Category Archives: French

White wine chicken casserole and apple turnovers

chickenwhitewine

It’s that time of year again: The time of year when, in this area of France at least, the countryside becomes speckled with well-stuffed apple turnovers. Upon closer inspection (admittedly not always advisable), the apple turnovers morph into ladies of a certain age, neatly folded in two tending to their vegetable patches. Whenever I see them, I have an overwhelming urge to pick them up by the waist and set them down in our vegetable garden. Perhaps they wouldn’t even notice, and if they did, surely the change of scene would be welcome, although I imagine one patch of weeds looks much like another. In the meantime, my husband serves as our apple turnover, although he’s not nearly as generously-stuffed as some…

bentover2

Ingredients (serves 4)

8 chicken thighs (you can use a mixture of breast and thigh if you prefer)

1 tablespoon flour

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

20g butter

2 red onions, peeled and chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

30g pancetta

5 mushrooms, sliced

2 large carrots, peeled and sliced

Sprig of rosemary

350ml dry white wine

500ml chicken or vegetable stock

200g fresh garden peas

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Place the chicken in a bowl, coat with the flour and seasoning and set aside. Heat the oil and butter in a medium-sized casserole dish, add the onions, garlic, pancetta and mushrooms and cook until softened. Set aside and place the chicken in the casserole dish and cook for just over five minutes, turning to brown evenly. Add the carrots, rosemary and wine and continue to cook until reduced by about half. Add the stock and the set aside onion/pancetta and bring to a boil. Cook in the preheated oven for about an hour, adding the peas (and more stock if necessary) 20 minutes before the end of cooking. Delicious served with minted, mashed, potatoes.

Advertisements

Sole with lemon garlic sauce and a mouse in the house part II

soleandsauce2

hugotypewriter1by

I’ve often noticed that my version and Bossy’s version of anecdotes are quite different. I felt that Bossy’s account of the mouse in the house story (she was touchingly proud of her childish rhyme) was a bit scornful with regard to my skills as a guard dog. This is unfair because I’m an excellent, very intimidating guard dog and to suggest otherwise is just wrong. Any animal on the premises is here with my permission. Bossy’s suspicion that Java and I invited the mouse into the house isn’t too far off the mark as it happens. We didn’t actually invite him in, we came across him in the kitchen, surreptitiously hanging out near the fridge. It was then that I decided he could be very useful. For a while, my keen sense of smell has been telling me that there are goodies lurking under the fridge – cheese rinds mostly – which doesn’t say much for Bossy’s housekeeping skills *snigger*. I have tried in vain to reach them with my paws, and even resorted to asking Java and her spindly little paws for help. Although they may seem like annoying, pointless little animals, mice do have their uses. For example they can almost completely flatten their bodies, which is very handy when you need them to slide under white goods. For the time being, the kitchen is a cheese rind-free zone, but I’m keeping a close watch to summon my illicit worker back if need be. Never let it be said that I’m not resourceful!

 

javahugomouse

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 lemon sole filets (about 150g each)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons flour (I used rye flour)

20g butter

200ml milk

½ lemon, juiced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Handful of flat parsley leaves, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the grill and place the fish on the grill pan lightly coated in olive oil. Place the flour, butter, lemon juice, garlic and milk in a small saucepan and heat gently, whisking constantly. Cook until the texture becomes smooth and uniform and then add the chopped parsley leaves and seasoning. Continue to heat for a couple more minutes, stirring well. Cook the fish under the grill for about five minutes on each side. Serve with the sauce on the side.

Mussels ‘marinières’ and a Christmas present from Java

moules2

HugojournoandJava

Java and I were out on a little jaunt this weekend when Java found a dead wood pigeon. To be honest, I’m surprised she even saw it because I don’t think that her eyesight is quite what it might be; she often mistakes objects and also does this funny cross-eyed thing. Being a perfect gentledog, I offered to carry it home for her, but she was quite stubborn in her desire to hang on to it, even though she had to stop every few metres because it was almost as big as her. When we finally got back home, which took a while because Java has neither my staying power nor my common sense when it comes to carrying things, Bossy took one look and shrieked. What is with Bossy and her shrill screams when we give her presents? And no, there won’t be a recipe for wood pigeon to follow because Bossy and her delicate constitution insisted that we give it to the neighbour, saying she wanted nothing to do with plucking pigeons. As for Java, she was spitting out feathers all evening in a most unladylike way. I think next time she’ll let me take care of the transport.

javabird

I don’t like mussels much, except obviously my own masculine dog ones. Java seems quite keen to chew the shells though – maybe she’s teething.

Mussels are surprisingly good for you. Not only are they a high quality complete protein, they are also a rich source of vitamin B12, manganese, iron, iodine and vitamin C.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 kg fresh mussels

30g butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves of  garlic, crushed

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

150ml dry white wine (Muscadet is excellent)

Wash the mussels in cold running water making sure to remove any grit or sand. Discard any that float or any that are already open. Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add the mussels and coat well with the melted butter, oil and shallots. Add the herbs and seasoning and then the wine. Bring to a simmer and cook for about five minutes until the mussels have opened. Eat immediately, preferably with French fries cooked in duck fat.

Lamb shanks braised in red wine and uncharitable planetary alignments

lambshanks

In true French style, I blame my mortifying behaviour yesterday on a very unfavourable planetary alignment. Within the space of just a few hours, I repeatedly proved to be a source of acute embarrassment to my long-suffering son, Léo. We went to a computer shop where I  ‘asked inappropriate questions’ that made it look as if ‘I didn’t know what I was talking about’. Nothing new there then. In a rush to drop him off at tennis training (the condescension was wearing thin), I apparently did a ‘very illegal U-turn in front of a policeman without my seatbelt on’. The policeman was very indulgent and graciously laughed it off. The son didn’t; I got chapter and verse until the tennis club, where I was happy to launch into conversation with the team coach, only to establish that ‘I don’t possess the competence necessary to read the dates correctly on a tournament schedule’ (in my defense, it was extremely ambiguous). Wanting to save the best for last, I got up to leave, congratulating myself on having found a shortcut out of the new indoor courts. Only it turned out that my shortcut was more of a short circuit, because it set off the (immoderately noisy) alarm system in front of 40 odd people (obviously meaning about 40 people, not 40 strange people because that would be the pot calling the kettle black). The alarm that is directly linked to the police station. I wonder if the policeman was as understanding as he had been about the U-turn. I’m afraid I didn’t hang around to find out…

This is a simple but delightfully warming recipe for autumn/winter. It is adapted from  the ‘French Brasserie Cookbook’ by Daniel Galmiche, which is full of fairly straightforward, typically French homestyle recipes.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

4 lamb shanks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 shallots, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 fennel bulb, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

4 tablespoons tomato purée

750ml full-bodied red wine

500ml vegetable stock

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish and once the oil is hot, add the lamb shanks to seal them, turning frequently. Add the onion, shallots, garlic, fennel and carrots and cook for a further five to ten minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomato purée and the wine and cook until the liquid has reduced by about half. Add the stock , seasoning and thyme and bring to a boil. Cook in the oven for at least two hours, removing to stir from time to time so that the meat doesn’t dry out. Once cooked, the lamb should be deliciously tender and falling off the bone and the sauce should have reduced. Delicious served with creamed potatoes to soak up the sauce.

Buckwheat galettes every which way

galette2

The crêperie concept has been around since the fifteenth century in France, when stalls serving savoury galettes and later sweet crêpes first appeared around marketplaces. There was a choice of filling such as eggs, bacon and cheese for the savoury galettes and afterwards sweet crêpes were offered flavoured with cinnamon and orange water.

When I first arrived in France at the end of the ’80s every town had a least one, and usually several, Breton-style crêperies. They were always fun, bustling and offered an accessible, deliciously light but satisfying meal out for everyone; a galette washed down with bowl of cider was the French answer to fast food. Today, although creperies still exist, there are far fewer than before, many having been replaced by the ubiquitous, stomach-churning, fast food chains selling unidentified deep-fried ground organs between slabs of polystyrene. Despite their culinary heritage, many of the French have become addicted to the ‘fix’ provided by these eateries.

Galettes are made with buckwheat flour, a very healthy gluten-free alternative to wheat flour. Despite its name, buckwheat is not a type of wheat at all, but a plant closely related to rhubarb and is rich in amino acids, B vitamins and minerals, including iron.

There are many different variations on the recipe, sometimes according to which region of France you are in, but after trial and error this is the one I prefer. Galettes are so versatile they can be adapted for breakfast, lunch of dinner. You can fill them with ham, different types of cheese, bacon, sausage, egg, scallops, smoked salmon, mushrooms or make them raclette-style with potato, ham and cheese. The list is endless. We sometimes have them with a different filling after a bowl of soup as an evening meal several days in a row with no complaints from humans or hounds. And that’s saying something.

Ingredients (makes 12 galettes)

250g buckwheat flour

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

a pinch of salt

2 eggs

500ml cold water

Butter for cooking

Put the eggs and dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk well. Add the water gradually, whisking continuously until you obtain a homogenous mixture. Melt a small amount of butter in a frying pan (preferably a ‘crepe’ pan) and then ladle some batter onto the hot surface, tilting the pan to distribute evenly. Cook for until golden brown and turn. If you are adding a filling such as ham and cheese, now is the time to add it onto one side of the galette. Cook until the cheese is melted and then fold the galette in two. Serve immediately.

Ratatouille and pride and prejudice

ratatouille

To start with, pride: Léo won his singles tennis match and his team were runners up in the tournament finals on Sunday, winning a silver cup for their valiant efforts. Had there been a cup for mothers who, against all odds, almost manage to keep their mouths shut, it would certainly have gone to me. The only thing to pass my lips was a discreet ‘make him run – he’s heavy’ (oh the shame!). It appears that I’m not the only one to suffer from Tournament Tourettes though; one boy’s mother was escorted off the court by an official for her loud and unsolicited ‘advice’ and ‘support’. Can you imagine? The cheek of the woman…

On to prejudice: Java keeps presenting me with her own prizes – body parts of a dead rabbit. So far today, I’ve been offered two legs (separately) and the head. She’s obviously just a dog doing doggie things, but instead of congratulating her on her hunting prowess, I am overcome by human bigotry and flee, screaming instructions (sensing a theme here?) at Luc to get rid of anything in the vicinity that is furry and dead. I might have to seek Hugo’s advice on how best to broach this with Java.

The word ratatouille comes from ‘touiller’, which means to stir or mix and the recipe originates from Nice in the South of France. There are many different versions, and I prefer mine to be light on tomato, heavy on red onion and garlic and cooked al dente.

Ingredients (serves 4)

100ml olive oil

1 red onion, chopped

2 spring onions, sliced

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

1 red pepper, sliced

1 fennel, sliced

1 large courgette, peeled and cut into cubes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon Espelette pepper or paprika

Parsley or basil leaves to garnish

Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a large cast iron pan. Add the onions and garlic and heat until softened. Add the tomato, pepper, fennel, courgette and seasoning, cover and leave to simmer over a medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are softened, but not overcooked. Add the garnish before serving.

The emperor’s cakes (gateaux de l’empereur) and a loud-mouthed mother

gateauempereur

It’s tennis tournament time again and, despite my best efforts, my perennial Tournament Tourettes has kicked in with a vengeance. As yet, I have been unable to locate a suitably effective gag for myself but, if I find one, I will be sure to buy a couple because there have been a few occasions when also gagging the opponent’s parents would have been advantageous. I admit that it’s not really fair play to yell ‘leave it – it’s going out’ or ‘yesssss!’ as Léo’s poor opponent hits the ball into the net, but one glimpse of fluorescent yellow balls and apparently I become one of Those MothersDespite, or perhaps thanks to, my ‘help’, Léo is through to the finals which are to be played on Sunday when, to the delight of all and sundry, I predict my Tennis Tournament Tourettes will reach a resounding crescendo. Due to a pitiful lack of gag shops around here, I can only keep my fingers crossed for a debilitating case of laryngitis…

These French delicacies (Gateaux de l’Empereur) are a cross between a biscuit and a cake. Apparently they were originally made for a banquet given in honour of Charles IV. There are many different variations.

Ingredients

4 eggs

250g cane sugar

250g powdered almonds (or powdered hazelnuts)

250g raisins

250g spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare a baking tray by covering with greaseproof paper. Beat the eggs and sugar together until pale. Combine the almonds, raisins, flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and gradually add to the egg/sugar mixture to obtain an thick paste. Spread over the greaseproof paper on the baking tray and bake for 25 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm. Keeps in an airtight tin for several weeks.