Traditional Christmas Cake

By popular demand!

A Taste of two Cities

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As it is time to start thinking about what you have in your store cupboards in preparation for making a Christmas cake, here by popular demand, here is my traditional British Christmas cake recipe reposted from last year for those of you who missed it and the many of you who have contacted me asking me to post it again…..
There are no hard and fast rules when making a ‘traditional’ British Christmas cake, some use treacle, others syrup, some dark soft brown sugar and others light, some add ground almonds or walnuts and some use glacé cherries and candied peel.
I prefer a lighter fruitier, less sweet cake, so I do not include syrup or treacle, or glacé cherries or candy peel, and as my daughter is allergic to almonds I leave them out also, and only put marzipan on the top of the cake, so it is easier for…

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A Big Impact

More,words of wisdom from a very old head on ypung shoulders. Loving this blog

The Bible in a Year

We don’t always realise the impact that we can have on others. Sometimes we can leave a lasting impression on someone for all the right reasons, and sometimes, unfortunately, for the wrong.

As I have delved into Exodus, the stories in the Old Testament again have been pieced together. I feel ignorant for not realising the chains and links between the stories, and only knowing the single tales on their own. They are all linked, of course they are!
This piecing together reminds me of when I first moved to Liverpool from North Wales. I knew pockets of areas such as town, the airport, Sefton Park, but I did not know the linking roads to get me from one to another without travelling home and touching base in the middle.
Liverpool has now linked itself up and I know how to get from A to B, and also when to…

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Big Shoes to Fill…

This is a wonderful new blog that I have begun following, check it out

The Bible in a Year

Big shoes to fill?

Taking on a new position at work is difficult. Taking on someone else’s position who has been doing that job for 15 years is even more difficult.

I like to think of myself as a team player but I am also a leader. Having worked freelance and essentially working on my own, and my own terms, for the past 5 years to be put into someone else’s set job has been an interesting experience. I have discovered a lot about myself, or reaffirmed things at least!
I don’t like being told what to do, or even worse being told how someone else used to do what I am being told to do.

Which got me thinking about the phrase ‘big shoes to fill,’ which is a phrase which has been said to me this week. That I had big shoes to fill. Interesting.

Sorry, this is…

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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.

 

ORVIETO AND TIANS DE LEGUMES

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A quick note to any new followers who may be confused by my little sojourn into Italy. This is an annual event that adds a little extra twist to my regular ‘Franglais’ posts, but please come on the little detour with me, especially if you love Tuscany as much as I do…

Orvieto was the surprise little gem that we ‘discovered’ when we ventured south over the border into Umbria. I was struck by how dramatically the countryside differed from the sparse, yellow ochre rolling hills, and ice-cream cone poplars of Tuscany, to a greener, lusher landscape of vineyards, sunflowers and olive groves, and less angular trees.

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Gorgeous medieval Orvieto!

 

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Tourists were thin on the ground and we only saw one very small group of Americans (about 6-8) with a private Italian guide and another very small group of Japanese (less than 20) in and around the cathedral.

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We almost had the place to ourselves!

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The cathedral is an impressive building with distinctive grey and white striped brick sides and back and an intricate front façade of mosaics, bass reliefs, spires and sculptures, bronze doors and a stained glass window, but it is the interior that blows you away. Notably the ‘Cappella Nova’. A huge 15th century ceiling fresco, which, in my opinion, rivals the Sistine Chapel, depicting scenes from the Book of Revelation (the coming of and reign of the Antichrist, and the Judgement) My photos just do not do it justice.

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Having less tourists there was a very relaxed, unhurried, friendly and welcoming atmosphere of a small village, while some lovely buildings to rival larger towns.

Two unimpressed locals!

When I asked Monsieur le Frog which had been his favourite day, rather than give his usual Gallic shrug and say ‘Je ne sais pas’ he instantly said ‘maybe’ Oriveto……….he is French after all………

I chose Tians de Legumes to team with Orvieto as, even though it is a French Provincal dish, I did make it with the tomatoes, courgettes and aubergine from the garden at Cetona, and I think that the rustic red appearance of the dish compliments the town (I am the woman who matched ‘chick pea curry’ with the ‘Paris Catacombs’ as I thought the chick peas resembled the skulls!)

A Tian is traditionally made with ‘rondelles’ of tomato, courgette and aubergine stacked against each other (upright), but as I was only making a very small one for 2 people and did not have my usual earthenware dish, I stacked my vegetables flat side up as in a hotpot. As it is ‘country food’ I usually use whatever I have to hand, and on this occasion I also used a potato. I have also seen recipes using red peppers.

Ingredients Serves 2 with some left over for lunch the next day! 1 medium aubergine1/4” thickness

1 large courgette (If you can get yellow courgettes rather than green ones, these are much nicer in my opinion) slied ¼” thickness

1 medium waxy potato sliced ¼” thickness

2 large beef tomatoes sliced ¼” thickness

1 small shallot

3 cloves of garlic

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, teaspoon of dried thyme

Olive oil

Parmesan cheese or mozzarella (optional)

Method

Prepare the dish by rubbing it with butter and garlic and sprinkle with the finely chopped shallot

Traditionally arrange the vegetables standing upright in rows if using a lasagne dish or circles if using a round dish (as explained mine is a break from tradition as I was cooking it in my little Italian kitchen, so this is the Lindy’s ‘Franco / Italian’ version!)

Interspace the vegetables with some fine slices of garlic (between the potato and aubergine is a good place)

Sprinkle with some freshly grated parmesan (or equivalent) cheese, cover with foil and bake in a moderate oven for around one and a half hours until all the vegetables are soft

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Remove the foil for 10-15 minutes and turn up the heat a little to slightly brown the top (mine was browned a little too much – but I was not used to using a gas oven)

Allow to stand for 3-5 minutes before serving to allow the juices to settle. Alternatively this is also delicious cold as a relish or salad.

Serve as an accompaniment to meat (goes really well with chicken) or serve as a veggie starter.

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This dish is even better the next day and will keep for two days in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

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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