Archive | November, 2012

A bit more than just sausages and mash

28 Nov

In fact – it’s actually grilled sausages with sautéed leek comté cheese mash with a hint of whole grain mustard and sweetcorn, served with proper onion and red wine gravy. Proper British winter food – a perfect use of my precious vegetarian sausages I managed to stuff into my hand luggage on my way back from Exeter last week!

This dish calls for quite a few elements but it is really easy. It is a ‘sausage and mash’ dish that is even fancy enough for a dinner party. I always think that mashed potato sometimes need an extra few elements to make it a bit more exciting, this is the perfect comfort food combination (or hangover cure…) We had our mammoth plates after I had come home from work looking like a soggy drowned rat after one of Nice’s sudden storms.
These are big portions so if you haven’t got a huge appetite, make some fried potato cakes with any leftover mash the following day (for that reason I actually regret being a greedy pig and eating it all – 3 whole potatoes each plus half a leek…oh dear.)
DISCLAIMER: A food coma may occur, you have been warned.

Serves 2 adults with eyes bigger than their stomachs.
Ingredients:
4 sausages (vegetarian or good quality pork)
For the mash:
650g potatoes
1 medium leek
50g tinned sweetcorn
60g grated comté or mature cheddar cheese
1 tbsp whole grain mustard
1tbsp milk
salt and pepper
For the gravy:
A good knob of butter
100ml red wine, cheapest quality will suffice – ours was just over 1euro, not really fit for consumption but perfect for cooking.
1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped.
2tsp whole grain mustard
1tsp tomato puree (we used ketchup!)
1.5tbsp plain flour
100ml vegetable or beef stock (we found vegetable stock to be plenty rich enough.)
Salt and pepper

Method:


 1. Cook onion in butter for 2-3min without colouring. Add flour and stir on the hat for 1 min. Add the tomato puree & mustard. Gradually stir in the wine then the stock, ensuring there are no lumps. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for 30minutes or until desired consistency is reached. Season to taste.
2. Whilst the sauce is boiling, chop up your potatoes into quarters and add them to a salted pan of boiling water to boil for about 15 minutes, until soft but not crumbling. I prefer not to peel my potatoes as I like the texture of the potato skin in the mash.

3. When your potatoes are just starting to boil, in a separate frying pan, sauté your chopped leek in a good knob of butter on a medium heat. They should be soft and not burned within 10 minutes. Try to use all of a leek – including the majority of the green part.
4. Grill your sausages on a medium heat for around 15 minutes. Brush them with oil and place them on a shelf where they will not sit in their own fat. Remember to turn your sausages every 3/4 minutes. They will take around 12-15 minutes to cook. Grilling is always the healthiest/tastiest way to cook sausages.
5. Drain your potatoes and return them to the pan on a very low heat to dry out before mashing.
6. Add a good knob of butter to the potatoes and the milk. Mash in the saucepan until you have your desired ‘mashedness’. Season. Mix in the mustard and then add the leeks, sweetcorn and cheese and combine. The cheese should start to melt and you will want to just scoop it out of the pan then and there to eat.
7. On warmed plates, add a good few dollops of mash, your sausages and your gravy.

Eat, then have a good sleep.

Soaked coffee and walnut cake

27 Nov

Coffee and walnut is one of my all time favourite cakes. Delia Smith’s ‘Austrian coffee and walnut cake’ has the best recipe I have tried. What makes it so tasty is that as soon as the cake is taken out of the oven, coffee syrup is poured over to soak into the cake, giving it an amazingly moist, coffee enriched flavour and texture. In theory it should be baked in two sandwich tins, with each cake having a share of the coffee, meaning that you get the syrupy loveliness in two cakes. However, as I only have a loaf tin, the bottom two thirds of the cake was comparably a lot drier to two sandwich tin cakes soaked in syrup. I used my own buttercream recipe that is simple and can be made with everyday storecuboard ingredients.
I served this as part of my Exeter-inspired afternoon tea with some friends in Nice. My parents visited and also had a few slices – a proper ‘feed a crowd’ cake!

TIP: If you are using a loaf tin, it’s tempting to make more syrup to allow the bottom half of the cake to complement from it, however do not do this as it would give your cake a soggy top!

Serves 8
Ingredients:
For the cake –
1 ½ level tablespoons instant coffee mixed with 2 tablespoons boiling water
75g walnut halves
175g self raising flour
1 ½ level teaspoons baking powder
175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
3 eggs

For the syrup –
1 level tablespoon instant coffee
50g Demerara sugar (I used caster as I had nothing else and worked perfectly)

For the coffee buttercream –
125g softened butter (I prefer to use salted – I find it gives a richer taste)
200g icing sugar

1 dessert spoon instant coffee dissolved with 1 ½ tablespoons boiling water.

Method:
1. Preheat your oven to 170C (fan). Reserving a few for decoration, roughly break up your walnut halves and spread them on a baking tray. Toast in the oven for around 8 minutes. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, sieve your flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Then, simply add all the other ingredients apart from the coffee and walnuts and mix together with a wooden spoon or use an electric whisk so all of the ingredients are well combined and the mixture drops off a wooden spoon when tapped against the side of the bowl.
3. Fold in the coffee mixture and walnuts. Divide the mixture between 2 greased sandwich tins with the bottoms lined with baking paper. If you do not have sandwich tins, a loaf tin will do providing it is well greased. Pop into the oven for 30minutes or so (for sandwich tins) or around 45 minutes (for a loaf tin) until a skewer comes out of the middle of the cake clean.
4. Whilst the cake is baking, make the coffee syrup by placing the coffee and sugar into a heatproof jug. Add 55ml boiling water and stir briskly until the coffee and sugar is dissolved.
5. When the cakes are cooked, leave to cool for 5 minutes then remove from tins and place on a wire rack to cool. Pour the syrup equally over each cake whilst the cakes are still warm so the syrup is absorbed better.
6. When the cakes are cooled, spread with a good slathering of buttercream and decorate with the remaining walnut halves. To make the buttercream you simply mix together the softened butter with sieved icing sugar added a little at a time. When all the icing sugar has been added, dissolve the instant coffee in the boiling water. You should have a strong, syrupy coffee. Mix this into the buttercream and you will have a delicious creamy coffee buttercream. I dare you not to lick the bowl!

Indulgent chocolate fudge cupcakes

23 Nov

The fudgyest chocolate cakes ever, in ideal cupcake size portions – so rich you do not want more than one or two! I made the mistake of eating the leftover buttercream even though I was feeling sick, bad idea. My recipe uses no cocoa powder (I didn’t have any!) but melted dark chocolate to give it an even more chocolatey flavour. I used quite cheap basic dark chocolate which is about 60% cocoa solids. I prefer this as it doesn’t give as much of a bitter taste as high percentage dark chocolate does (plus it is cheaper!)

Makes 9 cupcakes

Ingredients:

For the cake:
120g self raising flour
2/3rd tsp baking powder
115g caster or muscovado sugar
115g softened butter
2 eggs
35g melted dark chocolate

For the buttercream:
100g softened butter (I prefer salted to unsalted in a butter cream – I find it gives a richer taste)
100g bar dark chocolate
50g icing sugar
1tbsp plain flour

Method:
1. Heat the oven to 170C (fan).
2. Mix all the ingredients except for the chocolate together in a big bowl.
3. Break the chocolate into squares and melt in a microwave. Melt it for 10 seconds, take out and stir, then continue until it is nearly completely melted. When you stir it the rest should melt and you should have smooth silky chocolate.
4.Fold in the melted chocolate until the mixture is well combined. The mixture should fall off a spoon when tapped on the side of the bowl.
5. Fill cupcake cases 2/3rds of the way up and bake in on the middle shelf for 25minutes. The cakes are ready when a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool.
6. For the buttercream, break the chocolate up into squares and melt in the microwave. Add the softened butter and mix until well combined. Add the icing sugar and flour and mix until smooth. You will need to let it cool before it is at the right thickness to decorate your cupcakes. Pop in the fridge for a while to speed up the setting process.
7. Decorate your cakes and eat!

Spicy butternut squash soup

22 Nov

This is the second recipe using the other half of the butternut squash I bought last week. Another wintery, comforting meal. Butternut squash gives a really thick, wholesome soup which makes it easily substantial enough with a lump of bread and cheese for a good dinner.
I took inspiration from Lorraine Pascal’s recipe and used a good sprinkle of chilli and ginger, along with a squeeze of lemon before serving.
This feeds 4 for a starter or 2 for a main course, it is a very good value meal, especially if using dried chilli powder or flakes and dried ginger.

Ingredients:
Half a butternut squash
1 medium onion
1 garlic clove
1 Whole chilli or a pinch of flakes/powder (or as much as you like – depending on how adventurous you are feeling!)
Half a vegetable stock cube diluted with 1 litre water
One thumb’s worth of grated fresh ginger or a pinch of dried ginger
A squeeze of lemon (or lime) juice
Salt and pepper

TIP: Add curry powder instead of chilli and ginger for another take on spicy butternut squash soup!

Method:
1.Heat your oven to 190celcius (fan)
2. Half your butternut squash lengthways, season with salt and pepper and place a peeled garlic clove into the hollow of the squash. Put in the oven for around 40minutes or until you squash is soft and easily scoopable.
3. While your squash is cooking, heat a tablespoon of olive oil large saucepan on a low heat and once heated, add your onion. It should soften and not sizzle and burn if the heat is correct. Fry your onion for 5 minutes then add your spices. Take off the heat if the onion is cooked. Prepare your stock.
4. Once the squash is soft, roughly cut your garlic clove and add it to the pan, then scoop out the flesh from the squash and add it to the pan.
5. Pour your stock over and with a hand held blender, blend the ingredients together.
6. Reduce on a simmering heat until you have your desired consistency. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to serve. You can also add a blob of crème fraiche!

Exeter, England

21 Nov

EXETER!!!! Where I go to University and one of the best cities in England (not biased AT ALL.)

Also home to all my amazing friends who are in their final year at University whilst I am gallivanting about in sunny France, not doing much apart from drinking wine, eating and leading an increasingly relaxed French lifestyle. This lifestyle means not ever getting cold, the French love having their heating on from October (it’s getting below 15 degrees sooooo thermals are out in Nice…) Consequently, I landed in Bristol Thursday evening absolutely freezing my arse off (sorry Mum.)
A few days followed of drinking, dancing, feeling cold, drinking some more…

Anyway, the Saturday after a particularly heavy night before, with a casual scone, jam and clotted cream 4am drunken snack. My two friends and I ended up sitting in Weatherspoons at 3pm, about to consume our first meal of the day before heading out in Bristol for another 6am finish. There was only one thing on my stomachs mind – an all day breakfast. And THE best £3.50 spent all day (got to love student vouchers on top of bargain Weatherspoons prices.) As a vegetarian, you may think that I cannot appreciate a full fry up, however if you substitute the sausages with the quorn kind (the only ‘fake meat’ vegetarian food I will eat) and add some grilled halloumi or fried oatcakes to take the place of bacon and there you go, perfect hangover cure/stomach lining preparation. As a result, my mission of the weekend was to bring back vegetarian sausages to France. This ended up with me after having two hours sleep, unwashed with all my luggage waiting for Sainsbury’s to open at 11am when I had a train to catch at 11.06. Desperate times.

I’ve gone all British this week and for a tea with a few friends this week, I have baked some traditional British scones, soaked coffee and walnut cake and some indulgent, gooey chocolate fudge cakes as homage to my flying visit to Great Britain. My cravings for wintrey dishes can be found with my butternut squash recipes. I am still trying to find a good recipe to use with my precious sausages!

Butternut squash and sage fried pasta

21 Nov

Fried pasta is one of my favourite things ever. I am always the one who likes the crunchy bit of pasta in the corner of the lasagna dish. There is something so satisfying about slightly crunchy cooked pasta; sauces always seem to intensify with frying too, especially with a spoonfuls of extra Parmesan!

I’m not going to lie, it’s not the healthiest. However a plate of fried pasta can easily be justified – fry in olive oil and use vegetables… there we go J
I recently went for a weekend in Exeter to visit a few friends. We made a big butternut squash risotto before a night out and my love for squash was rekindled. Due to Nice’s constant mild temperature (I am actually craving it to be a bit cold and rainy now and then – I want an excuse to get into bed and watch Downton Abbey on repeat whilst eating chocolate) I haven’t really cooked any seasonal winter dishes. Therefore, a squash was bought.

This is the first of two dishes we made; it’s an adaptation of www.thekitchn.com’s recipe!

Serves 2:
Half a butternut squash.
1 small onion
2 tablespoons fresh or dried sage (we used dried – economical students :D)
50g Parmesan
Large clove of garlic
150g farfelle or rigatoni pasta (we used a combination)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Method.
1. Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius (fan.) Half your butternut squash length-ways, scoop the seeds out and peel (it’s an effort but worth it!)
2. Chop your squash into 1 inch cubes.
3. Finely chop your onion and garlic.
4. In a large baking sheet, toss the squash, onion and garlic with a few glugs of olive oil, sprinkle with half the sage and season well. Leave for around 40 minutes until the squash is soft.
5. Cook your pasta to packet instructions. Drain well and set aside.
6. Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed frying pan, heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the rest of the sage on a medium-high heat for 2 minutes. If you have two frying pans, then heat them both up to save having to fry in two batches.
7. Add half the pasta and squash mixture to the frying pan (or half in each pan) and heat until the pasta is going brown around the edges (or until your pasta is as crispy as you like). Try and mix your pasta and squash together so it becomes a sort of sauce.
8. When cooked, add half the Parmesan to the frying pan and mix well.
9. Serve onto hot plates and sprinkle on the rest of Parmesan. Enjoy!

Asparagus ravioli

21 Nov

From our trip to Ventimiglia we also brought back a packet of asparagus and ricotta ravioli.

Suspecting it to have a more subtle than the mushroom one, I opted to use fresh, light ingredients that wouldn’t mask the delicate filling.
I added some cold courgette that I had already roasted – adds to your 1 a day and the understated flavour of the courgette goes perfectly with the pasta!
Again, this is simple yet SO SO tasty – It was a perfect fresh lunch ready in less than 10 minutes (that is if your courgette is cooked already however…)

Serves 2:

Ingredients:
I packet asparagus ravioli (approx 250g)
1 small courgette
2 handfuls rocket
Half a lemon – zest and a squeeze of juice
Parmesan – as much as you like
Really good olive oil
Salt & pepper

Method:
1. Preheat your oven to 200 Celsius (fan).
2. Wash your courgette and chop into small circles, add a few glugs of olive oil (I use the cheapest type for cooking and save good stuff for drizzling!) to a roasting tray, season and toss your sliced courgette in the oil until completely covered. Place in the oven and wait around 30mins for your courgette is soft and beginning to brown around the edges!
An alternative, quicker method would be to cook your chopped courgette on a griddle pan. However, beware cooking them too much as the smokiness could mask the ravioli filling flavour.
3. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add your pasta with a splash or olive oil. Fresh pasta only needs around 5 minutes.
4. Whilst your pasta is cooking, grate some lemon zest and Parmesan and prepare to assemble your dish!
5. Drain the pasta and place onto plates. Scatter your rocket, Parmesan  sliced courgette, lemon zest and a squeeze of juice onto the pasta. Season to your taste and drizzle some good quality olive oil over.
6. Enjoy!

THE best Hummus in Nice

13 Nov

So last night Ollie and I walked around the corner from our apartment to check out Le Socrate, a Lebanese restaurant that according to Trip Advisor, is currently rated the 7th best restaurant in Nice. Bearing in mind there is over 900 restaurants, this is an impressive feat. After reading an article on the food in Beirut in Ollie’s ‘Esquire’ magazine (guilty pleasure of mine… they are just so insightful into the male mind!) I decided needed a fix of decent, authentic hummus and falafel. I must admit, the only hummus I have eaten (it has been a fair few gallons…) has been the supermarket kind, albeit the alternative ‘lime and coriander’ or ‘jalapeno pepper’ Sainsbury’s finest.

My favorite type of meal is that of small but perfectly formed dishes that compliment each other. For a great selection of different things, it’s usually time consuming and costs much more than your average meal. As a result, these meals are rare occasions (I got a bit too over excited about telling Ols about how much I love my family’s vast Boxing day buffet with cheese and biscuits and hundreds of nibbles and salads and smoked salmon and… OH MY GOD I LOVE FOOD. Anyway, got way too excited I dropped a great blob of hummus onto my lap – such a waste.)

However, for the 20 euro ‘Menu Socrate’, you receive a selection of mezze’s including homemade hummus, Lebanese mousakka (nicer than it’s Greek counterpart to be frank), falafel, taboulé, 3 deep fried pastry parcels (sambousek) each filled with either sheeps cheese and spices, spinach and lemon or minced meat, a delicate parsley, tomato, lemon and cous-cous salad; marinated roast chicken thigh, olives and a red pepper spread with walnuts and garlic – very spicy, eat in one of the warm flat-breads provided with salad and hummus!

It was DELICIOUS – and all for 20 euros!

To finish, we had a plate of  Baklawa – 3 bite-sized desserts – a homemade square of orange-y, nutty Turkish delight and two different nut-based pastries covered in icing sugar; a dish of Mouhalabia – a refreshing, milky, light panna-cotta type desert, lightly flavoured with orange flower and pistachio; and freshly brewed mint tea, a welcoming digestion-aide after the amount we had consumed.

Apart from the food, the one thing we both noticed was the difference in service compared to most French restaurants. You don’t expect any pleasantries (not that I am complaining – the French just generally like to be efficient without the need for chit chat – fine by me!) However, the friendly service was a positive experience compared to our usual meals out.

I tried making falafel once, and it ended up falling apart as it was way too chunky and dry. What seems to be such a simple dish is exceptionally hard to get right. I am embracing a trial and error attitude and I am going to re-attempt to make falafels as good as the ones from Le Socrate. I may even have a go at making my own hummus and other Lebanese bites of deliciousness at this rate… Watch this space!

Porcini Mushroom ravioli with sage and lemon butter

10 Nov

After yesterday’s purchases in Ventimiglia market (fresh pasta heaveeeeeeeeen) we were itching to try the mushroom ravioli for lunch. With ravioli or any filled pasta, I always think it’s easy to mask any flavour inside the pasta with overpowering flavours and heavy sauces. I really wanted to taste the delicate mushroom flavour inside the pasta, so opted for an ever so simple yet complimenting sauce of butter, garlic, lemon and sage. 

With such good pasta, you really don’t need any more flavours. Butter makes for a more luxurious sauce if you are only cooking with a few flavours. It was a perfect easy Saturday lunch, definitely had a cheeky glass of rose to go with it too! 

Image

Serves 2:

2 portions mushroom ravioli (about 350g)
Rind of half a lemon.
Good squeeze lemon juice.1 clove of garlic (we had a monster of a clove, looked like a giant’s thumb – so only used half)
1 dessert spoon dried sage
50g butter
Salt & pepper to season
Handful of rocket to garnish

We served out pasta with an avocado, tomato and rocket side salad drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and ground pepper – get your 5 a day 😀

Method:

1.Cook your pasta in simmering water with a splash of olive oil (about 5-6 minutes for fresh ravioli, you don’t want to overcook them as the filling will start to leak out of the parcels.)

2. While your pasta is cooking, in a frying pan on a medium heat, melt the butter and add the garlic so it slowly fries, then add the sage, lemon zest and lemon juice. You may need to add some more butter if it reduces too much. It should smell lovely and rich when you are cooking it! (I got way too excited for lunch!). Season with salt and pepper.

3. Drain the pasta then add it to the frying pan. Gently coat the pasta with the sauce.

4. Divide onto plates and sprinkle with a handful of rocket.

5. Serve with a side salad and parmesan if you like!

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Ventimiglia, Italy (just about!)

9 Nov

This afternoon, a 45 minute train journey along the Riviera (worth a trip just for the scenery to be honest) had taken me through two countries (Monaco, then back into France!) and finally into Ventimiglia, a  coastal town just across the border in Italy. 

I had decided to visit Ventimiglia because A) I wanted to say oh so casually that I had been to Italy for the afternoon and B) I wanted to visit the food/goods market to see if the alleged rock-bottom prices for pasta and parmesan was true!

The ‘bit of a mess’ that Italy is in economically and politically is evident as soon as you cross the border. It’s a little more shabby and run down than the French Riviera. But as I sat with Ollie, we mused that it actually had an honest, relaxing charm about it.  The beach was a little rough compared to the manicured beaches of the Cote d’Azur, but as it is not a tourist destination, it was a breath of fresh air compared to any of the nearby bustling French towns.

We didn’t actually need to stock up on any food, but in the future it would be well worth a train ticket to do your pasta/cheese/vegetable/fish/meat shopping in the undercover market. There are tens of fruit and veg stalls, selling bargain priced goods from aubergines to star fruits. And, only in Italy will you find mounds of sundried tomatoes and olives for about half the price as in the UK. Also, if you are a mushroom lover, then are stalls selling different varieties of porcini and truffles.

The cheese. I love cheese! The variety available in France (even the smallest supermarket will have a huge selection of cheese, even if it takes up half the shop!) has slowly seduced me into buying multiple varieties  so I have ended up with about 7 different cheeses in the fridge at any one time. Italian cheese such as mozzarella and parmesan is about the same price in France as it is in the UK. Over the border however, there were huge cliff-like triangles of parmesan being sold at a mere 11 euros per kg (in a UK supermarket, the average price is around £18 per kg). Fresh mozzarella is available by the ball, you won’t find any pre-packed mozzarella here!

My favourite find however was the fresh pasta stalls. As well as having a take away service for any pasta variety and home made sauce, about 15 different types of fresh gnocchi, tortellini and ravioli were available to buy in any quantity desired.  After much deliberation (we could have happily bought a portion of each – basil, truffle, salmon, Gorgonzola ..) we opted for the porcini mushroom ravioli, and a portion of the  asparagus and parmesan ravioli. Cannot wait to try them! Prices were above your average packet of supermarket ravioli, but compared to British delis, 500g at 5.50 euros is not bad at all! We will most definitely be returning. 

After wandering around the food market, we made our way to the seafront, where rows and rows of stalls sell leather goods and clothes. To be quite honest most of the clothes were incredibly chavvy. Yes, even though Italians have their stylish stereotype, i’m not so sure if it comes down to coastal border towns (sorry any Italians out there!)

Initially attracted by tack-shop smell of leather (such a bad vegetarian), I came across some high quality leather weekend bags that I found in one stall that I would have loved to buy. Although alas, my purse couldn’t answer my request.

I hadn’t been aware of it, but Italy’s tax on alcohol is even smaller than the one imposed in France. As a result there are a few shops catering for the cross-border shoppers selling cheap as chips vodka, rum, whiskey  pastis and so forth. So cheap that we just had to buy a litre each of Bombay Sapphire, Captain Morgan’s and Jim Bean’s, all for under 40 euros. As a UK student, used to paying £10 for 70cl of Tesco Value’s finest vodka, it was well worth a trip. We now have a little bar in our apartment to last us the year (we say optimistically…)

It was about 3.30 before we headed to find somewhere to eat (fault of the student mealtime pattern, most unhelpful!) however most restaurants were closed. We did manage to find a little place on the market street and after a late lunch of a pizza siciliana (bargain at a mere 6euros, yay for Italian prices once again!) we headed back to Nice as the sun slowly descended into the sea. I’m still not used to complete darkness by 6pm when you can still wear a t-shirt and jumper quite comfortably in the day. So weird. I’m already mentally preparing myself for the cold of Exeter.  Hardly the coldest place on earth, but for a girl who in the UK, spends most of the time getting circulation back into hands and feet, I imagine it will be as if I have been dropped naked into the icy Artic Ocean.

Anyway, time to research what I can cook with my fabulous fresh pasta! I am so excited for tomorrows lunch already 😀