Tag Archives: French food

An end of summer Salad Niçoise…put some sun back in your lunch

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Salad Niçoise evokes visions of lazy lunches in France, holidays, sunshine, the beach……please excuse me while I drift into hazy memories of camping in the Vendee with my kids….my first visit was with Rosie (the teen) when she was 11 months old. We camped next to the beach, bought fresh bread from the boulangerie, shopped in the Super U (French supermarket chain) and the market in Ile de Noirmoutier. Even in the supermarket the produce was fresh, local and a reflection of the warm, sunny climate. I returned again when my youngest kid was exactly the same age as Rosie had been on the first trip. This time we camped in an area of woods and forest, the smell of pine and sea air heightened our appetites and although at that point money was tight (eating out every night was beyond us), we filled our baskets once again with all the amazing produce grown in the area.  I vividly remember that the campsite take-away sold home-made boeuf bourguignon, not any old take away this! The beef melted in the mouth, the sauce thick, rich and supremely tasty with all the lingering flavourings from the wine in which the beef had been marinated.

Memories aside, I don’t think I ever actually ate a Salad Niçoise while in France. Soft boiled eggs are generally not my thing (I have a strange aversion to runny egg yolks, the only thing I physically cannot eat) and I know the kids would never have chosen a dish with anchovies or olives. These days that has changed (except for the anchovy bit) and the kids will eat it and I make nicoise a fair bit for parties and buffets. With the eye-catching colour contrast of the scarlet tomatoes, green lettuce and bright yellow eggs it really stands out.

With so much fresh local produce in my veg box, a glut of cute pink bantam eggs and a craving for a pretty salad to make me think summer will never end I set about making this slightly cheaty Salad Niçoise. I used runner beans (of which there is an unending supply at the moment) and not green beans, crisp lettuce hearts, beautiful and sweet deep red tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic and lots of (hard) boiled eggs. sorry, I know they should really be soft, but as I said I have this aversion. The missing ingredients were olives (which some people include, while others don’t) and anchovies, but I improvised with a can of green olives (stuffed with anchovies) found on the shelf of my local shop. This is not the perfect choice at all; they should really be the beautiful purpley French olives, or nice juicy fat black ones but in the absence of these (you can’t have Niçoise without olives) it worked all the same.

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Locally grown lettuce, tomatoes, basil and pretty pink bantam eggs from my hens

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add olives, anchovies, blanched runner beans and a basil garlic dressing made with flaked (Halen Mon) seasalt

Recipe: Salad Niçoise (to serve 4 as a main or up to 6 as an accompanying dish)

1 or 2 heads of crisp cos or little gem lettuce

5 ripe tomatoes quartered

5 eggs boiled (to your preference, mine were hard-boiled)

250g green beans or runner beans

6-8 nice fat anchovies (preferably from a fishmonger in a pack or tin packed in salt and washed before use). Jarred anchovies in oil should be washed before adding, and are not as tasty as the former.

100g purple or black olives

Dressing:

2 good tablespoons of red wine vinegar

100ml olive oil

1 fat clove of garlic chopped finely

a small handful of fresh basil leaves finely chopped

half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard

a good pinch of Halen Mon sea salt and ground black pepper

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Filed under British food, home cooking, local produce, Recipes, salads

A trip to market, a French supper, a mini croquembouche and a chicken liver and cognac parfait to die for

It was our first day back outside with the Ogwen produce market and hooray!! The sun shone bathing us in a few glorious rays. Outside was warmer than it had been inside the church hall (our winter home), so we were happy to be back there; and so it seems, were the market visitors. All of a sudden we were busy again. On such a gorgeous day though who wouldn’t enjoy whiling away an hour or so; picking up some great local produce and soaking in a bit of vitamin D over a panad (that’s cup of tea to you non-Welsh speakers…but our coffee is popular too!).

The market square with its wrought ironwork and raised flower beds has become the ‘heart’ of Bethesda and no one was happier to be back than I. Once more ensconced in my purpose-built kitchen and out of the ‘cupboard’ at the front of the church hall. I was happy. You can tell from the picture as I’m smiling for a change.

As usual the market was an eclectic and sometimes eccentric mix of food and local crafts

There was local veg from Tatws Bryn, and Moelyci who had loads of spinach, rainbow chard and kale (pretty much the only thing that’s really great in the garden at this time of year). There was fab bread from Becws Alun and Model Bakery, who also tempted us with Kurdish pasties laced with piri-piri sauce. They were huge enough to sustain even the hungriest hiker!. Of course Lynwen was there with her amazing vegan cupcakes from Aderyn Melys, plus more traditional cakes, flapjacks, Madeline’s etc. from Cegin Brysur;  there was cheese from Caws Rhyd y Delyn, traditional greek pastries, meat from Tom at the local farm (his pork and tomato sausages are our favourites) and chocolate from Cariad.

On the craft side there were my usual favourites; all kinds of pretty things made with buttons from Miss Marple Makes, cards, badges and jewellery from Dyfal Donc and Phia Eco plus cards, cushions and lots of lovely bits and bobs.

…and then there was me, back at home in my little cafe selling local bacon baps, tomato and pork sausage baps with red onion marmalade and simple vegetable soup with wild garlic puree and creme fraiche, plus organic fair trade tea and coffee

Back home I didn’t have time to collapse in a heap, I had plenty to do for the evenings supper club. A private party for twelve with a French themed menu. I wouldn’t normally do two jobs back to back, God no…some would say I’m a masochist, but it was the only date our guests to make and the market is always the second Saturday…what could I do! I decided to go with it. You probably think me insane (and after doing it I’d probably agree!)

I prepped a fair bit the day before to get a head start. I made chicken liver and cognac parfait, red onion marmalade and the bread. All of which would be good the day after. But I still had to make the mini bite sized wild garlic and balsamic red onion tarts (Amuse Bouche) served with sloe gin slings…not very French I know. Gin sling hadn’t been the intention. I was planning on making Damson Martini’s but I discovered much too late that the last drop of Damson vodka I’d used to experiment with, was in fact the last bottle in the house. I thought I had more hidden at the back of the cupboard (away from the teen), but clearly I was mistaken. Instead we cracked open the sloe gin.

Starters all plated up and ready to go.

As a special birthday treat I decided to make a croquembouche for dessert (a French dessert made from cream filled profiteroles and caramel piled into a cone shape).  I’ve made profiteroles lots of times so didn’t think it could be that hard. I studied the pictures in my Raymond Blanc book (even though I wasn’t expecting to emulate his effort!) and decided how I was going to decorate it. I’d read somewhere that you shouldn’t attempt to make one if it’s raining…so I prayed for the weather to hold up. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to make it…or how soon in advance I should make my choux pastry so on Saturday afternoon, when I hadn’t even started, everyone else was panicking and telling me I was an over-ambitious fool… but I held my nerve and got to it. It was far from perfect and was much smaller than I’d anticipated, but I was quite proud of my effort, even though it looked more like a small hillock than a mountainous cone.  Still, the orange patisserie cream filled profiteroles glistened with golden caramel, as spun sugar wrapped the choux pastry balls in a delicate web. I finished the little mound with a sprinkle of edible gold stars. At least it was too small to collapse!

I’m not sure if it was the promise of help for the evening (from a keen friend), or tiredness from a day of cooking, but I remained remarkably calm throughout, much to the surprise of all those around me.Our  guests loved the food and this is a snippet from the email they sent me the next day…

"the food was way way out of the ordinary, and in that category of one off meals that you never forget 
as they stand out so obviously from the rest and the most !....the best pate I've ever tasted in my life!
...and I would probs say that that was the yummiest dessert I've ever had........I was so full but yet it
was SO light and slid down so easily that I had seconds"

I think towards the end of the night I got a little too comfortable with the bottle of wine in front of me and didn’t end up going to bed until 1.15am….I regreted it the next morning I can tell you…Clearing the last of the debris with a hangover was definitely not what the doctor ordered…but it was a damn good Saturday.

Chicken and Cognac pate (the best pate ever…allegedly. Serves 12 in small ramekins, or make one large dish)

1 large Echalion shallot finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 teaspoon walnut oil

500g chicken livers (washed, cleaned and drained well)

4 tablespoons cognac

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

150g melted butter (plus 25g for cooking and 50g or so to finish)

a teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

a pinch of cinnamon, salt & pepper

Sweat the shallot and garlic gently in 25g butter and teaspoon walnut oil. When soft and turning golden add the well-drained chicken livers. Cook over a medium heat until browned all over, it should take about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the chicken livers with a slotted spoon and put in the bowl of a food processor. Add the Cognac to the hot pan and cook down until thick. Scrape any stuck bits off the bottom of the pan as these will add flavour. Adds this to the food processor with mustard, thyme, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Melt the 150g butter and add this to the processor too then blitz everything well until smooth. Transfer to a terrine dish or individual ramekins. Melt another 50 g butter and use to finish the pate pouring over the top to create a lid. This will stop it discolouring.

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