What to have for breakfast?

Having just returned from another wonderful trip to Greece ( yes Greece) for a week of golf, I pondered on what to have for breakfast. Himself was dispatched to the local convenience store ( all of two minutes walk away) to buy milk and he returned with the paper ( Sunday crossword time) and some berries.

Whilst he was gone, I surveyed the refrigerator, freezer, pantry and cupboards. I found porridge oats, cream, nuts, apples and honey.

Bircher Muesli sprang to mind.

Many years ago, I used to make this on a regular basis, but somehow it fell out of fashion ( with me at least) , but we ate it for breakfast in Greece and now it was time to revive it in W1.

Personally, I hate buffets, the constant flow of people wandering, surveying, munching whilst trying to decide what to eat and then overloading their plates, their eyes too big for their stomachs. However, I have to acknowledge that for breakfast at least it works. Here at the beautiful Weston Resort in Costa Navarino ( now owned by Marriott) the buffet is very much Not American in style. Lots of different breads, yoghurts, pastries both French and Greek, fruit, cold meats, cheese and fish as well as cooked foods and of course freshly made omelettes, or poached eggs to order, And fresh Bircher Muesli, along with an assortment of nuts and dried fruits. Bircher Muesli was developed by a Swiss Doctor, Maximillian Bircher-Brenner for his patients and is a popular breakfast  German speaking countries.IMG_2770

Therefore, daily I had the Bircher Muesli topped with nuts and dried fruit.

Hence, my decision to make it this morning, when basically the cupboard was bare ( well, kind of).

  • 2 cups/150g oats ( I like chunky oats)
  • 1¾ cups/420ml boiling water
  • 1 tablespoons lemon juice ( to stop the apple from going brown )
  • 1 apple, cored and grated without the peel
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 1½ cups/375g plain yogurt / cream
  • A dash of cinnamon (optional)
  • Toppings : your favourite fresh and/or dried fruit, nuts, toasted coconut, etc.
  • My favourites: blueberries, strawberries, raisins, chopped walnuts or pecans

To make, very simply pour the boiling water over the oats and leave to soak for maybe just 10 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the apple, and sprinkle over the lemon juice. Add the honey, along with the yogurt or cream and basically you are done.

Can be made by soaking overnight and finishing in the morning but I prefer this quick method. Of course it is way too easy to make too much, and it will thicken a lot if left for a day, but can be easily diluted by doing some milk. Serve topped with nuts and berries, mango, bananas, raisins , peaches or nectarines.

Although the weather was a bit iffy at times, the sunsets were beautiful and to be found on the golf course, Olive trees in abundance as well as Quince and Pomegranate.

IMG_2748

This week, I’ve been making ( all sorts of things)!

With himself being absent from the family home, it was time for me to play. He used to be away from home all the time but now rarely, so this was chance for me to play around ( in the kitchen of course).

Himself, is the king of Oysters Rockefeller, and in future, I think I will leave it to him! However, I was in “Whole Foods” and they had beautiful oysters and I couldn’t resist. BUT, I had almost forgotten that he was not around and so it was left for me to shuck them. Oh No ! Now I do have the best ever cheats oyster tool, but even so, it still takes time and I only had nine of them. When he makes Oysters Rockefeller he adds a little bit of this and little bit of that, one has to say it is his Pièce de Résistance, and in future I will leave the task of making them for me.

Another dish I played around with was buffalo mozzarella in a spicy tomato sauce.This I had on the Girls Golf trip to Catalunya in the summer and it was really delicious, and oh so simple to recreate at home.

To recreate this yummy dish, which can either be a starter or a main, with salad, I took some pre- prepared sauce, either as above or arrabiata sauce. I added some stock or cream to thin it a little, some chopped spring onions, some chopped chillis and finally some chopped coriander. Just heat the sauce and pour into a bowl and add the buffalo mozzarella, 1/2 of one if for a starter or a whole one for a main course.

And finally another attempt at my favourite cheese tart. I managed at last to get the recipe from Fred at La Grange in Morzine. I know before I even step a foot in the door that this is exactly what I will order. Once upon a time it was my starter but nowadays, I have it as my meal along with some potatoes and salad, it is perfect.

Using either bought or your favourite pastry recipe or even a bought pastry case, it needs to be baked blind , which means weighting down the pastry which has been lined with grease proof paper and filled with some form of baking beans. Bake for about 20 minutes at about 180 C. Remove from heat and add one chopped onion.

For the filling

400 grams Abondance cheese

250 grams Gruyere, Emmental or Beaufort cheese

150 grams of Tarentaise! Actually I have failed to find this cheese, I asked on the local market and they told me that it is a goats cheese which is more or less only in season in the autumn, consequently I used some hard goats cheese.

4 beaten eggs along with 250 mls cream and 1 oz flour, grate all the cheese add it all to the cream and eggs, a protein nachos of nutmeg and another of cinnamon and bake for about 25 minutes at 200 C or until golden brown and firm to touch. Best eaten warm with a salad.

Pretending to be a Movie Star!

This week has seen me running around Les Hauts de France ( formerly known as Pas de Calais, Nord, Aisne, Oise and Picardy……… Picardy being famous for the WW1 song, The Roses of Picardy, and less romantic the Battle of the Somme). The French government are trying to reduce the bureaucracy ( there are over 35,000 mayors) and have reduced the number of regions from 22 to13.

And so it was that I was recruited as the Granny, to help out #1 daughter and her son, to be a family enjoying the obvious and not so obvious attractions of Northern France.

And it also happened that my sons godmother arrived from Texas the day before we had to leave ( alarm set for 4.30am). We set off from Dover on a P and O boat to Calais. Many years since I have traveled on one, and I am sure that this one was from a bygone era ( circa 1985), it certainly looked like it needed some TLC, but never mind, we decamped to the lounge and traveled in relative comfort.IMG_2460

Off the boat and onto Lille, which is now the capital of Les Hauts de France. After battling with a hotel manager, who had definitely perfected the Gaelic shrug we found our film crew and the lovely guys who were going to drive us around the old city in some ancient Deux Chevaux. Tradibalade is the company and oh what fun! Actually, we once owned such a vehicle and on our move from Brussels to Normandy, just me and the dog, drove along the autoroute, around Paris in this car, even having to move into the slow lane with the trucks, going up hill !

In the front car, was the driver, our cameraman Joe with all of his equipment and Jon the director, in our car was Olivier, our driver, #1 daughter and Sam in the back seat and me in the front. We raced around the old town in true French fashion, even driving side by side on wide boulevards ( I guess anything goes when filming) with us waving to the crowds as if we were royalty or even famous. Finally, Jon was happy and we were free to explore the delights of Fred, the home of the unbelievable cakes called Les Merveilleux. The line was out of the door and minions behind the scenes frantically making more to replenish the ever decreasing window display. We actually bought some, but then left them in the car, forgot about them until Young Sam declared that they had melted!

( Help is at hand however, as there is a branch of Fred in London, and so more were subsequently bought and devoured.)

So onto Parc Astérix, not somewhere, I would normally visit and especially not on a hot Sunday afternoon, but it was on our itinerary. It is not far from Paris and consequently pretty busy. We sampled many of the rides and even Sam who normally does not like to get even a single drop of water anywhere on himself, was excited by the roller coaster splashing through troughs of water at high speed.

Moving swiftly on to Amiens, where there is a pretty canal running through the town, but the only ( for us) noteworthy visit was the 800 year old cathedral. We ate Moules Frites by the side of the canal ( only after the crew persuaded the owner to move our designated table literally outside of the restaurant). # 1 daughter declared that the Moules were great ( though small) but what about the Frites…. not up to scratch I’m afraid! The 800 year old cathedral, is perhaps the reason to visit, where one can pay for the candles by credit card, though Sam didn’t understand! But don’t go on a Monday, as everything else is shut !

 

Hence we decamped to St. Valery sur Somme. What a pretty town, if you have not been it is a must. On the Bay of the river Somme, scene of many battles during the first world war, but today it has bird watching, seal spotting, kayaking , steam train rides and miles of bike trails. Bikes can be rented courtesy of Petra, both pedal and electric. #1 daughter took the pedal with a seat attached for Sam and myself the electric. Having never ridden one before it was a first, but am now convinced it is the way forward. Up and down the boardwalk we went, ringing our bells vigorously to warn the amblers that we were coming, This was done with the accompaniment of a Drone, much to the amusement of the bystanders.

Finally we were done, onto lunch, I had to try the local speciality, ” La Ficelle de la Baie de Somme” This is a crêpe stuffed with a duxelle of mushrooms and moules or ham) in a bechamel sauce, gratineé, served with salad and once again frites. Once again the frites left much to be desired, I might give up at this point, and as for the local dish, underwhelming I’m afraid.

After lunch it was the local vintage train, we three had the first class carriage ( the one with the upholstered seats, the others were wooden) along with our film crew, Jon directing and Joe once again with his equipment strapped to him and not forgetting the drone! And then we were done, ready to move on to Boulogne

I have been to Boulogne many many times, but in reality only ever passed through en route to the ferry terminal. The ferry and the hovercraft are no more, but Boulogne has another string to its bow, or there are other fishes in the sea and indeed Boulogne has the largest aquarium in Europe!

We were very fortunate to have early access to this amazing place, which is based on the Columbian Island of Melpelo, which is a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the largest sites for breeding sharks of all kinds. Nausicaá is massive, it took 6 weeks to fill with sea water and holds over 1,600 species. It really was amazing and if you are ever near Boulogne, out it on your ” To DO ” list.

 

We finished off our trip with a visit to Cap Gris Nez area and Wissant beach. For those who think they might do a cross channel swim ( think Sarah Thomas, 37, who has just completed the heroic feat of  swimming it four times in a row and swam for more than 54 hours non-stop !) 

We had fun driving up and down the country lanes, with Jon asking ” just one more time” or” can we do it with the drone?” and then onto the windswept beach, where the kite surfers were out in force. I was requested to ask one such man if the crew could film him as he took off, but “Non” was the answer, so they filmed others who were already doing their flips out at sea.

Young Sam braved the waves and enjoyed the wonderful sand dunes, but as is typical of out of season seaside resorts, cafes were shut, though it had been market day and we had to follow “Deviation” signs to actually get to the beach.

And last but not least, back onto the P and O ferry, but not without some difficulties, thank you UK Border Force, the crew with all their gear in a white Van and us, with a foreigner in Tow ! What were we thinking !, Anyway we made it, just, the crew wanted to be last on, and we were. A little bit more filming, Sam playing in the kids corner and the Purser kindly taking part as well, but no time to eat, Dover quickly came into view, off the boat and up the motorway to London. Phew hectic 5 days but interesting and fun as well, will I do it again? only if # 1 daughter needs me, and then it will be Of Course !

And as for those Frites, well maybe the French have to do better, this is one where the Belgians certainly excel.

 

A Tale of two Cities ( oops I mean Restaurants)

On our last night in the Alps, we decided to venture forth to eat in our almost local restaurant. La Petite Auberge. In the 11 years that we have been coming here, it has seen many re-incarnations, not all for the better. Our first visit,, included the owner ejecting 16 loud mouth Brits, who thought they had been waiting too long for their dinner, all had wine some had , already had dinner, but the waitress explained as best she could that everything was cooked to order and that to feed 16 of them  simultaneously was not possible. However they continued to harangue, by shouting “Uh Garcon, i’ts tres Mauvais ici” at that point her husband ( the chef) appeared and said, “You , all of you leave at once!, they protested that they had not had dinner ( but did not mention the copious amount of wine), he did not care in the slightest, he evicted them all and without charging them a penny ( or sous) and then apologised to the res of his clients. His food was certainly not haut cuisine but good honest cooking and copious to boot.

Fast forward a few years later, madame with the sweaty hair and husband took over, but he did not have the correct certificate to say he was a chef, so they hired in, but it was all a disaster, so they soon moved on. And so it went for several years, soon the lunch time trade, which was always booming, ceased  and we hesitated to try again. But this year we had reliable information that once again it was functioning, hence we went and to our surprise it was good.

Madame,  the chef,  decided to keep the menu small and simple. 6 starters, the same for mains ( plus the plat du jour) and 6 desserts plus ice cream. We just chose the Plat du Jour, which was Onglet ) hanger steak in English) and a dessert. the food was good, we sat outside, the tables were new and they offered blankets for chilly evenings.

 

All a big plus for them and fingers crossed they do well.

The following day, we set out on a Magical Mystery Tour. Himself had a birthday and so it was we set out to drive the 800+ kms to La Madelaine-sous Montreuil, a small village near Le Touquet. The reason for this journey was to find a Michelin starred restaurant called La Grenouillère. ( I had in my mind that it means Frog Farm, but according to Google Translate it is a baby sleep-suit or in todays idiom, a onesie?) ( and I did check with a French friend and he concurred, though he too at first said, FROG, but maybe it means both).

I had tried to book this restaurant a couple of years previously, many nice restaurants and hotels are closed in France during the months of July and August. #1 daughter had also tried, all to no avail. Consequently this year I was organised and so in March I managed to book dinner and overnight (limited number of rooms), however, just as well that I wanted the Sunday night, as the Saturday was already FULL!IMG_2360

 

La Madelaine sous Montreuil, has to be one of the prettiest villages in France, a small river running through it, and pretty cottages.The restaurant itself is a really old building, which has had a modern extension, in very quirky gardens. Our room was an old stable, ( I think) and only a quick leap to the main building. As I said the garden is very quirky but fun and cocktails are served there, in fine weather at least, and one sits on a tree stump!( maybe not the most comfortable).

 

 

The interior of the restaurant is a combination of modern and quirkiness.

The menu came on a scrappy piece of paper, and as is the modern trend, it really tells you nothing.

We opted for the menu of 8 courses and took the wine option as well. Although the photos, show very pretty food, to my mind non of it was memorable, probably the best was the red mullet with fresh peaches and also the quail . The white turnips were raw, and I must admit I have never eaten raw turnips before and not sure I would rush to eat them again, pretty though they were. I personally was very disappointed with the service, the wine waiter, had half of his shirt hanging out and our main waitress seemed too much in a hurry, plonking down with gusto, clean knives and forks. Memorable? NON. Worth the Money? Not really, ambience? there was none. To cap it all, the village lights went out at midnight and so everywhere was really pitch black, which gave us a bit of a challenge the next morning upon waking very early to get an early morning train on Le Tunnel, and all the fuses in our room blew!, thank good ness for Smart phones, is all I can say!

What to do with ?

What to do with sour milk or over ripe bananas? Throw it/ them away I hear you say! Well, I was a child of post war England, where my mother through necessity never threw anything away, well almost nothing, even she was shocked when a fairly affluent friend darned her dishcloth! But food, no, even before she had a refrigerator, food was not wasted. Milk delivered to the front door, left sitting in the early morning sun, tea with bits of cream floating on top, or bits of milk floating on top, where it was begin to go sour.

Living in central London, nowadays we never have the problem of ” Oh the milk is off”! 100 yards down the road, Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s are open from 7-11, 7 days a week, so there is no need to “Stock Up” on milk.

A different story when we lived in Belgium, although we did have a village shop, but I don’t remember it selling fresh milk and I gave up buying it from the supermarket, as it seemed to go Off faster than I could use it, even with 6 of us in the house. So there, I resorted to Long Life. One friend told me that her children would never drink Long Life, mine didn’t know any difference, so they drank it, as did #1 daughters children whilst living in India or Mexico, Long Life milk was used as a necessity.

Here in the Alps, fresh milk is good on the whole, but being at least 7 hairpins and then some away from a supply of milk! I tend to buy it perhaps in larger quantities than I should but up until now, have never had a problem. BUT yesterday, with Himself making our morning Cafe Latte fix, it was declared that the milk was off! Quell Horreur! 2 litres of it!

Deciding to be frugal ( and it was raining anyway) I put my thinking cap on to decide what on earth we could use the sour milk for!

The answer was Scones and Cottage Cheese.

Himself had been badgering me to show him how to make pastry and now scones. They are exceedingly easy to make especially using a food processor.

Most of English women would have learnt how to make scones whilst in school, it nowadays, cooking classes are defunct as are the kitchens, after all when one can buy all things ready made, why bother?

I started to teach the ‘All in one Method’ more years ago than I care to remember and am actually surprised that it has yet to become mainstream. This is what Himself learnt on a rainy morning in the Alps.

  1. 300 grams (3 cups) plain flour plus extra for rolling out
  2. 2tsp baking powder
  3. Pinch salt
  4. 125 grams cold unsalted butter cut into chunks
  5. 50 gram fine sugar (1/4 cup)
  6. 1 beaten egg
  7. 120 mls milk can be fresh, sour or buttermilk
  • Preheat the oven to 200 C/gas 6.
  • Put the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar into a food processor and process until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs or ground almonds. It only takes seconds and is usually recognised by the machine stopping thumping! Switch off. Mix together the egg and the milk, and with the machine running, pour it in and continue to process for the mixture to begin to from a ball. STOP processing and tip the mixture out onto a floured surface. Knead very briefly to make a smooth ball and rollout to about a thickness of 4 cm.
  • Using a 6 or 7 cm cutter cut out about 8 scones, cutting straight down and not twisting. Put them onto a lightly greased baking sheet and and bake for about 15 mins. They should be golden brown, test by holding one upside down and tapping, it should sound hollow. Cool on a rack and serve with preferably raspberry jam and clotted cream ( ooh memories of many years flying Continental Airlines to Houston, they always served Scones and cream , it was Chicken or beef flying into London though !)
  • And so we move onto homemade cottage cheese. This was a first for me and I have to say not at all disappointed and so easy.
    1. 2 litres of milk ( whole works best)
      3 tablespoons vinegar ( I used cider vinegar as that was all I had, but would suspect that Malt is too strong and red wine would also give your cheese a funny colour, so maybe white is best)
      1 tsp salt
      Small amount of whole milk or cream.
  • Heat the milk on a medium heat so as not to scorch the pan, nor the milk. Using a thermometer, heat to 185 F. Add the vinegar and stir gently to separate the curds and whey. Strain through a sieve, rinse with cold water and then squeeze out the water, it is best done through a cloth ( old men’s hankies would work….. if the are clean !) Pour the curds into a bowl and crumble until they are the size you like, add a little milk or cream and refrigerate.
  • I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised, by my cottage cheese, I liked the flavour and the consistency. Will I make it again? maybe, when I am in the Alps and have sour milk to use!

    Bananas? They look pretty disgusting, but watch this space for Bananas Foster!

    Steak Tartare or Filet Americain?

    Many many years ago, Himself ( way before we, were We) took himself off to Berlin to University. It was the days, of the Berlin Wall, where the S Bahn rumbled through the western sector of Berlin ( without stopping) but when it reentered the Eastern sector, Guards lined up with huge mirrors to inspect the underneath of the train, just in case there were escapees hiding underneath!

    Himself travelled via slow train through East Germany and arrived at midnight and was starving, well it is all relative. Help was at hand as in the Central station, the restaurant was still open. At the time he only knew scientific German, not much help in day to day situations, but undeterred, ventured forth. Umm, didn’t understand a word on the menu , except, Steak ! Duly ordered, it came as raw steak, chopped, served with raw egg and Chips !

    These days, things are very different, is fluent in German and would know better and one of his favourite dinners is Steak Tartare or some places it is called Filet Americain.

    Nowadays, not so common to find on a menu, though I have to say that the Côte middle of the road chain in the UK does feature it and it can be served as a starter or as a main. Otherwise not so common, more the pity.

    There are ways of preparing the steak,it has to be the best ( filet) and fresh. In France it is possible to go into any butchers and have it ground for you, even in our local, uninspiring supermarché. However if making it at home it is far better to sharpen your favourite knife and chop. The result should be finely chopped, with no sinews and no fat.

    We went the other evening to a newsish restaurant in Les Gets. It is in an apartment hotel called Vina-Annapurna. It had great promise, it was a Jazz evening, and the group were very good, albeit way too loud to allow dinner conversation.

    The menu is small both for starters and mains ( we didn’t look at the desserts). I chose, along with 2 others, the Tuna, which was delicious, even though a tad on the small side. Peculiarly, himself chose the Cheese, a slightly odd choice, but then he can be slightly odd. It was enormous, even as a cheese course, but for a starter. He ended up passing it around the table !

    For the mains, David chose the Lamb, having been warned that he might remain hungry, , Lee and Carolyn the duck with Satay sauce, Katia, the trout with a sauce and Himself and I the steak tartare. This we looked forward to with relish, only to be disappointed. The steak was in chunks with both fat and sinew, only two capers, no chopped onion, no parsley, ( even though it said with fresh herbs) ( having looked again at the photograph, there seem to be a few herbs! So minuscule, as easily missed! No sign of Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco or mustard,the last three are optional but my preference . The chips were very mediocre and as for the salad, a few scrappy leaves, a bit brown and wilted at the edges. After a few bites I handed over the rest to Himself who seems to have no such qualms about the quality of the beef.

    The other dishes, were I believe good, the duck with Satay, very tasty and the lamb, cooked for 7 hours, which may explain why it had almost disappeared! ( ( apparently it was tasty though rather on the small side, and yes he was still hungry ). The trout in a sauce seems equally nice and the sauce interesting, made with Savoury as the herb. It is an old fashioned herb, which I actually have never come across, I am now on the lookout for it, might just have to grow my own !

    So to quote Escoffier

    Beefsteak à la Américaine.

    Take a piece of fillet of beef ( or any other very good steak) remove any fat and sinews and finely chop the meat. Season with salt and pepper, here I add a small amount of Dijon mustard but this may also be added later.

    Mould to the shape of a beef burger, make a small indentation in the middle and into it place an egg yolk. Serve with capers, chopped ( spring ) onion and chopped parsley. The following maybe served on the side, French mustard (Dijon), Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. And of course Gherkins, but they must be small!

    Serve with very crisp French Fries.

    Umm wonderful ! ( only if it is made correctly).

    Raining in the Alps!

    Last week, as in most of Europe, it was unbelievably hot, so days were spent in various lakes around here ( we have little ones staying) but then on Friday afternoon the clouds burst, the lightning flashed, the thunder roared and the hail came thumping down. ( Just look at any videos from the Tour de France and you will see what I mean ). Being in the Alps, when it is dreary is a bit like being in Blackpool or Galveston ( apologies) in the summer when the weather is bad.

    Some of us took a walk in the rain to the local river, to see if there were any tadpoles left ( no, the river was too fast) before Himself made them Crêpe Salée for lunch ( cheese and ham pancakes to you and me) . Himself has become a Dab Hand at pancake making, making them fresh every morning to order. Sometimes with scrambled eggs, sometimes with a fried egg, mostly with crispy bacon, beautifully arranged by Miss Tess ( along with a drizzle of maple syrup) or plain with a light sprinkle of cassonade for young Master Sam.

    The latest breakfast order, is still pancakes for Sam but Miss Tess has moved onto fried eggs on toast!

    Whilst they were out I decided to make my Tart Abondance, this time I have had a recipe update courtesy of La Grange restaurant in Morzine, and as I had apricots to use ( it is apricot season here) I went ahead and made double the amount of pastry, as I am about to concoct an Apricot tart.

    For the filling, I made Almond paste, using 250 grams ground almonds, 100 grams caster sugar and one beaten egg, mixed together either by hand or in a food processor.

    I stoned 500 gram of apricots

    Line a quiche type dish with the pastry and bake “Blind” at 200 C for about 20 mins. Remove from oven, cool, then spread the almond paste onto the pastry case and then arrange to apricots on top of that. Bake again for about 15 mins, to finish the pastry and to cook the apricots.

    Cool and then glaze the apricots using apricot jam, diluted slightly with water and heated so that it will pour over the tart.

    Serve Luke warm with vanilla ice cream.

    Funnily enough, the following day we went to the Zip wire park and whilst the little ones were zooming through the trees, I sat and watched from the nearby cafe. The special of the day was Apricot Tart! Later on we took the kids to La Grange for dinner, where Miss Tess, had the Abondance tart for her main course, Chocolate fondue ( she shared this with Himself) for dessert, But the special of the day was ? Yes Apricot tart !