’tis the season that dare not speak its name ….

choc_cake_crop_0015Cake and chocolate are two “C” words that have not, as yet, been proscribed. Christmas and cunt have been. Creating forbidden fruit has never succeeded in producing an aversion in those to whom the fruit are irresistible. Words of all kinds are irresistible to me and I will not be rationed or denied. However, this being the season of good will, albeit one that dare not speak its name, I shall confine myself to the pleasures of cake and chocolate. The fire is crackling, the cat’s asleep on the biggest armchair and I’m planning the cooking that I’ll be doing over the next few days: which situation is not that different to any other winter Friday save that, in truth, I know exactly what I’ll be cooking as the orders have been placed by family members with vivid childhood memories that have to be annually reproduced with same attention to detail as a Vermeer by Han van Meegeren. As cooking gives me a great deal of pleasure I am often deflected from my purpose by recipes and memories of own. Whilst engaged in researching the cookery books on my shelves, in the vain hope of finding something new that will successfully pass as something old, I picked up a book with the unimaginative yet concise title of “French Cooking”. This turned out to be a Marks & Spencer publication from 1978 which credentials are not the most arresting. I was on the hunt for a cake to sustain me through breaks in my cooking and I was not disappointed. Should you find this book by Eileen Reece, buy it. Although photography fashions have changed the thrust of the book supports all my beliefs in uncomplicated home cooking with the very best ingredients which does not mean the most expensive. The chocolate cake I found therein does everything a chocolate cake should do. It seduces by look, taste and texture and is hard to keep for any length of time as forbidden fruit are, as I previously mentioned, the most tempting and are, happily, quite irresistible.

choc_cake_crop_0047

Dominiques Chocolate Cake

Posted in baking, cake, Childhood memories, Christmas, Cookery Writers, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, Dominique's Chocolate Cake, Eileen Reece, fireplace, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, harmony, Humour, hypocrisy, Memory, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

I say kinell​, you say quenelle[kə.nɛl])…

quenelles_0015

The skull and cross bones would be an ideal pennant for the carnivorous pike. Several feet of scaly flesh surmounted by a fierce head made monstrous by a mouthful of stilettos gives ample credence to this fanciful title. It will come as no surprise to hear that this predatory beast does not come quietly and, when eventually it is caught, will have the last laugh on the successful fisherman in that, having so many small bones, it is practically inedible. “Kinell” would indeed be a suitable oath for the Anglo angler when becoming aware of such a nightmare chewing its way along his line on the way to his arm. I am not a fisherman but, if I were, I would throw the rod, hook, line and sinker into the river and head for the hills…or a riverside pub to have a vengeful fish and chips. Le Meres de Lyon were made of sterner stuff finding something worth cooking even in the lowliest pieces of offal so, the word inedible not being in their dictionary, they were not slow in finding a way to separate bone from flesh in order that the noble brochet might appear on their bouchons’ menus next to the traditional brains, tongue, bollocks and tripe. The flesh of the cooked pike is passed through a tamis and then bound together with egg and breadcrumbs. This is then formed, with dexterity and spoons, into soft pillows which are gently poached in simmering water. The swollen “quenelles” are then napped with the crayfish and wine based sauce Nantua before being passed under a hot grill. I chose to eat my quenelle without the first passing it under the grill and, luckily having another quenelle about my person, passed that one under the grill. Both were very good and I am indebted to those smart Lyonnaises who know more than a thing or two about cooking. My delicious examples came from the celebrated Charcuterie Sibilia whose range of wondrous products is mouth watering.

quenelles_0048

Posted in 2014, Cooking, Crayfish, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Excellence, Fish, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, pike, seafood, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Smokin’…

smoked_haddock_tart_crop_0030

Surgeon General is an confusing title as it suggests that a general may be in the business of saving lives rather than extinguishing them. This is particularly evident in his stern admonition, printed on each and every packet of cigarettes, that smoking will end badly for those of us foolish enough not to heed his words. We may count ourselves fortunate that fish can’t read for, if that were the case, our palates would certainly be the poorer for it. I can only admire their determination to fly in the face of accepted science and to selflessly carry on smoking for our benefit, albeit after they themselves have attained piscatorial peace in the smokey heaven of Valhaddock, better known to us finless folk as Arbroath or some other such eponym. Smoke and fish were made for each other. It is a rare fish that will not benefit from smoking despite the admonishments of the Surgeon General. Fish and fire would each seem to be both plentiful and affordable but the wonderful changes of flavour, and indeed colour, wrought by the alchemy of smoking come at a price. In the words of the admirable Withnail ” Free to those that can afford it, very expensive to those that can’t”. I fall into the latter category, therefore the piece of smoked haddock that I purchased would have needed a miracle to feed two people let alone several thousand. It has been my experience that dependence on miracles is rarely fruitful so I turned to the bookshelves which, in kitchen matters, have always provided me with more favourable results and so it proved to be once again. This is a combination of recipes which resulted in a very good smoked haddock tart which I believe would be approved by the Sturgeon General.

Smoked haddock tart (adapted from Mary Cadogan’s recipe in “Tarts and Pies”
Pastry (adapted from Patricia Wells’ Pate Brisee in Bistro Cooking)
150gms plain flour
105gms chilled, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
pinch of salt
30cl iced water
Put the flour,salt and butter in a food processor and process until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Add the iced water and process some more until the mix starts to hold together. Don’t let it form a ball. Place the dough on a lightly floured board and flatten into a disc. Wrap in waxed kitchen paper and put in the fridge for half an hour.
Ingredients
250gms smoked haddock
300ml milk
40gms butter
25gms plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
75gms grated Emmenthal cheese
salt and pepper

I/Preheat oven to 200C. Roll out the dough and line a 20cm tart tin. Prick the base, line with aluminium foil and fill with baking beans or rice. Bake for 15 mins. Remove from the oven and discard foil and baking beans, lower the oven temperature to 190C and cook the tart case for a further 10mins when it should have taken colour.
2/Make the filling. Poach the haddock in milk and conserve the poaching liquid. Skin and gently flake the haddock.
3/Make a roux with the butter and flour and slowly add the poaching liquid until a thick, smooth sauce is created. Season with salt and pepper.
4/Let the sauce cool for 5mins and then stir in the eggs, the haddock and cheese (leaving some cheese to sprinkle over the tart). Check the seasoning to your taste.Pour the mixture into the tart case.
5/Sprinkle with saved cheese and bake for about 25mins until the filling is risen and golden brown.

Posted in 2014, Baking, Cheese, Cookery Writers, Digital photography, Eggs, Fish, fish cookery, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Mary Cadogan, Patricia Wells, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Recipes, smoked haddock, Smoked Haddock Tart, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

The drizzle, it drizzleth every day …..

lemon_drizzle_cake_0029

The time has come for the fire to be lit in the daylight hours rather than at dusk. I use the term “daylight” loosely as “daygrey” would be more pertinent, both in luminance and mood. This is cake weather, where cake and coffee can be relied upon to provide toothsome warmth and comfort whilst serving to stem the onrushing grey tide that mentally announces winter’s arrival. Cake has come into my life twice and decamped but once. Memories of childhood lead me to the neologism of cakehood as, in those years, it was the promise of cake that defined landmark occasions. Birthdays, Christmases, Easters, successes and comfort for failures were all deemed cakeworthy. There were other landmark occasions, which had cake as the key player, that were equally memorable but less joyful such as my first visit to the relatively primitive surgery of a dentist of that era. Cake took its leave of me and my sugar beaten teeth, as I took my leave of school. The world of the early 60’s had much, much more to offer than cake to an adolescent whose hungers were now firmly situated at a point slightly lower than his stomach and not far above the gutter. Rumours and unclear Chinese whispers suggested to the young man, whose life to this point had been spent in single sex boarding schools, that henceforth sugar and spice and all things nice could be found far beyond Madeira and Battenberg and in new and extravagant packaging and so it proved to be. We now move on from those heady, carefree and cakefree days to the next Platonic relationship with cake. Now, having partaken of the sugar and spice, I had fathered children and Jenny and I guided those children through their cakehood, marking landmark occasions in the way that we remembered but with better dentistry. Yet it would take many more years before cake and I were reunited. That time is now and, in the second age of cake,  I am again happily lost in the sugary bosom of gateau once again.

lemon_drizzle_cake_0031

 

This is a cake that gives drizzle a good name.

lemon_drizzle_cake_RB

Posted in 2014, Baking, cake, Christmas, Coffee, Cookery Writers, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Lemon Drizzle Cake, Memory, Photography, photography course, Raymond Blanc, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 66 Comments

a day called Sun….

 

 

fish_cake_details_0028

Cooking, reading and taking pictures in the warm sunlight that fills the kitchen on this quiet Sunday morning is as close to worship as my soul currently needs to approach. Bubbling pans and knives on wood combine with muffled snippets of casuistic argument from an annoying radio talk show that is tolerated because the spoken words aren’t processed by my mind that is contentedly elsewhere. I feel as I imagine would a cat on hearing the strings of unintelligible noises that serve as his master’s voice. As long as those noises are not too annoying or threatening I, like the cat, will just keep purring and, oblivious to anything beyond the light aural massage provided by the extraneous sounds, happily get on with what I’m doing. Music would be better if it was music that I liked.. today…at this moment: but exactly what that would be has eluded me so I’m making fishcakes and just about still purring but the vexatious timbre of both presenter and caller is bringing me closer to choosing the silence for which I should have opted in the first place.

fish_cake_hdr_crop_0020

Much as I enjoy an expansive Sunday lunch with family and friends, the pleasure for the cook is tempered by the amount of work and preparation that is demanded to ensure that all the components, both people and food, come agreeably and deliciously together at a chosen hour; which hurdle it is essential to clear cleanly if the moment is to be remembered kindly. The corollary is that cooking food on Sunday for two people, who know each other as well as two people can, is without any limits on time or custom. It may well be that no food at all is prepared, yet a very pleasant day is passed. Today we will enjoy the fish cakes, that I made in the sunny peace of this morning, at whatever time those fish cakes are called on to take a final bath in hot butter and oil. They’ll be consumed with a peppery rocket salad which, apparently, is viewed with nasal disapproval by the savvy restaurant going public. It would seem to me that the down the nose view is common to most food at the time of eating but down the nose looking is taken to suggest disapproval….oddly enough, turning one’s nose up at something is not good either. In the case of our supper, noses will only twitch with the comforting aroma created by butter, potatoes, salmon, anchovies and parsley together with notes of apples, cinammon and more butter coming from the crumble warming in the oven. Another day of Sun well lived.

Posted in 2014, apples, Baking, Cooking, crumble, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, Fish, Fish cakes, fish cookery, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Humour, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Glum rock..

table_alumettes_crop_smart_862

I confess that I had been feeling like a hound dog for some days, crying all the time. Not tears of woe but tears of fucking desperation as it had become apparent to me that my new internet server had never caught a rabbit and was certainly no friend of mine. As with all good things, all bad things must come to an end which end found me standing in a misty car park clutching an over designed cardboard box filled with wire and plastic that would serve to allow me to do that which I am now doing. The all pervading greyness of the occasion caused my memory to alight on the acronym GUM which, on that damp muffled morning in an empty provincial town, spoke volumes to me of erstwhile grim Soviet melancholy, only lacking in precision that which the insertion of the letter “L”after the letter”G” would have afforded. I have never been to Moscow, or indeed to Russia, so my sentiments are without foundation ….. as is our house which, never the less, stands as solid as a rock, unlike my conceptions that change with the frequency of a paper table cloth in a busy French brasserie.

table_alumettes_862

And so the table cloth of my mind is whipped away from beneath the last set of dismal thoughts revealing a reverie of where and how I like to eat. There is an ambiance to a “bouchon”, which is where this dream is set, that cannot be recreated with carefully considered design or a kitchen bent on cleverly crafting dishes from combinations of ever more obscure ingredients. This is “echt”. Good charcuterie, pate en croute, oeufs meurettes, truites d’Iraty meuniere, classic desserts, followed by well chosen cheese and affordable wines. Ideal in its simplicity yet so very difficult to find….why?

comp-1

 

Posted in 2014, Bistro, Bouchon, Cheese, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Dreams, Eggs, Excellence, Fish, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Memory, Oeufs meurette, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 50 Comments

on becoming Ken Dodd….and other recipes…

1.goat_cheese_tart_0010

On taking stock of things, I never seem to have enough. More precisely, I never seem to have enough of the things of which I would like an excess. Money, hair and teeth would come high on the list although, on reflection, an excess of hair and teeth would open up the undesirable prospect of resembling a reincarnation of Ken Dodd or suffering an untimely death at the hands of one of the myopic and trigger happy local chasseurs. There is a continual deficit;  an insufficiency; of patience, jam, words, pistachios, concentration, caviar and application. Application has always been in short supply. If there was one reiterated shortcoming mentioned in my school reports, lack of application would have been it. Happily, my belief that the designation of dilettante was a compliment provided me with the shield that served to inure me to tutorial criticism and which has enabled me to amble carelessly through life whilst still arriving on the sunny side of the street. On saying that, it should be mentioned that the humble lane on which we live would be as happy to be called a street as I was to be called a dilettante. This and others were among the miscellany of thoughts that passed through my mind as the whisks spun their sorcery of amalgamating the eggs and cream that would fill a shell of Ottolenghi’s sour cream pastry in company with some roasted cherry tomatoes and the remnants of a quite ordinary log of goat cheese. My sense of lack became apparent as photography of the cooked tart began. The experience culled from the years of working in studios where stylists would arrive with van loads of “props” has left me with unrequited expectations. I expect to open a cupboard and to be spoiled for choice by the array of possibilities laid out before me. As usual, I picked up the one knife that I like at the moment. What I really like is what is written on it.

2

 

Posted in 2014, Baking, Childhood, Cooking, Cream, Cutlery, Digital photography, Eggs, Expectation, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, goat cheese, Humour, Illusion, Jam, Memory, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Prints, Still life, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

If there are no Incas available, string up an onion……

onions_garlic0002

I’m beginning to suspect that La Moussiere may have been a far flung outpost of the Inca empire. Although the name Atahualpa is not as common in the neighbourhood as I would have expected, there is a common thread that runs through the two civilisations and that thread is blue. Recent research on my part confirms that the Inca empire was held together by string and it cannot be by coincidence alone that the La Moussière civilisation is bound together by a striking blue version of that very same material. It is also evident that generosity was not a defining quality of the colonising Incas. When they tired of snail suppers and the lack of mains drainage they took their leave of the Vendée and took their golden treasures with them, spitefully leaving only their highly detailed account books for the abandoned, and now penniless, locals to bitterly pore over and, in consequence, with which they now hang their onions or tightly truss hay bales whilst thinking of Inca throats. Strangely enough, the conquistadores strangled Atahualpa with string, whether blue or otherwise remains veiled in the mists of time, even though his subjects had duly paid up the demanded ransom of 264 tonnes of gold. We in La Moussière are still patiently waiting, whilst idly fiddling with our balls…of string… for the arrival of a Brinks Mat van laden with our compensation.

onions_garlic0022

Posted in 2014, Art photography, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, onions, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

…give a snail a good name …

escargots_prep_0050

Raising the profile of snails is not an enviable task. On the face of it, which is hard to define and thus rarely seen, the snail remains a slimy intruder which is either crushed beneath the gumboot or sent sailing over the fence to enjoy our neighbour’s lettuces. Lift a flat stone and there will be slugs and snails but, hopefully, no puppy dog tails…that would be too weird and, if it were true, it would signify that Stephen King was the gardener and now would be a good time to leave. However, garden soil is supplanted by olive oil when the slug in a shell suit is reborn as ” l’escargot”. The prefix of “gastro” has, until recent years, been an unfortunate one which was, to the great majority, attached either to pain or poshness : gastroenteritis or gastronomy, neither of which was welcome.

escargots_prep_0060

The current zeitgeist, with the creation of the gastropub, gastroporn and the gastrodrome, has turned such prejudice on its head which change of heart has made ubiquitous the appearance on our tables of this handsome gastropod in its preferred hot bath of verdant garlic butter . The heros of these pictures are “cagouilles”, celebrated molluscs of the Charente Maritime, a bag of fifty of which was bought by some friends of ours when they were staying with us some years ago. Jenny likes snails, but not to eat, whereas the others in the company felt exactly the opposite emotion. Snails do not arrive easily on the plate: it takes meticulous preparation to create such a tiny feast. Check out the link below.

.http://escargot.free.fr/eng/cooking.htm

escargots_0004

In the final analysis it’s the pleasure of eating hot garlic butter soaked up in good bread that makes the snails so good to eat, which anathema may well have me tarred, feathered and ridden out of town backwards on a racing snail by the local amateurs of the “cagouille”..

Posted in 2014, Art photography, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, harmony, Olive oil, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 66 Comments

nature morte vivante…

apple_portrait_0057

I shot these two still lives in a dark corner of our outhouse on a recent day when the skies were overcast and grey. This calm north light, without the intrusion of  brilliant slashes of razor sharp sunlight, allowed the camera to capture the infinity of tiny nuances of colour which are otherwise lost in a patchwork of highlights and shadows. This simple calmness is my ideal and these two still lives are to be new additions to the Print Store.

pear_portrait2_0055

 

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments