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!