What about us grils?

I love grils
don’t you mean girls
what about us grils…..

…this piece of remembered wisdom, scratched and biroed onto the lavatory wall of a Covent Garden bar, achieved a new and apposite meaning in our kitchen last night. Welsh rarebit was my intended dish for supper and I had spent time carefully melting chunks of comté, cantal and goat cheese in a pan with some milk, mustard and Lea & Perrins. The melted goodness had been transferred to a white bowl in which it would cool so that it could be spread thickly on toast before it went under the grill to bubble and singe its way to gloriousness. I had mentioned to Jenny earlier that I was intending to make Welsh rarebit for supper,  a plan which she fully endorsed, and it was her perspicacity that brought the project to its knees with the simple phrase “…I thought the grill was broken”. The fucking grill is indeed broken as, it appears from time to time, is my memory. So, leaving aside any lateral thinking which is my wont, I started to google “Ways to make Welsh rarebit without a grill?” to which question there is no answer save for the one that Jenny called out..”Have you thought of making a soufflé?”…….

In common parlance, soufflé is an abbreviation for ” a lot of trouble for very little return” which left me searching for a way of politely rejecting this very good suggestion when a chink of blinding light shone through the darkness of memory reminding me that I had once made a miraculously simple cheese soufflé and, if that blinding light could just hold steady for a while, I might remember where I found the recipe. The light held and I can now share with you the simplest and completely foolproof method for this dish.

Preheat oven to 200C
5 large eggs
250gms of mixed cheeses(I used comté,cantal), especially goat cheeses, at room temperature.
some chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, chervil, marjoram, thyme and/or chives
Mix in food processor, or mixer, the eggs, cheeses, herbs and salt and pepper. Pour into a gratin dish.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden on top. Allow to cool 5 minutes and serve.

This recipe is adapted from Patricia Wells’ Goat Cheese Soufflé in “The Provence Cookbook”

Posted in 2018, Baking, Cheese, cheese soufflé, Cookery Writers, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Google, Herbs and Spices, Humour, Memory, Miracle, Patricia Wells, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Recipes, souffle, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Photography holiday in the Vendée for food lovers …..Oct 11-14

October is a good time to be in the Sud Vendée, a comparatively little known part of France, where I have been contentedly living for the last 20 years. The weather will be warm and nature will be starting to slip into its autumn wardrobe here in the heart of the Forest of Mervent where we will be based in a beautifully renovated villa. Come and enjoy a long weekend where you can enjoy good food and wine, visit local villages and their restaurants followed by leisurely walks in the surrounding forest and countryside whilst simultaneously moving forward your photography. All the details and booking forms can be found on the Big in France website.

la mere…

Posted in 2018, Autumn, Cooking, Digital photography, France, French countryside, Landscapes, Landscapes, Markets, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Photoshop, Still life, swimming pool, Uncategorized, Vendee, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

on eating alone…

I have always enjoyed eating alone in restaurants; not because I eschew the company of others but because it means I can selfishly choose foods and wines that might have to be the subject of debate and compromise were I to be with a companion. These events tended to take place when I was working in another city or country for a few days or when I sneaked out of the studio to grab a solitary lunch at Moro, St John or the Eagle when I was working in Clerkenwell. Times have changed, as have my tastes, but the memories ….a glass of cidre de garde and roast bone marrow and parsley salad at St John, a plate of jamon Iberico and a couple of glasses of manzanilla at Moro or grilled sardines and salsa verde with a glass of chilled Fleurie at the Eagle…..remain,  scrawled in white chalk on my cerebral blackboard. Endives rouges were added to the blackboard list but a couple of days ago. Endive, in any of its many guises and nomenclatures, is very often the subject of the debates and compromises that I so enjoy not having but, nevertheless, I intend to argue the case for its inclusion, dear readers, on each of your individual cerebral iboards, blackboards or blackberries. Being a “visual” person I am easily seduced by appearances which is how and why a bundle of cream and crimson tight leafed buds of bitterness found their way into my Lidl’s trolley…..the longer I’m in France, the less I go to markets. Over the years I have photographed endless recipes which included, or had at their heart, endive or radicchio and yet was never drawn to rush home and replicate any single one of them which included a borlotti bean and radicchio purée, by none other than Anna del Conté, of which the head of radicchio was the most beautiful that I have ever seen. The endives rouges that I had bought from Lidl were intended, in truth, to be employed in the same way as their forerunners ……as glamorous models to be shown off in their very best light. The route that they took to the oven and on to my plate was one of chance; the chance being that I noticed a bottle of very good single estate Belazu balsamic vinegar in a cupboard which awoke a memory and whose voice whispered in my ear that charred endive rouge sprinkled with the finest balsamic was a very good thing indeed. The endives were quartered lengthwise and each quarter halved. These were laid on an oven tray, moistened with some olive oil and put into a very hot oven ( 210C ) for about 12 minutes, then taken and given the balsamic treatment….and they were very good with bread and wine.

Posted in 2018, Anna del Conte, Bistro, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Drinks, Endive Rouge, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Italian food, Memory, Moro Restaurant and Cookbook, Olive oil, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

that’s the whole point….


Aside from forgetting the names of people, things, places and events during conversations, which failing I have decided is probably a good thing, my memory is as good as the gear box in a rarely used classic car; hard to start from cold, but when running will purr along sweetly as long as bursts of acceleration are kept to a minimum. It was during a recent outing that my memory reminded me how disappointing have been my experiences of eating asparagus in restaurants as opposed to those at my own, or a good friend’s, table. I am no longer a denizen of restaurants, good or bad, which is just as well considering how curmudgeonly and intolerant I have become with the passing of time, but asparagus, to my mind, is one of those foods that is not well suited the disciplines of smart restauration. Asparagus, like fresh crab, is the ultimate fast food and so demands the messiness and lack of order that resonates with Woody Allen’s “Is sex dirty” “Only when it’s being done right” approach which is often, in my experience, not as welcome as one would imagine in the hushed lairs of the gastro gnomes or, equally, in the cool eateries of foodie hipsters. Eating food such as this needs to be enjoyed without restraint, with bare hands and as often as the season allows. There is no question that green asparagus is the least troublesome to prepare and therefore the quickest to get onto a plate….take the head of a spear in one hand and the base in the other and gently bend the spear until it snaps,  conveniently at the junction between the woody base and the soft green flesh of the spear, and then plunge them into a shallow pan of boiling, salted water. They cook very quickly and to judge their readiness prick the flesh just below the tip with a sharp pointed knife which should enter easily but the flesh should still have a firm feel to it. Once cooked, take them out and drain them. If you’re planning to eat them later, plunge them into iced water to stop the cooking and wrap them up in a clean linen tea towel…..in my case, I want to eat them now so they go straight onto a plate. My preferred accompaniment is the yolks of good eggs, hard boiled,  mixed roughly with salt, black pepper and olive oil. Drink a dry Muscat from the Languedoc or, as we’re in the Pays de Loire, a Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Chevernay or nearly any of the Sauvignons from the Loire.

Posted in 2018, asparagus, Boiled eggs, Cooking, Digital photography, Drinks, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Hard boiled eggs, Humour, Memory, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Sancerre, Seasons, Uncategorized, Wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

…..has beans

Several mouse clicks ago my opening line would have been very different to this but the moving mouse clicked and having clicked moved on leaving one of my firmly held beliefs in tatters. Baked beans, Heinz or the like, and their shortcoming was to be the thrust of the piece but, having reflected on the main coming in which they are most definitely short, being flavour, led me to become aware of the shortness of a multitude of  their other comings, glutinous sauce and pallid appearance, to the point where the only can of baked beans over which I could now enthuse would be an original Warhol. This sticky problem arose as I was placing a dish of pommes boulangere in the oven for our dinner. We would normally have a green salad and good bread as an accompaniment to this simple dish but a small, cling filmed china pot, filled with the remains of an intense, slightly chillied and shiningly unctuous tomato sauce, had attracted my attention as it needed to be used up. In the dark recesses of the cupboard in which we keep our tinned goods sits a pile of tins of Heinz Baked Beans. They are in those plastic sealed packs of four that are available in all London supermarkets and, on each of our rare visits, Jenny makes sure that one of these packs accompanies us back to France after which they attain a sacred cow status in that there is rarely an occasion, in Jenny’s opinion, which merits their opening, heating and putting on toast. The cupboard also contains many tins and jars of different pulses  together with packets of their dried brethren and from this plethora of choice I took a tin of cannelini beans, which I assume to be pretty close to the “navy” beans that are the base ingredient of “baked beans”. The upshot of the story is that I warmed slivers of garlic in olive oil, added the tomato sauce and then….this is the point….anchovies, followed by the beans. Once the ingredients had been gently heated and lovingly stirred the resulting flavour was very, very good and it was on the strength of this wonderful flavour that I googled “do Heinz flavour any of their products with anchovies?” in the belief that the answer would be resoundingly in the affirmative but, as in a recent referendum, I was left dumbfounded by the “negatory” response to my enquiry.  There is but one Heinz product that transgresses the anchovy free status and that exception arrives by post in a plain brown wrapper ( plain save for the word Amazon printed large) and travels under the name of “Pasta sauce anchovies and black olives tomato sauce 100gX3 bags of Heinz adult protein adjustment” ….if you’re concerned that the sudden arrival of “adult” products, in plain brown envelopes, dropping onto your previously unsullied doormat might create unwanted gossip in social media may I recommend this as an option:


Posted in 2018, anchovies, beans, Cannellini beans with garlic and anchovies, Cooking, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Google, Humour, Olive oil, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

….been fishing

As one who has never gone fishing in his life, to have gone fishing would seem to be an unconvincing excuse for not being in one’s place of work during the hours allotted. American literature and folklore suggest otherwise and even that it was at the very top of the suitable excuse list. On reflection it could be said that it has a useful ambivalence in that it offers no suggestion of the length of time before a return could be expected nor even that the fishing expedition will indeed be finite. The only qualification needed for its effectiveness is that the user be a sole trader (clever little pun in there) as there must be no one in cahoots  available to be interrogated by a third party as to the possible reason for such a complete disregard for customers and creditors  or, worse still, as to the name and location of the pub or “maison close” in which the putative fisherman may be currently casting his hook, line and sinker. And so I offer my worthless excuse for not posting anything at all in the last month or so: it’s because I’ve ……

…..and nothing but a  pair of shimmering, bright eyed mackerel to show for it. My first memories of mackerel are to be found in that time before I knew if I liked food;  liked food as a source of great pleasure as opposed to something that assuaged the continual hunger that is part of childhood and teenage years. As a family we holidayed around boats and water and if it was a year when that water was salty then we would eat mackerel. Long lines of hooks trailed over the transom of proper wooden boats powered by Seagull outboard motors whose fuel has a wonderful smell that I can recall to this day; conversely, I have no idea of how the mackerel were later prepared and cooked. I just ate fish and bread and butter. When I became a man I put aside childish ways and started drinking wine which made me fall over a lot, very like a child, until I learnt how much I could drink without this happening…..often. I also learnt, from some wonderful people who aren’t in this story, how to shop for ingredients, prepare and cook them and finally how to eat and share them with pleasure. Oddly enough, I still haven’t grown up enough to like fine dining which I fucking hate. Food, as served in small French restaurants and bistros, was what I liked then and is, indeed, what I like now. Maquereaux au vin blanc is such a dish. It is very cheap, very easy to prepare, delicious to eat and very satisfying to look at, which qualities are, to my mind, the sine qua non of good food.




Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

neither having nor eating one’s cake…..

The depths of my childhood deprivation have only recently become apparent. Unlike the majority of happy baby boomer children who enjoyed Pineapple Upside Down (PUD…perfect acronym) Cake at the end of every joyous Sunday lunch of their idyllic childhoods I have had to wait a full 73 years for my first taste. It would be true to say that my consensus of “happy baby boomer children” has been collated from comments on my Instagram post of such a cake so we can probably reduce “majority of happy baby boomers” to  four or five people who mentioned that they had happy memories of PUD. Nevertheless, this not being a time in history when facts have any bearing on the matter in hand, I shall continue to declare that I have been hard done by and shall scream from the virtual nursery door…..”this is so-ooo-ooooo unfair-r-r-r”……the sole problem being that fairness is treated in the same cavalier fashion as facts so together I shall pull myself and get on with extolling the virtues of this FACT….( Fucking Amazing Cakey Treat). To ensure that the FACT is dense, moist ( I so dislike that word but “damp” doesn’t work as a replacement….I must think about this) and, above all, wonderfully sticky with an acidic pear drop edge to the sweetness, it is essential to use a fresh pineapple and sucrevergeoise. I don’t know what would be the substitute for this thick, soft brown  sugar which comes in both light and dark versions. The cake pictured at the beginning of this post was made with light sucre vergeoise but I have made one with sucre vergeoise brune (above) which gives more of a burnt toffee flavour and is fantastic in the mouth. I cooked both of  these cakes in a non stick, purpose made, heavy based tarte tatin tin which, if you have one, is the way to go. To all those among you who have suffered the same disadvantaged youth as myself, I urge you to make this cake and, in particular, to greedily eat and enjoy it…a feeling of deep unfairness may linger which may be expunged by one or more slices.

Posted in 2017, Baking, cake, Childhood memories, Cooking, creme fraiche, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

une belle horizontale….

Of the phrases that exemplify the quality of French as a diplomatic language few can compare with “belle horizontale” as a well turned euphemism for an “expensive tart” and there is no doubt that the eponymous Tarte au Citron Cartet, the subject of this piece, is as  belle a horizontale as one could wish into which to sink one’s teeth. Cartet, as a restaurant, is a myth…an unknown venue which does not even display its name, save on the awning should it be wound out. There are no menus on display and the door is always locked. Madame Cartet, the celebrated owner and chef, is long gone but the new owner continues her tradition. As I, to my great disappointment, have never yet visited Cartet I have copied and printed below the report of one who has:
There is a name on the awning, but in the windows flanking the door, meant to hold menus, or anywhere else, is there any evidence that it is a restaurant. Including the locked door. As we began to turn away despite a reserved table, it was unlocked for us, then relocked behind us, lest some unreserved guest have the temerity to try for a table. One older couple and a table set for two reserved for us. The other 18 places empty. When asked, the chef replied that he serves “as few as he can”. He was charming, friendly and everywhere at once, doing everything. The menu is broader than one would expect for four covers, and not everything was available. This isn’t exactly a private chef, but neither did it evoke the awkwardness of an empty restaurant waiting for guests. It was unusual, as in never before, but fun. Again? Probably to show off, but we’ve seen the film.
Terrine for every table. Fresh and good. Magret, thinly sliced with orange sauce, veal chop with morels in cream sauce. Both served with a double portion of irresistible potato cake. Entrees, salade with lardons, morels (again) on toasted brioche with a different cream sauce.
Desserts: All of them put on the table: chocolate mousse, lemon tart, rice pudding, floating island, flan…
Gracious and personal
Price: Very high. With two glasses of wine, one water (10€!) and two coffees, 232€.

This is as close to my ideal restaurant as I can imagine. I share the chef’s preference of serving as few people as possible indeed, cooking for than 6 people changes one of my most enjoyable activities into a toilsome purgatory. However, if the empty 18 places in the restaurant were filled with good friends then it would indeed be the very best place in which to enjoy eating and drinking outside of my home.

Cartet,  52 rue de Malte75011 Paris, France

Posted in 2014, 2017, Baking, Cooking, creme fraiche, desserts, Digital photography, Eggs, France, Humour, Lemon tart, lemons, Paris, Patricia Wells, Photography, photography course, Recipes, tart, tarte au citron cartet, tarte au citron cartet, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

concerning the three great lies…..


In concert with the thrust of this piece it would be fair to say that the “three great lies” are a moveable feast. I have always considered that “there’s a cheque in the post” to be immutable, the first among equals, and it should be obvious from this that my memories are rooted in the past. Of the remaining two lies one of them is traditionally of a sexual nature and the last is up for grabs. The one that came to mind, and which ultimately spawned this piece, is “I know a great Tex Mex restaurant”. That I have never found such a place may well be accounted for by my putative search consisting of visits with young children to London Tex Mex restaurants of the 70’s and 80’s which experience confirmed the implausibility of there being any truth in Great Lie No.3. However, in the dark recesses there remains a faint memory of a Mexican au pair who made breathtakingly good Chili con Carne with cubes of seasoned beef, rather than the ubiquitous minced meat, and thickened it with bread. I have never eaten a better one since and, as I now prefer not to eat meat, it is unlikely that I ever will. In consequence I am now at the point of making a statement which may well, to many of you, replace Great Lie 3 by suggesting that “I have just made a very good vegetarian Chili”. Vainglorious as that statement may appear there has been some concurrence of positive opinion among both friend and family, save for the occasion when, whilst staying with our son in London, I took the original internet recipe at face value ( which I have since modified ) and added the suggested 3 tablespoons of chili powder which created a dish inedible even to post match, extremely drunk rugby supporters who prided themselves on possessing palates consistent with the capabilities of heat resistant ceramic tiles on a lunar reentry module. I never keep chili powder in our store cupboard at home because of a similar event, in the early years of our marriage, when I slavishly followed a misprint in a Robert Carrier recipe for Chili con Carne which became a cause celebre in those far off days. Oddly enough, after all those years, I’ve only just been made aware that there is a difference between Chili Powders….one being based on cayenne pepper ( the one that caused all the trouble) and the other being a blend of spices with a touch of cayenne…that’s the one that I’ve never bought.

Posted in 2017, Chili sin Carne, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food photographer, France, Olive oil, Photography, Recipes, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

brown sugar, how come you taste so good….*

 A pudding as addictive as this is not for the abstemious nor for those who would eschew excesses of sugar and fat. This is phat….hot and tempting, dripping with butter and soft brown sugar, born out of a lasciviously lazy hunger which is an ideal genealogy for such a disgraceful dessert. I came upon this mongrel of a tatin by way of  sucre vergeoise, a soft dark sugar for which I’m not sure of a replacement,  which I used in a pineapple upside down cake that I had recently cooked The simplicity of melting sweet butter in a pan and mixing into it the thick soft brown sugar with a wooden spoon rather than waiting anxiously for the magic of caramelisation to happen, or not,  was the first thing that attracted me to this temptress. Then came the ease of just laying the pears on top of the buttery sugar mixture,  covering the lot with a sheet of ready made puff pastry and putting it into a hot oven. This is exactly what lazy hunger demands……and all that remains is to find something suitably lascivious with which to occupy oneself for the 35 minutes or so until the hot oven disgorges a glossy, sinful and impossibly moreish tart….one could try to only have one slice.

*apologies to the Rolling Stones for using this wonderful line

.Pear Tatin…..with a nod to upside down cake

4 Conference pears cut in half
20gms unsalted butter
140gms sucre vergoise ….this is a very soft sugar obtained from the sugar beet
which can be dark or light in colour. Replace with a moist brown sugar which pinches easily into lumps.
Packet of frozen puff pastry ….circular if using a tatin tin as I do.

Preheat oven to 200C. I use a pizza oven setting at 180C  that creates a very hot oven cooking simultaneously on the top and bottom.

  • Peel, core and halve the pears.
  • Put the butter in the tatin tin over a medium heat until the butter is melted.
  • Stir the brown sugar into the melted butter and take the pan off the heat.
  • Place the pear halves in a circle in the buttery sugar, rounded side down.
  • Lay the puff pastry over the pears, tucking the pastry in around the sides, and cut a couple of slits in the top of the pastry to let out steam.
  • Put the tin in the preheated oven and cook for 30- 35 minutes or until the pastry is well browned and the juices have become thick and sticky.
  • Turn out onto a plate being aware that there will be juices that may run over the edge of the plate.
Posted in 2017, Baking, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Pear Tatin, Pears, Photography, pizza oven, Recipes, tarte tatin, tarte tatin, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments