Puy lentil and halloumi salad and how does your garden grow

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Spring has truly arrived and along with it the opportunity to eat outdoors and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature.

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The scent of apple blossom and lime flowers is carried on the air with the sounds of a distance cuckoo, and the melodic singing of a multitude of birds. What is not so melodic are the mating calls from the frogs and toads in the pond, but it makes me smile to hear them.


My garden is not really a garden, but a wild place where nature has been allowed to run amok. I love to see bees forage for nectar amongst the flowers that have seeded themselves wherever they like.


I love also the fresh tastes of spring, and this salad is another one of my, make what you can with what you have meals, that has turned out to be a favourite with my veggie daughters’ and my non veggie husband alike.
It is quick, simple and nutritious to make and tastes full of flavour.

Ingredients (serves four)
2 cups of Puy lentils cooked in slightly salted water for around 40 minutes until soft, but not mushy, drain and leave to cool
1 avocado finely sliced
1 courgette finely sliced
A handful of pine nuts slightly toasted
A handful of fresh mint finely chopped
1 block of halloumi cheese in fine slices
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of lime juice
Maple syrup or balsamic vinegar

Method
Chargrill the courgette slices and set aside to cool
Mix the olive oil and lime juice and toss the avocado, cooled courgette, lentils in the mixture then gently mix in the pine nuts and mint
Grill the halloumi on both sides
Arrange the lentil salad on a serving place and top with slices of halloumi
Drizzle with Maple syrup or balsamic vinegar if preferred
Serve immediately
(This delicious salad can also be served as a starter for 6)

 

 

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April in Paris and Warm Courgette and Avocado Salad

 

IMGP5154Spring has finally arrived, my favourite time of year in Paris. Warm enough to stroll around in light trousers and jacket, and sit outside a pavement café people watching. But not hot enough to make public transport unpleasant. Plus the Easter visitors have left and the summer ones not yet arrived in droves, so the city is relatively calm.

I would recommend this time of year to visit, even if you do run the risk of the odd April shower, especially as the trees are all in bud and the blossom is in bloom.

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I love cooking this time of year also using fresh ingredients, so I am gong to pot a lovely salad that I made using my newly sprung fresh mint.

Ingredients
(for two people as an accompaniment)
1 large courgette, washed and finely sliced
1 ripe avocado cut into small slices
A good handful of pine nuts
bout 12 decent sized fresh mint leaves, rolled and finely sliced
1 Tablespoon of white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
1 Tablespoon of olive oil (I used ‘Oliviers & Co. Olive oil with mint
1 tablespoon of light olive oil for frying

 

Method
Sauté the courgettes in the light olive oil until slightly charred on both sides
Add the pine nuts and cook stirring for 2 minutes
Add the white wine vinegar and lemon juice and reduce until only half the liquid remains
Transfer to warm serving dish and toss in the avocado
Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the mint leaves.
Serve immediately with either some grilled fish, chicken or spring lamb cutlets
For a veggie option serve with grilled haloumi

This is also great cold with feta cheese crumbled over the top before you drizzle the oil

 

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Paris in the Springtime

 

 

 

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to eat them!

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Burgundy is renowned for it’s soft, fruity wines, Boeuf Bourguignon and of course ‘Les Escargots de Bourgogne’……
Everything is larger than life here, from the army of giant snails that muster in the garden every morning so that you have to tread gingerly when going out to open the many shutters surrounding the house or you will crunch them underfoot, to the squadron of enormous fairy like dragon flies that patrol the passage between the house and the outbuildings at the back sweeping up any fly of mosquito in its path.

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It is these spectacular creatures with their vibrant green and yellow bodies, electric blue tails and orange wings that move as fast as a humming bird’s, that have given the house the name of ‘Les Liberlulles’ (The Dragonflies). I truly believe that people mistook them for fairies as they are truly enchanting.
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Along with the snail and dragonflies, there are also huge butterflies in every colour imaginable from deep midnight, to pale cornflower blue, to orange and red and yellow.

There are variety of other beast that are not so grand, like this little lizard that I found in the bath.

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Fear not though dear reader, the snails that I have cooked came from the market and not from my garden, so the one in the picture roams free munching on my various plants……….
These beauties were stuffed with parsley butter, I must confess also bought from the local supermarket, but is very easy to make in a food processor with softened butter and fresh finely chopped parsley then rolled into a sausage shape and store either in the fridge if ready to use fairly soon, or in the freezer (if storing in the freezer I slice into two centimetre disks and separate with a equal sized disk of baking paper for ease of use)
Parsley butter is also great to melt over fish or fry steak………

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Here is a picture of my favourite beast of all, my cat Pussy Willow………

 

Autumn leaves and seasonal salad

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The ‘Indian Summer’ persists with temperatures in the mid 20s in mid October, but it is a ‘Trompe d’oeil’, the trees at the back of the house are a shimmering golden yellow and the screen of poplars to the front a lemony lime.

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The morning mists are now full on as Halloween approaches. The silvery sun of the fading year filters through the fog casting an eerie light giving the little hamlet a ‘Sleepy Hollow’ effect, I half expect to see a headless rider galloping down the lane.

The sounds of autumn abound also, the tinkling of brittle leaves as the freshening breeze passes through them as they cling on to their branches, the satisfying crunch of those  who have already fallen to form a deep carpet of deep orange and nut brown and the soft sound of shiny saddle coloured conkers fallen to the ground.

Conkers are not the only nuts which are falling in abundance, walnuts are also tumbling from the trees in abundance and we have been collecting them to store over the winter to use in salads, cakes, to eat with the aperitif, and maybe make some ‘vin de noix’

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This little salad uses late season red lettuce and, of course apples which are just coming in to the shops and markets. I added some cubes of Greek feta cheese sprinkled with paprika to give a little ‘kick’ and made a dressing from L’Olivier grapefruit olive oil (but regular light olive oil would be fine) and Olivier & Co.’vinaigre de pommes’ (but a little cider vinegar or a sweet white wine vinegar would be fine also)

I ate this for a light, cleansing lunch, but it could be served as an entrée or side salad to accompany fish or pork. The feta cheese could be exchanged for grilled halloumi and a little crispy bacon and or capers could also be added – be imaginative, but keep it as seasonal as possible.

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Misty mornings and Portia’s Blackberry Jam

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“The evenings are turning noticeably cooler and the mornings are accompanied by a magical mist that cloaks the field opposite making the charolais cows who graze there appear like white sailboats emerging from a foggy sea.

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I am in the dew laden nettles in my pyjamas and wellington boots taking photos. It is a mystical experience as ghost trees emerge and take their solid forms as the mist unfurls backwards revealing once more the dazzling landscape.

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There are blackberry bushes acting as a natural barrier to the cows and their fruits are heavy with dew and juice, I pick a large swollen black fruit and pop it into my mouth and it bursts releasing it’s ripe flavour, just right for jam making……..”

A change of tone you might detect if you are a regular follower – this blog is namely about two cities (Liverpool and Paris and their surrounding areas), but I have been know to digress with posts on various parts of France and Italy and even my honeymoon in Malta!
This little digression however could continue, (or maybe it will find it’s own place) as we have bought a house, a very old house in the country.
There is a lot of work to do, but I do not want this to become a record of the trials and tribulations of renovation (of which I am sure there will be many), I prefer to take you on a imaginary journey and give little glimpses into my new life.

Ironically I have no kitchen, so for a cookery writer, this poses a slight problem, but we’ll muddle through somehow on two hotplates and endeavour to get some new recipes to you soon.

Jam, luckily is one thing that I can make on a hot plate (though I was worried that I could get a hot enough temperature, so it took a little longer to set than usual) And miraculously, after taking all the berries from the branches that I had snipped away with my lovely new green secateurs, I had exactly 1kg of fruit – not a gram/ounce more or a gram/ounce less (hence ‘Portia’s jam!)

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I simply washed the kg of fruit put in a large saucepan (my usual jam pan being in my Paris apartment) added 500grams of regular castor sugar (sucre en poudre), added a finely chopped up over ripe peach, just because it was sitting there with nothing better to do and brought it to the boil, stirring constantly, added 2 tablespoons (4 cuillers de soupe) of lemon juice, reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring intermittently, then poured it into whatever clean jars I had to hand and made sure that they were air tight.

The result has turned out to be the nicest jam that I have ever made and I have even siphoned off some of the syrup and added white wine to make a ‘kir’ for an aperitif!

Here is a photo of my new secateurs and ‘friend’
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A Bientot
Lindy

 

 

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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