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Rigatoni à la Bordelaise with cèpes

Ever since I made the ‘escargots à la Bordelaise’, an improvised recipe given to me by my lovely snail farmer friends, I have been longing to make it again, with or without snails. The rich succulent sauce, filled with bits of sausage meat, red wine and fragrant shallots filled my mind with so many ideas. Last week-end, it was a perfect occasion to start using my frozen cèpes mushrooms, the ones I proudly picked last month in the Médocan forest. So there it was, my wishful thinking coming to life. Rigatoni pasta, cèpes and Bordelaise sauce. All those earthy flavours mixed together form the perfect plat du jour. As I did not have any sausages, I used pancetta, which was equally délicieux.

I get such a kick from making this meal. The smell of the evaporating wine is so inviting, different shades of reds and browns glistening in my cast-iron cocotte. The aromas get really interesting when I add the cèpes, bringing me straight back to the forest. It’s amazing how cooking can transport you to such adventurous places.

Ingredients: (serves 4-6)

500 g rigatoni pasta
200 g pancetta (diced)
5 large cèpes (sliced, you can also use fresh or dried porcini)
2 small shallots (finely sliced)
2 garlic cloves (finely sliced, one for the sauce, one for the cèpes)
400 ml tomato passata
200 ml red wine (I used a very modest Bordeaux)
80 ml beef or chicken broth
1 tbsp plain flour
Olive oil (for frying)
1 tbsp butter (for cèpes)
1 tbsp butter (for pasta)
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)
1 pinch chilli powder
Grated parmesan cheese (for topping)
A bunch of parsley

In a large pan, heat olive oil and add minced garlic and shallots . Cook until soft and slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add the pancetta and continue to cook until browned. Take the pan off the heat, add 1 tbsp of flour and mix well. Return to heat, add tomato passata, mix well, cover and cook on a low heat for 15 minutes. Add chicken broth, red wine, salt, pepper and chilli. Cover and cook for a further 15 minutes.

Heat the frying pan till sizzling hot, place the cèpes mushrooms to ‘dry them out’ for a few minutes on each sides, season with salt and pepper. Add butter and garlic and continue frying on a high heat until golden.

Mix pasta with sauce, add a tbsp of butter, add cèpes mushrooms. Sprinkle with parsley and parmesan. Serve immediately.

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The Roast & the Pudding

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.English proverb

There are different souvenirs in one’s life, some are linked to childhood, others to love, passion, and travels. For my active imagination, food memories act as an introduction to each chapter in my life. They are the backdrop to my world, flavouring it with taste, colour and texture. If you are what you eat, then I am certainly a mix between French, Chinese and British food. My love for a confit de canard with a glass of red St-Estèphe, xiao long bao (Shanghainese steamed pork dumplings) with pu-erh tea, a good pork pie, scotch eggs and a half a pint of Guinness (I’m a lightweight) are equal and unconditional.

As I grew up in Hong Kong during the colonial days, I was heavily influenced by British food and culture. I cherish those years, filled with iconic images of queen Elizabeth’s portraits at the post office, the old police uniforms, the Gurkha army playing the Scottish pipes on the Queen’s pier and the occasional visit of the Prince of Wales. We had tea at the Mandarin Hotel, scones with clotted cream and rose petal jam, or at the old Repulse Bay hotel (not the one they re-built), just like in Ang Lee’s Lust and Caution. I loved the mixture of old-school British traditions mixed with Chinese flair – it was the story of my life. Some of my favourite moments where spent at the Shanghainese tailors, waiting for hours for my French maman, having her traditional chong sam dresses made for future banquets. I’d browse through the beautiful silk embroidered fabrics, snack on egg tarts and sip soya milk out of a bottle. It can be strange at times to feel part of a vanished era, but it’s all there, vivid in my mind, set in a vintage filter. Not that Hong Kong is that different today, but it will certainly never be the same.

Conversations at home were dominated by food, as my family is certainly a food-obssessed one. My life was and is meals. Later on I lived in London, studying and enjoying life as a Londoner. My fondness for British food grew bigger and bigger, as I discovered more delicacies throughout the years. Steak and kidney pies, Cornish pasties, minced pies, toast and marmite, Cadbury Flake chocolate, treacle pudding, just don’t get me started. Last Saturday, I just had to have roast beef, juicy gravy and Yorkshire pudding. It’s the inner ‘Brit-girl’ in me. That and a bread and butter pudding to finish it off. Could a Saturday lunch get any better?

Recipes: (serves 4 to 6)

Crunchy cabbage, radishes and shallots salad:

1/2 green cabbage
3 shallots (sliced)
2 handfuls of radishes (finely sliced)
A handful of chopped parsley
2 tsp mustard
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar
Olive oil for frying
Crème fraîche (1 tsp or more per serving)
Salt & pepper (for seasoning)

Slice cabbage coarsely, slice shallots and finely slice the radishes. Set aside. Prepare a quick vinaigrette: Mix mustard, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and mix well. Fry the shallots in olive oil until golden and nearly crispy, drain on paper towel and set aside. In the same pan, keep the oil and fry the cabbage for a 3 minutes on a high heat – you want to keep it crunchy. To assemble: Mix cabbage and radishes. Place on a plate, sprinkle shallots, drizzle vinaigrette, add a spoon of crème fraîche, sprinkle a generous amount of parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast beef and red wine gravy:

1-1.2 kg/ 2-2.5 pounds beef filet
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
5 cloves of garlic (3 whole, 2 sliced)
1 coarsely chopped onion
1 chopped carrot
1 branch celery
Olive oil
Coarse sea salt & pepper for seasoning

Preheat oven to 200°C/ 400°F
Rub beef with olive oil, salt and pepper. Make about 10 small incisions with a sharp knife and insert fine slices of garlic. Tuck in the thyme sprig son top of the beef – under the string. Place onion, carrots and celery in a roasting pan along with the beef. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes, lower heat to 180°C/ 350°C and cook for a further 30 minutes (less or more depending on how you like your cuisson/cooking). For me, 45 minutes in total is perfect, brown outside, rosé inside. Place the roast beef on a plate and set aside for 15 minutes.

Gravy:

Keep the roasting pan with all the beef drippings (you can save some for the Yorkshire pudding). Put it directly on the stove on a low heat, add 200 ml red wine and stir. Let the sauce reduce for a few minutes, then add 500 ml beef (or vegetable) stock. Further reduce for 5 more minutes. Add one tsp of flour and mix well until gravy is thick and juicy. Drain sauce and serve immediately.

Roast thyme potatoes:

Preheat oven 180°C/350°F
20 small potatoes, roasting types (I count 5-6 small potatoes per person)
Sprigs of fresh thyme (or dried thyme)
Coarse sea salt
60 ml/ 1/4 cup olive oil
Rinse potatoes, slice them in half or quarters depending on size. Place in roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprigs of thyme and coarse sea salt. Mix well and bake for 35-45 minutes (give the potatoes a good stir halfway).

Yorkshire pudding: (makes approx 12)
250 g/ 2 cups plain white flour
250 ml/ 1 cup whole milk (cold)
2 tbsp cold water
4 eggs
1/2 tsp fine salt
2 tbsp olive oil or beef dripping

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F
In a large bowl, whisk together the sifted flour, cold milk and water. Add the eggs and whisk till blended. Whisk in the flour gradually until batter is smooth. Place a bit of olive oil or beef dripping in each tin and place in oven for 5 minutes or until sizzling hot. Take out from the oven and pour batter in each tin , approx 3/4 high. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until well-risen and golden. Serve immediately

Bread & butter pudding:
6 slices stale bread (any good old bread will do, I used rustic pain de campagne country bread)
80 g/ 1/3 cup butter
65 g/ 1/3 cup granulated sugar
240 ml/ 1 cup milk
60 ml/ 1/4 cup cream
2 eggs
50 g/ 1/3 cup dried dark raisins (to be soaked in rum)
60 ml/ 1/4 cup rum
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp of dark muscovado sugar to sprinkle on top of pudding
To serve: Cream, to be poured on top

Preheat oven 180°C/ 350°F
In a small bowl, soak raisins in rum. Butter slices of bread very generously on each side. Drain raisins and reserve rum. Place a layer of bread, sprinkle with raisins, add another layer, sprinkle with raisins again. Pour the remaining rum all over the bread. In a bowl, mix milk, cream and eggs, add granulated sugar, salt and nutmeg. Pour all over bread, and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Add the remaining butter all over the top. Sprinkle with dark muscovado sugar. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot, with lots of cream poured on top.

November rain

I was so delighted to be featured on Sous Style this week. It’s one of my favourite lifestyle sites, filled with great ideas, recipes and stories on interesting people.

We had a lovely lunch at home, with our friends David and Sheyenne and their kids Balkis and Naturel. Don’t you just love their names? As my guests are vegetarians, I came up with a veggie-friendly menu with a French touch. For starters, we had chestnut soup with tapioca pearls and crème fraîche, followed by crêpes sarrasin (buckwheat pancakes) with squash, green cabbage and Roquefort cheese, served with a typical Provençal dish called Tian de légumes (vegetable tian). It looked like a little masterpiece on the table. Finally, I made a luxurious Calvados apple tart, again, served with crème fraîche (yes, I think you must know by now that I am all about cream). The Calvados (apple brandy) soaked apples bring you all the warmth needed on a cool November day. And that almond crust… is heavenly.

It was a lazy rainy afternoon, filled with fun and laughter. The girls were singing and dancing, the boys played with the dogs, the lunch dragged on for hours and hours, just how it should be.

You can view the feature here.

Chestnut soup with tapioca pearls
1/2 pound/ 230 g whole, peeled and cooked chestnuts (for the soup)
1/4 cup/ 60 g cooked peeled chestnuts (chopped, to sprinkle on soup)
3 cups/ 750 ml chicken stock (or vegetable)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 onion (sliced)
3 tbsp of small tapioca pearls
Salt & pepper for seasoning
Crème fraîche for serving (1 tbsp per bowl)
A small handful of finely chopped parsley

In a large pot, melt the butter on a medium heat and fry the onions
for 2 minutes. Add the chestnuts, continue frying for 1 minute, then
add stock, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a soft boil and turn down
the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly,
then transfer to a food processor to smooth all the ingredients into a
velvety soup. Return to pot, add the tapioca and cook for 15 minutes
on a low heat (or until the tapioca becomes translucent). Serve in
individual bowls with a teaspoon of chopped chesnuts, a big spoon of
crème fraîche and parsley.

Squash, green cabbage and Roquefort buckwheat pancakes

For the filling:

1 pound/ 450g butternut squash
1/3 cup/ 80ml vegetable stock
1 cup/ 150 g green cabbage (chopped)
1/4 pound/ 100 g Roquefort cheese
Butter or olive oil for frying

Chop squash into small cubes and fry in olive oil until golden for 4-5
minutes. Add stock, cover and simmer for ten minutes until cooked and
tender. Drain any excess liquid and set aside. In a pan, fry in olive
oil the chopped cabbage for 5 minutes on a high heat. Add salt and
pepper. Cabbage must be slightly al dente. Set aside.

Buckwheat pancake batter (sarrasin)
2 cups/ 250 g buckwheat flour
2 eggs
2 tbsp/ 30 grs melted butter
1 pinch salt
2 cups/ 500 ml milk

In a large bowl, mix the buckwheat flour and make a well in the
middle. Add the eggs in the center, slowly combine and stir the milk,
melted butter and salt. Make sure to stir constantly and firmly so you
won’t get lumps in the batter. Cover with a plate and leave to rest
for at least an hour.
Heat your oven on a low heat so you can place your pancakes to keep
warm. When the batter is ready, melt a teaspoon of butter in a frying
pan. Add one ladle of batter to form a pancake. Fry approx 2-3 minutes
on a medium heat until golden. Flip sides and repeat. In one corner of
the pancake, place a enough squash, cabbage and crumbled Roquefort.
Fold pancakes in half and fold again to form a triangle. Leave on heat
30 seconds to gently melt the Roquefort. Serve immediately.

Vegetable tian

4 tomatoes
3 large zucchini
2 aubergines
2 garlic cloves
A handful of finely chopped parsley
3 bay leaves
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper for seasoning

Preheat the oven to 210°C/400°F. Clean all vegetables and slice them
finely into equal ‘rondelles’ (round slices). Sprinkle the aubergines
with coarse salt for 20 minutes, then rinse them with boiling hot
water. Drain. Rub garlic all over roasting pan, then align the slices
tightly alternating with each vegetable. Sprinkle sliced garlic all
over, place the sprigs of thyme and bay leaves on top, drizzle with
olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Cook in oven for 30 minutes.
When ready, sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve immediately.

Calvados apple tart
5 apples, peeled, cored and sliced into small chunks
1/4 cup/ 60 ml calvados
5 tbsp/ 60 g brown sugar (cassonade)
3 egg yolks
1 cup/ 250 ml crème fraîche or sour cream
3 tbsp ground almonds
Additional crème fraîche to serve on the side.

For the pastry:
2 cups/ 250 g plain flour
2/3 cups/ 150 g butter (softened at room temperature)
1/4 cup/ 30 g caster sugar
1/2 cup/ 60 g icing confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup/ 80 g ground almonds
1 egg
A pinch of salt

Chop apples and soak in the calvados for 1 hour.

For the crust:
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together until the mixture
forms a homogenous dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and
place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Take out 30 minutes before
rolling out. On a floured parchment covered surface, roll out the
dough to fit your tart pan. Line tart pan with the pastry dough, and
cut out excess overhang dough approx. ¼ inch/ 1 cm off the rim. Fold
in the excess dough to make a double thick rim. Pierce dough with a
fork all over and place in the freezer for 30 minutes to one hour.
This will prevent your crust to shrink when blind baked.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 210°C/ 400°F.

Blind bake the tart for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 180°C/ 350°C.
Take the tart crust out. Drain apples and keep the remaining calvados.
Sprinkle tart with 2 tbsp sugar and place the drained apples all over
the tart. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. If the crust starts to
brown too much, cover edges with aluminium paper. Take the tart out of
the oven. Increase oven heat again to 400°F. Beat together the egg
yolks, cream, remaining sugar and reserved calvados and pour mixture
into the tart all over the apples. Sprinkle the ground almonds on top
and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Serve warm with a tbsp of crème
fraîche on the side.

Brioche à la fleur d’oranger

“Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.” Molière

November has been quite a moody month so far, with torrential rain and strong winds. There’s a certain melancholy saying goodbye to the last melons, berries and roses. There’s even a hint of frost in the morning, a gentle reminder that cold winter days are ahead. This is the best time to get cozy with a warm cup of tea sitting by the fireplace. It’s also the most inspiring time to bake. As soon as I feel slightly chilled, I want to prepare something delicious with a mesmerizing aroma filling up the house. I have a special passion for eau de fleur d’oranger (orange blossom water). It’s one of the ingredients I use most in my cooking, especially for waffles, pancakes, madeleines and brioches. The smell is pure comfort, which is exactly what I need right now. So what a better idea than baking a brioche à la fleur d’oranger. My family and I love having goûters with thick slices of brioche with butter and jam, along with hot chocolates for the kids. It’s such a timeless moment of joy. The thicker the slice, the more fun it is. If childhood had a scent, it would be the aroma of orange flower blossoms.

It does take time to prepare a good brioche, but it is so simple to make. I would advise to make this in the evening and let it rise overnight. When you wake up, you’ll just have to knead the dough for a few minutes and let it rise a little longer. Then it’s off to the oven for a brioche bien ‘dorée et gonflée‘ (golden & puffed up)!

Ingredients:
300 g/ 2 cups 3/4 plain flour (sifted)
2 eggs
50 g/ 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 pack of baker’s yeast (8 g/ 1 tbsp)
90 g/ 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp butter (cubed, at room temperature)
1 tbsp butter (for lining mould)
1 pinch of salt
90 ml/ 1/3 cup lukewarm milk
30 ml/ 2 tbsp orange blossom water
2 tbsp lukewarm water (to dissolve yeast)
1 egg for glazing
A handful of small sugar grains (to sprinkle on brioche – optional)

Note: I used a traditional brioche mould, but you can really use any types you wish. It can be baked in a deep cake tin or a rectangular tin.

Dissolve the yeast in a small bowl with 2 tbsp of lukewarm water. Set aside for 5-10 minutes or until it turns frothy. In a large bowl, mix sifted flour, salt, sugar, yeast and butter. Add eggs and milk gradually and mix well with a big wooden spoon. Start kneading until you get a smooth ball-shaped dough, about 8-10 minutes. Cover bowl with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm room/environment overnight.
The next day: Start kneading the dough on a non floured surface, just to get rid of a few trapped air bubbles, about 1-2 minutes. Line the brioche mould generously with butter and place the dough inside. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise again for 1 to 2 hours (depending on how patient you are!). Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F. With the help of a brush, glaze the surface of the brioche with the egg. Sprinkle with sugar grains all over and bake brioche for 30 minutes. If the top starts to brown too much, place a sheet of parchment paper to protect.

All you need is thyme

Recently, I was given a very original gift. Twelve ‘melons d’Espagne’ (a variety of winter melons) from our farmer neighbours. It was a beautiful jade green sight, as if they were dropped by someone from outer space. These are the last melons of the season, often stored in garages to ripen for use. They are best prepared as jam. So at this time of the year, local Médocains are all preparing the melon d’Espagne jam. I immediately called my aunt for inspiration as she is the confiture (jam) expert. Ever since I was a child, she’s been making the most delicious home-made jams, mixing quince with rosemary and mint, strawberries with roses, rhubarb and raspberries. After our little chat, I hurried to the kitchen and mixed melon with vanilla and sugar in one bowl, and in the other one, ginger, mandarin, melon and sugar leaving them to soak overnight.

I woke up extra-early the next day with only melons on my mind. They had turned into a syrupy fruit mash, ready to be cooked. Just for 45 minutes. It turned out to be so easy, so beautiful to make, and on top of it the house smelt like sugar and spice. I transferred the jam to little glass jars, prepared my scones recipe, which I make for my family several times a week. We had a lovely breakfast, the sun was shining, the jam was delightful with the scones. I’ll be making much more jam this next week, as I think they will be ideal presents for my friends. I am looking forward to finding pretty fabric and ribbons to decorate the jars.

To inaugurate the first holiday week with the children, I planned a good old-fashioned roast lunch, just how my grandmother Séraphine prepared them. My grandmother had a little notebook filled with recipes from her own childhood, along with pretty dried flowers decorating her notes. Mostly violets. Her recipes came from another generation, given to her by family and friends, from Toulouse to Lyon. This recipe is from Augustine, my great-grandmother. The ‘crème de thym’ was her speciality, a Lyonnaise style sauce based on milk, thyme, garlic and egg yolks. It’s a timeless sauce, which can be served with lamb, roast beef or chicken.

Rack of lamb roast with thyme cream sauce (serves 4)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 375°F

1-1.5 kg rack of lamb
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and brown the lamb on all sides until golden. Place in a roasting pan, season with salt and pepper and cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes (depending on rack size and cooking preference). Serve meat on a large plate, add steamed potatoes on all sides. Serve with the thyme cream sauce.

Steamed potatoes:

700-1kg new potatoes (depending on portions)

Wash and scrub potatoes if necessary. Place water in a large pot (5 cm/ 1 inch and a half), place potatoes in a steaming basket, drizzle with salt, cover with a lid and steam for approx 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain and serve.

For the sauce:
1 garlic clove, minced
70 g fresh thyme
350 ml milk
3 egg yolks
150 g butter, cut in cubes
Salt and pepper for seasoning

In a saucepan, bring the milk to a soft boil and take off the heat. Add the fresh thyme, ground garlic and leave to infuse for 15-20 minutes. Strain milk with a sieve, pressing all the thyme to get as much flavour as possible. Discard stalks. Return thyme infused milk to the heat, add 3 egg yolks, one by one, whisking constantly. When the sauce starts to thicken, lower the heat and add butter pieces, stirring away. Add salt and pepper and set aside.

Melon d’Espagne jam

1 kg melon d’Espagne
450 g granulated sugar
Soak overnight

Flavouring
recipe 1: 1 vanilla pod
Recipe 2: Fine slivers of 1 small mandarine
Thumb-size small piece of ginger, finely sliced

Slice melon into chunks (discard skin), remove all seeds and place in a large bowl. If you want to make different flavoured jam, divide melons into two bowls. Pour sugar on melon and mix well. In one bowl mix melon and sugar, in the other mix melon, sugar and add ingredients from recipe 2. Cover with cling film and leave to macerate overnight. For recipe one, in a large pot, pour soaked melon, slit the vanilla pod along its length, scrape off the seeds using the tip of a knife and mix with melon. For recipe 2, cook in another pot. Cook on a low heat, stirring from time to time, for 40-45 minutes, or until consistency is thick and glossy. Pour jam into glass jars and leave to cool.

Tip: Be careful not to overcook as the jam will become to stiff and pasty.

Serve with home-made scones (see recipe).

Lunch with my husband

Friday was the last day before the Toussaint. It is a Christian holiday to honor and pray for the deceased (All Saints day – November 1st and All Souls day November 2nd), where relatives gather and visit family graves, decorating them with chrysanthemums, which is the official flower for Toussaint. The kids get to have a well-deserved two weeks holiday from school, the best treat they could ever get. This time of the year is all about union and family, celebrating fall with all the pumpkins, squashes, mushrooms, brown ferns, acorns and pomegranates.

My husband and I realized it was the last Friday before a two-week fanfare parade at home with les enfants, so we decided to have late romantic lunch. Our days are filled with non-stop activities, from work, dogs, gardening, cooking and kids, so we really value a bit of quiet time together. We were thinking of going out to a nearby bistrot, but luckily I had a duet of coquelets in the fridge, and lots of squashes on my kitchen table, almost too pretty to eat. As much as I enjoy eating out, I had a great recipe in mind for those little chickens so we just had to stay in. I layed an elegant yet rustic table, opened a bottle of St Julien wine, and we happily savoured coquelets à la moutarde (spring chicken with mustard), roast thyme potatoes and baked squashes with garlic cream. Sometimes simplicity works best. This meal is inspired by all the countless lunches we had in Paris at Yves Camdeborde’s ‘le Relais du Comptoir‘ (9 Carrefour de l’Odéon 75006 Paris). It’s one of our regular (and favourite) places to eat for numerous reasons. The food is excellent, we adore Yves Camdeborde, the terrasse is charming, they have given me the best seats throughout my pregnancies, seen all our kids grow up and you can eat there at any time of the day. The menu is fantastic and we always order the same dishes. ‘Coquelet à la moutarde’ or ‘Joue de boeuf with coquillettes’ (beef cheeks with small shell pasta). When we are back in Paris, it’s one of our first obligatoire stops.

The squash with garlic cream was a little last-minute idea. Baking it nearly naked (only with one garlic clove, salt & pepper) was simple, so I wanted to add crème fraîche for extra density (I just can’t help it, I love cream and butter so much). The cream melts in the squash and does the job all by itself creating a perfect garlic cream mash. It was a real hit!

Roast coquelets à la moutarde (serves 2)

Ingredients:
2 coquelets (spring chickens, or you can roast 1 chicken)
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp strong classic mustard (I use Maille)
1 tbsp Savora mustard (it’s a special mix of mustard and spices – available at supermarkets – I also love using this for my quiche lorraine)

Preheat oven 180°C/350°F.

In a bowl, mix 3 tbsp of mustard, 2 tbsp of olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Place chicken in a roasting pan. Spread the mustard marinade all over the chicken including the cavity. Place one garlic clove in each chicken and a 2-3 small sprigs of thyme. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Halfway in cooking time, pour some of the dripping on the chicken. Repeat if necessary. Bake for 35-40 minutes for a coquelet (spring chicken) or 1 hour-1 hour and a half if you are using a larger chicken.

Baked squash with garlic cream (serves 2)
2 squashes (I used carnival squash, but you can use any small-sized variety)
2 garlic cloves (peeled)
120 ml/ 1/2 cup crème fraîche per squash (alternatively you can use sour cream)
Salt & pepper for seasoning

Preheat oven 180°C/350°F

Slice the top part of the squash (leaving you with a lid), remove the seeds. Season the inside of the squash with salt and pepper, add one peeled garlic clove and close the lid.
Place squash in a roasting pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until soft. When ready, remove the lid and leave to cool on a plate. Scoop out the garlic and 2 tsp of squash and add to the crème fraîche. You can mash it up with a fork or place in a food processor and mix for a few seconds for a creamier sauce. Pour cream back into squash and close the lids. Serve on a plate with a spoon.

Roast thyme potatoes

Preheat oven 180°C/350°F
10-12 small potatoes, roasting types (I count 5-6 small potatoes per person)
Sprigs of fresh thyme (or dried thyme)
Coarse sea salt
60 ml/ 1/4 cup olive oil
Rinse potatoes, slice them in half or quarters depending on size. Place in roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprigs of thyme and coarse sea salt. Mix well and bake for 35-45 minutes (give the potatoes a good stir halfway).

You can roast both the potatoes and the chicken at the same time. I start with the potatoes first for 15 minutes, then add the chicken to the pan – this saves space & time.

Pomegranate meringues

I just love it when it’s pomegranate season. The beautiful colours of this sweet and tangy fruit make me feel so festive. That’s why I love to dress the little ruby seeds with a big crimson red swirled meringue. Pomegranate goes so well with orange blossom water, so I teamed these two ingredients to make a delicious syrup. Served with whipped cream and pomegranate seeds, this dessert, to quote my daughter, is the ultimate princess treat.

Ingredients:

For the meringues
6 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1 + 1/2 tsp cornflour
1/2 tsp red food colouring
A pinch of fine salt
320 g/ 1 1/2 cups sugar
2 pomegranates, seeds only
350 ml/ 1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Pomegranate and orange blossom water syrup:
Juice of 3 fresh pomegranates
1 1/2 tbsp orange blossom water
5 tbsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 140° C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Meringues:(makes about 5-6 meringues)

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites (I use a pair of electric whisks) and salt on a high-speed until frothy – try to keep the whisk position as horizontal as possible. Add the cornflour and sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually and continue whisking. You should add the sugar in small quantities until the end of the process. When the egg whites form stiff peaks (this usually takes about 10-15 minutes), gently fold in the red food colouring, creating swirls. With the help of two large slotted spoons, spoon the egg whites onto the parchment-lined baking tray. The meringues should be about 10-12 cm large and 6 cm high. ‘Twirl’ your spoon around and finish off with a spiky peak.
Bake for about 1 hour. Switch off the oven, and leave them to cool inside the oven with the door slightly open for 15 minutes.

For the syrup:
Squeeze the juice of the 3 pomegranates. Heat in a saucepan, add orange blossom water and sugar. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until thick and glossy. Leave to cool and set aside.

To serve:
Serve meringues with whipped cream, a handful of pomegranate seeds on top and drizzle with the pomegranate and orange blossom water syrup.

My grandmother’s crème caramel

I was invited to write this crème caramel recipe for Joanna Goddard’s ‘A cup of Jo‘ blog. It’s a wonderful recipe series called ‘The best … ever’, featuring many of my favourite food bloggers like Deb from Smitten Kitchen (I love making her egg sandwich recipe). It really is the best ever!

My French grandmother loved making this dessert. I always remember how the lovely caramel perfumed her kitchen; it’s the kind of sweet smell any child would dream about. Watching her make caramel was a treat; it looked like magic, seeing the white sugar turn into a golden brown caramel. This is why crème caramel is my favorite dessert—it’s the ultimate family food that warms my heart. She added a little lemon rind to make the taste extra special. This grand classic is very easy to make — you just need to be careful and patient with the caramel.

For the caramel:
100 g/ 1/2 cup caster sugar (or superfine sugar)
1 tsp. fresh lemon rind
4 tbsp water

For the rest of the recipe:
500 ml/2 cups whole milk
50 g/ 1/4 cup regular sugar
½ tsp. lemon rind
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
4 eggs

You’ll also need a ramekin mold, charlotte mold or dariole mold.

What to do:

Pre-heat oven to 300F/150° celsius.

To make the caramel: On low heat, melt the caster sugar, lemon juice and water in a saucepan. Let the mixture melt. It’s very important not to stir until the color starts to turn golden. At this point, shake the pan, until the color slowly turns to caramel golden brown. Take away from heat, and pour immediately into the mold. Be careful not to burn yourself as caramel temperature is burning hot. Swirl your mold in a circular motion so the edges get covered in the caramel.

Heat milk in a saucepan. When it starts to boil, lower the heat, and add sugar, lemon rind, vanilla and salt. Stir, leave for one minute and set aside.

Whisk four eggs in a large bowl, and pour in the warm vanilla milk. Make sure to whisk continuously while you are doing this so the eggs don’t coagulate. Pour the egg mixture into the caramel-lined mold.

Place your mold in a large roasting tin, pour hot water so it comes up to nearly two-thirds of the mold. This process is called ‘bain-marie.’ Bake for 55 minutes—if your knife comes out clean then it’s ready. It should feel springy and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. Once cool, leave in the fridge for a least an hour so it chills.

When you are ready to serve, gently loosen the sides with a palette knife. Place a serving dish on top and turn upside down. You can tap the top with a spoon to facilitate the un-molding. Be patient. You should have a lovely crème caramel, with a pool of golden caramel on the sides.