Thursday, August 30, 2012

More on the door

Well there's not been much making or baking here for the last week or so, only some filling, sanding, filling, sanding, filling sanding... and sadly that's not edible filling either.  We've put oursleves on a bit of a diet following several months of not worring about such things so my trusty Rosemary Conley's Low Fat Cookbook has made it's way back into the kitchen.  The recipes are surpisingly good and tasty but there are very few cake recipes in there!  Plus, these chillier mornings and evenings are starting to make me think of autumnal food, caseroles, roasts, sausages, cheese, crumbles...

Still, to take our mind off such things, we have Project Front Door.  Work on the front door has been moving very slowly, everytime we think we're nearly there it takes a small step backwards but, fingers crossed, it's going to be painted today.  The beautiful hinges already have two coats of a matt black metal paint and the oak door step is a couple of coats of varnish away from being finished.  Weather permitting, the knocking a hole in the wall could soon be upon us.  Maybe we can have a cake to celebrate!

Here's some photos of the progress so far:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Forget salt and vinegar and cheese and onion...

Joe and I are both rather partial to a crisp, we know they’re not great for us but sometimes you just have to have that salty crunch that only crisps will give you.  We both got very excited when our local supermarket started to stock Kettle Chips.  

Anyway, while thumbing through the weekly “pub” (the reams of supermarket offers and shopping information that arrive each week) I was slightly disturbed/intrigued to see two new flavours of crisps.  I’ll happily admit I’ve sniggered at crisp flavours here in France and then been very pleasantly surprised – both the Cheeseburger and Pepperoni Pizza flavour crisps that I bought out of pure curiosity were surprisingly good and really did taste of Cheeseburger and Pepperoni Pizza which was quite strange to say the least.  

The two new flavours I spied were Marine which sounded intriguing, the second was the one I’m really not so sure about – Salted Caramel.  Now the producers of both these flavours is a Breton company and the Bretons do love their salted caramel, but crisps?  I’m not sure.

Last week I spied some of the Marine flavoured ones so bought a pack out of curiosity.  I have to say I quite liked them.  They certainly do taste of the sea, surprisingly like eating a fresh oyster, although obviously a very different texture.  As for the salted caramel, we’ll have to wait and see.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Random Recipes #19 - A French Re-discovery.

It was with some trepidation that I set out to pick my first "proper" Random Recipe Challenge from Dom at Belleau Kitchen.  I was a RRV (Random Recipe Virgin) last month.  The challenge then was to take photographs of my cookery books which wasn't too tricky but I couldn't understand quite why Dom felt that the numerous RRV's who had taken part might find the regular version of the challenge so hard.  Then I gave it some real thought.  I have to admit I've got a few books that, for one reason or another, I've not cooked anything from.  There are also some recipes that I'm frankly intimidated by and I never really got over the disaster I once had with a fresh squid.  I was suddenly aware of how difficult this might be!

Still, not wanting to shy away from a challenge I updated my cookery book database (a little OCD I know but it evolved from logging all our books into Excel when we moved house the last couple of times and is very useful - even if it does clearly state how many cookbooks I own, 230 but don't tell anyone).  I then asked Joe to add a random function especially for this challenge (VLookup and Randbetween apparently (???!)).  Bracing myself I pressed F9 to update and the function picked Floyd on France by the flamboyant Keith Floyd.

I'm a bit young to have fully appreciated Keith Floyd when he was at his prime (that's the story I'm sticking to anyway).  I was probably still at school when he was gracing our TVs with his cooking and wasn't that interested in watching cookery programmes at the time.  I bought the book second hand several years ago, not long after we bought our first house in France.  It came highly recommend with lots of great reviews but, I have to admit, I've never cooked anything from it.  Now I really see the point of your Random Recipe Challenge, Dom!

Slightly concerned about the amount of butter I was going to have to use and how much wine I was going to have to consume while cooking I selected the recipe using a combination of the very technical method of "eyes shut" with "open and point".  My random recipe this month will be Potatoes with Prunes and Raisins or Pommes de terre aux pruneaux et raisins, a dish from the Savoy region of France.  It comes under the vegetable dish section and like many French vegetable dishes they've manage to sneak some bacon in.  Mr Floyd suggests that it can be eaten as a pudding (it does have a very large prune and raisin ratio) but frankly with the bacon and potato I don't get it as a pudding.  His other suggestion is as a "sweet and sour vegetable dish to go with a little roast leg of pork..." which sounds a much better idea to me.  The recipe is as follows:

Potatoes with Prunes and Raisins or Pommes de terre aux pruneaux et raisins

Serves 4 (I made half the quantity, which, as side dish, would be plenty for 4 as it's pretty rich).

3 large potatoes, peeled and grated, well rinsed, drained and dried
500g prunes, stoned, soaked and drained
250g raisins, soaked and drained
Dash of eau de vie (I used bourbon)
2 tablespoons of flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
500g diced bacon

Ready to go into the oven
Mix all the ingredients together, except the bacon which you fry and then add to the mixture.  Put the whole lot in a baking dish, press it in really hard, pop into a bain-marie and cook in the oven, at gas mark 5, 190C for a couple of hours, until it becomes a kind of cake.  This is the traditional way of preparing it.  (Mr Floyd does suggest that you can fry it for 15 mins each side like you would with rosti).   I opted for the traditional method, mostly because it involved less effort on my part!

The finished dish
Some of the prunes did go rather too brown (although not as black as they look in the photo!) even though I covered it with foil half way through cooking time and, despite pressing the mix down hard into the dish, it didn't really become a "cake". Maybe older or a different variety of potatoes would have helped.

I have to say I was a bit dubious about this dish to start with, without this challenge I can't imagine it would have caught my eye (it certainly hadn't for the last 8 years of owning the book!).  Its ingredients were all good but not something I would necessarily put together, especially in these quantities, however the end result is tastes pretty good.  It's definitly very sweet - maybe lose the extra sugar and some of the prunes, their taste is very strong, but as an accompaniment to some grilled meat it's lovely.  In my opinion it's more of a wintery dish with some game as Keith Floyd suggests.  That said, I would be tempted to cook it to go with a barbeque in the summer.

Thank you for the challenge Dom, it was good to try out something I wouldn't normally have choosen to cook.  It was also good to rediscover this rather forgotten book - not long after buying Floyd on France we moved to France and, don't tell anyone, but after a while, I found myself not really liking French food (sacre bleu!).  I think there is some truth in the reports of French cooking being in decline, certainly in some areas of France.  We used to live in the Languedoc and virtually gave up eating out as the quality of most restaurants was so bad.  However flicking through the pages of this book I've been reminded that there is some fantastic cooking out there and some great recipes to try. I'm off to dig out my other French recipe books for a browse and maybe a cook.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A shopping trip

During our trip to the UK last weekend we managed to sneek in a visit to Fagins Antiques in Devon.  Fagins is a fabulous place full of antiques, reclamation, collectables and more.  Whether you’re looking for something in particular or just browsing it’s a fascinating place and well worth a visit even if you are only slightly nearby.  

We went along with the object of looking for a front door and managed to come away with… a front door!  That has to be a first.  A beautiful gothic arched door with fabulous hinges.  It might have something of the condemned building look about it at the moment but it will be beautiful, I promise, after some hard work.
The "new" door in situ
Earlier this year we spent a while working on our hallway, after lots of painting we took out some of the first floor and created a galleried landing.  The only thing the hallway needs now is a front door.  At the moment it can only be accessed from the room either side.  There’s a very obvious place on the outside that the door should be, and there are some definite looking stones that show through the plaster that make it look as though there was a front door there before.

So, the restoration begins.  Joe has managed to get all the door furniture off, no easy task.  Next we need to remove all the layers of paint using our new best friend, the hot air gun.  Better get back to it!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Roscoff and some very crunchy lights

We spent last Friday night in Roscoff, Brittany as we had an early ferry to catch on Saturday morning.  It’s a lovely old fishing town with some beautiful houses.  We arrived mid-afternoon and had a wander around.

Later that evening we had a fantastic meal at La Bonne Etoile, a beautifully decorated restaurant near the harbour.  The food was all homemade and localy sourced.  It was a very hard decision but in the end I decided on a Breton onion tart with chitterlings to start.  The pastry base was beautifully crumbly, the onions soft and very sweet and the chitterlings gave a contrasting salty taste.  My main course translated as sauerkraut of the sea which really didn’t do it justice.  It was white fish, salmon, prawns and mussels, all perfectly cooked, served on a bed of lightly cooked lemony shredded cabbage with a cream sauce and some steamed new potatoes.  Very tasty!  For pudding I had baked custard served in a Parfait jar and a Breton biscuit.  Unfortunately I ate everything before I remembered to take any photos – it was all so delicious!

I did take some photographs of the inside of the restaurant though.  It was so very crunchy and snickety.  As you can see I loved the lights, all made up of vintage kitchenware.  I took plenty of photos for future reference and dropped very un-subtle hints to Joe about how “we” could make some like them!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What's (been) cookin'?

It's been over a week since the wiring in of my lovely new cooker and I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen baking, while watching the Olympics of course.  It’s been great fun.

So far the oven has produced pizza, roast pork with all the trimmings (both of these got devoured before I could get to them with the camera), there’s also been cakes, biscuits, bread, and pasties.

We’re now feeling that some Olympic training might be in order to burn off some of the calories!