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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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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