French food


Photo of the Rex Cabernet Sauvignon bottleI can hardly believe that it’s taken me until now to discover Slovenian wine. Several decades ago, when I was a bit ‘wealthier’ than now, I used to buy ‘Grand cru’ wines by the case at auction. Despite this level of interest in wine I’d never heard of Slovenian wine. Shame!

I’d probably have passed by this odd-shaped bottle (red wine) had it not been for following a Slovenian writer/blogger for the past couple of years. That being so, I bought a bottle for interest (Vinakoper Rex Cabernet Sauvignon), quite prepared to find that it was rubbish. What a revelation: intense red, for me (and Petronela and our Saturday evening supper guest) just the right level a tannin coming through all the fruit. Just wonderful. I’ve since researched Slovenian wine and found that this tiny country is among the world’s earliest wine producers (also home to the world’s oldest fruit bearing vine, 400+ years old) turning out top class wines , particularly white wines but not exclusively, obviously. My ignorance is not entirely my fault; evidently until recently little was exported – they drank it all themselves.

From what I’ve read, the vintage I bought (2013) is probably not the best; it seems that 2012 is better so that must be astounding. Sadly, returning to buy another couple of bottles it was no more.

Better than Mary Berry? Did I dare to say that?

Photo of Six of the dozen soft hamburger rolls I made

Six of the dozen soft hamburger rolls I made

Having begun a ‘foodie’ blog, which I haven’t done for some time, I’ll continue but no recipes (though links to a couple), just a run down of our Saturday supper. As the ‘foodies’ among you will know, I rarely follow recipes to the letter but this time I did: Stefane’s grandmother’s Vichyssoise, which cannot be bettered; soft hamburger rolls from Veena Azmanov (they tasted great, beautifully soft, though too soft and sticky a dough to form well – I think I’d add more flour next time). My hamburgers are always based on ‘Biftek haché à la Lyonnaise‘ from Julia Childs, but never quite the same.

Really wicked chocolate mousse

For dessert I started with Mary Berry‘s ‘Wicked chocolate mousse‘ but made it a little more ‘wicked’. For my taste, Petronela’s and our guest’s I think even better than the celebrity cook’s version, less sweet, more intense chocolate taste and with a kick. How? Substituting 85% cocoa chocolate for 40% of the ‘plain chocolate’ specified by MB and dosing it with a little chilli. I served it with fresh strawberries. I’d recommend it.

The Slovenian wine would go well with anything like a steak or game, or such an intense chocolate dish.

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Doesn’t look much does it but in my opinion this is one of the best of all soups. This is in fact vichyssoise though we ate a serving hot.

I bought a couple of leeks with the intention of making a leek and potato soup for Friday, one of our ‘meatless days’. Although no recipe is necessary – there could hardly be a simpler soup to make – I had intended to follow (roughly) Delia Smith’s recipe, my go-to cook for unpretentious but superb food of all kinds. For one reason and another I didn’t make the soup on Friday so went for an authentic vichyssoise and as far as I am concerned that means a recipe from a Frenchman or, as it turned out, from a Frenchwoman.

The only major difference between the soup and the vichyssoise is that the first is with a vegetable stock, generally served hot, the second with chicken stock and served cold. I made four generous servings. We had a small serving hot, the rest we’ll have later cold, ie vichyssoise (it will keep fine in the freezer).

Sadly Stéphane seems to have stopped posting on his blog, ‘My French Heaven‘, his most recent post being in June last year where he gave his grandmother’s recipe for vichyssoise, which is good enough for me. I say sadly because this was one of the best food blogs (and much more) around. Nevertheless, although posts seem to have stopped all the old ones seem still to be there. I love his ‘About’ – that alone is worth a read, but here’s his (or grandma’s) vichyssoise with the story behind it.

https://myfrenchheaven.com/2017/06/22/a-special-vichyssoise-for-my-muses/

This is truly delicious.

If you want the vegetarian version I’d recommend Delia Smith’s recipe (don’t be misled by the added complication from ‘celebrities’ like Jamie Oliver – rubbish). Here’s Delia’s:

https://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/collections/root-vegetables/leek-onion-and-potato-soup

It’s worth adding that leeks are a wonderful, often overlooked vegetable. This was brought home to me just a couple of days ago when I made a mushroom omelette following a recipe from Latvia which added some leek. I’d never have thought of using them in a mushroom omelette but I’m sure that it was this ingredient which lifted this omelette from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Here’s the recipe:

https://latvianmom.com/2018/02/01/mushroom-omelette/

 

 

‘Cooked’ condensed milk, the basis of the unbaked ‘cake’ at the end of this post

‘Cooked’ condensed milk, the basis of the unbaked ‘cake’ at the end of this post

I said in my Christmas post that after years of striving to cook classic French dishes (from before the days of nouvelle cuisine) I was tending more and more towards simplicity, to the point of buying some elements of Christmas dinner from Marks and Spencer (branded as M&S now – stupid and probably why they have ‘lost the plot’ in all departments except food! I have always bought my wife a ‘little’ Christmas present from a particular department there, but if for 2016 Christmas it was difficult to find something, last year there was nothing at all appealing).

Back to food; I’ve said before on this blog that I rarely follow recipe’s exactly now, using them as a starting point for ‘doing my own thing’. I do intend to return to an ‘exotic’ – though still simple – starter next Christmas, prawns flambeed in Ricard, learned from the blog ‘My French Heaven’. Unfortunately, as it was one of my favourite blogs, there have been no posts on that since it was back, after a long break, in June last year which explained the absence and gave a recipe for a soup I like a lot in the summer; also simple, it’s ‘cheap as chips’ to make: vichyssoise

Part of the move to ‘simplicity’ in the kitchen has been prompted by a blogger friend discovered early last year who often posts a recipe for Latvian style food which, as she has said, is usually simple compared with, eg, French or Romanian but tasty nevertheless. The final link to a ‘simple’ recipe, for a ‘cake’, below is one of hers. As I had never made anything like it before I did follow her recipe, before making two variations with half the mix.

Something I have not made for a long time, simple yet really tasty, is a soup which, searching for it, I was surprised to find I had never posted a recipe. So here it is:

Tomato and cinnamon soup

Ingredients (for 2 starter servings – double, triple, etc everything for more)

Tomato and cinnamon soup

A can of tomatoes (or use fresh)
A small onion
A few cloves of garlic (to taste)
1 tspn of cinnamon (or more, again to taste)
A dollop of tomato puree
A preserved vegetable/herb mix – dried, bottled or a vegetable stock cube
Extra basil – dried or if fresh also for ‘decorating’.

Chuck everything into a pan (with some water, more if using fresh tomatoes), cook a little (15mins with canned tomatoes, maybe 30 with fresh), liquidise, taste and if you like more cinnamon put it in and adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If a bit sour for your taste add one or two teaspoons of unrefined sugar. Reheat and serve with sour cream (or ‘sweet’ cream if you prefer). A variation: if you have a sweet red pepper looking alone cut that up and add to the tomatoes when cooking.

Cacio e pepe

? e pepe

The second ‘simple’ recipe comes from Corrie, another blogger I often go to for a ‘different’ veggie recipe (we eat ‘meatless’ twice a week though we are not vegetarian). In fact she suggested a variation on a celebrated Italian recipe, associated with Rome, ‘Cacio e pepe’ – Cheese and pepper. The year before last this dish became the ‘in thing’ (just as daft as the craze for Prosecco now being overtaken by fancy – ie expensive – gin).  Corrie’s variation adds cherry tomatoes – I didn’t know whether I wanted to do that as in general I don’t like cooked tomatoes (I know, that’s weird having in mind the recipe above, but nevertheless true). Bought tomatoes in UK are a disaster anyway, usually tasteless or worse, but there is one cherry variety which is acceptable – Piccolo – so I did not follow Corrie’s recipe but after taking the pasta out of the water in which I cooked the pasta I dropped the halved tomatoes in the water and cooked for a few minutes.

Both the authentic ‘Cacio e pepe’ and Corrie’s version are very simple – on the face of it. In fact it is, like spaghetti carbonara, not so simple to make the renowned dish well. It takes practice. However, even if not perfect it always tastes good. Important, stir the pasta occasionally while boiling so it does not clump together; have the cheese at room temperature and grate as finely as possible. I followed something between the authentic Italian method and Corrie’s. You’ll find Corrie’s recipe here:

https://corriesrabbitfood.com/2018/01/15/cacio-e-pepe-with-cherry-tomatoes/

Dulce de leche cake – no cooking

Four varieties of ‘dulce de leche’

Finally, I wanted to make a ‘surprise’ cake for my wife and took up a suggestion from my Latvian blogger friend Ilze. Very simple, ‘Dulce de leche’ cake is made of condensed milk simmered sealed in the can for 2-3 hours, butter and crushed biscuits. In Latvia they use Selga biscuits but Rich Tea are an excellent substitute here.

I made only a quarter of Ilze’s recipe (half a 397g can of Carnation condensed milk, everything else in proportion). I wasn’t certain my wife would like the taste of the original, which might be too ‘caramel’ for her, so I divided my mix into two and added a good slug of rum to one half. I then added powdered cocoa to half of that (don’t know how much – till I liked the colour!). The other half I also divided into two, adding poppy seeds to one part and grating chilli chocolate on the top of the other. Of course, it’s simpler just to make one and in the future I’ll make the one preferred – with cocoa and rum. The cocoa powder, being bitter, cuts the sweetness. The one with just rum tastes less sweet cold from the fridge.

You can make the cake(s) into any shape you like by forming with your hands. My guess is that children would love making this cake.

You’ll find Ilze’s recipe here:

Dulce de leche cake 

Notes:

The Carnation can has a warning not to boil in the can. Don’t worry, just make sure the can is well covered with water, adjust heat to be only just simmering and put a lid on it.

There was a good article about the ‘Cacio e pepe’ craze, with good advice for cooking it, in the Guardian the year before last. You’ll find it here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2016/nov/03/how-to-make-the-perfect-cacio-e-pepe

'Romanian hamburger' with baked potato and asparagus on a plate, before 'saucing'

‘Romanian hamburger’ with baked potato and asparagus, before ‘saucing’

Recently I haven’t posted much about cooking, once a mainstay of this blog. Resisting the temptation to comment on recent horrific events and the sad world we live in (later), I’ve decided to tell you about my ‘Romanian hamburgers’.

I don’t really do ‘recipes’ – there are few things for which I use exact quantities (English dumplings, some cakes and bread being examples). I just use recipes as a guide. My favourite cooking is just throwing something together with whatever is in the home at the time (see ‘Fast food’ under the Food menu above).

Romanian hamburgers are an invention of mine, you’ll find hamburgers in Romania are just like here, in McDonalds and the like. When I make ‘hamburgers’ I usually make ‘Biftek haché à la Lyonnaise’, roughly following Julia Child’s recipe in ‘Mastering the art of French cooking’, volume 1 my cooking bible since the mid-1960s (first published in 1961) and joined by volume 2 when it was published in 1970. I’ve mentioned it several times in the past, a couple of times under the Food menu above.

Romanian hamburgers

Two 'Romanian hamburgers' before cooking.

Two ‘Romanian hamburgers’ before cooking.

As suggested by the name the meat in Julia Child’s recipe is beef and the principal ‘flavouring’ is thyme (and butter?). My ‘Romanian’ version substitutes pork for beef (Romanian pork is superb, beef not good), dill (mărar), one of the most encountered herbs in Romania, for thyme and smoked pork back fat (slănină afumată) for most of the butter in the ‘French’ recipe. In the UK you will find slănină afumată in a Romanian shop, perhaps in other east European shops.

For two of us I use about 300g of minced pork that has little fat.

Sweat a finely chopped onion and two chopped garlic cloves in a little butter till translucent. Tip it into a bowl containing the mince. Add finely chopped fresh dill – a lot! – and finely diced smoked fat (a bit like the fat in black pudding). You can use dried dill but if so leave the mixture for a few hours before cooking for the flavour to develop. Add salt and black pepper. Add a large free range egg and thoroughly mix (hand is best). Leave in the fridge for a while then form into into two fairly thick patties. Sear in a frying pan with a little butter (it’s hot enough when the foam subsides) then  lower the heat and fry till cooked through, turning when half done. Deglaze the pan with a little red wine opened to drink with the meal (I prefer Trei Hectare from the Murfatlar region of Romania but it’s not available in the UK; a good reason to drive to Romania – fill the boot!), and pour over the hamburgers. We like with chunky chips and a salad but a baked potato (or boiled Jersey Royal potatoes) and asparagus, as here, at this time of year is another good accompaniment), as is mashed potato.

lobsterChristmas breakfast & dinner – smoked salmon (three varieties), scrambled eggs and champagne; lobster, guinea fowl and chocolate pudding.

This year I intended to do minimal cooking apart from what has become our traditional breakfast (I’ve prattled on about scrambled eggs before so will not do so here and food blogging has really progressed since then) so set out with the idea of buying everything for dinner semi-prepared from Marks & Spencer – always reliable in the food department even if their clothes have gone off track (I blame their following of the common herd and rebranding as M&S!). However, the starter we had chosen was no longer available when I arrived to make the order and no alternatives appealed so I bought a lobster (Kirkgate market is just across the road), which forced me into doing a bit of cooking, making lobster in chaud-froid (summary recipe below).

The champagne (blame Marks and Spencer for the change from our usual Cava; the half price offer was tempting and the result was superb) and the ‘easy carve’ guinea fowl, with pork, leek and smoked bacon stuffing, were excellent. No fancy accompaniments, just roast potatoes, sprouts and cauliflower. The juices from the bird needed no enhancement to be a very tasty sauce. There should have been roast parsnips but they were ‘lost’ somewhere between the market and home!

We managed to make room for some M&S melt-in-the middle chocolate pudding with simple cream about 2 hours after finishing the main course – again very good (neither Petronela nor I like ‘Christmas pudding’).

Bordeaux Blanc and Syrah from Chile

A very good Bordeaux Blanc from Fortnum and Mason and an excellent Chilean Syrah, both gifts so a step up from our day-to-day plonk, completed the table (the second ‘bottle of red’ seen, also a present, is a candle which, apart from the wick, is almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing).

Best present!

One of the things I really love about the run up to Christmas is trying to come up with something ‘special’ for Petronela. Seems this year I succeeded with a cushion, which P has told her friends is “the best present I’ve had ever had”. Eric Clapton’s piece became ‘our song’ well before we married; for people who don’t know Romanian, Ursulețul is ‘The teddy bear’ – no need to tell you who!).

Recipe

Homard en chaud-froid (based on a recipe in my ‘bible’ for classic French cooking for the past 40 years or so – Mastering the Art of French Cooking).

  • Lobster boiled and meat extracted from the body. Claws retained whole for ‘decoration’.
  • Empty shell pieces returned to the liquid with a good slug of the wine to accompany lobster later. Simmered to extract all the flavour, shell drained and liquid reduced until a strongly flavoured stock remains. Body and tail shells cleaned to contain the chaud-froid.
  • Lobster meat chopped into small pieces, fried slowly in butter with a little onion, pinch each of mustard powder and chilli powder, for 2 mins, cognac added then reduced to almost no liquid. Well chilled.
  • A little powdered gelatine soaked in a little of the wine to be served (enough to softly set the sauce).
  • Equal quantities of single cream and the lobster stock simmered with a sprig of tarragon, until reduced to about 3/4. Extract tarragon and correct seasoning if necessary. Stir in softened gelatine until completely dissolved. Leave to cool until almost set.
  • Fold lobster meat into about 3/4 of the sauce, spoon into the shells, spoon rest of sauce over and decorate (I used a few slices of Italian white truffle).

Simples! … and simply delicious.

New Year (Revelion).

New Year is all about Romanian food so it’s Petronela’s turn and now I can relax, almost – cârnați (Romanian sausages) to be made, a joint effort. All prepared before New Year’s Eve which is also P’s birthday so following the Romanian (at least Moldavian) tradition, we stay at home and friends – anybody – can drop in and sample the feast. There’ll be at least a dozen different dishes on the table.

 

 

It’s a while since I wrote anything about food so, having used some recipes picked up from bloggers I follow, the Chef Mimi Blog, My French Heaven and Rabbit Food, as a basis for some meals, and really enjoyed them, it seemed an ideal time to return to one of my favourite themes. But before that …

Tea

I should have a ‘grump’ about the marketing of Yorkshire tea. When I was unwell last year I completely ‘went off’ the 1/2 litre of very, very strong coffee (very sweet) I previously thought indispensable to get going in the morning, so began to drink tea (no sugar) first thing (about 6.00). At this time I also changed from ‘normal’ Yorkshire tea to ‘Gold’ Yorkshire tea (a bit stronger) but, although the shops were stuffed with teabags of the stuff, finding loose leaf tea proved very difficult. Then Taylors of Harrogate, which markets the brand, began a big push, joining up with Classic FM radio, sponsoring concerts, etc, but it was still difficult to find packets of loose leaf ‘Gold’. I wrote to Taylors pointing out that this was a cardinal marketing sin. Customer service were very helpful but that’s not the point. I have now found that the biggest Tesco supermarkets keep it though often there are only a couple of packets, if any, on the shelf. Today I found eight; I bought the lot!

Some like it hot – especially French chickens

I’m grateful to Chef Mimi as although in the past I followed My French Heaven closely I missed the ‘My Tangy Green Chicken’ in February last year. I’ve been roasting chickens for 60 years or more but I learned something surprising – to roast the chicken at 480degF ! Funny to find a chef in France using Fahrenheit (I know); we don’t even use it now in the UK – near as dammit 250degC. I suppose I could have used this temperature, unknowingly, when I was cooking on an old coal-fired range some 50 to 60 years ago (my grandmother used butter-tub slats, so wood soaked with butter, thrown out by the local coop, to get a high temperature; the oven bottom was red!) I don’t think my modern oven reaches quite 250; I shoved it on max and that’s what I’ll use in future.

Having found a free-range corn-fed chicken and all the other ingredients for Stephane’s (My French Heaven) recipe I followed his Tangy Green Chicken recipe. Wonderful. I did use olive oil, not the canola oil he stipulates, but other than that followed his recipe faithfully. Not surprisingly many queried his stipulated temperature but he was adamant. Rightly so , the result is wonderful. Chef Mimi made some changes for her ‘Roast chicken with olives‘, partly because all the ingredients seemed not to be readily available in her part of the USA, but I’m sure that her version is delicious too.

Rabbit Food

I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I eat ‘veggie’ twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, so it’s always good to find something different without meat. Corrie-Louise will also give you a laugh on her Rabbit Food blog. Her recipe for ‘My Mum’s Red Pepper Lasagne‘ looked interesting but finding that it had no white sauce (I always make bechamel), to me one of the best bits, I decided to make just the pepper and tomato ragout from her recipe and serve it with a less work-intensive pasta, or rather two: whole wheat spaghetti and the little twirled ‘trofie’. Her recipe uses fresh tomatoes but I used tinned – less work – and rather then cheddar I put a good helping of Parmesan on top. Very tasty! (No idea what quinoa is).