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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

 

I’m rewarded with a double first at Castres market this morning.

Two Spring firsts–though there is nothing spring-like about the weather.

I get there early–battling through a tempest of wind and the rain–determined to avoid last week’s crowds.

“Arrivez avant neuf heure le matin, ça suffit!” [Get there by 9am and you’ll be fine!] was the advice from our neighbor and friend Flo, who has recently taken over her sister’s lovely spice stall on Saturdays.

The spice stall on a sunnier Saturday–with cooking workshop attendees checking it out.

What a contrast to this morning as I arrive in Place Jean Jaures just before 8.30am, to find the dance of the parapluies in full swing.

Stall holders and punters alike are desperately trying to prevent their umbrellas–large and small–from taking flight while undertaking the normal buying and selling transactions.

With difficulty, I make my way down the line of local vendors–nodding and grimacing the “isn’t this awful!” message, before arriving at my destination.

Opening a conversation with the vendor under these conditions is problematical.

I settle for more nodding and grimacing and secure (ho ho!) my open umbrella under my chin.

With my head looking down at the ground, I reach for my porte monnaie [change purse].

The umbrella is doing its best to turn inside out.

It succeeds–WHOOSHand I’m involuntarily propelled towards the dry fruit stall–earlier than planned.

I manfully regain control and…

JOY!

Our newly acquired hen’s guardienne–for ’tis her stall–hands me a carton of six eggs.

Matilde’s first offering under our ownership.

What a thrill!

And to go with them for lunch today–a bunch of the locally-grown ASPARAGUS–FIRST of the season.

As I turn into our driveway 20 minutes later–the sun comes out!

Asparagus and eggs–a match made in heaven!

 

 

 

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A bit fanciful to call these CHOPS, though the soft chunkiness gives a similar sensation in the mouth.

The taste is pure cauliflower, which I love.

The egg(s) on top are optional but add to the interest.

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • simple dressing–3tbs olive oil and 1 tbs of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper
  • grated parmesan to sprinkle
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 200c.

Rest the cauliflower base on a chopping board–making sure it’s secure and won’t wobble.

You are cutting top to toe.

With a large knife carefully cut down through the head in roughly one inch wide slices.

Fascinating to see the thick filigree of this beautiful vegetable in cross section.

Cover a shallowing baking tray with foil and brush with oil; arrange the chops on the tray. (You may wish tidy the pieces with a sharp knife, but don’t cut through the little connecting stems.)

Generously brush each chop with the dressing and season with salt and pepper.

Slip the tray in the top of the oven for about 30 minutes.

After about half an hour turn them over–easing them gently off the foil.

Top with a generous sprinkling of grated parmesan.

Pop the tray back into the oven for about another 15 minutes.

Wise to check during both oven sessions–as the thickness of the slices will vary.

Serve with a poached or fried egg and green salad.

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Market day in Castres and a parking place opens up after a single tour–thanks to our Parking Fairy–who has been kind these last two weeks after the ticket.

Teeming today–du monde–too many people, making it difficult to move along.

I resolve to make the effort next week and get there before 9am.

Queues at each stall.

I have to stand and watch one punter filling her bag with those sweet Spanish lemons I’d driven in to buy.

Not all of them–please!

She left a few and then the vendor magicked more lemons from under the table!

This is a new-ish stall—a breakaway from the neighbouring stall selling organic vegetables.

Seems she has a source south of the border supplying her with said lemons, the odd grapefruit and almonds that taste like almonds.

Until last week she had rosy red apples but warned that there’d be no more next week–the tree was bare—until next season. I like seasonal– it makes sense.

Last week she handed me a sheet of paper dense with text about a new idea she’s hatched: Adopt a Chicken!

You pay 12 euros. She looks after the chicken, which lays eggs for you which you buy after getting your first 12 euros worth. She includes a photo of your little dear one, so you can prop it up at the breakfast table while eating your boiled egg.

Merci infiniment ma cherie—je me regale!

We are buying into the idea–and I handed over 12 euros.

Meredith translated the dense text and found a sweet drawing illustrating the special kind of chicken, La Flèche–a rare French breed.

Our stall holder—yet to know her name—was delighted!

Go to it, Matilde*!

(*I christened her–sight unseen!)

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I’m always on the look-out for one-potters–the sheer convenience of them attracts.

This I found the other day on a printed sheet stuffed behind some recipe books.

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Treasure!

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Delicious. Eureka!

This is the classic mix of pork and beans.

Here the meat is in small sausage shape; these chipolatas happily bob along in the tomato and bean base for 45 minutes as it slowly thickens up, concentrating the smoky taste.

There is a certain amount of building work to do before you leave the pot to get on with it.

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  • 1lb small sausages– like chipolatas
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic–peeled and chopped
  • 1 carrot–peeled and chopped small
  • 1 leek –carefully cleaned and sliced thin
  • 1 stick celery–chopped small
  • 1 tin [can] tomatoes–chopped with the juice
  • 1 tin [can] or (better still) bottle white beans–drained
  • 1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pint water
  • salt and pepper

In the medium casserole in which you cook the whole dish heat a tablespoon of oil and add the sausages.

Sauté them over a medium heat until they are nicely browned.

Take care they don’t leave a burned residue in the pan.

Set them aside.

Add the second tablespoon of oil and the vegetables–celery, leek, carrot and garlic

Sweat the veg until tender–about ten minutes.

Add the tomatoes, paprika and mix thoroughly before adding the beans, sausages and water. Add the bay leaves.

Combine everything with care and bring to a simmer.

Cook for about 45 minutes, turning from time to time as the sauce thickens and the smoky deliciousness concentrates.

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Good with some dijon mustard on the side.

Chopped parsley garnish optional.

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Meredith reminds me that today marks the Chinese New Year.

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Chickpea shows his colors

She tells me in the Chinese lunar calendar it is the Year of the Rooster.

When I think about the date–28th January–I’m reminded that it is also marks what would have been my late brother Peter’s 69th birthday.

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Peter (seated) directing an episode of Highlander.

I don’t remember Peter having much to do with chickens except that from time to time he most likely ate some.

Peter died almost 11 years ago–quite suddenly aged 58–while out walking his dog in Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

He was a TV drama director at the height of his powers with a great future.

They say that directing TV drama in Tinsel Town is a very stressful occupation.

So to mark Peter’s birthday and the Chinese New Year, here is a simple recipe for Roast Chicken that has served me well for years and features in my latest cookbook, Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

Simple Roast Chicken

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for 4

  • 1 free range chicken–about a 3 pounder
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic–unpeeled and whole
  • 1 lemon — halved
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • set oven at 190c

Rub the chicken with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper

Stuff the cavity with the with the bay leaves, garlic and lemon halves

Place in a roasting pan and into the oven.

Roast the chicken for about one-and-a-half hours.

Baste it about half-way through the cooking process.

It should be nicely browned and when pricked, the juices should run clear, not pink.

Remove from oven.

Pick up the bird with a pair of oven gloves and up end it, letting the juices run back into the pan.

This a little tricky–but worth it for the taste of the gravy.

Tip the pan carefully and spoon out excess fat/oil– leaving about a table spoonful in the pan.

Add the glass of white wine and scrape any residue sticking to the pan.

Gently stir over a lowish heat for 2/3 minutes.

(You can add some stock or more wine to make it go a little further.)

Taste the gravy and season as desired.

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Just back from Rome where we walked and walked and ate and ate–which was the object of the visit.

I planned this trip–to celebrate my 75th birthday with our friends, Helen and Keith (his birthday is two days before mine)–as four nights and eight meals.

In front of the French Embassy in Piazza Farnese

In front of the French Embassy in Piazza Farnese with my fellow Capricorn.

Worked out very well.

This might seem to undervalue Rome–the Eternal City, heart of the Catholic Church, ancient heart of the vasty Roman Empire.

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Church bells sound on the quarter hour and bits of antique Rome are tucked into walls in unexpected places.

Look at those Roman heads in the wall!

HISTORY is everywhere–writ BIG!

It was unusually cold for Rome--as you can see here at the Pantheon.

At the Pantheon–in the freezing cold; unRoman winter weather we were told.

But so is the Roman love of FOOD.

At Pecorino, a wonderful restaurant near the Testaccio market

At Pecorino, a wonderful restaurant near the Testaccio market

 

Close to our hotel, Campo di Fiori–home to a proud statue of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar burnt at the stake in the piazza in 1600 as a heretic–now it’s famous for its daily market.

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Food and history, side by side.

On our last morning, we bought a large handful of prepared punterelle, handily vacuum-packed for the journey.

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Puntarelle is one of the culinary wonders of the region.

A member of the chicory family it is traditionally served in an anchovy, lemon and olive oil sauce.

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On the way to Keith’s birthday lunch we walked through the old Jewish ghetto–where the inhabitants were locked in at night until the middle of the 19th century.

Now there are police sentry posts at the entrances–keeping attackers out.

Restaurant barkers in yamakas–stand outside in the freezing cold, tempting us to try the famous fried artichokes.

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History and food–side by side.

The signature dishes of Rome are on every menu.

I ate an exquisite artichoke fried to a golden finish–the Jewish way–in a tiny restaurant called Soro Margherita (recommended!) in the Piazza delle Cinque Scole on the edge of the Jewish quarter.

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I’d been to Rome with the National Youth Theatre in the summer of 1960 with our modern-dress production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

The following year I returned with a school friend.

Rome was one of our stops on a whirlwind nine-week tour of Europe before starting university.

I remember a single meal from this short visit.

It was a packed lunch of chicken and salad; eaten on location on the edge of what smelt like a sulphur pit.

It was my second day as an extra on a film called The Best of Enemies–starring Alberto Sordi and David Niven plus a galaxy of famous British character actors playing varied ranks in the British army in the Western Desert.

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I’d met this guy in the youth hostel who had already been an extra on the film for weeks in Israel, but had decided to quit.

“Why don’t you take my place?” he  suggested. “They won’t notice if you keep your head down–just say you’ve come from Israel with the others. They pay £11 a day!”

A FORTUNE on our budget!

“Just make sure you are at the studios (the legendary Cinecitta at the southeast city limits) by six in the morning,”  my benefactor advised.

The hostel opened at six, so no chance of sleeping there and making the studios in time.

So I decided to try a bench at the main railway station.

They moved me on.

I don’t remember HOW I got there–but I ended up sleeping on the wall outside the studios and–keeping my head down–coolly signed on.

The first day we shot in the studio.

There I was–hobnobbing with my HEROES–Harry Andrews whom I’d seen playing at Stratford two years before with Laurence Olivier in Coriolanus and Duncan Macrae, the bony Scots actor whom I’d also seen with Olivier in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in the West End.

I have no memory of what I ate that day!

The second day we were on location outside Rome.

I was a dressed as a Private–khaki shorts and boots–Desert Rats, they were called.

When we broke for lunch I took off my hot, sweaty boots and dipped my toes in a nearby puddle while tucking into my grilled chicken lunch.

By the time I got back to the studio, my left left leg was feeling odd–painful even.

It got worse quickly. Whatever was infecting that pool of water was now climbing rapidly up my left leg!

By the end of the day, I could barely hobble on it–and I had to inform the third assistant director that I didn’t think I could return in the morning.

Then it all came out that I was taking the place of the previous guy–and it got a bit awkward!

They paid me off, but said “don’t bother to come back!”.

As I limped into the hostel, Chris Fordyce, my school friend and traveling companion, looked worried. By ten that night he persuaded me to consult the hostel manager.

He sent me directly to a doctor in the neighbourhood, who by some MIRACLE was still at work .

The doctor examined my leg, shook his head solemnly and said in a wonderfully accented English:

“Eets very lucky you come see me tonight. Tomorrow, I would have to take your leg off!”

He gave me a shot of penicillin and a week’s supply, with a single needle to inject it–brave Chris’ job.

I was in bed for seven days–and the needle got blunter and blunter.

But I kept my leg.

Life might have been so different!

I eventually saw the film at the Odeon Leicester Square and thought I caught a glimpse of a very thin ME clambering over rocks with other desert rats–but I wouldn’t swear to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I got the wobbles about lunch yesterday.

There were to be four of us and I chose two recipes from my newest book, Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

It was a first visit for one of the guests and, of course, I felt “on show”.

My menu: Pork chops with orange juice on a bed of white beans–a well-tested, simple, one-pot dish–and cheery pumpkin soup to start.

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Comfort food for a cold, frosty morning.

(I love seeing the whited fields when I get up).

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Panic set in while doing my exercises–a half-hour of bleary-eyed stretching on rising.

Exercise releases not just tied up muscles; the mind involuntarily starts to whirr.

It’s all too heavy–needs a lighter touch!

Maybe I should go buy some quail and frisée lettuce and Roquefort cheese, the classic blue cheese–produced not far from here.

I’d bought the chops two days earlier and the beautiful orange/ red pumpkin .

I’d make the soup for lunch and there’d be plenty left over for the weekend.

It was well planned.

Whirr, whirr, whirr…

This is just silly last-minute panic–trust your instinct–it’s all you have!

Didn’t you buy the house on instinct–a whim almost?

Yes, I never had a moment’s doubt–the panic then was that the sale would not go through–the owner would have seller’s remorse.

Here we still are 27 years later.

The soup was welcomed and the pork and bean dish could have had more sauce–but was fine.

Footnote:

Meredith–as often happens–stole the show with her lemon soufflé.

 

 

 

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