Saturday, 30 June 2012


Sorry about the Olympic pun- but expect plenty more of them as the London Games approach!

Anyway, duck was on special offer at the supermarket this week- and so it was time for some beak-to-wingtip eating.( My version of  the highly fashionable nose-to-tail eating ).

I began by slow roasting the duck in the crock pot (see Cheap cheep! blog from March)- only difference is that I added vermouth to the cooking stock, as it is my current favourite ingredient with duck. This made a succulent roast dinner with about half the breast meat.

I stripped the carcass of the remaining breast and leg meat and made a duck and lentil salad:-
 An onion (and a touch of garlic) softened in some olive oil, some bacon lardons added to the frying mix, then the duck meat, a  tin of green lentils (drained and rinsed), some leftover chopped new potatoes (or whatever veg is hanging around- carrots, leeks etc). Allow to cool until just warm, arrange some salad leaves and tomatoes in a dish, toss the lentil mix in a good mustardy vinaigrette (made with red wine vinegar preferably) and serve with garlic bread.

I put the carcass in the crock pot with some water, salt and two bay leaves and let it cook down to a nice stock over the next 5-6 hours.

I drained off the stock (most of which I'm going to freeze for another time) and then took the last meat off the softened bones for a Duck Chow Phan (see February blog for the recipe).

We had a vegetable stir fry earlier on in the week - and I kept back two three tablespoons of the beansprout and vegetable mix to experiment with making my own spring rolls to accompany the Chow Phan.

I had bought some spring roll wrappers at an Asian supermarket in Brighton last weekend- and thought they would provide a good way to use up leftovers- not just stir fry and Chinese-y bits though. (Coincidentally, a blog reader told me about how she had put Irish stew in wrappers and had them for a leftover supper- and I thought that was inspired!)

My own first attempt turned out well- once I'd mastered the technique of rolling the little beasts. Youtube proved invaluable here:

Just remember to keep the remaining pastry damp (like filo) with a teatowel over it as you roll each one. I ended up with a little pile of reasonably roly-polys.

And here they are- fried and served with the Duck Chow Phan:

Not bad for one little bird ( and the duck did well too.)

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Shipwrecked islands

Everyone has their weakness.
For Imelda Marcos it was shoes. For me it is kitchen gadgets. 

I love 'em: deep fat fryer, panini press, pasta maker, food processor, pressure cooker, wok,  slow cooker, coffee maker,  blender, blow torch, potato ricer- they all live happily in my kitchen and (apart from the fondue set which I haven't used since 1982) they all get used.

The latest addition- and contents of the Mystery Parcel- is an ice cream maker!

I've never made ice cream before - but I reckoned it would be a good weapon in my war against waste- using up leftover fruit, eggs and bits and bobs.

I decided to try the easiest recipe in the 'Ice Cream Made Easy' book. It was also the cheapest.

I made a simple custard ice cream- using a tin and a half of ready made custard (but you could make your own if you are an egg custard afficionado), made up to 700 ml with some double cream, the scrapings of a vanilla pod, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and 3 tbsp of icing sugar.It all churned away nicely (when I remembered to put the inner bowl inside!) and after a very short time ( about 20 minutes) it was thick enough to spoon into a container and freeze.

I decided to serve it in a twist on a classic ile flottante (my all time favourite French dessert). Usually, the poached meringue floats on a sea of creme anglaise and is garnished with almonds and caramel sauce. So it was with my Shipwrecked Islands- except the meringues were marooned high and dry on the custard ice cream. Reader, let me tell you they were delicious!
I'll let you into the secret of poached meringues. 

You can follow Raymond Blanc's classic recipe

I usually recommend this when people ask me for the recipe. (With my tongue firmly planted in my cheek).

You can watch a video of someone making these here:

What I actually do is, whenever I'm in France (or whenever French visitors come to the UK bearing gifts) I buy a block of oeufs a la neige at a wonderful supermarket chain called Carnivor.

Carnivor (unsurprisingly given its name) specializes in butchery for the catering trade- but also has a good range of catering packs of desserts.

These blocks of poached meringue freeze really well- you just scoop off what you need each time and put them back in the freezer. Voila!

As penance for my cheating, I am going to make these meringues from scratch- just to prove to all my dinner party guests who have gone away clutching a photocopy of Raymond Blanc's recipe - and who now know the truth-that I can actually do it.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, 22 June 2012

A Drop o' the Hard Stuff

I do like a drink.

 Not just any drink though.

I only really like a nice cold glass of  white wine- preferably French and preferably Sauvignon Blanc. I will occasionally sip a Prosecco or champagne- but that's as far as it goes. 
I might look longingly at an Italian red when in a pizzeria, or a chilled rose de provence on a summer's evening- but I know it won't agree with me so I steer clear.

I do however have a well stocked drinks cabinet - full of  nearly empty liqueurs and spirits, bought for Christmases and dinner parties and only gradually used up over the years. (I have a half bottle of Calvados left over from my honeymoon 30 years ago!)
So, my challenge this week was to think of different ways of using up some of the alcoholic bits and bobs in my cupboard.

I started with the vermouth and made Slow Cooked Duck Legs with Vermouth:

Slow cooking the duck in a slow cooker or low oven ensures tender meat and a rich sauce. Using the vermouth gives a lovely herby, sweet taste to the sauce.
1 duck leg per person
1 cup red vermouth
1 cup chicken stock
1 onion finely chopped
1 tsp five spice powder
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1. First brown the duck legs skin side down in a dry frying pan until they are golden and the fat runs out freely
2, Place them in the slow cooker or casserole dish skin side up and rub the skin with a little salt and the five spice powder
3 Soften the onion in the duck fat and add to the dish
4. Pour the vermouth and stock around the legs and add the bay leaf
5. Cook in the slow cooker for 6 hours or in the oven for 2 hours
6. Serve with a vegetable of your choice

Next it was the sherry- with a classic sherry trifle: sponge or leftover cake, soaked in sherry, with fruit, jelly if you like it and custard- with cream.
The creme de cassis was next on the hit list: first drizzled over some fresh nectarines and strawberries:

And then used to make little sweet toasts: butter thin slices of brioche or canape toasts ( I used fig bread), spread with honey and slices of fresh fruit, and a squeeze of lemon juice.Drizzle over a little liqueur of your choice and bake in the oven (180 degrees for 30 mins or until the toasts are crisp and the fruit is soft.) Sprinkle with icing sugar or chopped nuts and serve with ice cream.
The peppermint liqueur went with some finely chopped kiwi and honeydew melon in a shot glass as part of an assiette gourmande ( a plate of tiny little puddings - like a dessert menu in 3D!):

Have I finished? Not quite. I made Pimms jellies for dinner tonight: jelly (orange or lemon) dissolved with some fresh fruit and Pimms and served with mint and lemon. (You can use gelatine leaves - 4 leaves to 500  ml- and fresh fruit juice if you prefer.)

I have plans for the coconut punch, rum and possibly even the Calvados- but for that I need the contents of my Mystery Parcel which just arrived.

 Can you guess what it is yet?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Cupcakes and canapes

It's time for our annual garden party- organised by the Residents Association- a force to be reckoned with at the best of times. Everyone is asked to bring a plate of food- and a few crisps and peanuts probably won't pass muster.

This is an opportunity to come up with some canny canapes.

For inspiration, I went back to last summer when  I had a delicious lunch with  French friends. The starter was some yummy olive cakes with a green salad. I loved them and I just had to have the recipe.

Since then I've made these little cakes again and again with many variations. 

For the original recipe you need:

160g olives( pitted green or pimento stuffed)
100g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 natural yoghurt or 100ml milk
80 ml olive oil
100g grated strong cheddar or emmental

Mix everything together, pour into silicone cupcake moulds or paper cases and bake at 200 degrees for about 30 mins or until golden and firm.

I have made these with tuna and tomato, spring onion and sweetcorn, and aubergine puree (I call these Aubergine Mud Pies). The possibilities are endless though.

So I put together a plate of savoury cupcakes ( olive and aubergine mixed), a plate of sweet scones with strawberry jam and cream for cream teas and a plate of home made tortillas with tapenade dip. (These are also incredibly simple and economical)
Snip a leftover tortilla wrap into triangles, toss in olive oil and herbs (or chilli oil or garlic oil or any flavouring you fancy) and bake for 10 minutes or until golden and crisp (keep an eye on them as they crisp up quickly) alongside the olive cakes.

Simple, delicious and stylish canapes from leftover or storecupboard ingredients- perfect!

If you get the cupcake bug- why not try these carrot and white chocolate cupcakes too (pictures courtesy of la Barbe): top the finished cakes with melted white chocolate.

And so to the garden party- a fine spread was laid on, much croquet played- and the olive cakes all seemed to disappear. 

Anyone for Pimms?

Monday, 11 June 2012

British weather drives me nuts!

We've just got back from a long wet weekend in Wales. And when I say 'wet' that doesn't really say it strongly enough! Once I'd dried out, I had to think about cooking- and then I had to think about blogging.  I was without inspiration for both- but luckily a follower had emailed me this recipe which I'm delighted to share.

"Something I did get up to on Saturday, though, was to make my own toasted muesli. It's a really good way of using up the leftover ends of bags of things, so I took some pics for you (attached, bit blurry, sorry) if you wanted to blog the recipe.
Here's the recipe I used, cobbling together ideas from the internet. It makes about 6-8 servings:
400g of mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
I used 75g almonds, 75g pecan nuts, 75g pistachios, and handfuls of sunflower seeds, pinenuts, pumpkin seeds and sultanas.
I cut up the bigger nuts but left the smaller ones whole.
250g of rolled oats
150g mix of honey and golden syrup
1 tbsp flavourless oil (I used grapeseed)
First, you cut up the larger nuts and mix them with the seeds, fruit and oats in a big bowl. If you like soft muesli then you could just stop now, and store the mix in an airtight box.
For crunchier muesli, heat up the honey and golden syrup with the oil, until the mixture is nice and liquid. I made a bit too much so mine turned out a bit sticky - 150g should be enough.
Add the honey mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until thoroughly coated.
Spread out thinly on a baking tray covered with greaseproof paper; bake in a warm oven (160-170°C) for around 30 mins, turning occasionally to avoid burning.
Take the trays out of the oven and leave to cool a little. Transfer to an airtight jar for storing. We ate it with cold milk for breakfast, and also sprinkled over fromage frais for pudding."

This has inspired me to think about other recipes for using up nuts from the store cupboard (as they really don't keep for long). 

I'm making a plum crumble tonight and will mix some nuts into the crumble topping. Any other nutty ideas out there?


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Diamonds and pearls

It's been Bank Holiday weekend- and a four day one at that - thanks to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. It meant that I had the whole family home too- which was wonderful.It was also our Pearl wedding anniversary so some special food was called for!

We decided to celebrate with lots of trips to the pub to drink Harveys, and lots of trips to the fishmonger to get fresh fish as a treat.

I'm lucky enough to have this view from my bedroom window and I can watch the fishing boats setting their pots at high tide- for lobster and crab- or watch them ploughing back and forth fishing for sea bass and other local catches.

We buy our fish from the local fisherman's shop and I like to go there to find bargains (of course!)

There is usually a box of oddments to be had- sometimes slightly damaged Dover sole or plaice- and today it was small lemon sole at £1 each.

We had these grilled with a little persillade- garlic, parsley and oil- on a bed of vegetables with little cornets of chips. (Cornets courtesy of the water cooler at the gym- ssshhh!) I garnished them with a few clams (palourdes) cooked a la mariniere- in a pan with a lid with a splash of  white wine and parsley until they steam open.They went down well.

This made me think about another delicious lemon sole recipe: 

Sole with Riz Camarguaise

1 lemon sole per person
olive oil
chopped parsley or persillade
1 cup long grain rice (or red Camargue rice if you are lucky enough to find it)
1 cup chopped tomatoes (I like the ones with chilli)
2 tsp tomato puree
1  small onion finely chopped
1 cup stock (fish or vegetable)

1. Fry the onion in olive oil until soft
2. Stir in the rice and coat the grains in the oil and onion.
3. Add the chopped tomatoes, stir and add the stock 
4. Boil until  nearly all the liquid has been absorbed then switch off the heat and let the rice steam in the pan with a tightly fitting lid.
5. Now brush the sole with oil and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the fish.
6. Garnish with parsley or persillade and serve with the rice and some seasonal veg.

Other fishy delights we've had this week have been scallops with pea puree and black pudding (too simple to need a recipe- just peas pureed with some mint, fried black pudding and flash fried scallops):

and finally using up some leftover fish soup to make a fish stew- this time garnished with king prawns and mussels from the fish shop: