A Summer Occupation

Something happens to me in summer time in the mountains. I have to make Jam. This started a few years ago simply because Himself has to have Apricot Jam whilst in France. Of course I could go to the grocery store and buy “Bonne Maman” but that would just not be the same! In France, in the summer there are roadside stands selling trays of apricots and so inspired I started making jam.

The first year, was just Apricot , but the following year Marcel, the farmer whose house/barn is attached to ours, decamped to the Lakeside and put his barn up for sale. In the garden was a wonderful red currant bush and so I asked if I could pick them and so that year we had red currant Jam / Jelly as well, and so it has progressed.

However, I have now learnt to cheat a little. Using frozen fruit has tremendous advantages, no need to bend low to pick, de-stone, wash, clean, or remove bugs. Consequently, so far this year I have made raspberry, cherry ( fantastic being able to buy de-stoned frozen cherries), Myrtilles, again these are the equivalent to blueberries, but they grow wild and are few and far between on the low bushes, but frozen ! Easy Peasy, as they say. And of course some more Apricot, but for this, I actually had to stone them etc. myself!

Jam making has to be an occupation of rural French Housewives. As the grocery stores at this time of year are full of the requisite Bonne Maman type jam jars, and other jam making equipment including Sugar! I am sure it is also available in the UK, but here is is there on the shelf, next to ordinary sugar, so no need to go hunting for it. The sugar is labelled Sucre Gélifiant ( Preserving Sugar) it contains 98.7% sugar, along with acidifiant ( pectin); citric acid. So almost no need to add anything else, though I have to admit that I have added, maybe a 1/4 Cup lemon juice.

The other things that make life a bit easier, is having a preserving pan, a long handled wooden spoon or wooden shaft with a metal stirrer, and a jam thermometer.

So put very simply:-

Put into the pan the fruit, defrosted or not and heat until the fruit is very soft. For each kilo of fruit a kilo of sugar is require. Pour in the sugar, stir well and continue to heat on a medium heat. Put in the thermometer and occasionally stirring, keep an eye on the thermometer. Using a thermometer makes life very easy indeed, as there are different heats indicated and Yes there is one marked JAM! No more guess work needed, but being old school in this respect I do still test that the Jam has reached a setting point. This is done by spooning a small amount of jam onto a a plate or saucer, put somewhere cool for about 5 minutes, press a finger onto the surface and see if it is setting.

The jars need to be sterilised , and this can be done in the dishwasher or in the microwave. Place the jars half filled with water and microwave on high for about 3 minutes, long enough for the water to boil. Several jars can be done at the same time. Lids of course can’t be done in the microwave, so I put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Drain the jars and leave upside down on a clean cloth and wipe dry inside with some paper towel. Using a ladle fill the jars almost to the brim with the jam, and tightly seal on the lids, label and you are done !

Easy? But of course! Happy Jam Making !

However I have just had a real Flashback! Walking up the lane, there is the most wonderful rosebush full, of the most beautiful rose hips.

A lifetime ago, whilst living in Normandy, I decided that my girls needy some extra Vitamin C and what better way to give it to them than RoseHip Syrup! And yes, somehow or other I found the recipe in some old cookery / home hints book and made my own. ( I guess that despite having two small children I had plenty of time on my hands.) I seem to recall also being very fed up with Baguettes that went stale too quickly making my own bread daily with the help of my then 2 year old. I seriously doubt that she remembers that and also doubt that she would ever make her own today! But then again why would she?

Himself cooks a mean Tagliatelle Carbonara!

The other night Himself declared, that he fancied Tartiflette for Dinner, everyone else pulled a face! Maybe in the winter but not in the middle of a summer heatwave.

Heatwave finally left and here in the mountains it is definitely cooler, but still not tartiflette weather. The compromise was Tagliatelle Carbonara. He was determined to make his pasta, and actually has become quite a Dab Hand at it and can almost remember the proportions without looking it up! ( unlike our 10 year old grandson who can now make Crêpe without blinking an eyelid).

I had to quickly do some research and devised a recipe which used the ingredients we had to hand. Consequently, we made pasta using regular flour and not Pasta flour, but to be honest it turned out pretty well !

  1. 300 Grms pancetta or lardons
  2. 7 large egg yolks, plus one extra egg
  3. About a pound of pasta, Tagliatelle, spaghetti or whatever pasta takes your fancy
  4. Salt to taste
  5. Spoonful of olive oil
  6. Cup of grated pecorino or Parmesan Cheese
  7. Some freshly ground black pepper
  1. Sauté the lardons or pancetta until the fat has rendered and slightly brown, but do not over cook.
  2. Drain in a sieve but keep the drippings.
  3. .Put the egg yolks and extra egg to a bowl and beat to blend.
  4. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al Dente. Test by trying between finger nails, if it cuts then it is ready, again do not over cook!
  5. Drain and keep a cup of the cooking liquid.
  6. Add immediately the pasta to the eggs with 1/2 of the cooking liquid and drippings. Using something like salad servers, toss thoroughly , to mix well add the cheese in batches and toss well, so that it will melt. Add some black pepper toss until the sauce thickens.14. Divide between four bowls, making sure that everyone gets their fair share of bacon/ lardons. Garnish with some more cheese.

Needless to say it is fairly high in calories and normally I don’t eat any kind of Pasta, and I didn’t this time either, but I did have a taste, before I ate yet another salad!

A Clafoutis, by any other name, is it still a clafoutis?

Many years ago, our lovely Belgian Au Pair, arrived in Texas, along with a recipe book for me created by her family. Despite having lived in France and Belgium, this was the first I had heard of Clafoutis!

At the time, it was something I cooked on numerous occasions, but desserts are not something I make very often. When the kids were small, the inevitable question during dinner was ” What’s for dessert?” The reply was always the same ( and it infuriated them) a WAS ( wait and see) or a UFO ( You’ll Find Out) most of the time, it was nothing exciting, a yoghurt or if it had been cooking class day ( I gave 5 a month) then there would be, maybe some left over dessert from the class. Only at weekends would I make something special.

I had acquired a cook book back then , of which I now have two copies ( one for the UK, and one for France). I made a point of cooking something new from this book every weekend, (Simca’s cuisine, by Simone Beck, she who collaborated with Julia Child) and naturally enough there is also a recipe for Clafoutis in this book.

On reading the newspaper the other morning, I came across the recipe of the day and yes, it was Clafoutis, but however upon reading it, I realised it was nothing like the one I used to make. But, being inspired, I dug out Simcas cuisine and decided to make this dessert for dinner.

The recipe actually calls for Plums or Cherries, of which I had neither, however I had frozen raspberries and Why Not ? And funnily enough I have just found another version, which is Boozy Prune Clafoutis, so I guess anything goes !

I used

  1. 600 grams of frozen raspberries
  1. 250 grams full fat cream cheese ( Philadelphia or generic will do, at room temperature
  2. 125 mls double cream
  3. 3eggs
  4. 8 oz plain flour
  5. Here you can add some kirsch or other liquor but not necessary.
  6. 90 grams unsalted butter at room temperature

Butter a dish, pie type dish, put all of the ingredients except the raspberries into a food processor and beat until well mixed.

Put half of the batter into the bottom of the dish, add the fruit, in an even layer, then add the remainder of the batter. Bake at 440 F 205 C for about 35 mins. It should be just set and a light golden brown. Allow to cool somewhat before serving. Serve tepid with some powdered ( icing sugar) sprinkled on top.

Of course using fresh fruit is always an option, apples, plums, cherries, peaches, or anything that is in season, but stew the fruit first and if necessary add sugar to taste. For mine I did not add any sugar, and the comment from one of my younger guests was that it was a bit sour, but the young Mexicans ate it readily.

No Added Sugar! Honestly!

The other day, Himself was dispatched to Geneva Airport to collect Baby Amelia and her parents. The three “Mexicans ” and I set to in the kitchen.

I had found a recipe the other day, which said, No Churn Ice Cream, good idea thought I , especially as Horror of Horrors, I do not have an ice cream machine, here in the mountains. Interestingly, it was made with condensed milk, double cream and honey. It also said that meringue, rum soaked raisins and chunks of chocolate would work well, and salted almonds. My problem here was that my 10 year old visitor, doesn’t like chocolate, ( who has heard of a 10 year old not liking chocolate? Well he doesn’t but he told me he has taught himself to eat chocolate cake at birthday parties, otherwise he always missed out on the cake!) And to boot has a nut allergy. We decided to make this ice cream with caramelised sugar ( brittle toffee) microwave meringues, boiled condensed milk ( think caramel, think Banoffee Pie) and double cream. We skipped the honey.

The night before I had boiled the can of condensed milk so that it was thick, caramelised and cold. We mixed one slightly beaten egg white with enough icing sugar to make a very thick mixture, that could be rolled onto Golf Ball size balls, and so made our meringues, cooked quickly in the microwave and therefore cooled very quickly ( see blogs from July, August 2017).

We made the toffee brittle, simply by pouring sugar into a pan and gently heating it until it melts and caramelises, remove from the heat as soon as it turns colour as it will very quickly burn, pour onto a greased baking tray and it will solidify very quickly, BEWARE it is hot!

Bash the caramel with a rolling pin or hammer. Beat the cream ( I used a litre of cream) , , stir in the boiled condensed milk, add the broken caramel pieces, crush the meringues, and add them. Put into a box and freeze.

The result was an amazing, sweet, sugar overload ice Cream! And I can honestly say that there was No Added Sugar! Whatever that means in reality ! The taste was wonderful, but only have a small scoop at a time and the kids? They could be bouncing off the walls in no time at all, but making that, more Ice Lollies and some Lemon Drizzle Cup cakes, kept them busy all morning!

Himself makes a Stir Fry!

This week, we have a friend from New Zealand staying ( via way of the UK and Belgium ) and I have to admit that she is a big fan of “Himself”. No criticism of Himself is allowed when she is around! So working on boosting his already high image, he declared he would make Dinner. Me? I was off to the golf course, whilst House guest was off to Cambridge. I gave Himself, three options:-Stuffed chicken breast, cooked Sous Vide ( he has become quiet a dab hand with the Sous Vide machine) , problem is, it is connected via my phone! Bang Bang Chicken, which I love and have not had it in years, used to be one of my favourites in Houston, in a restaurant strangely called Houston’s, and also in The Ivy in London. Or Singapore noodles! He chose the latter!Not sure if it really is a recipe from Singapore, Singapore is the Manhattan of the East. It’s cuisine is such a mixture, with influences from Malaysia, China, India, Indonesian and don’t forget the British. All of these have influenced Singaporean cuisine. And one cuisine, that is a complete mish mash of these is Nyonya cuisine which comes from the Peranakans who were the descendants of the early Chinese settlers, who married local Malays and combines,the various cuisines.The majority of Singapore’s Chinese population is Hokkien, and this a version of their all time favourite noodle dish, Singapore noodles with pork and prawns.

  1. 2tsp sesame oil ( or olive oil)
  2. 300grams pork mince
  3. 1tsp Chinese five spice powder
  4. 3 tsp curry powder
  5. 200grams large prawns peeled and deveined
  6. 200 grams carrots, finely sliced
  7. 3-4 red chillies de seeded and chopped
  8. 400 Grams egg noodles ( preferably ready cooked or straight to wok type.
  9. 3-4 chopped Pak Choi ( spinach as Substitute )
  10. 6 Spring onions sliced
  11. 2 tbs soya sauce
  12. 1/2 cup water or stock as needed

It’s Summer Time in the Mountains, and the kids are cooking , Again!

It is summer time which means we are in the French Alps along with some little ones, ( getting bigger each time they come ) ! Have only been here a couple of days, but so far have been to the local Lake, where they tried out the new Blow Up Kayak, a big success but would help if Himself read the instructions first! Where was the seat? And the rope to pull it! But never mind, he didn’t tip them out ( they had been forewarned). Life jackets on, they were safe! Rubber rings, buckets and spades, hats and sun cream to the fore! And the waterfall waterslide is always good fun, even though the smallest is way too small, he was happy looking for tadpoles and pottering in the ice cold Mountain water.

Back home it was cooking time, well not exact cooking, but freezing. Ice lollies, more to the point.

We used 200 grams frozen raspberries, a quarter of a small watermelon and some apple juice, though orange juice could be used or better still frozen concentrated Orange juice would be even better, but as yet to find this useful commodity in the UK, but readily available in the USA.

The tedious bit of this recipe is removing the pips from the watermelon, I wonder are seedless ones available? However Miss Tess was the Queen of pip removal, then it is really easy. Just throw the lot into a food processor or Blender and wiz the lot around and then pour into lollipop mounds, which of course I just happened to have!

Wait for them to freeze and then let the neighbourhood kids come round and help eat/suck them! They were declared an overwhelming success and we are about to make some more!

I find Markets and Supermarkets fascinating, though I am the first to admit that our local one here in the mountains is not my favourite. We are only just over an hours drive from Geneva, so not really in the “back of beyond ” but the quality of fruit and vegetables tends to be rubbish but none the less I always find it intriguing.

On yesterday’s visit, I was amused by the absolute love of all things Chocolate, yoghurts with Smarties or M&M’s in, or the rows and rows of various dessert pots, all chocolate ! Or the biscuits, again with Smarties/M&M’s or the ones coated in Chocolate rice crispies! And the British Government is concerned about childhood obesity, I wonder if there is such concern here in France, if not, there should be!

And finally my absolute favourite (not) is the tube of condensed milk , already sickly sweet but here it is with added chocolate, also available in caramel, just waiting to be spread on your breakfast croissant.Quelle Horreur!

The Girls Came to Lunch

This week saw 8 of us meeting here, for lunch. We all lived in Brussels in the ’80’s and 90’s, had kids the same ages, who went maybe to the same schools, maybe played on the same soccer teams, baseball teams, and certainly all went to the same Orthodontist. I mention this because, out of all of us ( and there were many many more ex Brussels girls out there) the Orthodontist ( and one other, maybe) is the only one who is still there, after all these years! And yes! She came over for the day for lunch!

My dear friend, who now lives in New Zealand was visiting and so I thought maybe, just maybe, some of us could get together for old times sake, and so we did.Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 10.59.08

A beautiful sunny day in London, and the question was , what to eat. Something which did not require me being in the kitchen, and certainly not to have the oven on. I decided on the following:-

  1. A Super food type Salad, of enormous proportions
  2. my favourite french cheese tart
  3. a salmon mouse
  4. a vegetable frittata
  5. Japanese cheesecake
  6. Eton Mess.

The french cheese tart has been written about before ( Tart au Fromage d’Abondance…… January 15, 2016) as has the cheesecake ( March 29, 2016 and November 22, 2015) The super food salad is new as is the salmon mousse.

With apologies to Yotam Ottolenghi, whose recipe inspired mine. The quantities used are completely, hit and miss, add what you  want and as much or as little as you want. I used a mixture of all of the following

  1. 200 grms cooked quinoa
  2. 200 grms cooked puy lentils
  3. 100 grms Fregola pasta
  4. 2 grapefruit segmented and cut into chunks
  5. 2 cups pomegranates seeds, ( too much of a pain? Waitrose sells them already seeded)
  6. bunch spring onions chopped
  7. 200 grams soft apricots chopped
  8. 100 grms cooked asparagus cut into chunks
  9. 100 grms cooked green beans cut into chunks
  10. some baby gem lettuce shredded
  11. some rocket leaves
  12. 100 grms chopped nuts preferably pistachios
  13. a couple or red chillies , de-seeded and chopped

other ingredients could be, red rice, brown rice,  sun-dried tomatoes, mustard and cress type sprouts, chopped parsley, chopped coriander, can of chick peas.

The dressing I served on the side, and it was very simple, dijon mustard, with lemon juice and olive oil.IMG_4851

The cooking of the various ingredients is a little time-consuming, but worthwhile, especially as they all need to be done ahead of time, cooled and refrigerated. Just before serving, literally chuck them all into a large bowl, mix well ( using your hands is by far the best way) and serve !