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...


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Homemade lasagne / Lasagne maison

Lasagne always reminds me of my Mam. I remember her making it in the kitchen, carefully layering bolognese sauce, lasagne sheets and a creamy mushroom sauce, before smothering the lot with grated cheese. It was always delicious, and most importantly made with love. 

Now my Mum is miles away and I miss her. Growing up is great, but sometimes my homesick self needs ways to feel close to her even though we don't live in the same country anymore. 

Making lasagne is one of these ways, although I haven't used my Mam's exact recipe (Campbell's mushroom soup being her secret ingredient, it is impossible to find it in France!).  

Still, as I sprinkled over the cheese and put the lasagne in the oven, just for one minute I didn't miss her.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Little fishes 2 / Petits poissons : le retour

Here goes the Oscar speech: 

I'd like to say thank you to a good friend's dad for giving us these delicious fresh fishies, thanks to the good friend for gutting them as that is a skill I am yet to master, and finally thank you to Cheri for cooking the fish to perfection! 

Eating fish whole is something relatively new to me. I'm a little bit ashamed to say it, but up until this year all fish cooked by my greedy hands had already been gutted, filleted and de-boned. However, I just couldn't say no to these little beauties, especially saying as fish is something that is becoming ridiculously expensive. Cooking the fish whole stops it from drying out and keeps all of the flavours intact. However, it does mean having to battle with the bones which can be a little irritating, especially when one gets lodged in your throat. A bit of care and patience is all it takes. 

I decided to accompany Cheri's papillotes with some curried courgettes. This is a quick and easy side-dish that goes well with white meats or fish. For four people you'll need one large courgette. If you're dining solo or cooking for two, freeze the remaining courgette slices for up to three months. Fry off in a little olive oil until soft, add a couple of spoons of crème fraîche, and then stir in whatever spices you fancy. I chose to put in some medium curry powder, groud cumin, fresh coriander, and a good dose of turmeric to give a nice colour to the veggies. Fry over a medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until the courgettes are soft and melt in the mouth. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Wild mushroom hunt / Chasse aux cèpes

Though I still think of myself as a city gal, I am growing to love the countryside more and more, especially as living right in the town centre (all be it a relatively small town) seems to equal being woken up by idiots on motorbikes driving past at 4am and never being able to park outside the house when I've got all the food shopping in the boot. 

Besides the peace and quiet, there are many other things I am learning to appreciate about the French countryside. Wild mushrooms is one of them. 

Mushrooms seem to be one of those foods that people either love or hate. No-one just 'doesn't mind' mushrooms. Cheri hates them. I love them. However, Cheri does love going hunting for them in the woods. I think it's his hunter-gatherer instincts coming through. However, I also like to think of myself as a curious Lara Croft style adventurer(minus Angelina Jolie's body the crop top of course), so when our countryside-residing friend invited us to accompany him on a chasse aux cèpes, I put on my wellies and grabbed my plastic bag.

However, we were not the only ones on the prowl for wild mushrooms. My friend explained that these delicious and ridiculously expensive fungi can be found more or less abundently depending on weather conditions, and also the position of the moon. Apparently today was an excellent wild mushroom gathering day, will all conditions reunited. Apparently we weren't the only ones to know this.  

Thus, the hunt required a keen eye, a certain discretion and a good amount of bluffing. After spotting several of the little beauties just next to another elderly couple of mushroom hunters, Cheri craftily incited them to move on: Il n'y a rien ici, quelle dommage! At 15 euros the kilo, one can't afford to play Mr Fun Guy. 

One hour and two plastic bags full later, the mission was a success. I'm planning on freezing half of the mushrooms to make chicken and mushroom pie or a wild mushroom risotto. The other half are going in tonight's dinner, lovingly cooked with garlic, fresh parsley and olive oil to make a perfect winter omelette filling.  

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Confit duck / Confit de canard

There's a good reason that confit duck is a French classic. It's one of the most tender ways of cooking meat that exists, and the side-dishes that normally accompany said duck are just as flavoursome if admittedly not too diet-conscious, notably thin sautée potatoes cooked in duck fat and sprinkled with lots of garlic and fresh parsely. 

While this is a dish I love eating, it has the reputation of being a bit tricky to get right at home so I normally only have confit duck when Chéri and I eat out.

But being the adventurous gourmande that I am, it wasn't long before I decided to give it a go especially saying as Lidl had tins of brand-name confit on special offer! 

The result was not bad at all really. The duck turned out crispy on the skin side and stayed tender. This is one of the main problems when cooking a confit duck, as cooking over too high a heat can dry out the meat. I chose, for this reason, to cook mine in a large frying pan for about 25 minutes over a low heat, or until the duck was warmed through.

As for the potatoes, no real problems there either. You need quite a lot of duck fat when frying, as the potatoes seem to drink it up. Add the parsely and garlic just at the end so as not to lose their flavour and turn the potatoes constantly so they don't burn. 

Maybe I'll give coq au vin a try next!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Pancake party / Crêpes party

A big thank you to Chéri for this impromptu pancake party! This nifty Tefal pancake device comes with a little spatula for flipping the pancakes (Chéri's job) and a roller for smoothing them out into perfect circles (my job). It also doubles as a raclette machine (a french winter dish of potatoes, sliced meats and gherkins with melted cheese poured over.) 

We had savoury pancakes to start with ham, cheese, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes with basil and a dollop of crème fraîche. Delicious! Then came the dessert pancakes: lemon and sugar (classic), rhubarb jam (seasonal) and chocolate/banana (my favourite). 

We can't wait to try this again with friends. Pancakes, anyone?

Friday, 12 October 2012

Recette: Griddled salmon with cheese

While I'm a big fan of salmon, I must admit I don't really know how to make it interesting. I always tend to pop it in a tin foil papillote with some lemon and butter, or soya sauce and ginger if I'm feeling oriental, before forgetting about it for 20 minutes in the oven. While that makes for a perfectly tasty supper, I fancied trying something different with my salmon this time.

Recette: Griddled salmon with cheese

Serves 2 as a main course.

You will need: 2 salmon fillets, 2 thin slices of cheese (Taleggio works well but I opted for Gouda), some fresh basil leaves and 4 slices of prosciutto or parma ham. 

Season the salmon with a bit of pepper. There is no need to add salt, as the prosciutto and cheese will do this. Cut the cheese to fit the salmon fillets and place it on top of the fleshy side of the fish. Top the cheese with several fresh basil leaves and wrap the fillets entirely with the prosciutto to make a parcel. 

Heat a griddle pan and cook the parcels for 10 minutes on each side over a medium heat (depending on how well cooked you like your salmon).   

Serve with fresh vegetables (I chose baby carrots and peas) or a salad as this can be quite a rich main course, and a glass of white wine if it's the weekend! 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Marmite please / Marmite, si vous plaît

I love my home country's cooking. British food is hearty, honest, and most of all tasty. There is something reassuring about it: you know you can't go wrong with a full English, even from the greasiest builder's cafe. 

Imagine my delight, therefore, when I came across 'La Perfide Albion', a little boutique in the quaint rue de l'Arc de Triomphe in Saintes run by Nathaniel Waugh. As well as running an ongoing English book swap (English books are ridiculously overpriced in France, actually all books are..) Nathaniel stocks a variety of imported English produce at prices that are much better than in the supermarkets. 

Here is today's shopping list: 

Marmite, Bisto original gravy granules, OXO vegetable cubes and some Tyrell's sweet chilli crisps. The essentials!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Autumn salads / Salades d'automne

Don't get me wrong, I love winter food; it sticks to your bones, fills you up and keeps you warm! I'm not ready to give out on summer just yet though. One of the advantages of living in the South of France is that the thermometer is stuck at 24 degrees even though it's October! This doesn't, however, mean that we can cheat the seasons. One look at the market stalls where the tomatoes and aubergines have been replaced by turnips, apples and grapes testifies to an undeniable fact: autumn is here. 

Autumn is my favourite season. I love the colours of the trees, the cooler temperatures mean no more sunburn and I have an excuse to make tasty autumnal dishes like this brie, hazelnut and grape salad.

This idea came to me from a similar salad in the 'October' volume of my Sud Ouest Gourmand collection. I really love this set of cookery books. Not only do they feature seasonal recipies (being based on the months of the year) but they also use ingredients that are normally easy to come by in the area.

Chop up half a block of brie, wash a big bunch of black grapes and cut them in half. Wash your salad leaves (I chose rocket as I like the peppery taste but you can use any seasonal leaves) and mix together in a big serving bowl. Sprinkle over some roasted hazelnuts for a bit of extra protein and a nice crunchy texture. 

The little secret to this recipe is the dressing. As this is quite a sweet salad due to the grapes and the brie can be a bit rich, you need something acidic to cut through the flavours. 

  Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a little bowl. Add salt and pepper, two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and 4 teaspoons of olive oil. Whisk together with a fork. Finely dice a shallot and add to the mixture. Drizzle over the salad. 

This dish is enough on its own for two people as a lunchtime meal but if you want to make it a bit more filling serve with a slice or two of country ham. 

This dish is easy to make, really tasty and perfectly in harmony with the seasons. What more could you ask for? Maybe seconds!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Homemade chilli oil / Huile pimentée maison

Along with the garden tomatoes our green-thumbed friends were kind enough to give us these gorgeous sweet red peppers. After grilling several and chopping them into my homemade pasta sauce, there were still several chillies left over so I decided to give my own chilli oil a go. I love spicy food and this oil can be used afterwards to cook a steak, spice up a pizza or even give a bit of peps to a salad. 

Much cheaper than the overpriced chilli oils available in the supermarket, it was really easy to make too! Cut the stalks off the chillies and crush them gently with a rolling pin to break the skins and release their flavour. Pop them in an empty glass bottle and cover with olive oil. At this stage you can add dried herbs, peppercorns or other types of chilli if you want to experiment. However, as this was my first time I decided to play it simple! The hardest bit to this recipe is waiting while the oil impregnates with the flavour of the chilli...a whole two months before I can taste it!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Poppies galore / Des coquelicots en folie

Recette: Poppy Cocktail

A delicious, sweet, summery cocktail that Chéri introduced me to this summer while he was working as a barman for Martell, one of the oldest and most prestigious cognac houses. Living so close to the town of Cognac itself, it was only a matter of time before I became seduced by this elegant and refined alcohol that continues to shape the economy and history of the area. However, while I am now learning to appreciate older cognacs in their natural state, the younger and more agressive cognacs are too strong to drink by themselves. Hence the beauty of this original little cocktail recipe! 

Mix together 2cl cognac VS, 2 cl ginger liqueur and a small amount of poppy cordial. Dilute with Perrier. 

This delicious poppy sirop is not easy to come by. I had to go to our local Jardiland that also boasts an epicerie fine to find it! While it was quite expensive (5 euros a bottle!) you only need to put a tiny amount into the cocktail and they have other interesting flavours (candyfloss, lavender, toffee apple, basil etc). 

See Greedy Guide to Cordial for other cordial experiences!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Stuffed garden tomatoes / Tomates farcies du jardin

While Chéri and I don't have the luck of having a garden at the minute (admittedly quite rare for a second story appartement), our generous country-living friends have kept us in fresh produce from their vegetable patch all throughout summer.

The most recent basketful contained some enormous corgettes that I've chopped up and frozen, as well as some tasty little peppers that Chéri and I roasted and chopped into fresh pasta with a bit of chorizo, and last but not least some small but sweet and juicy melons. 

The best surprises, however, were definitely the huge garden tomatoes. One of the French dishes I love the most are stuffed tomatoes, not stuffed with rice as is often the English tradition, but with sausagemeat. Slow cooking in the oven means that the meat and tomatoes become tender and deliciously salty and this is a dish that can be enjoyed all year round. Try these stuffed tomatoes with a salad in summer and with rice in winter. 

To make room for the sausagemeat, I needed to scoop out the majority of the tomato flesh and seeds. This often ends up in the bin but I don't like wasting what can be used up, especially as these were some amazing tomatoes. 

After hesitating over what to do with my leftovers, I decided to make my own tasty pasta sauce, much fresher and cheaper than supermarket bought ones. 

Pop all of the tomato flesh and seeds into a large pan and add salt and pepper as well as a bit of water. Mix well to get rid of any large lumps and leave to simmer for at least 1 hour on a low heat. Stir from time to time so the mixture doesn't stick to the pan.

Once the liquid has reduced (as you can see by looking at the level of the mixture on the side of the pan), adjust the seasoning and leave to cool. 

The result is a sweet and tasty pasta sauce that you can then spice up with whatever takes your fancy: fresh basil, parmesan, garlic, chillies. 

However, as there are no additives in the sauce you will need to eat it up within the week. A great excuse to make yourself a big bowl of pasta!