Monday, August 27, 2012

Competition: TateOil's Summer Recipe Competition

Hey guys! So next competition in the line is TateOil's Summer Recipe competition. The company wanted everyone to send in their favourite summery recipes, in order to win the glam prize of a Kindle! I have entered both their last competitions and no luck yet, but I still think i'm in with a chance! There are 9 entries this year (including mine), and the voting closes on Friday 31st August.

If you guys could vote for my Parmesan Chicken with Pea Shoot Salad and Zesty Yoghurt, that'd be great, thank you!! The website is below:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Recipe: Roasted red pepper and tomato sauce

Wheyyy, I finally did it, I tricked my little brother into eating peppers! (He is eighteen bearing this in mind!). One night i just really fancied a fresh tasting healthy spaghetti dish with a sauce and now i've made this recipe a few times, i love it! That night i served it with pasta, and some freshly chopped parsley and parmesan as you can see in the picture. However, this sauce goes with almost anything- pies, cold cuts, roasted meats, other sorts of pasta, it's very versatile. You can even serve it as a soup too as well if you fancy it.

Roasted red pepper and tomato sauce (makes about 800g)

3 tbsp olive oil
2 red peppers, seeded and diced
1 red onion, diced
1 tsp herbs du Provence
Salt and pepper

1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
A little water (if necessary)

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Roast the peppers and red onions in a roastring tray with the herbs, oil and seasoning for 20 minutes, or until the peppers start blackening. Remove from the oven and set aside.
2. Add the roasted vegetables and all the other ingredients into a food processor and blend until a smooth sauce is obtained. Pour this sauce into a pan and heat until piping hot. Add a splash of water if the sauce is too thick for you, season to taste, and serve- with spaghetti, pies, meats, whatever you fancy!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Recipe: Wensleydale, Cranberry, and Caramelised Onion Pies

This is a dish I came up with to use the last of the wensleydale with cranberries I had left in the fridge- and it turned out to be delicious! I was a bit worried that maybe the pies would be too dry/ the cheese would be a bit too "claggy" (i find that can be problem with cooking with cheshire/lancashire/ wensleydale cheeses) but they were rather sweet and moist inside, and serving a sauce with it made sure the dish wasnt too dry. The sauce I used actually is just a watered down heated up version of my chilli jam, but any type of sweet-ish red pepper sauce would go well with this dish. Rather cheap and easy lunch wouldn't you say!

Wensleydale and caramelised onion pies (makes four)

Knob of butter
1 red onion
¼ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp sugar
275g Wensleydale with cranberries
100g red onion chutney
Salt and pepper to taste
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry
Egg or milk (to brush over)

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Fry the red onions in the butter with the thyme and sugar for about 10 minutes, or until caramelised. Take off the heat, stir in the Wensleydale with cranberries and chutney, season to taste, and allow to cool.
2. Cut a ready rolled sheet of puff pastry into four rectangles. Fill these rectangles with the cooled mix evenly, fold over, and seal and crimp the edges. Cut a little hole in the top of the pies (to allow steam to come out) and brush with egg wash.
3. Place pies onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Serve, perhaps like I have, with a sweet red pepper sauce and salad.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Recipe: Jamie Oliver's Courgette and Boccocini Salad

This is a lovely little salad recipe that Nick made me last week, after we'd both seen Jamie Oliver make it on his "30 Minute Meals" program. Very simple and very refreshing I thought, and tasty too. We made half the amount Jamie made on his show, as it was to serve four- but other than that we followed the recipe to the letter. I will definitely be making this again, it is delicious, however i think that the salad would be nicer with some creamy goats cheese or some feta instead of the boccocini (mini mozzarella balls- sometimes called Mozzarella pearls in supermarkets) as I didn't think they actually added much to the dish. Nick actually took the picture of this dish with his iphone, they've got such fantastic cameras on them havent they??

Courgette and Mozzarella Salad (serves 2 as a side dish)

1 yellow courgette, peeled thinly into strips (discarding the middle bit)
1 green courgette, peeled thinly into strips (discarding the midd bit)
1 red chilli, very finely chopped
1 squeeze fresh lemon
Handful fresh mint, very finely chopped
salt and pepper
10 Boccocini

1. Mix all the ingredients together (except the boccocini) and season to taste. Lay the courgettes onto a platter and top with the boccocini- serve!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Travel: Dordogne Day Four

So today on the Cookinfrance Itinerary the group was supposed to spend all day in the kitchen, making a vegetable and poached egg salad, a tarte tatin, and searing the duck breasts (“magret”) that we had butchered off the ducks on the first day. However, we (I say “we”- I was a bit embarrassed so I got Nick to talk to Jim) said to Jim that basically, as I am a chef as my job back at home, I really didn’t want to spend my holiday in a kitchen (a bit of a bus-man’s holiday I suppose!) so we said that we would not do the cooking today and go out and explore the region- do some sight seeing. Any way, considering everyone else on the course was leaving Saturday morning, and we had to leave Friday morning (because that’d what Sudocrem gave us as a prize), loads of the prep-work during the week was for the “final meal” everyone was having on the Friday night. Which we of course weren’t going to be involved in, so we thought we’d leave everyone else to it.

So first of all we decided to check out “Le Regourdou Neanderthal site”, a site where it said in the guide book they had found the remains of pre-Neanderthal man, and also loads of bones of ancient animals. What also drew me to this attraction was the fact that is said there were real brown bears there!!! Awesome!! When we got there, every hour a guide took a group of people round the place, explaining in French as they went. We were given a guide thingy however that explained pretty much everything they were saying to the group in English. This place was amazing, and the story behind it crazy. Basically about 1km down the road, there was also a big attraction called “Lascaux caves” (which was a load of caveman wall paintings and things). When these “lascaux” caves were randomly discovered in the 50’s by four little boys walking in the countryside ( their dog got stuck inside the cave and when the boys tried to get him out, they ended up stumbling over all this cool stuff!)- a guy in a house nearby suddenly thought “Hey, I bet theres loads of this prehistoric stuff round here, maybe theres some stuff in my garden?”. So this guy dug MASSIVE holes and things in his garden for over TWO YEARS (notice theres no mention of this guy’s wife, lol, she must’ve given up in the end!!), without finding anything- then suddenly, he struck gold! He found a burial chamber (like a crude stone coffin thing) and inside this was the remains of a “Cro Magnol” man. Cro Magnol man is even older than neanderthal man. Not only did he find this intact skeleton, with loads of hunting trophies and flowers placed around him, but they found next to him the skeleton of an ancient MASSIVE bear! There is knowledge that many groups of prehistoric man worshipped bears, as they believed they were immortal (through not fully understanding their hibernation process) and it was believed the prehistoric men in this area were part of some sort of bear cult.
After this discovery this man continued his obsession with bears, and decided he would buy a couple of brown bears from a zoo in France, and then set up a pen for them in his garden! What a nutter! There were 6 bears there in total, all of which had to be seperated into three groups of two, because apparently if they kept them all together then the alpha male would kill the cubs/ the other males would all start fighting etc etc. However awesome it was to get so horrifyingly close to these cute looking but scary animals, I did feel really bad about the conditions they were being kept in. They were in really really small areas/pens and a lot of them were walking round in circles- a sign of an unhappy animal. I don’t think its right to keep animals in such confined spaces- there really was almost no room for them to walk around. In fact I would almost say that if this was in England I don’t think laws would have allowed those conditions. I hope maybe that the WSPCA find it and sort it out. I wrote a whole long big email to them when I got back but when I tried sending it to them it made me try and create an account with them and I was like, hey, screw you WSPCA, I’m trying to report a serious animal welfare problem and you won’t let me unless you have all my contact details and get me on your mailing list, wtf?

Anyway, slightly going off topic, but the dig site, museum, bears, and story regarding the whole site, was absolutely fascinating- and I really would recommend it.
Our next stop was the Chateau at jardins de Losse- a beautiful and historic 16th century chateau containing amazing period furniture, tapestries, and weapons- and also the gardens surrounding the chateau were superbly maintained. The stories about the gardens was that although the people that did conservation on the castle and the gardens didn’t know how the original gardens would have looked like in the 16th century- they studied drawings, paintings and tapestries all over France to see what was fashionable for gardens at the time, and based their designs on this. In the gardens were classic Italian style architecture and garden patterns (fashionable in France in the 16th century apparently) and plants that were popular during that era, often due to their scent- there were many roses, lilacs, honey suckles etc. There was also a cool (perhaps with a bit more modern interpretation!) bamboo maze that after I went into I figured was designed for little children, as it was very small and the pathways very little. Cute though.
We found out half way through the guided tour (again spoken in French, but were given an English guidebook) that we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the chateau, but Nick managed to get a few cheeky ones in before that- some of the Tapestries in this place were out of this world! After the guide, we decided to have our picnic in a cute little picnic area they had set up right near the chateau, on the way to a riverside walk. Doesn’t it look scrumptious! All these lovely things we bought from stalls and markets whilst we were on holiday, and a nice crusty baguette we had bought from a boulangerie whilst we driving through Montignac earlier on. Nicest picnic I’ve ever had in my life I think!
On our drive away from the chateue, we decided to stop off at a really cute little village called St Leon de Vezere, mainly because we noticed it had a post office, so we figured we’d have a relaxed drink at one of the little bars there and write our postcards. We found the prettiest looking café covered in foliage and I have a lovely relaxed drink here whilst looking at the scenery. Also we ended up chatting to this older guy (mainly because I noticed he had the most adorable dog) from Austria that I am seriously not joking sounded completely like a Bond villain. He was saying funny/nice things about being on holiday in the Dordogne region for about a week, and that nowadays the dog is in charge of him and his partner’s holidays, not the other way around, which was hilarious. But I still kept thinking about him saying “How long will you be staying here, MR BOND! “ Haha! It’s funny the random people you meet on holiday isn’t it? This place was the nicest little village with two lush looking restaurants and friendly people around though- the kind of place you love to accidentally stumble over when you are on holiday.
Our next and last stop (we were deciding which attraction to go to next and since this place shuts fairly late and looked quite interesting we chose this) was the Maison Forte de Reignac. This has got to be the most amazing and alive museums/sites I have ever been to IN MY LIFE. The site (a set of very high cliffs) had been inhabited 20,000 years ago by Cro Magnol man- and then was built upon and lived in up until the Renaissance! It had a great defensive position and the entire castle that had been built around the rocks had loads of defensive structural functions within it- like holes in the walls to pun canons through and slitted windows to shoot arrows from and things like that. The museum as I said before, felt so “alive”- even with all the period furniture, stuffed animals, and artefacts in all of the rooms (each of which had a very detailed and fascinating description of in the free English guidebook they gave us) there was also lit fires, lit candles, bubbling pots/stoves in the fireplace, and food hanging from the ceilings/ on the table. It felt like we were intruders into a Renaissance man’s house- you could completely imagine what it would have been like to live there during those times.
I couldn’t praise this attraction any more- this was the best part of our holiday, and one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen in my life. If you go anywhere in the south of France- find this place and check it out! You can’t let yourself miss it!
At the time we were visiting, the attraction also had an extensive exhibition on the history of torture. This is something that had been to L.A, London, Mexico, Italy, Spain, and loads of big museums around the world but during July this was currently being displayed at this place. MY GOD. You kinda think that things aren’t going to shock you anymore, because you hear terrible things on the news about murderers, and you watch horror films all the time- but this exhibition completely got to me. There were all these different ancient torture mechanisms all round this room with explanations as to how they would have been used- like iron maidens and guillotines and spiky iron chairs and things. What was messed up too was some of the descriptions said “and this is still used as a method of torture in south America” or “this is still used by the US secret services currently as torture for terrorists”. Makes us think how messed up we all are really- to have come up with some of these devices.
Also, I didn’t know this about the guillotine- first of all, that it was originally a Scottish invention, but then it just got popular in France when Mr. Guillotine brought it over. Secondly that the last person to be executed by guillotine was in France in 1977. I was like, wtf?? In the seventies?? So whilst all the Beatles and Motown was going on people in France were still being executed by guillotine!?!? Mental!! I think one of the most messed up ones in this exhibition (apart from maybe “the saw”- where they literally strung you upside down and sawed you right down the middle- and often you wouldn’t die until they got to the chest because the blood was all at your head) was something called “The Jock’s Mare”, pictured last. They would make someone sit on it, with weights on high legs, then make them rock back and forth. Eventually the person would die of infected….”down there” and essentially this thing would split this person in two.
See, I told you it’s all a bit horrible isn’t it?? After I came out I was all white and felt a bit shaky, I was like “Nick, can you buy me a cornetto or something, I need cheering up after all that dreadfulness!”. After this we decided to drive to our last location to have our final meal of the holiday- the little village of Les Eyzies. I have been mentioning all the fascinating prehistoric things all around the area- well the National Prehistoric museum is located in Les Eyzies, but of course it was shut by the time we got there. Amazing looking place though- the museum had been hulled out of the rock just like many of the castles and settlements in the area had been too. We bought a few goodies in a shop that was just shutting down (Nick bought some Foie gras to bring to one of his friends back home, and I bought an awesome 16 piece amuse bouche set for like 10 euros or something equally as absurd!) and then found a little restaurant to eat in.
I can’t remember the name of the restaurant we went to, but the food was 50% brilliant, 50% lame, and I suppose the service left a little to be desired. The waiter was horrifically attractive (haha!) but dreadful at waiting tables, we heard an Irish couple next to us saying “it’s like faulty towers here isn’t it?”. Very Manuel, but French. For starter nick had a goats cheese salad, and I had the soup of the day, which happened to be Sorrel. His salad was quite generous, rather simple but pleasant enough. My soup was incredibly boring actually- just tasted of….i dunno, you know when soup just tastes of “soup” and you can’t really pick out any distinguishable flavours? Certainly couldn’t pick up any sorrel from it. Rather disappointing, and a far cry from the beautiful pink garlic soup I had the night before.
Mains then went marvellously for me, but rather disappointingly for Nick. I ordered one of the specials, “Lapin” something something, which I knew was rabbit, so I thought I would give it a go. Turned out to be roast saddle of rabit, in a really delicious thick onion gravy, served with sweet red cabbage, sarladaise potatoes (not as nice as the potatoes at the restaurant last night- much more claggy) and “vegetables”- which I reckoned was some sort of cauliflower gratin thing but it was hard to put my finger on it. The dish was unusual but incredibly delicious, rabbit is a bit fiddly when it comes to bones but if it’s cooked properly is a fantastic meat, never dry, and comes off the bones easily. Nick’s main, Duck with cep mushroom sauce and fries (he had to go for that option again after last night I suppose!) was really disappointing. The duck was dry, it had not been served with much sauce at all as you can see, so when Nick tried to get the waiters attention to bring him more sauce, he just came back to us with a few mayo and ketchup packets, by which time the fries and duck had gone cold. Felt very sorry for Nick at the time to keep feeding him bits of my rabbit, haha. We did consider getting puddings (well, I did anyway!) but it took so long to get the waiters attention, we just went straight upstairs and paid for the bill. Which the staff got wrong and we ended up paying about 20 euro less. Their mistake I guess, if the service was that bad I wasn’t going to question them making a mistake on the cheque- that’s just them continuing their bad service and is utterly their fault.
Shame that our last meal wasn’t the best, but we had such a nice time on this holiday it didn’t dampen our spirits. We loved the Cookinfrance location, the villages surrounding the area, the fascinating museums and medieval villages scattered around the place, and we LOVED the food. We both thought that the Dordogne region was so jam packed with things to see that we will definitely will be coming back here again, perhaps to a slightly different part of it. We might have spent a bit of money- but it was still an amazing free holiday, a prize that was really worth it! Cheers Sudocrem, for introducing us (I would dare to say) to the nicest region of France!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Travel: Dordogne Day Three

Today was the day we were all going to visit the medieval town of Sarlat for their food market, something I had been thoroughly looking forward to when reading about the itinerary. Sarlat seems to be the biggest/ most well-known town nearest to where the CookinFrance location (Bombel) was. The market was so wonderful! Here we found many of the traditional items we had seen in the regional produce fair, such as the foie gras, walnuts and honey. There was also some brilliant cheese stalls, fruit and veg stalls, LOADS of places selling different types of cured sausages, deli stalls and much much more!
Me and Nick decided we would get a load of items to have a picnic the next day at some point, so we bought a big chunk of cheese with walnuts in, a couple of juicy nectarines, some scrummy pickled garlic cloves and marinated artichokes, and some yellow and red juicy looking cherry tomatoes. I also bought some nougat for my mum and then some yellow courgettes to bring back for myself and my parents (thinking that shops in Britain don’t sell them, although this year once I got back I realised that Sainsbury’s have started stocking yellow courgettes, and this has made me a very happy girl!). Ooh and I just remembered- bought a gert big massive pink head of garlic, and a pack of dried cep mushrooms to be used in particular recipes at some point this month. A regular foodie smorgasbord it all was! (yes I had to google how to spell that word….)
It wasn’t all about the food though, they were some funky little tourist shops around as well, and a few cool places selling sculptures and jewellery (I’m such a magpie when it comes to jewellery- I love shiny things!!). We found this cool glass-wear shop actually, that sold glass jewellery and animals (including v realistic looking spiders- eek!)made from glass, and you could actually watch the guy in a little booth thing blowing glass and turning it into things- was pretty cool!
We noticed loads of fab looking restaurants and café’s too, and food stalls selling regional speciality dishes (like the one below a rotisserie chicken stew served with “Sarladaise Potatoes”- potatoes, garlic and herbs cooking in copious amounts of duck fat- yum!) but we knew after the market we were all heading back to prepare lunch with everyone at CookInFrance, so me and Nick figured we might head back into Sarlat later.
When we got back “to the ranch” (lol!) we had another lazy lunch of baked camembert, with “rustic” croutons and raspberry jam. The camembert was baked in a hot oven with a bit of orange, garlic, rosemary and olive oil, until it rose up and began to brown nicely, and then we scooped that up with some croutons we had baked in the oven with some olives and slices of Parma ham chucked in.
After lunch and a bit of a siesta, Nick and I decided to check out another one of the local villages, to see what it had to offer. There was the option of doing some sugar craft with Jim and everyone but we decided we wanted to do some sight-seeing. We decided to stop of at a village called Montignac, as I suppose we had heard of the name before and thought there might be some historical things to see there. To be fair, the village was beautiful, I’ll give it that, but there was actually nothing to see there really. Theres a little church, and then theres this really cool looking big old building up the hill- with old signs up to it saying “tourist trail, but then when you get to the top theres just all these signs saying “private property”. I think someone must have bought it and doesn’t let anyone go near it any more. Bit disappointing to be honest- considering how many interesting things we saw the next day in such a short space of time, so if I were you (unless you want to rent a kayak, which they seemed to be doing a lot of there) then avoid Montignac, all a bit pretty-yet-dull.
Night was beginning to close in so we decided to drive back to Sarlat and find a place to eat. We really struggled to find a place where we didn’t have to have duck as a starter AND as a main (and I swear there was even a place that sold duck as a dessert- foie gras brulee!!) but eventually through the beautifully lit streets we found a lovely posh-ish little restaurant down one of the side streets called Le Petit Borie (A “Petit Borie” being a specific type of little stone building that you traditionally find in the provence region). I had one of the best French meals of my life here and if you are anywhere near the area you have to scout this place out. I realised googling it online now that is has loads of good reviews/ tripadvisor reviews, but of course me and Nick didn’t know this at the time, we just thought the menu looked lush, there was outside seating, and there was a nice french band starting up nearby.
We ordered the “traditional pink garlic soup” for starter, which was served to us from a tureen by the very friendly waiter there. He explained to us that in The Dordogne it is traditional that just after a good friend gets married, you take over to their home a big batch of this pink garlic soup as a gift. This stuff was smooth, creamy and bloody delicious!!! I wish they would have given me more actually it was Sooooo nice! But considering I bought a big big head of pink garlic back home with me I reckon I’m going to try and recreate the dish myself at home. We had a very nice glass of rose with this too, I’m a very happy girl here!
For mains I had the Duck Cassoulet- a type of French casserole, with many types of meat, white beans and often a breadcrumb topping. In certain regions of France (such as Toulouse) there will also be sausages added to the casserole. Mine had Confit duck, pork, and thick smoked belly pork in it, with delicious creamy flageolet beans. Was so warm and comforting! I had this with a side of sarladaise potatoes (I just had to order some after seeing them all cooking in the market square earlier in the day) and some side vegetables. Nick had the seared duck breast, with sarladaise potatoes, salad, and local wild cep sauce. Both of really loved our meal, and Nick admitted that this whole holiday was really changing his mind about duck- he thought he didn’t really like it before, because he’s a bit funny about having any fat on his meat, but he decided he was going to try duck much more often when we came back to blighty. He also loved the cep sauce- I tried a little and it was so rich and creamy and earthy- me and Nick are definitely going to have a go at making something similar with our dried cep mushrooms at home.
Dessert for me had to be a traditional crème brulee, and this ended up being completely massive (as if I wasn’t stuffed enough already!) but absolutely fabulous, and Nick’s pudding, well, I suppose was a little disappointing. He ordered a caramelised apple galette which sounded yummy but what arrived was thick soggy pancake with a load of squirty cream on it, but never mind though- the meal and the whole experience was stunning.
The lovely meal finished off the night perfectly, and after picking up a few free tourism brochures from around Sarlat we decided that we were really looking forward to doing more sight-seeing the next day.