Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shiny Brand New...

What innate joy life is when, from nowhere, you make a new friend; someone who you immediately click with. A shiny brand new chum who understands your humour and connects with you on every level. Who will practice hip hop moves with you in the drunken wee hours, who inspires you to try something new, who appreciates your love of vintage enamel pans and who will go for a walk with you on a grey wet Tuesday afternoon.

If food be the bonding of friendship – cook on.

What to cook your super shiny buddy on a very tight budget in the bleak mid-to-end winter. Sex on a plate; pan con tomate. Use fresh or day old French baguettes or sourdough toasted lightly under a grill. Meanwhile, with love and a glass on hand, finely dice some fresh juicy tomatoes, whatever fresh herbs you have in the garden go get some, either rosemary, mint, sage or parsley, finely slice and mix with the tomatoes. Peel a fat clove of garlic and rub all over the crispy golden toasted bread, sprinkle over some rock salt, generously place the tomatoes and herbs on top and finally drizzle on top vast amounts of fine olive oil – et viola. Enjoy as an hors d’oeuvre, as a sidedish with supper or whenever or wherever, as it is, indeed, delectable.

Moroccan aubergine salad, a flavoursome spicy dish that will wake up your taste buds during the fug of February. Slice your beautiful purple shining aubergine thickly, rub on some olive oil and grind pepper and salt over each slice, grill. When browned on both sides, remove and cut up into bite-sized chunks. Meanwhile, open a can of chickpeas or haricot beans rinse and tip into a gorgeous serving bowl. Finely slice a red onion, add to the dish along with the aubergine and some fresh coriander. In a jam jar shake up a spoonful of smoked paprika, ground cumin, fresh lemon juice, a drop of honey and some olive oil – shake and tip into the salad – gently mix the dressing with the ingredients.

These two wildly piquant and divine dishes are perfect served alongside a good fresh piece of white fish. Take your fish fillet – try haddock, cod, whiting or bass depending on your budget and the fisherman – wrap in a coat of foil, dropping a good splash of olive oil, white wine and salt and pepper inside, gently wrap and bake in a hot oven for 15-25 minutes.

Serve these three plates with a glass of cold crisp white wine, or chilled beer to your delicious new (or old buddies), sit back and relax, reveling in the sweet elixir of life; friends and simple food.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Frost Bite

So January turns her head from us and sulks, as little elfin February laughs in our faces; you thought you had left Winter behind?…not yet my darlings, not quite yet…

Pancakes, Valentines, half-term….half-term? Again? More holidays, more? According to actual information from the internet, French school children have more holidays than any other nation on earth. Two whole weeks I have looming ahead of me. Needless to say the majority of this term, thus far, and pre-Christmas I might add, has been spent with bugs galore. Sickness, diarrhoea, colds, headaches, sore throats, soaring temperatures and even bronchopneumonia. When, I ask, when will the children actually spend any time at school? Their French tongue leaves a lot to be desired.

On the menu today at l’ecole is: potage à la tomate, followed by escalope de porc and purée de carottes, then flan and, finally, petits gâteaux. You may well ask how E1.50 funds such delicacies for the children of these fields. I have no idea, I assume the chef has a good deal going with the varying farmers, whose children, I will add, attend the school…

Seasonal is of utmost importance here. You simply cannot purchase anything other than what is growing here in France. A good thing yes, but at times frustrating when you need to eat something other than potatoes or lettuce. I dream of the asparagus season, of sweet juicy melons of cherry tomatoes so sweet you can eat them like a bag of bon-bons.

My baskets of walnuts once so heavy with abundance, have just the last few knocking around at the bottom. My perfect Sunday treat is to shell them, along with our local hazelnuts, gently roast them, rub the skins off and sit them in a very short pastry crust, wide and shallow. Meanwhile make some honey caramel by melting sugar, honey, butter and cream, boiling until the caramel is golden and frothing then pour all over those sweet nuts and bake for 20minutes or so until you are left with a tart so delectable, so intense with flavour, strangers will offer you their hand just for a slight slice. I think my nuts have one more tart in them.