Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mostly Food, once again ...

I would really love to be able to lie to you and say it really is as beautiful as this, but I learnt when little that Lying Is Bad, and I just can't bring myself to do it. To tell the truth, it's absolutely grot. Pissed down yesterday, gray and dismal today ... complete and utter b'stard. Still, we've had a good innings, and there's still some nice days to come, but it's definitely autumn. Time to think about pulling the sweaters out, and getting the extra layer for the quilt.

Got a call (was going to say "phone call", but in fact Margo got skyped - which sounds a bit gross, doesn't it?) from Mal the other day. Nothing major, just that to her horror and dismay she really enjoyed her field trip wandering through the bogs around Loch Lomond (cue anguished cries of "Mother! I am becoming a geek! And I love nature, and all small furry creatures!"), and saying that she'll have to get her boat driver's licence (or whatever the technical term for that is - all I know is that boats have, as a general rule, a sharp end and a blunt end, and in theory the sharp end goes at the front) and scuba certification. Some people do get to have interesting lives.

(Update: she was rather hoping to get picked for a year's work-placement scheme 'cos it'd look good on her CV, but they were apparently rather exclusive and out of the thirty or so in her class only six thought it worth applying, of which three got accepted and she wasn't one of them. So now she's looking for a new Project to keep her occupied. I'm sure suggestions would be welcomed.)

Met up with our ex-pat friend Brian for the usual after-market beer and discussed that with him. He's looking at buying an apartment (after all these years), and spontaneously came up with what he thought was a really good idea: namely, that she dedicate her life to paying off his mortgage. He has a point, it's an attractive concept, but I'm not sure she'd see it that way.

As usual, buying an apartment in France is not easy. All was going well for Brian until the point where the computer system worked out that at the end of the mortgage payments he'd be in his 90's (I exaggerate, although not by much) and they won't insure anyone over 75 ... then the branch manager suggested they try a new software system and recalculate the payments. All very well, but this would have had him paying back 10 000€ a month over 2 years - but at least he'd have been insured. Apparently, at this point the manager admitted that he'd not been on the training course for the new program, and in any case had absolutely no idea what he was doing.

Unfortunately, this seems to be about par for the course.

Jerry's notes are getting to be rather good, at least where it concerns the theory and practice of cooking. He managed a 20/20,  a 4/6 and another around 80% for his last practicals, which is not half bad. Although he still feels it would be a good thing if I went out and bought a proper piano for the kitchen: the enormous stove we actually have, although a bloody sight better than what you'd find in your average French kitchen, just doesn't cut it anymore. Whatever, as we were chatting about that and other matters over dinner the other night he suggested (jokingly, I hope) that we should open a restaurant. Call it "La Cimitière", which I personally feel is not a name designed to pull in the punters.

All that rather brings me to the following, which is just to say that I got a few wails about how I put up all these photos of food and sometimes forget to accompany them with recipes. Which I can see could be frustrating. So here goes - those of you who've no interest in such things can stop reading now and resume a useful life.

First off, for the grape flan, start with a pie dish. I used to use one with a removable base but gave that up a long time ago when I discovered that vast quantities of liquid would invariably leak out and caramelise all over the floor of the oven. Not a good idea. Anyway, line the dish with standard short pastry and cover that with grapes - a mix of red and white, or whatever you happen to have to hand. Then make the frangipane cream: beat two eggs with about 80gm of sugar until it starts to whiten, then add anywhere from 3tbsp to a half-cup of powdered almonds (depending on your tolerance for them - personally I'll take as much as I can get). Still beating, add 10cl of thick cream, and I personally add a drop or two of lemon oil (available from most Arab grocers around here) on occasion. Pour that over the grapes and bake at about 220° for about 20 minutes, then check on it.

The little buggers render quite a lot of juice as they cook, so you will probably find the pie dish awash (but at least it's not all over the oven floor), at which point you can either try (and if you're like me, fail dismally) to drain it carefully off, or just leave it for another 20 minutes with some tinfoil over the top: it'll finish by going syrupy and then turning to caramel. Which has to be good. But just a word of warning: resist the urge to eat it straight out of the oven, because the grapes will be little boiling spheres and it will be extremely painful.

As for the feuilleté au saumon, that's rather a fancy name for a salmon loaf. Start with some flaky pastry, which you may make yourself if you wish (personally, I can't imagine why you would, but that's not really my affair) and two healthy salmon fillets, minimum 20cm long and 2cm thick. In a bowl, mix together as much sour cream as you think you're likely to need with finely chopped spring onion, chives, paprika, dill ... whatever.

Spread a layer of that, fillet-sized, on the pastry and place a fillet on top: then spread the fillet with the rest of the cream and stick the second fillet on top of that. Then fold the pastry over to enclose the fish and seal it well, flip it onto a baking tray (or oven-going porcelain serving dish is easier) seal-side down and brush with egg-wash. Then bake it - about 30 minutes should be plenty.

You can use phyllo instead of flaky pastry, and that's rather yummy too: in that case I personally, having buttered a sheet of phyllo, sprinkle it with a bit of paprika, salt and maybe some herbes de provence before laying the next sheet on top. Might be overkill, but I like it.

And as for petits pois à la française, that's so simple that I don't even think of it as a recipe, really. It's also a bloody good way to add flavour to frozen peas, assuming that - like me - you can't be arsed shelling the fresh article. (Yes, I have done that, when I was but a bratling, and I have done it once, a couple of years back, one time they looked so nice at the market, but quite frankly I can't see the entertainment value in it.)

Anyway, take the required quantity of frozen peas and stick them in a saucepan with a lump of sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and the bare minimum of water, and bring to the boil. While this is going on, chop slice or tear into teeny bits half a dozen fat fresh juicy lettuce leaves, and make up a bit of beurre manié, by blending a heaped teaspoon of butter with a tablespoon of flour. Once the peas are boiling turn down the heat and add the lettuce and a chopped spring onion: when the lettuce is limp start to stir in the beurre manié little by little. (The purpose of this is to thicken without leaving huge lumps of uncooked flour, which are not only unaesthetic but downright unpleasant.). Then stir in cream or sour cream, leave to simmer for ten minutes or so, and serve to applause with chopped parsley.

Finally, the croquettes de porc are nowt but glorified meatballs, really. You start with about 500gm of minced pork and, if you happen to have some, about 150gm of bacon is good. If you have the bacon, fry it up until it's crispy, then cut or shatter it into small bits and set it aside. Then soften a chopped shallot in the fat and put that aside too.

Now take a largeish bowl and stick half a cup of breadcrumbs in it - fresh preferably, but dried packet stuff will do the trick - and add a slosh of milk: leave them to soak it up and then add an egg yolk and half a glass of white wine, stir the lot together and then fling in the mince, the bacon, the shallots and whatever herbs take your fancy. And now, roll your sleeves up and stick your fingers in and mix the whole lot thoroughly. This is messy, but fun.

Put that aside for a bit - you've had enough wild pleasure for the moment - slice an onion and put that in the pan over a very gentle heat, just so it goes golden, and whilst that's happening beat the egg white (you didn't chuck it out, I assume) until really stiff and try your best to fold it gently into the meat mixture. While you're at it, halve half a dozen baby potatoes and drink some of the wine.

At this point, you should turn the heat up a bit and make your meatballs. My original recipe calls for taking large spoonfuls of the mixture and rolling them in flour or breadcrumbs, but my fingers always get disgustingly filthy so I just unmould spoonfuls of the stuff directly into the frying pan. Turn them from time to time until they're golden all over, then add another half glass of white, a bit of beef stock and some garlic - bring that to a simmer, stick in the halved potatoes, cover and let cook for half an hour. At the end of which time the liquid should have reduced to a decent gravy, and all you need is a good green salad to go with it.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you :)
    (Nice to know that squeaky wheels get a response!)