Cooking in good company..

comp2

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.

piperade_0048

 

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…

BUBBLEGUM_thumbnail

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…..

courgette_cheese_tart_0092

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.

Blackberries 1La Moussiere3357aug11 copy

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.

blackbery_flower_cropped

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.

blackberries_creme_mure_7169

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

Summer thoughts…

tarte_tom_mozz_0044

The laziness of summer days can be deliciously enervating. Only the bees are immune to this lassitude. August brings the humming noise of quietness to the garden which means that the last delinquent fledglings of this year are preparing to leave. In the winter ennui of January and February I’ll be chastising myself for not drinking up enough of this peaceful warmth. The truth is that this happiness cannot be tasted or consumed as it would be far too rich a dish. It is enough to be aware of its passing; of the fleeting moments of its existence.

The pleasure I enjoy from making food to eat, and taking pictures of it, allows me to have these extravagant thoughts that are as full of hot air as the cushion of puff pastry beneath this carnal pile of gaping tomatoes oozing gobs of oil mixed with their own sweet juices. When we eat food, like this, in our garden on a perfect summer evening we ingest some of the moment which will remain with us as an unspoiled memory, maybe even gaining in flavour over the passing years. To add to that flavour, we had white peach tarts for pudding.

white_peach_tarts_0014

 

 

Posted in 2014, Baking, buffalo mozzarella, Cheese, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Fruit, Mediterranean food, Memory, Peach Tart, peaches, Photography, photography course, puff pastry, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 56 Comments

Harry Covair…the third bean

haricots_verts_0016

I’ve had to quickly write another post owing to the lack of clarity of my previous one which was intended to be read as a universal cautionary tale of the pitfalls of everymans’ summer vacation rather than a declaration of my own holiday going down the toilet…which it isn’t, as I’m not on holiday: my current life just seems to be one continual holiday which state I have searched for all my life  and, happily, appear to have found. So I thought I’d write about a gift of green beans which cannot be misunderstood.

The beans appeared yesterday. They were proffered, cupped in the huge earth movers that my neighbour calls his hands, from which they were tipped into my cooking apron. Haricots verts, I must confess, have been a disappointment to me in recent years but, in the spirit and giving and receiving, I was determined that something good should come of this unexpected bean wealth and so turned to Nigel Slater. My cursory research suggested that the secret to a tender and delicious haricot vert lay in steaming rather than boiling…..there was also a suggestion that parmesan is a good partner. These particular beans have sunk low in the bean pecking order which order is topped by haricot blancs (mogettes in this part of the world), and  broad beans  making haricots verts the third bean who slowly turns on a virtual Riesenrad, ignored and mumbling about cuckoo clocks and chocolate. Today, or yesterday to avoid any misunderstanding of today’s post, was the moment for Harry to get in the steam room and come out a new and delicious bean….which he did. I’m converted and the haricot vert has climbed to the top of the bean pile. All memories of limp,dark green bottled beans or stringy, vegetal dental floss have been erased.

haricots_verts_0011

These beans, when cooked in steam for about 10 minutes, become firm yet fondant bean flesh. There’s a bite to them rather than a collapse. Salad…a bean salad came to mind as the day was hotter than the beans. The hot beans drunk the olive oil and cider vinegar with a thirst akin to a parched legionnaire who has crawled for days across the burning sands of the Sahara and the bean taste was sharpened by sea salt and ground black pepper .Today, I’m going to try them with slightly blackened, oven roasted tomatoes…another excellent idea from Tender by the inimitable Nigel Slater.

Posted in 2014, beans, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Nigel Slater, Photography, photography course, sea salt, summer, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Weather, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Waking to the dream….

infinity_pool_blur2_0135

Today should be all right. After all, it’s only the first day of the holiday which means that holiday world is fresh and new and free from stings and arguments. This is the first morning of waking to a sparkling blue pool and breakfasting on warm croissants in the warm sun with apricot jam under blue skies. On this first morning there are no thoughts of time or packing or only three more days to go before this ends or feeling that three days more may be too much and can we get the hell out of here now. This is still a virgin holiday which means that it hasn’t been fucked yet…..best to keep to keep everything crossed.

Posted in 2014, Digital photography, Dreams, Expectation, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Humour, Photography, photography course, swimming pool, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Big name hunting in Lyon..

sevice_tetedoie_02april_288
Five days of five courses has led me to believe that the current medical sound byte of “five a day for a healthy lifestyle” has been misinterpreted by the Lyonnais. The five pieces of fruit are replaced by five easy pieces …of offal. Cocks combs, calves heads, tripe, brains and udder things are all on the daily menus of the plethora of wonderful cafes, bistrots, bouchons and  restaurants étoilés. For those who can’t stomach stomach there is always a good range of noses, ears, feet and tails. I am of course writing this tongue in cheek, which is also very good and on the menu today.

design_tetedoie_0069

I am smitten by this amazing city that is analogous with good eating and drinking and I should mention simultaneously that I dislike the term “fine dining” as much as the word “moist” which I dislike a lot.The people of Lyon know how to eat and they know how to enjoy themselves as they are eating. This joy is reflected by the people who produce the food for their enjoyment, who are all masters of their trades and crafts whilst those who cook and serve these delights in the proliferation of wonderful eating places are, many would declare, the very best at producing French food.If that sounded a bland term it shouldn’t have. French food is hard to come by because, at it’s best, it is uncompromising and therefore not acceptable to many palates. The fact that Lyon has so many places that produce virtuoso examples of this cuisine at every different delicious level, and that these places are full morning and night, is a tribute to the gastronomic tradition that is part of the life blood of France. I cannot remember eating and drinking as well, ever, in my life.

lunch_villa_florentine_0027

Posted in 2014, Digital photography, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, lifestyle, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

I got the bleus..du ciel, de la mer..the summertime bleus.

It might surprise you to hear that I’ve been ranting quite a lot over the last day or two, although surprise may not be first among the emotions felt, by those of you who know me well, on hearing that unsurprising news. I’ve been ranting over WordPress.org’s user unfriendliness only to realise that it was this user who was being unfriendly to something that he hadn’t fully understood so I had to rant, quite vigorously, at myself. Self ranting is not half so much fun as self abuse so I must try to stop. A reduction in self ranting can result in airy calms which is something that I currently need, so I’m going to think about nice things and not about my photography website that now has no pages.

table_setting_smart_29

I’m going to think of summer lunches, under cloudless blue skies, in an elegant courtyard on a tiny island off the coast of the Vendée..of butter basted, herb filled roast chicken with good bread, well dressed salad and chilled wine under the kind shade of a huge parasol…of pink slices of crisp skinned, garlic and anchovy spiked gigot served with thinly sliced potatoes that cooked beneath it and slowly soaked up the juices like we soaked up the sun….of family and good company…and of sea, sun and all the other good stuff…..and

gigot_smart_20

of Edward Hopper who was the influence for these pictures. I feel an airy calm coming on…..

Posted in 2014, anchovies, Art photography, Chicken, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Emotion, family, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, gigot, harmony, Humour, Ile d'Oleron, Mediterranean food, Memory, Photography, photography course, summer, Uncategorized, Vendee, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

Who called the cook a cunt?

gladioli_0009
Which knotty question is traditionally answered with the pithy response of: ” Who called the cunt a cook?”. The first time that I encountered that profane but apposite riddle was whilst making a television commercial for Nescafe in Athens in 1971APC (Ante Political Correctness)  when smoking was de rigueur and obscenities were the jewels that studded a well formed sentence. It was uttered in priestly tones by the lighting camera man, the response being taken up like Gregorian chant by the rest of the film crew sitting around the table in a mistakenly chosen restaurant in Athens. At that time I found it a very clear criticism of the plates of dreadfulness that had been placed before us and I still find it so in similar situations. Yesterday was such an occasion. I have opened this post with a gentle image of a sculptural, but unusual for our house, bunch of gladioli which our neighbour passed over the wall as a present for Jenny yesterday evening. Gladioli are forever Dame Edna Everage in my mind, but this morning they looked wonderful and not at all reminiscent of Moonee Ponds. But I digress. Back to the nub of the matter which is an encounter of the bad kind with Martha Stewart. Martha and I don’t go back a long way and I think that it’s going to stay that way. I first met her yesterday in the guise of her recipe for Nectarine Upside Down cake. Aside from deciphering the colonial measures of sticks and stones and cups and spoons, the recipe itself had all the twists and turns of Chinese political reform or implementing Obamacare. This might be a harsh judgement, but harshness is my middle name when I look upon the mistake that is this cake. I’m in the mood for blaming my tools which is a sure sign of having crap tools. In the words of  Steve Martin before he stopped being funny : “Curse these cake tins….I curse thee cake tin”. The essence of the recipe is a crisp butter and sugar coating on top of the pieces of nectarine that will be on top of the cake later on but are at the bottom of the cake while it is cooking which meant that all the molten butter and sugar leaked out of my accursedly ill fitting cake tin resulting in there being no crisp candy coating on the cake but a perfect glassy layer of superheated sugar on the oven tray thus fucking it up for ever.  Even if she had paid her taxes I feel she deserved some time in the pen for thinking of such a cu..silly idea.

nectarine_cake_0011

 

Posted in 2014, Baking, cake, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, Emotion, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Fruit, Humour, Martha Stewart, nectarines, Photography, photography course, Sugar, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments