Sunny poached apricots

Apricots

A slightly revised version of a BBC recipe. It’s just made for the tart, red-tinged apricots we get here. Apricots are nearly always disappointing raw, but brief cooking really intensifies the flavour. Baking in the oven rather than cooking on the stove top is gentler and means they are less likely to collapse. I do them when I am using the oven for something else anyway. Do plenty, and store in the fridge for instant dessert with cream, fromage frais, or ice cream.
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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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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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Café de Paris butter

This is a killer condiment which I’m sure will enhance all sorts of things. It was invented in Geneva, presumably at the Café de Paris, and I believe its original use was for steak. I used it to liven up some frozen cooked lobster, a task it performed admirably. I’m planning to use the leftovers on some grilled mussels for tapas. You can of course freeze leftovers in handy-sized chunks.

The list of ingredients is long, but many of them are items you have on hand anyway (at least, I do). And with a food processor it’s quick to put together. I’ve listed the herbs I used, but you can vary them according to what you have on hand/what you like. If using on steak, a teaspoon of mustard might be a nice addition. Whatever you use it for, the idea is to put it on your chosen food in slices about 50mm thick, and then grill it for a few minutes to melt and brown it.
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Salted caramel sauce (caramel au fleur de sel)

Salted caramel sauce

Many competent cooks seem to be terrified of making caramel. Why? It’s a doddle. There are only two things that can go wrong: burning it (due to inattention) and crystallising the sugar. The first problem is easily solved: don’t take your eyes off the caramel while it is cooking, and remove from the heat as soon as it is the right colour. As for the second problem, I discovered long ago that using sugar cubes instead of granulated sugar ensures that the sugar will melt smoothly and evenly without crystals forming. So give it a go! This sauce is excellent with ice cream, but useful for all sorts of other things as well — try it with apple slices fried in butter for example.
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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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Lemon posset

Lemon posset with cherry compote

I’m a sucker for anything with lemon in it — it’s my favourite flavour. Lemon posset is utterly simple: just lemon, sugar, cream. It’s rather indulgent, so make small quantities and pair it with something more virtuous; I added hot cherry compote to the chilled possets, so that made them part of our five a day. Choose plain glasses to show off the pale, creamy possets, and serve with crisp biscuits, such as tuiles, langues de chat, or Maggie’s shortbread thins.

Ideally, make it 24 hours ahead, but I’ve chilled it for only four hours, and it’s still set, if less firmly.
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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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