Monday 6 November 2017

Season of Mists...

Agrumi Lawn, with morning autumn sunshine,
and persimmons on the table

Autumn foliage, cascading down the Cypress
at the end of the Lily-pond

Tonight's Dinner:

Melanzane alla Parmigiana

Chicken Jalfrezi

Tarte Bordaloue

Thursday 5 October 2017

The Almond Harvest

A basket of almonds, de-husked

Local peasant at work, de-husking

And the diminutive pile of shelled almonds at the end of the process!

Tonight's dinner:

Curried chicken liver croissants

Celery Risotto

Budino Toscana

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Tiramisu with strega

This is a version of Jill Norman's version, where she used grappa, and I've replaced it with Strega (which has a flavour as well as a hit....whilst grappa , at least when consumed like this, really only has a hit). This method produces a tiramisu which is light as love, and is a completely different animal from the usual version, which - let's face it - can be a bit unremitting, and certainly has a tendency to sit heavy on the stomach.

Follow the construction method here to make either one large tiramisu, or make them in individual 10 cm ramekins. If doing the latter, then put crossed strips of foil across the base of the ramekin before you start, so that you can then un-mould the individual desserts, keeping them the same way up as they were made, for serving.

For six.

Ingredients: 4 egg yolks; 100g + 2 tbs sugar; 400g mascarpone; 4 tbs strega; 2 egg whites; approx 30 savoiardi biscuits (lady fingers); 1 glass water; 1 glass Marsala. Powdered chocolate.


1. Beat the egg  yolks with the sugar, then mix in and fully amalgamate the mascarpone and the strega. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

2. Beat the egg whites until stiff, and then fold into the mascarpone cream.

3. Grease the bowl or ramekins in which the dessert is to be made, and if using ramekins, line them with crossed strips of foil (also greased) to enable ease of serving.

4. Mix the water and marsala together in a flat shallow dish, and quickly dunk the biscuits in this mixture as you go along, just before you use them to make the layers of the tiramisu.

5. Starting with a layer of bscuuits, alternate layees of biscuits and then of cream until all the cream mixture has been used up, and finishing with a layer of the cream mixture. In practice, I generally find that in individual ramekins I have made two layers of biscuit topped with two layers of cream, whilst in one bowl I'm more likely to have had three layers of each.

6. Refrigerate the dessert(s) for at least 2 hours, and up to ten hours. Just before serving, sprinkle the top of the tiramisu with powdered chocolate.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Ham & Mushroom crepes, fried

I've been rediscovering Robert Carrier, to best effect from his first, and probably greatest book: Great Dishes of the World. All sorts of gems, which have presumably been largely forgotten in the half-century (and more) since this splendid tome was first published: Rabbit in cream is one such which immediately springs to mind.   The dessert section is excellent - although n.b that the quantities of sugar need to be severely cut, to be suitable for now ....we seem to have much less of a sweet-tooth now than they had back then (also true in dessert recipes from Anna del Conte, I've found, and quite a few others who were writing in the sixties and seventies...although, interestingly, not Jane Grigson, or early Anne Willan, or Paula Wolfert. Maybe it isn't a 'period' thing  but merely  the fact of certain people having liked sugar more than others....who knows?)
This particular recipe is extremely good, and it has the twist - for me, at any rate - of introducing the idea of frying crepes, once stuffed, rather than merely heating them through in the oven. The difference is astonishing: texturally, the crispness of the fried crepe and the softness of the filling raises the dish to another level; I now use this method for all stuffed crepe treatments, whether sweet or savoury.

For Four:

Ingredients: crepe batter made with 1 egg, 42g plain flour, 4 fl oz milk, 1 pinch of salt; 50g butter; 125g mushrooms, chopped; juice of half a lemon; 1 small onion, finely chopped; 28g flour; 10 fl oz milk; 125g cooked ham, chopped; 2 tbs parsley, finely chopped;  salt and pepper. 50g butter, for frying.


1. Make four crepes, by the standard method.

2. Melt half the butter in a frying pan, and in this cook the chopped muchrooms with the lemon juice for a couple of minutes.

3. In a simmertopf or double boiler, melt the remaining butter, and in this soften the chopped onion for five minutes or so, until properly softened. Add the flour and then the milk to make an onion-bechamel, stirring until the sauce is thick and smooth.

4. Fold into the bechamel the mushrooms, along with the cooked ham and parsley. Add seasoning to taste.

5. Use the filling to stuff the four crepes, spring-roll style, to make four completely enclosed packages.

6. In a frying pan large enough to accommodate all four stuffed crepes, melt the remaining butter, and fry the crepes in it for two minutes or so on each side until brown and crisp.

Serve immediately.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Shrimp Fritters

These are astonishingly good! The name sounds dull - possibly in spanish, it comes across better: 'tortillitas de camarones'. However you choose to call them, they are beyond mouth-watering, and are the best new culinary discovery I've made in a very long time. Served as a starter, they are very, very more-ish...
This recipe is another gem from Elizabeth Luard's 'Classic Spanish Cooking', which I highly recommend.

For about ten fritters:

Ingredients: 4 tbs bread flour; 1 tbs semola flour; 6 tbs water; 2 tbs oil; half tsp bicarbonate of soda; half tsp salt; quarter tsp paprika; 1 tbs finely chopped onion; 1 tbs chopped parsley; 125g finely chopped peeled shrimp. Oil, for frying.


1. Combine the flour, semola, salt, bicarbonate of soda and paprika in a bowl, and add to them the water and oil. Using a fork, mix well, to make a batter.

2. Stir into the batter the parsley, onion, and shrimp, and mix to amalgamate thoroughly.

3. In a wide, shallow pan (I use a large saute pan, for best want something where the individual fritters have plenty of space around them), heat two fingers' depth of oil, until it starts to shimmer. It should be very hot.

4. Drop the batter into the oil in 1 tbs amounts. Allow to fry for about a minute, then flatten each one with the back of a metal spoon, and use a palette knife to ensure thay haven't got stuck to the bottom of the pan in the process. After a couple of minutes cooking, turn the fritters over - the underside should by now be a golden dark brown. Continue to cook for a couple more minutes, then take them out of the oil and drain them briefly on kitchen paper.

Serve while still hot. They are wonderful!

Saturday 8 July 2017

Spanish Apple Pudding

I'm having a summer of Spanish cooking. Which, I find, is very often a more sophisticated version of Italian fare; where the latter is so often and very clearly the product of peasant kitchens and resources, its Spanish cousin is the result of centuries of a rich Royal Court, and a more varied and evolved culinary experience. For summer menus, now that the days are long and hot, and the evenings perfect for al fresco dining, Spanish dishes could not be bettered: light, and fresh, and deceptively uncomplicated in style.
From the pages of Penelope Casas (of long acquaintance), and of Elizabeth Luard (who I have never previously read from a purely  'Spanish' angle), and of Janet Mendel (a completely new find), I've been extracting splendid new nuggets. Of which this is one.
When I first started to make it, as I assembled the ingredients in the pan, a suspicion began to form in my mind that this was all very familiar, and that all it would be would be the puree that forms the base of a regular tarte aux pommes. And, when you see what the ingredients are, you'll understand why. But, not so. I'm unclear by what precise alchemy - perhaps merely the surprising length of the cooking time - but the finished product here is unlike anything else I've ever come across. And, it is good!
Serve it with cold, vanilla-flavoured Creme Anglaise. Cream, on its own, would be too one-note-ish, and the delicate flavour of the vanilla offsets the dense sweetness of the apple pudding to perfection.

For three:

Ingredients: 4 medium-large apples; 5 tbs + 8 tbs sugar; 4 tbs butter; 1 tsp lemon juice; zest from half a lemon; 1/4 tsp cinnamon; a pinch of salt; 2 medium eggs.


1. Make a caramel, using the 8 tbs sugar along with 4 teaspoons of water. Once ready, pour this into three small (internal dimension approx 8 x 5 cm) ramekins, already greased.

2. Peel and dice the apples, and place them in a small pan along with all of the rest of the ingredients, apart from the eggs; cook, covered, very slowly, for three hours. By which time they will almost entirely have collapsed,and the mixture will be quite dense.

3. Allow the mixture to cool, and then mix into it the two eggs, lightly beaten. Divide this mixture between the three ramekins, and then place them in a bain amrie and cook them in an oven pre-heated to 175 degrees C for one and a half hours.

4. Allow to cool to room temperature, and un-mould the puddings onto soup plates. Serve, surrounded with light, vanilla-flavoured creme anglaise. Exquisite!

Monday 19 June 2017

Stuffed Vine Leaves

This was one of my offerings in our recent Masterchef Weekend (2017). Not the greek version, of very long memory, but one from Spain, with a much more interesting flavour than the lemon and rice one, which IMHO has always seemed rather one-note-ish (and that a rather brackish flavour, which could be lemon or could be vinegar, but either way is an acquired taste rather than an obvious argument). The spanish version uses a mixture of  varieties of meat in the stuffing, and is cooked in a light tomato sauce.
Most recipes specify vine leaves which have been preserved in brine, which are generally available, but with a garden full of fresh vine leaves for around ten months of the year, it seemed daft not to use them, and so, I did. It was a toss-up between leaves from the muscat vine, or from the fragola vine - the latter were larger, and seemed more robust, and so the first time I did this recipe, I used these - in practice, the smaller leaves are just as strong, and arguably more tender. I suspect the larger and tougher the leaves are, then the longer you have to blanch them in order to get rid of any residual leatheriness.
This is a peasant dish, and so although I've given precise quantities of ingredients here, I imagine it's really one of those dishes where you use whatever you have, in what seem like sensible amounts. One of those dishes where an Eliza Acton or a Hannah Glasse would have said merely 'mix together a quantity of the following things...' and then proceed to list anything and everything which might be included.
Good served either hot or cold. We have now - rather early for the year - entered deep summer, and so cold food is the obvious choice: chilled food and chilled wine, served late in the evening, as the temperature comes down to a beautiful softness.  Served hot, as a winter appetiser, though, this would be equally good, near a blazing fire.

Ingredients: 16 vine leaves (either fresh, or in brine); 250g veal; 1 cup chopped cooked ham; 1 chicken breast, skinless & boneless; 2 tbs minced parsley; 2 large garlic cloves, minced; 2 slices bread, crusts removed, and soaked in a little milk; half a cup tomato sauce (simmer a can of tinned tomatoes in a little oil for fifteen minutes or so, until all has thickened and resolved itself into sauce texture, then seasoned as appropriate); half a cup chicken stock.


1. If the vine leaves are fresh, blanch them in lots  of boiling water for about five minutes, then refresh in cold water, then lay them between tea towels to dry. (I suspect you do much the same if they're in brine, but I imagine it would tell you in the jar).

2. Process all the rest of the ingredients (apart from the tomato sauce and all but 4 tbs of the stock), taste, and season as appropriate.

3. Fill each leaf with a couple of tbs of filling, then roll it up as if for a spring roll (i.e. tuck the bottom of the leaf nearest you over the filling, then fold in the sides, and roll it up, away from you).

4. Put the remaining stock and the tomato sauce in the bottom of a pan (one with a lid) and place the stuffed leaves in one layer on top, seams facing down, and quite tightly packed. Cover the pan and simmer for about half an hour, over low heat. Serve, with the sauce from the pan spooned over.

If to be served cold, cover and leave in the fridge for at least a few hours beforehand.

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Making Boudin Blanc

From the time when the Belfortes still lived on the windswept plateau of the Larzac, many years ago now, a Christmas memory remains of the Friday market in Millau, about sixty miles away to the north, and one of our few regular provisioning opportunities. It was from there that we used to buy foie gras, from the woman who had the stall in the corner of the marketplace, and we stocked up each week with cheese and hams and fruit and vegetables of every kind. Thirty years on, I still have my excellently supple green wellies (Chameau brand) which came from the hunting shop just off the square there, and invariably one of the final stops before we repaired to the cafe for fortification before embarking on the journey home once more was to the butchers in the small back street that, ran parallel to the marketplace, to buy there the best boudins blancs that you could possibly imagine. Light, creamy and entirely delicious, they were a benchmark against which all others have subsequently been measured...and none has ever quite come up to the mark.

Until now.

The Technical Dept was determined that as part of the festive board at New Year, boudins blancs would be served. And with that in mind, he researched and experimented endlessly - and the end result was, I have to say, quite excellent. We had boudins poached, sliced and fried as part of the main course on December 31st, and then again, several days later, pan-fried in butter, along with some sliced apple, and then flambéed in calvados. And if the butcher in Millau is still around (which I doubt), then he would have good cause to look to his laurels!

Recipe for 1kg approx of Boudin blanc.

600gm meat including some fat. Chicken/Veal/Pork/Duck or a mixture
200gm crustless bread.
200ml milk
50gm cornflour
20g dried mushrooms - porcini/shiitaki etc
20ml Port
3 shallots, finely chopped
20gm butter
Spices of choice
Salt and pepper
200ml cream
200ml egg whites
At least 2 yards of sausage casing, soaked overnight in cold water.

You'll also need a sausage auger,  preferably one on a stand mixer such as Kenwood Chef, or one fitted to a piping bag.


1. Powder the dried mushrooms in a food processor and let them infuse in hot milk.
2. Soften the shallots in the butter until translucent.
3. Pour the infused milk onto the bread.
4. Blend the meat, soaked bread, cornflour, shallots, port, spice and seasoning in a food processor until it forms a fine paste.
5. With machine running add the egg whites slowly.
6. Add the cream slowly and mix for a minute only.
7. Fry a small sample of sausage meat and taste. Correct seasoning if necessary.

Oil the outside of the sausage auger. Slide the soaked casing onto auger, draw 5" of casing off the auger. Fill the hopper with the sausage meat and start the machine. As the meat fills the casing slowly slide more casing off the auger. Do not overfill the casing and try to avoid leaving any air bubbles (If you're doing this with a piping bag rather than a machine, then you might need an assistent at tis point - three hands, at least, are a good idea at this point in the process, when you need both to operate the piping bag, and ensuring that it doesn't come apart as you fill the casing, and also to ensure that the filling is evenly distributed within the casing) . When all the sausage meat has extruded, press out any air and knot each end of the casing. If desired, divide the sausage into links by twisting the casing at regular intervals. Prick each sausage 4 or 5 times to prevent them bursting. Poach the sausage at 75-80°C for 40 minutes.
Store or freeze when cold.

Fry sausages in butter until golden brown all over and serve.

Sunday 1 January 2017

Capo d'Anno 2016

Ten for dinner - all the usual suspects - and the Technical Dept's expert stage management meant that we finished the sixth (and final) course with just two minutes to spare before fireworks took place on the agrumi lawn.Three different sorts of canapé, washed down with a variety of bottles of fizz, then smoked salmon (russian, a side of) with Reisling; scallops and romesco sauce, with Gewurtz; a sorbet of tomato and basil; three kinds of duck (grilled magret; confited legs; and a boudin blanc of minced duck & pork), along with a purée of salsify, and a magnum of Barbaresco 2009; a vacherin, brought back from Strasbourg a month ago, and nursed since then in the pantry fridge, served with an eye-wateringly good Avvolture 2003, and fata-in-casa walnut bread; and, to finish, spit-roast pineapple, served with coconut ice cream and a sauce of banana, ginger and chilli. We were supposed then to have figs dipped in chocolate...but owing to a general collapse-of-stout-party at that point, the figs were spared to fight another day.

The mise en scene...

The kitchen...while all was still looking organised

In preparation for the grand decanting

The calm before the storm - a sea of light and glasses...

And the menu. Soup to nuts, and everything in between.

Tonight's Dinner: