We made it back from the Alps ( despite Covid)

Yes, we both got Covid, one assumes it was omicron, snuffy, snotty. Himself sat up in bed one morning and sneezed all over the place and just like that we were doomed. He dutifully decamped to what I call the Penthouse, ( we are on 3 floors) which being a converted barn, means Under the Eaves! While I languished in the basement, ( again as the barn is on a hill, not a basement at all), tucked away from any noise, including the snow plough that comes early in the morning, whilst still dark…… snow plough driver doubles up as school bus driver! Fortunately for us one of our neighbours ( we are only 10 properties) has a huge JCB so when the snow is falling thick and fast, he rides his Boys Toy with a passion, and Eh Voila, snow is shifted.

Our journey to the Alps was not without its trials. Macron banned Les Brits, but my family being ever resourceful, decided otherwise. The North London mob, decided that leaving home at 2.30 am with three kids was the way forward, whilst #2 daughter cried ‘’ Get me a flight’’! Which was duly done! One more slight problem, how to get from Geneva. Transfers were not operating ( season only started the following day, the day of the BAN) we couldn’t go to Geneva, hadn’t had a PCR test! Taxi ? Umm €1000 Maybe not ! And then another Eh Voila moment! Jean Claude ( Swiss neighbour) to the rescue. So we were there !

Eldest granddaughter volunteered with the snow clearing and did a great job whilst the rest sorted out ski wear, ski equipment, ski passes etc etc.

Me? I planned what to eat. One thing that was on the agenda was mince tarts! #1 granddaughter absolutely loves mince tart. I decided to do something a little different, a mince pie with an almond crust, and one that could be cut into servings, rather than individual ones.

For this I used my “ Go To “ all in one pastry recipe, which I have used for as long as I can remember. Shop bought mince meat and a lot of ground almonds. Simca (Simone Beck 1904-1991) collaborated with Julia Child many times, but even in 1972 she advocated basically throwing everything into a food processor and switching it on!

For a sweet pastry:-

  • 2 cups/260grms/8 oz plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • A teaspoon baking powder
  • 10 tablespoons /5 oz/140grms cold hard butter
  • 6 tablespoons cream beaten with an egg yolk

Very simply, place the dry ingredients into your food processor. Wiz for a couple of seconds, add the butter in chunks and wiz for about 10 seconds, the mixture will resemble fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running pour in the egg mixture and very quickly it should all come together , thump thump thump. Switch off ! I then gather together the dough put into a polythene bag and massage it a bit until is a nice smooth ball.

Roll immediately on a floured board, line a flan or quiche dish with the pastry, and line this with some greaseproof paper. Add some dry rice/ beans/ etc and bake blind as usual.

When mostly cooked remove from the oven, discard the beans ( keep for future use) and fill the tart with the mincemeat. To make the almond paste topping is very easy.

  • 140 grms soft butter
  • 140 grms caster sugar
  • 50 grms flour
  • 125 grms ground almonds
  • 2 beaten eggs

Beat together the butter and sugar ( and again being very lazy I would do this in my food processor) add everything else, a good wiz until a smooth paste is formed.

Using icing sugar on the board , roll out the paste to the same size as your dish and place over the top of the mincemeat and bake at 190/170fan/gas#5 for about 20 minutes, leave in the dish to cool slightly before serving.

The history of the English Mincemeat is interesting. From the 15 C it is described as a fermented mixture of meat and fruit, using vinegars, which later was replaced with Brandy. Lots of spices were used as well but over the years , centuries even, it has evolved into a dessert but in the 20 th century meat was no longer used but usually beef suet ( beef dry fat) was/ is used. Mince pies have become very much part of the Christmas menu in the UK and apparently also in the north east USA as part of thanksgiving.

Along with the very English Christmas Cake, Christmas Pudding ( all of which contain very similar ingredients) Mincemeat can be kept for several years!

My memories of making mincemeat in my very first cooking class as a teenager, clouds my judgement, unfortunately, I dreamt all night of this mess churning around and promptly threw up! However, nowadays, I do eat Mince Pies ( once in a blue moon I hasten to add) and they are not bad!

Cauliflower Again !

Having bought a cauliflower when the family were due for the Christmas period it was yet to be used. Fortunately Cauliflower stays fresh in the refrigerator reasonably well, but it had to be used. Therefore it was time to experiment with the latest incarnation of cauliflower in an anchovy based sauce.

As it was snowing really hard ( I’m not in the UK, but incarcerated in the French Alps, having beaten Macrons ban on Les Brittaniques). The family, many who had also made it here, beating the ban by a few hours had now left and so it was time for the Choux Fleur, to be cooked.

I’m not sure if this is true or not, having only looked in 2 Supermarkets. Carrefour, here on the Route des Grands Alps, and Super U, 30 minutes drive DOWN the Route des Grands Alps, BUT little tins of anchovies ( the little flat ones with rounded corners) are impossible to find ! Willowy brunette found before she left a jar of anchovies at vast expense €4.50, but tiny tins, absolutely nowhere to be found.

However, I already had a couple of tins in the store cupboard and so it was to be a vegetable ( not vegetarian) dinner . I’ve come up with a couple of alternatives to my original post, one is really quick making use of the microwave to cook the cauliflower and the other, part use of the microwave and then an oven. I think on balance the combination version gives a better result, but both work and the microwave version, if you are short of time!

  • Using a whole cauliflower
  • A drizzle of olive oil
  • A medium sized onion ( white or yellow but not red) chopped
  • At least 3 cloves garlic squeezed or chopped
  • Some chilli flakes, to taste
  • A tin of anchovies
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 50 mls stock, I use quiet simply a stock cube or,powder usually a vegetable based one.
  • Sprinkle of parmesan cheese
  • 100 mls double cream
  • Heat the oven to 180C ( fan), 200 C non fan, #6 gas
  • Re move the leaves from the cauliflower, rinse under running water, shake off excess and either boil for about 5 minutes or place in a dish, cover with cling film and microwave for about 3 minutes. It should not be cooked through .
  • Put into an ovenproof dish and drizzle with the oil and bake for about 30 minutes.
  • Add some oil to a saucepan, add the onions, garlic andc chilli flakes, sauté gently so that they do not brown or worse still burn. Add the anchovies and stir well, they will seem to dissolve . Add the tomatoes and stock. I prefer a smooth sauce so at this point I blitz the sauce with a hand blender .
  • Taste and season according to taste.
  • Pour the sauce over the cauliflower,
  • Sprinkle on the parmesan cheese and pop under a grill just to melt and colour.
  • Serve at once, but will also reheat very well in a microwave.