French Holiday Part II

We have spent the weekend extending the patio in our garden. There is dust and cement everywhere, all over my poor flowers. I am escaping from the chaos for half an hour to write another blog post!

After our amazing but very tiring week on the side of Alp d’Huez watching the giant cycling spectacle that is Le Tour de France and all that goes with it pass through (see previous post https://lickingtheplateagain.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/im-back-french-holiday-part-i/) we headed to a gite in the Indre region of central France for a week of relaxation! (cue lots of eating, reading, eating, sunbathing and a bit more eating).

The gite, in a 200 year old longere in a rural hamlet surrounded by rolling fields, was the perfect spot to wind down following the madness of the alp. I was also rather glad to get out of the campervan, despite all my initial excitement about hiring one. We were both sporting numerous impressive bruises after a week in it! We didn’t venture out to eat too much during this week as we were mainly just too happy pottering around our lovely little gite and garden pleasing ourselves. We did have one special meal in a local restaurant (which I will tell you all about in my next post!) but mainly we enjoyed lots of barbecues, big hearty rustic salads and picnics!

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Warm potato salad with chives and piles of lettuce with liberal lashings of mustard salad dressing

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Delicious saucisson with a bit of a kick, juicy tomatoey marinaded chicken, charred courgette slivers

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Juicy barbecued prawn and cod skewers with a buttery basil sauce

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Tasty breakfasts (some healthier than others!)

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Perfect lunches

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Is there much in this life better than a wodge of gooey brie and couple of tomatoes shoved into a chunk of baguette? Biting into it and letting the juices from the tomatoes run down your chin? I think not.

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Peppy espresso served with little sweets

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Treats from the local boulangerie

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Lakeside picnics following a refreshing swim

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What do you do when you have a stale baguette to use up and a heap of very ripe tomatoes? Make a tomato sauce, slather it all over the bread, top with ham and generous amounts of camembert (perhaps I was a little too generous, this was pretty filthy! Sooooo good though!) and grill! Et voila! A French bread pizza!

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Moreishly plump pungent olives from the local market

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Late afternoon sunlounger snacks

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Barbecued burgers on toasted buns with grilled tomatoes and yes, more camembert (spotting a pattern here?)

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Rich and luxurious chocolate to accompany evening card games. This year’s favourite was Cote D’or’s dark chocolate with caramelised pistachios. Seriously good.

P1040635Bright happy flowers

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Field upon field of sunny sunflowers. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to look at a field of sunflowers and not smile.

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Pink skies

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Chicken and leek pies with sweet potato wedges

At the risk of confirming all the stereotypes about the British, I am going to start yet another post with a complaint  comment on the weather. The lovely warm, sunny weather that led to my last post on barbecued swordfish and halloumi skewers is now a distant memory and we have returned to grey, cold, wet, generally miserable weather. Boo. Will summer ever arrive?!

One good thing about this however, is that it is a good excuse to bake a comforting, warming pie! Leeks are one of my favourite vegetables and, aside  from sauteing them with butter, white wine and garlic, one of my favourite things to do with them is put them in a pie! The recipe for these chicken and leek pies is based on a recipe from BBC Good Food. The sauce, made with cream cheese and dijon mustard, is creamy without being too cloying and tangy and tasty thanks to the mustard! These pies are topped with crispy crunchy filo pastry, which helps makes them a healthier option than a more traditional pie. You can also use low fat cream cheese to reduce the calorie and fat count even further – and it still tastes delicious, I promise!

This is what you’ll need to make two individual pies (or you could make it in one dish as well of course, but I’m quite into my cute individual pie dishes!)

  • 2 Chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • Around 1 and a half to 2 leeks, depending on size
  • 1 large carrot
  • About 85g low fat cream cheese (around a third of a normal sized tub)
  • Around 3 rounded tsps wholegrain mustard (maybe a little less if you aren’t such a big mustard fan as me!)
  • 225ml chicken stock
  • A handful of freshly chopped tarragon
  • 2 sheets of filo pastry

Pour a little oil into a pan and fry the cubed chicken until cooked, then remove from the pan and set aside. Add the chopped leeks, carrot and a splash of water and cook for around 10 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil until beginning to reduce then add the chicken to the pan and the mustard and soft cheese along with the finely chopped tarragon and some salt and black pepper.

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Divide the mixture between your pie dishes then scrunch up a sheet of filo pastry on top of each one. Brush with a little olive oil and pop in an oven heated to 200 degrees for 15 minutes.

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I like to serve these with some sweet potato wedges. These are good for dunking in the sauce!!

Take one large sweet potato and chop into wedges. Parboil for a few minutes (not too long!) then toss with plenty of salt and olive oil before roasting for around 20 minutes. Mmmm!

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First barbecue of the year! – Soy glazed swordfish and halloumi & pepper skewers

So last weekend spring finally fully hit Manchester! In fact, you could probably say forget spring, summer had just swooped right in, given we had TWO CONSECUTIVE DAYS of bright sunshine and 20 degrees!! (Just a shame that one of them was a work day!) Except now we are back down to 8 or 9 degrees and I am staring out the window at the same grey skies and rain that we have had for the last four days and are forecast to have for the next four days… So I am going to reminisce about summer last weekend with this post about our first barbecue of the year!

I am quite probably halloumi’s biggest fan. It is just the most brilliant foodstuff ever, don’t you think?! So meaty yet cheesy and so satisfying. And oh so delicious when grilled or barbecued. I have made pepper and halloumi skewers whenever we’ve fired up the barbie for years now, as well as peddling them at the barbecues of friends and family too! So of course I was definitely making these for our first bbq of the year.

Given it was just the two of us, and we felt like being a bit healthier, we decided to barbecue some swordfish. I really like barbecued fish, it’s a nice change from the usual meat-fest and goes really well with a nice summery salad. I’d never tried swordfish on the barbecue before so was pretty excited to try these delicious steaks! In order to make sure the fish stayed really juicy and moist, I decided on a sticky glaze type marinade. I also wanted something that would be fast to do and faff-free – minimising kitchen time and maximising sunny garden time! I sort of made it up as I went along so don’t have the measurements, but it was so simple and worked a treat! – I glugged some soy sauce into a pan along with some dark brown sugar, and kept stirring until the sugar had dissolved, then took off the heat, squeezed in a little fresh lime juice and poured over the fish. The fish was then basted during cooking with more of the sauce. So simple but so tasty! It really coated the steaks well, kept them moist and juicy, and was very moreish!

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Happiness on a Friday, part 3

It’s Friday, it’s the start of a three-day weekend, the weather forecast is finally warm, with minimal rain and a generous amount of sun, I’m feeling pretty happy! I’m not gonna lie, I was fairly tempted to buy some Pimms on the way home from work, but refrained for fear of jinxing the weather!

Kicking off the weekend with a delicious Chilean sauvignon blanc and a prawn, pea, lemon and chilli risotto – delicious!! (The risotto has a good glug of wine in it too, of course)

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Chilli & garlic prawns; Sweet & sour pork

I received Ching-He Huang’s Chinese Food Made Easy cook book for my birthday a few weeks ago and so last weekend decided it was high time to try out a few recipes. For starters, I plumped for the “zesty chilli & garlic tiger prawns” followed by the sweet and sour pork.

The prawns are from the spicy sichuan section of the book, and were really flavoursome, tasty and juicy. I will definitely be making these again!

To serve two –

  • Around 200g raw prawns
  • 2 tbsps groundnut oil
  • 5 (yes, 5!) finely chopped cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium red chilli, finely chopped (the recipe calls for it to be de-seeded but we left some in as we like a bit of a kick)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • chopped French beans
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • pinch sea salt

Before starting, butterfly the prawns (cut in half down the middle of the back), which somehow seems to make them more satisfying! Heat the oil in a wok and stir fry for the garlic and chilli. Add the prawns, rice wine and lime juice and keep stir frying until the prawns are beginning to turn pink. Add the beans (we had par-boiled ours just for a few minutes first). Once the prawns have cooked through, season with the salt and chilli flakes and tuck in! These were so tasty, really moreish, and the sauce that formed in the bottom of the bowl was eaten afterwards with a spoon!!

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Moving onto Ching-He’s Sweet and Sour Pork, the recipe calls for the following, to serve two;

  • 2 pork loin chops
  • 2 tbsp groundnut oil
  • few dashes light soy sauce
  • dash of rice wine
  • steamed jasmine rice

For the pork coating;

  • 3 tbsps roasted whole soya beans (Which we couldn’t get), or dry-roasted peanuts
  • Few pinches of ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp crushed dried chillies

For the sauce;

  • 4oz tinned pineapple in natural juice
  • 4fl oz pineapple juice
  • 3 tbps freshly squeezed lime juice (we almost doubled this as it just tasted too sweet for our tastes)

Grind all the ingredients for the pork coating in a pestle and morter then sprinkle onto a plate or board and press the pork into the mix so that it sticks to the meat.

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Put the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce into a blender and blitz into a paste. Heat the oil in a wok on a high heat and add the pork. Cook on one side until browned then turn over.  Once cooked, remove the pork from the pan and keep warm. Pour the blended pineapple and lime into the wok and simmer for a few minutes until reduced and thickened, season with the soy sauce, rice wine, salt and pepper. We served this with pak choi stir fried with soy sauce, rice wine and a little garlic.

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This dish was nice enough, but, I have to say, a bit of a disappointment. I didn’t think the sauce was that great, maybe we did something wrong, but the flavour just didn’t seem quite right. Having tried a few of Ching-He’s recipes in the past I expected this to be as tasty as everything else of hers!

There are still plenty of great sounding recipes in this book though which I am looking forward to trying out!


Sicilian-style fish stew

Winter continues its icy grip. The bitter wind cuts like a knife. There is still snow on the ground, continued flurries falling from the sky. Yet our hearts and minds tell us spring should now be in full swing, we’d had a godamn heatwave by this time last year! So when it comes to that all-important topic of food, we are still looking for something warm and comforting yet with hints of sunshine on the horizon… this is where this recipe comes in and ticks all the boxes.

This is a recipe I found on BBC Good Food quite a while ago and it has become a firm favourite of ours. I don’t know whether this is particularly authentically “Sicilian” or not, but it sure tastes good!

The chilli flakes bring a lovely warmth while the zesty lemon and parsely pick it up to make it zippy and moreish, a perfect warming cold-weather dish which evokes hints of sunshine and the Mediterranean!

To make this for two people, you will need;

  • Around 250g of sustainable white fish. I use different fish depending on what I can get, pollack is a good option
  • 50g couscous
  • 1 medium/large white onion
  • 2 decent stalks of celery
  • Tin of plum tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Small glass of white wine
  • Large pinch of chilli flakes
  • 400ml veg stock
  • The juice and zest of half a lemon
  • A decent handful of fresh parsely

Heat some olive oil in a large pan and add the crushed garlic, chopped onion and celery and chilli flakes. Season with some salt and pepper and cook for around 10 minutes until the onion has softened. Add the tomatoes and their juice, crushing them up a little in the pan. Pour in the stock and wine, bring to the boil and cook for a few more minutes before adding the couscous. Turn down low to a simmer before adding the fish, flaking it into big chunks. Cover and leave for 5-10 minutes until the fish is cooked. Serve with the  lemon juice and zest and chopped parsley on top.

I love the combination of the rich tomatoyness of this dish combined with the warming chilli and zesty lemon, it’s very comforting and flavoursome! And is great with a large glass of the white stuff!!

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Navarin of Lamb – the perfect bridge between winter and spring…

So the cold wintery weather continues to hang on in the UK with biting cold frosty mornings and impressively persistent flurries of “wintery showers”. However, the clocks are soon to change and the mornings are getting lighter, meaning we are no longer waking bleary eyed in the dark looking around in confusion as the alarm clock blasts into our dreams (thank gawd!) and there are lots of little green shoots pushing their expectant way out of the ground in our garden. In other words, Spring, if not quite fully here, is definitely in the air. If you’re anything like me though, the cold weather is still making you feel like hibernating in your cosiest jumper with a nice warming stew most evenings after work…

Getting a little bored of even the tastiest most comforting of Winter Food however, I decided it was time for something, while still warm and comforting, that was a little more spring-like. Enter the classic French Navarin of Lamb – perfect for this time of year!

It is still hearty and meaty, still warming and comforting, still a lovely one pot, but has an added freshness and uses young spring vegetables. Spot on.

To make this for two, you will need –

  • Around 500g of lamb, a cut that is good for slow cooking – we trotted off to the butcher who gave us some tasty neck.
  • Butter. Quite a decent amount. (Well, it is French)
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 small onion
  • Handful of chantenay carrots
  • Handful of small new potatoes
  • Handful baby turnips
  • Handful French beans (or mange tout if that’s all you happen to have, like us!)
  • around 300ml lamb stock (not sure exactly how much we used)
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree

Chop your lamb into nice big juicy chunks, melt a large knob of butter with some oil in a pan and add the lamb, frying until brown.

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Mmmm juicy.

Add the chopped onion and continue to fry for a few minutes then sprinkle the flour over evenly coating all the lamb and fry for another minute or two. Stir in the lamb stock, tomato puree and bouquet garni, season well with salt and pepper then leave to simmer for around 45 mins.

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Mid-cooking deliciousness.

Add the turnips, carrots and potatoes and cook covered for another 15 mins before adding the beans/mange tout for the last 10 mins.

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Serve with a glass of red and some crusty bread, the perfect compromise for an early spring onepot!