Croque Madame

croque madame

There is something quite strange about working in the summer holidays when everyone else is at home.  Today, for example, I returned home from work to the sound of the hoover.

I’ll give you all a moment to mentally digest that information.

Not only that, but the dirty dishes by the sink had most definitely been dipped and wiped in a bowl of very bubbly water and then taken out and stacked on the other side.

Once again, a moment is needed, I believe.

On the end of the hoover stood the wee boy, who had been merrily hoovering the first three stairs in the hall for a good ten minutes (apparently), and proceeded to do that glorious thing of talking over the sound, to let me know how comfortable I could now be, as there wouldn’t be any more bits on the floor, whilst son #1 gave me a blow by blow account of how the washing up had been accomplished.

Of course the other thing that happens during the holidays is that time, warps, as very slowly, the usual routine is no longer adhered to and a different pattern emerges.  Similarly with food, the usual pattern begins to morph into a very different experience, as holiday food ideas start to make an appearance.

As part of our honeymoon, himself and I spent some time in Paris.   Every morning we would go to a cafe round the corner from the hotel, for brunch.  It was nothing special in terms of decor, lay out or typical French-ness, in fact it had the feel of a greasy spoon, or how the French may interpret that phenomenon.   There were a couple of slot machines, bright overhead lights, a long serving counter and a very laissez faire serving staff who were extremely polite but you just knew that disagreeing with them on anything culinary would not be worth it.  Which is perhaps what gave the place it’s charm.  That, and the people who went in.

There were obvious regulars who went in for something specific every day.  There were those who just popped in for a coffee, and those who stayed to drink their coffee.  And then there were people like us.  People who were easing themselves into the day, who went, not only for the food, but to just sit and watch the world go by.

It was a glorious place and one which makes both himself and I smile from the inside out when we recall those days. And always, alongside that memory, is the delight of discovering Croque Madame.

This is the most delicious of foods, and will set you up for the day.  Moreover, it is the easiest thing in the world to make, as long as you have mastered the art of the poached egg.

Firstly, toast a good doorstop sized slice of white bread on one side, turn over and add a good slice of ham and some mature cheddar cheese.  Toast on a low heat. Turn your attention to the egg.

I have to admit that it has taken me a great deal of time to feel confident about poaching an egg in just a pan of water, having so often used an egg poaching pan. In fact it has taken many, many failed poachings to get this right, and I am still working on the presentation, however, I believe the key to a good poaching is to put the egg into a small bowl or ladle before placing in the pan of boiling water.  It’s worth mastering this method as I promise you the egg taste so much more delicious than the preprepared egg poacher method.

So, put a pan of water on to boil and add a sprinkling of vinegar.  Once the water has begun to boil add the egg and wait for the water to boil again.  Turn off the heat and leave for about a minute then dive in with a slatted spoon, removing any floating egg white that may have found it’s way to the top of the water.  Beneath that is the perfect poached egg.

Place the egg on top of the now bubbling cheese and serve.

It will, without a doubt, leave you wanting more.

Elderflower

Elderflower#2

We have been busy.  Very busy.

As some of you may be aware, the elderflower season is upon is.  I absolutely love the fact that this prolific bush produces the most divine flowers for a couple of weeks at the beginning of summer which you can use in so many ways, but then, if you missed that window of opportunity, it creates another one in autumn when the flowers have turned into berries.

And the best thing about this bonkers bush?  It is almost indestructible, and everywhere.

This week we have been making both Elderflower Cordial and Elderflower Champagne.

The cordial takes absolutely no time at all – approximately 24 hours  – and is an absolute doddle to make.  Take the biggest pan you have and put in 1.5 litres of water.  Adder 2.5kg of sugar and bring to the boil.  Take off the heat and add 20 elderflower heads, the peel of two lemons and the lemons, sliced.  Finally add 85g citric acid.  Stir, pop the lid on the pan and leave.

The next day sieve the Elderflower and Lemon pieces out of the liquid.  Pour the rest of the liquid through a piece of muslin to catch any of the wee bits and pieces which may be lingering around.

Bottle.

Beautifully refreshing with sparkling or still water.  As long as you can get over the fact that, neat, it looks like a very large urine sample…

Meanwhile we have also started making Elderflower Champagne which is proving to be a little more complex at this experimental stage.  However, we have the bottles and the corks all ready for each stage in the hope that, eventually, we will hit on an absolutely corker, if you’ll forgive the pun.

As with so many other things, only time will tell whether we have made something undrinkable, or indeed, a small piece of perfection.  Either way, it’s really good fun, and not at all expensive.

The Elderflower window of opportunity lasts two weeks, or thereabouts, so there is still time to pop out and forage.  Just a little tip, pick them in the morning sun for the sweetest flavour and make sure you use them that day.

Let me know how you get on.

Sharon

Sharon

If you took a look at this piece of fruit, would you say it looked like a Sharon?  No, me neither.  Not that I particularly have an idea in my head about what a Sharon should look like, but still, it’s not the most immediate name for this glorious fruit.  That said, I absolutely love the fact that this wonderful orange sphere has, as one of it’s many moniker’s, the name Sharon.  It makes me smile every time.  Anyway…

I don’t know about you, but for some reason I find it more challenging to eat my quota of fruit when it’s cold.   To be honest, I naturally veer towards cake at any time of year, as it compliments tea so well, which is wonderful all year round. So often, autumnal fruit needs working on before you can eat it, which can be off putting when it’s dark – hmmm, not too sure I can truly justify that explanation, but let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that it is perfectly logical…

As it becomes more of a chore, mentally, to chose fruit over cake, I have found that you need to put in place a couple of tricks to make it all look more inviting.  And this is where Sharon, or Persimmon to some, comes to the fore.   You have to be patient with Sharon fruit, so buy a few and let them sit in a bowl, ripening for a few days. As they sit there, they will gradually cajole your mind into thinking that they look rather inviting as a snack.  Unlike the pear which will suddenly go off and become inedible when you nip out to the shops, Sharon will continue to glow a deeper orange, gradually.  Like a well lit fire.

Even when they are squidgy to touch, Sharon never tastes over ripe, in fact the sweetness is glorious.   I have even read somewhere that Sharon can help stave off heart problems, which is interesting, as normally, fruit which naturally sugars when it ripens, such as bananas and grapes, are seen as the devil incarnate to health.

For those of you who may have seen Sharon, but not yet tasted the fruit, I highly recommend you pop down to the grocers and get yourself a couple.  They are in abundant supply at the moment which usually means they have not been force grown and are therefore in much more of their natural state.  I have to say, I eat the skins as well, just like an apple.   However, similarly, just like an apple, the skin can often be a little tough and bruised, and so, in this instance, it is best to peel them.

However you chose to devour your Sharon fruit, the wonderful thing about them is their soft fruitiness which accompanies perfectly, their beautiful colour.   So evocative of summer.  So complimentary to autumn.

Why not give them a try and let me know how you get on?

Red Thai Curry

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I do believe we are officially experiencing summertime.  It’s glorious.  And with this season comes a whole array of foods to eat which compliment the heat.  In my head I have time to flick through recipes, buy new ingredients and potter in the kitchen, presenting my boys with yet another piece de resistance.  The reality is, there is never really enough time, and I end up, most of the time, falling back on old faithfuls. Things which I have the ingredients for, that don’t take too long to cook, and that I know everyone will enjoy.

When I was growing up, the summer staple was always some sort of food, with salad.  And every time we had salad, big Dave would exclaim something along the lines of,

‘Rabbit food again then?’

As a friend of mine once said, ‘I don’t do greens.  I don’t do anything with fibre’

There’s nothing quite like the soul destroying feeling of someone’s dinner disappointment.

So, with this in mind, I have incorporated a red Thai curry into my repertoire, which I believe ticks all the summer food boxes, without instigating the ‘summer salad’ conversation.  And it’s a doddle to make.

I usually use either a meaty fish (cod), pork or chicken strips, but sometimes I break the mold and just use vegetables.  Oh yes, living on the edge.  Anyway.

What I start with is a teaspoon of Mae Ploy Red Curry Paste, bought in a tub from my local supermarket which cuts out the faff of mixing together all the things I don’t have, and it keeps in the fridge for an eternity.  I think.  I add this into a wok with a splash of oil, a teaspoon of soft brown sugar, a splash of fish sauce and a dash of lime juice.  Mix together, warm through and add the meat.  If you’re using fish, skip this stage and add the fish in with the coconut milk as otherwise it breaks up too much.

Cook for five minutes or so.

I then add sliced red onion, orange, red and yellow peppers if I have all three, if not I put in whatever I do have, stir around for a wee while, and add a tin of coconut milk. Next I add mange tout, sugar snap peas, green beans, (once again, whatever I have in), and let them all cook in the milk until they look as though they’ve seen some heat**.

And that, my friends, is it!

If we’re eating it with noodles, I also add them, if we’re eating it with rice, I cook that alongside the curry and serve the two separately on the plate.

I do like to add some fresh chopped coriander right at the end, but more often than not, if I haven’t bought some that day, the stuff I have has either wilted or been semi frozen by my temperamental fridge.

It may not be totally authentic, but it tastes devine.

** Just a final thought, the peppers, beans, whatever you fancy veg really could do with having a crunch to them otherwise it does taste like ‘old people’s home’ food.

Eating Cherries

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I absolutely love that summertime feeling.  You know the one?  When the sun is shining and it feels warm enough to heat your bones. The sky glows with hope, and everyone you meet has a spring in their step, and a smile on their face.  Well, almost everyone.

The thing is, where I live you can never bank on this sensation in the summer months.  We spend weeks prior to the official start of summer, full of expectation. Then the topic of conversation, which starts around mid April, begins to swerve slightly to the possibility of it being a ‘good summer’.  Of course someone, somewhere will inevitably make a reference to a bygone year, when it truly was a hot one.  Usually the summer of ’76, which just happens to be the first year our family had a summer holiday abroad.

And with this expectation, comes the delight of summer fruits.  All through the winter, and even into spring, we sashay around the fruits on offer, and as enjoyable as they are, by the time strawberries start to show their faces it’s a blessed relief. Not that I have anything against apples, pears, oranges and the like, but the rosy red berries, when they begin to make an appearance, are always an indication that we have officially strolled into summer.  Even when it’s pouring with rain.

So today, in honour of the sunshine and all things summer, we indulged in one of my favourite fruits for the first time.  Cherries.  Plump, deep red, sweet succulent spheres of juicy fabulousness that insist on staining your fingers, face and clothes with absolute gay abandon.

Therefore, it is in honour of this glorious fruit that I have dedicated todays post. Thank-you cherries, you’ve made my day.  And to all those birds that eat our own cherries from the cherry tree at the bottom of the garden before we even get a look in, enjoy.

Generous to a fault, me.

*polishes halo*

Making Smoothies

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It’s not every Summer Solstice that you wake up with a clear blue sky, in fact, I don’t remember the last time it happened.  So today started perfectly.  Breakfast outside, sunlight twinkly through the trees, and a day filled with expectation.  Moreover, this is the first outing of the year for our ‘Smoothie Bike’.

It’s a wonderfully simple idea.  A bicycle that has been reconfigured with a liquidiser on the back, so as you cycle, the bike goes nowhere, but the energy you use powers the liquidiser, which has any combination of fruit and liquid you fancy within it.  The harder you cycle, the smoother the juice.

In theory anyone can give it a go.  In practise, the bike only works if you have a certain length of leg, which can cause a slight problem so often you end up giving a hand via the pedals.  It’s an interesting look.

So, today we are at a local school’s summer fair.  It’s beautiful.  There is a plethora of home cooked curry, cakes and nibbles.  The always popular bouncy castle, the Back2Front stall, helping those who are interested, plant small vegetables to pop into pots and put anywhere in their outdoor home space, clothes in a glorious array of colours, circus skills, a cafe… you get the drift.  And then there’s the smoothie bike.

Now most of you will have, at some point, encountered the ‘School Fair’.  Children are giddy, parents are weary, and there’s always a grandma who has been dragged along, but would rather be home.  And it is no exception here.  The upshot of this is that most of the children are asking their parents if they can have a go, whilst the grandma silently ‘tuts’ in the background.  The added hurdle with the smoothie bike is that although children always see the potential, adults either buy into the idea straight away, or have to see it in action to even start to see the joy it can bring.

So we begin.

Initially there is not much interest in the notion of cycling for your smoothie, but gradually momentum builds up and we find ourselves needing two sets of arms and desperately trying to remain calm amidst the chaos.  Glorious, but not for the faint hearted.  And not, it seems, compatible with the colour white.  So, many of the children who give it a go, walk away with pride, loving their smoothie because they put the effort in to make it, unconcerned that they are slightly splashed with smoothie pink on their otherwise perfect summer fair outfit.

And me? I leave with pink feet, smoothie stained fingers, and a dull ache in my lower back from ‘pedalling’.  Oh, and as I return home and catch my own image in the mirror, I notice I have been sporting bicycle chain oil across my forehead.  Nice.