Thursday, 25 February 2010

Spring has (almost) Sprung!

What a week. It has flown by as if it had wings.

Much like the birds which are starting to make themselves known around the quartier.

The jasmine plant on our bedroom windowsill has put forth new shoots and is looking vibrant and vigorous.

The crocus bulbs which are pushing through the grass in the house opposite, and the earth of our window boxes, all tell me that spring is almost here.

No budlets for leaves on the trees yet, but you can just feel that they are not too far away.

We have averaged 10C each day this week. Almost a heatwave! The only worry is that we will have a late snowfall or the temp will drop very low, very quickly, and all the signs of spring will be killed by frost.

Even if we do get a killer frost, I will still have spring inside. I have two hyacinth bulbs being forced on (hopefully a pink and a purple) and they both have lovely strong flower stalks with tightly furled buds at present. Another few days and it will look and smell divine and springlike chez Pitt.

Stay tuned for pictures as spring shows its face more clearly.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Lapin, not so agile

A bit of an in joke for les Montmartoise. There is a cabaret called Le Lapin Agile (the agile rabbit). We nicknamed this dish the rabbit not so agile.

We are still experiencing winter weather. The sky has been valiantly trying to be blue and rays of pale wintery sunshine have been forcing their way between the clouds. But it is still coat and scarf and hat and gloves weather.

This morning we felt like having a casserole for dinner. The choices were beef and carrots or rabbit in red wine. We called our neighbours (and good friends) and asked if they felt like joining us for an early dinner. They jumped at the opportunity and given the options they selected rabbit.

So rabbit it was.

A few hours later the appartment smelt divine and our mouths were watering.

Such a simple dish, but so delicious. Exactly what we all needed on a cold winters day.

I did not make an entree, nor did I serve a cheese course. We simply gorged ourselves on rabbit casserole with green veg and then finished with a peach tart. Simple, honest, hearty faire. A bottle of a very unusual rose was drunk with the meal. It is called Fat Bastard, and is a collaberation between a French winemaker and a British wine industry rebel. Produced in France by the Fat Bastard Wine Company. We all agreed it was a perfect winter rose. Rich, round and so flavourful. One to watch out for in future.

Lapin "not so" Agile
1 rabbit cut into pieces (the majority of the pieces deboned)
250g lardons or streaky bacon cut into small strips
1 small onion diced very finely
1 clove garlic minced
good splash of red wine (I used half a bottle of a haut medoc)
500g carrots peeled and diced (or sliced, depending on your mood)
500g small potatoes (I used pommes de terre grenaille)
500g peas
500mls heavy stock (ie a robust flavour like veal, beef etc - not chicken or vegetable)

Place onion and garlic in base of heavy casserole (I use a vintage le creuset)
Arrange rabbit pieces in one layer on top of aromatics. Top with lardons or bacon.
Pour in as much red wine as you like - up to half a bottle.

Let sit for a few minutes so the rabbit can slowly drink in the wine and relax. Have a glass yourself. After all you should only cook with good quality wines that you would like to drink.

Add as much water and stock as you need to cover the rabbit completely.
Cover and place in oven for an hour or so at 165C.
After hour or so, remove from oven and turn meat. Make sure if it has stuck a little on the bottom that you scrape up all the goodies so they melt into the sauce.
Add vegetables.
Add rest of stock and water to cover vegetables completely.
Place back in oven for at least 2 hours. The meat should be falling apart and looking like shreds of rabbit.

The longer you leave it the better. Check occasionally that there is still plenty of liquid in dish.

Nutty Greens
4 (or so) zucchini sliced into rondelles
10 (or so) asparagus spears cut into 2cm lengths
olive oil
roughly crushed hazelnuts
1 clove garlic minced

Cook veg and garlic till soft but not mushy.
Add nuts and olive oil and mix till a sort of lumpy puree.

Serve piping hot as side dish.

Can also be pureed and served on crostini or toasted bread or as a sauce for pasta.

Tarte au Peche
1 sheet of puff pastry (pate brisee)
1 huge tin of peach halves, drained
1 tin coconut milk
3 tablespoons custard powder (yes, I know - cheating)
2 tablespoons sugar

Make custard using coconut milk, powder and sugar. Cool slightly.
Place pastry in tart or pie plate and mould into edges. Trim if necessary.
Arrange peaches on base of pastry lined dish.
Pour custard mix over peaches till amost at top of pastry edge.
Bake at 180C till custard is set at edges and pastry is golden.
Remove from oven and sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of brown sugar.

Return to oven and cook further 5 mins at 210C till sugar caramelises.

Allow to cool to room temperature and then serve with fresh cream and sprinkled with raw (unsalted) pistachios.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Angleterre enfin!

I am a bit late with this post. Had intended on posting first thing monday morning.... but life the universe and everything conspired against me getting any computer work done.

We had a fabulous time in England, although it was a bit dubious whether we would make it or not. The Eurostar basically fails when it snows or there is ice. You would think that in a cold climate they would know that the train would come in contact with these things and manufacture equipment that stands up to the weather. Sensible non? Well, it seems that sense and public transport are polar opposites.

Prepare for start of rant.....

I was supposed to be on the first Eurostar of the day leaving Paris. When I woke at 5am there was a thick coating of snow outside. Pas de problem. I called a taxi. "Sorry we cannot access your area this morning due to the snow". Ok, mild anxiety. Try another company. And try again and again for 40 minutes, until finally a taxi agrees to drive almost to our street to pick me up. Try to take suitcase downstairs and up (yes - uphill) to the nearest cross street quietly.... whilst trying to remain upright and not end up with a bruise imprint of the cobblestones on my backside. Sigh.

Anyway, taxi finally arrives, get to the train terminal a few minutes before departure and race through security etc. Jump on the train and before I can find my seat the doors close. A very close call.

Then the train sat there for 30 minutes without moving whilst they removed snow from the engine carriage.......

A very very slow trip to Calais where we once again sat whilst they de-snowed and iced the engine carriages. Then a slow trip through the tunnel and a slow trip to London. A 2 and a half hour trip turned into 5 and a half hours. One ray of sunshine is that we were all offered free Eurostar tickets to be used anytime within the next year. You know I will be taking them up on that offer!

End of rant, back to lovely trip.

I had 2 glorious though very short days with a girlfriend who I haven't seen since last september. If only I could have slowed time down so we could have fitted more in. At least I know that with my free ticket I can go and visit again soon without breaking the budget.

After 2 days in Surrey I went back to London to visit with the outlaws - oops I mean inlaws. Wayne joined me there and we had 2 days of eating, drinking and general merriment. One of the highlights was dinner on saturday night (which was our wedding anniversary coincidentally).

My SIL cooked a fabulous meal, followed by delicious British cheeses with water biscuits. Then the piece de resistance - dessert made by the youngest niece. A truely scrumptious confection of puff pastry, caramel and apples, served with vanilla ice cream and real english cream. Delicious! As you can see, plates were scraped clean and quite quickly too!

As always, we came home with suitcases filled with goodies. A shopping trip to Boots, Primark, Holland and Barrett and M&S is compulsary. All sorts of goodies found their way into our bags till they were full to bursting point.

Tonight it is cumberland sausages and mashed potatoes with gravy and peas. There are Scottish fishcakes tucked away for later in the week, and all sorts of other tasty treats just waiting to tempt our tastebuds. You just know that regimes and sensible eating are out the window whilst we have these goodies in the house!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Midweek Musings

Here it is, wednesday again.

We have had so much snow today and yesterday. No photos of the snow as I have not perfected the art of photographing it yet. But I have certainly had a lot of practice today!

I love it when it snows. The whole world goes quiet and seems to hold its breath, as if waiting for something. Everything looks beautiful, gilded with a lacy trim of fresh snow, like icing sugar dusted over a cake. It blurs the edges and brings a new perspective to the world.

It was snowing so heavily this morning that I could not see the park across the road. Guy was fascinated. He sat on the dining table (yes, I know - cat bum on dining table - but let's not get into his bad habits today. sigh) and gazed at the flakes drifting past the window. Some of them were as big as a 2 euro piece!!

I waited till after lunch to head out to the shops thinking the snow may ease up or stop. Which it did.... till I set foot outside the door when it came down heavily again.....

Even though being hit in the eyeballs by snowflakes is right down near the bottom of my "list of things I enjoy", it was magical to walk through the snow and watch my jacket turn from black to white.

A father and teenage son started an impromptu snowball fight, which soon had everybody taking sides and commenting. A lot of fun. Amazing how that white stuff turns even grown ups into giggling children. Everyone walked off with smiles on their faces, something you don't see often in Paris.

Arriving home very chilled, with numb fingers and toes I craved something hearty and hot for dinner tonight. So we are having boeuf au carrottes with pomme de terre ratte. (beef and carrots with "ratte" variety potatoes). Being me, it is not the authentic version that takes all day to make. I always "adjust" recipes. There is no salt in this recipe. This is deliberate. If you add salt it will make the meat tough. There is also so much flavour that you will not miss the salt. If you must have it, add a sprinkle of fleur de sel when serving.

Enjoy your casserole and I will be back on monday. I am now off to England for a few days of fun with friends and family. Can't wait!

Boeuf au Carrottes a la Debbie
1kg good stewing steak, trimmed and cut into chunks
approx half bottle nice red wine (I am using a bourdeaux tonight)
good sprinkle of parsley, pepper, any other herbs you feel like 1bunch of thyme chopped
1 small onion chopped very fine
1 clove garlic chopped very fine
2 stalks of celery chopped finely
1 teaspoon of grainy mustard
1 tablespoon of redcurrant jelly
1/2 teaspoon vegemite

Put everything in a large casserole dish and stir to combine. Cover and place in slow oven.

After 30 mins add 1kg carrots chopped into rough chunks. Stir and cover again.

Now and then check that it is cooking well and stir. You may like to add stock or gravy granules for a richer or thicker gravy, or to leave the lid off for half an hour to reduce the gravy. Each batch is different and may need "tweaking" in a different way.

Cook in a slow oven for as many hours as you can leave it before being driven insane by the aroma

Steam/boil/microwave the potatoes till cooked. Drain any liquid and add fresh butter and fresh parsley.

Serve generous portions of the casserole in a shallow bowl. Don't forget to add potatoes to the bowl! Sprinkle fresh chopped parsley and/or thyme over everything. Dunk pieces of crusty bread into the juices and enjoy it all with a glass of whatever wine you used in the dish.... or a lovely bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape..... even better!

I do not use measurements very often... sorry. After checking my oven temp it is on 180C and I will turn it down to about 165C after the carrots go in.
I think dumplings would go fabulously in this. You may need to add some stock or water to the casserole though so it isn't too dry after the dumplings cook.
If you can't get fresh herbs, dried is ok. I tend to beg or buy fresh herbs when in season and freeze them for later use when they are not available.
The vegemite can be replaced with any flavourful stock cube/powder/liquid. It really just gives it a lovely colour and boosts the flavour.

Monday, 8 February 2010

M for Mechant

I know. No need to write in and tell me.

I am going to be one of those crazy cat ladies in my twilight years.

You know the ones that talk to their cat as if it is real, generally have more than one cat, feed them on delicacies yet don't have the money to pay the utilities, groom them and ensure they are magnificant looking but don't brush their own hair very often, look a bit like a cross between Brigitte Bardot in her current faze and my Great Aunt Noela (ie very curvacaous, but with the "witchy poo" hair and make up that BB seems to have adopted. What is it with that?!?). I just hope I don't suffocate them in my bosom like Aunty Noela used to do to animals..... and children. The nightmares I think we all suffered as a result of that!

Now that we have that out in the open, allow me to share another photo of my furbaby.

Yes I am besotted with him. Yes I do carry photos of him around in my handbag.

I must add that I also carry photos of the nieces, nephews, great niece and great nephew, godchildren etc. Just getting that on record before condemned to early crazy cat lady status.

OK, I do have adoption papers and am known as the "Maman de Guy la Griffe" at the vets... but that is just coincidental. I promise.

He is so adorable, but so so naughty. Like most cats that are Bengal origin he has an M in dark fur on his forehead ( a lot of tabbies have this also, which is where I think the Bengal gets it from). In french, the word "mechant" means naughty (it can also mean spiteful or vicious - but he is neither of those).

We joke that he was branded from birth and is just following the dictates laid down on his fur. Which is a bit worrying as he has a cobra pattern above the M......

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Midweek Musings

Well, here I am on another grey winters day. The sun is trying desperately to show its face, but without a great deal of success.

It has been a tough week.

A contre temps with certain members of the club saw me begin the week in a less than optimal mood. Then another run in on wednesday almost finished my connection with the club forever. I do not know why people have to be so sneaky, nasty and underhand. Or why they have to take out their insecurities and negativity on others.

Wayne has been away for most of January and I am feeling a little jaded with dinners alone every night and not being able to talk and to generally living separate lives. It seems I only see him for long enough to repack a suitcase and then spend the next week catching up on washing whilst he travels.

After a good long chat with a friend and her cat over many cups of tea and biscuits (who needs a regime at a time like this? Emotional crisis demand comfort food!) I feel a lot better. Going to the movies with another good friend helped also. Nothing like a good laugh to make you feel better.

....ok, maybe a good laugh and lots of cups of tea.....

I am very grateful to have such good friends this week.

p.s. the photo was taken at an archaeological conference last february. We were served afternoon tea in the tiny local church of a lovely village called Caerwent in Wales before visiting the fabulous Roman ruins that lie under and around the present village. The women of the village brought their own tea sets so they had enough cups and saucers to cater for our group.