Crêpes Suzette

crepes suzette flambes

This is a gloriously unfashionable and unhealthy dessert, which makes any meal seem like a special occasion. Like Beef Stroganoff, I hadn’t made this for absolutely ages, but a 36-hour powercut was a great opportunity to think of a dessert that doesn’t require the oven and uses ingredients that are to hand. Of course it doesn’t do to make it too often, but once in a while it makes a lovely treat.

It is not at all complicated to do, especially as you can prepare the pancakes and butter in advance — the day before if you want. You really should entertain your guests by flambéing it at the table.
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Pork with prunes and vin primeur

Around here we don’t have to wait till November for our vin nouveau, like those upstarts in Beaujolais; it’s ready by the third week in October. You don’t have to use new wine for this recipe; any dry white wine you fancy will do. Or dry cider, if wine is too expensive! Try to get some good honey though, not the tasteless supermarket sort. I used herb-scented garrigue honey from a nearby village. It’s easy and quick to make, and is a good alternative to our other standby casserole of pork blanquette paprika. Serve it with a potato gratin, or if that’s too much bother, Ebly or pasta.

Pork and prunes are a classic combination, but most recipes use relatively expensive tenderloin, while for this one a cheaper cut such as shoulder is fine. I haven’t included a photo because I just couldn’t make it look attractive! But the sauce is a lovely rich caramel colour, and it’s delicious — I would certainly serve it to guests. This recipe would probably work really well in a slow cooker too.
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Tatin round-up

tarte tatin with cream

Tatins seem to be everywhere these days; first Bellini Valli of More Than Burnt Toast, then Loulou, then Ivy came up with their own versions. I saw Ivy’s post just as I had got home with a big bag of apples to make one myself. At a stroke, I tried Ivy’s idea of making small individual ones, using some perfectly-sized shallow gratin dishes. A great idea for anyone nervous about flipping the tatin; it’s much easier with small ones! I think I’ll be making these a lot now, although there is something impressive about a single large tarte tatin fresh from the oven, glistening with caramel and just waiting to be shared with friends.

Finally, if you are really, really nervous about making tatins, try this unconventional method from Zen Can Cook — the results look stunning, and that’s exactly the colour you should be aiming for — though personally I would not use puff pastry.

Once upon a time, tarte tatin meant apples, but now it’s come to cover a much broader spectrum, from sweet to savoury. Some of them are a travesty of what tatin is about in my opinion; it should be simple, not tricked-up with loads of extra ingredients, and the essential point is that whatever you use should caramelise to a rich golden brown; if it doesn’t, what’s the point? Things that produce too much juice or go soggy/disintegrate will not work. Whatever you choose, you must be brave and caramelise it to within an inch of its life; it must be deep golden-brown before you put the pastry on, otherwise your finished tart will be pale and disappointing. So that said, here are a few ideas:

  • To a classic apple tatin, add some thin slices of quince for a wonderful added aroma, or mix pears and apples. I always add some grated lemon zest and a squeeze of juice to mine.
  • Try a pineapple tatin; it works really well, and is a good use for a fresh pineapple that isn’t as flavourful as you had hoped. Peaches and apricots are good summer candidates too.
  • On the savoury front, tomato tatin is obvious and excellent; either one large one as a main course with salad, or small individual ones served as starters.
  • Shallots make a fabulous tatin: caramelise whole peeled shallots slowly in butter or olive oil with a sprinkling of sugar, and add some balsamic vinegar at the end. For the ultimate taste and texture sensation, make individual ones, turn out, and top each with a slice of pan-fried foie gras. This is sinfully good!

Rillettes de thon

rillettes de thon

Strictly speaking, rillettes are a kind of pâté made of pork cooked in its own fat and then finely shredded (very nice, despite the description!). This version is a kind of tuna pâté, simple to make and delicious on toast. You need to use good-quality tuna, preferably “au naturel” rather than in oil — though you can use the latter if you drain it well. Make it at least an hour before you want to eat it; it will keep for several days in the fridge.
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Apricot frangipane tart

Apricot frangipane tart

I unexpectedly came across some fresh apricots at the greengrocer’s the other day, and even though I have a ton in the freezer and more in jars, I couldn’t resist buying some. We’ve eaten so much apricot clafoutis recently that even though it’s delicious and easy, I decided to make a bit more effort this time. It’s not pastry-making weather, but a root around in the freezer produced a slab of pâte sucrée (sweet pastry), so away I went.

This tart is quite a lot of work if you have to make the pastry too, but the results are excellent, and it’s ideal for a summer party. Serve warm or at room temperature, with crème fraîche or ice cream.
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Apricot clafoutis

apricot clafoutis

It’s apricot time again, the season for another crate of apricots from Julien’s orchard, now officially organic. His first crop was ruined by hail, so mine are from the second, large deep gold fruits with a rosy tinge. I confess I still have lots of jam left from last year, and even a jar of apricots in vodka, so I only took 5 kg this time. Some of them were halved, stoned, and went straight into the freezer between layers of greaseproof paper. Some made yet more jam, and others were simply eaten. That left me with about a dozen, and looking for recipes I happened across Loulou’s clafoutis. I already have several clafoutis recipes, but Loulou’s looked so tempting I just had to try it.

On closer inspection I was a bit worried by the oven temperature of 220C — I thought the eggs would curdle. So I did it at 200, but actually there is enough flour in it to prevent curdling, so I will do it at a higher temperature next time. This time, I just cooked it for longer.

We usually eat clafoutis warm or cold, but Loulou recommends letting it cool completely, and she’s right; it was good warm, but the leftovers were even better straight from the fridge this evening.

Like Loulou, I urge you to cook clafoutis; it’s so easy, and works with nearly any fruit, so you can do it all the year round, even with prunes in winter! Vary the flavourings according to the fruit — for example cinnamon with apples, or almonds with pears.

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Ratatouille makes it a real pleasure to be vegetarian. Don’t get me wrong; far too often, “ratatouille” is a mushy, tomatoey mess swimming in red, slightly sour juices. Sometimes it even has carrots in it. That is not the dish I’m talking about. The real thing is a lot more work, but well worth the effort –especially as it’s even better when left overnight. It’s equally good hot or at room temperature, as a main course or as an accompaniment to grilled or roast lamb for confirmed carnivores.

I learned to do it decades ago from that holy bible of French cuisine, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Beck, Bertholle, and Child. Even Julia and her friends, who are no strangers to hard work, admit it’s a lot of effort. But my very first attempt at their recipe proved how worthwhile the extra work was and now I never do it any other way. As with moussaka and lasagne, I do generally make more than we intend to eat, and either eat the leftovers the following day, or freeze them.

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Pots of passion, by Mercotte

verrines passion

Our 25th wedding anniversary, and Steve’s birthday: how to resist a recipe called verrines passion, passion verrines? I love making dainty desserts in glasses too. So I launched myself into Mercotte‘s complicated-looking recipe. Truth to tell, it wasn’t that difficult, and you can do much of it in advance.

One word of warning: I messed up the tuiles by miscalculating the amount of butter. They ended up chewy instead of crisp, so I zapped them in the oven after cutting them out, hence they were dark brown instead of golden like Mercotte’s. They are delicious though; the lemon and cardamom work really well. I’ll definitely do them again, and get them right next time. I couldn’t get any passion fruit juice or pulp either, so I made do with mixed tropical fruit juice for the jelly.

There are four elements: the tuiles, the caramelised almonds, the jelly and the cream. All can be made the day before, except perhaps the cream, and you can assemble them a few hours before the meal, then keep in the fridge.

This serves two, but you’ll have some almonds and tuiles left over. Tant pis!

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Loup de mer en papillotte

Sea bass, called bar in most of France, is called loup de mer on the Mediterranean, apparently because of its aggressive behaviour. It’s a delicious fish, with glossy silver scales and firm white flesh, but expensive enough to be an occasional treat. Yesterday our fishmonger had small ones at 16 euros a kilo, but they were beautifully fresh, and not farmed, a rare thing among fish these days. So I bought two, and with a big bag of moules de bouchot for mouclade, my purchases came to just over 17 euros.

Usually I cook bass the Catalan way, simply with tomatoes and lemon,or else grill it on the barbecue with fennel if it’s summer, so I’d just asked the fishmonger to gut them and leave the scales on. However I felt like a change, and Steve kindly agreed to fillet them. This is a very simple, healthy recipe and it was excellent, served with some sliced potatoes left over from a baked dorade earlier in the week.

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Clafoutis aux amandes

As part of an effort to cut down on dairy products, I have been experimenting with almond milk (I tried soya milk and it was disgusting). Almond milk is nice on cereal, and thanks to the recipe on the side of the carton, I find it makes very good clafoutis too; since most soft fruit goes well with almonds,, it’s actually an enhancement. Make it with any soft fruit you like: apricots, cherries, apples, pears, plums, blueberries …

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