RRRRatatouille

My husband’s Auntie M. is extremely grand.  She is the kind of woman who has a favorite table at The Wolseley.  Ditto J. Sheekey’s.  Ditto Ronnie Scott’s.  Of course she hasn’t been to the latter since the late 60s.  Why should she?  Mose Allison hasn’t been in years.  And though she is a woman, she has celebrated more than a few of her birthdays with private parties at Boodle’s.  The smoked eel there is wonderful.  Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.  Did I mention Auntie M. is extremely grand?  She is.  She has the diction of a Mitford and better posture than the queen.

On my 30th birthday, Auntie M. gave me an Hermès scarf.  She told me now that I was a woman of a certain age, my wardrobe required it.  

Last week, I saw Auntie M. and she gave me a few heads of wild French garlic.  She had just been to her home in the Languedoc and picked up several beautiful bunches before crossing the channel back to Angleterre.

garlic from Pomerols

This gift inspired me to make an enormous pot of ratatouille.  Not only because it’s delicious but because I can’t wait to tell Auntie M.  I always smile at the way she rrrrolls her posh Scottish Rs.

 

Ingredients:   

7 cloves of garlic, grated

2 onions, chopped

2 medium eggplant (aubergines), chopped

3 zucchini (courgettes), chopped

4 bell peppers, I like to get all different colors

600 grams piccolo tomatoes, quartered and de-seeded

1 bunch of thyme, chopped

1 bunch of basil, chopped

1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

3 tablespoons tomato paste

salt and pepper

olive oil

 

Method:

In a large pot, heat about a 1/4 cup of olive oil over a medium low flame.  Then add the onions and garlic.

saute onions and garlic

Stir constantly, making sure nothing burns.  When they start to caramelize, add the eggplant and thyme.

eggplant eggplant and thyme

 

When that starts to go soft, add the peppers, zucchini, and half the basil.  

peppers and courgettes

When those start to go soft, add the tomatoes and tomato paste.  Stir to incorporate.  

650 g tomatoescooking

Season with salt and pepper and don’t be precious with the salt.  You’ll need quite a bit.  Garnish with the remaining basil and serve.

serving

This goes so well with Bandol Rosé or a Picpoul de Pinet, my favorite being from Domaine La Grangette as my husband recently wrote about.  

  

 

À la Recherche du Pain Perdu

Today your narrator, just like the narrator in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, has eaten something that so reminds her of many a lost afternoon.  Can you guess?  It was pain perdu.

Pain perdu translates to lost bread or wasted bread as it is made from yesterday’s now stale remnants.  Though this sweet egg-soaked dish is made in many countries, I think pain perdu is the most poetic of its titles.  French toast seems a misnomer and eggy bread is too infantile for me to want it on my plate–even if it is nursery food.

Proust was the first person to coin the term involuntary memory.  It was the theme of his most prominent work, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu or In Search of Lost Time.   In the famous episode of the madeleine, he writes about flavors and textures summoning memories from decades past.

There is magic in the senses.  There is magic in food.  And sometimes they blur when we remember.  That’s why I wonder if my daughter will come to associate her mother’s pain perdu with rainy days as that’s when I always make it.  Kind of like how the rain reminds me of watching Hannah and Her Sisters for the first time years ago and discovering E.E. Cummings.

“nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”

Ingredients:

sliced stale bread

1/3 cup milk per egg is the ratio I use

2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

pinch of salt

*you can also add 1 teaspoon of orange zest per 1/3 cup of milk and egg if you like

a plate of blanched slivered almonds

powdered sugar to dust the toast at the end

butter and syrup for serving

 

Method:

Put the milk, egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean paste, and salt in a wide shallow dish.

ingredients

Whisk them together until well blended.

egg mixture

Dip your bread slices into the mixture.  Coat both sides then lay one side onto the plate of slivered almonds.

almond dipped

Place the almond side down in a lightly oiled frying pan.  Cook over medium-low heat on both sides.

frying pain perdu

Use a sifter to dust the pain perdu with powdered sugar.  Serve with butter and syrup.

pain perdu

 

And once you’ve finished your pain perdu, be sure to go out for some serious puddle splashing.

about to jumpkitty boots

jumpsplashdouble jump    falling in water  punim   snail

thinking girlHelenafall

Things That Stick to Your Ribs (A Profiteroles Recipe)

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Yesterday, I walked a mile uphill in English rain just to drop an essay in the post to a magazine that does not accept submissions via email.  I got soaked along the way as I carried no umbrella.  Couldn’t.  I was pushing my stroppy daughter who bandied her legs about under the dryness of her stroller’s plastic cover.  In protest, she doused the inside with apple juice.  Spill-proof sippy cup, my eye.

This journey into the local village made me feel like an aspiring woman writer from yesteryear.  It was all very “Gosh, I hope the ink doesn’t run off the envelope in this storm and jeepers, wouldn’t it be swell if I heard back from the editor soon?  Note to self: don’t forget milk for the baby on the way home.”

When I came out of the post office, the downpour had stopped and there was a rainbow in the sky.  At the end of it was something better than gold.  It was Hand Made Food.  Hand Made Food is the best cafe and shop in Blackheath and their cheese selection is tops.  I decided to stop in and see if I could find any special ingredients as our friends, Alexei and Linda, were joining us for dinner.

Lucky me.  I found the creamiest Stichelton to substitute for the Iowa Maytag I knew I couldn’t get for my blue cheese dressing.  It was extremely subtle for a blue cheese and perfectly tangy.  Nothing at all like Roquefort whose piquancy borders on the rancio.  It was the perfect accompaniment to one of my favorite salads, that ubiquitous iceberg wedge of America in the 1950s served with piccolo tomatoes and crumbled bacon.

The rest of our menu was equally brawny.  Rump steak, wilted spinach, buttered potatoes with parsley, with bottles of Dao and Barolo to drink.  For dessert, I couldn’t help myself.  Perhaps I should have made something lighter but I didn’t want to.  Summer has left and England is going cold.  Besides my flirty, 60 year old, Cockney butcher with glinty eyes and a shiny smile made even sparklier because of a few gold teeth, told me I looked like I was wasting away and he’d make it his business to build me up before winter so I wouldn’t fade away.  Yeah, I made profiteroles.

Aptly described by a friend of mine as “Godless bundles of temptation,” profiteroles have always been more seductive to me than forbidden fruit to Eve.  Last night, they proved the same for Henry and our friends.

 

For my choux, I use Ina Garten’s profiteroles recipe.  Though the chocolate sauce I make is a little different from hers.  The recipe is below.  I hope you like it as much as our friend, Linda, did.  She gave it the thumb’s up.

baking cooling

profiteroles1

A&L

Ingredients:

100g bar of dark chocolate (I use Chocolat Menier), chopped

3 tablespoons Lyle’s golden syrup

3/4 cup double cream

1 teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of sea salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Method:

Place the chocolate and syrup in a double boiler.  Or if you’re like me and haven’t got one, place them in a bowl atop a gently boiling pot of water.  Once they begin to melt, add the cream and stir constantly to emulsify.  Before taking the syrup off the stove, mix in the cinnamon, salt, and vanilla.

Spoon the sauce over the profiteroles then garnish with toasted slivered nuts and soft fruit.

Store the remaining pastry in an airtight container.  Pour the chocolate sauce into a glass jar and refrigerate.  I promise this dessert is just as delicious and beautiful a day later as evidenced below.

a day later

 

 

What Does an American Wear . . .

to The Young British Foodies Awards?  Because I’m going and it’s got me smilin’ like a possum eatin’ a sweet potato!  Honestly, I am pleased as punch to have made the food writing finals and I cannot wait for what promises to be an amazing night.  As the bébés down South say, laissez les bons temps rouler!

 

Chips, Chips!

“Da ti du di du Ci bum ci bum bum Da ti du di du Ci bum ci bum bum Da ti du di du.”  

Paolo Conte expresses exactly how I feel about chips when he sings this delightful gibberish.  To me, there’s nothing more moreish than hot chips.  Nothing.  Perhaps part of their appeal is knowing how short their shelf life is.  They must be eaten immediately.  The moment they go cold, so do I.  Below is my recipe for oven roasted chips.  Sorry there is no picture of the final product.  They were too delicious to stop and photograph.

 

Ingredients:   

potatoes
oil (I like to use peanut or olive)
salt and pepper
*a tablespoon of freshly chopped herbs–parsley, rosemary, thyme
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Method:
Preheat oven to 475°F/240°C/Gas 9.
Peel and slice your potatoes to desired width.
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Parboil the wedges for 2 minutes.
Drain and dry on paper towels.
Arrange on a baking tray.  Drizzle with oil, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs if you like.
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Bake for about 25-35 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.  Be sure to turn the chips over in the tray at least twice while baking.
Serve immediately.

The Attempted Killer Who Came to Tea

When I first moved to London, my English husband gave me a copy of Kate Fox’s “Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour.” This might seem like an innocuous present to you but I knew my husband’s ulterior motive. Henry was like the 1950s parent who so dreaded a discussion about sex with his adolescent that he handed her a book explaining it instead. That’s what this gift was—my husband hoping to avoid any awkward conversation about our cultural differences. As an American who has now lived here for five years, I cannot think of anything more English than that.

You can read the rest of this piece on The Dabbler.

Sticky Summer Cobbler

The smell of wild British blackberries in August is my favorite.  I love how after picking them their sweet dark scent lingers on my fingers and in the palms of my blue-black stained hands.  No wonder the perfumers at Jo Malone have tried to capture this scent.  It’s the sweetest, most luscious fragrance of high summer.

Which is why I feel lucky to have a garden full of rampant bramble bushes.

garden

 

Today was the first day of the season that I took Helena out to pick blackberries.  It’s still early so most of them have yet to reach their peak, but I couldn’t wait.  I had to gather those that were ready.  Their perfume, especially in the sunshine, was too strong to be ignored.  All I could think of when gathering the fruit was Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Blackberry Picking.”

Greedy Guts Helena ate a third of our berries before we got back inside.  So I decided to use some of the raspberries her grandparents picked at Peterley Manor last weekend in my cobbler as well.

Last year, I posted a blackberry cobbler recipe that was assembled like a lasagne by layering pastry cut outs between layers of fruit.  The recipe below is not like that.  Instead it’s made with a batter and I love how soft and sticky it is.  My husband said it reminded him of an old English pudding.  I hope you like it.

Ingredients:

2 cups blackberries

1 cup raspberries

zest of half a lemon

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

approximately half a stick of butter

3/4 cups flour

1/4 cup cormnmeal

pinch of salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup + 4 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup plain yogurt

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas 4/350ºF/180ºC.

Rinse and drain your berries.

raspberries up close raspberries sieve of brambles

Put the butter in your baking dish.

butter

Melt the butter for a few minutes in the oven as you prepare the fruit mixture.

Tip your berries into a medium mixing bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the zest of half a lemon, and 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla.  Gently mash the fruit but be careful not to turn it into pulp.  All you want to do is release some of the juices.  Once this is done, set the bowl aside.

mashed berries

 

In another bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal (this gives the cobbler its sticky chewiness), salt, baking powder, 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, milk, and yogurt.  Add the melted butter and stir until combined.

Pour the batter into your baking dish.  Then spoon your fruit mixture on top of it.

 

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Bake for about 40 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve with your favorite creamy topping.  Mine for this is bourbon vanilla ice cream.

serving