Deux Baguettes S’il Vous Plaît

When he was eleven I asked our eldest son James to go into a bakery in a ski resort in France and buy “Deux baguettes s’il vous plaît” while I was double parked outside. I had been round the block twice and there was absolutely nowhere to park.

We sat outside the bakery for what seemed like a very long time with me saying come on you can do it and James saying he really didn’t want to. His more outgoing younger sister wanted him to hand over the money so she could go. But she didn’t need a confidence booster and I wanted him to do it. Eventually James went into the bakery and came out, beaming from ear to ear, one baguette under each arm.

I had completely forgotten this incident until James (now married with kids of his own) reminded me. He says he remembers it whenever he has to do something challenging, like speaking in public.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to use the No Knead Bread recipe to make deux baguettes instead of the usual round loaf you make in a Le Creuset pot. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but decided to give it a go. Well the baguettes were amazing and I’ve made them three times since. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside, the recipe makes two small baguettes or one very large one, which probably wouldn’t fit in my oven.

3 cups plain flour
1 heaped tsp salt
1 Tbs olive oil (optional)
¼ tsp dried yeast
1½ cups very hot water from the tap
Extra flour
Sesame seeds (optional)

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly with the blade of a knife. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and leave for a few hours. The amount of time you can leave it is flexible and varies a bit according to the weather. In the middle of summer it will be ready to go to the next stage in about three hours, but it’s okay if you leave it longer. When ready the dough will have doubled in size.

Sprinkle extra flour on work surface and scrape out the dough. Using a little extra flour as necessary, form dough into a non-sticky round, then cut in two and form each into a sausage shape about 30cm or 12″ long. Place side by side on a lightly greased oven tray, sprinkle with sesame seeds if liked, then leave aside while the oven heats up.

Heat the oven to 220°C. Bake bread for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and crisp all over. Cool on a cake rack. Bread freezes well.

Makes 2 small loaves or 1 large

Green Bean Salad

This is an adaptation of a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi called Four Lime Green Bean Salad.

His original recipe (which you can easily find online) is no doubt delicious, but I didn’t have any kaffir lime leaves or Iranian ground lime. I increased the amount of broad beans and peas to make equal quantities of all three vegetables.

A perfect addition to the New Year buffet or to accompany leftover Christmas Ham and Turkey.

500g fresh green beans
500g packet frozen broad beans (or use fresh, shelled)
500g frozen peas
Dressing:
Zest and juice of 1 lime or ½ lemon
3 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic
½ cup fresh coriander leaves
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1 long green chilli, deseeded
1 tsp salt
Garnish:
Black sesame seeds
2-3 tsp Za’atar spice mix
A few coriander leaves
1 long green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)

Top and tail beans then cook in boiling salted water for 3 mins. Drain, refresh with cold water and drain again. Cook broad beans in boiling water for 2-3 mins then drain and remove the outer shells and discard. Cook peas in boiling water for 2-3 mins then drain. Place both beans and the peas in a large serving dish.

Place all ingredients for the dressing in food processor and process till smooth. Pour over the beans and mix well. Garnish with a sprinkling of black sesame seeds, spice mix, coriander leaves and, if liked, the extra green chilli.

Serves 6

Substitutions: if you don’t have any Za’atar spice mix, experiment with a few of your favourite spices or spice blends

Cooking for the Festive Season

With just a week left until Christmas here are some suggestions for sweet dishes to prepare ahead or make on the day. There are a few more options including savoury dishes for Christmas and New Year entertaining here.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a happy holiday season and a healthy, happy and successful New Year.

Traditional Christmas pudding.
Gluten-free Christmas pudding.

Quick individual Christmas puddings.

Traditional Christmas cake

Labneh with Summer Berries.

Raspberry and Peach Trifle.

Berry Meringue Ice Cream Slice.

Pavlova. 

Quick individual “cheat” pavlovas. 

Roasted Pears with Goat’s Cheese, Honey, Rosemary & Pecans

This is a delicious way to serve pears as a savoury side dish or light lunch.

4-6 ripe pears
Goat’s cheese (the soft variety)
Olive oil
Honey or Maple syrup
Chopped pecan nuts
Rosemary sprigs
To serve:
Green salad leaves
Salad dressing
Maldon salt flakes

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Slice pears vertically – don’t peel or core. Arrange on baking sheet, then drizzle with a little olive oil and honey or maple syrup. Sprinkle with a few rosemary sprigs. Bake for 20-30 mins or until golden around the edges.

Serve on a bed of lightly dressed salad leaves. Top the pear slices with the goat’s cheese and nuts.

Serves 4-6

 

 

Labneh with Summer Berries

I made this delicious Ottolenghi dessert when we were in Vancouver for my brother’s wedding in August, when the Canadian berry season was in full swing. Friends who saw the photo on Facebook thought it was a pavlova. In fact the base is strained yoghurt, known as labneh in the Middle East. Much healthier.

For subscribers in the southern hemisphere this could become your go-to dessert for the holiday season. For those living in the north, you’ll have to wait until summer or perhaps try using frozen berries. Ottolenghi doesn’t use the orange juice in this recipe, but I’ve made the recipe twice, once with and once without the juice. Much more orangey with.

1 kg thick Greek-style yoghurt
A good pinch of salt
1-2 Tbs icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
100ml Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 orange
A few sprigs of thyme or lemon thyme
800g to 1 kg fresh berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, stoned cherries)
1-2 Tbs caster sugar

The day before serving make the labneh and the orange oil. Place a sieve over a bowl and line it with muslin or similar fabric. I use a man’s handkerchief which I keep especially for this purpose. Scrape yoghurt into the sieve, cover and refrigerate overnight. Next day discard the liquid – my dog loves it. Mix icing sugar and vanilla into the yoghurt.

Remove the peel from the orange with a vegetable peeler, then remove the juice and heat it in a saucepan for a few minutes, or until reduced by half. Add the olive oil, the thyme and leave to infuse overnight.

At serving time spread labneh onto a large serving platter. Place about half the berries in a food processor with the caster sugar and pulse a few times to chop roughly. Spoon on top of the labneh. Top with the remaining whole berries, slicing the strawberries if large. Drizzle with some of the orange oil and garnish with the orange zest and some fresh thyme sprigs – the original ones will have gone a bit brown.

Serves 8-10

Variations: use other fruit combinations, such as bananas and passionfruit; kiwi fruit and strawberries

Gnocchi with Prawns and Chorizo

A  simple combination of flavours turns a shop bought packet of gnocchi into something delicious. This recipe was in a free magazine I picked up in Coles supermarket.

 

1 Tbs olive oil
1 chorizo sausage, skinned and chopped coarsely
200g baby tomatoes
500g peeled prawns, raw or cooked, deveined
500g packed chilled potato gnocchi
2 handfuls rocket or baby spinach leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Harissa or Sriracha Chilli Sauce to taste (optional)

In a large non-stick frying pan or wok heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring for 1-2 minutes, If using raw prawns add them now and cook, tossing, for a further 4-5 mins, or until they change colour.

Meanwhile cook gnocchi in boiling water according to packet directions, then drain. Add to the frying pan. If using cooked prawns add them now with the gnocchi and the tomatoes and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the rocket or spinach, toss well and season to taste. If you like a bit of heat, add some chilli sauce.

Serves 4

Jam Doughnut Muffins

Who doesn’t like doughnuts? The only trouble is you have to cook them in deep hot oil, which puts a lot of people off making them at home.

This recipe combines the flavours of a doughnut in a muffin which is baked in the oven. Quicker and easier than anything deep fried, but they are brushed with melted butter, to help the sugar stick, so I’m not sure about them being healthier! A perfect treat for the kids when they come home from school.

2 cups self-raising flour
2/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup (250ml) buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla essence
Red jam (e.g. strawberry, raspberry)
To serve:
125g butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 12 hole muffin pan with one third cup capacity holes. Place flour, sugar, salt, oil, egg, buttermilk and vanilla in food processor and whiz to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides, or use electric beaters. Fill each muffin hole a bit over half full. Place a heaped teaspoon of jam in the middle of each, then divide remaining mixture between the muffins. I made 10 but they could have been a bit smaller to end up with 12.

Bake for 20 mins or until well-risen and golden brown. Cool in the pans for a few minutes, then remove. Mix sugar and cinnamon. While still warm brush each muffin all over with melted butter then roll in the sugar. Best eaten on the day they are made.

Makes 12

Variations: use lemon curd, chocolate chips or Nutella in the middle instead of red jam.

Foie Gras with Rocket, Beetroot & Caramelised Onions

Whenever we’re In France I buy a few tins of Bloc de Foie Gras de Canard. We declare them as we go through Customs and have never any problems getting them into Australia. Saved for special occasions, six cans last us a year or more.

This salad makes a light lunch or a substantial starter and is a good way to make one can of foie gras serve four or even six at a pinch.

1 can (150g) bloc de foie gras de canard
2-3 small beetroot
1 large onion, halved then thinly sliced
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
4 handfuls rocket, washed and spun dry
Salad dressing
2 Tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted
To serve:
Hot buttered toast

Preheat oven to 180°C. Peel beetroot, then thinly slice using a mandolin or slicing attachment on food processor. Mix about 30 slices with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt and arrange on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper. Place in the oven and immediately turn temperature down to 100°C. Cook until they are crisp. This shouldn’t take long as they are so thin, but keep an eye on them.

Heat a Tbs oil in a frying pan and cook the onion for 15 mins over low heat until soft but not brown, stirring often. Add balsamic and continue to cook for a few minutes until caramelised. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the pan. Cut the rest of the beetroot slices into julienne strips. Heat a Tbs oil in the frying pan and stir fry the beetroot for 10 mins or until al dente. Cool.

Mix rocket with a little salad dressing or some oil and vinegar and arrange on four serving plates. Divide the onion between the plates, then the stir-fried beetroot (you may not need it all) and the beetroot crisps.

Divide the foie gras, cut into thin slices, between the plates, top with a few toasted pine nuts, then drizzle a little oil around the edge of each plate. Serve with hot buttered toast.

Serves 4

Variations: instead of beetroot use fresh or dried figs, or marinated/preserved figs; instead of pine nuts use walnuts or pecans.

 

 

Den Bosch Lemon Pudding

Den Bosch is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. We spent a couple of days there recently and one night had tapas for dinner at a wine bar.

The food was very good and the waitress was kind enough to give me the recipe for the dessert. I have a cheesecake recipe which is very similar to this, but the addition of a little vinegar really makes a difference. The method is also slightly different.

1½ cups (375 ml) whipping cream
1 can condensed milk
Grated rind and juice 2 large lemons
2-3 tsp white wine or cider vinegar, to taste
4-5 plain or ginger biscuits
slivers of lemon rind to garnish

Whip cream with electric beaters until thick then continue whipping while you add the condensed milk, lemon rind and juice and vinegar. I used a Kenwood standing mixer, but you can use hand held beaters.

Spoon into 8-10 small glasses. Chill several hours or overnight. Garnish with crushed biscuits and lemon rind.

Serves 8-10

Variation: Fold through the pulp of 3-4 passionfruit before spooning into glasses.

From Australia to Bilbao, via Bangkok

On the way to Europe in September we spent two nights in Bangkok. Just enough to break the journey and do a bit of shopping.

Recommended by an article in the QANTAS magazine, we had lunch at a trendy two-storey café called Sarnies, located in a former boat repair shop, a short walk from Taksin Pier and the Skytrain. They roast their own beans so the coffee is good. Delicious bistro food includes toasted sourdough with interesting toppings, called loaded toasts. A Messy Omelette, with slices of a spicy chorizo-type sausage, tiny strips of pickled onion, mint, dill and chilli oil, served on sourdough toast, was slightly undercooked, the way I like my omelettes. An individual coffee crème caramel topped with cocoa and thin strips of glacé orange was the perfect finish.

The two weeks we spent in the mountainous, green and beautiful north of Spain was the highlight of the trip. We flew into Bilbao and hired a car. When I was studying Spanish in the UK I went on several school exchanges to this area and have kept in touch with my pen pal and her family.

Most of the tourists we saw were Spanish, except when we visited the Guggenheim museum, which attracts visitors from all over the world. The infrastructure in Spain is impressive, everything is spotless, the people are friendly and the food and wine is cheap and of good quality. My Spanish pen pal is now in a wheelchair, but says there’s virtually nothing she can’t do as Spain is very well set up for disabled people.

Over the years the Spanish government has acquired 96 monasteries, abbeys and other historic buildings and turned them into hotels called Paradors. I have wanted to stay in a Parador since my poor student days when I was taken to one for a drink. While in Asturias we spent two nights at the Parador de Cangas de Onis. Prices are very reasonable for 4 star accommodation and they offer discounts for seniors on what they call Golden Days.

Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, has a beautifully-renovated old town (much more attractive than Bilbao) and by chance we arrived the day before the annual Fiesta de las Americas, which includes a colourful two hour street parade. It’s around the 20th of September if you want to plan for next year.

After enjoying an excellent meal at a small restaurant called Ca’ Suso we decided it must be close to being awarded a Michelin star. The set menu with choices at 28 Euros including wine offers amazing value.

The northern coast of Spain is dotted with pretty fishing villages and we really liked Comillas and San Vicente de la Barquera, preferring to avoid the large coastal towns of Santander and San Sebastian. The tasting menu at El Retiro, in Pancar was a perfect place to stop for a leisurely Sunday lunch, but you need to book.

On the other side of Bilbao we drove south to Pamplona. Fortunately, running with the bulls takes place in July, so I didn’t have to worry about Matthew testing his skills as a toreador. There are plenty of good tapas bars in this city and we visited a couple in Calle Estafeta. In the north of Spain tapas are called Pintxos (a Basque word, pronounced Pinchos) and sharing plates are called Raciones.

While staying for a couple of nights in an Airbnb in the picturesque old town of Lumbier, we went for a walk in the nearby gorge (Foz de Lumbier) and attended Vespers, sung in Latin each evening at 7pm at the nearby Leyre Monastery. It’s free and there’s no need to book.

From there we headed to Santa Cruz de la Serós in Arragon where we stayed for two nights at the Mirador de los Pirineos, a small hotel owned by a delightful Brazilian nicknamed Brasi. It’s closed from October to February when he heads off to work as a ski instructor. While staying in this quiet village we spent a day driving through the Hecho Valley and the adjoining Roncal Valley, which has some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen.

The leaves were just starting to turn and according to Brasi the autumn colours are at their best in the second half of October. There are lots of good walks in the gorge, although the cafés and hotels all close from November to Easter because of the snow. We had planned to have lunch at a restaurant in Hecho called Cantaré and were disappointed to find it’s closed from Monday to Wednesday. Instead we went to El Montañes in Biescas where the set menu with choices is 22 Euros including wine. This was one of the more upmarket and memorable little gems we found. You can eat well in Spain for far less and we often did.

On our way home we spent 5 nights at a resort in Khao Lak. This was our umpteenth holiday in Thailand and our third visit to the Chong Fah Resort. We use Bangkok Airways to get from Bangkok to Phuket, then a driver takes us an hour and a quarter north to the resort. Khao Lak is the way Phuket was 20 years ago, before it became too touristy.

A few days of complete R and R means we get back to Australia feeling fantastic. Swimming, reading, walking, sleeping our brains out, daily massage and cocktails watching the sun go down. Perfect.

Sarnies
101-103 Soi 44, Charoen Krung Road, Bangkok
Tel: +662102 9407

Ca’ Suso
13 Marques de Gastanaga, Oviedo, Asturias
Tel: +34 985 228 232

Parador de Cangas de Onis
Villanueva de Cangas, Asturias
Tel: +34 985 849 402

El Retiro
Pancar, Llanes, Asturias
Tel: +34 985 400 240

Cantaré
1 Calle Aire, Hecho, Aragon
Tel: +34 974 375 214

El Montañes
1 Calle Escudial, Biescas, Aragon
Tel: +34 974 485 216

Chong Fah Resort
54/1 Moo 5, Bang Niang Beach, Khao Lak
Tel: +66 76 486 858