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talmouses au fromage (tricorner cheese pastries)

6 Jul

talmouses au fromage

From an old notebook of mine:

“How NOT to take a nap: Do not fall asleep on sofa with no trousers, oversleep and wake up at 11.30pm.”

“Call my restaurant PUDDING.”

“Playing the matchbox game – Chef grumbles.”

Sometimes I am grateful to my past self. (As for preparing nutritious meals and freezing half for later.) Sometimes my past self is wiser than I am. Sometimes I totally disagree.

In this case, my present self still fails at taking relaxing naps, does not want a restaurant AT ALL never mind one with a silly name; and only barely remembers the “matchbox game”. I believe it comes from a Monty Python sketch and subsequent dinner-table conversations with my parents, wherein they laughingly try to outdo each other for the most miserable childhood.

“…We grew up in a shoebox…. You were lucky, we only had a matchbox AND we had to eat gravel for dinner…. Dinner? Lucky! We….” etc

One note says: “Talmouses: favourite dish of Louis XI, 1461-1483: tricornes of puff pastry, brie, fromage blanc and egg.”

What? Where did that come from? What a silly name. Tall Mouses. Mice. Mices. Shaped like pirate hats?

Is it worth trying?

(Googles.)

We have puff pastry in the fridge! And cheese and eggs. Perfect. Lunch it is.

Post-prandial verdict: they were super delicious. Cute triangles of crisp pastry and melted cheese, what’s not to like? With a hint of spice and chili. Flatmate agrees, Louis XI had good taste.

~~~

Talmouses au fromage

Adapted from Elle - I basically just upped the cheese content. Excellent for using up the leftovers of that smelly cheese that is perfuming your fridge.

Makes 40-ish mini-pastries: enough for hors d’oeuvres for 6-8 or a light lunch with salad for 4

300ml milk

50 g butter

50 g flour

2 egg yolks

salt and pepper

pinch nutmeg or cinnamon

pinch chili flakes

180g cheeses, preferably some strong (mature camembert) and some melty (gruyere, emmental), grated or chopped

2 packets (550g total) all-butter, ready rolled, puff pastry

Heat oven to 200C. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Tip out into a mug or jar. Add the butter and flour to the same saucepan. Make a roux: keep stirring over a medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the paste is golden, smells a little nutty. Off the heat, add the hot milk a little at a time, whisking in between. Heat gently again, still whisking. (This makes a weirdly thick bechamel sauce, so I just heated it for a minute or two and then it clumped together.) Off the heat, add the egg yolks, cheese and salt/pepper/nutmeg/chili. Taste. It shouldn’t need much salt because of the cheese.

Cut out 7-8cm circles from the puff pastry. (You should get 30 or so the first time around.) Brush with a little water around the edges. Dollop a generous teaspoon of cheese mix in the middle of each and pinch the edges to make three corners. Firmly pinch the sides together up to the middle, leaving a 2cm gap open in the centre.

Roll out the scraps of pastry and stamp more circles. (You should be able to make 10 more.) Repeat.

If making ahead of time, brush pastry with a bit of egg yolk so it doesn’t dry out, clingfilm and refrigerate. They are nicest served straight from the oven.

Bake talmouses for 15-20 minutes at 200C. When the pastry is lightly brown and the cheese bubbling, they are done. Serve immediately.

Works as a snack with drinks, or for lunch with boiled eggs and a bitter salad (endive or rocket, cucumber, mache and a sharp dressing).

egg and spinach cocottes

1 Apr

egg and spinach cocottes

My mother got cross when I admitted to using frozen spinach. (But she is a purist that thinks nothing of growing her own vegetables and herbs.) What can I say? I know the fresh stuff is delicious and cheap and in season. I just always feel cheated, bringing home an enormous bag from the market, washing it, sauteing it only to find a miserly heap of green, a tenth of the original volume. My expectations are lower for the frozen stuff.

And sometimes you are standing in line at the Paris Store, the Chinese supermarket, at the end of a long day at work and you decide you need a first course because the chicken legs look too skinny. And you aren’t queuing up again, or buying anything else, because the plastic bags are carving grooves into your fingers. But you do want to impress your guests. And you did buy 30 eggs for baking. And there is spinach in the freezer.

These cocottes – or oeufs en cocotte - to give them their proper French name only take a few minutes to make but in their individual dishes they look fancy and taste better. The sesame oil and miso paste add an extra kick without overpowering the spinach. It tastes more complex than it is, with all the umami of salmon. The egg yolk should be runny for dipping your bread, the spinach neatly coated in cream, tangy and salty. It somehow surpasses the sum of its parts. Works equally as a starter for a dinner party or jealously guarded for a solo dinner (I can eat at least two).

~~~

Egg and Spinach Cocottes

serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a light supper

4 eggs

300g frozen spinach (preferably leaves, no finely chopped)

1 tsp sesame oil

2 small shallots, or 2 spring onions

1 tsp miso paste

50g creme fraiche (or 50g cream + squeeze of lemon)

salt and pepper

For individual portions, you will need 4 small ramekins (8-10cm wide). Or else one oven-proof baking dish (approx 16cm) to bake them all at once.

Heat oven to 180C. Gently heat frozen spinach in a saucepan until it defrosts. Add the sesame oil. Chop the shallots/spring onions finely and add to the pan, saute until soft. Then stir in the miso and cream and cook for a minute, just to heat through.

Divide the spinach between the four dishes and hollow out a hole in the mixture. Crack an egg into the hole. Sprinkle over some salt and pepper. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the white is no longer translucent but the yolk is still runny.

Serve immediately with a baguette tradition or thin slices of toasted sourdough.

 

rebecca’s salmon and lychee salad

8 Feb

salmon salad 3

Travelling is best when you can put on someone else’s life for the weekend, see a city through a local’s eyes. Visiting yet another cousin, I was happy to bypass Parliament House and go straight to the farmer’s market early Saturday morning instead. I tagged along to a yoga class and ran a race with her in the nearby mountains. I liked her version of the green city that involved a lot of walking, with breaks for vegan chocolate chip cookies in a bar decorated with skulls and cacti. I liked that it was small enough that we bumped into her friends everywhere we went, to the extent that one of them joked he had been paid to make her seem popular. I liked that the woman in the Chinese supermarket knew and joked with her when we bought lychees and coconut milk.

Maybe it was all of the outdoors that made me hungry, the scent of gum trees and crackle of leaves underfoot, but I especially liked the supper we cooked together, better than any restaurant. It was her weekly standby, one she is happy to eat again and again, changing a few ingredients but keeping the basics: salmon marinated in fish sauce, pan-fried to give it a crisp brown edge; a bowl of greens, cucumber and lettuce and onion; the unexpected addition of lychees, canned were fine; and a lime-chili-fish sauce dressing. It was fresh, salty, tangy with plenty of crunch and bite from the chili. The generous handfuls of herbs and that addictive dressing made it totally addictive. I made it twice more in the next ten days, not always giving Rebecca the full credit! So here is her official acknowledgement; this will go down in my cavallo di battiglia folder to be made over and over.

~~~

For an easy dessert along the same theme, mix equal quantities of leftover lychee juice and coconut milk to make a quick and unusual granita: pour into a shallow metal dish and freeze for 3-4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes to break up the crystals. Serve plain or with fresh mango.

~~~

Rebecca’s salmon and lychee salad

Originally adapted from Bill Granger

Feeds 2-3 people, depending on appetite

2 salmon steaks

3 tbs fish sauce

1 tbs brown sugar

1 bag mixed leaves

1 cucumber

1 red onion

½ bunch coriander

½ bunch basil

1 tin lychees

Dressing:

1 small red chili

Juice of 2 limes

1 ½ tbs fish sauce

2 tsp brown sugar

Marinate salmon in fish sauce and sugar. Meanwhile slice the red onion as finely as possible, cut the cucumber into rounds, tear up the herbs, tip it all into a large salad bowl with the leaves. Drain lychees, reserve the juice and add the fruit to the salad. Cut up the chili (remove the seeds if you don’t like it too hot) and mix with lime juice, fish sauce, 1 tbs of the lychee juice. Taste and adjust accordingly, so it makes a nice balance between sweet, sharp, salty and hot. Pan fry the salmon until crisp around the edges, breaking it up into chunks in the pan as it cooks. Tip onto salad and pour over the dressing. Toss the salad, taste again and add more salt-sweet-sour if necessary.

blue cheese and pecan scrolls

29 Jan

pecan snail scones

Scones that come ready rolled up with extra butter, melting cheese and crunchy, toasty pecans. All in one bite. Genius. Like a savoury snail bun. When there is no bread in the house, when there is a boring soup or an overly virtuous salad that needs livening up, these scrolls can be made in 20 minutes flat. Use any odds and ends of cheese in the fridge: blue cheese, a mustardy cheddar, gruyere. Add chopped herbs, thyme or basil, swap the pecans for walnuts or almonds. Called scrolls after the oversized Australian buns these are manageable, moreish, marvellous… We had them with Swedish Pea Soup as per our Christmas Eve tradition (in our totally un-Swedish family), spicy soup and miniature cheese scones.

~~~

Blue cheese pecan scrolls

Makes 9 regular or 18 mini – recipe adapted from Belinda Jefferey

300g self-raising flour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp caster sugar

70g butter, cold

180g milk

Filling:

70g butter, softened

100g blue cheese or other strong cheese

100g pecans, roughly chopped

1 egg for eggwash

Preheat oven to 170C. Cube the cold butter and rub into the flour, salt and sugar, to the consistency of breadcrumbs, with lumps no larger than peas. Add the milk and stir together to form a dough. (Add an extra tablespoon of milk if necessary.) Knead once or twice to bring together. Roll out onto a floury surface to about 20x40cm. Whiz the soft butter and cheese in a food processor. Spread over the cheese mixture and sprinkle pecans, leaving a couple of centimetres bare on long side; brush the bare strip with a little water. Roll up the dough from the other long side and press gently to seal. Slice into 9 or 18 depending on size wanted. Brush them with a little egg and bake for 12-15 minutes until nice and golden brown. Serve warm.

(Can be frozen, sliced, before baking – just bake them for an extra couple of minutes.)

ripe for the picking: spiced plum chutney

2 Oct

plums on branch

Back in Hereford for the weekend, I found myself in an overgrown garden. Since I arrived in England I had experienced comically heavy rain, bursting like a cartoon thundercloud whenever I stepped out the front door. Now the rain had just stopped, the sun sparing us a few rays. The garden was sodden. The plum tree in the middle was weighed down, its boughs bending all the way to the grass. Some had already gone over, mould blooming, carefully tracing an intricate map of decay on the dark pink fruit. The rest were different shades of sunblush, pale yellow and dusty speckled rose. Some were small enough to pop straight into my mouth (for an extra plummy accent?), some heavy enough to fill a palm. A few beads of clear sap dotted the plums, Some had cracked, bursting out of their skins.

I started picking absentmindedly, making a sling out of my square cotton scarf. Somewhere else in the garden came the snip and crack of secaturs, voices. I was within the bowed arms of the tree by now, hidden. With so many plums I vacillated from one branch to another, this one, that one, leave one take one. The toes of my boots were damp, my cuffs soaked with the drops of moisture that rolled off the surface of the plums. I cradled several kilos in my arms, in the scarf.

Later that morning we arranged the flowers and greenery picked in the garden into aesthetically pleasing groups, a harder task than I had imagined. There are formulas for flower arranging: odd numbers of individual blooms, threes and fives, the total height to be one and a half times taller than the vase. Like taking a photo you can use the rule of thirds as a guideline, but then you need skill and practice and an intangible feel for an image. The same way I leave white space when drawing, or add a simple asymmetrical decoration on the side of a plate or a cake. Too much frou-frou ruins the effect, too little leaves the dish unappetising, the bouquet flat. Finally we added a plum branch to the table, harvest festival style, their tawny colours brightening that corner. They were Victorias, my mother told me; it is her name too.

For lunch we had the miracle of a whole half hour of sunshine. (What is it called, my mother asked, the thing in the play with weather and emotions? This I knew: pathetic fallacy.) With our sun, we had bread, butter and cheese and a pot of chutney marked hot apple and shallot, and a number that might have been 2005. It had turned tar-black, but was sweet, subtle. Not too hot, just right. In between bites of cheese and chutney, in that farmyard that belonged to a real ploughman once, we relaxed a little and reached for fresh plums, heavy with juice.

After a long drive back home through the drizzle, I lugged my plums into the kitchen. First there was crumble, then a clear pink jam. There was still a kilo left to stone and cook. Chutney, it had to be chutney. Onions, sauteed in a little oil. fruit simmered with water until soft. Then sugar, vinegar and spices. It felt like alchemy, being a little girl playing at witches. Chutney mellows and develops so over time the flavours deepen and blend, twist into new combinations. You can only really guess at the results. Last time I made plum and apple with fresh ginger and a little cinnamon. This time I added cinnamon, cloves, chili and turmeric.

The mixture gradually went yellow-orange, and turned from a watery, lumpy minestrone into a thick ragu. Watch it as it bubbles, drag a spoon over the bottom every now and then. Try not to breathe in too many vinegary fumes and wait for the moment, not long after, when the mixture is thick enough to leave tracks after the wooden spoon. When it takes a second for it to fall back into place. Turn off the heat, carefully pour into a jug and decant into glass jars, right to the brim.

The jars were turned upside down and left to cool and I went upstairs for a bath, for the weather really had turned chill. Later I added a label in masking tape, ‘Granny’s Victoria Plum Chutney, 2013′ a name that has both my mother and grandmother in it. For the best flavour, I will have to wait a month, or better three. (Make some now for it to be ready in time for Christmas presents.) When it is finally opened, probably for bread and cheese, I will be able to taste the results of my alchemy and of that wet morning in the overgrown garden.

~~~

Spiced Plum Chutney 

makes three or four jars – also nice with half plums, half apples and 3cm fresh ginger, grated

2 onions, diced

900g plums

100ml water (more or less)

200g sugar

200g vinegar

spices, choose any or all:

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp turmeric

a pinch of chili powder

Use a large, heavy bottomed pan – this will help it cook quicker and stop it sticking and burning. Sautee the diced onions in a little oil, until translucent but not brown. Stone and quarter the plums. Add plums and water (more if your plums are unripe) and cover. When the plums are soft, add the sugar, vinegar and spices. Bring the mixture to the boil, and let it bubble uncovered for 10-15 minutes until the mixture looks more like a thick tomato sauce than minestrone soup. The chutney should be thick enough that you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir, it will take a second to come back together after the spoon. Decant into a large jug and pour into clean glass jars, right to the brim. Screw the lids on tight and turn upside-down to cool. Label, and do not open for at least a month, better three.

je brunch, tu brunch: extras

25 Sep

homemade lemon curd and raspberry jam

(Following on from “je brunch, tu brunch: savoury” and “sweet”)

To round out what is now a monster brunch, a jar of homemade raspberry jam, some lemon curd and a killer recipe for Belgian Chocolate Spread, from a neighbour of mine. Simply melt 100g each of chocolate and butter and mix with 150g sweetened condensed milk. Rich and sweet, more like ganache than Nutella. Pure chocolate indulgence. Supposedly to be served on fresh baguettes, really just for spooning up when no-one is looking.

If you have time you can blend some chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and pickled red peppers for a quick red pepper houmous. Taste, season and serve with a few red pepper slices artfully arranged on top.

Finally, for a touch of class, make some cold brewed coffee overnight (it has a much cleaner flavour than cooled-down coffee) and some chilled green tea with cucumber and mint. And a little jug of vanilla syrup to sweeten (250g sugar, 250g water brought to the boil, add 1/2 tsp vanilla extract).

brunch extras 3

Have guests bring all the rest: fresh bread, some cheese, some ripe fruit. Brioche or croissants. Orange juice, sparkling wine. People like to bring things, and it is best to be specific. I am often too pernickety: bring a baguette tradition but from the bakery on the corner, not the one opposite my house. Bring strawberries, but only Gariguettes and not those Spanish monstrosities. Avocadoes ready to eat. My friends mostly laugh and comply – they know they will be well fed for their troubles.

In the end there was… too much food. As ever. Always better to have more than less. I sent people home with cakes – a cake pusher. My lists were crossed off and crumpled up. I learned things and tried new recipes. Satisfied, grateful for my friends, ready to dream of the next menu and even the next three years…

brunch extras 2

je brunch, tu brunch: sweet

23 Sep

brunch sweet 2

(Following on from je brunch, tu brunch: savoury)

For sweet teeth, two cakes to start with: a round chocolate and a square upside-down pear and pecan (from Diana Henry). Both rich and full of flavour, stand-alone cakes – no need for icing or frills.

When cooking for a crowd in a miniature oven, it is best to choose at least one simple recipe that you know off by heart, that you can mix together in five minutes and have in the oven straightaway while you read and measure the next, new recipe. Then you have time to slice pears and caramelise them, and to whip up a fluffy buttermilk sponge.

My chocolate fondant recipe is a piece of cake (ha) and so decadent it tastes like a lot of effort went into it: Melt 200g chocolate and 200g butter over a bain marie. Whisk 170g sugar and 5 eggs in a large bowl. Stir in chocolate mix and 125g ground nuts (hazelnuts are nice). Pour into a 22cm greased and papered tin, bake for 25 minutes at 175C until just starting to crack, not wobbly but still soft. Optional extras: orange zest, cinnamon, 2 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water. Slice very finely and decorate with icing sugar.

Another easy option: the Nigella clementine cake. Instead of boiling the fruit for two hours as traditional, you microwave them, covered, for eight minutes, turning once. Then blend, add sugar, eggs and ground almonds. Done. Simple but with a depth of flavour; moist and fragrant, both dairy and gluten free.

brunch sweet 1

Meringues keep well and can be prepared a few days in advance. Pipe bite-sized versions in neat swirls for a professional finish. Ottolenghi’s brown sugar and cinnamon meringues have you dissolve all the sugar in the egg whites over a bain-marie, which creates glossy meringues that are delightfully sticky on the inside.

So, on the sweet side of the brunch table, there are already two cakes and some meringues. Maybe some cookies dug up from the freezer. I like making logs of shortbread mixture and freezing half for a later date, to slice and bake as many as needed.

And finally, a fruit compote for the glut of produce in the markets at the moment: for autumn, figs and plums cooked in syrupy red wine, sprinkled with fresh purple grapes (Henry again). I didn’t follow the recipe properly but the result was still lovely: I cooked a dozen large figs, halved, with a dozen fat plums, in red wine with sugar and a bit of liquorice vodka until soft. Then removed the fruit, simmered the sauce to a thick syrup and decorated with red grapes. All in a luxurious velvety purple, sweet and ripe. Delicious with fromage blanc.

brunch sweet 3

Enough to feed an army yet? With a few added extras – homemade lemon curd, some iced coffee –  your brunch should leave your guests in a happy (comatose) heap on the sofa…

je brunch, tu brunch: savoury

19 Sep

potato, rosemary and bacon quiche

I like to play hostess. Whatever your kingdom of nerdery may be – knitting, formula one, tumblrs of George Harrison looking awkward – I will let you have it. I will be daydreaming on the metro about menus. Maybe a week beforehand, I will be going through a stack of recipe books and post-it pages. I will make lists and lists of lists, of ingredients and guests. I will carefully calculate oven real-estate, because it is so small I can only make or heat one cake or tart at a time.

(In reality, the lists are only useful half the time, because often I get distracted with an aperitif and a friend and forget to prepare the the meringues three days in advance. I miss the market and have to get up early on the day, buying grapes because blackberries are nowhere to be found.)

The people that eventually arrive are secondary, sometimes, to the quiet pleasure of an evening juggling in my tiny kitchen, piling plates onto the washing machine and restacking the fridge to fit tart shells, bowls of whipped cream, cold-brewed coffee. Sometimes I weep into the washing-up when there is just no space left.

Brunch has the most scope for me – an amorphous meal that can encompass all of my latest favourites, savoury and sweet, mostly prepared in advance. Friends can drop by whenever with baguettes and flowers and help themselves to the spread.

For my three year Franceversary (three years! how?) I wanted brunch. For all of the above reasons, and for the fact that the last two years meant waking at 5.30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. So no time for lazy brunches. In the cookbook pile this time was Ottolenghi’s The Cookbook, my old favourite of Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, and Bill Sewell’s Food from the Place Below. And my mother’s book, for reference.

ottolenghi's fennel feta and pomegranate salad

Here is my planning then, for a brunch to feed 10-15, with minimal effort on the day:

You need something savoury but breakfasty, probably with eggs. I have hated French toast ever since Scout camp when we called it “eggy bread” made of the polystyrene white sliced. I do love eggs benedict, or a stack of corn fritters but if you are serving more than four you cannot make to order.

Quiche is easiest for preparing ahead, and infinitely variable. Bill’s blog has the perfect quiche ratios and rules – the right combination of roast vegetables, always lots of cream, no milk. When I worked at the Café at All Saints I would invariably choose his quiche for lunch, crisp and golden on top, with scalloped edges of wholemeal pastry. The vegetables would invariably be roasted first to release a lot of water and concentrate their flavour – perfect for a sturdy quiche.

Mine was potato, rosemary and bacon quiche made with an extra ripe camembert. The night before I sauteed roughly chopped onion with lardons, then added some parboiled sliced potatoes (because my oven was too busy to roast them!) and at the end, rosemary and mustard. The wholemeal pastry was prepared overnight and left in the fridge to chill. The next morning I rolled it out, baked it blind and then filled with the potatoes and smelly cheese. I mixed eggs, cream and a good dollop of mustard (see Bill’s blog for the quantities). I made the mistake of filling the quiche to the brim and spilled some cream moving it to the oven: it is much easier to top it up in the oven.

That makes 10-12 slices as part of a larger meal (or 8 with plain green leaves for lunch). Then an enormous and colourful salad – four thinly sliced fennel bulbs tossed with 200g feta and some sumac, topped with the seeds of a pomegranate (Ottolenghi). I had an early arrival make the salad for me – trick your guests into being useful!

One more easy savoury item: a herby cornbread from my mother’s repertoire. The dry ingredients were weighed the night before so in the morning I just stirred in yoghurt, eggs and oil. It was ready in 45 minutes, served warm and fluffy with a delicate bite from the cornmeal.

brunch savoury 3

Next, of course, sweet things: cakes biscuits and a killer chocolate spread…

penultimate

20 Jul

001

 

The extractor fan shakes the bottles of rum, kirsch, cognac in the cupboard nearby, creating a steady clink. The slabs of puff pastry are clammy, not their usual paper-smooth. One extra distraction and it bunches and sticks itself into artistic rumples.

On a roundabout way home, near the golden dome of Les Invalides, I can’t help noticing how empty the avenue seems: one lady in shades of beige to match the dusty air, one thirty-something sedately rolling by, feet firmly placed on a wide skateboard, head balding slightly behind his sunglasses. Two teenagers shrieking over an iphone.

The moment we finally get our long-awaited summer – the moment I wish I could stay here, stay still, to go to outdoor cinema, to lounge in the sandpit at Paris Plage on my canal, the canal de l’Ourcq – everyone begins to leave Paris.

002

At work, I have to tidy the walk-in before the shop closes for a month. At Christmas, the fridge was so full you couldn’t walk in, only lean over to reach a tub of mirror icing. Now there is just a crate of tomatoes, some cream, some 5-litre bottles of pasteurised eggs and a box of real ones, for brioche.

Around 11am, someone has to start to think about lunch. Whoever is hungriest. Muttering wistfully about Toyko ramen, they open the door of the small staff fridge and sigh at the leftovers. I love the sticky-sweet honey and soy marinades they use to eke out scraps of chicken or pork, served with sticky rice. I have to restrain my hands when they make spaghetti – there’s no cream in carbonara! the sauce does not sit prettily on a swirl of dry pasta – but the meal is always proffered with imagination and warmth. Today it is entirely to my taste. I put off the puff pastry to chop ten large tomatoes, as a finely diced shallot, the last one, waits in a puddle of basalmic vinegar.

Tomatoes. Bread. There is always extra bread, crackly baguettes that scratch the roof of your mouth. A baguette and a half: torn up roughly it is perfect for panzanella, with enough oomph to soak up all the saved tomato juices, the inordinately generous glug of olive oil, and the balsamic. It needs to sit for an hour or so to really meld – the tomatoes get their corners knocked off, the bread softened and full of flavour. So I add half a cucumber, some stolen chives from the person making asparagus quiche (basil would be better) and some plain black olives. More salt and more oil than you might think is wise, a good mix with bare hands and it can sit in the corner, while some eggs turn hardboiled and I finally face the puff pastry.

003

The flour has started to irritate my skin – now when I fling it with abandon my forearms go pink and scratchy. Tomorrow is my last day, before the holidays yes, but also of my contract. I am done: I can sleep until the sun pushes me out of bed and straight into the hammock in the garden, I can use my energy to run far and hard in the cool evenings, not worrying about aching legs. I can stop eating leftover cake for supper and think about real meals.

When we sit down to eat around the marble counter – a heap of tomato rubble, the now soggy panzanella, two eggs and a slice of prosciutto each – I am reminded of the south of France, our perpetual summer holidays. The tomatoes are infinitely better there, full of sunny flavour. There, there is my happy place: the green lake where I swim out to the buoy and bob for hours –  where I have been bobbing now over months of dull afternoons, waiting for this moment. But these more pallid, robust tomatoes will do, and with my colleagues laughter, confusion, translation into French, English, Japanese, even a phrase in Cantonese, it feels pretty happy as it is. The baker boy loves rolling out the loaves, doesn’t really like eating bread, would much prefer rice, but he nods approval at the panzanella, pours me half of a Belgian peach beer brought back from his travels.

004

Not yet ready to leave my weird corner of Japan in Paris, not ready to think about what I have learned and what I am still missing after nearly two years. I know that my check trousers are a little more snug than they were, but they still button up. My clogs are worn through at the crease, and there is an odd boat-shaped burn on my right arm currently knitting itself into scar tissue.

Tomorrow is my last day, and I am so ready for my summer projects: cartwheels and swimming pools, cooking for pleasure (a whipped cream layer cake has been hovering for more than month now), actually writing  things again, dinner around the table with my small family. I am done with the early mornings, for now, but I don’t want to leave these lunches with my work crowd. But it is 1.30pm, the beer is gone and the oven is on again for the peach tarts in puff pastry. The flour must be swept up, the counter wiped down and the lights turned off. I can go home.

pecheresse beer

endive, blue cheese and pear salad

20 Feb

pear and endive salad

My February kitchen has not been much to write home about. Though I resolved to try 10 new recipes from neglected cookbooks, I often end up eating leftover cake for supper (hurrah for being a grown-up) or a plain salad to balance out the cake (curses on adult responsability).

There was a whole mackerel roasted with lemon and a particularly nice dinner among girlfriends with beef, apricot and spinach meatballs simmered in tomato sauce – but that is all self-explanatory.

I can only offer this salad, in imitation of a wonderful Lyonnais bistro in St-Germain, whose address I will be not sharing (bribes notwithstanding) because it was too full and their seven-hour lamb was too delicious.

Endives can be jarring – too bitter, too teeth-squeakingly watery. But here, sliced as finely as coleslaw, they are the the star of the plate, crunchy but delicate, spotlit by a mustard dressing. Its subtle colours – cream, pale green. mottled blue – hide a wallop of flavour: bitter endive, sweet pear, sharp cheese. It is a wintery salad full of promise, for crunch and light and better things to come.

~~~

Pear, endive and blue cheese salad

serves 4 as a starter

4 large endives

2 crisp, slightly unripe conference pears

200g blue cheese

3 tbs olive oil

2 tbs lemon juice

1 tsp dijon mustard

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

a pinch of pepper

Halve and core the pears. Slice them and the endives as thinly as possible. Shake the dressing ingredients in a jar, toss most of it with the salad, add more to taste. Crumble the blue cheese over the top.

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