Monday 30 May 2011

Cousins and Neices

We have had the immense pleasure of a visit from my eldest sisters daughter and her husband who are on route to London for their big O.E. We have had a fantastic time catching up and as Mike is in London it has been busy but fun working alongside each other to keep the house ticking over...
They have fallen into bed exhausted each night after spending the day chopping wood, collecting champagne from the mayor, making beds, cycling, gardening, supermarket shopping, chatting to guests, folding washing and picking cherries...they are on the edge of getting their jet lag under control and the weather has been settled, hot, sunny and blue so smiles all round. Liliana, of course, is loving every minute in their company....chatting and bubbling away...
We had 2 new couples arrive older couple from North Yorkshire and a younger couple from Sweden...interestingly enough both had links to my stomping ground as a child in NZ...the older couple had a brother who farmed dairy since the 1950's in Rerewhakaitu...the home town of 2 of my closest girlfriends from school... and the younger guy is a Kiwi who makes wine in NZ in the summer and lives in Sweden with his wife and family the rest of the year selling wine...his father taught at Reporoa College recently where I was Head Girl many moons ago...funny how connected we all are to our roots even though we spread far from the base of the tree...
Salmon on the menu for dinner followed by Erica's gorgeous wee Rhubarb Tartlets...she whipped these up with care and confidence and husband Dean busied himself with creating a transfer in the shape of a Champagne glass to shake icing sugar over to finish the tarts in style....guests were delighted...success all round....

Erica's Rhubarb Tartlets

I think that these tartlets are going to be served in may ways in our house this summer...the Rhubarb was perfect but I can also see them with berries, cherries, apples and plums...the pastry is a lovely firm contrast to the soft custard may want to vary the sugar depending on the fruit you use...

Flaky pastry
2-3 cups finely sliced rhubarb
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cream, sour cream or yoghurt

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 deg. 
2. Make pastry and roll out. Line a 23cm pie plate, trim pastry 15mm beyond edge of pie plate and brush with water. Fold inwards and press inwards.
3. Cut rhubarb into 5mm slices and place in shell. 
4. Mix the eggs, sugar and cream until smooth and pour over fruit. 
5. Bake for 12-15 mins, until golden brown then reduce heat to 180 deg until it is set in the middle and the fruit is tender. NB. Increase the cooking time for a larger tart to 15- 20 mins. 
6. Sprinkle with icing sugar....with a transfer if it takes your fancy!

Monday 23 May 2011

Sunday Breakfast under the trees/Petit-déjeuner sous les arbres

On Sunday morning I was awoken at 5 am by claps of thunder shaking the house, lightening flashes and a downpour of much needed rain...remembering the laundry on the line I sleepily went outside to rescue it only to discover it was already soaking was I by the time I crawled back into bed...along with a wet cat that had sneakily snuck in with me and who was optimistically trying to make herself cosy on our duvet! BUT two hours later the sun shone and our twelve guests slept on as we set the table under the trees after recovering from another night under the the fire...
We had a great weekend with a full house each night and two large dinners to cook and prepare so come Sunday morning we were looking forward to a relaxing afternoon with the girls strolling the brocante in the neighbouring village Soixy Aux Bois...but first it was time for breakfast under the trees...Mike made his glamorous scrambled eggs, croissants and coffee and everyone left contented...
Our lovely Parisian guests lingered and chatted as their son played comfortably with Liliana and Madeleine...familiar after spending the weekend hanging out together in the garden...the other two French couples parted separately only to return 10 mins later after realising that each had assumed that the other had their 12 year old son but alas he was also still playing in the garden! Good humour and many compliments all round and the house fell quiet once more...

Mike's marinated leg of NZ lamb went down well once again but we served it with a slightly different sauce which proved to be the star of the much so that the Parisians sat in their fancy 2 Michelin Starred restaurant in Epernay the night after dining on the lamb chatting about how fabulous it was...comparing it to their lamb medallions they had been served with much grace!

Mike's Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Anchovy and Mint sauce

Butterfly a leg of lamb and then make a marinade using the ingredients below....crush, chop finely and blend together in any way you prefer so the flavours can mix and create a potent thick paste...

Rosemary and Oregano Marinade

6 cloves of garlic crushed in a mortar and pestle with a tsp of Rock salt and a few freshly ground turns of the pepper mill...chop a few branches of young rosemary and oregano finely and...blend together with 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/2 a cup red wine...spread over the lamb and leave for 7-8 hrs [or overnight] to marinate...

Cook with half a dozen whole peeled shallots in a roasting pan for 1 hour at 180 deg or until still slightly pink...or however you prefer...this can be done on the BBQ then finished in the oven...baste the meat with the remaining marinade halfway through cooking time...

Serve with Anchovy and Mint sauce

a generous handful of mint leaves
4 or 5 cloves of roughly chopped garlic
4 anchovy fillets
4 tbsp olive oil
3 or 4 tbsp red wine vinegar 
2 tsp of sugar
salt and pepper to season...taste and add to your palates preference...

Blend all the ingredients with a handheld blender and when the lamb is ready to serve...slice and place on a large platter using the cooked shallots, halved roasted tomatoes and steamed green beans to make the platter beautiful! Serve with new potatoes....and this fabulous onion dish!!

Parmesan and Thyme Baked Onions

6 large yellow peeled onions
4 or 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
300 ml cream
generous pinch of salt and pepper
handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Boil the onions in water for 25 mins
2. Halve onions and place in a serving dish
3. Mix the thyme, salt and pepper and the cream together and pour over the onions
4. Sprinkle the cheese over the dish and a few more thyme leaves.
5. Bake for around 20 mins at 170 deg...till bubbling and slightly browned....

Saturday 14 May 2011

Chocolate and Zucchini/Chocolate et Courgette

 I have just returned from the supermarket where I picked up a bargain pair of bright yellow sandals which are currently under debate as to their design merit or otherwise by all of the members of my family. I brought them because they were a bit of fun and they kinda lifted my spirits while on a mundane shop with their ostentatious yellow swirls. Maybe it is the fact they were verging on the absurd that they appealed...hey...after working with 'fashion' for so many years I have decided that 'whats hot and whats not' is very much in the eye of the beholder SO I will wear my mad yellow sandals that I picked up brand new for one and a half euros [less than Liliana's tooth fairy money!!] and I shall enjoy wearing them because they are frivolous, fun and because I like them...maybe this is a transition period of my fashion life and I have prematurely reached  the 'purple hat' stage!!
Enough about the shoes already....time for a recipe. This blog is prompted by an email I received from the lovely Maggie after she served her family my 'Chocolate and Zucchini Cake' over Easter.
"Pride of place at tea time was the chocolate and zucchini cake which everyone loved. Daughter in law 1, who is a very keen cook, guessed the zucchini element, but the others all pooh poohed her. The meal fell into total disorder when Son 1's 4-year-old twins threw a tantrum after being refused a second slice, they loved it so much. Anyway each of the three sons cut the remaining cake into thirds to take home and I had only had the tiniest piece...... I shall have to make it again a bit quickly"
There is something about this recipe that seems to appeal to people. I am not sure if it is just that it makes a hefty hearty cake or if it is the fact that includes a vegetable that would not normally be used in combination with sweet or if it is that once one knows what is in it one is so pleasantly surprised by the result that the memory lingers...

I served this cake all summer long last year and intend to do the same again this is a great standby birthday cake for a table of plenty, can be paired with stewed fruit, fresh strawberries, served with creme anglais, yogurt, creme fraiche or runny versatile is this cake and it is as good as next day as first day. Not too sweet and light of crumb it is a easy fail-proof favourite.
The last time I made this cake was a couple of weeks ago as a birthday cake for a lovely female guest we had staying for the weekend...a sceptical audience of fairly straight male eaters tried the first mouthful with wrinkled up noses only to then give it the thumbs up and launch into the remains of the slice with renewed vigor.
This recipe comes from the cookbook of the same name 'Chocolate and Zucchini' which is a great find. My daughter carried one carefully wrapped from France to Washington D.C. last year as a gift to her host family and they all made this cake together and had a great time doing it...culinary sharing across the it is American style...
 So if you are a gardener and have a plot or allotment that contains ample courgettes that are crying out be picked and eaten before becoming dreaded marrows then give this a try...

Chocolate & Zucchini Cake from Clothilde Dusoulier's book 'Chocolate and Zucchini'

- 240 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
- 60 grams (1/2 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 180 grams (1 scant cup) light brown sugar (I use unrefined cane sugar)
- 115 grams (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature, or 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules or 2 tablespoons strong cooled coffee -- this is just to deepen the chocolate flavor, you won't taste it in the finished product
- 3 large eggs
- 350 grams (2 cups) unpeeled grated zucchini, from about 1 1/2 medium zucchini
- 160 grams (1 cup) good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate
- Confectioner's sugar (optional)

Serves 12.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease a 25-cm (10-inch) round spring form pan or a 22-cm (8 1/2-inch) square pan.

1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a mixer (or by hand in a large mixing bowl), beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate chips, and about a third of the flour mixture, making sure the zucchini strands are well coated and not clumping too much.

3. Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick.

4. Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without over mixing. Pour into the prepared cake pan, and level the surface.

5. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer onto a rack to cool for 10 minutes, run a knife around the pan to loosen, and unclasp the sides of the pan. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with icing sugar or ice with chocolate if desired but doesn't need it...

 NB. I cannot for the life of me delete one of these you have it twice!

Sunday 8 May 2011


We had some lovely Kiwi guests staying with us last week whose company we enjoyed immensely. A retired bank manager and his wife who had worked for years at a prominent Marlborough vineyard they are on their O.E. [overseas experience] in London...both their children had now settled in London so they decided to come and join them! They are working on the new Olympic Park and spend time travelling around Europe in their exciting time for them and with a great sense of adventure they headed north to the lovely city of Bruge...but not before Geoff had taken the time to weed my overgrown strawberry patch...for which I will be forever grateful...he enjoyed the opportunity to put his hands back in soil after living in an apartment in London. The unseasonally fine run of weather means that the small white flowers are now becoming fruit and we can look forward our first delicious bowl of homegrown strawberries very soon! A much anticipated pleasure for the children who visit and the inspiration for many and varied desserts for guests meals...
Meanwhile we are working with lovely French and Spanish strawberries that have become readily available in the supermarket. The new ice cream maker has been busy churning strawberry ice cream which has become a staple of Liliana's diet...
There are a couple of strawberry recipes that I served regularly last year that are great to be able to revisit...
This Nigel Slater recipe for Strawberry and Mascarpone Tart is a easy delicious end to a BBQ summer meal and always looks pretty to serve. The crunchy biscuit base can be varied depending on what biscuits you have on hand...spicy dutch Speccaloos, almond biscotti, gingernuts or plain vanilla wine....if you have wild strawberries at hand they make a great decorative finish or a few mint leaves do the trick...

STRAWBERRY AND MASCARPONE TART from Nigel Slater's 'The Kitchen Diaries'

 For the filling:
1 large egg
1 tbsp caster sugar
250 gm mascarpone cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
250 gm strawberries

For the crumb base:
75gm melted butter
250 gm almond, tea, orange or ginger biscuits.

1. Crush biscuits by rolling in a bag or in a food processor and then mix with melted butter.
2. Press into square shallow tin lined with foil and put in fridge to set.
3. Separate your egg and then whisk the yolk with the sugar...beat in mascarpone and vanilla.
4. Whisk the egg white till stiff then fold into the mascarpone cream.
5. Place on top of the crumb base and chill till set.
5. Slice strawberries and place neatly on top of the chilled cake.
6. Keep cool till serving then cut into squares....
I have admired Sipi's Strawberry Cake recipe all winter....hanging out for the strawberry season to is a Finnish recipe from my favourite 'Falling Cloudberries'. Last night I was delighted to be able to finally make this gorgeous looking cake and serve it to our Dutch guests and family after another BBQ presented well and summed up all of the things I love about home made cakes...soft, creamy and pretty as a did not disappoint...
SIPI'S STRAWBERRY CAKE  from 'Tessa Kiros' beautiful book 'Falling Cloudberries'

220 1 3/4 c]  gm flour
180 [3/4 c] gm sugar
3 tsp baking powder
180 gm melted butter
185 ml [3/4 c] milk
4 eggs seperated
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg
2. Mix together the flour, sugar and 1 teaspoon of the baking powder, add the melted butter and warm milk mixing to a lovely batter with a whisk.
3. Add egg yolks and vanilla and beat well.
4. Whisk egg whites till stiff then add the remaining 2 tsp of Baking powder.
5. Fold egg whites into batter. Place in greased and floured tin and bake for about an hour.
6. When ready to eat decorate with whipped cream and strawberries...shake over a little icing sugar and serve can also cut the cake in half horizontally and put together with cream if this takes your fancy.

 Mike has been organising our summer spaces at the house...inspired by the good weather and a long chat with some very interesting Landscape Designers that we had visiting last week...the two men were on a road trip in Robert's fancy fast Aston annual event in order to get the car out of the garage to justify it's existence to his wife who finds the car too low and too noisy and refuses to get in it!! They were fun company over dinner and it was nice that they enjoyed the house...we hope to see them again!

Monday 2 May 2011

Picnic's in the sun / Pique-nique au soleil

It has been a most dramatic turn of the weather in Champagne...and across most of the last few is hard to believe that snow was still on the ground a couple of months ago as we bask in the most fantastic summer days with blue blue skies and sunshine aplenty.
It has certainly made the Easter Break a very pleasent way to start the summer. The garden is all ahead of itself as are the grapevines so long may it last...our usual April Showers have yet to arrive and the mosquitos have been reeking havoc due to a very slow moving stream in the bottom of the garden...a little rain would now be appreciated for the vegetable garden planting is about to begin!
 Mike made Liliana a seedling nursery for her birthday present and it has been very successful with loads of  wee 'babies' now able to be moved into the 'big' garden to grow into edible goodies over the summer. Madam Paris has warned us off planting till the 1st of May which has now past so time to go!
To make the most of the good weather we have been having picnics whenever possible...a simple summer way to spend the day with friends and the river with our lovely neighbours where fishing was the order of the day with burgers on the BBQ for lunch.

And we found ourselves picnicing again later in the week. This time by the lake in Avize hosted by our friends Sylvie and Eric....
 We ate like kings and queens in casual 'French style' washed down with champagne and red wine....Sylvie had made foie gras...a Morrocan couple made the most delicious traditional apertifs and our plasterer friend Alberto and his wife contributed gorgeous Portugeous fish filled pastries. Mike once again took up his favoured position on the BBQ...

A great way to spend an afternoon and Liliana entertained all by 'hula hooping' the afternoon away with a few new entrants also giving it a go!! Amazing what one thinks one can do when one has enough alcoholic lubricants on board! Go Sylvie and Eric!!
It was a great day out and, although cut short by a rush back to cook an evening meal, a lot of fun!!We are now all feeling much more in the mood for summer and the winter feels far far behind us!