Friday, October 21, 2011

Food For the Fearless ...

Despite my gloomiest forebodings Saturday turned out to be an absolutely glorious summery day: I thought they didn't make them like that anymore, but apparently I was mistaken. I'd made the usual arrangements and, after a quick tour of the market to pick up some of the last poivrons of the season and a baby pumpkin and some fresh chèvre and butter beans and a couple of extremely ripe mangos for Jerry, turned up at Cardinal's just in time for the final whistle to find Beckham, Bryan, and some young thing whom he introduced as Rugby Bimbo, in the middle of the scrum. God knows how he does it, at his age.

(Actually, it was explained to me, between he and Beckham, that it wasn't actually like that at all. She'd been innocently sitting there with a coffee and then the rugby crowd came in and Bryan found himself sitting next to her, and then she asked him to explain some of the finer points of the game ... as he knows about as much as I do about the matter ie SFA I hope she didn't rely too much on his answers. Not that they would have been outright lies as such - more, shall we say, optimistically creative fabrications.)

It's a nice place is Cardinal's, but I felt a bit out of place, encumbered as I was with two umbrellas and Beckham's pants (don't ask) and there were some extremely loud post-mortems going on, so after an ad hoc emergency meeting of the executive committee we adjourned to le Refuge for a bit of fresh air and blue sky (and someone must have tipped Pierre off, because there was no music). There I got filled in on all the gory details of France's 9 to 8 win over Wales, with the poor Welsh playing one man down (sent off for conspicuous thigh-fondling?), whilst Beckham occupied herself drooling enthusiastically over Pressing Man, who just happened to go past.

(He gets his name from the fact that his only visible means of support is wandering between tables handing out discount coupons offering 10% off your next dry-cleaning bill. Other than that he's in his mid-twenties and is, according to Beckham - our resident expert on such matters - "an insupportably sexy hunk". Now you know.)

All of this took us through till about 2pm, at which point hunger pangs set in amongst those who'd actually dragged themselves from their beds at some ungodly hour to watch the match whilst nursing a breakfast beer, so everyone else set off in search of a burger and I came home, for I had things to do. (Many of which, by dint of studious procrastination, I have managed to avoid actually doing. Congratulate me.)

Sadly this warm weather has only incited the grass, so rather than lazing idly all afternoon, as I'd rather hoped, it was back to the garden again for what I would very much like to be the last trim of the year. Then back to Stacey's, to return the mower and the favour: all that, plus a few glasses of vitamins in between filling the tank, meant that it was around 18:30 when I got home.

Where I found myself with some scallops on my hands, as will happen: luckily enough I'd spent some time scouring around for recipes (pre-emptive research - don't want to fall into a rut) so I was just about ready for that. Had some of the last peaches too, and those poivrons ... no wine is involved, which is pretty rare I know: if you really want to, try and stick some in somewhere, but I personally can't see anywhere it would really be a welcome addition. Get over it.

So assuming you're looking for a simple three-course meal that's not so swelegant that you feel obliged to dress for dinner, here goes.

First thing to do is to start the arrosto di maiale: take that neatly rolled pork shoulder roast you happen to have sitting around and stick it in an oval terrine (should be a snug fit), sprinkle it with herbes de provence and as much chopped garlic as you feel able to handle (at least four cloves, please), then pour milk over it, put the lid on and into the oven with it. It should take about an hour and a half but requires no further attention: you could maybe turn it once if you like, and I'd take the lid off for the last twenty minutes, but that's about it. So you might as well get the roast vegetables ready as well. (And trim some beans, why not, and put them in a saucepan with some chopped garlic and a lump of sugar. But don't start cooking them just yet, will you?)

Once all that is done, get the pastry ready for dessert. One and a half cups of flour, 150gm of butter in small dice, 80gm of sugar and milk to mix. Do not overmix it: just enough that you can actually shape it into a rough ball, then put that into the fridge for a bit. If you have to remove a bottle of white to make room for it, do so. And while it's still chilled, start drinking it.

Now you really need to take a couple of peaches, peel them and cut the flesh into dice and put those into a saucepan with some sugar - about 1/3 cup sounds right, for 500gm of peaches. Add 2 tbsp of lemon juice and heat gently until the peaches start to render their juice, then add a teaspoon of cornflour mixed with water, cinnamon, a couple of tablespoons of hot pepper jelly and a pinch of decent cayenne if you think it needs it, cook till thickened and set aside.

It may be that you do not have any hot pepper jelly: it's a pardonable omission, and easily corrected. I didn't have any either, but do not despair: Google is your friend. Just take a good ripe poivron rouge and two hot chili peppers (piment d'Espelette or jalapeno, whichever you happen to have or can easily obtain) and slice them into thin strips before simmering them in a cup of cider or white vinegar and a cup of sugar for about ten minutes. You can use either pectin or gelatine to set it: pectin is one of those things I don't have (actually, now that I think of it there is a small bottle of something at the back of the fridge, but that's just as likely to be rennet knowing my luck - and don't ask why we would have that in the fridge), but four sheets of gelatine did the trick nicely.

Depending on your tastes you might want to use more chili pepper, or add some cayenne, but do be careful of afterburn. And in any case, do remember to remove the seeds from the little sods. Not that the seeds are particularly hot or anything, they just get stuck in your teeth and they're not really aesthetic.

(Now that I have a pot of hot pepper jelly in the fridge, I shall have to work out what to do with it. Using a melon baller - une cuillière Parisienne - to make little balls of it as a garnish seems a good idea: I just have to find a suitable dish, one where the admittedly surprising spicy heat of the chilled ruby marbles would be welcome. Maybe the next time I do scallops ... you listening, Sophie?)

Lest you think I'd forgotten about the pastry, now would be a good time to roll it out to about 3mm thick and cut it into 10cm circles. I got nine such out of mine, which was good given that there are three of us: put them back in  the fridge and have another drink before starting the beans off, and attacking the scallops.

These are really quick: remove the coral and set it aside for the cat (only joking), then cut each scallop into thin slices (about 4mm is good) and set them aside while you get the marinade ready. Which is as simple as whisking together a quarter cup of fresh orange juice, 3tbsp of lemon juice, 2tbsp of cider or sherry vinegar and 1 tbsp each of soy sauce and oil with 1 tbsp finely chopped or grated ginger (how I wish I had a microplane grater!) and a small, very thinly sliced chili pepper. Divide that between two plates (Jerry won't eat scallops, remember?) and add the scallops: sprinkle with chopped mint. And just before you're going to eat it, sear the coral briefly in butter and add a little mound of that to each plate.

Little silken mouthfuls of sweet scallop bathed in cool spicy orange juice, what more could I ask for? Since you ask, peach empanadas, that's what. (But next time I might omit the soy sauce, because it gives the marinade a slightly muddy look, and perhaps substitute sesame oil for sunflower. I'll let you know how that works out.)

Whatever, the main course should have more or less looked after itself all this time, which is good, and once you've downed that everyone can probably bear to wait for ten minutes while you finish off dessert. (For heaven's sake, all you have to do is slice the meat and pour the juices over, arrange the vegetables around and stick the lot on the table. Not that big a deal.) Get the pastry disks out of the fridge and brush the edges with water, then divide the peach/pepper mixture amongst them and seal the edges like cornish pasties, trying heroically to avoid oozing. Then fry them on each side in hot oil - a minute or two per side should do the trick, until puffed and golden - fish them out, drain on kitchen paper (yes, cholesterol is good but you can have too much, you know) and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and, why not, a bit of cayenne if that floats your boat.

They are definitely best eaten hot as they come out of the pan, but Jeremy informs me that you can blast them in the microwave the next morning with some success. Sadly, I won't be making them again for another nine months, when peaches reappear on the stands at the market.

I should warn you that opinion was - if not exactly divided - somewhat mitigated about all that lot. Margo quite liked the scallops, but still prefers the classic flambé with white wine and cream. The pork is, of course, unbeatable, tender and juicy and full of the flavour of the garlic with which it gets so intimate, so no argument there. (But a word to the wise - do put the terrine in to soak as soon as practicable. Otherwise, removing the burnt-on milk will require a jackhammer.) And as for the empanadas, they were a definite hit with Jeremy, while Margo found the pastry too heavy. Mind you, any pastry is too heavy for her, with the sole exception of filo. And that would be rather tricky to do, and also obviate the whole point of the things if you ask me.

Whatever, this must be one of the most beautiful times of the year over here. Towards the end of the day the sunlight comes in almost horizontally to the garden; filtered through the trees it's golden and slow, almost liquid, and at a pinch you could start to believe Pratchett's idea, about how it really travels only a bit faster than the speed of sound. What with the red and gold leaves that haven't yet fallen (and gone all slimy) on the relatively immaculate (and now acceptably short) lawn, it really makes for a wonderful Sunday.

And now the stars are out, cold hard points in a deep night-blue sky, with a warm breeze around, and I can almost believe it's still summer. A dream that will doubtless be shattered in short order, but for the time being please allow me to keep my illusions.

I note that you beat the Australians quite convincingly, which means that it's France vs NZ for the final, or so I'm told. I am very glad that I will be away in the Lubéron for that match, preferably somewhere sufficiently remote from civilization that the poor peasants have no better use for TVs than as drinks cabinets. And don't anyone feel obliged to text me with the result, I'm sure I'll find out one way or another.

The plan is that we pack the van Thursday night, pick Jerry up from the lycée on Friday and drop him off at home before heading off. He's happy because it's the start of the vacances de Toussaint - two weeks holiday, the lucky lad - and he may be vaguely planning on a party whilst we're away. If so, he can bloody well think again. On the other hand, I suppose I'd better make sure that there's something in the house that he can cook for himself for two nights: wouldn't want the poor lad to starve, now would we?

Briefly, and quite irrelevantly, in the "Names I have difficulty believing are real" department: from a report on  a session of the English Court of Appeal comes this little gem - "Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who was sitting with Sir John Thomas ..." Some things you just couldn't - or wouldn't want to - invent.

(I obviously have far too much time on my hands, or too many otherwise unoccupied neurons, for I have just come up with something else to do with hot pepper jelly: use an apple corer to get cylinders of the stuff, slice those into disks, and put each one on a teeny round of toast, with a hemisphere of goat cheese atop each one. I shall definitely try that soon.)

Cruelly yanked from the lascivious arms of Morpheus (hey, they're my dreams) this morning at some ungodly hour as my phone went PONK to say Sophie said hello (OK, so why is she awake at 4:23? And exactly why does she feel that I should be woken to discover this?) and then ripped, all too shortly afterwards, from uneasy slumber by the sound of the Lyonnaise des Eaux performing "Concerto for Three Jackhammers and a Digger" just outside the front door, as they connected Stéphane's new project to the sewers.

Which, as someone seems to have flipped the switch and turned Autumn on in spades, did not do a great deal for my mood. (I am not joking: literally overnight the leaves have all gone yellow, it's started to rain, and it's down to 10° max during the day. Lucky you, living in a temperate climate. Humbug.)

It didn't exactly get any better later, for I had the brilliant (bad?) idea of taking the Livebox back to Orange to get it replaced, given that the VoIP telephone line had suddenly become nowt but noise. Not to mention the problems with WiFi ... whatever, they plugged it into the little testbed and started the diagnostics - which of course it failed, given that I'd changed the admin login and password, and the subnet - said "Sorry squire, she's knackered, here's a new one", and I happily stuffed it in the car.

So far the only way I can get it to recognise the ADSL connection is by disabling the Wifi (OK, I can live with that, for the time being) and VoIP still hasn't managed to hook up. Only been 90 minutes so far since it managed to connect durably mind you, so I suppose I shouldn't be too concerned. Said he, sarcastically.

Whatever, I'm going off to sling a pair of knickers and a toothbrush into the old Compaq 286SLE carry-bag that serves me as an overnight bag and make sure I've got all the required chargers and things in there: must remember to take a spare CF card for the camera as well, nothing worse than getting somewhere picturesque and discovering that you can't take any photos 'cos the card's full and anyway the battery is on its last legs. I'll let you know how the weekend goes: Margo will be busy, but I'll have plenty of time to get out and about - so long as it doesn't persist down the entire time, forcing me to stay reluctantly in some louche bar. Of which, from memory, there are a certain number at la Tour d'Aigues, so that's me set then.


  1. Drooooool!!!
    So, when are you going to get round to writing that cookbook?

  2. You mean the one with rude recipes? Or the printable one? I still have a bit more research to do ...

  3. Oh, are you thinking of something along the lines of Nanny Ogg's cookbook? Could turn out to be a sleeper hit :-)