Friday 12 December 2014

4: Rachel Khoo–My Little French Kitchen–Cooking the Books


Starter:      Croquettes

Main:         Poulet Roti au Vin Rouge

Dessert:     Bisous Chaumontais

Since Rachel Khoo appeared on our TV in her Little Paris Kitchen, I’ve been hooked: Not only to the recipes, which always look so glamorous, but the whole styling of the programme. Some say that many food programmes these day are over-produced, but, I have to admit, I’m a fan of all the quirky, arty little graphics and gorgeous ‘set’ kitchens. In My little French Kitchen, Rachel works her way round various regions in France, putting her own spin on some familiar, and some less familiar recipes. Some of these are a bit fiddly, but all are typically French.

I left my homework really late this week, only completing two of the tasks on Thursday night and Friday evening. So, after work on Thursday, then picking up F, playing, bathing, bedtiming her, I eventually got round to cooking our dinner, plus the croquettes recipe. I was all out to do the Bisous then as well but since the OH didn’t get back from work until after nine, and I needed to keep the veg. warm for dinner and finish the croquettes in a high oven, and the fact the meringues needed two hours oven use at a low temperature, it just didn’t happen! So they were begun early Friday morning and completed early evening. Just about made my Friday deadline this week. Hopefully, next week’s will be a bit more manageable.

Starter: Croquettes

Easiness: 7/10 higher still if you use leftovers

Taste: 6/10

Make again: 6/10

Cheats & Changes: none, although I combined many of the ingredients when she suggested I use just one.

Now, these aren’t the BirdsEye ones you’re used to, or indeed the ones served with fish fingers for school dinners. They’re a much more presentable little snack which would be perfect if rolled into small spheres and served as a Christmas canapé.

Mash all your leftover veg together any will really do though I used potatoes, carrots, parsnips and some grated cheese. Form into little cylinders, roll each one into flour, then egg white, then bread crumbs. Bake in a hot oven drizzled with oil for around 15 minutes, through cooking a little longer won’t hurt.


These really could do with some seasoning – lots of pepper and salt in with the veg and also, season the breadcrumb mixture. Serve with a sweet chilli jam to dip if serving as aperos, or use instead of potatoes with a roast. They were ok, nothing special, but a change from the usual. Too phaffy for everyday though – just the thought of getting the flour, egg and breadcrumb saucers ready and taking up all that surface space is enough to put me off!

Main: Poulet Roti au Vin Rouge

Easiness: 6/10

Taste: 6/10

Make again: 5/10

Cheats & Changes: None


This Poulet Roti is very similar to a Jamie sticky chicken thighs recipe, and I would say not as quick and easy, or, in fact, tasty. Use a whole chicken and cut into pieces yourself for the cheapest option…

Marinate in a plastic bag with red wine, tomato paste, herbs and red wine vinegar. Leave overnight if you can.


Season too. Put your veg (potatoes, onion, carrots,) in a baking dish, pour over some water, pop the chicken pieces on top, over and roast for 30 mins. Roast uncovered for another 15 minutes.



Dessert: Bisous Chaumontais

Easiness: 4/10

Taste: 7/10

Make again: 5/10, but I would for a special present.

Cheats & Changes: 0


This recipe combines two things I’ve never mastered in the kitchen. The first is meringue…I think I’ve only ever managed to get my egg whites to the ‘stiff peak’ stage once. Maybe I add the sugar too quickly before getting enough air into them? I don’t know but somehow, they’re never quite right. The other thing for which I have no patience is sugar work, of any kind. I just about manage to add it to jams, jellies and chutneys but that’s about it. I always end up crystallising it and this time was no exception. Although it doesn’t impede the flavour, the texture is never quite right.

First make the praline. Toast 50g hazelnuts in a dry pan then remove. Add 75g and 2 tbs water, but make sure the pan has cooled first and is on a gentle heat otherwise you’ll crystallise the sugar as I did. Wait for the sugar to melt – do not stir, then turn up the heat and bubble until a dark caramel colour. Remove from the heat, quickly stir in the hazelnuts and pour onto a baking sheet in one layer. Allow to cool, then blitz in a food processor to make crumbs.

Turn the oven to low, 80 degrees C. Whisk two eggs whites until fluffy. Add a few drops of lemon juice and continue to whisk. As you whisk, gradually pour in 100g sugar and stop when the sugar is combined and egg whites form stiff peaks – never, in my case, but there you go! Pipe or spoon little blobs onto a baking sheet, sprinkle a little of the praline mixture over the top and bake for 1.5 hrs. Then turn oven off and leave them in the oven for a further half an hour with the door open. Remove to cool completely.


Whip 100g butter until pale and fluffy then mix with the praline, retaining 2 heaped tablespoons of praline). Sandwich the meringue kisses together with the praline butter mix, then roll in the remaining praline and serve.


These were delicious, but even I could only manage one little ‘kiss’ as they are super-super sweet. In the end, the meringue turned out ok, if a little sticky in the middle, but I quite like them like that anyway.

So, all in all, I think I’ll keep this one as a food porn bedtime book rather than cook from it as the pictures are beautiful. 

Friday 5 December 2014

3: Delia Smith–How to Cook, Book 3–Cooking the Books

Starter:      Grilled Polenta with Ham, Cheese & Sage

Main:         Lamb and Cannellini Bean stew

Dessert:     Lemon Curd

So after a really easy, quick week with Nigel, this time it’s Delia’s turn. You’d think with a title of ‘How to Cook’ the recipes would be fairly easy. Well, they are, but often have many ingredients and stages, whilst also teaching you processes along the way. The skill from this week’s main course was ‘how to peel a tomato’: make a cross in their bottom with a sharp knife, pop into just boiled water for a minute or two, then peel the skin away.

To be honest, the post this week has been difficult. I’ve had a busy Monday, including F’s gymnastics, worked three days, had three trips to the doctors, one to the vets, one to the gym (where I am currently, completing the writing of this) and, for some rest and relaxation, a visit to the cinema to watch Paddington with friends. The fact I’ve actually fitted in some cooking and writing as well is nothing more than a miracle! Well, it is nearly Christmas.

Starter: Grilled Polenta with Ham, Cheese & Sage

Easiness: 6/10 (It is easy, but there are several processes which make it quite longwinded)

Taste: 7/10

Make again: 6/10

Cheats & Changes: I used normal ham as we didn’t have any air-dried. I also used Cheddar (again) instead of Gruyere or Fontina.


I’d have never chosen to make this as neither me, nor my husband, are really fans of polenta, but I have a pack in the cupboard, primarily used as a fish-finger coating, (cut fish or chicken into chunks, dip in whisked egg, then into the polenta. Shallow fry and, for chicken, finish in the oven for a few minutes) so thought I’d use that up. The sage is from the garden, after popping a bag over it to protect from the worst of the frost.

You’ll find the recipe here, but its simple cooking the polenta as per the packet, making into circles, grilling, then topping with ham, cheese and sage and grill again to melt the cheese. It was easy, there were few skills involved, but I found the boiling of the polenta, allowing to cool, pre-grilling, then grilling again quite a long winded process. Having said that, it was much tastier than either of us had anticipated and would be a great dinner party starter, or even a nice Christmas canapé…what I’m saying is that just to make two it’s too much phaff, but if you’re making for a larger number, it’d be worth your while.


Main: Lamb Stew with Cannellini Beans

Easiness: 8/10 ( but lots of chopping )

Taste: 6/10

Make again: 3/10 (I’d make the one I cooked previously)

Cheats & Changes: Canned, rinsed and drained beans rather than the dried variety that you have to hydrate yourself. Half the quantity of wine, supplemented with half stock. (I couldn’t justify a half bottle of wine in a stew!) You could buy pre-chopped ‘stew’ veg as a quick alternative.


I know I made a very similar lamb stew a few weeks ago, but I had all the ingredients and wanted to try the Lamb Shanks from Abel and Cole, so, since it’s chilly out, thought this would be a different variation on the last one. And how I love that I can find all Delia’s recipes online – if you want to follow her version, just click here!

Basically, you brown the lamb shanks in a lidded hob-to-oven casserole then remove. Do the same with the veg, a selection of tomatoes (skin-off), celery, garlic, onion and carrot, add the beans, wine, stock, bay leaf, rosemary and seasoning and pop the lamb on top. Braise slowly in the oven for 3 hours.

This is a stew that will happily stretch to 4 people, especially if you use two large lamb shanks and bulk it out with a bit more veg. I also served it with new potatoes and broccoli which helped. I’d suggest taking the lamb off the bone before serving and mixing into the stew so it can be easily distributed, although it looks far more impressive served on the bone!


It was ok: a simple, rustic stew, but I felt the beans gave a mushy texture to it, which wasn’t very pleasant. Perhaps if I’d used dried, it’d have been better? It was also lacking a little flavour…I think the full half bottle (I know) of red wine would have combatted that though, rather than my cheat’s version. On reflection, after two very similar lamb dishes, the Waitrose Lamb and White Bean stew definitely had more flavour.

Dessert: Lemon Curd

Easiness: 7/10 (just weighing of ingredients, but you also have to sterilise jars)

Taste: 8/10

Make again: 8/10, but only to add to recipes.

Cheats & Changes: 0

009Not strictly a dessert I know, but you could always use as a filling for lemon meringue pie, or simple spread on biscuits! I used it to make the lemon and mascarpone filling for Nigel’s biscuits last week and was surprised by how much simpler it was than I thought: I usually end up with something similar to burnt scrambled eggs when using them in this way, but, after following the instructions carefully, it worked!

Delia’s recipe is here and I’d suggest you follow that rather than my abbreviated version, but if you want an idea of what to do then whisk eggs and heat gently with lemon juice and zest, caster sugar, unsalted butter and cornflour. Pour into sterilised jars, cover straight away and label when cooled. It will keep for several weeks in a cool place.


These would make a lovely Christmas present or addition to any hamper.


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