Do Not Trifle with a Truffle

Ingredients for an 'Omelette au Truffes'
Ingredients for an ‘Omelette au Truffes’

I am a truffle virgin.

The closest I’ve got to cooking with truffles was a recipe for Cauliflower Soup by John Burton-Race which demanded – or rather, insisted – on a swirl of truffle oil in the soup just before serving. He swore this made all the difference, so I splashed out on a very expensive small bottle of truffle oil. He was right. That ribbon of golden perfumed oil whisked through the creamy cauliflower soup worked magic. My  guests asked me what had I done to make the soup taste so delicious?

But experimenting with truffle oil was as far as I ever got back in the UK – truffles aren’t exactly two a penny on the Welsh Borders. So last week, when I came across some truffle sellers in Albi Market promoting a Fete des Truffes at the nearby village of Villeneuve-sur-Vere the following Sunday, I knew I had to go. Continue reading “Do Not Trifle with a Truffle”

Shaken, not Stirred – or Stirred, not Shaken?

The cocktail kit
The cocktail kit

My father used to tell me that I was born just in time for cocktails – six o’ clock in the evening. In Kenya, the sun went down every day on the dot at six and my parents would sit out on the verandah drinking ‘sundowners’ – gin and tonic (a colonial staple), or a variety of cocktails, Gin Slings, Martinis, or just ‘brandy with a splash’. When we ended up in Buckinghamshire, my parents ‘cocktail’ habits became far more mundane and British – a whisky with water for my father, a sherry for my mother. Continue reading “Shaken, not Stirred – or Stirred, not Shaken?”

Tales of Blood Sausage, Civil War, and Refugees – a Spanish winter stew

The village of Gualchos, Andalucia in Spain
The village of Gualchos, Andalucia in Spain

Thirty-three years ago this month I had clocked up five years working for the BBC on a ‘rolling’ annual contract as a researcher and director when my boss decided he would offer me a permanent contract. My reaction surprised us both – I promptly handed in my resignation! The very thought of a ‘job for life’ made me feel panicked and claustrophobic. I needed ‘time out’. Having saved some money, I headed south to Andalucía in Spain, with enough funds to survive for three months and the vague idea of writing a novel. Continue reading “Tales of Blood Sausage, Civil War, and Refugees – a Spanish winter stew”

Galette des Rois – a French celebration of Epiphany

Adoration of the Magi by Monaco Lorenzo c. 1422. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Adoration of the Magi by Monaco Lorenzo c. 1422. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

It’s January 6th and the boulangeries and patisseries here in Albi are full of large round tarts, the famous Galette des Rois, which are traditionally eaten on the 6th January to celebrate Epiphany, the visit of the Three Wise Men. The tart is made of buttery flaky pastry with a filling of frangipane (almond paste) though you can also buy galettes with a chocolate filling and even Nutella. Hidden in the filling is a fève – traditionally, a dried broad bean. In the 19th century, the bean was replaced by a tiny porcelain figurine  but now, they are inevitably plastic! Whoever finds the fève is king or queen for the day and they get to wear a cardboard crown (usually sold with the galette). Continue reading “Galette des Rois – a French celebration of Epiphany”

Christmas Eve Oysters – the time has come….

Fines Claire No. 2
Fines Claire No. 2

My first memory of oysters comes from a day spent on the beach near Auckland in New Zealand. I was nine years old and happily crouched over a rock pool tickling the fronds of anemones when I noticed my father prise a knobbly shell off a rock. He then split it open with his penknife, tipped his head back, and swallowed the contents. I was amazed. “What was that?” I asked. “It’s an oyster,” he replied. I was none the wiser. “But you ate it just like that… raw?” I was horrified at the idea. “Yes, even better raw,” he replied. “I love it when they wriggle going down my throat.” My response was to scream. Continue reading “Christmas Eve Oysters – the time has come….”

Wood Hedgehogs and Meadow Mushrooms

Sherry and Mushrooms - a classic combination
Sherry and Mushrooms – a classic combination

Sometimes, the best meals start without a recipe but with a question – what is in season? Four weeks ago this Saturday, the weekly outdoor market in Albi was an autumnal cornucopia: butternut squash, pumpkins, gourds, and plastic ‘barquettes’ filled with pieds de moutons, girolles and ceps. Girolles are two a penny at this time of year, ceps cost a small fortune, but pieds de mouton rarely make an appearance – I was tempted but saw the price. €5 euros for a small barquette. Far too expensive! Continue reading “Wood Hedgehogs and Meadow Mushrooms”

“Un peu d’ail, un peu de persil” – keep it simple

Going to the market in France – especially here in the South West – involves taking a large basket and an equally large amount of patience. Things move slowly, people stop mid-order to ‘faire le bise’ to passing friends, stallholders exchange gossip, and quite often, both stallholder and buyer get involved in a serious discussion on how best to cook ‘les aiguillettes de canard’ or the ‘filet de bar’ or ‘ceps’. In which case, patience is essential! Continue reading ““Un peu d’ail, un peu de persil” – keep it simple”

Rich Rice Pudding – my favourite comfort food

A lot of milk and a little rice go a long way...
A lot of milk and a little rice go a long way…

My mother hated rice pudding. As a young teenager, she was evacuated during the war from a bombed-out Birmingham to the relative peace of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. The family who took her in had their own cow, so there was plenty of milk, and a good cheap way to fill up young stomachs during war-time rationing was with rice pudding (it still amazes me how a tiny amount of rice can end up filling an entire pudding dish, thanks to all the milk!). Continue reading “Rich Rice Pudding – my favourite comfort food”

Escaping The Heat – get out of the kitchen and let someone else do the work

Cypresses in the Corbiere
Cypresses in the Corbiere

The heatwave was in full force. Blazing sun and a hard blue sky. Mr T. and I had gone south to escape the confines of my city ‘appartement’ in search of a pool and long views. But there’s only so much swimming and sunbathing you can do when the temperatures are heading towards 40C. And given the heat, there’s only so much cassoulet, confit de canard, and foie gras you can eat before your taste buds also give up. We googled ‘nearest restaurants’ and I spotted the words ‘mozzarella di buffala’. Italian – yes! I love a good mozzarella. The restaurant was only eight kilometres away from where we were staying, so off we went in search of culinary adventure. Continue reading “Escaping The Heat – get out of the kitchen and let someone else do the work”

Tortilla De Patatas – memories of Andalucia

Cooling off
Tortilla de patatas

I have eaten tortilla, that ubiquitous Spanish dish made from eggs, onions, and potatoes, hundreds of times in my life. Some were good but a lot were bad, spoiled by being made with pre-cooked potatoes, or too much potato. Like all the simplest dishes, especially the eggy ones like scrambled eggs and omelettes, cooking a good tortilla depends on the method you use. I learned to make tortillas thanks to my first husband who had studied Spanish and spent a year teaching in Galicia. To my mind, his recipe is the best I have come across and it’s one of the few things I still have from my first short-lived marriage… Continue reading “Tortilla De Patatas – memories of Andalucia”