French Holiday Part III

The third and final French summer holiday instalment! While I previously mentioned in my last post that we didn’t eat out much in the second week of our holiday, preferring to laze around our longere barbeucing anything and everything and stuffing our faces with French cheese and wine, we did go out for one ‘special’ evening meal. We had a mooch around nearby town La Chatre and clocked quite a few interesting looking eateries. In the end we plumped for one just tucked away down a cobbled side street from the main square, called Auberge A l’Escargot and were really glad we did so!

This was a proper French restaurant with starched linen tablecoth and napkins and a m’aitre d’!

First up we were treated to a dégustation of some sort of chilled fish mousse (I’m afraid my French wasn’t quite good enough to figure out exactly which fishy as the waiter rattled it off in quick fire French with a flourish!) with a little bite size parcel of goats cheese wrapped in filo pastry. The mousse was incredibly light and delicious and contrasted with the little crunch and then melt from the filo pastry and oozing goats cheese, yum!

20130723_205200

Next up came our starters. I chose something called ‘Rouget Barbet’ which I think translates as red mullet. This was served cold with a mixed leaf and tomato salad, an intriguing olive oil cake, and two very cute little pots; one containing a lovely tangy and refreshing gazpacho, the other a selection of pickled vegetables. I really enjoyed all the different flavours and textures together, the whole thing felt really fresh and nourishing to eat.

20130723_210058

Rob meanwhile got stuck into his pate a la maision which was served with both the usual toasts, and the less usual ginger cake (delicious!) as well red berry chutney and green salad.

20130723_210051

Following a short break to enjoy our lovely local wine from a vineyard only a few miles down the road, we were presented with our mains. I plumped for the duck, one of my all time favourites. And it’s one of those meats which I find just never seems to be cooked as well in this country. So I had to take my opportunity! This lovely pink juicy magret de canard was crusted with sesame seeds and served with a perfectly sweet and moreish honey sauce, buttery herby new potatoes and some sort of puréed orange vegetable mousse (again, my French let me down here!), after much serious deliberation (slightly more tricky after half a bottle of wine) we decided it was most likely to be carrots, the fantastically sweet variety, rather than butternut squash or any other vegetable with the same hue.  However we were also both convinced it had some sort of nutty almost cheesy taste lurking at the back of the mouth…hhmm…. a touch of parmesan?! Or would that be too random?! Clearly we would fail the palate taste test on Masterchef! Still, my palate was more than capable of enjoying every little mouthful of this totally scrumptious dish. I didn’t want it to end. Some of the tastiest duck I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a fair bit!) I really enjoyed the honey sauce as something a little different from the more usual fruity pairing. Mmmm, more please?!

20130723_212612

Rob’s steak was equally perfectly cooked and delicious, It was served with a polenta cake, chimichurri sauce and lots of glistening earthy mushrooms.

20130723_212601

By the time it got around to dessert-ordering, I was preeeetttty stuffed, not having wanted to let any of the glorious food go to waste, I made sure I cleaned my plate each course! This meant I chose a dessert which I would normally have overlooked purely on the basis that I thought it would be the least filling (and of course I didn’t want to miss out!)

This was a millefeuille of chocolate wafers, strawberries and cream, served with a strawberry sorbet and strawberry sauce. While this was undeniably tasty, I have to say it didn’t quite live up to the standard set by the rest of the food up to this point. Perhaps my own fault for going ‘off-piste’ on my dessert choice!

20130723_215701

Rob enjoyed a banana tarte tatin with caramel ice cream and a caramel sauce (I can’t get past classic apple tarte tatin, but this did make an interesting change!)

20130723_215656

We rounded off the meal with a few little complimentary petit fours with our espresso. Itsy bitsy meringues with chocolate and some sort of cream and strawberry cups. I was beyond full, but managed to force down a taste of the little morsels (unfortunately before a picture was taken!) – they were only bite size, afterall!

All in all, a super French meal, which I would like to eat again! (especially the duck!!) I would highly recommed to anyone who was in the area!


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!

P1040326

P1040327

P1040328


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!!

IMG_4388

 

 


Prawn, Mango and Sweet Potato Red Thai Curry

I first  found this recipe online somewhere a couple of years ago, I’m afraid I can’t remember where, and with a few wee tweaks here and there, it fast became one of my all time favourite meals. It’s spicy, but not too spicy, it’s sweet, but not too sweet, it’s tangy, but not too tangy and it’s slurpy. It’s completely moreish.

As with many of my favourite recipes, I have little habits that go with the cooking of it. For this one, I like to have the kitchen completely to myself (don’t get me wrong, the OH and I like cooking together, and, usually manage to agree on what we’re doing, but this has always been of my babies and I like to enjoy some alone time when cooking it! Also, I tend to make quite a mess when cooking this so like to spread out…) I always drink a glass of wine while making it, and I always have some feel good funky music on as I go.

This is what you’ll need;

For the paste.  (always handy to keep some in the fridge);

  • 2 shallots
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 2-3 red chillis (I include the seeds as well)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Chunk of ginger, grated
  • 2 tbsps tomato puree
  • 2 tsps corriander seeds (crushed)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds (crushed)
  • 1 heaped tsp paprika
  • zest and juice 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce

Whizz together in blender. Keep in a jar in the fridge.

For the curry;

  • 200g king prawns
  • 1 medium mango
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 3 or 4 spring onions depending on size
  • Small chunk of ginger
  • 1 and a half tbsps red thai curry paste
  • 1 clove garlic
  • sesame oil
  • 250 ml chicken stock
  • 200 ml coconut milk (I use light and don’t think it impacts on the flavour at all. The bonus with using 200ml is that it leaves you with half a can of coconut milk, perfect excuse to whip up a little coconut ice cream! 🙂 )
  • 2 tsps fish sauce
  • fresh coriander to serve

Heat some sesame oil in a large wok and fry the crushed garlic and grated ginger, after a few mintues add the chopped spring onions. After another minute or two add the curry paste.

Whisk in the coconut milk, fish sauce and chicken stock and simmer for around 5 minutes. Meanwhile peel and cube the sweet potato then add to the sauce. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until tender.

Add the prawns to the pan then after a few minutes, once they’ve begun to cook through, add the peeled and chopped mango and the lime juice. Cook for another minute or two then serve with freshly chopped coriander. This always leaves quite a bit of sauce so I serve in a bowl, slurpy and yummy 🙂

You can probably tell that a) I’d had a couple of glasses of wine already and that b) I was so looking forward to eating this that I couldn’t really be bothered with nice presentation or faffing around with pictures!


Mediterranean Baked Fish

As some of you may know, I’m off for a wee jaunt around Portugal next week, and beginning to get really rather excited. Sunshine. Food. Culture. Sunshine. Wine. Food. Sunshine.Food. Exploring. Architecture. Sunshine.Food. Oh yes!

I keep daydreaming about sitting outside a local restaurant in Lisbon, at a street side table, feeling the lovely warmth of the evening sun caress my shoulders as I watch the passers by and make up stories about their comings and goings, while awaiting the arrival of a lovely crisp refreshing glass of vino and some simple but delicious freshly caught fish and potatoes.

So feeling inspired last Sunday for a simple yet flavoursome fish meal, we treated ourselves to two sea bass from the fishmonger. I stuffed them with lemon and cooked them in olive oil and more lemon and some dill along with some delicious yellowy flavoursome potatoes, red and white onions, garlic and carrots. I was quite pleased with my sudden inspiration half way through cooking and tossed in some almonds for the last 5 minutes, this added a nice crunch and another flavour, it was really tasty!!

This was, of course, served with a crisp glass of white wine. Unfortunately it wasn’t enjoyed outside in the sun however, instead we sat in our dining room and watched the rain pour down the window as if someone was stood on our roof chucking buckets of water over, while listening to the wind howl…. here’s to one week to Portugal!!


Yoghurty Prawns on Toast

Last weekend I had some cooked prawns that needed using up, and also had nothing much in the house for lunch. Something to do with prawns for lunch it was, then! I was feeling quite lazy and was already pretty hungry so was wondering what I could do that would be quick and tasty without using many ingredients.

I took inspiration from something my mum often makes as a starter – prawns with creme fraiche and lemon served on crunchy lettuce leaves. I had also seen a recipe for something similar in my Jamie Oliver book, I think he uses sour cream, but served on a brioche. As I am a big natural yoghurt fan, I of course had some in the fridge, and so decided to mix the prawns with these. You might be forgiven for thinking, prawns and yoghurt… really?! But believe me, it really works! I thought this would be healthier than creme fraiche or sour cream but should still keep the zingy flavour. I chucked in some other bits and pieces and plonked the whole lot on top of a piece of toast. It turned out to be one of the nicest lunches I’ve had in a long time! There’s definitely something to be said for improvising with the sparse contents of your fridge and cupboard now and then! Especially if those contents include natural yoghurt, it’s so versatile! 🙂

To serve two;

  • 200g prawns
  • Around 4-5 tbsps natural yoghurt
  • juice and zest of one lemon (maybe a bit less if you don’t like things too zingy, I personally love lemonyness!)
  • Around a quarter of a red onion, finely chopped
  • Handful of freshly chopped dill
  • Toast to serve

I mixed the prawns in with the yoghurt, lemon juice and zest and the dill which was helpfully hanging around the back of the fridge. At the last minute I chucked in a little red onion too in order to replace the satisfying crunch that is usually provided by my mum’s lettuce.


Cooking with mum: Seafood lasagne

I’m up in the lovely hills of Perthshire visiting my mum and dad for a long weekend. Despite the fairly persistent drizzle we’ve found a few gaps in the weather for walks through ‘the moss’ (local woods on the fields opposite the village) and around the loch on the banks of which our village nestles. We are also partaking in lots of eating and drinking! It is a quiet and peaceful break away from Manchester and work, much needed!

On Friday night, we decided to make seafood lasagne. My mum’s classic lasagne has gained quite the fan following among our family and friends, it really is excellent! I had never tried my mum’s seafood lasagne however, a relatively new recipe which she concoted one daywhen having some fish to use up.

Here’s what you’ll need for a lasagne serving 4;

  • 2 fillets salmon
  • 1 fillet smoked haddock
  • 1 fillet un-smoked haddock
  • large handful of king prawns (raw)
  • milk (for poaching)
  • onion
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic or one very fat one
  • good quality chopped tomatoes
  • spinach
  • fresh lasagne sheets
  • olive oil
  • ouzo or another aniseed-based drink such as pernod or ricard
  • salt and pepper to season

(I’ve had to use my dad’s camera as I forgot to bring mine, and I have no idea how to get rid of the pesky date stamps on the photos!)

Heat a good slug of oilve oil and fry the finely chopped onion and crushed garlic until turning soft and golden and letting off that lovely garlicy appetite-whetting scent.

(I am so jealous of my mum’s Le Creuset cookware, actually bought in France!)

At this point, add the chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Once simmering, reduce to a low heat for ideally up to two hours – the longer you leave it, the more the flavours will intensify and the tomatoes take on that delcicious sweetness. Around half way through add about a tablespoon of the ouzo to add a lovely hint of aniseed which brings another layer of flavour.

Poach the salmon and haddock (smoked and un-smoked) in some milk then flake into chunks.

Once the tomato sauce has been allowed to develop and delicious-ise sufficiently, stir in the poached fish and the prawns. You are now ready to start layering up the lasagne. My mum likes to include a layer of spinach for some added colour and texture. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough spinach in my dad’s veg patch today! If you do include the spinach, put it in a layer with a drizzle of white sauce. Don’t wilt it first as it will cook plenty in the oven.

Not enough spinach!

 For the white sauce, my mum has always sworn by Delia;

  • 1 and 1/4 pints milk (you can include the milk used for poaching the fish earlier)
  • 3 oz butter
  • 2 oz plain flour
  • 3 fl oz cream (if you don’t have/want to be healthier, you can up the milk instead)
  • freshy grated nutmeg (my mum: ‘if it’s not fresh, don’t even bother!’)
  • salt & pepper

Serve with salad and a large glass of vino bianco!