Avocado Walnut and Bacon salad and ‘Ile Fanac’

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Back on home ground in France last weekend, I spent a lazy afternoon on the sleepy ‘Ile Fanac’ close to where I live.


Wandering around this little verdant gem nestling in the river Marne at Joinville le Pont in the east of Paris, is like stepping into a bygone age. Free from traffic and hustle and bustle, you’re likely to be accompanied on your stroll by one of the resident cats, to the gentle whir of insect wings and the methodical lapping of oars hitting the water as rowers skim past hidden from sight by a curtain of Weeping willows. Puts me in mind of a poem by W.B. Yeats
“…I know the leafy paths that witches take.
Who come with their crowns of pearl and their spindles of wool,
and their secret smile out of the depths of the lake;
I know where the dim moon drifts, where the Danaan kind
Wind and unwind dancing when the light grows cool
On the island lawns, their feet where the pale foam gleams
No boughs have withered because of the wintry wind:
The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams…”

If any of you have seen the film ‘A good year’ staring Russell Crowe, this magical place recreates that atmosphere perfectly (even down to the tennis court) all that is missing is the man himself!

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As I do not have a garden, this is where I take a book and sit on a bench at the tip of the island overlooking the boats moored on the bank opposite.

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All this greenery made me crave a crisp green salad, and as avocados  are abundant at the moment they seemed the perfect ingredient to compliment the island – green, gently, calming and a little exotic.


Avocados are hailed as being a superfood, having beneficial effects on the cardio vascular and digestive systems, reducing incidence of diabetes and cancer, improving liver function, and calming acne and arthritis.

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I just tossed some mixed leaves in a dressing of olive oil with a little splash of chili infused olive oil and some sweet apple vinegar.
Then added some steamed new potatoes, chopped walnuts, finely sliced spring onions (green and white), a teaspoon of capers and some crispy bacon lardons (leave out for veggie option).
Top this with half a sliced avocado per person tossed in lemon juice to preserve the colour and served in small salad bowls – a taste of spring in a dish……..

Now for a little more exploring this magical place – I wonder where those steps, that door and that gate lead to……follow me

 

Chicken and Mushroom pie and Woolton Picture House

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Continuing in the vein of ‘leftovers’ this is a little chicken and mushroom pie that was born out of some puff pastry left over from some mince pies, which in turn were knocked together with some leftover mincemeat, padded out with various other bits and pieces (to feature in a future post). Added to that some mushrooms left over from a boeuf Bourgignon and some chicken from a raclette along with a handful of frozen peas and half a can of condensed soup (don’t worry, the other half went into a chicken and tarragon bake !) and I have worked out that I have made 11 meals for a total of £12 over the last week. So, healthy, and economical and fun……….my good friend Jacqui commented that I should be teaching ‘home economics’ classes in schools, but sadly they don’t exist anymore – maybe we should start a campaign on here to bring them back…………seems we’re all living in La la land……

No apologies for the tenuous link (I have been known to do worse….) but to work my little cultural sojourn into the post I have chosen a recent trip to the cinema. No I am not going to review ‘La la land’ but tell you a little about the wonderful, historic ‘Woolton Picture House’ in Liverpool.

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‘Woolton Picture House’ is the oldest, and only remaining ‘single screen’ cinema in the city of Liverpool. Dating back to 1927 it still retains its 1920’s charm with plush armchairs, more than ample leg room, and dramatic red drapes that sweep aside to reveal the majestic wide screen.

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Being privately owned it charges much less than the cinema complexes in the city (£6.50 for an adult ticket as opposed to £11.50 in town) and the old cinema tradition of ‘The Interval’ is still upheld, with ‘usherettes selling ice-cream from little trays, and the small bar in the foyer selling mini bottles of wine and beer and even cups of tea!

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It’s just feels so much more of an ‘experience’ with the unique atmosphere of a bygone, more glamorous era enhanced by the soothing ‘strings’ of Mantovani playing before the film and during the interval – sheer nostalgia…………..

So let’s ‘Make a feature’ out of the recipe……

Ingredients

Strips of chicken left over from a raclette

Baby sweetcorn also left over from a raclette

Mushrooms left over from my Beef and Bacon hotpot / Boeuf Bourgignon (see previous post for hotpot and A Taste of Two Cities archives for Boeuf Bourgignon)

A handful of frozen peas

1/2 a tin of condensed chicken soup left over from my Chicken Tarragon bake (see my recipe on A Taste of Two Cities)

Ready made puff pastry left over from my final batch of mince pies (recipe not published)

Method

Sauté the chicken, corn and mushroom in a little oil until just about to brown

Add the frozen peas and continue to gently cook until defrosted

Add the 1/2 tin of condensed soup plus 1/2 a tin of water

Season to taste with salt and white pepper

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Pour into an oven proof dish

Roll our the puff pastry to fit the top and bake at 200 degrees / gas mark 6 for 30 -40 minutes until pasty is cooked and golden

I served this with some steamed new potatoes

Bon appetit!

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QUIRCA d’ORCA AND FRESH PESTO PASTA WITH GREEN BEANS AND POTATO

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To bring my little Italian detour sadly to an end. I hesitate before revealing the name of this veritable little ‘Brigadoon’ of a village…..the added bonus being the journey to get there took us through some of the most stunning countryside in Tuscany

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My daughter, Kate, bought us a book about the loveliest ‘secret’ villages in Tuscany for Christmas last year and it is in this book that I stumbled across ‘Quirca d’Orca’ I must add that I am not too worried that I am going to introduce it mass tourism, as it took us three attempts to actually find it and that was with the GPS. It obviously evaded others also, as we spent about four hours in this lovely little hamlet, and only saw two other non residents’  (an American couple)

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The almost hidden entrance to the village

 

Sleepy little back streets, a plethora of medieval buildings (many 12th and 13th century) an Italian garden and ancient ruins. Add to this some gorgeous little restaurants and very friendly locals and you have the recipe for a perfect Tuscan Sunday afternoon.

 

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We ate in one of these little restaurants that boasted pasta made from its own organic flour from its own mill, and our very simple pasta dish took a full 25 minutes to prepare, and we, being French (well one of us French and the other indoctrinated!)  used to eating lunch MUCH earlier than the Italians, were the first to arrive.

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Our table for two!

 

I tried to emulate the dish back at the apartment (by using ‘fresh’ pasta from the local supermarket (I know this is a contradiction of terms…..)

The results were very good, but not in the same league………But here goes………

Ingredients
Serves 2

6 (3 if serving as a starter) ‘Fresh’ lasagne divided into four (place each sheet long size across the top and cut in half and half again)

A handful of fresh green beans

1 medium (small) waxy potato

1 tablespoon of fresh pesto (see below)

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

Freshly grated parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh basil leaves and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice to garnish

Method

Cook the potato whole in boiling salted water for around 20 minutes until just cooked, remove from pan and leave to cool a little while cooking the pasta and green beans.

Cook the pasta and green beans together in boiling salted water for around 7 minutes until ‘al dente’, drain and separate the pasta from the beans and toss the pasta in the fresh pesto (you can of course use shop bought, but it is so simple to make your own, trust me!) mixed with half of the olive oil to ‘loosen’ the mixture a little.

Slice the cooled potato and gently toss this along with the green beans into the pasta.

Drizzle with the remainder of the olive oil and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper

Italy on a plate!

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For the pesto

50 gm of pine nuts

50 gm of freshly grated parmesan cheese

A large bunch of fresh basil

1 large clove of garlic

3 tablespoons of olive oil + extra for storage

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

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Method

Lightly toast the pine nuts and leave to cool

Put the cooled pine nuts, parmesan and basil in a food processor and blend for 20 seconds son the slowest speed

Add the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, checking the consistency

Add a little salt and pepper to taste

What you do not use, can be stored in the fridge in a sealed jar, covered in a little extra oil and kept up to two weeks. To make a lighter sauce for pasta, the pesto can be mixed with crème fraiche, to give a milder flavour and a more fluid consistency.

 

Siena and Wild Boar sausage pasta

 

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Last year I fell in love with Siena, and described it on my post ‘Lindy’s lasagne, Florence and Siena’ As ‘The little Black Dress’ of Italy, so this year, I donned my own little black dress and went to see if she could enchant me a second time……

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The real challenge was to try and photograph her from a different angle, as last time I posted lots of ‘paparazzi’ people shots, this time I focused more on the architecture (and the scooters, as those of you who have read my last post ‘Cetona and Tomato and Chorizo salad’ will know that scooters, street lamps and arches and of cause other people’s washing!, are my main photographic themes this year)

 

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Underneath the arches

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Wandering the back streets, the little black dress was still evident, but a little frayed around the edges, which in my opinion, only added to the charm…………

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This pasta dish is made with colourful dried pasta swirls that I bought in a lovely little shop on the Piazza del Campo, and some wild boar sausage, that I bought in a quirky little deli with a boar’s head wearing spectacles outside (I must apologise, I did not see the sign asking not to take photos, until I looked at my photos when I got home….mi dispiace!) with which I made this lovely, rich, meaty sauce and result was pretty good, even if I do say it myself…….

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The remainder of the sausage. We served as we would French ‘saucisson’ for an aperitif…..

I made the pasta sauce by:-

Sautéing the finely sliced sausage over a moderate heat for a few minutes to release its own fat and flavour. Next I added a finely chopped shallot and 1 grated clove of garlic and continued to sauté over a low heat for a few minutes, taking care not to brown them. I then added some fresh very finely chopped herbs from the garden (thyme and sage), a generous grating of fresh nutmeg and a little black pepper. I added a good glug of ‘Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’ a heaped tablespoon of home-made passata and enough water to make a thick sauce. I then added a square of chilli chocolate and a knob of butter and simmered the sauce for around 10-15minutes while I cooked the pasta and until all the flavours were well incorporated. To adjust the seasoning and add a little more salt, I three in a handful of capers and topped with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

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Looking forward to the next challenge Siena sets for me – buon appetito!

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Cetona and tomato and chorizo salad

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This time last year we were in Tuscany and this year we were back again enjoying all the fresh home grow produce from the wonderful garden including home produced olive oil, red and white wine, home made bread, fresh laid eggs, and home grown tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, chillis, shallots, garlic, peaches, plums, pears, melons.

This veritable garden of Eden is just outside the sleepy little hilltop village of Cetona, and it felt just like going home to us, sitting taking a morning coffee (me) or early apero (Monsieur le Frog) with the locals in the café in the square and wandering the pretty streets searching for a different angle to photograph from last year.

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This year a bit of a theme has emerged and I have photographed some rather swish scooters in various locations around Tuscany / Umbria also.

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I have been taken by the architecture – mainly ‘arches’ that I noticed are an integral part to Tuscan life, and the beautiful ornate street lights which you can see adorning many walls – as last year, other people’s washing has continued to interest me, so you will be treated to a glimpse of Tuscany life over the next few posts, with a few simple recipes thrown in………

 

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When we arrived after an 8 hour drive from the French Alps, all this was waiting for us, along with some chorizo, so I quickly knocked together a tomato and chorizo salad (I ‘dry fried’ the chorizo until it was crisp and drizzled the tomatoes with a dressing made of the home produced olive oil and red wine), I seasoned it with freshly ground sea slat and black pepper and sprinkled dt with fresh basil from the garden and we mopped it up with Fabio’s home made bread – food of the Gods……

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No meal would be complete without a glass of wine made from the home grown grape….

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Two more cheerful little scooters parked in Cetona

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Sugar Plum Parcels and The Fairy Glenn

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This post has been a long time coming. It was in fact planned to run consecutively after my last, but the thunderbolt that is ‘Brexit’ hit us and sent me into a free fall, that to be honest I have not yet recovered from and won’t be discussing it on hear at the moment as it is just too raw, so please respect this and don’t try to draw me into comments or arguments.
Also other recent events in Europe left me feeling that things needed to be said, but again, to disturbed too actually say anything.
My views, if anyone is interested, have been expressed perfectly by ‘Osyth’ on her wonderful blog ‘Half Baked in Paradise’, which is well worth checking out even if you are not interested in my views………..

Back to this post which provides a little bit of magic and much needed escapism from the world and its problems into ‘fairyland’.
The Fairy Glenn or Fairy Village, can be found (if you look very carefully) In the lovely’ Vale Park’ in ‘New Brighton’ (for more on this delightful family resort a beach pebbles throw from Liverpool) then look at my previous post, ‘New Brighton and Caramelised Mango’.

‘Fairy houses’ have been constructed from driftwood washed up on the excellent beach and stones and pebbles, and children have been encouraged to make their own using dolls and trinkets and ‘treasures’. Some of the results are a little bizarre, must most are magical and I have just posted photographs of a small selection to give you an idea.

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Who lives in a house like this

Or these

Plums, particularly sugar plums, were made famous by a fairy in Tchaikovsky’s ballet ‘The Nutcracker Suite’ and this has a particular resonance with my childhood as I spent most of my early years pouring over pictures of ballerinas and trying to mimic their poses in front of the huge mirror in the fire place in my bedroom, dreaming of one day floating like a fairy across the stage in an ethereal bell shaped ballet dress, a dream which was destined never to realised as I was physically and temperamentally  more suited to hammering it out in my red tap shoes………

Plums are now just coming into season – though still a bit hard and sharp for eating raw in my opinion, so I have opted cook them in a deceivingly simple dessert.
So put a little magic in to meal times and try my ‘Sugar Plum Fairy Parcels’………………………..

 

Ingredients

1 medium / large ‘firm’ plum (prune) of any colour or variety per person

 
Ready-made puff (pate feuilletee) pastry cut into squares large enough to wrap each plum

30g powdered almonds (poudre d’amandes)

3 dessertspoons of castor sugar (3 cuillere a soupe de sucre en poudre)
(I used Madagascan vanilla sugar for extra flavour and these quantities were plenty for 6 parcels)

A knob of butter per plum

Beaten egg yolk to glaze the pastry

Method

Mix the powdered almonds and sugar

Scoop out the stone from the plum and fill the cavity with the almond / sugar mixture

Top with a knob of butter

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Place in the centre of a pastry square and fold up the edges, squeezing together with the tips of your fingers

Brush with the beaten egg yolk and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for around 25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the plum juice bubbling

Sprinkle with a fairy dusting of sugar while still hot

Serve cold or warm (not hot) with a little crème fraiche

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Lindy’s mango Chutney and New Brighton

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Mangoes are still in season, but some are going a little ‘ripe’ perfect for making Mango chutney to serve with some nice barbeque’d meats.

The weather has been perfect for ‘al fresco’ eating here in Liverpool, but sadly not so in Paris where the river Seine has burst its banks and the lovely island near to my home, where I love to sit and read, is also submerged.

I, however have been basking in the lovely sunshine in Liverpool while my new husband has been battling wind and rain in Paris.

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One of my fondest memories as a child was taking the train to New Brighton with my father to paddle in the sea and explore the many rock pools
New Brighton is Liverpool’s answer to ‘The riviera’! It is a lovely family resort with a promenade that stretches for 3.5 kilometers, making it the longest in the United Kingdom!
The prom is wheelchair, cycle and doggy friendly (there is even a special section of the beach for our four legged friends!)
There is a plethora of traditional Tea Rooms, wonderful Fish and Chip cafe’s and traditional British pubs.

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Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

There is a ‘pirate ship’, The black Pearl on the beach where children of all ages come dressed in their best eye patches and stripey T-shirts to ‘shiver their timbers’ on the beach.(more about my own ‘pirate’ connections coming soon) And a lovely park with a ‘Fairy Glen’ with delightful ‘fairy tree houses’ to discover (again, post to follow)

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‘The Black Pearl

Actually since beginning writing this post, as I have been so busy with other things, the weather has now took a turn for the worse – so I am going to serve my next mango chutney with a nice hot curry!

Ingredients

2 fresh mangoes cut into cm chunks

100gm unrefined brown sugar

100 ml white wine vinegar (I use Maille vinaigre de Chardonnay as it is less sharp)

1 medium shallot very finely chopped

2 cm of fresh ginger very finely chopped, or grated

1 small green chilli very finely chopped

1 clove garlic crushed

1 level teaspoon of cumin

A good pinch of fennel seeds

A good pinch of sea salt

The juice and zest of 1 small lime

Method

Dissolve the sugar in the wine vinegar over a low heat stirring all the time

Add the mango, shallot, ginger, garlic, chili, fennel seeds, lime zest, cumin and salt

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Simmer over a low – medium heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally

Add the lime juice and simmer for a further 15 minutes or until a loose ‘jam’ consistency

Pour into a preserve jar, seal and allow to cool

This chutney will last for up to a year unopened – once opened store in the fridge and eat within three weeks

The aroma when this is cooking is torturous – it is spicy and fragrant and you just want to dig your spoon in – but watch out you could burn your tongue – patience is a virtue…

This chutney is perfect with grilled summer meats, with poppadoms as a prelude to a curry, with cold meats and cheeses and really livens up a cheese or cold meat sandwich.
It is also perfect for giving as a gift

A bientot
Lindy