Thursday, 12 October 2017

Food for Free

Once again it is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
No more so than here in the Auvergne, where the hedgerows are bursting with autumn fruit and the little paths that wend their way round our friendly local volcano are lined with brambles begging to be harvested.
So, a few Sundays ago we braved the hunter's guns which were blasting around us and filled as many containers as we could with this free bounty.

Once we were safely home, the berries were washed and sent on the first part of their journey to become Bramble Jelly.

For each kilo of berries, you need 2 cooking apples ( cored and roughly chopped but peel still on) and 500 ml water.
Put these in a large preserving pan and simmer for 10-20 minutes until soft.
Apples and blackberries ready to simmer
I like to give the softened fruit a quick blitz with a hand blender or mash with a potato masher, before spooning the mixture into a jelly bag, suspended over a large bowl.
Leave overnight, weighted down with a heavy tin to press out as much juice as possible.
Make the remaining juice up to 1 litre with water or red grape juice and put in the pan with a kilo of sugar.
Boil on a full rolling boil for 5 minutes and then whisk in 4g of agar agar.

Boil until you have a set

Continue to boil until you have the beginnings of a set ( at 104 degrees if you have a thermometer or a spoonful placed on a cold saucer wrinkles when you press your finger through it, and leaves a clear trail.)
Pour into strerilized jars, cool, seal and label. (A litre will fill around 9 jars).
The jelly will be set by the following day.
Bramble Jelly
With another 500g of blackberries, you can make Blackberry Vodka too.
Wash the berries and crush them roughly with a potato masher. Spoon them into sterilized kilner jars and cover them with either alcool à fruits (readily available here) or use vodka in the UK. Seal and leave in a cool place for at least 1 month, turning the jars every week or so.
Then dissolve 400g of caster sugar in a pan with 200ml of water, bring to the boil and then simmer for 2 minutes before leaving to cool.
Open your kilner jars and filter the blackberries from the liquid, add your sugar syrup and mix well then pour into sterilized bottles and seal.

Blackberry Vodka
Another couple of blackberry ideas from the blog are:

Blackberry and Ricotta Bars
or Summer Pudding ( mine here looks a bit like The Blob!- but it is so simple, economical and lovely it really is worth a try):

Summer Pudding
Something very much more savoury, which I have been pleased to try recently, is sorrel.
I discovered a clump of it pushing its way up through the tarmac on our driveway. It's spear-shaped leaves and distinct lemon flavour are unmistakeable.

Made into a soup with a couple of potatoes, an onion or chopped leek and some vegetable bouillon it is scrumptious. Just pull the ribs from the leaves, chop them roughly and simmer with the other veg in the bouillon. Blitz before serving and add a little milk or cream if you like.

Sorrel Soup
Hugh F-W makes his into a sweet tart amongst other things:
Sweet sorrel tart
Sorrel Tart

And so, my foraging comes to an end this week but, whilst the hunters blow their horns, my other neighbours are snuffling about in the undergrowth, looking for mushrooms.

Here's a selection someone found nearby:

Foraged mushrooms (photo courtesy of Madeleine)
I am not brave enough to tackle these yet- but who knows? Maybe next year. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Runaway Pumpkins!

Lots of things really thrive here in the Auvergne. Swiss chard, courgettes, pumpkins.....And me, of course.

When we arrived back to the Potager, the pumpkins had taken over.
The leeks were frantically waving for help, and the beetroot, celeriac and radishes were all but in invisible under a tangle
of pumpkin leaves and runners.
Some had even made it over the fence into my neighbour's garden.

It is definitely the time of year to dust off my pumpkin, squash and courgette recipes.

But first, this year, I thought I would try something new. starting with tackling this giant courgette:
Makes me look tiny! (That's a good thing..)
I tried out a recipe for Courgette and Ginger Jam- and it is surprisingly delicious. The courgettes are a bit tasteless when they get to this size - so provide a good vehicle for strong flavours like ginger and lemon.

Courgette and Ginger Jam

1.5kg of courgette or marrow flesh, peeled, de-seeded and chopped into small chunks
1 kg of granulated sugar
grated zest and juice of 3 lemons ( keep the bald shells in the freezer for adding to marmalades and jams later)
100g of crystallized ginger, chopped
3 tsp ground ginger
250 g pectin

1. Layer the vegetable in a large mixing bowl, sprinkling each layer with sugar and lemon juice until the sugar is all used up.
Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice
2. Cover and leave for 24 hours.
3. A huge amount of liquid will have come out of the flesh, so drain that off into a preserving pan along with any undissolved sugar.
4. Add the lemon and ginger to the mixture and boil rapidly for 20 minutes or so.

Boil rapidly
5. Add the chopped marrow/courgette flesh and cook for a further 10 minutes until tender, skimming as you go.
6. Use a stick blender to roughly blitz the flesh and ginger into a course puree and then add the pectin.
7. Boil until your jam has reached setting point ( when a spoonful sets on a cold saucer and wrinkles up) and then pour into hot, sterilized jars.
Courgette and Ginger Jam

The medium sized courgettes were made into an old favourite- stuffed with leftover bolognaise sauce and cooked au gratin in the oven:

Stuffed Courgettes/Marrow Au Gratin
And any other assorted overgrown veg from the garden were put together with Moroccan spices, dried fruit, chutney and tomatoes for a tagine:

Veg for a tagine
Finally, I am going to use up one of the giant pumpkins to make Spiced Pumpkin Butter ( a bit like a treacle spread for toast, pancakes, waffles etc).

Spiced Pumpkin Butter
2 kg of pumpkin flesh, peeled and cut into cubes
500g brown sugar and 1 tbsp treacle or 600g  brown sugar ( if you don't have treacle)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp grated nutmeg
6 cloves
finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

1. Put the cubes in a steamer over hot water and steam for 10 minutes or so until tender.

Steam rather than boil the pumpkin initially
2. Place in preserving pan and blitz with a stick blender until you have a puree.
3. Add the sugar and spices, the lemon juice and zest
4. Simmer on a low heat for an hour or so until the mixture is very thick. (I am going to use a slow cooker for several hours instead.)
5. When the puree is very thick and leaves a clear channel when a wooden spoon is drawn through- it is ready to be potted up in sterilized jars.

Spiced Pumpkin Butter
(Photo courtesy of Thane Prince)
That takes care of one of the pumpkins. My friends assure me that the rest will keep well in our cool cellar over the winter.
No chance of getting the ones back which have run away into the neighbour's garden anyway- he has placed them under armed guard!

Pumpkin patrol!

Friday, 18 August 2017

Camp fire Cookery

If cooking on a camp stove means corned beef hash or sausages and beans to you, I thought I might try to inspire you with something a bit different this summer.
After a weekend of fun and frolics canoe-camping in the gorgeous Wye Valley a few weeks ago, I was myself inspired by my fellow campers.

So, I'm offering you Halloumi and Chutney fritters with couscous, Couscous Chicken Doris and Chocolate Orange Bombes for dessert. How does that sound?

Halloumi and Veg kebabs

Halloumi cheese is great for cooking on the BBQ- lightly oiled, sliced and cooked with peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms as a kebab.

Or, made into crispy fritters to fry in the pan over the camping stove:

Halloumi and Chutney fritters

1. Slice the halloumi into 1 cm thick slices
2. Beat 1 egg with a tablespoon of chutney
3. Lay out 3 dishes- 1 each of flour, the chutney/egg mix and breadcrumbs

Ready to coat
Halloumi and Chutney Fritters
4. Coat the slices first in flour, then egg mix, then breadcrumbs and fry in hot oil
5. Serve with salad and couscous

Make the couscous with boiling water as directed by the packet
Thanks Ainsley!

The leftover couscous makes the perfect coating for Chicken Doris (named after the skinny chicken who was the mascot for the weekend).

Chicken Doris

1. Marinade chicken breast fillets in 2 tbsp of natural yogurt

mmm..doesn't that look appetising?
2. Coat the yoghurty chicken with leftover couscous, pressing it on all over.
Chicken coated in couscous

3. Either fry in hot oil over the camp stove until golden and crispy or ( if you are at home, bake in a hot oven 190 degrees for 20 mins or so).
Chicken Doris
(Sorry it's a bit blurry- too much wine went in at this point- into the cook that is, not the food.)
Of course, if you would rather have Corned Beef Hash or Sausage and Bean Stew, the recipes are here on the blog too:
Image for Corned Beef Hash with Maple Caramel Bacon and Poached Egg

And for dessert, I was very taken with this dessert prepared by my camping neighbours:

Chocolate Orange Bombes

1. Cut a lid from the top of each of 4 oranges and hollow them out, using a sharp knife. Keep the juice and pulp to one side.

Preparing the mix
2. Mix up a chocolate cake mix using eggs as directed, but substitute orange juice for the water.
3. Spoon the mix into the hollowed-out oranges
4. Wrap them in aluminium foil and place on the BBQ to cook ( for at least 30 minutes )

Orange Bombes on the BBQ
5. Unwrap and serve.
Chocolate Orange Bombes

The result is a gooey, Brownie-like pud that tastes like a Terry's Chocolate Orange( but one you don't need to share).
The pulp and leftover juice from the oranges makes a nice breakfast with yoghurt - or mix it with caramel sauce for another pud:

All too soon, the camping weekend was over - as is this post.

Thanks to Steve for the photos, Paula for the pud recipe and Doris for the entertainment!

Can you spot Doris?

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Black Treacle

Image result for treacle

Not the most imaginative of titles - but, if, like me, you want to use up a tin of treacle, it should point you in the right direction. 

Black treacle (sometimes caled molasses) is one of those ingredients that is sometimes difficult to source outside of the UK. Although apparently we used to export it :

Image result for treacle mine
Only kidding!

 Unctuous, sweet and sticky- it is made from the syrup left behind as sugar is being refined. It is a wonderful addition to cakes, biscuits, puddings and also meat dishes and BBq sauces. If you can't find it, you can substitute maple syrup, dark honey or caramel sauce.

There are so many dishes that you can make from it- treacle toffee, treacle tart, treacle sponge and so on. I'm concentrating on just a few: Jamaican Ginger Cake, Sticky Toffee Pudding with Fudge Sauce,Treacle Soda Bread and Spicy BBQ pork ribs. Plus of course some ideas of how to use up any leftovers.

So, starting out nice and simple- here is a recipe for Jamaican Ginger Cake which is much much nicer than the bought variety and can be whipped up in less time than it would take you to go to a shop and buy one- even if it's the corner shop on the corner of your street!

175g plain flour
1 level tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp rum (optional)
75g black treacle
75g golden syrup
75g soft dark brown sugar
75g butter
1 large egg

1. Sift all the dry ingredients together
2. Melt together the syrup, treacle, butter and sugar
3. Add these to the dry ingredients, along with the milk and beaten egg
4. Pour into a greased and lined loaf tin and bake for 1 hr at 175 degrees until firm and when a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Jamaican Ginger Cake
This cake will keep well for up to a week, wrapped in foil or stored in a tin. I like to use up the last few slices in a trifle: just soak slices of cake in a little sherry, top with mandarin orange segments and a little of their juice, pour on some custard or whipped cream or both , chill and serve.

Treacle Soda Bread is one of the easiest breads to make and its dark richness goes well with Seville marmalade, or crumbly cheese or smoked salmon.


250g plain flour
200g wholemeal flour
50 g porridge oats
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
150 ml natural yoghurt
250 ml milk
1 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp black treacle

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees and grease and line a baking tray
2. Mix together all the dry idngredients in a bowl
3. Warm the milk, butter and treacle then add it all to the yogurt
4. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones and turn the dough out onto a floured board
5. Shape into a round, cut a cross in the top, sprinkle on some more flaked oats
6. Place on the tray in the oven and bake for around 30 minutes.

Treacle soda bread

Now for a savoury dish- Spicy BBQ ribs. These are pork spare ribs, coated in a treacly BBQ sauce and slow cooked until the meat falls off the bone.

1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
1 heaped tsp mustard
1 tsp crushed cillies or fresh chilli finely chopped
3 tbsp tomato passata
400g fresh pork spare ribs

Mix all the condiments and the passata together in the bottom of a heavy casserole or slow cooker.

Add the ribs and coat thoroughly.
Cook for 4-5 hours in a slow cooker or 2-3 hours in a conventional oven (175 degrees) until the meat is tender. Add a splash of water from time to time if needed.
Serve with fries, sweet potato or green veg.

Spicy BBQ Ribs

Bonfire Baked Beans
Any leftover sauce is sublime mixed with a tin of cannellini beans and some sliced cooked sausage to make Bonfire Baked Beans.

And finally, I made James Martin's iconic Sticky Toffee Pudding with Hot Fudge Sauce.

50 g butter
170g brown sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp black treacle
2 eggs
200 g self raising flour
200g chopped dates
290 ml boiling wtaer
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp vanilla

110 ml double cream
50 g butter
50g dark sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp golden syrup

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Grease and flour a 23cm cake tin
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a food processor until pale and fluffy. Add the golden syrup, treacle and eggs, a little at a time, and blend until smooth. Add the flour and blend, at a low speed, until well combined. Transfer to a bowl.
  3. Meanwhile, blend the dates and boiling water in a food processor to a smooth purée. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda and vanilla.
  4. Pour the date mixture into the pudding batter and stir until well combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into a cake tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is springy and golden-brown.
    Sticky Toffee Pudding
  6. To make the sauce, heat all of the ingredients in a pan, stirring occasionally, until boiling.
  7. To serve, remove the pudding from the tin and place onto each of 6 serving plates. Pour over the sauce and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream
  8. Toffee Pudding and sauce

The leftover pud keeps well in foil, or in a tin- but it can also be eaten as a cake, spread with a little butter like a teabread.
Buttered toffee 'bread'
Happy baking!

Image result for stuck in treacle
Time to get stuck in!

Sunday, 25 June 2017


Image result for surprised cockerel

Our neighbours have a cockerel who, mercifully, doesn't wake us in the morning with the usual 'Coc-a-ric-o'.
Instead he sings at 6pm each evening with a welcome chant of 'A-pér-o!'
It seems that even the chickens in France understand the important things in life!

They make pretty good eating too- as was ably demonstrated at our final Atelier de Cuisine this month, before the long summer break.

On the menu for this 'end of term' special was a cold soup made from fresh green vegetables and coconut milk to start; chicken cooked in coca cola served with a potato and onion tortilla for main course; and a rhum baba style pudding with fruit salad.
The starter is a good one for when you have an excess of veg ( from your veg garden, or when cheap and in season in the shops).

Soupe Froide au Lait de Coco (de Joselyne)

Serves 6

2 courgettes
200g green beans
150 g peas
300g spinach or chard leaves or lettuce
200 ml coconut milk
seasoning (salt, pepper, nutmeg)

1. Prepare the veg, cutting the courgettes into small cubes.

Prepare the green veg
2. Cook in 600ml boiling water until tender
3. Add the coconut milk and cook for a further 5 minutes
4. Blitz the soup with a hand blender and add the salt and pepper (and nutmeg if you like it) until you are satisfied with the seasoning.

Blitz the soup with a hand blender
5. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours and then serve in dainty glasses.

Soupe Froide au Lait de Coco

Cold soups have featured before on the blog- like these Gazpacho Shots:

Gazpacho Shots with Aubergine Toasts

Gazpacho Soup II
Now for the main course, with that surprising chicken.
I would never have thought to mix my soft drinks in with my meat, rather than drinking them- but you can always learn from other people. I have altered Yvette's recipe here slightly, as I preferred to use fresh onions rather than dried. I hope she forgives me.

Coq au Coca (for 6)

6 chicken thighs (skinless but bone-in)
1x 330 ml tin cola
2 onions, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 heaped tbsp gravy granules

1. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees
2. Brown the onions in a heavy based casserole dish, add the garlic.
3. Lay the chicken thighs over the onions in the dish
4. Pour on the cola and sprinkle on the gravy granules

Chicken ready for the oven

5. Place a lid on the casserole and cook for half an hour in the oven.
6. After 30 minutes, uncover and contine to cook for a further 30 minutes until the sauce is syrupy and the chicken is tender.
Coq au Coca
As you can see, the chicken was served accomapanied by a delicious tortilla made with eggs, potatoes and onions. Here is the recipe:

Tortilla (for 6)

6 eggs
500g firm fleshed potatoes
1 large onion
salt, pepper, oil

1. Peel and slice the onion
2. Peel and slice the potatoes into thin rondelles

Potatoes and onions prepared
3. Cook the potatoes in the oil over a low heat for 15 minutes
4. Add the onion and contine to cook until they start to lightly brown
5. Beat the eggs, add plenty of salt and pepper and pour them over the potatoes and onions
6. Cook without stirring for a further 5 minutes until the egg looks set underneath
7. Slide it out onto a plate, turn it upside down using another plate and return it to the pan to cook on the other side for a further few minutes.

Tortilla really is the best friend of the leftovers cook- a handful of cooked potates, veg, leftover salad, even pasta can be used up and made into a meal with the simple addition of beaten eggs. I make it using leftover spaghetti bolognaise:

Spag Bol Frittata
Finally, it's time for the pièce de resistance- the dessert!

I would make these again any day- so simple, no need for yeast or proving. Decorate them as you want, with cream, fruit or crème anglaise.

Bouchées au rhum façon baba (de Joselyne) 
Makes 10 mini babas.

100g self rasing flour
80g sugar
2 small eggs
50g melted butter
For the syrup- 250ml water, 100 ml dark rum, 100g sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
2. Pour the flour, sugar, beaten eggs and melted butter into a large bowl and mix well.

Mix it all together in order
3. Pour into moulds (eg. dariole moulds or muffin cases), place on a baking tray and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, pour the syrup ingredients into a pan and heat over a medium heat until it reduces slightly.

Warm the syrup until it reduces slightly
5. Take the babas out of the oven, unmould them and place in a large gratin dish

Babas ready for their rum!
6. Pour over the warm syrup and let them soak it up. They will drink it all thirstily so don't worry that there is too much liquid.
7. Serve cold.
Bouchées au Rhum

And so we sat down to a delicious 4 course meal- this being the Auvergne, there was a cheese course in between- and celebrated the start of the summer holidays! 

Cock-a-doodle doo!

A la rentrée!*
*Some photos courtesy of Huguette- merci!