A warm hand on your opening….

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The old ones are always the best and so it turned out to be with this elegant bottle of  1984 Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau Sauternes that I could no longer resist opening. One Christmas, some fifteen years ago, my cousin, who is also partial to glass of something good, put this bottle into my safe keeping. As a wine guard I would not be a first choice or, some would say, not a choice. The label, which still hangs around the neck of the bottle, reads “Roger/ This is a NON Christmas present. It needs a good home and I’m sure it will find one with you. Cheers, David” ..which is comparable to entrusting the NHS Blood Bank to Count Dracula or the Bank of Scotland to whoever it was entrusted. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? As rhetorical a question as ever there was, being that the answer is invariably “No bugger, they do what they like”.
And so it will come as no surprise to you to learn that this guard, who is quite good at doing what he likes, decided that it was time to set the contents of this bottle free. On a sunny Sunday in France, not too far from its birth place, the cork that in 1984 sealed in the genie of maturation was gently pulled from the bottle allowing the golden miracle within to take it’s first breath of the poisonous air that will kill it …..unless we drink it. Which we will, if only out of kindness.

 

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Cream…..

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The car is filled with the warm scent of freshly baked bread as I make the return journey from the boulangerie, snaking through barely moving walls of corn and sunflowers that skitter the light of this late summer morning on the surface of the empty road that unrolls before me. Usually I think of today and rejoice but today I thought of possible distant tomorrows in which such peaceful moments will be the stuff of fiction or memory…but that’s not today.

Late summer is testament to unfairness and inequality. The world that I know goes on holiday in August and it rains…and rains,  drains optimism and makes us vow never to go again where we were that August. When that world is back at school and work, the sun returns from the distant places where it shone on the wealthy, when they wanted it, and on the poor and thirsty whether they wanted it or not. Once back in its rightful place it gets on with preparing to be mellow and fruitful which is what it does best and which it is doing, here, today. Apples are starting to be in the ascendant on the stalls, a bowl of which has led me to make this “golden apple tart” from Patricia Wells’ “Bistro Cooking”. The word golden, in the recipe title,  has nothing to do with the eponymous, yet inappropriately named apple. It has to do with the golden colour that the tart achieves from a rather longer cooking time than is usual.

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The recipe demands that sugar, cream and egg yolks are poured on top the sliced apples and the whole then sprinkled with sugar just before being put into the oven and suggests a cooking time of 45 minutes in an oven at 190C, which I ignored and continued for a further 10 minutes and which did it no harm. Many cold and damp holiday makers  would have dreamed of achieving such a colour….until the end of the first week of rain when they would just have been happy not to contract pneumonia.

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On reading the title of this recipe more carefully, I notice that the golden refers to the cream that is part of the recipe. Aside from the cream in the recipe, there is little question in my mind that a slice of warm apple tart will only benefit from a spoonful of additional and. if at all possible, golden cream.  The Vallee d’Auge in Calvados is not only renowned for its celebrated falling down water, but also for its extravagantly thick and jaundiced cream. This is not the sweet confection that I knew as thick double cream in a previous life, but an altogether more subtle example of the dairyman’s art ( I just can’t bring myself to write “dairy person” as I’m sure my readers will not be insistent that I spell out everything in order to appease the Goddess, oh all right, God of equality and that it doesn’t take too much perception to understand that gender has little to do with the making of cream, save for the gender of the producer of the milk).

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Here’s the recipe from Patricia Wells’ “Bistro Cooking” which book is among my favourites
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Posted in 2014, apples, Baking, Bistro, Calvados, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cream, creme fraiche, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, Drinks, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Golden Apple Tart, Patricia Wells, Photography, photography course, Recipes, tart, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Getting properly stuffed…

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The association of stuffing and peppers has the ring of anathema. Experience, together with hearsay, tells us that nothing good can come of it. Just the mere consideration of such a possibility awakens the culinary Torquemada that lurks in the dark recesses of my food prejudices. There are also the visual concerns to be addressed. Not only does the bisected pepper look like a pair of gay pianist’s spectacles but the two halves appear to be offering a challenge out of the side of their toothy mouths, whilst leering at each other over their respective shoulders :

“Come on then, stuff me if you think you’re hard enough….or more to the point, if you think Jenny will ever speak to you again….”

It was as though those red devils had addressed their challenge to a cocktail fueled  Margot Asquith:

” Fuck you”…came the witty riposte, perfectly in tune with the inimitable style of that most pithed of repartee artistes.

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I feel that I should be giving a reason as to why I would consider stuffing a pepper and, as fortune would have it, a timely excuse has just come to my notice on Twitter. The excuse is called “Fridge Foraging” and that is what I was unwittingly doing. In the white interior of a sparsely furnished fridge it’s hard to miss the chromatic shock of a bright red pepper. Not being a diligent forager, I felt that I had looked for long enough and took the pepper rather like a press ganged drunk would have taken the queen’s shilling. When I find myself in times of trouble Nigel Slater comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, recipe….and so it was, yet again.

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Slater’s impressive tome, “Tender”, has a privileged place on my cookery book shelves. Although the pages are, unsurprisingly, filled with delicious and imaginative ideas what I really like is the shiny piece of ribbon that acts as a book marker…that, together with the cover and a tiny, illegible, but wonderfully designed, font for the page numbers singles this book out as special. I know that can be a disparaging term but, in this case, it isn’t. I quickly searched the index for “good legal things to do to a pepper” and, within the hour, had found the page number with the aid of a linen glass. On the pages relating to peppers there were so many wonderful possibilities and one of them coincided with the fridge forager in me…..torn mozzarella, tomatoes, black olives and anchovies…..I’ve cooked them , cooled them, photographed and admired them. I gave Jenny something different for supper and the peppers are now back in the fridge from whence they came…I think they’ll be very good cold…I think

Posted in 2014, anchovies, buffalo mozzarella, Cheese, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Italian food, Nigel Slater, Olive oil, peppers, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

The Big Red One…

 

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Oh, that religious and political zealots were as sparse on the vine as good tomatoes were this August. Too much rain has taken its toll, leaving the scars of “maladie” on the marvellous misshapen fruit without which my cooking would be impoverished. How easy it is to relegate these cicatrised lumps to the compost. We spoiled inhabitants of peaceful lands , whose visual sensitivity has not as yet been depleted or exhausted by a daily confrontation with the horrors of men’s wickedness, are very sensitive to ugliness, mutilation and decay. Should the appearance of something displease us, our reaction is to turn away or to throw it away. A life as a studio photographer in London made me a standard bearer for such behaviour. A diet of perfection lacks any form of nourishment whilst simultaneously removing appetite although, on reflection, this might have had something to do with the drugs. My view has now changed and, having achieved my biblical quota, I am finding it easier to see beyond and beneath the skin which is opportune as these ugly buggers taste fantastic.

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It is unusual, in our house, for a week to pass without a moment when a pot of tomato sauce is bubbling away on the hob. For a sauce as simple as this it should, by all rights, be wholly reliant on the quality of the ingredients used whereas, as long as tomatoes of some kind are employed, it will always be a success. Each tomato sauce that I make will differ in flavour, character and texture as I make it to the mood of the day and the available produce. Tomato sauce and measurements do not sit well together so the end result may depend on the heat of the chilies, that someone gifted me, the choice of olive oil,  the amount and quality of red wine, ground black pepper or a shake of white, a few grains of sugar for added sweetness, which herbs and, of course, which tomatoes. Tinned tomatoes, cherry, greenhouse, vine, cornu, marmande, coeur de boeuf, tomates de crimée, old, new, ugly or pretty tomatoes will all contribute their own individual nuances to this most well known and loved of all sauces ( except to haters of tomatoes who will have stopped reading some time ago). Sometimes, when time is on my side on a dark winter’s day, I will carefully chop and prepare carrots, celery and onion which are put into the covered pot to gently soften in olive oil. releasing their aromatic flavours before the chopped tomatoes are poured over them with the addition of red wine and more olive oil. When time is scarce, because the sun is beckoning me to sit outside with a glass, I’ll just chop fresh tomatoes and throw them into a pan with olive oil, salt and black pepper and let them cook for a very short time before stirring them into some pasta or just eating them with good bread and cheese.

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The pleasure lies in the continuum….in knowing that I’ll not tire of this simple food…..in looking forward to making it again, and again, and again.

 

Posted in 2014, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Olive oil, pasta, Photography, photography course, sea salt, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 58 Comments

It’s all Greek….

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As a teenager, still at boarding school, we boys were granted the occasional opportunity to experience or, more precisely, to observe, the seedier side of the fleshpots of London. This was not the intention of our educators but occurred as a by product of organised visits to the National Gallery, or some other educational treasure trove, from which we were able to skive off and wander the streets, for a hour or two, unsupervised. Having very little money and very little intimate knowledge of the vast city in which I was temporarily liberated, it was of great importance to associate myself with a boy who did have or, professed to have, such knowledge. Soho, home to all temptation and offering a far greater number of sins than the biblical seven, was and is situated directly behind the National Gallery so it was to that land of promise that we debutants were drawn as bees to honey. In those times, before computers and mobile phones, the red London telephone kiosk served a multitude of purposes aside from making a telephone call.They provided shelter from the rain, served as public pissoires and, above all, functioned as advertising hoardings offering  impossibly varied  and, to my naive mind, inexplicable services that were very definitely of a sexual nature yet so obtuse as to be beyond my true understanding. The services were displayed on individual visiting cards that sported a glamorous picture of a semi naked lady, her phone number and a précis of what one would expect to be doing with her should a call to her be made. A well endowed lady called Gloria was offering trips around the world, one of her colleagues was looking for people who were interested in water sports and yet another was offering Greek tuition. I knew that even Phineas Fogg would be pushed to get around the world in the time we had, I hadn’t brought my swimming trunks so water sports were out of the question and, however sensual the teacher, the thought of Greek lessons was not arousing.

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Using the telephone kiosk as a symbolic Tardis, the years have fallen away and I find myself older and wiser. The exotic euphemisms of ” water sports” and “travelling around the world”  were long ago resolved without the aid of Gloria and her cohorts. I did not, however, escape totally unscathed from this traumatic experience for which, in the current litigious climate, I should be suing the pants off British Telecom. Since that fateful day I associate Greek with salad, yoghurt and anal sex. In old Sparta they would have enjoyed all three on a daily basis, a habit that may well be current in gymnasiums all over the world to this very day.

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There is always Greek yoghurt in our fridge and, at this time of year, there is also soft fruit. Nigel Slater’s “Fruit Brulee” is a wonderfully quick, simple and delicious dessert which also looks very sexy. I don’t have the text to hand so I can’t be sure if his original version has Greek yoghurt as the base, but this version does. The way to great pleasure begins by spooning dollops of creamy yoghurt into a white bowl. Into this wet pillow, stir a handful of sweet deep purple blueberries and some sheaths of sharp fruity raspberries letting the swirling streaks of juice commingle lusciously. Fill some ramekins to just below the brim and dust them with a thick layer of brown demerara sugar. Adding a frisson of pain to the pleasure, torch the sugar until it melts into unruly molten gobs of mirror……and enjoy.

Posted in 2014, blueberries, Childhood memories, Cookery Writers, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Fruit, Humour, Nigel Slater, Photography, photography course, raspberries, Recipes, Sex, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

Coming out of one’s shell…

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Me: “I’d like six half crabs to pick up early on Saturday morning, please”
Fish counter person: ” Would you like them alive or cooked, Sir”

My look of surprise touched with horror made it clear that I was against the plan of cutting living crabs in half, so the fish counter person ticked the “cooked” box, on the order form, for the faint hearted rosbif who was over sensitive about cruelty to crabs, which lack of esprit clearly made this Frenchmen wonder if the loss at Waterloo was really a lost luggage report at the station rather than a military defeat by folk who have qualms about sundering a crab. Such was my slightly surreal moment of ordering the crabs for an al fresco lunch. The small part of me that remains on the other side of La Manche has memories of dressed crab….if truth be told, it’s really the very large part of Jenny that remains on the other side of the English Channel that remembers dressed crab. For my part, I prefer to be  served a complete crab, as dismantling the cooked crustacean with the set of ersatz surgical utensils provided, looking as though they would provide Gilles de Rais with an afternoon’s pleasure and his victim with seemingly endless misery, is an essential part of the delights of a prolonged feast of fruits de mer. However, dressed crab had been specified and, as undressing is closer to the Gallic psyche than dressing, such a crab is hard to come by here, even for ready money. The term “dressing” initially suggests covering, whereas the “dressing” that relates to a crab relies solely on discovering. To get to the meat of a crab entails removing a suit of carefully constructed armour that was not conceived to be removed with any sort of ease, or at all. One would imagine that bisecting a crab would provide easy access to the sweet white flesh that is the dressed crab lover’s partiality….if only this were true. The white meat is hidden in a labyrinth of tiny sealed chambers the walls of which must be individually breached before the minute quantity of flesh, that resides in each such chamber, can be carefully winkled out with a fine, two pronged instrument specifically designed for such work. There is a savage beauty in this performance if it is done, but once, to the crab on one’s own plate whilst accompanied by the pleasant ebb and flow of conversation together with those same tidal qualities appertaining to the  wine in one’s glass. Six crabs is a long time in politics and and an even longer time in the kitchen but, as with foreplay, it might be fucking annoying but the end result, if not earth moving, is jolly nice.

Posted in 2014, crab, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, lifestyle, Photography, photography course, seafood, Sex, Uncategorized, Vendee, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 55 Comments

Cooking in good company..

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For those of us who live in Northern Europe the month of August has, by dint of coincidental school holidays,  become the accepted time of the year for the family seaside vacation which is unfortunate as, in my memory, those thirty one days never fail to produce a disproportionate amount of rain. An afternoon spent in the unwelcome, if expected, yet still incongruous semi darkness that only an unseasonable August rain storm can bring, was made more than bearable for me by the good company of both Elizabeth David and Somerset Maugham.

A day earlier I had optimistically made some very seasonal, both in colour and flavour, peperonata with the intention of enjoying it al fresco but because, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge said “..summer had set in with its usual severity”  this turn of events precluded any thoughts of outside eating. Nevertheless, the large quantity of peperonata remained uneaten and needed to be adapted to the current conditions. I had been reading some Somerset Maugham short stories, set in the exotic South Seas of the early 20th century, with the hope of instilling some sort of warmth into my soul, if not my body, which plan was succeeding to a certain extent save for the pangs of lunchtime hunger. Mr. Maugham’s wanderlust had led my mind to Tahiti but my palate had set off, independently, to the Basque region where it ran into Elizabeth who recommended that I moved, most ricky ticky, into the kitchen where together we, her in book form and me in an apron, would transform the out of favour peperonata, with the aid of some eggs, into a bubbling pan of brilliantly colourful piperade.

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Piperade, when made according to Ms.David’s recipe, does not include the multicoloured array of peppers which I had included in my peperonata, which was itself untrue to its own genuine recipe.The truth of the matter was that I had a bunch of coloured peppers, some good tomatoes, garlic and onions and I stewed them together in olive oil. This is a good dish but it has no name. Elizabeth David is nothing if not precise. She may have led the most wondrously enviable life of adventure and debauch but, when it comes to correctness in the kitchen, she is not to be fucked with.
Précis of Elizabeth David’s recipe from “French Provincial Cooking”
Because this concoction of eggs and peppers from the Basque country is one the most widely travelled of all French regional dishes, it is also one that is frequently misinterpreted. Here is a very simple recipe.
I (that’s me, not Ms. David) will not include quantities as each of us will make it for different amounts of people with differing appetites.In her book, Ms.David recommends a proportion of I onion,6 green peppers, 2lbs tomatoes and 4 beaten eggs.
Heat some goose fat or olive oil in a pan and in it gently soften a finely sliced onion until it starts to turn yellow. Having deseeded and sliced your peppers into strips add them to the pan and cook, occasionally stirring, for about 15 minutes before adding your roughly chopped tomatoes, which I (me) do not bother to skin.Season with some finely chopped garlic, sea salt and ground black pepper and cook until the tomatoes are nearly a pulp. To this mixture add some well beaten eggs and stir them through until they resemble scrambled eggs. I (me) prefer to take the pan from the heat when the eggs are still creamy and put some of the mixture onto thick slices of buttered country bread. Ms.David suggests serving the mixture with a slice or two of grilled or fried ham, such as jambon de Bayonne, on the side or, indeed, just surround the egg mixture with some freshly made croutons of fried bread.

This dish has never disappointed me and it is very adaptable. A spoonful or two of the mixture put into an omelette creates Omellete Basquaise ( “French Provincial Cooking”)

Posted in 2014, Art photography, Cooking, Digital photography, Eggs, Elizabeth David, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 50 Comments

It’s not big, it’s not funny and it’s not clever…

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but that’s prawns for you.
( from “Hi,Koo”, the No Theatre adaptation of “Hallo, Dolly”)

Posted in Art photography, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, prawns, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Size is everything…..

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The priapic appearance of courgettes and cucumbers has been known to engender lewd and goatish thoughts but. if one intends to eat the vegetable, the promise of satisfaction is illusory and disappointment the climax. Size is indeed everything, and in the case of courgettes even more so. The smaller the better. At this point the audience booed and started to leave the theatre…this was not the show that the hoardings had suggested. For those still in their seats, there is a happy ending.

In the beginning there was a gift of courgettes. The gifter had started to prepare them but, as she was going on holiday that day, realised that they would go to waste unless they were entrusted to someone who liked to cook…so our friend gave them to me. From the look of the hefty chunks, these courgettes had been of dildoic proportion and I feared the worst. I’ve recently suffered some disappointments at the hands of courgettes particularly if I’ve tried to do more than is necessary to them. Courgettes are wonderful when sliced, thrown into a pan of bubbling hot butter, allowed to take on a golden colour and eaten hot and immediately. They don’t like too much foreplay in my experience…a simple “yes” is sufficient for the willing courgette. As it happened, my chunky pieces of vegetable didn’t have the look of “yes” about them, so I respected their wishes and took out my mandolin. A quick serenade and they were in ribbons. No sooner had this happy state been achieved than my mind turned to the previously mentioned goatish thoughts.goat_cheese_bio_0005 Good goat cheese, courgette ribbons, and a golden pastry crust are a particularly well suited ménage à trois and with the addition of cream and eggs they become like a quiet evening at home with Jack Nicholson in the good old days. But, for all this promised joy, it is important to find a worthy goat cheese. We are lucky to have the simplest, freshest goat cheeses readily available. I would advise against any sort of “log” in this recipe, unless it is of the pedigree of St.Maure or of that ilk. A crisp pre baked short pastry shell is the sine qua non of this recipe, although I use the word recipe in the loosest way as I cobbled this together and have no clear memories of quantities. For someone like myself, who always cooks to recipes, this is unusual. In truth I had googled several recipes and put three of them together. From one I took the advice of brushing a coating of beaten egg on the pre baked, pastry shell and returning it to the oven to gain the shimmering gloss of a freshly varnished wooden boat. Another recipe suggested the ribbons of courgette and the advice of not browning them in butter before they went into the tart. The third recipe suggested the soft goat cheese.

The coming together was very satisfying.

 

Posted in 2014, Baking, Cheese, courgette, Cream, creme fraiche, Digital photography, Eggs, Expectation, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, goat cheese, Humour, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Sex, tart, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments

Les mûres sur les murs sont mûres…

…is a mnemonic providing  a very good example of homophones whilst confirming the lack of prejudice, lexicographic or otherwise, on this blog. It came to mind when I noticed that blackberries were suddenly in profusion, not so much on the walls, but very definitely in the bushes of La Moussiere.

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These wonderful looking fruit demand to be picked. I have often wondered about the attritional nature of wild berry picking to foraging pioneers over the millenia and the scattered host of  corpses, with carmine stained lips and fingers, that must have littered the lanes and hedgerows as a result of their, often, fatal choices. Blackberries look too good to be true, when they are in their pomp, and I am eternally grateful to those early foragers for their daredevil efforts which allow me to safely plunder the laden bushes that surround our home.

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My berry foraging is, more often than not, without true purpose. Out of the corner of my eye I may notice the glossy roundness of a fat, ripe blackberry. I’ll stop, pick it and eat it and quite a few more of them if the brambles aren’t too annoying. As I’m eating them I’ll be asking myself why I have nothing, such as a basket, in which to collect some berries to take home. Once I’ve eaten my fill, or my attention has been taken by something else, the lack of a basket becomes a positive advantage. The blackberries that arrive in my kitchen are not from my hedgerows but from the rows of fruit in the market that someone, who knows his berries far better than I, has taken the time to gather with selective care rather than spontaneous pleasure as his prime purpose. I have made blackberry and apple things and tarts and cakes and slices with blackberries but I think I enjoy them most directly from the bush or chilled and macerated in a glass of Crème de Mûre.

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Posted in 2014, Baking, blackberries, Blackberrying, brambles, Cooking, desserts, Drinks, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Fruit, Humour, Markets, Photography, photography course, Vendee, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments