The invention game.

Here in our Mountain home, we inherited quiet a large chest freezer, which I have to say is usually pretty full. I’m not really a meal planner and I am also not a food throw awayer! Hence there is all sorts in my freezer. When I make a gravy ( always from scratch) or a sauce, there is always too much, then the rest is packed and frozen for future use.

I am one of those weird people who actually likes grocery shopping, not the run of the mill stuff, but I am always curious to see what else is out there. For a while, it was possible to buy, garlic, small ones that were indeed a whole clove, so easy to use, but it has gone the same way as many new food fads, GONE, nowhere to be seen. However, as I have said before grocery shopping here is not such fun, and can be a chore. Very often it is a better bet to buy frozen vegetables than fresh. Fresh very often is not very fresh and the shelf life very short indeed ( unless you are an avocado, then the shelf life is forever, as the last ones I bought were still rock hard after two weeks!) but the lemons I bought at the same time were, well only fit for the bin!

And so it was declared ( by me that is) cardinal rule number one is, ” when I ask what should we have for dinner” himself MUST not under any circumstances come up with some off the cuff random idea that I will not entertain, simply because it is Not In The Freezer!

That being said, I can certainly be very creative with What is in the Freezer! And so it was that we came to be eating Peking Duck!

Yes, we had a crown of duck sitting patiently in the freezer waiting for someone ( me) to declare “And tonight we will have duck !”

I have made Peking Duck before , probably in a former life and I seem to remember having two car jacks ( the same ones that I used to use to hang pasta on, in the days before a pasta dryer rack was available) with a wooden broom handle balanced on them, and on it hung my duck , which needed a daily application for several days, of a sticky concoction applied with a paint brush, to give it, when roasted, the wonderful crunchy skin, that is a requisite for Peking Duck! However, back then in Brussels, it was also very easy to buy all the necessary ingredients to make such a dish but not so even today in the French Alps! When I commented to a Chinese friend that I had made the Chinese pancakes, she laughed and said, Who makes them, in China we just buy them and the same goes to any major city, which has a China Town!

But alas, in the Alps no such luck, nor was the plum sauce available, but as luck would have it, sitting in the freezer was a kilo of plums, just waiting to be used! I had originally thought that they, when given to me last summer, were destined to become plum, jam, but now they were destined for a different future, Plum Sauce!

For two people

  1. Either two duck breasts or a crown of duck
  2. 2 tablespoonfuls soy sauce
  3. 1 tablespoonfuls honey
  4. 1tsp five spice powder plus 1/2 tsp salt
  5. 1 tablespoonfuls oil
  6. 1/2 tablespoonfuls Chinese wine vinegar

Mix the above and marinate the duck, preferably overnight but for as little as 30 mins.

Heat some oil in an oven proof frying pan ( I use cast iron for this, as it is also good on all types of hobs, including induction hobs.) sear the duck skin side down. Cook for about 10 mins, until the skin is very brown and crisp, turn them over, drain off the excess fat and pop under a grill for about 5mins, but be careful not to burn. Alternatively put into a hot oven for about 8 mins.

Before cooking the duck, you should make the plum sauce and the pancakes, so:-

  1. 1 1/2 (6oz] plain flour
  2. Pinch salt
  3. 1tsp oil
  4. 2/3 boiling water

I use a food processor, it makes mixing very easy. Put the flour and salt into the machine, mix the water with the oil and with the machine running pour in the liquid and process until the mixture forms a ball.

Knead the dough ( when it is cool enough to handle) until it makes a smooth ball, adding some flour if it is too sticky. Roll the dough into a cylinder and cut into 12 bits.flatten each bit of dough and rollout using a rolling pin turning it until it makes a round flat pancake about 6-7 inches. Then cook in pairs.

Brush lightly with oil and cook in a frying pan for about 30 seconds each side. Separate the two. Place onto a plate and cover with paper towel.

And for the plum sauce!

You can use canned plums or fresh to make the sauce. Obviously it is easier to use canned. Place the plums into a pan and add 2 tablespoonfuls of honey a pinch of ground star anise and 1 tsp ground ginger. Bring to the boil and let simmer, mash the plums to a pulp and let it simmer. When nice and gooey , stand to one side and leave until ready to serve.

Heat some oil in an oven proof frying pan ( I use cast iron for this, as it is also good on all types of hobs, including induction hobs.) sear the duck skin side down. Cook for about 10 mins, until the skin is very brown and crisp, turn them over, drain off the excess fat and pop under a grill for about 5mins, but be careful not to burn. Alternatively put into a hot oven for about 8 mins.

Now we are ready to assemble.

Remove the skin from the duck and slice into bits, slice the duck into bite size pieces. Serve on a platter, along with the pancakes, the sauce and some spring onions, some strips of cucumber and some hoisin sauce. Make up your pancake filled with duck , crispy skin and bits and pieces to your liking and enjoy!

Ma’am est Malade( and Celeriac)

Our lovely part time neighbours in our tiny French Hamlet, invited us for New Years Eve ( Reveillon) and Carolin served us as a starter something which I often cook, but just as a vegetable, and serve it in puree form. Celeriac, is a root vegetable, which is a bit like the end of celery stalk. It is widely cultivated in Northern Europe , Asia, North and Central America and is a vital part of Puerto  Rican Cuisine. Locally, to me it is on the street market ( ethnic market) but  only on one stall on the upmarket Sunday Farmers Market.

Carolin had, I believe,  baked it according to her instructions in the oven for about 4 hours, but just like Baked Potatoes, there is an easier way. I removed the obvious lumps and shoots and gave it a scrub ( usually a bit dirty) and then wrapped it in cling film and popped it in the Microwave on high for about 8 minutes , gave it a poke and cooked it for another 3. I then ( when it had cooled a bit so easier to handle) rubbed it all over with some olive oil, and some salt ( not too much ) and  then crushed coriander seeds. Then baked it in the oven at 200 C for about 15 minutes for it to brown. To eat, ( and I have to admit I kept carving off a slice and munching, as I found it to be very delicious) cut into slices and serve with a few spots of the thicker balsamic vinegar.

The next thing I did whilst in the Alps, was to bring out  the preserving pan, again and I made Marmalade. I read an interesting thought on why it is called Marmalade. It said that Mary Queen of Scots was in France and was unwell. To try and make her better, servants brought her some Marmalade, but all she heard was (” Ma’am est Malade “) Madam is ill but apart from anything else, it means we can always remember how to spell Marmalade correctly. The story although cute is probably incorrect as Marmalade came to the UK via Portugal, and as a quince paste. It is only in the UK that Citrus fruit Jams are called Marmalade, elsewhere they tend to be a generic JAM or Jelly in the USA.

Seville oranges are the orange of choice to make Marmalade, however on my trip to my local French supermarket, no such luck, but Clementines by the ton, so I opted for them. I used one kilo of clementines to 1 kilo of preserving sugar.

Peel the fruit using a potato peeler and keep the peel and remove the white pith. Chop the fruit and put in to a preserving pan or heavy duty saucepan, and for each kilo of fruit add one kilo of the preserving sugar. Add the peel as well and slowly bring to the boil and keep simmering. As I prefer my peel to be very fine, I then use a hand held blender to whisk it all around and cut the peel into very fine bits until the mixture reaches a jam Setting temperature which is about 120 C on a special Jam thermometer ; having such a thermometer makes life very simple and is worth the investment. I sterilise my jars by putting water in each one and Microwaving for a couple of minutes until the water is boiling, carefully removing them and putting upside down on a clean towel to drain,  I soak the lids, also in boiling water. ( you can use wax paper discs instead)  Pat them dry with paper towel and carefully fill the jars with the mixture. If you place your jars onto a wooden surface, they will not crack when you pour in the very hot liquid.  Seal with the dry lids and leave to cool. It is easy to see if the mixture has set, just hold the jar, upside down, if it does not move, it is set and ready to use !

My Mexicans came to stay!

Over the weekend my Mexicans came to stay, I still call them My Mexicans even though they now live in London. The Smallest was born in Mexico and as such has a Mexican passport ( as well as a British one) and so he can really be labelled My Mexican, despite the fact that he has forgotten all of his Spanish, his first language. The other two were educated in Spanish for several years so hopefully it will stick somewhere in their brain!

We really love having them come and the weekend was started for the big kids at least by a visit to the Theatre.

We took them to see School Of Rock, which was great fun. We had seats up on the side so in fact we’re very near the stage and could see everything very clearly, and on top of that, they offered a VIP package , which I got for the kids, and it was well worth it. The theatre had cordoned off a part of the foyer, we had our own corner, the kids were given a delux box of crisps and a drink to start with and were asked what flavour ice cream they would like for the interval! Special indeed! The show ( I was rather sceptical at first) was great and the kids in the show, were amazing, both of the guitarists, ( boy and girl who could swing her bunches as well as play the guitar) the keyboard player and as for the young drummer, well!! Along with the girl backup singers, they really were a School Of Rock!

A few visits ago, I decided to make them a menu, so they could choose their won breakfasts! More or less , the first words the eldest ( he is 11) said to me were”Nana, are you going to make us a menu for breakfast?” But of course was my reply.

So here is their menu:-

  1. Fruit,raspberries,blueberries,mangoes
  2. Yogurt
  3. Eggs any style, boiled, fried or scrambled
  1. Bacon
  2. Sausages
  3. Sausage rolls
  4. Baked Beans
  5. Pancakes, French style with topping of choice
  6. Cereal, Museli, ( not for Alfie)
  7. Pastries, cinnamon rolls or croissants
  8. Porridge
  9. Toast and homemade jams

Orange juice, red or orange, grapefruit juice, tea, coffee, water

And the winners were? The eldest chose, pancakes with scrambled egg, normally he would have had them with bacon as well, but at the moment his school project is to help Save the Planet, so meat is off the agenda! However he did manage, 3 eggs scrambled along with three pancakes. Our lovely Tess, the younger of the big kids, chose pancakes with maple syrup and bacon and the little Mexican, just a pancake with brown sugar cut up like a Pizza! All had Orange juice, I had bought blood orange juice as well, but they were less than keen, though maybe it was the colour more than the taste.

Popi, is the man in charge of pancakes, although the eldest has the recipe off by heart and can make them equally as easily, but it was to be Popi to don his apron and get pancake making! Their Mom, makes the pancakes without added sugar, whereas for me it depends if they are sweet or savoury , but even the sweet version only has a relatively small amount added.

Basic Pancke mix ( Crêpe)

  1. 250grm/ 9 oz plain four
  2. 30 grm/1oz caster sugar ( sweet pancakes)
  3. Pinch salt
  4. 4 eggs
  5. 900mls/ 1.5 pints milk ( more if needed)
  6. Some butter for cooking
  • I always use a food processor to make my mix and start by placing the flour into the bowl, adding the sugar if using, close the lid, switch on the machine and add the eggs and milk all at once and mix for a couple of minutes only to make a smooth batter. Pour the mixture into a jug and check the consistency, it should pour like double cream, no thicker, if too thick add more milk.Essential Crêpe making equipment
  • Essential Crêpe making equipment
  • When making pancakes it is by far easier to have a dedicated pancake pan, the sides are almost flat so making it easy to turn or flip the pancakes. Using a piece of paper towel smooth a small amount of butter over the base of the pan and let it get hot, pour in a smallish amount of batter and swirl it around the pan. If the mixture is too thick it will not swirl properly. It can often be the case that the first pancake cooked will not be so good, the pan needs to be seasoned first of all, but after the first one you need to work fairly quickly, a smear of butter, heat, batter swirl , wait until the top is almost dry, flip over for two seconds , tip out and stack.
  • Buckwheat flour which is slight grey in colour
  • Traditionally in the UK pancakes are eaten with just lemon juice and sugar, but any type of filling is fine. In the French Alps, sweet pancakes are with Nutella, Jam, sugar, hot fudge sauce, honey, maple syrup and of course the famous Crêpe Suzette!
  • Crêpe making in Guatemala
    Nutella at the Crêpe stand in Guatemala
  • You can use plain pancakes to make savoury and the combinations are endless, however in the mountains it is as always a combination of cheese, potatoes, ham and cream along with an egg or two, but my favourite is goats cheese, honey and walnuts. Usually in the mountains again, they will make their savoury Crêpe using buckwheat flour, but white flour works as well.
  • People of any age can make Crêpe
  • It is also interesting to see how people eat their Crêpe, fold it over and cut into chunks, leave it flat and cut it into pizza type slices, or make it all come out even, eating your favourite bits in turn. Our lovely friend ( the skiing buddy of Himself) has a very different approach. He chooses the Crêpe that has an egg in the middle and eats all of the Crêpe surrounding the egg, none of this smushing the egg, keep it whole! When he gets to the egg, he carefully slides out the remaining piece of Crêpe leaving the egg glistening, waiting to be eaten! And then? He manages to slide the egg onto his fork, into his mouth and sublimely devour!

    Back to L’Outa

    Screenshot 2019-01-31 at 11.35.16Yesterday, was Willowy Brunettes Birthday, so off we trotted to Les Gets, another small town , part of Les Portes du Soleil, on La Route des Grands Alps and is actually half way between Chamonix and Geneva.



    L’Outa is probably the only restaurant in in the region which is NOT more of the Same Ol”, Same Ol”, ie ham, cheese , potatoes, cream etc. When glancing in from the outside it looks a bit like a smart Antique Shop, old pine everywhere, but really nice. It is only when one spies the menu that one realises that it is indeed a restaurant! Madam, has a very laid back style, once we called , it was in the Autumn, and many restaurants are closed, we asked if they were open, “Oh “says Madam, “call again in the morning and I will let you know !”


    We were fairly early, and so had undivided attention. The menu looked interesting and as I said, none of the tartiflette, croute de fromage ( glorified toasted cheese sandwich) Fondue Savoyard or Raclette! there is a time and place for such things and as I can cook a mean tartiflette and we do have both a raclette machine and a fondue pot, why bother when dining out.

    The menu is not large, but if the food is good, why have a huge menu and given the supply problems in the Alps, perhaps it is not always feasible. 

    Anyhow , the brunette chose what  a tartlette, so some form of tart, with salad type veggies. She said it was lovely except, it was TOAST and not any form of tart, Shame really! Me? I had Fois gras, which was wonderful but then I am always a sucker for Fois Gras, I actually had a dilema, Fois Gras or Riz de Veau. Himself chose the Riz de Veau.

    Which, brings me to Houston Texas. The only place I found to buy such delicacies as Riz de veau was at a Mexican Supermarket. The local american population would not touch the stuff and so the very American ( obviously) supermarkets, just stocked the standard supplies, BUT the Mexican supermarket was very different, including Goat and Donkey and offal ! Wonderful. One day I was cooking Riz de veau, dipping bits in flour and sautéing in butter. Each of my kids wandered past took a bit and said Yum, until they knew what it was and then sadly that was it, they ate no more, Sadly,? well no it left more for myself and of course for himself as well.

    Back to l’Outa, the brunette and myself took the fish option, which was tuna, Langoustines and halibut, just really really tasty whilst himself took the steak with fois gras. Service was good Except, the waiter, smoked, not in front of us, but maybe outside, maybe in the kitchen, who knows, but he stank of stale cigarette, a disappointment but otherwise a nice evening. We skipped dessert, just as well as the Hooray Henries were descending , some sort of Work Do and boy were they loud! So out into the snow and up the seven hairpins to our hide away where the chilled champagne awaited us. Happy Birthday SnowPea !