Sweet Paprika and Sweet Memories – Family Recipes

My mother in her kitchen - probably her favourite room!
My mother in her kitchen – probably her favourite room!

After many years of travelling – Germany, Kenya, Suffolk, New Zealand, Kent – we finally settled in Buckinghamshire in 1968 when my parents bought an old ramshackle farmhouse, the first ever house they had ever owned.

Looking back, I realise we only just scraped by on my father’s teaching salary whilst my mother juggled raising the three of us, working part-time as a school secretary, growing most of our vegetables and fruit, and making all our clothes. But I never had the impression that we lacked for anything. Continue reading “Sweet Paprika and Sweet Memories – Family Recipes”

Easter and an Extravaganza of Eggs

Polish babka cake
Polish babka cake

My mother was very parsimonious when it came to cooking with eggs. Clearly, her wartime childhood had affected her. The WWII ration allowance was one fresh egg per week, supplemented with dried egg powder from the USA – which she hated. But old habits die hard; even in her eighties, she would use only one egg to make herself an omelette. If I had ever had the chance to bake her this traditional Polish babka cake for Easter, which uses twelve egg yolks, she would have had a veritable heart attack! Continue reading “Easter and an Extravaganza of Eggs”

“La Tuaille de Cochon” – Part 1

Albi
Albi

I have now lived in the south west of France for nigh on fourteen years, and have made many French friends here in Albi. Most of the good times I have shared with them revolve around food or drink – an invitation to ‘boire un apéro’, ‘faire un barbecue’, or simply ‘boire le café.

But one invitation that made me feel I had really become ‘une Albigeoise’ was an invitation to the annual family pig kill – “le Tuaille de Cochon”. Continue reading ““La Tuaille de Cochon” – Part 1″

In Pursuit of Sanguine Pleasures

Beautiful blood oranges in a bowl
Beautiful blood oranges

One of the pleasures of cooking is giving pleasure to other people, and sometimes that means giving pleasure to other people’s taste buds at the expense of your own.

You see, I’m not really a ‘pudding’ person and have always had a set of savoury taste buds – but cooking for my three boys and husband, plus friends who came down to Wales for country weekends, meant that over the years I developed a repertoire of classic British puddings in order to please family and friends. Continue reading “In Pursuit of Sanguine Pleasures”

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”