Gin and orange mince pies and Will Wonka does Christmas!

On a recent trip to the UK I found some delightful mince pies (or should that be ‘gince’ pies) at a well know German supermarket, which contained gin in place of the usual sherry or brandy!
Finding them delicious, I thought that I would have a go.
I added a finely chopped Sicilian clementine and a good handful of roughly chopped freshly cracked walnuts and two teaspoons of ‘Bombay’ gin to a jar of good quality ready made mincemeat (without alcohol)and added this to some sweet shortcrust pastry (see ‘Frangian tarte aux poires er chocolat for how to make the perfect pastry) And the result was particularly delicious also.

If you think that this is an odd combination, how does a giant Christmas tree made from giant sweets sound…

This is the spectacular sight that greats you this year at ‘Galleries Lafayette’ in Paris, truly bonkers and as I said ‘if Willy Wonka did Christmas’ I am sure this is how it would look.

I made these little mince pies to take to an advent get together in the barn of a local farmer in Burgundy where the decorations and decidedly more modest, but have more of a connection with Christmas with the 24 advent candles and the little crib – all hand made by the locals.


To add my own festive touch, I sprinkled some icing sugar on the little ‘gince’ tarts to look like they had been dusted with snow.

Don’t eat too many!


Easy Peasy Apple Pie!

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I do not know how it works in your country (please comment and let me know) But in the UK it has become the custom for shops to charge 5p for a plastic carrier bag (often bearing the name of the store, so in effect the customer is paying for their advertising!) in the guise of ‘saving the environment’. This is something that has long niggled me, as if they really want to save the environment they would not use plastic bags at all (are the 5p bags magically less harmful than the free ones?) And do not get me started on the amount of wasteful packaging that you have to fight your way through……….

France also had adopted this custom, but I was very happy to see that many of the larger supermarkets have ‘put their money where their mouths are’ and have removed all plastic bags, replacing them with free recyclable plain brown paper ones (like in the good old days!)

A stack of paper bags waiting to be filled with wholesome seasonal vegetables

I was however heartened to see that the many UK supermarkets are now selling boxes of ‘Wonky Veg’ – vegetables previously considered not pretty enough to make it to our dinner tables (or spoil their displays!)

France is a very waste conscious society and over the past seven years, I have become an expert on making ‘something out of nothing’ transforming ‘leftovers’ (many of which appears on ‘A Taste of Two Cities’ – maybe I should create a designated ‘leftover’ section?) Regularly on French Breakfast TV (T2) a lovely lady makes very simple dishes with food that would otherwise be thrown away.

Today’s recipe is one of those, using a few odd slices of ‘raclette’ cheese left over from a raclette the evening before (any easily melted cheese slices would do – but not the processed type)


1 circle of ready-made puff pastry (make your own if you have time, but this is essentially a quick and simple recipe)

4-6 raclette cheese slices (or whatever you have left over)

1 large/2 medium cooking apples (or any ‘sweet’ eating variety that you have left over)

2 tablespoons of runny honey

A handful of flaked almonds (optional)


Line a flan dish with the pastry and chill for 1 hour

Spread out the cheese slices on top of the pastry

Peel and core the apple(s) and spread out so that the cheese is visible through the centre of the apples

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Drizzle generously with the honey

Bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees for around 30 minutes until the pastry is cooked, the apples are golden and the cheese bubbles up thought the holes.

Sprinkle with flaked almonds and serve either warm or cold with a little crème fraiche.

Bon apetit!





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Some end of season figs, fresh from a neighbours tree

It is almost the end of the fig season. In France, the fig season normally begins around the end of August and finishes around the beginning of October and during this time succulent fresh figs are in abundance in the markets, ranging from deep regal ‘plum’ coloured, to dusky ‘blush’ rose, muted blue/green and bright ‘lime’ varieties. At this time of year entire programs on the television are dedicated to what to do with various types of fig!

The fig is a sensual, mystical fruit, it hides its flower within, and only when bitten or cut into does it reveal its gorgeous lush red or crisp white bloom.
I do not know why, but these beautiful fruits always evoke in me an image of a still life painting, and of times gone by. I can imagine ladies and gentlemen in fine Tudor dress taking figs from a large fruit bowl containing also grapes, late summer berries and plums.

The fig tree is thought to be one of the first ‘cultivated’ fruits in the world and indeed it was there right at the beginning of time in the ‘Garden of Eden’ where Adam and Eve were said to have covered themselves with fig leaves. And the wolf that nurtured Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, was said to have rested beneath the shade of a fig tree.
I think that if I had been in the Garden of Eden, I would have been contented to eat the figs and would not have been tempted by the apple………..

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As I work as a language teacher, and dabble a bit in writing, naturally I am fascinated by language, including the origins of sayings and expressions. I have discovered the expression ‘I don’t give a fig’ comes from the Spanish ‘fico’ (fig) the word used to describe a rude gesture that was very popular in Shakespeare’s time which involves placing your thumb between your first and second fingers and showing it to someone in the same manner that the ‘V’ sign is used today! I think that this should be changed to ‘I don’t give a plum’ as figs are far too noble to be used in this manner!

On a more positive note, figs have many health benefits they are a rich source of fibre, contain a high level of potassium, are rich in antioxidants and are thought to:-

Lower blood pressure

Reduce triglycerides in the blood

Inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells

Protect against Macular degeneration

Fruit fibre is also thought to protect women from post-menopausal breast cancer.

It is not only the fruit that has health properties – the leaf of the fig tree is thought to stabilise blood sugar and reduce the requirements for insulin in diabetes.

Figs are so versatile – I think that I might write a cook book dedicated entirely to them! They are great in a salad with ‘Parma ham’ or indeed ‘jambon de Bayone’ (see my post forMelon et de Bayonne). They make wonderful tarts (Fig and Frangipan tart coming soon!). They are equally good raw or baked in the oven and drizzled with honey and topped with crème fraiche (see Mila at milkandabun’s post for Figs baked in Ricotta cream)

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The last fruit salad of summer……

And of course are great in a fruit salad, as this one with figs, black grapes, some late raspberries and purple plums. I made a dressing from Mandarin infused olive oil and fruity pomegranate condiment (from Oliviers & Co if you are lucky enough to have access to one of their wonderful shops) and added some finely chopped fresh mint leaves, and left all the ingredients to get to know each other, covered with cling film in the fridge for a couple of hours. I served just as it was, no crème, I wanted to savour the last flavours of the sun…………..

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This evenings dessert! Figs baked in oven with a little honey and served with ricotta cheese and flaked almonds

There is nothing more attractive that a freshly cut fig with its ruby mouth open ready to receive a drizzle of honey and crème fraiche


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What do you do with some uneaten Yogurt cake (see my post for ‘Gateau au Yaourt’) that has gone a bit dry? Make a Limoncino Tirimisu of course!

As many of you know, we have just returned from two glorious weeks in the Alps (where I learnt to make the said gateau!) And Tuscany, where we bought a couple of bottles of ‘Liquore di Limone di Sorrento’ Both for culinary purposes and to serve as an apero.

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Lovely unspoilt Cetona

The garden in the charming apartment where we were staying just outside the centre of the very picturesque and very authentic village of Cetona was brimming with all manner of lovely organic produce, of which guests were invited to take full advantage.

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The gorgeous Tuscan countryside viewed from the town

Amongst other delights we sampled the home-made red, white and rose wine, the home pressed extra virgin olive oil (made from the olives from one of the 400 or so olive trees) which to be honest, I could have drunk in equal measure to the wine it was SO good. There were also eggs still warm from the hen, peppers, chillis, tomatoes in abundance (to make the home-made passata), cucumber, melons, pears, plums and peaches.


Olive tree to welcome you

The ‘Franglais’ twist to this recipe is that I mixed together ‘crème Anglais’ which is too rich for my French family, and crème fraiche, which is perhaps not rich enough for English tastes, who are used to custard and full cream.

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The Woodstock for chilly Tuscan evenings

Sadly this dessert is not made with peaches from the garden, but from our local Sunday market.

Being in the Tuscan countryside made me realise just what an artificial existence we have, albeit that here in France, I follow the seasons and cook much more with natural ingredients than I did in the UK (see my post on ‘Roasted Red Peppers and Paris Markets) And I would dearly love on day to have my own garden where I can live more ‘off the land’

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Home grown peppers waiting to be picked

For now I will just have to feast my eyes on the photographs that I took in the garden and dream…….

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Grapes from the garden to eat or make wine


Serves two generously

Some over dry yogurt cake (or trifle sponges if you have not – but I like the ‘waste not want not’ approach)

Two peaches peeled and finely sliced

1 tablespoon of Limoncino liquore (2 cuillers a café

2 tablespoons of crème Anglais

2 tablespoons of crème fraiche

A good handful of flaked almonds (une poignee d’amands effilés)


Soak the cake in the limoncino for a couple of hours

Add the sliced peaches

Mix the crème Anglais and crème fraiche together (you can add a teaspoon of Limoncino to this mixture also……….)

Spread the cream over the peaches, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour

Sprinkle with the flaked almonds and serve immediately


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Cetona Kitty Cat


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I used up a few flaked almonds on the top and added a little freshly grated nutmeg to spice it up

I noticed that I have not posted a ‘sweet’ recipe for a long time.
This is one of my out and out favourite desserts, and this is saying something as I really don’t have a very sweet tooth. This recipe, once again, comes from the lovely Provencal cookbook that I found in ‘St Paul de Vence’ (for more information and photos of this gorgeous village, see my post for ‘Chicken Provencale and Saint Paul de Vence’)

It is SO simply and delicious both hot and cold either on its own or with a little crème fraiche on the side.

A real taste of the sunshine………


Shortcrust pastry (see the bottom of this post for how to make the perfect pastry)

3 ripe peaches (peches murs)

A good handful of pine nuts (une bonne poignée de pignons de pin)

A good handful of raisins (une bonne poigée de raisins secs)

100 g of powdered almonds (amandes concassées)

200g crème fraiche

100 g sugar

60 g butter

2 eggs lightly beaten


Line a lightly buttered flan dish with the pastry

Cut the peaches in half then slice each half into 4 and sauté in the butter until beginning to caramelise, remove from pan and leave to cool slightly.

Whisk (fouet) the sugar with the eggs with a hand whisk until light and fluffy

Add the crème fraiche

Stir in the powdered almands, pine nuts and raisins

Line the pastry with the slightly cooled peach slices

Pour over the mixture and bake for 30-35 minutes at 180 degrees (gas mark 4)

This dish can also be made later in the year, when the peach season has ended using apples in the same way. I have also made it earlier in the year using plums and leaving out the raisins.

The smell when this is baking is divine………..hmmmm

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Just in case you forgot how lovely it is, or missed the post ‘Poulet a la Provencale and Saint Paul de Vence’ featuring this delightful village, here is a reminder.

How to make perfect Pastry (also see my ‘Frangipan Tarte aux Poires et Chocolate’, ‘Mireille’s Favourite Treacle Tart’ and ‘Tarte au Citron a l’Anglaise’ pictured below)

The three main factors for making a good pastry are:-

The speed of making it – pastry does not like to be over handled

The temperature – the cooler the room, your hands, the surface, and the water the better.

The amount of moisture – the drier the pastry, the more light and crumbly (short) it is – even if it is more difficult to work with and may need patching up, it is worth it for the end result. The wetter, the more you will break your teeth!

200g/7oz plain flour (Aldi was my favourite in the UK, but Francine ‘farine de ble pour tous usages’ works well)

80g TREX (100g margarine – TREX has a higher water content so 20% less is needed)

1 egg yolk (jaune)

2 dessertspoons (cuilleres de soupe) of ice cold water

Wash your hands and rinse in cold water

Sieve the flour into a large, preferable pottery mixing bowl

Chop in the TREX (or equivelent) with a cold knife, then quickly work it into breadcrumbs using the tips of your fingers only and lifting the mixture from the bowl as the work it, to get as much air in the mixture as possible

Cut the egg yolk into the mixture again using a cold knife

Add the water (direct from the fridge) and mix all together with a cold knife

Quickly draw the mixture into a ball, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to ‘rest’ for at least 30 minutes.

Remove from the fridge for 5 minutes before rolling out to fit a 12” (30xm) flan/quiche dish

Put back in fridge until ready to use – Maybe to make one (or all) of these…


Frangipan tarte aux poires et chocolat

tarte au citron

Tarte au Citron a l’Anglaise


MIreille’s Favorite Treacle Tart