What to do with a pear….

In the words of Edward Izzard “…pears can fuck off..”; so often, as with apricots, who can also fuck off, this advice proves to be invaluable to the shopper who yearns to be satisfied by one fruit or another. How often have I arrived home from market, hopelessly aroused by the thought of sinking my teeth into the bum cheeks of a soft golden fruit that will spurt juice over my face and make me shout aloud that indeed I can get some satisfaction which climactic moment is denied me by the realisation that the mouthful of mealy mush that is activating my gag reflex is due to my foolish apprehension of incurring the wrath of the stall holder which prevented me from palpating the seductively curvaceous bottom of each and every apricot to confirm condition….and, the apricot having a flirtatious nature, even this test can so easily fail. The noble pear, bearer of such reputable names as Bon Chretien or Joséphine de Malines,  is no less capable of delivering crushing disillusionment. As Professor Izzard so wisely noted ” the fucker is only ripe for 30 seconds” which is why, much as I relish the idea of biting on a fresh and perfect pear, I tend to cook them.

 

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Posted in 2017, Cookery Writers, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Fruit, Pears, Photography, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

on the different speeds of fast food….

There are few months of the year which I don’t consider to be the very best time for cooking as I’m more than content to cook with each season’s offerings. On reflection, the only times when I am not happy to cook are those times when I am not happy and the long sunny days of June, when night is an after thought, are not such a time. It might be that summer food is less demanding, that summer cooking demands less cooking, less sturm und drang because the kitchen gardens and the orchards are filling the shops and markets with the fastest of fast foods which, for their short lives, are full of their intended flavour unlike their bland doppelgangers who are miraculously on display for the full twelve months of each year and whose lives appear to be without end or point…..which brings me to remember why I started writing this piece. Yesterday evening I turned on the television to find myself looking into the eyes of a man who stood immobile, perspiration running down his face, whilst the voice of a female martinet demanded that the next thing she wanted to hear him say was a number and nothing more. The perspiring man’s eyes suggested that he didn’t know the number that would satisfy her but settled on £2,o00,000 which can normally be counted on to please the angriest of martinets. It transpired that he was being questioned about his business plans by possible financial backers and that his business was a chain of fast food restaurants. It was the intervention of another of the grand inquisitors that caught my attention. His opening address was to tell the dripping victim, while brandishing a copy of the restaurant’s menu like a damning piece of evidence, that not only was his plan rubbish but even his own children could have designed a better looking menu than the one in his hand which statement produced a flicker of hope in the prisoner’s eyes as he considered asking how much they would charge for such a commission but thought better of it, much to my disappointment. The tirade of abuse moved on to the descriptions of the food on offer and the fact that there were only twelve options of fast food dishes on the “badly designed menu”and if he, the grand inquisitor, was going to eat out somewhere he would expect more variety to which the beggar in the dock replied “but there are over 12,ooo possible combinations that you could order from the crap on my menu ” ( I added “crap” in the spirit of Gerald Ratner who was doing very well selling crap until he advised his clientele that what he was selling them was indeed crap). Breath taking. The show was over for me at this point and undoubtedly over for him but I could just press a button to end the pain. What interested me was the inquisitors’ condemnation of a plan that seemed identical to the main fast food outlets in the world who all have “badly designed menus” and who all sell a drearily limited range of foodstuffs that can be ordered in a multitude of combinations and that are loved by the majority of living beings ( dogs will eat Mac whatevers but I fucking won’t) and which, more to the point if you are a putative financial backer, make unbelievable fortunes for the purveyors. But, as I have successfully remained unencumbered with a fortune I’m probably not the right man to question their judgement…..and so back to fast food.

The dish in the picture, which comes from a feature on Summer Anitpasti written by Rachel Roddy, is as fast as a dish can be save eating a pea from the pod. Courgettes are are cut into long strips, with a potato peeler or mandolin, seasoned and marinated in lemon juice with torn basil leaves. We ate it as a side dish with a very good baked omelette, stuffed with rocket, and served at room temperature more of which at another time.

Posted in 2017, Basil, Cooking, courgette, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Mediterranean food, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Rachel Roddy, summer, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

on having and eating cake…

A very depressing aphorism suggests that one cannot have one’s cake and eat it which seems contradictory to me as the sole chance of eating one’s cake is indeed to have it, if only for that short time until it has been eaten, thoroughly enjoyed and all that remains is a memory: as with life itself. Making cake myself allows me to prolong that enjoyment through the look of and feel of the stuff with which I make it, through the warmth of the oven, the scent of cooking and the anticipation of how good it may be : as with life.  This sunny morning reminded me of yesterday’s cake, the remains of which, both yesterday and the cake, are pictured above whilst at the same time bringing to mind a piece from Henry Thoreau’s “Walden”…..which wonderful book, if you haven’t yet read, please do.

“Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or
flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished.”

Raspberry and Amaretti Cake . a BBC Good Food recipe

175g soft butter
175g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
140g self raising flour
85g ground almonds
140g amaretti biscuits, roughly broken
250g raspberries

1.Preheat oven to 160C. Butter and line a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin. Put the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and ground almonds into a large bowl and beat them with an electric hand whisk until all are well blended.
2.Spread half the cake mix on the base of the cake tin and scatter over half of the amaretti biscuits followed by a third of the raspberries. Very lightly press into the cake mixture.
3.Dollop dessert spoonfuls of the remaining cake mixture over the amaretti biscuits and raspberries and spread evenly. Scatter the remaining biscuits and half the remaining raspberries over the top. Bake for 55-60mins or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
4.Cool for 15mins in the tin then run a knife around the edge and turn out…..sprinkle with icing sugar and scatter the remaining raspberries over the cake when serving.

Posted in 2017, amaretti & raspberry cake, Baking, cake, Cooking, desserts, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Kitchens, raspberries, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

smoke and sorcery….

This morning I awoke to the scent of wood smoke; a scent so filled with memories that I wished it could somehow be preserved. On inspection it was clear that some red hot ashes, all that remained of last night’s log fire, had metamorphosed the wood burner into a thurible. Quiet mornings scented with coffee and wood smoke are things of literary imagination, so I count myself fortunate each time that I live one. Silence always surprises me by its enveloping noise; a mesmerising comforting hissing in my head…walking on a soft wool rug and then cool tiles to the kitchen to turn on the radio and end it……and I’m back in the noise and talking back to presenters and callers alike whilst wondering what sort of person is moved to pick up a phone at this most peaceful time in the mistaken belief that whatever he has to say will have any effect on anything save for relieving his irritable phone bile. The kitchen is a good starting place for the day, for my day; my thoughts about food start early even if eating doesn’t as, against all given opinion, my breakfast has always been continental in nature: coffee…which somehow takes me back some 50 years to chill grey early morning Paris streets, wet and empty save for street cleaners and other survivors of a night at Castel’s or New Jimmy’s waiting for somewhere, anywhere, to open its doors and offer the sustenance of a café Calva, or several…..now unimaginable, now barely remembered. But the taste of and for Calvados remains. Fruit based alcools blancs are not only singularly good digestifs but, as an ingredient, they have the sorcerer’s ability to enchant, to change a dessert from very good to, I would like to say ethereal, but memorable. Pears and Poire William, apples and Calvados, plums and Quetsche, mirabelles ( how I love these little golden fuckers which, in our house, never last long enough to become part of a dessert) with Mirabelle, raspberries with Framboise and cherries with Kirsch….when there’s fruit on the trees and bushes and alcools blancs in the larder then there’s pudding in the house.

Cherries in Kirsch

1 kilo of cherries
1 litre of kirsch
250 gms of sugar
Vanilla pods
Sterilised preserving jars

Wash and wipe the cherries. Cut the stems of the cherries in half with scissors and prick each cherry with a clean needle. Put the cherries and sugar into the clean jars and fill with Kirsch until the cherries are covered. Add half a vanilla pod to each jar. Leave the cherries to macerate in the jars for 3 months away from the daylight, preferably in a clean, dry cupboard. During the first week shake the bottles gently to help dissolve the sugar evenly.
Very good with coffee or with chocolate.

Posted in 2017, apples, Calvados, cherries, Cherries in Kirsch, desserts, Digital photography, Drinks, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Herbs and Spices, Memory, Mirabelles, Pears, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Plums, Poire William, Poire William, Recipes, Uncategorized, vanilla, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

taking the piss….

Manneken Pis, Pissenlit, Pisse-Dru, Tant Pis, Pissaladiere…there’s something very French about pissing; about not searching for a convenient bush or shady corner but just having a piss when the moment takes you.  I should make it clear that this is singularly, to my knowledge, a male habit. The iconic circular pissoire, a form of communal metal mini skirt covering the unmentionables but leaving the head and legs revealed to the vulgar gaze, which were installed in towns and cities for the protection of tourists’ eyes from the unedifying sight of group male urination, is as defining of France as is the Eiffel Tower which, in all its phallic glory, surprisingly isn’t surmounted by a fountain. This is not the case in the French countryside where, on occasion, I have been in conversation with a French acquaintance or a neighbour who, in mid flow as it were, has decided to have a piss and without ado has had one. In our small farming community, where everything that moves is either pissing or shitting, I find the idea and the practice quite sane whereas Jenny thinks it is completely insane and yet another clear illustration of men having a problem of keeping it in their trousers. In defense of French males, I think it is linked to the lack of  importance that they place on basic bodily functions which is illustrated in their choice of profanities. Body parts are not part of the local profane vocabulary whereas, in England, it would be nigh impossible to engage in a full blooded road or referee rage without running the full gamut of ersatz biological references.

All that withstanding, today we are solely concerned with the pleasure afforded by Pissaladière, a traditional Provencal tart of melted onions, which gains its name from its original seasoning with “pissalat” which was a form of the ancient Roman condiment known as “garum”. Back in the days when it was usual for local fishermen to sell their catch as their sole form of income, they would keep the smallest fish for themselves. These tiny anchovies and sardines, with their heads and tails removed, would be preserved in glass jars in layers alternating between salt, thyme and bay leaves and finally topped with a layer of salt. After several weeks this produced a purée which, when carefully sieved, was called “pissala” and this, with the addition of olive oil, was kept as a seasoning. “Pissalat”, if it still exists, is a rarity and, in the case of pissaladière, has been replaced by anchovies preserved in salt or oil. Aside from onions and anchovies, patience is the next most important ingredient in producing a worthy example of this traditional recipe. There is no short cut to the process of melting sliced onions, flavoured with olive oil, thyme and bay leaf, so that they slowly transmogrify into a soft, glistening mass of gold with no sign of catching or burning: only watchfulness and care will allow this to happen. My system is to slice the onions and put them directly into a heavy lidded pan, on a low heat, so that the onions slowly release their water. When this has happened, lift off the lid to evaporate the water and then add olive oil, herbs, a pinch of sugar and some anchovies. Then begins the slow melting process which may take 40 minutes or more; the anchovies will melt into the onions adding that extra layer of flavour that is essential in a good pissaladière. As for the base ……sometimes I will make one but in this case I used a ready made puff pastry which worked well for me but would be scorned by the aficionados who I hadn’t, and even if I knew any wouldn’t have, invited to share it with me. My second cardinal sin was to use capers rather than the small, bitter black olives de Nice….none of which I had in my store cupboard and because I like the sharp vinegary hit that capers offer and because I don’t shy away from cardinal sins as a great deal of pleasure lies in their direction. There is as much need for a recipe for pissaladiére as there is for cooking a baked potato as by making it often you will find out how you like it best, so for now….just put the onions on the pastry, garnish with anchovies and olives or capers and put it into a hot oven until the pastry is golden and a wonderful scent is filling the kitchen. At that point Jenny and I will drink a couple of glasses of very pale, chilled rosé while we talk and wait for the tart to cool.

Posted in 2017, anchovies, Baking, Bay leaves, capers, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Mediterranean food, Olive oil, olives, onions, photography course, Photography holiday, Pissaladiere, summer, tart, Thyme, Uncategorized, Wine, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

forget-me-nots…..

It doesn’t take much to make us humans gush or, indeed, to outpour. We gush or outpour at the drop of a hat or , hat dropping aside, whenever a taste, a face, a place, a smell or a moment unlocks a bitter or sweet memory, hitherto dormant….at this point we rejoin the lower echelons of the animal kingdom as eyes and mouths open wide and we screech, scream, and chatter; clap, caper and cavort; we are lost for words and revert to noise. Memory, whether the mind’s or the body’s, also has physical outpourings which, at their noblest, may be tears but more often will be the spread of vomit at the foot of a lamp post that marks the body’s opinion of what the mind remembered as a memorable evening. These forget-me-nots, unlike their botanical cousins which are restricted by season, blossom and share their scent at the most unlikely and private moments. Beetroot has a way of doing this as does asparagus; such an outpouring reminded me of this quirk of nature this very morning.

Posted in 2017, asparagus, beetroot, Digital photography, Emotion, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Memory, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

giving up giving up……

There are so many things that I should have given up for Lent. I should have given up turning on the radio, reading newspapers, believing politicians, thinking that the daft cunts were politicians in the first place, having faith in the basic goodness of the human race….and so many more. But, in the end, I didn’t.  It would not be untrue to say that recent events have left me so deeply, truly and madly ennervated that, as far as the written word is concerned, I have been rendered speechless which is a state that I rarely, even while that privilege of free movement still hangs on like a mobile milk tooth clinging to the last fragile threads of attachment, freely choose to visit. However, I’m home again. Still oozing bile but happy to be in a sunny kitchen, shouting at the radio and up to my elbows in flour and butter. Why are people urged to get out of the kitchen if the heat is too much for them…open the fucking window, down a glass of chilled wine and get on with tossing your hot things in bubbling butter. Making food to enjoy and eat in the sun is my today and I’m consigning all the other stuff to history. Up I have given.

A bowl of deep yellow yolks nestling in a mound of unctuous creme fraiche when beaten together with a tablespoon of sugar becomes the corner stone of this dish. I say cornerstone but, on second thoughts, the golden cream is the cement that firmly holds the slices of sweet apple in place in a shell of the shortest, sweetest pâte brisée. This is the Irma la Douce of sweet tarts and is to be found in Patricia Wells’ “Bistro Cooking”. I urge you to give up giving up and get on and make it…..nunc est edendum.

  Golden Cream and Apple Tart….Tarte aux Pommes à la Crème

adapted from a recipe by Patricia Wells in “Bistro Cooking”

3large egg yolks
185ml crème fraiche
60gms sugar
1 pâte brisée shell pre baked and cooled
4 cooking apples such a Granny Smiths ( about 750gms) I used sweet apples which worked for me

Preheat the oven to 190C.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the creme fraiche and half the sugar and beat together until well blended.
Peel and core the apples. Cut them into quarters and the quarters into two or three slices depending on size of the apples.Starting from the inside edge neatly layer the apples is concentric circles. Pour the cream mixture over the apples and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.
Bake in the centre of the oven until the cream filling is set and the apples are very brown, even slightly burnt at the edges…about 45mins.

Posted in 2017, apples, Baking, desserts, Digital photography, Eggs, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Patricia Wells, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Recipes, tart, Tarte aux Pommes a la Creme, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Win a FREE holiday in FRANCE this summer…..

To celebrate International Food Photography and Film Week the first two people to send in the correct answer to the picture quiz below and book a course with me, Roger Stowell,  award winning food photographer, and the hottest chef of the moment, Olia Hercules, will be able to bring their partner for FREE.

All you have to do is to find the two correct four letter words that are created by using the first letter of each object in each of the eight pictures, taken in consecutive order, from the table of pictures above….send your answers by email to roger.stowell@hotmail.fr

The competition is open to couples sharing a room at the lovely villa Le Mazeau in W.France. Each winner will have the chance to book a holiday and to bring their partner completely FREE of charge*

The first two correct answers received by email will be adjudged the winners and will be offered the opportunity to take advantage of the offer.

The prize is a 4 night course running over a long weekend: June 15,16, 17 & 18

*this offer includes transfers to and from the airport but does NOT include travel to and from Le Mazeau nor meals and drinks at restaurants and bars during the holiday and is bound by the conditions of http://www.biginfrance.com.

INCLUDES ALL FOOD AND DRINK AT THE VILLA, TRANSFERS AND EXCURSIONS.
NOT INCLUDED: VISAS AND TRAVEL / MEDICAL INSURANCE, ANY MEALS OUT
WE ALSO ASSUME THAT YOU HAVE INSURED ANY COMPUTERS, CAMERAS OR OTHER PERSONAL EQUIPMENT THAT YOU BRING WITH YOU.

Posted in 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your vote can put things right at last…….

…….I need to hear the voice of the people

and I need to hear them cry out

“Hurrah for Roger Stowell’s film ….”

and vote for it on unearthed@Food in Film

NOW

Posted in 2017, Digital photography, Film, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Rugged Ratatouille……

This old man’s fancy is turning to Spring and dreaming of Summer when we’ll be cooking on wood fires and quaffing rosé in the long warm barbecue scented evenings…

…..my course with Olia is slowly but surely filling up….https://www.biginfrance.com/roger-olia

Posted in 2017, artichokes, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Film, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, lamb chops, Meat, Olia Hercules, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, pizza oven, tomatoes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments