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Monday, 30 April 2012

Parisian thoughts and lavender chicken.

My bench as I poked my head of my front door at 3.33am as it poured with rain.

Today the constant rain of the last three days finally cleared up and I found time to enjoy the sunshine and do some cooking and clothes cleaning.

Had a lot of fun today semi-recreating le petit Parisian (Willy Ronis's boy with a the baguette). I got a few funny looks from passers by as I posed in the middle of the village as the Baguette Boy now grown up but I don't care. Life should be fun!

Back at home I cooked some chicken pieces in lavender and lemon having marinated the chicken in said mix for twelve hours. It was delish and many thanks to Karen who kindly sent me the lavender. The lemon was the prominent taste but I could detect the lavender pieces coming through. The recipe was one of Rachel Khoo's and I even dipped my baguette in the cooking juices and boy was the experience a goodie!!!!


Karen and Steve's lavender

The weather had cleared up from the continuous rain we've been having the last few days and I managed to get some washing out to dry on the line. I sat for a while outside on the garden bench soaking up the sun with a beer with next door's cat, Mr Harris, keeping me company and feline eyeballing a raven on the fence. You can sometimes under estimate the amount of bugs flying about on an average sunny day and most of them seemed very attracted to my orange t-shirt, so-much-so that I retired indoors after a while after getting irritated by the little devils landing all over me.

Tonight will be first time in six weeks that Rachel Khoo and her fab Parisian cookery programme won't be on the telly to watch and drool over so I have been going through my French cooking books and DVDs and would like to recommend some to you. Not all are about Paris but they are all fabulously French and would grace any Francophone's home and kitchen.  Most of the books I have pictured are highly visual (lots of sumptuous photos of food and markets) and the French Odyssey DVD is a must to have. Watch it and you feel like you have been on a French holiday with Rick Stein.

Two great French based dvds

An old favourite.

Two Paris based videos I definitely recommend for any lover of Paris.

Thanks for looking in and lastly a lovely picture of some bluebells that I discovered growing at the back of my house. Life can be beautiful at times. If only I was also lingering around one of those fragrantly fresh French markets.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Making do with foodstuffs in the cupboard and freezer

Clearing out the cupboards and freezer

A few weeks ago I decided that I would make some kind of effort to start eating things from the store cupboard and freezer (both tiny) to stop myself buying even more food. Can’t say that it worked 100% but I did get quite inventive with using up the bits and pieces in both storage spaces. And it was satisfying to think that I wasn't just going out buying more food that I didn't really need.

One of the things I made was a Chinese style stew with chopped up pork meat from some previous frozen pork ribs and a pork hock. Lots of spices were added like star anise and a generous amount of fresh shredded ginger. The house smelled great for days afterwards and the food was very tasty. I added fresh chunks of pineapple and mange tout.

I also cleared out the flour in my cupboard and made some Madeleine cakes and recently used up the remainder of a cooked chicken by adding some saag and korma curry sauces and spare mushrooms and freezing them for future meals.

Somewhere in the back of the freezer I discovered an old pork chop and utilised that in a nice healthy dinner the other night. Cooked it in butter and black pepper and added some slices of apple at the end of the cooking. Twas yummy.

Last night I had one of the curries I mentioned with rice and used up some bits of mango chutney and lime pickle that had been sitting in the fridge for ages. It's actually quite satisfying getting rid of old food and saving some dosh too.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Killing the first fly of Spring and other uses for newspapers!

I was reading the newspaper today and out of the corner of my eye I saw the first fly of Spring. I’m not keen on flies in the kitchen and immediately I had a vivid memory of my late Dad revelling in thwacking flies and bluebottles with a rolled up newspaper  (well, attempting to anyhow) and further childhood memories of  mum drawing the coal fire with sheets of newspaper and making newspaper knots with old newspapers to start it going in the first place. This led to a rush of remembrances featuring newspapers from my childhood.

 Newspaper hats and newspaper boats to sail down streams.

We ate fish and chips out of newspapers.

There was the family routine of buying the Daily Mirror and Sporting Chronicle and News of The World and the TV Times and Radio Times. My comics, although clearly not newspapers were the Beano, Dandy, Topper and The Valiant. My step sisters liked Bunty and Jackie and anything with the Osmonds on, the Monkies or David Essex.

 A squared up newspaper would provide harsh paper squares in the toilet.

I had a newspaper round at the age of fourteen, just at the time when Sunday supplements had started. Bad timing. Bad back too.

At the age of fifteen I was told by my Dad, “Get a proper job son otherwise you’ll end up as a newspaper seller. “ In his eyes this was the lowest of the low. Don’t know why.

We’d put newspaper sheets into loose shoes to tighten them, stuff  balls of newspaper into leather shoes to preserve their shape and stuff  wedges of newspaper in wet shoes overnight to dry and deodorize.
a fire started with newspaper
The family cat would have its litter tray lined with newspaper sheets. This was usually old Sporting Chronicles. A subtle reflection on my Dad’s shitty luck with the bookie, perhaps.

Being keen gardeners my parents would also use it to wrap green tomatoes to ripen, cover plants during a frost and they’d shred up newspapers and cram the bits into vases to help support fresh flowers.

Like a lot of council houses, our house could often be a cold and drafty place so elements of newspaper were placed in closed windows to eliminate wind rattle and wodged  under doors and in cracks to stop cold wind from coming in.

As kids myself and my step sisters would make paper chains, paper dolls, paper mâché puppets, kites and  cut out articles and make a scrap book on a specific subjects of interest to us.

Many a family budgie would have its cage lined with old newspaper and many a fly would meet its end thwacked with a rolled up newspaper too.

Now where’s that fly???

 zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz thwack! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Rachel Khoo and the fishmongers in Trouville

Trouville sur Mer. Normandy

On Rachel Khoo’s Little Paris Kitchen programme (episode four of six) I loved the visit to Trouville’s fish market and in particular to the family run 150 year old fishmongers,  Pillet – Saiter (boulevard Fernand Moureaux, 14360 Trouville sur Mer) where Rachel cooked Moules Marinières with apple cider from Normandy and finished off with a dollop of crème fraiches and wowed the family Pillet - Saiter. As the camera tracked across the counters heaving with sea bass and crevettes, langoustines and bulots cuits ie: fresh whelks I could practically smell the ozone.  If you missed the programme it is still available to view on bbciplayer. Download it and view to your heart's content, like I did.

Rachel said that they had eight different types of oysters and ‘amazing looking lobsters – don’t put your fingers in there!’ Apparently one can’t get live grey shrimps in Paris and the ones she witnessed and made her so joyous, were pulled out of the water only an hour ago. Heaven!

The owner, Dominic, showed her how  to cook scallops in water. Not boiled but poached for two minutes because they were so fresh and to retain their natural sweetness. She made a mustard mayonnaise thinned out with water and vinegar. Trouville was such an attractive sight and place. I wanted to get on a train and go there straight away. Why don’t we have this type of venue in the UK? Perhaps once upon a fishing industry we did.
bulots cuits
I also loved the chicken cooked with lavender and lemon and the, ash covered cheese, pistachio and prune cake, and the super looking salade composée where each item complimented another.

 For more info about cooking with lavender check out this website.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Health and Safety Garden Party

Awfully bad weather today, don’t you know. Raining cats and Dawgs. One decided that one was better orf having a day chez moi and so I dressed up for the occasion, as one does. I picked out my  best cherry design bow tie to go with the cherry cake, brewed some Earl Grey tea to compliment the grey day outside and was terribly chuffed to realise that I also had some Dundee cake in. Well a “Hairy Hibernian Hurrah and Hussar!” A jolly fine, and brolly free, afternoon English tea was had by me. What? Bring on the salmon and cucumber sarnies!

Soon it will time for the Dangerous Open Gardens season when gardening enthusiast folk open their treacherous gardens so that one can cripple oneself on their crazy paving or enjoy an accidental drowning experience in their ornamental pond.  Once upon a Summer I attended such an event run by the local ‘very politically correct’ Health and Safety Officers, Sue Mee and her nervous husband, Roger Mee.

Weeds (complete time wasters) were banned in the garden outright. Every single flower and blade of grass had a label warning of a myriad of possible health hazards if fondled, sniffed or eaten and Roger Mee spent the afternoon warding off unsuitable types of all three sexes who had mistaken his name for a come on.  
Dundee cake

The Indian tea (collected from a plantation run by the Sponsor a Deprived Third World Hillside Charity) was nice enough as were the dainty egg and organic cress sandwiches exclusively made with gluten free bread (just in case someone, somewhere was allergic). The bread crusts had been cut off, not for aesthetics but to prevent libel action should someone chip a tooth or choke.  To further prevent libel they had been bagged up and frozen for safe removal by Mr Crusty the Environmentalist from the Borough Council. The collected crusts would then be assembled into an Igloo shape, re-frozen and delivered by Yak to the Eskimos as a way of saving snow and also persevering their way of life. The whole scheme was run by Upper Crusts Save the Igloos Campaign.

The eggs had been laid that morning on the Mee allotment by deliriously happy hens and had been checked by an Eggspert (Sally Monella) before being boiled and buffeted. The garden party seemed to be going well so far.

Sadly, the tempestuous, Sue Mee, did  eventually have a hissy fit when some poor, innocent, chap complimented her on the ‘pretty in pink’ cupcakes. “Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I made the effing cakes!” said she, cleaving the trestle table in two with a fist of iron. For a moment in time the sky looked full of cupcakes and fine china. Sue Mee stormed off. Someone that it was all a ‘storm in a teacup’.  Sue was last seen skulking in the dark scullery resembling Medusa on a bad hair day. Roger Mee was last seen being chased across the patio by a large amorous poodle.

They haven’t organised a tea party since. Roger has subsequently re-married and he and Dolores, the poodle, are very happy together. His cupcakes are legendary.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Sometimes good things come from annoying things

All I did was try to add another gadget to my old format blog and the system decided to delete my sidebar! Well, that's what I thought was le case. What had actually happened was the sidebar had been shifted to the bottom of my blogposts where no-one could see it. Many Zuts Alors! I tried all sorts (not the liquorish type) to get it back to normal but nothing would do the trick.

Then I thought I would change the format and played around with a few in the 'dashboard'. Widen left side, widen right side, throw laptop at wall. Nothing pleased me.

Then I tried Dynamic and had a look through some of the options. I miss the option for header pictures but the rest is pretty cool and I get to answer each comment individually to like on some other blogs I've seen. I'll see how it goes. You, as the reader can also read the blog in different formats and the search option is still at the top of the page. Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

My Little Frenchy Kitchen

Entranced by another episode of ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’ featuring Rachel Khoo last night I thought I’d show off my French styled kitchen and the various objects I have collected over the years to feed my love of all things French. Alas, I live in rural Nottinghamshire not Paris but one can dream.

I had a bit of a tidy before I took the pictures and the interior isn’t as charmingly chaotic as Rachel Khoo’s tiny Parisian kitchen but it suits me. I sometimes listen to French radio stations (online) as I cook as a bit of fun background noise. My language skills aren’t enough to understand half of what is being said but I like the French sounds and get some of it. And when I’ve had a few glasses of Merlot I feel that I could walk out of the door and be in Paris itself.

Not that I’m obsessed or owt but, over the years, I have also built up a collection of modern French music on CDs and a movable feast of French language DVDs most of which seem to feature the lovely Audrey Tautou. Odd that. And then there’s a collection of books for Francophiles covering every aspect of French life and a big pile of France magazines and more cookery books about French Cooking. Oooh la la!

I was going to list them for you but got inspired to create an Eiffel Tower out of some of them instead. More fun.

I think I’m going to have severe withdrawal symptoms when Rachel Khoo’s six part programme is finished. I do hope that a video is produced. Last night’s programme interested me as a butcher because she went to the largest wholesale food market in Rungis, south of Paris and wowed the butchers (all but one) with her version of Steak Tartare. I also loved the cheeses at the award winning cheese shop and what she did with the goat’s cheese.

Tonight I am cooking a lemon and thyme chicken with some simple roasted vegetables. At the time of writing this it is still in the oven and smells great.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Fierce dogs and a meal at Cafe Rouge

My best friend Janette and I went out on a day trip to the city of Birmingham (UK) on Saturday and had a fun time being tourists and we ate lunch at one of the Café Rouge restaurants at Brindley Place near to the canal system and around the corner from the famous Ikon Gallery. We managed to get the train fares for a ridiculously cheap price which was just as well as the price for lunch came as a bit of surprise for us! Curse those desserts!!

In the morning we cruised around the New Street branch of Waterstones’ bookshop (fab staircase) and promised ourselves to come back on the way to the railway station and pick up some great French style wrapping paper featuring Paris. In the meantime we headed for what we thought was the right direction of Selfridges and had to ask two local lasses for directions. "Just head for the Bull n' yo'll be there."

When we eventually found it, we were disappointed to be unimpressed with Selfridges’ Food Hall. It seemed to be lots of overpriced boxes of chocolates and a big area dedicated to wine. There were a few eateries and the only redeeming feature was the counter with the cakes and macaroons. Janette was tempted to purchase a selection of these to try later as she is considering making some herself.

Much more interesting and lively was the open market close to the Bullring and it had great atmosphere with the fruit and veg stall holders calling out their wares. Birmingham is a very multi-cultural city and this ethnicity was reflected in the shoppers, the foodstuffs on offer and the area itself around the rag market and the open food market.

A walk in the light rain back though the city centre, via a great statue of the Birmingham reformer and philanthropist Thomas Attwood and past the new library being built near the Rep and on through to the canal area where there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. By the time we got there the drizzle had stopped.

You just want to put a banana in his hand.

We had already decided to go to Café Rouge (one of three in the city centre). The service was excellent and we had a convivial time together chatting, eating and people watching. For those of you on Facebook check out Café Rouge at this link.!/ Otherwise go to for more details of branches in your area.

For a starter I had ‘Moules Marinières’ - mussels steamed with lots of garlic, shallots, white wine and cream served with French bread. Janette went for the veggie option of ‘Feuilleté de Champignons’ - seasonal sautéed mushrooms with a garlic and cream sauce in a puff pastry

My main was a ‘Saumon à la Niçoise’ described as a - pan-roasted fillet of salmon on a classic Niçoise salad of potato, anchovy, egg and black olive with mixed leaves dressed in a light vinaigrette. The salmon was ok but a bit tough and dry on the ends.

Likewise, Janette said she enjoyed her pasta with goat’s cheese and spring onions and olives but there was a bit too much chilli for her taste.

You have to have a dessert don’t you? We opted for the classics: a Crème Brûlée made with vanilla pods and cream (Janette) and I indulged in the Coupe Rouge, a sundae of white chocolate flake, ice cream and a tangy raspberry sorbet, topped with fresh strawberries, blueberries and light crème fraîche with a warm red fruit coulis.

The service at this branch of Cafe Rouge on Brindley Place was excellent and we both agreed, in that respect, that it was much better than the one in the centre of Nottingham. Zuzanna, our waitress couldn't have been better and changed my tepid coffee on request without fuss. What they thought of us photographing the food, I don't know. I expect lots of nutty people do it.

After a coffee and a hot chocolate we paid the bill and headed for the Ikon Gallery around the corner and were met with a scene looking like The United Nations of little dogs. Bizarre!! Check out this website and you may be slightly wiser about Fierce at Live Art project.

During the visit we had a look around the Ikon Gallery and the Birmingham City Gallery (lovely old fashioned tearooms) and both took a fair amount of photos. Early in the day, on our search for Selfridges, we popped into Louis Vuitton to look at a handbag that cost over a thousand pounds. Well dear reader, it did have a hand stitched logo. My dear old Dad would have been flabbergasted at this (the price, not the hand stitching) and if it had been purchased he would have puffed out his cheeks and said one of his stock phrases, “They saw you coming!”

On the theme of ‘stock’ we also popped into the Old Joint Stock pub that was formerly a bank and admired the décor.

Also, earlier in the day, we had spotted a vendor selling pretzels and we called back on route to the train station to pick one up for Janette’s hubby Rick. It was from Ditsch, a company I’d never heard of and looking on their website they appear to do a pizza in the shape of a pretzel. Can’t say that it appeals though. The pretzel itself (we got two) was very nice, as was the day out with my best friend Janette.
Happy in Cafe Rouge

Janette doesn't like having her photo taken