Duck stir fry

Quickly put together from bits and pieces in fridge and freezer and inspiration yet again from Slimming World. I served it with some leftover boiled rice; otherwise I would have used Chinese egg noodles. Use a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables to save time, and it will only take 20-25 minutes from starting to getting it on the table.
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Pot-roasted chicken and root vegetables

I cooked this based on a recipe from Slimming World, believe it or not, adapted to my own tastes and what I had available. It will be appreciated by slimmers and non-slimmers alike. The vegetables become meltingly soft and sweet, imbued with the flavour of the stock. Very easy when you have guests too, because you can just put it in the oven an hour before the meal and leave it to cook. I added roast spuds for a complete meal, followed by a crisp, simple green salad.
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Lemon chicken stir-fry

This is based on a recipe from the Hairy Bikers’ diet book. It’s quick, delicious, cheap, and less than 200 calories a portion — definitely worth saving for posterity. If on a diet, serve with plain boiled rice or Chinese noodles.

Note, no rice wine here so I used Noilly Prat. You could use not-too-dry white wine, or sherry.
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Duck Wellington

A freezer catastrophe meant that we had to quickly find ways of using up the entire thawed-out contents of the freezer. This recipe, adapted from one originally found on Marmiton, was a way of using up some duck breasts and a packet of puff pastry. I was surprised at how good it was — a cheaper alternative to mini beef Wellingtons.

The original recipe had foie gras in the filling, so if you have any, you can use it, but I found it worked just fine with a dollop of crème fraîche. The duck breasts you can buy here are huge, so we normally eat just one between us.
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The Apple Book, by Jane Simpson and Gill MacLennan

A neglected cookbook for a neglected blog. This is an old book, published in 1984. At the time we lived in the Vale of Evesham, where fruit and vegetables were plentiful. It’s really intended for people with their own trees, who are desperate for ways of using their gluts. But even if you aren’t surrounded by orchards, apples are available all over the place and all the year round, so it’s well worth having a cookbook dedicated to them.

I used to use it a lot, but it’s gradually migrated to the dusty lower reaches of the bookcase. Flicking through it, there are quite a few food-spattered pages. Some even have notes, including the word “wonderful” scrawled next to the apple and cider sorbet recipe. But there’s one recipe that has become the household standard virtually every time we can get hold of chicken livers: the catchily named Chicken livers with mushrooms, bacon and apples in a peppered cider sauce. You hardly need a recipe after that. It only takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and it’s excellent with pasta.
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Pot-roasted wild boar

Boar with vegetables

A neighbour kindly gave me a leg of young wild boar recently. I find the traditional method of cooking boar here (marinating for 2-3 days in robust red wine and herbs, then braising) nauseating and indigestible. But this tender joint responded well to my adaptation of a Delia recipe for braised leg of lamb. In fact if you can’t get boar, you could substitute lamb (leg or shoulder) here. Serves 4-6 — this is almost a one-pot meal, although I served it with a little pasta to soak up the sauce.
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Broad bean and bacon risotto

Broad bean and bacon risotto

Our broad bean crop was decimated by frost, but I bought some lovely small, fresh broad beans from the market. To me, broad beans and bacon or ham are one of those marriages made in heaven. I had some stock from a roast chicken so risotto seemed an obvious choice to make the most of them.

The basic method of making risotto is a doddle; I don’t know why people make so much fuss about it. The hardest work in this recipe is preparing the beans, but it’s one of the few recipes where it really is worth blanching and peeling them; pilaff with broad beans and serrano ham is another.

Rice is one of the few things I always measure by volume. An ordinary mustard glass holds just the right amount for two people, and for risotto you can count on roughly three times the volume of stock to rice. Don’t bother making risotto with any rice other than Italian; the result won’t be worth the effort. Make pilaff instead. If you like stringy cheese in your risotto, use Gruyère or Comté; otherwise Parmesan, or even aged cheddar.
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French Country Kitchen, by Geraldene Holt: braised chicory with mushrooms

French Country Kitchen is very similar in approach to Jenny Baker’s Simple French Cuisine. I was given Jenny Baker’s book around the time we bought our holiday house in the Languedoc, so I kept it here to provide inspiration. We had a very rudimentary kitchen then, so it was useful having a book of delicious recipes using local ingredients and requiring no fancy equipment. I tend not to pick it up much now; it may soon make an appearance in this neglected cookbook series!

Like Jenny Baker, Geraldene Holt is a British woman who came to southern France, fell in love with it, and being a keen cook, collected traditional recipes from friends and neighbours. I picked up a second-hand copy of French Country Kitchen recently; it’s out of print, so it can be bought for pennies on Amazon. I love the fact that the Internet has made it so easy to find out-of-print books.

This book is organised by ingredients — there’s a chapter on mushrooms for example, one on olives, one on chestnuts, almonds, and walnuts, more conventional ones on poultry and beef, and a whole chapter on the pig, covering every part of it of course., including making brawn and your own sausages.

I’m not a great meat-eater, so I decided to try the recipe for endive belge étuvée aux champignons, or braised chicory with mushrooms. Chicory is something I only discovered when I came to France, and I love its bitter flavour. The result was delicious and makes a change from our usual ways of cooking chicory (wrapped in ham and covered in cheese sauce, or braised with chicken). If you’re vegetarian you could leave the bacon out, although it does add an essential saltiness and a touch of fat to cut the bitterness of the chicory. I might add a splash of soy sauce if I left out the bacon.

The recipe specifies cultivated mushrooms, and that’s what I used. But I reckon it would be even better with wild ones — cèpes or chanterelles. If you’re making a vegetarian version I would recommend the tastiest mushrooms you can find. As fresh tomatoes are banned in our house from October to May, I used a spoonful of sun-dried tomato paste instead of the tomato, which turned out to be an excellent idea.

I like the homely approach of this book, and like the Jenny Baker book it is an excellent choice to take on holiday to France with you, if you like cooking and buying produce at French markets.
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Oven-baked frittata

I first discovered frittata via the Cottage Smallholder site. I often cook one from scratch for a quick supper or picnic lunch, but it is a wonderful vehicle for turning leftovers into something delicious in their own right — providing of course that you are selective about what you put in it. Just throwing in the contents of the fridge without regard to whether the flavours and textures are complementary is not going to give you a good result.

Normally, I cook frittata slowly in a frying pan and finish it off with a couple of minutes under the grill to set the top. This time, I had some left-over roasted vegetables to use up, and was inspired to do it differently. It’s a very quick and easy dish if you have left-over roasted veg, but of course you can cook them from scratch. I always do plenty when I roast vegetables, because they are one of the best kinds of left-overs you can have. Toss them into a salad with rice, pasta, or Ebly and some toasted nuts, blend with some home-made stock and spices and make a delicious soup, use them to fill quiches or omelettes …
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Creamy artichoke pasta

I’m sure I’m not the only one who immediately springs for some form of pasta when I haven’t been shopping or even thought of what I might cook for dinner. On Friday I was a bit bored with my usual go-to pasta recipes and fancied something a bit different. This one, based on an original from World Wide Recipes, is very reminiscent of the simple vegetable-based sauces in Italy, and it ticks all the boxes:
– Uses store-cupboard ingredients. Check.
– The sauce is ready in less time than it takes to cook the pasta. Check.
– Both cheap and delicious. Check.

Oh, and vegetarian, if that floats your boat. Although if you are a confirmed carnivore you could add some ham if you wanted.
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