The French have a “Je ne sais pas quoi!”

There is a myth surrounding the French and their love of good food. Once upon a time maybe that was true, but times have changed and many establishments, no longer have good chefs on hand but “Buy” in, meals ready to go, meat already butchered.

This happens on the UK as well, of course. I once asked Michel Roux ( he of La Gavroche and Master Chef), why so many Chefs, on the programme did not know many basic skills, and the answer was ” because the restaurants Buy In”!

Another famous chef, who actually did more than that was Gordon Ramsey. He might have several Michelin stars, but when he opened his Gastro Pub in Chiswick West London, he too was guilty as none of the meals served, were actually made on the premises.

The French have a way with food, however. For example, we have Cheese on toast, they have Croque Monsieur , or better still Croque Madame, then we have Heinz Baked Beans, they have Cassoulet. BUT, and it is a big BUT, eating in a snack bar a Croque Monsieur rarely looks like or even tastes like it should.

The absolute epitome of a Croque Monsieur or Madam is to be had in Mexico City and yes do not laugh it really is!

To make this delight is very simple to make two you will need the following:-

  • 3 slices of bread , preferably sourdough per person lightly toasted and buttered.
  • 2 slices of really nice ham, or more if you use thin ham. No fat and no rind !!
  • A fried egg per person, or you could have a poached egg, not traditional but!
  • Soft butter for the toast.

For the sauce

  • 25 grms unsalted butter ( I only ever buy unsalted)
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 150 mls milk and 150 mls cream, or 300 mls milk, up to you
  • Salt to taste, a 1/4 tsp dry mustard or 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • +/- 50 grms grated cheese or more to taste. Traditionally it would be Comté , Gruyère or Emmental cheese ( after all it is a French dish) but use which ever cheese suits you.

Toast the bread and butter it, make a triple layer sandwich with the ham.

Male the sauce. I always make my sauce in the microwave, and I know it’s not the way that chefs do it but it is easy.

Put your sauce ingredients into a microwave jug mix and pop in the oven on high for one minute. Stir and repeat, stir and repeat until the sauce is thick and homogenous. Stir in the cheese, until it melts. Pour over the ” Sandwich ” and pop under the grill to brown. Whilst that is doing quickly fry your egg. Pop the egg on top and garnish how you like and serve straight away! ( or you could put the egg on first and then the sauce, as seen on the picture above!

This morning I saw an alternative, out of New York, as a way for leftovers, aftert Thanksgiving.

Instead of ham, use Turkey and add pickles to the sandwich as well.

Whichever way you choose, Bon Appétit!

Experiment Day !

Monday Monday, no actually it is Tuesday and an experiment day. Without experimenting where would we be now? Nowhere!

I had two experiments going on.

Firstly , I had a head of Celeriac ( not sure if you call it a head but with the other form of celery it is called a head, so a head it shall be !) normally I would use it in Celeriac remoulade, which is delicious or would use it for soup, but I wanted to try something different.

I had read somewhere that it could be used instead of meat, egged and crumbed like a schnitzel. Right that was going to be it!

I peeled and sliced my celeriac, egg and crumbed it, along with two slices of cauliflower. If I was going to experiment, then why not do a double Whammy!

The other experiment that was happening simultaneously was with Celeriac and Jerusalem Artichokes. I peeled and boiled both, cut into chunks, seasoned, and sautéed, garnished with parsley .

The result of both of these experiments were I have to say not that successful.

Firstly, I added to my cauliflower/ celeriac experiment a schnitzel of chicken, also egged and breaded . The first two did nothing for my taste buds, whatsoever! But the chicken, yes!

Then the sauté of Jerusalem artichokes and Celeriac, the taste was only OK but the visual effect, not good, maybe with some carrots to give the dish some colour and a bit more taste.

A revamped Meat pie with Celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and parsley sauce

Celeriac is a winter root vegetable and will keep for up to 8 months in a cool place ( a bit like potatoes). Jerusalem Artichokes, are also a root vegetable, not from Jerusalem but from North America. They are in season from October to March, use, when purchased as they will go soft.

Other uses for Celeriac

  • Remoulade
  • Made into soup
  • Baked along with Jerusalem artichokes, fennel and onions with or without the addition of Pastis
  • Baked whole and served in slices as a nibble
  • Mixed with potatoes to make gnocchi

Other recipes for Jerusalem Artichokes

  • Risotto with hazelnuts
  • Soup with chestnuts
  • Baked with potatoes and garlic to be served with game

Celery, can be added to any of the above and apart from just crunching, or crunching with cream cheese, it too makes a good soup.

Himself cooks again !

On Sunday, not only did himself cook our Sunday Brunch, but Sunday dinner as well !

I had defrosted about 800 grms of Onglet ( hanger steak) without having any real idea of what I was going to do with it.

He seized upon it and then a recipe was needed. Bouef Bourguignon was the answer. A comfort winter dish, which is not an instant meal, but it is all in the preparation and once done, it is done until just before dinner time.

To start with a large casserole with lid is needed.

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 225 grms of either belly pork, cut into chunks OR lardons, which easier
  • Several carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 3 onions, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1Kilo beef, cut into chunks
  • 1Bottle of good red wine
  • 1/2 litres beef stock salt and pepper to taste
  • A bouquet garni (parsley, bay leaf, thyme tied in a piece of cloth, they can be bought ready made )
  • 1tbsp flour or cornflour
  • Large knob of butter
  • A handful of button mushrooms

Heat the oil and add the lardons and sauté them until they begin to brown, add the carrots, garlic and onions, cook for about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and put to one side.

Add some of the meat to sear, remove and repeat in batches with all of the meat. Remove. And add the cornflour and stir in to mix.

Pour in the bottle of wine, scrapping the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Bring the wine to the boil, add the meat, vegetables and lardons. Add the meat stock *and bouquet garni, bring back to the boil, turn the heat down, cover with the lid and simmer for an hour, longer if you use a cheaper cut of meat. Stir once or twice during this time. Leave now until almost ready to serve. Remove the bouquet garni.

About 15 minutes before serving, return to the oil, if sauce too runny boil rapidly to reduce, if need be, mix some more cornflour with a knob of butter and add to the sauce. TASTE! Add the mushrooms..

Serve with green beans and boiled new potatoes and garnish with some parsley.

An alternative to the above is Daube de Boeuf a la Provençal, in which is added a tablespoon of tomato paste and some pitted black olives, otherwise basically the same.

Bon Appétit!

I don’t usually have beef stock in my freezer, often chicken or fish but not beef. Therefore I succumb to using a commercial product and this is the one I currently use.

Stir Up Sunday

This Sunday is called Stir Up Sunday! WHAT ? Stirup Sunday is an informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. It gets its name from the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”. ( thank you Wikipedia)

The first I heard of this date was a few years ago, when we were invited to the Inns of Court for a Sunday Service and Lunch, where we sat across from Cherie Blair, because of course she is a Barrister.

For centuries now, Stir Up Sunday came to mean the day on which housewives ( and it was usually the woman of the house) made her Christmas Pudding and where the family were called upon to give “It a Stir” and to make a wish.

I have to confess that it has been a long while since I made a Christmas pudding, let alone a cake, But whilst living in Houston Texas, I did make Christmas Cakes, and wedding cakes to order, but that was in another life!

However, on this Stir Up Sunday, Himself declared that he would cook! Not only dinner but Brunch as well! Brunch? Yes because we left central London, early for a walk in Richmond Park. For the uninitiated, Richmond Park is the second largest Royal Park and is three times the size of Central Park in New York. Was founded in the 17 th Century by Charles the first and covers 2,360 acres. That being said, on Sunday morning, woe betide if one is late upon arrival, the car parks will be full and the small roads, full of Lycra cold cyclists.

Upon our return, Himself declared that we would have a Mexican Breakfast, but what? No tortillas, so that ruled out a couple of options but the answer was scrambled eggs with Chorizo, made into an omelette with chorizo. For 2-3 people.

  • +/- 100 grams of chorizo, cooking chorizo is best but if you only have slices, then they will do, cut into chunks
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 rows or green chilli chopped finely
  • Medium cooked potato diced
  • 6 beaten eggs
  • 50 grms of Parmesan cheese
  • Some chopped coriander
  • 1 sliced avocado as garnish

Heat a pan and cook the chorizo until it starts to lose some of its oil.

Remove and set aside.

Heat some oil and add the onion and chillies, cook until soft, add the chorizo and potatoes, pour in the eggs and cook gently for about 4 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese on top and place under a hot grill, for the omelette to finish cooking and for the top to brown. Serve with sliced avocado and chopped coriander.

NB to stop avocado Turing brown, sprinkle on some lemon juice. And on another note, smushed avocado ( with some lemon juice ) freezes well and can be used as guacamole when defrosted, or for smushed avocado with poached eggs.

A simple Breakfast

Certainly during our Lockdown, we eat breakfast ensemble, as we do other days, if there is time. Sometimes it is never more than, cereal ( for himself ) yogurt and fruit for me, plus of course a Grand Café au Lait.

Sometimes, it might happen on a weekend that I cook, ( for himself) usually egg based, Mexican Eggs, scrambled eggs, poached eggs or omelette.

After our expedition to Richmond Park, I did cook a late breakfast, well more of a brunch I suppose.

Very simply put, Poached eggs on toast. Recently I’ve been making bread ( did someone say, she hasn’t anything else to do?) actually, I’ve loads on my To Do list, but it never seems to get any shorter!

My toast slices are therefore not necessarily even. Unlike in France where they have everywhere, an automatic bread slicing machine, obviously in the Boulangerie but also in Supermarkets and even in Lidl!

Poached eggs are as controversial as boiled eggs. Himself likes boiled eggs, with the whites soft! Yuck! Says I! I like my whites firm and yolks just starting to thicken but still runny. In the mountains it is much more difficult as altitude affects cooking time. Water normally boils at 100C but in our French village which is at 1300 metres it boils at 95.7C. Hence you can see the problem with boiling eggs, amongst other things !

However back to Poached eggs, my daughter in law likes her Perfect Poached egg, firmish White, soft yolk that spills over the toast. That is the way I like it as well.

I tried once upon a time, many years ago, one of those pans, which has 4 little cups to hold the eggs whilst poaching, but the problem here, ( to my mind anyway ) is that as the white is not actually in contact with the water, one ends up with 4 little round rubber things.

My way of poaching eggs, is very simple.

  • It is VERY important to use fresh eggs! When you use fresh eggs; the consistency is more gelatinous. Old eggs have more of a watery albumen, which tends to disperse in the water more.
  • It is better to poach only one or two eggs at a time, but don’t swirl the water
  • Use a pair of kitchen scissors or fork to cut away any unattractive wisps from the white.
  • Boil some water and added a good squirt of lemon juice , you need a depth of about 3 inches and a wide pan.
  • When the water is boiling simply crack in the eggs, bring back to the boil , remove from heat and leave to stand for about 3 minutes.
  • Remove with a slotted spoon and as above trim off the odd bits of white.

To start with it is a bit hit and miss for timings, but, stick with it and you will have the perfect poached egg!

Richmond Park, Deer and Nigella

I didn’t see it but there seems to be furore about Nigella, she of the sensuous TV cookery programmes. Apparently her latest episode told, us Brits, how we should butter our toast ! We should butter it not once, but twice and then sprinkle salt on it!

Actually I could handle that, nothing like a thick piece of toast with butter oozing through it, but do I? No! Do I need all that fat, all those calories, my taste buds might indulge, but my body isn’t given the opportunity.

Something else I have learnt during this second Lockdown. We actually went for a walk ensemble once again to Richmond Park. It is only 7 miles from our home but can take an amazingly long time to get there, all depends on traffic and the never ending road works. We made it yesterday in about 30 minutes and we got there before all the others with the same idea, so parking was not too much of a problem but more importantly we got there before the rain. We went there last weekend as part of our child caring duties, parked in a different spot and although the walk was nice not nearly as nice as yesterday’s, and for most part it was because we didn’t see any Deer!

This time round, hidden by the dying mass of ferns was a herd of about 40 or more. There were a couple with amazing horns and the King Pin had at least 12 points but I believe 14, which makes him an Imperial Stag. A deer with 12 points is Royal and one with 16 is a Monarch, that would make this deer 14 years or older.

There are over 2 Million deer in the UK, the highest number in a 1,000 years. Why? Because there are no natural predators, which makes Culling a necessity, and now is the time of year ( in Richmond Park at least).

Most of the deer were buy munching basically together, but there were a couple of young bucks, hanging around on the outside. Red deer stags are the largest Mammal in the UK, many weighing over 200 kilos, which is why people need to give them space !

No Food today? Well it was a recycling day, ie. as Himself made the delicious Coq au Vin, he had to eat it two days in a row! But it did make him a crumble! More on that another day.

Himself is the cook !

I have learnt something during this Lockdown. It is all about Swans. Many if not most of the swans that one sees floating down the rivers and in lakes, are Mute Swans. It is a bit of a misnomer as in fact they are not Mute, but rather they make less noise than other breeds of swans. They are the heaviest bird in the UK and as a adult have pure white feathers. Swans on the Thames belong either to the Crown or to the Vintners or to the Dyers. Both of these Guilds have had the right own these swans since the 16 th Century. Once a year, liveried people wearing scarlet of the Crown, mark the birds, one for the livery company, the Dyers, one for the livery company the Vintners and the third for the Crown ( but these are left unmarked! ) However in the UK all swans are protected. And of course in The Regents Park there are such swans. Amazing what one can learn on an early morning walk.

Today, Himself declared that he was Le Chef du Jour. He decided on Coq Au Vin, and we found the perfect recipe in my cook book from 1990 ! Yes in the years 1983-1993, I ran a small ad hoc cooking school in Brussels, 5 lessons a month, 12 Ladies in each group and here was my recipe!Circa 1990 in Brussels, one of my classes

Circa 1990, Brussels Belgium, a cooking class

When he cooks, he takes it very seriously, I guess that comes from being a chemist ( scientist not pharmacist), though he is not adverse to my, a little bit of this and a little bit of that ! The basic recipe came from that one time doyenne of cooking in the UK, Elizabeth David and to this day, many of her recipes stand the test of time.

I adapted the recipe to suit my pupils. Many of them had not really cooked bonfire they arrived in Belgium and were faced with the necessity of giving dinner parties, so all of my classes were on a theme, for entertaining.

  1. Traditionally a large chicken, but if you don’t like bones and skin, ( and I don’t) then use about 1 kilo of boneless chicken breasts.
  2. 3/4 bottle of a reasonable red wine, preferably Burgundy
  3. 200 grms lardons
  4. 200 grms button mushrooms
  5. A handful of small onions, Or a couple of onions cut into chunks
  6. A bouquet garni ( it is possible to buy ready done or just add some herbs ( herbes de Provence for example)
  7. 4 whole cloves of garlic, or more if you like
  8. A couple of large carrots peeled and sliced.
  9. Some butter, unsalted
  10. A glass of brandy or whiskey

Melt a small amount of butter and when hot add the lardons and sauté until until brown, add the chicken which has been cut into chunks, brown on the outside.

Add the wine onions, carrots, garlic and chicken. Simmer for about 30 minutes depending on how big your chunks of chicken are. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Remove everything with a slotted spoon, except the liquid. Mix a tablespoon of soft butter with 2 teaspoons of cornflour and carefully add some of your cooking liquid, to form a paste. Add to the rest of the liquid and whisk in. Taste and season to taste. Return all of the other ingredients to the pan,taste again, , add a small amount of butter, just before serving to glaze. Serve with new potatoes and garnish with some parsley.

Tuesday Of Second Lockdown, Second week!

We both go for an early ( well not so early ) morning walk. He goes one way and I the other. Yesterday, he ventured into what I consider a No Go Area, well I say I consider it NO GO, as this was the way it was described to me by a policeman. He commented that it seemed to be business as usual! Meanwhile I venture into the wonderful The Regents Park. Why do I call it The Regents Park? Well, The Regent’s Park is named after The Prince Regent, sometimes known as the playboy prince, who later became King George IV (1762-1830).

The Regent’s Park is one of London’s eight Royal Parks and covers an area of 395 acres.!

There are more than 12,000 roses, over a 100 species of wild birds and a breeding population of Hedgehog, which are endangered. No small wonder that I make this venue my morning walk .

Last night was a tale of two dinners. Browsing through one of my many books I came across a recipe from a traditional Pie Shop. M.Manze, has been around since 1902 and make basically pie and mash with a sauce or eel pies, both traditional of the Victorian era. Apparently the recipe is a secret, but when I looked at what is supposed to be their version of a meat pie, I was not convinced, so took the basic idea and played with it.

Himself gave it a thumbs up.

With this quantity I made three individual pies.

  1. 2 tsp of powdered stock, I used veal stock powder mixed in with
  2. 200mls boiling water
  3. A good splash of either red wine or red port
  4. 1large onion chopped
  5. 2 medium potatoes peeled and diced
  6. 2 cloves garlic chopped
  7. 500 grms minced beef,
  8. salt and pepper to taste
  9. a splash of olive oil
  10. I added a handful of button mushrooms ( optional)
  11. A portion of ready made puff pastry

Heat the oil, add the onion , garlic and potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the meat and stir well in and cook for about another 5 minutes. Add the stock, red wine/port and mix well, cook just to reduce the liquid a little.

Put the mixture into either one largish dish or smaller ones. Roll out the pastry, and place on top of your dishes. Glaze with egg and bake at 180C ( fan) 200 normal, for about 20 minutes until golden brown.

At M.Manze they serve their pies with what they call a liquor, it seems more like a parsley sauce, but here goes.

  1. 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  2. 1 tbsp cornflour
  3. 150 mls chicken or vegetable stock
  4. 1tbsp cream ( optional)
  5. 1/2 cup chopped parsley ( I prefer the curly type)

This can be done easily in the microwave, put the liquid, butter and cornflour into a microwave proof jug or bowl and heat on high for one minute. Stir and repeat, until it thickens.

Add the cream and parsley and stir in.

I served it with green beans and a baked potato, but traditionally it would be with mash.

Me I had Mozzarella with avocado and salad! Because, look what arrived from Spain today !

Second Monday, Second Lockdown = Fish Monday

Growing up it was always Fish on Fridays. As a child I never understood this, as I didn’t like meat, let alone FISH, but by the time I went to college, the canteen, would only serve fish on a Friday, to those who for religious reasons couldn’t eat meat. By that time, I didn’t meat in any shape or form but I really liked fish, especially battered cod, so I used to smile and say Yes, when questioned to my religious beliefs! Can you imagine, that happening today? Discrimination in any shape or form let alone questioning one’s religious beliefs!

Flipping through various books, I came up with two ideas for dinner tonight, one for Himself and a different on for me! Why you might ask, but himself really likes mackerel and I really don’t!

I am going to have Fish teriyaki and himself Mackerel with a sweet mirin sauce.

For the Mackerel

  1. 2 tsp sake
  2. 2tsp mirin
  3. 1tbsp soy sauce
  4. 3 cms fresh ginger grated
  5. 1tsp sesame oil
  6. 2 mackerel fillets with the skin on.

Mix together the ingredients for the sauce and set to one side

Heat a frying pan, add the oil, and cook the mackerel skin side down for two minutes, turn over and cook for another 30 seconds.

Pour in the sauce, reduce slightly and spoon over the fish.

Serve on a bed of rice.

For the Teriyaki Fish

  1. A portion of fish per person, with skin on
  2. 1tsp sesame oil

For the sauce

  1. 3 tbsp mirin
  2. 3 tbsp soy sauce
  3. 1tbs sugar/ honey
  4. 2tsp rice vinegar
  5. 1tsp cornflour
  6. 4 cm freshly grated ginger.
  7. Heat some sesame oil in a pan, when hot add the fish, skin side down. Cook for about 4 minutes and flip over to finish.

Put sauce ingredients into a small saucepan, stir well and bring to the boil.simmer for a couple of minutes to reduce to a thick sauce.

Use straight away, or it can be kept in a sealed jar in the refrigerator until needed.

Place the fish on a bed of rice and spoon over the sauce.

If you don’t have mirin, here are some suggestions for substitutions.

You can just use dry sherry or sweet marsala, for instance. Or you can dissolve a small amount of sugar in a little white wine or sherry, perhaps a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar to 1/4 cup wine wine.

Bang Bang

After discharging our duties of childminders ( read grandparents), there was not much left of a dreary Sunday. Next up watching the Masters, which without the crowds and the Walk in the Park by Dustin Johnson, it was not that exciting either.

Never mind, Sunday cocktails on the terraces, all wrapped up in winter woolies, at least it wasn’t raincoats and umbrellas.

Next was ” what to have for dinner”?

Having not really given this much thought, it was a question of what was fairly quick to defrost and to cook. Shrimp and some kind of salad sprang to mind.

Whilst living in Houston Texas, I found the Gulf Shrimp, very much to my liking, large and succulent and very tasty. Here I basically make do with frozen. In Houston, there is a chain of restaurants called HOUSTON and the did an amazing salad with Bang Bang Chicken. A mixed salad with chicken and a peanut dressing. It really was my favourite.

Upon returning to the UK, I discovered that THE IVY ( not the Baby versions but the original on West Street London) also served a Bang Bang Chicken. It was OK, but they didn’t know that I was a connoisseur of said dish. AAGILL wrote about it in his 1997 book about the Ivy and I have tried his recipe many times, tweaking here and there, but never really up to scratch. Until last night that is!

I finally gave up on his version and with a little bit of this and a little bit of that came up with what I considered not half bad, and we had it with Shrimp !

For the Shrimp

  1. 1tbs oil, preferably sesame oil
  2. 8 middle size shrimp per person
  3. 1tsp chilli or rose harissa paste
  4. 1tsp black rice vinegar or balsamic
  5. 1 tsp light soy sauce.

For the Dressing

  1. 2tbsp sesame oil
  2. 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger ( use a micro plane if you have one)
  3. 1 tsp tamarind paste
  4. 1tsp chilli paste or rose harissa paste
  5. 1-2tbsp peanut butter. ( make sure you use a good peanut butter, I use the one from Holland Barrett, many have stabilisers, salt and sugar added No No No !)

Put all of the dressing ingredients into a bowl and mix well together.

Heat the ingredients for the prawns ( but not the shrimp) in a pan, when hot add the shrimp stir and toss for a couple of minutes until the shrimp are cooked ( pink).

Place the shrimp on top of the salad of your choice and spoon over the dressing !

What could be easier ?