End of July 2020

Like French Fashion, French cuisine has held itself up as the Creme de la creme, but in recent times, its star has fallen. Throughout France far too many of the restaurants serve basically the same food, some better than others but innovation seems to have gone out of the window. Too many of them are now “buying in” food that is made elsewhere whether it be the charcuterie or the patisserie or even the mains. And so it is with delight to know that somewhere some chefs are still being a chef and that the words “Fait Maison” really mean something.

This is true in our bit of France. Claire in our Hamlet at her little La Ratelli, doesn’t have a clue, which is a shame as we welcomed her when she opened, but her prices are high and her food really not very good. Whereas, in town a young Anglo French couple have really made a go of La Grange. Fred is in the Kitchen and Alex is front of house and 11 years on they are still in business. My only complaint is that the food is very much Savoyard, but then that is what tourists want, I guess!

My favourite, there is the oft mentioned Tarte de l’Abondance. On a recent visit here, I found out that a couple of other cheeses were involved in the making of this delicious tarts, one of which I have never found. So now I use predominantly Abondance, with Beaufort and Comté added to the mix. On my first use of Watts Farm ( Kent) they had as one of their weekly specials, Comté at a ridiculously low price of £9.00 a kilo! ( normally would cost upwards of £35 a kilo). It said ” short shelf life”. I immediately bought 2 kilos of it, cut it into the requisite size for my tart, wrapped and froze. The down side of this of course, is that now two drawers of my freezer are now full of cheese!

Meanwhile grandkids have been busy, a crumble, Rhubarb of course and Banana cake/ bread ! I have been showing them joys of All In One Baking. This came into being in the early 1970’s and I taught in East London schools, back then, I am still surprised that in modern recipes it is rarely used.

We have had so far, Slow roasted pork, with the Rub/ marinade done by Alfie, Singapore Laksa, a noodle and coconut / soup dish, often made with seafood, but we used turkey breast, made by Popi ( Himself), Turkey Fajitas, not truly Mexican but the Salsa and Guacamole made by Willowy blond were, well almost, we were missing the Coriander ( cilantro).

Willowy blond has also been making a yummy salad for lunch. Easy peasy, watermelon, mint and Feta cheese. What could be easier. Of course, mint also is not always available.

Today, is another Ice Lolly day, the 3 oldest grandchildren have been boating, swimming and water fighting with the three kids also visiting their grandparents next door. Language with water guns, is not a problem!

Midway through July, 2020

I wonder what history will say about the Pandemic after (if) a vaccine has been found and life returns to albeit maybe a different form of normality . Hats off to all the companies and individuals who have been more than creative by setting up online, delivery companies, from fish and meat to fruit and vegetables, to cakes and pastries, and well to almost anything. Of course Amazon has benefitted greatly from all of the online purchases, but I am thinking more of the small people who have needed to make a living, and have been innovative indeed, to young Sophie who has turned her chefs training to making sourdough bread and wonderful macaroons, to all of the restaurants who have continued cooking and now do home delivery. In the words of an old saying, The Butcher, The Baker and the Candlestick Maker.

So, for me someone who really likes grocery shopping, this has been a totally new experience and I am hooked! Why traipse off to Billingsgate Fish Market at 6 am on a Saturday ( one really has to drive there) or any day at 5 am to Smithfield, the meat market, when it can be delivered to your door? No more gutting and filleting 30 sea bass, no more slicing 2 kilos of Ribeye into individual steaks ! And no more lugging of shopping bags up to the 6 th floor ( to be honest, Himself does the lugging, not me) . Distilled water, bug spray, computer paper, toilet paper, all just appears at my front door ! A Miracle!

On rummaging in the freezer the other night wondering what to have for dinner, and actually not really a rummage, as I do know what is there, and where it is. I decided on Sea Bass and squid. Two beautiful Sae Bass fillets and a small bag of squid, would do the trick.

The Sea Bass was already prepared, the squid needed cleaning quickly done.

Then all I had to do was to heat some olive oil in a pan , a quick light dusting of flour,pop p the fish skin side down and on a medium heat sauté them until the upper side turned opaque, fish is cooked and skin crispy.

Squid, dusted with a little flour, popped into another pan with hot oil in and quickly cooked, a quick stir and again done.

Himself had this with some of the cauliflower gratiné that came out of the freezer, a squirt of lemon juice or a smear of the anchovy butter from the freezer and dinner was soon done.On a slightly different note a lovely visit to Kew Gardens on Friday, and with the restrictions on numbers was just lovely. Here is a photo of my Finchley crew in the Hive !

119 days, and we are still going strong Mid July 2020

Although things like hairdressers and nail salons, restaurants and bars, and soon gyms and out door pools, are opening, (but don’t do the butterfly, too many viruses will leap around as well) and men can get their beard trimmed but women can’t get their eyebrows sorted! All done with a snap of fingers and Boris seems to think it all a bit funny, having a giggle at beauty parlours! But Hey Ho, I’m not going any where, any time soon.

I had my delivery from Watts Farm in the week and with it some wonderful fresh Kentish fruit, including Rhubarb ( I know not a fruit) and gooseberries.

We had visitors for the weekend, son and lovely wife and the little girls, a long time no see. Baby Molly was just one month old when last seen and she is now a smiley happy 5 1/2 month old. Joy oh Joy.

We had very simply hamburgers cooked on our new baby gas grill. I ways make my own hamburgers, as I find this in the shops, tasteless and rubbery. I take my minced beef and add a good dollop of butter and mush it in well, likewise with horseradish sauce and Dijon mustard. I then divide the mixture up equally, and I allow +/- 200 grms per person. Then sub divide it into 100 grams pile. Shape the first 100 grams into a patty, put Emmental or gruyere or blue cheese in the middle, add the second 100 grms and finish shaping the patty, Hence a Cheeseburger, without the cheese sliding off the top, all over the grill !

The added fat is important here, as the meat needs it to get a great flavour.

I decided to make a fruit fool for dessert, and no I wished I had bought twice the amount of gooseberries, but what was I to do ? Simple answer, use, a combination, of the Rhubarb and the gooseberries. A quick and very easy dessert, which of course is wonderful with fresh summer fruits, but nowadays can be made year round using frozen.

For 6 people you will need:-

  1. 500 grms fruit, I used gooseberries and rhubarb
  2. 75 grms caster sugar
  3. About 75 mls fruit cordial, I used elderflower , but others are available and No not something like Ribena !
  4. 100 grms double cream
  5. 100 mls full fat yoghurt,
  6. Decoration, mint raspberries, dried raspberry bits etc

Top and tail the gooseberries ( remove the bits at either end of the gooseberries with a sharp knife)

Put the fruit, the sugar and the cordial knot a pan and cook gently until soft, takes. O time at all.

Blend the fruit in either a food processor or with a hand held blender. Set aside to cool.

Whisk the cream until thick, stir in the yoghurt and then the fruit purée . Divide between 6 glasses and decorate. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

As a child, it was often my job to top and tail gooseberries. This was done with a kind of scraper which always came with shoe repair kits. Yes, then it was normal for families to do their own minor shoe repairs, rubber heels and soles were the norm. And the kits came with a semi circle rasp, which was perfect for topping and tailing. Today, we no longer repair our own shoes, although I see on Amazon they are still available, but today I use a micro plane to top and tail! How times have changed!

Dinner tonight?

We have once again a well stocked refrigerator, thanks to my new best friends at Watts Farm. Being a Kentish girl and a Maid of Kent ( depending on which side of the River Medway is your birthplace) I am very keen on Kentish produce, especially at this time of year. Fresh green asparagus strawberries, raspberries and don’t forget the cherries.

We had a delivery the other day which did include cherries, ( now nearly all gone, eaten) along with raspberries and gooseberries. How often do we see gooseberries in a supermarket, not often I am sure. All of these memories from my childhood, where we were pretty much self sufficient in fruit ( raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, black and red currants, ) and then beans and peas, cabbages and lettuces, onions and parsnips, turnips and swede, potatoes of course. These were days before a freezer was common place in the home, so my memory was mother “Bottling” or “salting” so we would have a supply during the winter. My memory too of wrapping apples from the local orchard in newspaper, staking them in boxes and storing in a cool dry place, likewise so we could have apples during the winter months.

And so it was, I was left wondering what to have for dinner, with my new found supplies still intact ( well almost, not the cherries), when Himself had a cunning plan. As we are the now proud owner of a mini gas BBQ, he was very keen to use it again. We have used it just the once for a hamburger and now it was calling us again. What was it to be? I know Himself said, Squid, memories of our visit to Portugal last year and the absolutely divine Octopus. Squid it was going to be, out of the freezer came two packs of frozen squid, which not only needed to be defrosted but cleaned and brown/ pink skin removed as well.

Once defrosted, squid looks not so nice but is easy to clean. Simply pull off the head, which might or might not pull out the innards ( creamy white and gooey, but not horrible), remove the innards as well. Cut off the tentacles from in front of the eyes and discard the eyes and ink sac.Pull out of the body, a clear piece of cartilage which runs the length of the body of the squid, and discard. I find it easy to remove the brown/ pink skin by rubbing it with a bit of kitchen paper. Rinse the squid in cold water and pat dry. It is now clean and white.

Many people think that squid is tough and yet one of the most popular starters in some of the chain restaurants like Côte or Bills, is fried calamari, with usually a chilli dipping sauce.

The method of cooking squid can be done in two ways, either hot and fast or slow. If hot and fast, then think grilling, flash pan frying and Barbecuing. Slow, then think of stewing and braising.

Therefore to Barbecue Squid for 3-4 people, take about 500 grms Cleaned squid and toss it in some olive oil with some added salt. Heat the grill to really hot, throw on the squid and grill for about 4 minutes ( or less) until it is opaque. Serve at once with either simply a squeeze of lemon, or garlic butter, or anchovy butter or as we did with Harissa butter.

To make this simply add a teaspoon of shop bought Harissa to softened butter and mix well, add some squeezed garlic and salt as well, serve on the hot squid.

Harissa is a Tunisian spice made from roasted chilli peppers and other spices, and Rose Harissa is Amale with rose petals and is a softer version. It maybe bought in a tube a small can or the Rose Harissa in a jar. Refrigerate after opening, or in the case of the small can , I would freeze it.

Now if only He would remember it is SQUID and not Shrimp, then we might have it again.

Oh,Oh! Oh,Oh! It’s Off to the World, We Go!

We can Travel Yeah! We are allowed to go to all sorts of places, not the USA ( as we won’t let them in , but not sure I want to go there at the moment anyway). Oh,we are allowed to go to New Zealand, but there is a catch, they won’t let anyone in ! A long way to go only to be turned around!

So virtual Travel is for the moment at an end, but I couldn’t resist just one more. Going through old photos and more I found a few from a bygone age. When my kids were commuting from Houston Texas to the UK after 5 dreadful flights via Amsterdam on KLM, I finally relented and let them fly via London on what had been Texas International, and then Continental ( now United). The joke was always lunch or dinner, the Same Old, Same Old, CHICKEN OR BEEF, always the same and when you flew that route as often as we did it got very old, very fast. The best part of the flight was scones and Cornish cream for afternoon tea!

To celebrate our relative freedom, we are still not venturing out and about more than we have to, but tonight we had only our second take away from Carousel. Carousel is a restaurant down the road from us, we were about to explore and then we were locked down, but meanwhile I have been supporting them in their efforts to feed NHS and homeless. And they Deliver! Even better !

Carousel features visiting chefs and until Mid July it is a Mexican Chef. Many will say, oh, spicy, or carb overload, or fatty, greasy and other such ideas, but from our many many visits to Mexico, we beg to differ. From Street food to top end restaurants, the food is delicious, and yes they do use chillies but for us we miss Mexican cuisine as we only had very excellent food whilst there. ( TexMex is not Mexican). Hence, when we saw that Carousel was offering a Mexican dinner, we invited the willowy Brunette for a socially distanced dinner.

The restaurant duly called and delivered our dinner and I had already download the instructions. Lots and lots of little pots and some bigger ones as well, all labelled with numbers, but weirdly most were number 3, so took a lot of deciphering. ( and I think that many of the numbers were wrong).

Ceviche

So the bottom line is, dessert, Chocolate Mousse was lovely, As for the rest, the Totopos, were like blue cardboard, the Ceviche was OK, the grilled corn broth, seriously short changed here, as I had to add bouillon to make three small servings.

Pork PUBIL

But the biggest disappointment of all was the COCHINITA PUBIL, this traditional pork dish from the Yucatan would normally be very slow cooked pork, cooked in a pit barbecue. Obviously in the modern kitchen this is not possible, but Diana Kennedy, the worlds leading authority on Mexican cuisine, states that the meat has to be cooked for about 5 hours, so it falls off the bone, is then shredded, with all the juices from the pan poured over it. It says NOTHING about leave fat and gristle in. After the first few mouthfuls, when the willowy Brunette nearly threw up, I’m afraid the rest of it went straight into the bin, but not before I photographed THE FAT AND GRISTLE. And the corn Tortillas really seemed stale.

A plate of FAT AND GRISTLE

So sorry, Carousel, won’t be using you again !

100 DAYS! June 30/2020

Apparently it is 100 days since we began our incarceration! Makes me think of people in prison, for whatever reason. What do they do,what do they think? Although we were in strict Lockdown for what 10 weeks, 12 weeks, it is at the point where I don’t really remember. Waking up, thinking “What day is it”. But can you imagine, being in a situation where it doesn’t matter what day it is, I just can’t. At least despite having our freedom severely curtailed, we could buy groceries, wine, beer, in fact we could buy almost everything we wanted/ needed and more.

I actually ventured out, all by myself today, the third time since mid March ! A very strange feeling indeed. I didn’t go far, but it was eerily quiet ( and I live in the centre of London) some shops were open and some closed permanently I think. The Beautiful Paddington Street Gardens, has gone from spring green and primroses to summer colours, where did that time go ?

I wish I had thought of dinner before venturing forth as I subsequently decided on Bang Bang Chicken. This brought me back to Houston Texas, where in a restaurant aptly called Houstons, my favourite salad was Bang Bang Chicken, actually it wasn’t called that, it was just grilled chicken with peanuts sauce, it was sweet , nutty and spicy all in one. On returning to the UK I discovered that the IVY, the restaurant of the stars ( and Rich and Famous and me) has Bang Bang Chicken in the menu !

The late AA Gill, published a couple of recipe books ( he might have done more) one from Caprice ( sister to the Ivy) and one from the IVY. The Ivy recipe version is OK but not quite right and other versions that I have found are also not quiet right, so I combined a couple, missed out a few bits and bobs and came up with my own.

For me the problem was that the recipe requires PEANUT BUTTER, preferably smooth and unadulterated. When we moved from Texas to Belgium I had a problem, then with Peanut Butter. Whilst in Texas, my kids became Americanised, demanding peanut butter and Jelly ( Jam to you and me) or peanut butter on Celery sticks, also with jam. The jam is essential, as PNB can be very cloying. In Texas I bought a brand called Laura Scudders, it was unadulterated, whereas Skippy, which is the best selling of PNB in CHINA , and it contains a whole load of Junk, corn syrup, sugar, soy protein, salt oils and other added extras.

I resorted to making my own. Very simple, buy, salted roasted peanuts, purée them in a food processor, sometimes necessary to add a few drops of oil to aid processing.

However, being extremely lazy, I didn’t want to go out and about just to buy peanuts, or peanut butter, but I had red skin peanuts. Roasted them in the oven, rubbed off the skins, puréed them, hence my PNB was ready.

To make Bang Bang Chicken you will need:- quantities are a bit hit and miss, depending on how many people you are making it for !

But for two people

  1. 6 chicken thighs, skin on, roasted left to cool
  2. 100 grms smooth peanut butter
  3. 1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
  4. a tablespoon of each, sesame oil and vegetable oil ( I use olive)
  5. A tsp e@ch of 5 spice powder and star anise powder ( both optional just gives a bit more Umph to the sauce. If unavailable add some chilli powder.
  6. 2 carrots peeled and sliced finely
  7. 2 spring onions cut into strips
  8. 1/4 cucumber cut into strips
  9. A small handful of sesame seeds
  10. Optional extras, cherry tomatoes, sliced avocados
  11. Small amount of rice vinegar

Of course you can be really lazy and use bought rotisserie chicken, cut into bits. However if you are cooking the chicken yourself, thighs are tastier than breast but after cooking remove the skin and de-bone and shred the chicken.

Put the peanut butter into a heatproof bowl and stand in a pan of Hot water for about 5 minutes for the butter to soften, remove from heat, stir in the chilli sauce and spices and then the oils, stir until well blended ( May use a whisk or handheld blender). Make sure that Not A Drop of water gets into the PNB as the merest drop, will make it seize up ( just like chocolate) and there is no salvation to start over. ( me? Of course I heat mine gently in the microwave, no water there then).

Put the vegetables in the vinegar to soak for 5 minutes, drain. I then use a bed of lettuce, arrange my vegetables and chicken on the salad, , spoon over the sauce and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.

Another point to remember is, Do Not Store either the Peanut Butter, nor any remaking sauce in the refrigerator.