Thursday 16 September 2010

Let’s Get Baking

As I bake more and more, (I’m now the proud owner of many types of flour and yeast!), I find that I’m slowly learning the art of remaining patient: something I haven’t formerly shown a leaning towards. It’s all in the stretching and proving, and a hot conservatory certainly helps that. Along with this, and the running of The Great British Bake Off, I may even contemplate making my own pastry, something which I’ve previously always stated that life is too short for. The programme has, for me, been a nice combination of watching people like myself ‘having a go’ at something, and teaching me the skills to do so along the way: Learning why bread dough has to be kneaded and stretched and tips for an ‘unsoggy’ bottom to your pie!

So I’m going to use today’s post as a little ‘aide-memoir’.

I’d like to bake:

A proper pie with homemade cheesy short crust pastry

Cornish Pasties

A cob loaf

Seeded spelt bread rolls (although any recipes for such would be greatly received!)

One thing I can’t seem to find, though, are links to the recipes from the programme. Obviously, Paul and Mary’s are up on the bbc food site, but the contestants recipes are strangely absent, (or maybe I just haven’t found them yet!) If you do find them, feel free to comment under this post and add the link!

So, I’m definitely giving some of the ideas a go and will post again when I have been a busy baker in the kitchen.

If you haven't seen it, and are watching it solely for cooking tips, I’d recommend beginning with the Bread episode. Otherwise, as stated by the singing nun, start at the beginning!

Sunday 12 September 2010

L’Univers, Nice, France – Christian Plumail

Being a regular visitor to France, Nice in particular, then I thought it was about time we compared the Michelin Starriness of haute-cuisine to it’s English competitors. Over the last few years, we’ve been lucky enough to visit several starred restaurants in the UK but our visit to Christian Plumail’s L’Univers was our first European experience.

The restaurants is tucked just outside of the old town and facing the Place Massena with it’s strong, structural fountains (and the trams). It doesn’t look like anything special from the outside, or inside, with a series of bright, but slightly strange paintings are displayed: Those ‘love or hate’ types of slightly overweight figures.

To have with our aperitifs, we were served a slice of traditional pissaladiere and some lovely, small black Nicoise olives.


We were seated quickly at a lunch service and began choosing our food! They offer a fantastically priced lunch menu of two courses for just 20 Euros, but since it was our first visit, we opted for more varied dishes on the Menu Saveurs d’Ete, Flavours of Summer.


I’m not going to comment on the plates individually, except to say it was delicious. The flavours were fresh and local, textures well combined, and all beautifully presented.


Amuse-bouche were small raw scallops served with a crab foam. A little too ‘fishy’ for me, but loved by the OH.   SDC12821


To begin, the OH opted for Courgette with courgette mousse, a vegetable type salad and crispy sea food. Mine was the more conservative Crab and tomato roll with a citrus fruit summer salad, comprising grapefruit and fennel!



Main courses were Monkfish served with a Mushroom Fregola Risotto (sort of a Sardinian pasta risotto!) and Iberian Pork Chip topped with onions and cheese,  served with a puree of Cocos de Paimpol, a type of bean.


The cheese course was a simple (I say simple, but would find it difficult to make!) goat’s cheese panacotta served with cereal toast and Muscat grapes.


Puddings were excellent: Figs wrapped and toasted in gingerbread, a nutty nougat and rhubarb sorbet, or in my case, Lemon Verbena cream with brandy snaps, poached white peaches and lemon sorbet. Mmmm…


Served with coffee were a few other delights and the chef even came out for a chat, before, strangely, getting involved in some broadcast with sound people all over the place! Service was good, but not excellent, then, we are in France, and it was at least very friendly! I’m not sure the Michelin inspectors would have appreciated the phaff at the end of the lunch service with the sound men, wires, headphones and general kerfuffle that went on, but we certainly did!


There is a more expensive menu (ours was 44 Euros) at 70, with a great choice and based around flavours from the market in the Cours Saleya, but ours was perfect for a lunchtime treat. With a bottle of Rose to counteract the heat of summer, it was a perfect introduction to the starred restaurants of the South of France. Now, where next?!

Sunday 5 September 2010

Chutney, Pickle, Jams and Jellies – Autumn Delights

Autumn has officially begun when you start to collect all the gluts of abandoned fruit and veg. and preserve them in some form or other! We, as usual, have had many plums and a few errant courgettes that sort of expanded unnoticed to marrow-size! The tomatoes, as usual, were planted on the late side and were pushed into a shady spot by the need to replant broad beans in their original spot after the snow. So add green tomatoes to the mix and what can you make?


This year, I began with the early cherry plums, making a clear cherry plum jelly to add to stews and casseroles, have with cheese or simply spread on toast, and an infused gin. I borrowed the recipe from The Cottage Smallholder blog, and it’s a case of boiling the fruit half covered in water, then strained overnight. Add a pound of sugar for each pint of juice, simmer gently until setting point is reached.

My next cherry plum adventure is still steeping, as I decided on an infused gin, the recipe of which you can find here. It is, at present, sitting in my garage and being swished around if and when I remember! We’ll see how it turns out nearer Christmas!

On returning from holidays, I couldn’t wait to climb the plum tree and harvest all the scrummy fruit, well, those that hadn’t already been stolen in part by the wasps. As usual, I chose to follow Delia’s advice and turn them into a Windfall Spiced Plum Chutney. I find that the longer you leave this, the more it becomes a pickle, and is more delicious than ever. Another quick and easy way of using up plums is a simple plum jam. For every pound of plums, add a pound of sugar and 1/4 pint of water. Boil until set. I added a little sprinkling of cinnamon too!

Further investigation proved there were overgrown courgettes and green tomatoes to use up too, so for the first time, I tried Hugh F-W and River Cottage’s Glutney. It’s quite similar to the Windfall recipe above, but uses vegetables instead of plums.


Use a kilo of overgrown courgette, or marrow, cooking apples and plums or green tomatoes. Half a kilo of onions, sultanas and soft brown sugar. 3/4 litres of cider of white wine vinegar, topped up to a litre with water, and as many chilli flakes as you dare.  Dice all into cm cubes. Make a spice bag to include a few strands of mace, 12 cloves and peppercorns, a teaspoon of coriander seeds, and roughly chopped thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger. 


Bring slowly to the boil so the sugar dissolves, then simmer for about three hours, until you can see the bottom of the pan when you drag a wooden spoon through the mixture.

As with all chutneys, jams, etc. make sure you sterilise your jars first. I pour boiling water into each, leave to warm, then pop into a warm oven to dry. I also put the filled jars back into the oven  to help seal them.

Now the only thing to do is wait. Most of the above take time to mature, so don’t be tempted to open the chutneys too early – wait and let the flavours mellow, unless, of course, you prefer a sharper taste!

Thursday 2 September 2010

Fennel, Asparagus and Caerphilly salad


Easy, healthy and delicious! I know we’re at the end of the asparagus season now, but I’m late in posting this so apologise. Hopefully, you may still be able to find some local spears.

Shave the fennel, slice asparagus really thinly on the diagonal, add some salad leaves and dress with lemon and olive oil. A few gratings of cheese over the top and a sprinkling of herbs! I used this recipe from Mark Hix.


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