi and Alex to make a selection of delicious jams, onion chutneys and honey. The delicate and raffined taste of the safran goes wonderfully with this grape jam and balances out nicely the acidity of the grapes. Thanks to Dominique for letting us try the whole range of products and for letting me take a photo of the stand! 

Bordeaux Caneles

Literally can't get enough of these delicious afternoon-tea treats since Cheri introduced me to them on one of visits to Bordeaux. Invitingly crunchy on the outside, soft and gummy on the inside, these beauties have a lovely vanilla taste, enhanced buy a generous dose of rum. Needless to say we ate all six in less than 5 minutes of getting back in the house!

Spiced Bread

All of the flavours of Christmas rolled into one sticky, wickedly rich cake. Perfect with a big steaming mug of Earl Grey while listening unashamedly to 'All I Want for Christmas is You'. Yes, it's Mariah time.

Various sun-dried tomato pastes: indian, wild mushroom and black trumpet mushroom

The last impulse buy of the day, I just couldn't leave without taking home a couple of these sun-dried tomato pastes. Delicious in pasta sauces, curries, or simply spread onto a bit of poppadom as a TV snack, I was already a fan of these Mediterranean delights before the Salon but had only tasted them in their natural state. Special mention for the black trumpet mushroom paste: actually died and went to fungi heaven upon trying this!  

Until next year... 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Winter soup / Soupe d'hiver

After catching a mini-winter cold last week, I have to admit that I didn't feel much like spending time in the kitchen. A big thank you to Cheri for making this delicious winter vegetable soup to warm me up and make me feel better. 

A simple and healthy recipe bursting with vitamins and based on good quality, seasonal vegetables: carrots, swede, potatoes and leeks. 

All that was left for me to do was grill and cut up some strips of streaky bacon and sprinkle over some grated Gruyere cheese to serve with this heartwarming winter soup. 

Merci mon coeur ! 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Smoked salmon and boursin rolls / Rouleaux au salmon et au boursin

What to do with a left-over slice of smoked salmon? Spread it with some Boursin (soft cheese with herbs) and roll up the salmon, then cut into strips. Secure each mini-roll with a cocktail stick and serve with a glass of champagne or Prosecco for a delicious pre-Christmas amuse-bouche.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Apple puddings and hot chocolate / Flognarde aux pommes et chocolat chaud

Cold autumn afternoons off mean only one thing: it's baking time! While I am undoubtedly more salty than sugary, there is something calming about baking. The 'here a pinch, there a pinch' approach that I usually take when cooking savoury dishes doesn't work quite as well when it comes to making desserts. 

In my experience, to get cakes and puddings right, a minimum of concentration is required: an extra 10 grams can make all the difference. So when I need to leave behind money troubles, expensive MOTs or our noisy neighbours, baking is a leisure pursuit that I can dive into and just forget about everything else. Only the kitchen scales matter!

As apples are in season at the minute I decided to make the most of this greedy fact by trying out a new recipe. 

Recette: Apple pudding (serves 6)

Beat 4 eggs with a packet of vanilla sugar and 120g brown sugar, adding a pinch of salt. Add 80g of flour and 40g of cornflour and mix until smooth. Thin out the mixture by adding 500ml of milk. Add 40g of melted butter to the bowl and mix.

Heat the oven to 190C or gas mark 6/7. Grease a large ovenproof dish and brush over a thin layer of flour. Peel and chop 4/5 apples and spread them out in the dish. 
Pour over the pudding mixture, taking care to spread it evenly. Put in the oven for 40 mins, then leave to cool in the unlit oven.

As you may be able to tell from the first photo, this is another Sud Ouest beauty from my months of the year cookbook collection - I just can't get enough of these colourful, delicious and reasonably priced recipes!

Cheri and I were both pleased with the result. More pudding than cake, this autumnal dessert has a soft and creamy texture that much ressembles the traditional French clafoutis. The brown sugar balances out nicely the acidity of the apples and while undoubtedly quite a sweet dish, it isn't sickly at all. 

The only slight downside for me was the appearance. Once out of the oven, the apples and pudding mixture turned out a similar pale brown colour; I would have preferred the apples to caramelise a bit instead to provide a nice colour contrast! 

Either way, this dessert is to be consumed without moderation, and ideally accompanied by a big mug of hot chocolate with cinnamon.Even Fifi (my tabby cat) wanted a bit!

Fifi giving my slice of flognarde his "come-on eyes"

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Food crush: Caramelised Red Onions

After Cheri recently found out that he is slightly iron deficient, I decided to use this piece of information as a greedy excuse to grill us some lovely steaks for dinner, accompanied by some new potatoes that I picked up for less than a euro at Leclerc, and which you simply pop in the microwave for 15 minutes. While I am a big advocate of home cooking, sometimes I just don't have the time to get out the pots and pans so I was eager to see what these time and energy-saving spuds would be like! 

As Cheri likes his veg quite well cooked, I decided to leave the pommes de terre in the microwave for 5 more minutes (20 in total). We were both impressed with the results: the potatoes were well cooked, not too floury or watery as can sometimes be the case with vegetables cooked in the microwave, and the fact to cook them in their plastic packaging actually means they retain more nutrients than if you boiled them: lots of good reasons to try them out! 

The time I saved on the spuds also meant I could make some caramelised red onions to go with the meal. After eating them several times with goat's cheese salads or with my filet de boeuf when eating out, I couldn't resist trying these beauties myself. 

Recette: Caramelised Red Onions

Cut one or two red onions (1 onion will serve 2 people)into thin strips. Heat a knob of lightly salted butter in a frying pan over a medium until melted. Add the red onion and stir well, coating the onion with the butter. Fry until soft. 

Sprinkle over some brown sugar and stir again. Leave to cook over a low heat until the onions start to become crispy (about 15-20 mins). Stir from time to time to avoid any sticking. Done! 

The crispy texture of the slowly cooked onions combined with the sweet, syrupy taste is an absolute delice! While I do normally only make them now to go with red meat, this is also the perfect side dish for your festive cheese board if you're not a meaty fan. 

Pour yourself a big glass of wine (I chose a Bourgogne Pinot Noir) and get ready for Christmas!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Ode to a sausage / Poème pour une saucisse

Anyone who knows me well will also know that I love a good sausage. I know there are healthier, more exotic meats out there but I can't help it. There is just something about sausages that turns me on! 

Be it your humble New York hot dog, a spicy chorizo sausage or the traditional British Cumberland, they all make it onto my list of fave foods. Even veggie sausages make the cut: on a taste and texture level they aren't too bad, and they are undoubtedly much healthier than the animal equivalent.

One of the things I like about sausages is that you can do so many things with them. They go we with pretty much any vegetable, can be cooked in a variety of sauces (mustard, garlic, tomato, mushroom...) and are delicious when accompanied by fruits and sugary ingredients, making it the ideal meat to try out sweet and savoury dishes. I especially like adding a bit of honey to my sausage casseroles, as well as a chopped apple which helps to balance out what can otherwise be a salty dish.

In my opinion, nothing beats simple, however, when it comes to making a sublime sausage: good quality sausages roasted in the oven, some seasonal vegetables from the market. I chose sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts, but parnsips and turnips work well too. Top the lot off with some warm Bisto gravy and you have yourself a tasty winter supper. 

Greedy tip: Buy the best quality sausages you can afford. They will be less fatty, tastier, and healthier. It's better to eat good quality sausages once a month than budget quality every week. And vary the types: chipolata, merguez, garlic and herb...the possibilities are endless!


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Milka Philidelphia

While I am not adverse to a bit of healthy eating, I am undoubtedly an incurable gourmande. "Oh I'll just have a taste" could definitely be my life motto. So when I saw that Philidelphia had decided to go into collaboration with Milka to make a new chocolate spread, I had to see if the taste lived up to the hype! 

Cheese and chocolate have to be two of my favourite ingredients. However, while the French do some amazing cheeses, I am not such a big fan of the chocolate. Give me a Dairy Milk any day. In fact, give me a Dairy Milk maintenant. Despite my patriotism in all matters chocolate, I can, however, recognise the virtues of Swiss choc. Especially Milka. There is something so sweet and melt-in-the-mouth about Milka that I just love. Even the childish purple packaging and the Milka cow make me smile.

So, cheese = heaven and chocolate = bliss. But the two together? Only my slices of toast covered in this strange mixture would tell.

First impressions after opening the tub were positive. The spread is a nice hazelnut colour, almost gleamingly smooth and just asking for my butter knife to plunge into it. 

Texture-wise, Milka Philidelphia is more of a chocolate cream than a traditional chocolate spread. This means it is very easy to cover your slices of toast, top a chocolate cake, ladle on to rice cakes (see, I can be healthy!) or anything else you might fancy doing with it. However, because of this creamy aspect it is undeniably quite rich. A little goes a long way, which is a good thing as it's not that cheap - 2 euros for a little tub. 

Last but not least: the taste taste. I was agreably surprised by the combination of these two products. The Philidelphia actually balances out the sugary quality of the chocolate and brings a note of freshness to what could have been otherwise an over-sickly spead. The Milka taste is definitely still there, however, so Milka fans will not be disappointed. 

The only down-side may well be that this sold fresh and not in a jar like other chocolate spreads, so you need to eat it relatively quickly. On second thoughts, that may not be a down-side after all! 

All that remains is to brew myself a nice cup of tea and eat my Milka Philidelphia toast! 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Coconut Water / Eau de coco

I thought that one of the benefits of no longer being a teenager would be no longer having to deal with blemishes, spots and blackheads. I was wrong! I seem to have more spots now than I did as a carefree youngster. 

So when I heard about the new antioxidant craze hitting star town that promises to clear up your skin in no time, I admit I was a little intrigued. I'm normally quite sceptical about such fads, but even the girls at the beauty salon said this one was worth a try. Lily Cole said in a interview that she consumes it every day, mixed with aloe vera. And she's got pretty nice skin!

So what is this magic ingredient I hear you ask? 

Coconut water.

Not coconut milk, that lovely creamy Thai-curry staple, but the water that comes from an unripe green coconut. Apparently, this (relatively expensive) liquid has outstanding hydrating properties and is the fetish of many a sportsperson. It also contains more potassium than a banana! Taste-wise it's not too bad - a bit sweet, like a ripe melon. And it did leave me feeling rehydrated and refreshed.

While I'm not 100% convinced about all of its supposed healing properties (I'll wait to see some hard facts!) I do think it may have helped my skin a little. The only thing putting me off buying it again is the fact is costs 3.50 euros for a tiny 500ml carton! It's not easy to find either - after scouring the organic and health food shops I finally found it in the local supermarket, but in the half-hidden away organic section. And not even with the own brands: this is unfortunately a brandmark beverage!

Ater all, I could probably buy a bottle of Clearasil for that price...