Saturday, 23 April 2011

Spring soup in London/Soup de Primtemps en Londres

A long awaited and overdue visit to London was had recently and, although most of our time was spent painting and sorting out our house, we had a few lovely evenings with old friends chatting and catching up...My great Kiwi mate Megan and her family are moving back to NZ after many years so we spent a few precious days together before the ditch between us widens further! And Liliana loved hanging out for long hours with Megan's daughter Phoebe....and these evenings, of course, included a visit my my old neighbour and fab friend Julia's for offer no wise women ever refuses. I love visiting Julia and have often described her house as a 'warm hug'.
Full to the brim with the most fascinating of objects her house is a true reflection of her and her families journey through life...none of this soulless minimalist carry on!!
Julia's kitchen is just fabulous filled with everything one can imagine and many many more things one cannot!! And needless to say the food that is prepared and served in this kitchen is reflective of this 'dedication to food' and all that that brings to the table. I have so many memories of meals past in this house and long may this feasting continue...

In typical Julia style her menu of an understated 'soup' and ratatouille was the most fantastic taste sensation!
The soup of spinach and green peas sounded so simple but add the 'dumplings' of goats cheese and fresh herbs to the plate before pouring the soup on top and you encounter another whole different experience. It was sensational and while rich so fresh and flavoursome....the cold tart cheese and the piping hot vibrant green soup just worked so well together...and the with you I shall share this recipe...

Spring Green Soup with Herb dumplings from Clare Bareham's column

125 gm spring onions
50 gm butter
zest from 1/2 unwaxed lemon
750 ml stock
150 gm frozen peas
200 gm spinach
bunch of watercress
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander
100 gm mild soft goats cheese
2 tbsp creme fraiche

1. Saute chopped spring onions in butter
2. Add lemon zest and season with salt and pepper
3. Add light chicken or vegetable stock and bring to the boil.
4. Add peas and bring back to the simmer then add spinach.
5. Chop a tbsp of the watercress finely than add rest and stalks to the boiling stock.
6. Simmer for another few minutes then blitz in batches and put in a clean pot. Taste and season.
7. Mix cheese, coriander, watercress and creme fraiche together.
8. Serve by putting 3 or 4 cheese dumplings in the base of the bowl and placing hot soup on top.
9. Note that this soup is best made and eaten same day as vivacious green colour dulls with time.

Carnival!! / Carnaval!

It's that time of the year again...CARNIVAL!!
Greeted with much anticipation by the children and teachers alike Carnival is celebrated at the same time as the famous French Carnaval de Nice.
In its simplest form it is a 'dress up' parade by the children from the school around the smaller villages where they all live.
The children, in their finery, greet the inhabitants on mass with smiles and cheers and the shaking of cans of exchange of sweets and money for a hand drawn card of thanks and on they go to the next door neighbour's house...
Liliana enjoyed dressing up as a cat...all in black hiding behind her glittery cat mask...the rest of the class were either cowboys or princesses with the odd witch and soldier thrown in for good measure...all led through the streets of Oyes by Darth Vadar [Monsieur Satula!] A lot of fun was had, walking done and pennies collected to put towards the school resources...and a lot of sweets consumed! Not a bad day out!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Colza Oil/Rapeseed Oil/Canola Oil...

 I learnt something today...yesterday I was driving to Sezanne to do my shop and noticed with glee that the fields of, what I thought was Rapeseed, were all turning yellow and starting to create those gorgeous patchwork vistas we all associate with the country panorama's...
 I stopped and snapped pic's all the way to Sezanne and with a plan to launch into a piece about Rapeseed oil 'Canola Oil' and the health benefits of using it in cooking etc. When at the supermarket I looked for a bottle of rapeseed oil wondering what the French name for it was...discovered a bottle of Colza Oil with a picture of the distinct yellow flowers and went home thinking that the mystery was solved...
 BUT upon 'wikipediaing' Colza Oil I have discovered that is indeed a completely different, although similar looking, plant to Rapeseed...
Colza oil is, and I quote Wikipedia...'Colza is extensively cultivated in France, Belgium, the United States, the Netherlands and Germany. In France, especially, the extraction of the oil is an important industry.
Colza oil is extensively used as a lubricant for machinery.
Colza oil was used extensively in European domestic lighting before the advent of coal (city) gas or kerosene. Colza oil was used in Gombault's Caustic Balsam,[2] a popular horse and human liniment at the turn of the 20th century. 
Among the more unusual applications of colza oil is the calming of choppy seas, where the oil modifies the surface tension of the water and rapidly smooths the surface. Rescue and recovery operations have been made far less risky in this way.[3]
More recently, colza has been cultivated in Europe as an ingredient for bio diesel fuels.'
 SO having lived surrounded by fields of Colza for the past few years it is interesting to know what it is all grown for...and that one day our kids may even drive a car fueled by the products of these gorgeous yellow fields that give me so much symbolic of the beginning of Spring....
So no food related comments today....luminations, lubricants and liniments instead. Off to cook 'Confit de Canard' and cherry sauce...Oh and for dessert...this fantastic Nigel Slater Mascarpone Strawberry Tart....a simple perfect finish to the palate after the heavy duck....
Bon Weekend...the sun will shine...Liliana 'Carnival' today...we are expecting her to visit the house at any moment...on mass with her classmates dressed like a cat!!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Spring Madness

The sun is shining, the blossoms are bursting and it feels like the holidays have started...well living in a French country house with guests each night and people to feed is kinda like a holiday...well sometimes...a bit busy but usually rewarding and a few giggles and fabulously interesting conversations along the way...
 Mike has been in London all week so home alone I have been entertaining guests and my wee newly 7 year old daughter...and the cat! I had the most gorgeous drive to do the bread run on the weekend that I now appreciate why Mike enjoys the early morning trip to Baye...with the light on the landscape and a blanket of fog it was quite spectactular.
 Have had a lot of American guests of late...has been interesting to chat about their perspective on their huge 300 million strong population...cooked a dinner of salmon with mushrooms, creme fraiche, garlic and rice...and these fabulous chocolate puddings which looked divine....recipe later when I have time to type it up!! After a week in Paris they complimented me by saying was the best meal they had had since arriving in France...hey quite simple really but nice to hear regardless...especially as Mike is usually the king of superb rice...
Mike is back tonight and then we have the most manic weekend with full house for 3 nights...trying to get up to speed so I can hit the floor running....speaking of which...must go shop!!

Before I go though you must try these Cumin Cheese puffs...they are such a hit with one and all and I promise you will make them again and again...they freeze well too...

Friday, 1 April 2011

Happy Birthday Liliana/Bon Anniversaire Lili!!

Its late and Mike is in London so home alone I must manage the transition of my daughter from 6 to 7!! It has been a great day shopping for special wee gifts in our local town and making chocolate cake to go on the school farm trip!! Yes Liliana has scooped with a school trip on her birthday...Brilliant! Well except that this means that our carefully decorated Party Cake now has to travel in a disposable tray to school and the farm...a challenge!  Fate presented, at the local Supermarket, a tray of Pink Lady apples in the perfect 'disposable' carrier tray...all the better for being bright pink with 'Pink Lady' written in white all France...who would have guessed! Apparently I also have to provide serviettes and a drink of some sort [juice?] and individual packs of sweets for each class member to take home and then, and only then, I am conforming to traditional French customs...according to Liliana, and she would know, having been the recipient of this parental obligatory ritual on numerous occasions.
The cake that was ordered was the same as last year...apparently it went down a storm and Liliana was elevated in her peers eyes due to my great cake!....It is actually Bill Granger's easy mix chocolate Cake...
I did a trial...pictured above...on an alternate recently but after the kids careful analysis they came back to the fav! It might have been Madam Paris' 40 % proof 'Eau de Vie' which I threw in on impulse that swung the back to Bill's it is!
So the big day starts at dawn...

This is a simple chocolate cake made with minimum fuss and loads of butter, literally in a few minutes, that is always a hit! If you do not know it...try it and it WILL be come part of your standard repertoire...especially if you have children, large or small, in the house!

EASY MIX CHOCOLATE CAKE  from Bill Granger's cookbook 'Simply Bill'

280 gm [2 1/4 cups] flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
50 gm cocoa powder
220 gm [1 cup] caster sugar
250 gm very soft butter
4 eggs
170 ml [2/3 cup] milk

200 gm of dark chocolate
250 gm [1 cup] of cream fraiche or sour cream

Preheat the oven to 180 deg [350 F]

1. Mix together flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
2. Add butter, eggs and milk.
3. Mix with electric beaters on low speed for 2 minutes till well blended and voluminous.
4. Butter and shake flour around a large tin and put batter into tin.
5. Bake for 35 - 40 mins until a skewer comes out clean.
6. Leave in tins for 5 mins before turning out to cool.
7. Make frosting by melting chocolate in a bowl over a pot of boiling water then leave to cool for 15 mins before whisking in the creme fraiche.
8. Decorate however you fancy! Enjoy!

For the record...
The chicken has been back on two occasions since I last wrote with 2 eggs on one occassion then one again yesterday...loving it!