Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Pissaladière for a French piquenique

It's picnic time again. Memories of picnics come flooding back at this time of year.
 A baguette with Brie and fresh plums by a Scottish lake in Perthshire,
Cheese sandwiches and a flask of cocoa on the Dorset cliff path.
Mince pies and champagne on a boat on the Thames.
A beer and a slice of pizza by an Italian lake.
Waking up in the South of France and hearing the cicales singing so you know you are in for a hot day, no cooking allowed so off to the local Patisserie, what a magical word that is, to buy slices of Pissaladière. I usually point to it, my French pronunciation not being that great,

Try making it at home and you can go on holiday without even getting in the car.


1 packet of shortcrust pastry
500g onions, cut in half and sliced
1 clove of garlic, optional
salt and pepper
anchovy fillets

Heat the oven to 200 c.
Line a dish with the pastry and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes while it is heating up,

Gently cook the sliced onions in a small amount of olive oil for about half an hour until soft but not burnt.
Add the garlic, if using, the thyme, salt and pepper to taste.
Spread the onion mixture over the pastry base and decorate with olives, capers and anchovy slices as desired.
Bake in the hot oven for about 15 - 20 minutes taking care that the pastry doesn't brown too much.
Serve with a glass of wine and a crispy green salad.

Bon appetit!!

Ready to roll

Take it easy, take it slow

Ready to go in a nice hot oven

It wasn't burnt, the photo came out dark,

Ricotta and Strawberry Cake

Here is a lovely recipe for strawberry and ricotta cake which is the perfect way to use those strawberries that are not just perfect, the ones at the bottom of the punnet.

It is ideal for breakfast or as a dessert served with whipped cream and more strawberries.

Strawberry and Ricotta Cake

250g flour
300g ricotta
200g sugar
3 eggs
12 strawberries, washed, dried and sliced
12g baking powder
half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
2 tbps brown sugar
icing sugar for dusting

Beat the eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy
Add the ricotta and beat until smooth.
Fold in the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda

Spread the mixture over a cake tin lined with oven paper.
Arrange the strawberries on top
Sprinkle over the brown sugar and bake in the oven at 180 for about 40-45 minutes.

A lovely cake to wake up to on a warm sunny morning.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The one about the elastic

There are so many things in life that never cease to make your heart swell with joy. Raise your eyes to the sky and look at the full moon this week and just below it to the right, the evening star, what a wonderful sight, no matter how many times you see it , it brings joy. Beautiful sunsets are never boring, even if you see one every evening, you never tire of gazing in wonder at the golden, rosy hues.
The same with the sweet and delightful ways of small children Their spontaneous, enthusiastic hugs, their faces lit with joy at the sight of you, the funny things they say.

Putting my small granddaughter to bed is up there at the top of the list of life's pleasures. Smelling sweet and soft and relaxed, teethe cleaned and dressed in pink princess pyjamas she lays her head on the pillow, curls spread around her little head and snuggles down. Then when I ask which song she'd like she says, 'the one about the elastic'. I go through my whole repertoire of bedtime songs and rack my brains. Then sudden inspiration, ' do you mean, 'have you ever seen a lassie'?
Of course that's the one. So of I go

'Did you ever see a Lassie, go dancing, go dancing,
Did you ever see a Lassie go dancing like this.
Dance this way and that way
and this way and that way
Did you ever see a Lassie go dancing like this.'

While I singing the song though I didn't imagine a young girl dancing but a piece of elastic swaying around.
The one about the elastic

Boy elastic and girl elastic dancing this way and that way

Flowers from a friend's garden

The sight of the full moon  gives endless joy

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Proper Meal

A bunch of peonies from a friend's garden to cheer up the tabel

Ready to cook
Ready to dip
Fresh from the garden ....
Marinate with lemon juice and herbs
Get set

It sometimes seems that in one generation we have gone from being grateful to having something to eat to being paranoid about pesticides. Some people can get into quite heated arguments about the quality of our food. One of my friends will only buy food from organic sources. She only goes to the supermarket for toilet paper and even that she says is bad for us having been bleached or treated with something suspicious. Another friend happily chomps away on a doughnut a day and never gets so much as a cold.
When I was growing up my mother was always concerned about us having what she referred to as a proper meal. This usually meant meat and two veg followed by dessert made with fruit, banana custard, apple crumble. If she caught us munching a chocolate bar she would frown and say, 'Is there any goodness in that?'.
Organic, free range, zero miles didn't get a mention, it was always about the goodness in our food and a hot meal a day.
Cook books and magazines are full of wonderful, exotic recipes from all over the world requiring a vast range of ingredients easily found in most supermarkets.

Here is a meal that my mother would have approved of, meat and two veg and easily and quickly prepared and full of goodness.

Lemon Chicken with Peas, carrots and potatoes

Serves 4

2 - 4 chicken breasts, marinated overnight in lemon juice and herbs to draw out the toxins.
1 eggs, beaten
fine breadcrumbs

peas, boiled and drained and topped with a knob of butter
carrots, peeled and thinly sliced and cooked very slowly in butter until tender
potatoes, peeled and boiled then drained, add a knob of butter.

Prepare the chicken breasts by cutting away any fat and then put them in a glass bowl, cover with lemon juice . Sprinkle over some dried herbs and cover with cling film. Leave in the fridge overnight.
The next day drain the chicken breasts and dry with kitchen roll.
Dip in the beaten egg and then the breadcrumbs.
This can be done in advance. and left covered in the fridge for a few hours.
Fry gently in a non stick pan with olive oil.

Buon appetito

Monday, 16 May 2016

To Cry or not to Cry, that is the question

To cry or not to cry, that is the question, what do you think?

Anyone who has had anything to do with a baby knows that it is the only way they can communicate, they cry if they are hungry, tired, uncomfortable, lonely or whatever and all that it takes to put things right is usually easily done, a feed, a nap, a cuddle, a change of nappy. Crying tells us something is the matter.
As we grow though and can express our needs we might still cry for different reasons.
We lose a favourite toy, a parent disappears, we are left alone too long, we hurt ourselves, we are told off and spoken to in a cross way, we cry for fear of losing something or someone's affection.
 Very soon though we learn not to cry, that it is distressing to those around us and we learn to control ourselves. It is not good to cry, we learn to be strong. We learn to control our emotions and we learn to hide our tears.

I read science fiction book once when the alien sees a human being crying and turns to his companion and says, 'look the human is leaking.' Well that is exactly what it feels like sometimes when you cry. You have become too full of emotions and you leak.

There you are with tears turning to rivers as you cry for all the people you have loved and lost, all the sad situations and desperation, all the hurt inside you, all the loss, all the pain, all the heartache.
A piece of music, a memory, the turn of a head or the way of walking that remind you of a loved one, a key word like 'home' or 'brother', a child, an article in a newspaper, a passage in a book that expresses exactly how you can feel, and off you go, leaking.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Easy peasy Ricotta cheese pie for Spring

It's sunny, it's warm, it's great to be outside and the longer evenings mean it's great to have something ready to eat when you go home. I had this savoury ricotta cheese pie at a friend's house, but when I asked her for the recipe she shrugged her shoulders and said she just did it by guesswork. She told me the ingredients and so I tried to make it and every time it comes out different but always tastes delicious.

Savoury Ricotta Cheese Pie

500g ricotta cheese
4 eggs
4 heaped tbsps. fine bread crumbs
4 heaped tbsps. grated Parmesan cheese
sliced olives - optional
anchovy fillets - optional

Beat the eggs and ricotta together.
Stir in the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.
Season to taste with salt and pepper then add the olives if using.
Spread the mixture over a well buttered or lined pie dish.
Sprinkle over more breadcrumbs and dot with butter.
Arrange the anchovy fillets in a star pattern if using.
Bake in the oven at 180 for about 30 minutes until golden and set.
Leave to cool and cut into 6 - 8 slices.

This pie keeps well in the fridge for two days.
Serve with vegetables of your choice.

Hope you enjoy this recipe and it brings sunshine into your life.
Just 4 basic ingredients and then add whatever you fancy

A star pattern of anchovies looks nice

Ready for a picnic or light supper

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Thinking about Shakespeare

Shakespeare's plays and poems can be read and enjoyed time and time again, not for nothing is he still so popular after five hundred years, all over the world, For surely he expresses such a profound knowledge of human nature that we can all relate to his tales and stories. They are like fairy tales for adults, we know the story, we know what's coming and we know if it's going to end happily or not, but we are still hooked right from the start at the beauty of Shakespeare's words, the way he uses language to express the feelings that are in the human heart.
Like the magic of the story books Shakespeare can transport you to the scene of adventure, passion, romance, comedy or tragedy.

Yesterday I went to see the latest film version of 'Macbeth', starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cottilard as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
What schoolchild hasn't had a giggle changing the chant of the three witches
'Double, double toil and trouble' into 'double, double toilet trouble',  or maybe that was just me!
So I sat back and in spite of the gloomy, frightening scenes I enjoyed listening to the familiar words and feeling the actors pleasure in reciting the words of someone they must consider the greatest writer of plays of all time. I thought of all the life lessons there are, the genius of Shakespeare seeing the depths of the human soul
Right from the start we realize how grief can make people mad, that the human mind can only take so much suffering, how the love of power can corrupt.
How much easier if Macbeth and his lady had  been united by their love for each  other and gone off roaming in the gloaming.

'What's done is done,'
'There's daggers in men's smiles'.

It was filmed on the beautiful Isle of Skye and reminded me of a song my mum sang at bed time

Speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing
Onward the sailor's cry.
Carry the lad that was born to be king,
Over the sea to Skye.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Pasticcio di Polenta, Northern Italian comfort food

This weekend I went to Florence, they don't have much polenta there. Such is the regional nature of Italian cuisine that they don't have the same things on the menu in Florentine restaurants as they would say in Veneto. No risottos or Baccala , but lots of bean soups and Florentine steaks.
Nowadays polenta is often used as an accompaniment to meat or fish stews but once it was all there was for many people to eat, it saved a lot of Northern Italians from starvation. It is made from maize flour brought over from America. Many people only ate polenta, at every meal, every day. Sometimes to give it a bit of flavour they would rub it with a herring or an anchovy, but sparingly and then wrap the fish up to use another time. It was very common to get a disease from eating only polenta but that was still preferable to the alternative.
Whenever I make something I think of its sobering history, and the people that owed there lives to this everyday dish.
In this recipe I use polenta the same way that you would lasagne, to make a pasticcio.

Pasticcio di Polenta

4 carrots, grated
1 onion, finely chopped
1 - 2 tins of tomatoes
1 glass of red or white wine,
250ml vegetable stock
300g good quality minced beef
basil, salt and pepper
grated parmesan cheese
150ml cream
400g polenta, thinly sliced.

Gently cook the chopped onion and grated carrot in a small amount of olive oil until soft.
Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer gently.
In a non stick pan gently cook the minced beef to get rid of excess fat, then drain and add to the carrot, onion and tomato mixture.
Add the wine and let it evaporate.
Mix well and add the basil and season to taste.
Pour in the stock and cook gently for about an hour.

Line an oven proof dish with the slices of polenta, then cover with the meat sauce, add another layer of polenta and another of meat sauce.
Cover with the cream and sprinkle over the grated cheese.

Bake in the oven at 180 for about half an hour until golden on top and heated through.

Serve with a green salad.

Buon appetito

Everything ready

Two pans simmering gently

All together now

Get ready to assemble the dish

Ready for the oven

Smells delicious!!

Goes well with a glass of wine