Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Merci Adeline!

Monday, 14 December 2009

As I was saying...

As I was saying on Friday I was at home baking up a storm for the three parties on Saturday. I shared with you the truffles that I was making and I just couldn't not share with you the cupcake recipe.  Everyone, well everyone that I watched, who ate them murmured with delight and if it wasn't the middle of the silly season of overeating I'm sure everyone wouldv'e taken a second and/or a third one. But we were at a Hen's party which included: a bride to be, several witnesses (French equivalents of bridesmaids), and French girls who seem to have already learnt self-control and healthy eating habits. 

Friday, 11 December 2009

A Train Strike and Truffles

There is another strike on the trains! Hardly surprising during the months of November and December in France. The schools, the post office, the train drivers and even the Police have striked this year. It's the RER A again today, since yesterday, and it's all over a 4% pay rise (among other things).  I couldn't get to work this afternoon because every single train was cancelled. Sorry kids - no English History this afternoon.  

So while the Christmas music played I donned on my apron and set to work in the kitchen. I have three parties tomorrow. I know it's always busy close to Christmas but none of these parties are even remotely related to Christmas. A birthday party, a hen's party and an engagement party.  Lucky me!  While baby Jesus was being born in a manger and the angles were harking on the stereo I was baking Christmas flavoured cupcakes for my gorgeous friend about to get married and truffles to celebrate the engagement of other dear friends. The apartment smells so delicious I'd like to throw the windows open and share it with my neighbours.  It's a bit cold for that though!

Here are the truffles for you to share at your Christmas table this year. 

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Autumn at Château de Vincennes

I just wanted to share autumn with you. I love this time of year.
lots of love
L x

Forget all other soups

Here it is - perhaps the 'piece de resistance' from my kitchen this season. I was flicking through some food magazines, entertaining myself while it poured with rain outside our Paris apartment. I wish I could tell you the fire was roaring and the cat was purring but that would be dreaming in a 35m sq apartment in central Paris.  However the heating was on and I was curled up under a rug on our sofa - one must make do with what one has. This soup caught my eye mainly because I was looking for ways to use the coconut milk in the fridge.  
Pretty soon the onions were chopped and cooking and the sweet potato was being cut up ready for dinner. 

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Pumpkin Lasagne for you

It's a good thing to eat seasonally but inevitably there will be a glut of one kind of vegetable or fruit and at the end of two weeks you are ready to vow that you will never eat it again.  It is pretty hard to escape the pumpkin at this time of year. That and cabbage.  Last week I headed East and made a Pumpkin lakhsa. Next week I'm planning to make Pumpkin and Ginger cupcakes but this week we ate pumpkin Italian style. I'm sure the Italians would be horrified at this deviation from the original version, but to the Italians credit the lasagne is a very versatile dish. You can make as many variations of it as there are cheeses in France. (That's a lot in case you were wondering!) 
I was talking with my girlfriends last night and not surprisingly the conversation turned to food. One of them confessed that lasagne was her comfort food and begged for the recipe.  So here it is, just for you Helene.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

a little something for starters...

Having done a cupboard inventory recently I realised that I had a large amount of cupboard space devoted to spices. I buy my spices in bulk and then need to store them in accumulated glass jars of various shapes and sizes.  Because they are different shapes they often don't sit side by side uniformly on the shelf, hence the reason they take up a lot of room.  I found my jars of seeds and so I was pleased to stumble across this recipe in the Saveurs magazine where I could use them.

We had a surprise birthday party for one of our friends recently. I baked these biscuits for the soirée because I had almost everything in the cupboard. After a quick dash to the supermarket for the cheese they didn't take long to whip up.  The recipe calls for Mimolette cheese. It's a semi hard cheese that is traditionally made in Normandy and Holland.  You could however use any hard cheese. Mimolette cheese works nicely because it is slightly orange and adds a lovely colour to the biscuits. 
Because it's not often that you find biscuits like this they are suitable impressive. And for the extra 2 minutes it takes to roll them in seeds you receive a healthy dose of compliments for your work. 

Cheese Biscuits

200g flour
80g mimolette cheese (or another hard tasty cheese if you can't get your hands on Mimolette)
70g butter - cut into cubes
1 egg
3 pinches of salt
2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
1 tablespoon of poppy seeds

Finely grate the cheese.  Mix the flour, salt and cheese together in a bowl.  Rub the butter in with your fingers and work the ingredients together until it resembles breadcrumbs.  
Beat the egg and then add it to the mixture.  Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water so that the mixture holds together.
Shape the dough into a cylinder approximately 30cm long.
Sprinkle your work bench with the sesame and poppy seeds.  Roll the biscuit cylinder over the seeds, pressing lightly so that the seeds stick to the mixture.
Wrap the cylinder in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Unwrap the biscuit sausage and carefully cut into slices about 7mm thick.  Try to keep them all the same size so that they cook evenly.
Place the biscuits on the biscuit tray (buttered or lined with cooking paper) and cook for 20 minutes. 
They are cooked when they have turned a delicious golden brown colour and the cheese is sizzling.
Serve cold as part of an apéro selection.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The comfort of Rum and Raisins

I made this cake for my husband who has a particular weakness for anything rum and raisin flavoured. He stops at nothing - ice cream, rice pudding, semoule au lait and we discovered Les Petits Muffins raisin au rhum from Bonne Maman the other day. What a treat!
It inspired a baking session after work one day not long after. I started with a recipe for a date, ginger and honey cake and ended up with the most popular cake in our house so far this year. It fills the house with the most wonderful warming smells that you will want to make it again just to make your place smell good.
We are two, and we ate this cake within 3 days. It featured in every meal including breakfast. I can testify that it is terrifically good with a cup of tea.

Rum and Raisin Cake
250g self raising flour
150g butter
90g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tablespoons honey
3 eggs
125g raisins
100mls approx. rum

Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Pour the rum over the raisins, and microwave for 1 minute to encourage the raisins to soak up the rum (that's where the flavour is). Cover and leave to macerate while you make the rest of the cake.
Beat the butter and the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each egg. Add the vanilla essence. Add the flour and honey and mix well. Check that your raisins are nice and plump. If not, zap them in the microwave to hurry them up. Drain the rum into your cake mixture. Shake 1 tablespoon of flour over your raisins so that the raisins are covered in flour. This stops them sinking to the bottom of the cake while it cooks. The raisins may look lumpy covered with flour but it will all disappear once cooked. Now add the raisins to your mixture and stir well.
Grease and flour (or line with paper) a loaf tin. Pour in your cake mix and cook in the oven for 20 minutes. As usual, the cooking times vary with each oven. It's cooked when you poke knife in and it comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the tin before tipping it out and enjoying it - but I reckon you won't be able to wait that long!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Soup it up

It's autumn and autumn means soup. Whenever the weather turns colder I discover a childlike adoration for hot soup. There is something about coming in from the cold and being warmed up from the inside out with a bowl of soup. Soup is usually filled with vegetables and vitamins which adds to it's appeal. I feel like I am 'souping-up' my defenses against winter illness.

Here is a tasty number that I whipped up the other day. It has a delicate flavour of vegetables, so think china teacups and silver soup spoons.

Autumnal Green Soup

1 onion
1 potato
1 carrot
20g butter
850mls vegetable stock
1 head of lettuce
100ml cream
salt and pepper

Diced the onion, potato and carrot into small cubes. Heat the butter in a large pot and sweat the vegetables for 10 minutes without colouring.
Add the vegetable stock and cover. Simmer for 25 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Finely slice the top 2/3's of the head of lettuce, leaving the harder whiter part of the leaves behind, and add to the soup. Cook until the lettuce has just wilted, about 2 minutes. If you cook the lettuce any longer you will lose it's bright green colour and your soup will become dull looking.
Cool the soup a little and purée. You can either do this in a blender or with a hand held mouli.
Adjust seasonings and add the cream.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

from the store cupboard

I had a tin of carrots living in my cupboard. I'm not sure why I bought them because I'm not usually into buying tinned vegetables. The other night I decided to add them to our dinner menu of pasta (late night dinner after a long day at work). I took down the tin of carrots waiting for some inspiration on how to eat them.....

What transpired was a rather delicious asian flavoured dish of healthy vitamins. Here I kept it rather simple but I do think a dash of freshly grated ginger could work very well.

Asian Carrot Salad

1 x 400g tin of baby carrots
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon olive oil
several splashes sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
dash of oyster sauce
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
fresh ginger

Mix the dressing ingredients together and test for seasoning. Adjust if necessary. Pour the dressing over the carrots and then sprinkle the final dish with a tablespoon of sesame seeds.
Eat with or without chopsticks - you choose.

Monday, 12 October 2009

the knitters

Look at these beautiful girls having a go at knitting. A group of us got together, some could knit, some couldn't. By the end of the afternoon everyone left home with something accomplished. It's given me inspiration to finish my vest that has sat, for the summer, in my knitting bag.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Waiting for Perfection

I have been waiting for Perfection. And now I'm giving up. Perfection is late and I must get on with things. I have been kept waiting long enough.

As a good friend of mine, Grant Erskine, pointed out tonight, perfectionism is to be focussed on the way or the manner of doing something. I have discovered that this more 'task focussed' style of thinking actually drains some of the fun out of life.

I am henceforth choosing to live Excellently. I will no longer passively wait for Perfection to arrive but I will proactively seek the company of Excellence. I like Excellence because she is already with me. I don't have to wait for her. She is a choice and she lives in my thinking. Because Excellence is being focussed on who you are doing your things for, not on how you do them. I like Excellence because she values people. I like Excellence because she likes to do things a little more than the expected.

So - my blog, in fact my life, will not be perfect. Because lets face it - I'm not perfect (surprise surprise!). I get grumpy when I'm tired, I am impatient when I have to repeat myself and sometimes, (but not very often), I do steal the covers on the bed.

I have made plenty of gorgeous looking and tasting dishes over the long months of my absence from my blog. I wasn't having a complete break down. But because I didn't consider them perfect (well, it was mainly the pictures I didn't like), I did nothing. Perfection never coincided with my inspiration.

So, I'm making way for Excellence. My dream may not be finished being dreamed but I can do what I can excellently as I discover what the meaning behind my passions and talents. I am no longer waiting for Perfection in order to act.

Here are my excellent Speculos that I made for an afternoon with the girls when they came over to knit. Check out the fun we had. Some complete beginners left with some seriously good knitting in hand.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Spring Adventures

I have children. Although we've been married for 8 months (feels longer than that!), I have two of them. They are kind that I keep for 6 hours and then give back at the end of the day. Two precious wee souls who sometimes I tuck into bed at night and sing songs to, and then leave for my own home where there are no toys to trip on or homework to be done. I pick them up from school the next day and listen to their stories of school life.

We decided to spend the day in the park, have a picnic lunch and to visit the menagerie, the little zoo. We packed the picnic, put on our hats and suncream and chose our special toys to bring for the day. The sun was shining, the flowers were out at last after a cold winter and I was full of expectation for a glorious day in the park amongst the blossom.

It started out like this; romantic flamingos, graceful on one leg, the giggles of contented children running in the sun and watching BIG animals.
And then we found the wild parts!  On my camera I ended up with more photos of savage animals than a flowery picnic in the sun.  We spent a long time watching the big cat from China and the crocodiles.  The animals were obviously happy with the sunny day and obligingly showed off their savageness with big displays of open mouths, wild grins and stealthy stares (thankfully all through very thick glass). 

The diversity of the world never fails to amaze me! It was a fabulous adventure on a spring day. Could I call it a savagely gracfeul outing? I'll leave you with the chinese big cat to decide for youself.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Vanilla Crème

It's warmer here now. I like that. I like the feel of the air on my skin and the sun on my face. I was born for such a time as this - summer.  I went out running the other day in the early morning. It's my favourite time of the day; when the world is waking up and birds have the parks to themselves.  Our closest 'park' has no grass so I'm not so sure it fits the bill as an official park, but it's a good place to run. I do feel a bit like a little mouse running his little plastic wheel in his cage as I do laps of the park to stretch out my exercise time, before heading for home. However, the trees are beautiful and the birdsong is enough to awaken my soul as well as my body. 

I made these petits pots de crème vanille the other day for friends who came over for dinner. They are perfect for warmer weather as they are a not-too-big and not-too-small kind of dessert. And one that doesn't leave your stomach sinking at the end of a dinner party. 

You don't need an excuse to make them. Quick and economical to make. They work perfectly well for a mid-week dinner in front of the tele if you can't wait for an official occasion. 

Vanilla Crème
serves 6
500ml full cream milk
4 egg yolks
120g sugar
35g cornflour
60g butter
2 vanilla beans (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)

Heat the milk with the vanilla pods until it reaches just below boiling point. Let it cool for 10mins, leaving the vanilla pods in the milk.
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and cornflour.
Take out the vanilla beans from the milk.
Pour the milk into the egg mixture, beating well all the time. Once mixed, pour back into the pot.
Continue to stir the milk over a medium heat until the mixture starts to thicken. 
As soon as it begins to boil take off the heat immediately and pour into your ramekins.
Let the ramekins cool and then serve with a small delicate biscuit of your choice.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Lemon Curd

I was inspired by Joy the Bakers gorgeous banana bread. It had nothing to do with the fact she described it along the lines as 'healthy' and 'I'm getting my summer body ready'.  We LOVED the banana bread for breakfast and since we live in Europe we were culturally obligated to eat it with Nutella. I'm pretty sure that cancelled out any low-fat efforts we might have made in making this particularly delicious version of banana bread. But when in Rome....(we're not in Rome by the way, Paris actually, but just to clear things up). If you, like me, were wondering what to do with the 2 egg yolks left over, then make yourself happy with this little gem of recipe for light and zesty lemon curd.  It's perfect to spread on the banana bread, far less fattening than Nutella, and perfect for cheering up a sleepy Monday morning tomorrow. 

Lovely Lemon Curd
makes about 450g
3 lemons
200g castor sugar
115g unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks

Wash the lemons, then finely grate the rind into a saucepan. Halve the lemons and juice all 3 lemons, adding the juice to the saucepan. Set over a low heat and add the butter and sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter melted.

Put the egg and yolks together in a bowl and beat together until well mixed. Pour slowly into the lemon mixture, whisking well as you go. 

Stir the mixture constantly over the low heat until the lemon curd lightly coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove from the heat and the curd into small, warmed sterilized jars. Cover, seal and label if you can resist not eating straight away.  Store in cool dark place. Use within 3 months. Once opened, store in the refrigerator. 

Monday, 27 April 2009

The proof is in the eating

Well - as they say - the proof IS in the eating. And what did the jury say?  They loved it! No sacrilege committed and the surprised worked a treat. Dad-in-law was suitable speechless when we knocked on the door at 11.30pm Friday night.  We had a great weekend with the family and came back to Paris feeling rejuvenated ready for another week at near break-neck speed. But that's why we love our life in a big city. Take a break and make some of these for yourself. 

Tiramisu Bars (adapted from Cookie Magic by Kate Shirazi)
200g crushed amaretto biscuits
2 tsp instant coffee granules
80g butter melted
Mix the biscuit crumbs with the dry coffee granules and the melted butter. Press the mixture firmly into a lined 23cm square tin.

250g cream cheese
50g sugar
2 large eggs
60ml cream
55ml rum
1 tsp vanilla
In a large bowl beat together the cream cheese, sugar, eggs, cream, rum and vanilla. Pour the mixture over the biscuits base and back for 20-25mins at 180° C or until the centre is set. Leave to cool in the tin.
Make the topping by heating
100ml cream until nearly boiling point. Add
100gr dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids).
Stir until chocolate is melted and pour over the cheescake.
Leave to set for 30 minutes. Cut into squares and eat!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Late night baking

It's 10.40pm and the oven has just turned off. Sitting on the bench top, filling the apartment with warm rum scented smells, is my latest discovery. Tiramisu bars. Imagine a coffee biscuit base layered with rum and vanilla cheesecake, baked until just set in the middle, finished off with a layer of 72% dark chocolate. I'm so excited I haven't even taken photos of it yet. Literally - it's just out of the oven.
My mother-in-law is famous for her Tiramisu. My husband talks about it almost non-stop in the lead up to a visit. She makes it without fail each time we visit and it's revered as some sort of holy grail moment when we eat it on the last night of each visit. 
We're going to visit them tomorrow for the weekend. But shhhh...it's a surprise! For their birthdays. I can't wait to share this variation of their family favourite with them. I only hope they don't think I've sacrileged their holy grail of Tiramisu.

I keep dabbing my finger on the top to taste the cheesecake layer, addicted already but knowing full well that my fingerprints will be covered up with a layer of  chocolate in the morning.

But shhhh...don't tell anyone it was me.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Without (much) thinking...

I am normally the kind of person who takes a long time to make decisions. It's not that I don't like making decisions. Some decisions I like. I like to decide who I listen to, I like to decide between action or romantic comedy, for example. It's just that sometimes I like to take my time to make decisions; to know what I am buying, to what I am agreeing to. Réfléchir, the french say.

The gem of our Parisian quartier is the pedestrian zone. It's where bicycles, people, push-chairs and dogs mix on the street and attempt to do daily life - be it eating in a sidewalk restaurant, taking clothes to the drycleaners, shoes to the cobbler, buying a wine for dinner or picking up their daily bread at the boulangerie. Sometimes it's orderly, sometimes it's an urban obstacle course. 

I was walking past the gorgeously decadant moorish inspired salon du thé when I spied the window display. The épicerie was half price - everything was half or less the original price. How could I not go in and check it out? Everything tempted me. Everything seduced me. There were spices that I knew and bags of powders I had never heard of.  Everything went to my head and before I knew it...
...I was walking out of the salon du thé with two generously sized bags that I had very little idea what to do with. No consideration, (well not too much) and no matter that I didn't have a recipe in mind. 

Spices for vegetable couscous and zaatar. I've seen and/or heard about both of them before but they've never made an appearance in my cooking.

Well, I've started looking for some delicious ways to use my new spice mix and herbs. If you stick around, I'll share what I discover.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Croquettes de crabe

What better way to end the week than having good friends over for dinner. 
Wine, laughter, a bit of serious conversation and bit of not so serious conversation to balance out the evening. 
I have not cooked with crab with very often. In fact, never. Despite growing up on an island nation surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, it never did feature on our childhood menu. 
I bought a tin of crab meat one day; I was having an adventurous moment at the supermarket!
And then I made these.

I think I'll buy crab meat again.

Croquettes de crabe
makes 12

200g crab meat
1 bunch of parsley
3 slices of bread
100 ml milk
3 tbsp mayonnaise
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp self raising flour
salt and pepper

for the dipping sauce
1 lime
3 tbsp creme fraîche

Dipping Sauce
1. Add the zest of the lime to the creme fraîche and mix well
2. Juice the lime and reserve for the croquettes

1. Drain the crab meat. Wash and dry the parsley and chop finely.
2. Remove the crusts from the bread and soak in the milk.
3. In a bowl, mix the crab meat with the mayonnaise, parsley, and lime juice.
4. Squeeze the milk from the bread with your hands and mix into the crab meat mixture along with the flour.
5. Season the mixture
6. Heat the oil in a fry pan. Drop teaspoonful lots into the pan and  cook for 2 minutes on each side.

Serve hot with the dipping sauce