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!