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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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.

 

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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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cranberry and Walnut Salad

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Necessity is the mother of mother of invention, so when a friend arrived with some ‘shop bought’ breaded Camembert as her contribution to a meal (she was on starters, me on main course and another friend on dessert – it goes without saying that I always have a well-stocked fridge when it comes to cheese……), we expected to find, inside the box, a little pot of Cranberry sauce – as was featured on the packet, but alas it could not be found, and as Christmas was a distant memory, I did not have any lurking at the back of the fridge.

What I did have though were some dried Cranberries which were juicy enough without soaking to liven up a little side salad to compliment the cheese.

In the UK people tend to bring wine (or chocolates) when invited to dinner, in France it is more usual to bring flowers, (as the French are very particular about their wine and if you brought an inappropriate bottle, they would feel obliged to serve it and soil the palate of the meal – sacre bleu!) unless they bring Champagne, which can never be wrong!
My friend Mireille (of Mireille’s favourite ‘Treacle Tart’ fame) always supplies the Champagne, so she is now know as ‘Bubbles’!

These lovely flowers were recently given to me by my friend Marc (who incidently brought wine and Champagne also – he would never get it wrong) And the gorgeous plant was given to me, by a friend of Monsieur le Frog who came to dinner.

Back to the salad…….

Ingredients
Salad

A good handful of mixed salad leaves per person

1 small beetroot very finely sliced

A handful of walnuts, broken into quarters

2 Spring (salad) onions, finely sliced (white and green)

A handful of dried Cranberries

Half a red or green pepper (or both!) finely sliced

Dressing

A tablespoon of olive oil (I used ‘Olivier & Co.’ olive oil with mandarin oil)

Method

Just toss it all together and serve immediately (super with my ‘No Lasagne, Lasagne’)

 (Lindy’s Non Lasagne, lasagne’ and Mireille’s favourite Treacle Tart)

 

 

 

Madame Bovary’s Courgette Souffle

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This post is especially for my lovely friend Lynn over at ‘Lynz real Cooking’, who I am sure needs no introduction from me for most of you, but those of you who may have missed her poignant, courageous blog about her life behind the veil in Saudi Arabia, where she raised 9 amazing children in often very difficult circumstances and tells her tale without self pity or sensationalism, but with humanity and wit – not to mention the smattering of Arabic/American delicious recipes along the way.

I was telling her about my lovely afternoon spent reading ‘Madame Bovary’ in the glorious Parisian sunshine in one of my favourite haunts – Le Cimetiere Montparnasse’.
Le Cimetiere Montparnasse is very close to the restaurant that I featured in an earlier post ‘Empty Chairs and Empty Tables’ posted just after the attacks of November 13th.

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Slightly more diners than in my last post, but still nowhere near the elbow to elbow norm!

 

I am happy to report that the chairs and tables were no longer empty, but still a far cry from their former ‘elbow to elbow’ status – I am sure Paris will lick her wounds as she has done so many times throughout her chequered history.

And now tickle your literary  taste buds with a quote from Madame Bovary and some photographs from my ‘spiritual home’, Montparnasse,

Sometimes she would reflect that these were, after all, the most beautiful days of her life, the honeymoon, as it was called. Probably in order to savour the sweetness, you had to travel far away to those lands with legendary names, where the first days of marriage were filled with sweet indolence.
in the ‘post-chaise with its blinds of blue silk, you would slowly climb up the steep mountain roads, listening to the song of the postilion as it echoed over the mountain roads and mingled with the tinkling of goats bells and the muffled roar of the waterfall.  
At sunset you would stand above a bay breathing in the scent of the lemon trees; then in the evening, you would sit alone together on the terrace of some villa, your fingers intertwined, gazing at the stars and making plans.
It seemed to her that certain places on earth must produce happiness.
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

 

 The view from where I was sitting reading in the lovely Parisian sunshine

I actually managed to achieve poor Emma Bovary’s dream and have lived in Paris for the past seven years.
I don’t know about you, but I think that she was a ‘soufflé’ kind of girl, a little bit top show and unsubstantial, aspiring to be greater than she really was, and collapsing when reality hit her.

My simple soufflés collapsed pretty quickly too and the moral of this story is always be sure that you have your SD card in your camera before photographing soufflé …….
They did taste divine though and were Oh so easy to make (as everything on here)
So without further ado let’s give it a try….

Ingredients
Makes 4

2 medium courgettes

1 small bag of rocket

3 eggs separated

1 tub of crème fraiche

2 handfuls of grated cheese (Gruyere or mild Cheddar)

A handful of Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to season

A little butter to grease the ramekins

Method

Cook the courgettes whole in boiling slightly salted water for 10 minutes then cut into manageable chunks and blitz in a food processor with the rocket and crème fraiche

Add the egg yolks and the cheese and season to taste

Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and fold into the mixture with a large metal spoon

Pour into the buttered ramekins, sprinkle with a little parmesan and bake in a ‘bain Marie’ (baking tray filled with hot water to prevent the outsides drying out while setting) in a moderate to hot oven for 10-15 until the centres have just set and the tops have risen and are slightly golden

This is delicious served with white fish or alone as an entrée

I think Emma would have loved sitting at the window of a majestic Parisian apartment eating this don’t you……….

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Caramelised Parsnip and Sweet Potato Soup

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I have posted a fair number of soups ‘Veloute a la Madame Loik’ also with caramelised parsnips being my personal favourite, but this comes in at a very close second and is much simpler

It is the slightly caramelised parsnips that give it a distinctive sweet, slightly smoky flavour and a ‘reduced’ version of this soup works very well as a dhal served with Indian food.

Caramelising fruit and vegetables in butter is a great way to add natural sweetness, no need to add sugar as the natural sugars in the fruits or certain vegetables (carrots, parsnips) is enough.

This leads me to the whole sugar argument………you knew that it was coming…….

Back in the 1980’s when I was a student nurse and studying nutrition as part of my training, the tutor told us that sugar served no purpose except to make you fat, rot your teeth, cause premature diabetes, and – the thing that stood out in my mind – it destroyed the immune system (other auto- immune diseases along with cancer and heart disease have since been added to this list)

I then made a conscious effort to cut it out of my diet, but even back in the day, it was creeping in everywhere, so this is where my present cooking/eating style began to develop, particularly after the birth of my first daughter in 1987, I did not want her to be a sugar junkie, so rejected the oh so convenient jars of ‘baby’ food and fed her ‘real’ food adapted to her needs and development.

The result is a 29 year old who has never had a tooth extraction or filling in her life (her 25 year old sister neither)

During my career as a nurse I worked in an anaesthetic unit, recovering children from general anaesthesia following tooth extraction – I have seen babies as young as 20 months having teeth removed as soon as they appear through parents giving them sugary drinks in bottles, and also seen children as young as five or six having 10 or 12 teeth extracted, and the same children coming back again and again, despite being given strong advise about avoiding sugar – particularly ‘hidden’ sugars. To me this was a form of child abuse. Needless to say that these children were often on the ‘podgy’ side – so it was not just a case of ‘weak’ teeth, of which there seemed to be an epidemic!

I know that I am preaching to the converted on here, as you all have wonderful healthy blogs using lots of fresh, natural ingredients, but I had to get that out of my system…….

Now back to the quick and easy soup…..

Ingredients

2 medium parsnips cubed

1 large sweet potato cubed

1 small red onion finely chopped

1 clove of garlic crushed

A good handful of red lentils

1 ½ pints (850ml) vegetable stock

1 tablespoon of salted butter

1 dessertspoon of turmeric

1 heaped teaspoon of dried coriander leaves

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

Method

Heat the butter in a sauce pan and sauté the parsnips and carrots over quite a high heat until they begin to caramelise

Add the onion and continue to sauté on a lower heat for 2 minutes, then add the garlic

Add the turmeric and the lentils and mix well before adding the vegetable stock

Add salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer for around 45 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the lentils disappeared.

‘Mash’ with a potato ‘masher’ leaving some ‘lumpy bits’

Add the dried coriander leaves and simmer for a further couple of minutes

Add a tablespoon of crème fraiche if desired, otherwise serve for a satisfying lunch or supper dish (I think that this soup is filling enough without bread, but if you are an addict, then a nice little piece of a crusty baguette is recommended!)