One amongst twenty-three passengers on a pretty small props place from London Gatwick to Bergerac, to be greeted by three unknown, but very smiley, women representing Salt Lake City, Seattle & Lisbon, squeezed into a mini rental car with already too much luggage, cooing at gorgeous scenery along winding French country roads and you begin to get the picture.
Just after 17h we arrive at La Manoir de la Malatrie in La Roque-Gagaeac to an incredibly warm welcome, wonderful dappled sunlight and a perfectly heated pool, which I was first to throw myself into. It was a slightly surreal, but a lovely first afternoon & evening after 5 months of much anticipation.
Pastry chef and newly published food stylist and recipe writer Aran Goyoaga of the blog Cannelle et Vanille is to be our muse for the next four days, supported by Stephanie Brubaker author of Stephmodo, and Nadia of La Porte Rouge.
This is just a small selection from the vast range of photos taken on day one. Honestly, we are like the food paparazzi. You would not believe how many photos six women can take of four dishes, but already I’m learning…
Only a couple of days to go until I jet off to the Dordogne for 4 days of food styling and photography tuition with five other food blogging ladies looking to upgrade their skills. Of course whilst we’ll be learning all about lighting, shooting angles and dressing of dishes from the experts I have no doubt that the main event each day will revolve around the eating of our creations. Lately I’ve gone back to running distances to burn as many calories as possible in anticipation of the indulgent French feasting that awaits me!
Coincidentally Dauphinoise is a dish of French origins – I’d love to say I planned it that way as a pre-trip feature, but it only occurred to me as I was cooking it for the second time last weekend. On Saturday evening, I made this particular recipe for the first time, as an accompaniment to white fish for a dinner party and it ended up being the star of the show – hence having to cook it again on Sunday to photograph and post in response to requests from those dinner guests.
I should explain Dauphinoise is a long time favourite dish of Mel & I, but the recipe we were using, though incredibly tasty, was a little fiddly and proved to have a pretty inconsistent cooking time. My last attempt actually ended up taking a three-hour stretch to cook, which personally I just don’t have the time or patience for. In contrast this recipe is a revelation, the moisture to help cook the potatoes comes from the blanched chard that lies between each layer and the shallot, garlic, nutmeg, bay leaf and thyme sprigs allow you to infuse the cream with fabulous flavours in advance. Most importantly it genuinely only takes 50 minutes in the oven and it’s equally delicious.
Potato and swiss chard dauphinoise
1 lb Swiss chard
2 1/2 cups of heavy cream
6 oz grated Gruyere
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 small shallot, quartered
3 thyme sprigs (one for sprinkling on top)
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
3 lbs (5-7 medium) white potatoes (skins on & washed)
1 tbsp butter
Sea salt & pepper
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pan of lightly salted water to the boil; set a bowl of iced water on the side nearby. Boil the chard until tender, 3 to 5 minutes, and then transfer with a slotted spoon into the iced water. Give it a few minutes of chilling (whilst you marvel at its vibrant shade of green), and then drain and squeeze or pat dry with a clean tea towel before roughly chopping. I chose not to include the thicker part of the stem the second time around and preferred it without, but up to you.
Into a small saucepan pour the cream and throw in the smashed garlic clove, quartered shallot, 2 of the sprigs of thyme, and the bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by about half, approximately 20 minutes. Strain or pick out the solids and add in the grated nutmeg.
Meanwhile slice the potatoes into 1/8-inch thick rounds with a mandoline or sharp knife. Butter a 12-14 inch gratin dish and begin to assemble your Dauphonise by layering in the following order: a single slightly overlapping layer of potato slices, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, one-third of the Gruyere, half the Swiss chard and about one-third of the reduced cream, Repeat once or twice more (depending on the depth of your dish) and then finish on a layer of potato with salt, pepper, the remaining cream and top with Gruyere and a sprinkling of thyme leaves.
Makes a fantastic side dish for simply cooked white fish, or my personal favourite with steak - Lorna
So you may have noticed that we haven’t posted for a while, in fact I think Lorna’s been given a fairly hard time by a few GF&H followers, what can we say, other than we’re sorry… but we’re happy to have you wanting more. We certainly have the will and desire to post much more regularly, but sometimes it just gets busy.
Is summer over? I asked myself when I started to think about posting a soup recipe. Well, I guess officially yes, although with New York it’s always tricky and you never know when the last of the hot days are going to catch you already in your woollen layer and make you pay. Also recently we’ve braved an earthquake, a visit from hurricane Irene, and a week of almost constant rain, and yet today it was again truly flip-flop weather.
So as New York is not quite done with summer, but definitely verging on autumn, I decided to go with more of a broth style soup. It’s quite light, but the veggies still give it that comforting substance and the addition of the pesto topping gives it a rich flavour punch, as well as being a last nod to the wonderful basil holding out for a final few weeks in my window boxes – aah the best of both seasons!
Adding the pesto at the end really does make all the difference to this recipe, it’s still a great soup without it, but with it’s really special. And yes I know, making your own pesto may seem like a bit of a pain (you can of course use bought), but the soup uses the stalks from the basil for flavor so you’ll have the leaves, you’ll need the rind from the parmesan so you’ll have the cheese, there’s garlic in the soup, so really the only extra ingredient you’ll need to buy is the nuts – cool huh? Classic pesto is usually made with pine nuts and you can definitely use them in this recipe, but my eldest daughter is allergic so I tried using almonds instead and found I could hardly tell the difference, I have a feeling almost any type of nut would work.
Makes about 10 cups (just over 2 litres)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion diced
2 garlic cloves minced
1 bunch of kale or half a savoy cabbage, chopped
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 bunch of basil stems, leaves removed, held together with kitchen string
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt (if using regular salt just under a teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
8 cups of vegetable stock
1 butternut squash (approx. 1.5 pounds) cut into small cubes
4 small red potatoes cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 approx. 3 inch Parmesan cheese rind
Basil Pesto (recipe below) to finish soup
In a large soup pot heat the olive oil over a medium to low heat, add in the garlic and onion and sweat them for about 4 minutes. Then add the kale/cabbage and cook enough just to wilt it before adding the thyme, basil stem bunch, salt & pepper and stirring well. Then add the stock, squash, potatoes, tomato paste, and cheese rind. Turn the heat up to bring the soup to a boil, then once it’s reached boiling point, reduce the heat back down and leave it to simmer for a further 2o minutes. Once the soup is finished remove and discard the basil stems and cheese rind, ladle the soup into bowls and top each one with a small spoonful of pesto.
1 1/2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup slivered Almonds (or pine nuts)
2 garlic cloves
Just under 1/2 cup of olive oil
Combine all all the ingredients expect for the olive oil in a blender or food processor, blitz until fine then slowly pour in the olive oil with the blender still running until you have a smooth paste.
Bon appetit – Melani.
Last week was Emily’s birthday and icing cookies is always a huge hit as a party activity. I have the set-up down to a fine art these days as we decorate cookies at their parties every year. As you can see from the photo’s above the kids do a fantastic job, the icing dries really fast and they love to have them to take home as a party treat. My friend Elizabeth Gordon
is the author of two cookbooks devoted to allergy free cooking, in her second book The Complete Allergy-Free Comfort Foods Cookbook
she has a recipe for an allergy free shortbread cookie which is a fantastic substitute if you have kids coming to the party who can’t eat these and still want to join in the fun.
Sugar cookies are easy to make, and with so many different options for shapes and decorating you can get really creative, and they are always a welcome addition at school bake sales. The photo’s below show the face cookies we made recently for the girls school – we were sold out in no time. I have to confess that I found the idea for them whilst surfing around on flickr which is where I head whenever I’m in need of some cookie inspiration.
When I first started making sugar cookies I went through lots of recipe variations, some were hard as nails once baked, some where impossible to roll out, some just didn’t taste that great and others fell apart or cracked once out of the oven, which is pretty bad if you’re making circles, but terrible if all your butterflies lose their wings before the icing stage. This recipe is simple, rolls out well and produces cookies that are hard enough to hold shapes but are still tender. A note about the butter, in this recipe you will taste it, so it’s better to splash out and use a good quality salted butter, I like the European ones like Kerrygold or Lurpak, rather than unsalted butter which will leave you with a bland cookie.
Sugar cookie recipe
Makes about 24 (3″ round 1/4″ thick)
8oz salted butter (at room temperature)
16oz plain/all purpose flour
Mix together the sugar and butter (I use a stand mixer but as Lorna points out it can of course be done with a wooden spoon and some arm power), add the eggs mixing well and then add the flour to get a soft dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours to harden it up and make it easier to deal with during rolling out. On a well floured surface (with a well floured rolling pin) roll the dough to about 1/4″ thick, I cheat, I have these handy plastic rings that slide onto my rolling pin to take out the guess work, but it doesn’t need to be so perfect. Then cut to the desired shape and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or one of those nifty silicone matts. Bake in a 350F oven for about 13 minutes. They shouldn’t really brown so you can tell when they are done by the fact that they hold together if you nudge them. Cool on a wire rack completely before icing. These will store in and airtight container for about a week, and perhaps even longer, but it’s impossible for me to test that theory as in our house they never last long enough!
Makes enough to fill one 2oz squeeze bottle
Approx 3/4 cup Icing/confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon Golden syrup
Water – add this slowly a tsp at a time until it’s the right consistency
Gel food colors (I use Wilton) enough to get the desired color
*Please note that if you use a liquid food color it will thin the icing, which isn’t really a problem, you’ll just need to add more icing sugar to thicken it back up again*
In a small bowl mix the Golden syrup into the confectioners sugar adding water a bit at a time as needed to thin the icing to a good consistency. It should be thicker than you think – aim for that of honey. Then add the food color and mix it until it’s an even shade throughout. I find it helpful to then put it into one of the squeeze bottles, it is a good way to store it and if I’m doing details I can use the top attachment but if I just want a blanket coat of one color I can just blob some out and spread it with the back of a small spoon. I’ve found the icing keeps in the fridge for a least a month, in the squeeze bottle with the storage lid on, and when you want to use it again you just add a tiny drop of water, give it a quick mix and it’s back to being as good as new – Melani
As much as I love to cook sometimes the thought of making something I can buy ready-made at Wholefoods doesn’t always seem worth the effort, but whilst the ready-made dough is great for its ease, the taste isn’t always what I want. Recently I started getting pizza from a local place and was blown away by the crispy flavorful crust. I asked the owner and she pointed me to a cook book by Jim Lahey founder of the Sullivan Street Bakery, which is the recipe the shop uses. After buying the book (the same day) I was thrilled to discover a recipe that was easy to make and gave me the same wonderful taste right out of my own oven.
3 1/2 cups (or 500 grams) of Bread flour
2.5 teaspoons (10 grams) instant/ dried action yeast
1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 1/3 cups (300 grams) of water – room temperature
Extra virgin olive oil to grease your baking tray
In a medium sized bowl stir the flour, sugar, salt and yeast together, then add the water bit by bit and mix until everything is blended and formed into a lose ball. This should be quick – the ball doesn’t need to be pretty. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it sit for 2 hours, it should approximately double in volume.
Sprinkle a small amount of flour on your counter top or on a sheet of parchment paper. Using a rubber spatula remove the dough from the bowl and roughly shape into a ball in your hands and then place on the floured surface.
Now, depending on what size pizza you are planning on making you’ll need to split the dough into either two or three pieces. If you split it into two, each piece will be enough to cover a 13″x18″ sheet pan, or if into three, it’s enough to make three 9″ round pizzas, and of course, if you want to make small individual ones then just split it out as many times as you want! Once you have split the dough into your desired number of pieces, cover with a moistened paper towel and let it sit for a further 30 minutes. This is the point where I turn on the oven, it needs to be at 500 degrees – with my oven it takes roughly 30 minutes to reach this temperature so once the dough’s finished it’s hot enough to begin cooking, handy!
Oil the baking trays, pick up the dough and stretch it the length of the baking sheet, place it on the sheet floured side down. Using your fingers stretch the dough to fill the entire bottom of the pan. The dough is now ready to be topped as you like then baked in your 500 degree oven for approximately 15 to 30 minutes depending on what it’s topped with. You can save any unused dough in a very lightly oiled bag in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for about 3 months.
If I’m making this for lots of people I usually go down the 13″x18″ sheet pan route, but mid-week for the kids I use a 13″ round pizza pan that fits in my toaster oven (which only heats to 450 but that doesn’t seem to cause a problem) so I don’t have to turn on my main one, it’s quick and easy and my children love helping out with the making of them.
Next week I’m hoping to post some of my favorite topping combinations, but if any of you have ideas you’d like to suggest we’d love to hear from you! – Melani