Thursday, 30 April 2009

Utterly Butterly

I adore asparagus. Unfortunately it has such a short season (about 8 weeks - for British that is) Because of this small window of opportunity we tend to gorge on it until it is no longer available. Whether it's just simply steamed, then dipped into melted butter and eaten with your hands - the butter dribbling down your chin (can you hear Je t'aime playing in the background?) or as an accompaniment to a main course it is truly the king of veg. Actually, strictly speaking it's classified as a member of the lilly family.

There is one drawback - sorry there's no delicate way of stating this - it makes your wee smelly. It's very strange and very pungent and apparently it doesn't happen to everyone .

Last night we had coq au vin blanc, a Nigel Slater recipe - it's basically browned chicken thighs, lardons of smokey bacon, onion, garlic, thyme and chestnut mushrooms - I forgot to buy the mushrooms, silly woman - white wine and cream. It's a really unctuous dish. We had it with some Jersey Royals, carrots and of course the noble spears.

The asparagus makes a great 'dipper' for leftover sauce !

Monday, 27 April 2009

Le cuisinier ample en France

For many years now we've bought virtually all of our wine and a lot of foodstuffs in France. We don't go just for the cheap booze – honest. As we live approximately 90 miles from Folkestone it's quite an easy trip. We used to just buy at the hypermarkets in Calais and Boulogne which really only stocked French wine - fair enough. But as Mr Ample Cook and myself are partial to wine from outside of Europe it's been really helpful that both Tesco and Sainsburys have opened up drinks stores in Calais. We have bought some fantastic bargains over the years, however now with the Euro almost neck and neck with the pound it's becoming uneconomical to do it. Shame. We probably bought a third of what we would normally buy. I'd normally stock up on olive oil, assorted vinegars, anchovies, mustard, butter, cheese etc etc not only for our use but for my catering use too. This time unfortunately it was just too expensive.

Since the tunnel has been open we have always used it to cross the channel. The ferries take longer and you've got the loading and unloading from the car decks and if the weather's bad they can cancel some crossings (also, lots of people vomit). However going by Eurotunnel means you just drive on, and 35 minutes later you just drive straight off. We never pay for a crossing as we just convert our Tesco clubcard vouchers. A one or two day return is £54.
We usually do the trip in a day but last week we had an overnight stay in Wimereux which is just along the coast between Calais and boulogne. The North French coast is stunning with really wide sandy beaches. We were lucky as it was a beautiful day so we were able to enjoy a long walk along the prom.
Before we got to Wimereux we stopped off in Boulogne and had a stroll around the harbour where there are a few fish stalls. The fish was so fresh - mainly plaice, turbot and a lot of squid and scallops. It really was great quality fish.
Our meal in the evening was a bit disappointing. We'd had lunch there last year and we were really impressed, but it just didn't float our boat this time round. I had some really good scallops but they'd added a curried sauce to the plate (our French translation skills let us down unfortunately) Mike had veal kidneys which were good, but both main courses arrived with soggy unseasoned veg. I'm afraid every time I have a disappointing meal out, I can't help feeling that it's a meal wasted. Ho hum. Anyway, we retreated to a bar afterwards and had a couple more drinks and then tottered off to the hotel.
We were up bright and early and ready to shop. We managed to find a few bargains in Sainsburys, but not in Tesco. Everywhere was incredibly quiet. The young girl on the till at Sainsburys told us that they would probably be closing down as trade was so bad.
Our final bit of shopping was at Carrefour, a very large supermarket in Cite Europe which is a large shopping complex about 3 miles from the Euro tunnel terminal. The only things I bought were Dijon mustard and chocolate. I use pounds of chocolate for my brownies and cakes and at .55 of a euro for a 200g bar of 60% cocoa solids it's still worth buying, but not much else was I'm sad to say.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Hell's Kitchen

The farm shop where I sell some of my goodies is open on a Friday and Saturday, every other weekend. I have a freezer out there which I fill up with lasagne, chilli, different kinds of pies like steak & kidney, chicken & leek, also casseroles and curries. I also make various chutneys, relishes, jams and marmalade as each fruit comes in to season.

Then there's the fresh things - sausages rolls, raised pies, quiche, brawn and cakes. These obviously have to be made as near to the Friday as possible so my feet don't touch the ground from the Wednesday morning to the Thursday night.

All of the meat I use is free range and is either raised on the farm or bought locally. I vary the cakes each time but the definite favourites is anything chocolaty. Any children who come in always make a beeline for the cakes. It's a good job they're under cake domes as they have a tendency to try and grab stuff. Each week, without fail, there's always one child with a cold who leaves a glistening trail of snot and saliva along the front of my refrigerated display cabinet. Nice.

By Saturday night I'm usually fairly shattered and in need of copious amounts of white wine administered intravenously.

Bakewell slice

Gloucester Old spot sausage rolls

Herdsmans Pasty Pie
(Cornish pasty really, but I'm not in Cornwall am I?)

White chocolate chip Brownies

Cinnamon, raisin & walnut loaf and Barbie pink cup cakes

Friday, 10 April 2009

Flour Power

I made some pasta a couple of weeks ago. I hadn't made any for ages and ages. I got my pasta machine down and dusted off my custom-made pasta drier - which is quite unique and rather stylish being made from two types of wood and having a swivel mechanism for folding it away. My late father-in-law made this for me and I treasure it. Anyway, back to the pasta. It was good, but not as good as I remembered it being the last time I made it - it was quite thick and heavy. The mistake I made and it was a BIG mistake, was I had used flour which purported to be 'suitable for for bread and pasta making' Oh not it's not - not suitable for pasta anyway - thank you Waitrose. (My thanks at this point to The Graphic Foodie for diagnosing the problem - it's best to use 'double zero' flour which is very finely milled) In fairness to myself I had tried to buy 00 flour but couldn't find any where I was shopping and didn't have time to go elsewhere.

My second attempt this weekend with the right flour was sooo much better - in fact I'd go as far as saying it was bloody marvellous. I now know why I used to make it on a more regular basis. I made a smoked bacon, garlic and courgette tomato sauce to go with it.

Monday, 6 April 2009


I think sometimes potatoes can get a bit boring, so here are a few different ways to spice up your spuds.

First up - couldn't be more simple, I chunked up some cold jacket potatoes - they were just slightly undercooked (I really prefer waxy - estima or desiree as they hold their shape better) then fried them in a little oil and butter. Because they've been oven cooked before hand they go really nutty and sweet. They're fantastic with thick sliced home cooked ham and eggs. (They're really good as part of a fried breakfast too)

The next one is a bit of a summer dish really (well we are in Spring) I boiled up some new potatoes, when they were cool enough to handle I peeled off their little jackets then I poured over a dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and Greek yoghurt - you need to do this straight away as the potatoes soak up the dressing nicely. Then I added some chopped dill, mint a few sliced Kalamata olives, spring onions and some cubes of feta.

For the third one, I fried a big onion in some oil and butter until caramelised, I then layered it with thinly sliced waxy potatoes and lots of seasoning. I Brushed the top with butter and baked it for about 45 mins to 1 hour at 180/gas 4.

We ate this with slow roasted shoulder of pork

Can I just point out that these meals were not all consumed in the same week - even so I think it's time for a cholesterol check.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Easy peasy lemon squeezy

I don't know why, but lemon curd always reminds me of Easter. Perhaps it's because it's sort of daffodil coloured. The thing about lemon curd is, it's incredibly easy to make and delicious. It's a velvety amalgamation of lemons, butter, sugar and eggs - I think it can be filed under the comfort food category. Shop bought lemon curd is a million miles away from home made. If you scan the ingredients on the mass produced stuff you would be horrified. It should only contain the 4 ingredients I mentioned earlier (maybe a little cornflour just to stabilise it) They are basically over sweetened jars of yellow snot. I'm sorry about that, but they just are.

Lemon curd is great on fresh bread, toast or even a scone. The best use for it I think though, is sandwiched in a victoria sponge that's had some lemon zest grated into the sponge mix - maybe a layer of buttercream too.

To make some of the yellow nectar, just combine in a saucepan the zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons, 6oz caster sugar, 4oz unsalted butter, 2 large eggs and a teaspoon of cornflour. Whisking all the time let everything melt and thicken but don't overheat as you'll get lemon scrambled egg. Then plop into a couple of sterilised jars.