Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas in Avignon

Going to Avignon earlier this month, made me realised how much unnecessary pressure we put on ourselves in the Anglo-Saxon world. When there,  on several occasions, I mentioned, "Black Friday" just to be met with a look a complete incomprehension.
 
It was the start of the second week in December and shops had just started displaying their Xmas goods. Les Halles - the largest intra-muros food market- wasn't showing any sign of Christmas yet. 


One peculiarity of Les Halles in Avignon is its wall, 30m x 11,50m, set up by botanist Patrick Blanc. It has a sophisticated irrigation system, as you can imagine, being in the south of France. Growing vertically is an interesting concept. A Pebble Soup's guest blog post which is still very popular was written about this subject matter, Urban Eden in the Sky
Traders mentioned the Christmas tradition of the 13 desserts, symbol of Christ and the 12 apostles. The 13 desserts traditionally end the "big supper" on Christmas eve before midnight mass. 

Though there are variations, it's often green melon kept safe in straw since harvest, apples, pears, grapes, nuts , figs , oranges, mandarins and nougat. There is jam, "focaccia" and mulled wine too.
 
Of what I have seen tradition has evolved a little and the fruits are often "confits".

Another outlet which should not be missed when strolling in the papal city is Aline Géhant's, a chocolatiere with a real talent for soft but strong flavours. Her chocolates infused with star-anise (badiane) or lavender are unique.

This was a bit of behind the scenes of my press trip to read more about Avignon head to Trip Reporter where the article was published

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Gardiane de Boeuf AKA Beef Gardiane

On a recent visit to Avignon, flavours associated to my early childhood tickled my nose, once more. First meal, I ordered a Gardiane de Boeuf, a speciality of the area, now made with beef, yesterdays with bull meat.

Growing up in Nimes with a bullfighting aficionado for a dad, I had my fair share of bull meat. Gardiane was always on restaurant menus and always a family favourite.

Bull is now replaced by beef, as sourcing bull is complicated. Guardiane is a dish typical of Camargue, the Rhone delta, a wonderful swamp where flamingos, local horses and bulls live roam.
 
The dish called Gardiane as it was gardians' pack lunch. Gardians are horsemen who tended to bull herds, in another words a cow-boys and gardiane is a sophisticated boeuf bourguignon.
 
The meat needs to marinate over night. This is a dish with strong flavours which requires rice and/or wild rice to soak up the lovely juices.
 
Have a peep at the ingredients:
 
1 kg stewing beef -diced- serves 4 to 6 people
2  onions -peeled and chopped-
2 carrots- peeled and sliced
3 or 4 cloves garlic, left whole
3  anchovy fillets
green olives as many as you like
1/2 bottle of red wine
500ml beef stock
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
olive oil
Salt and pepper
 
Method
Peel and slice the onions. Peel the garlic cloves and leave them whole. Place in a bowl with herbs and a little olive oil. Marinate overnight.
 
The next day, Heat a pan with a little olive oil. Add beef pieces, mix and allow to color slightly, retrieve the meat and replace with  the onions and garlic for 5 minutes.
 
Meanwhile, rinse, peel and cut the carrots into thick slices. Add them to the pan, stir.
 
Add the anchovies, bouillon. Salt and pepper, add the olives and cover with red wine.
 
Simmer with a lead on for 2 hours.
 
When cooked, taste to check the seasoning. Increase heat to reduce the juices
Serve Camarguaise rice, a delicious French rice, firm and rather plain in flavour often mixed with black wild rice.

Inside the Palais des Papes in Avignon - Article soon on Trip Reporter
 
 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Miele Secret Supper Club

The black car rolled silently down our little street, I jumped in and off we went toward a secret destination for a steam dinner prepared by Nordic Chef Martyn Mied.

First impression: Miele London Gallery with its exciting kitchen appliances had been tastefully transformed into a "food theatre"

Here I was going to have my first taste of hay hash. At this stage, I got a little confused. Not helped by my neighbour who was looking at me with a knowing smirk.
 
Obviously, I had missed a trend and here it is explained as Nordic food is on the rise.  Ashes from burnt hay are sprinkled on food in upscale restaurants, something which has been done from way-way back but has been revived by René Redzepi of Denmark's Noma.
 
It's said to add bitter and smoky flavours to the dishes. Ashes worked well with Mackerel & Beet. The colours were drastic and the smoky flavour noticeable.

Usually burning your food is not quite acceptable unless you are chef Mied and then it becomes an art. Vegetables are burnt too to add extra crisp, as in the Seabass and Burnt Chicory

 
After 6 courses we parted with a delicate plate of Luxury Chocolate
 

 
disclaimer: I was a guest at the Miele Secret supper club, no money was exchange and I was not requested to write a review. I would like to thank FrankPR for inviting me

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Pebble Soup's Mini Gift Guide

 
In July traditionally, journalists and bloggers are invited to attend Christmas presentations. Though it's a bit odd to visit Santa's grotto in strappy T-shirt and to listen to Xmas carols when it's 23C outside, we all happily attend.
 
This year, a few products caught my attention - There are not that many but they are just perfect as Xmas presents so here they are in no particular order
 
Supermarket slap Aldi's new make-up range if you have not use their budget line yet, treat yourself and a friend. Lacura Eye Shadow Box, £3.99
 
Lakeland 50th anniversary recipe book £6.99. Favourite recipes from customers and contributions from a few of Lakeland's famous friends – Michel Roux Jnr, the Hairy Bikers and Mary Berry to name just a few. The collection contains than 60 delicious recipes, plenty of anecdotes and beautiful photography.
All profits from the book are being donated by Lakeland to the BBC Children in Need Appeal
 
Mark & Spencer Gin & Tea with Gold Flakes £11.99, the bottle with its amber liquid and gold flakes is the perfect present for G&T drinkers. Even if like me Gin is not your preferred drink, this Gin & Tea will convert you in no time.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Goat Cheese, Green Tomato & Apple Chutney Tartlet - Quick dinner

 
More depressing than an Adele's song is a recently published survey  which reveals that 55% of Londoners are turning to quick snacks for an evening meal. And here they are:
 
MOST POPULAR QUICK-FIX DINNERS
1.       Toast
2.       Cereal
3.       Cheese and crackers
4.       Ham sandwich
5.       Crisps or nachos
6.       Crumpets
7.       Packet / tinned soup
8.       Instant noodles / rice / pasta
9.       Porridge
10.   Nutella on toast
 
Turn up the volume on that 21 album, it might cheer me up as reading the rest of the survey* had me in tears. Concomitantly, new research carried out by Love Food Hate Waste and Mumsnet demonstrates that "As modern life becomes busier, and quick solutions become more favourable, we are at risk of losing valuable cooking skills and knowledge to pass on to the next generation."
See infographic**.

What is going on? the food scene is buzzing, there is cookery program of  some sort, with a record audience, every hour, on TV, in the meantime Londoners are eating Nutella on toast standing up in front of their fridge!
 
So where can we find inspiration? my lastest source of, was provided by Jeanne of Cooksister and a canapé served at an event promoting Canadian railways.
  
Let's backtrack a little. He recently harvested the last of the tomatoes on the two plants which provided a bumper crop this year. Considering the neighbour has a monster 16+ feet tree by the fence which completely over-shadows our garden, we were able to make the grand total of two red tomato salads and the same amount of green tomato chutney.
 
I would recommend Cooksister chutney recipe which can be adapted to other fruits, alternatively there is a lot of good brands out there, but don't just spread chutney on toast....wait...
 
Here come part two of the inspiration, at a press event as the canapés were doing the rounds, a tiny little tart with deliciousness on the top attracted my attention. After inconspicuously poking at deliciousness, it was decided that it contained goat cheese topped with chutney.
 
Genius doesn't come into the assembling of such but served with fresh veggies that is a quick dinner worthy of a mention.
 
How does it work?
You'll need one tartlet tray or a small pie tray.
1/2 packet of shortcrust pastry roll out thin and cut to the size of the above tray
150g goat cheese, ring removed, mashed with a fork and combined with
150g of ricotta (failing ricotta) use 4tbsp milk to loosen the goat cheese.
 
Grease the tray with a little oil, place the pastry in, top with cheese mixture.
Bake for 20minutes in pre-heated oven 220C/fan 200C/gas 7
           watch that the pastry doesn't turn too golden (mine did)
Remove from the oven, leave it to cool before topping with a generous spoon of green tomato and apple chutney serve with baked bean or fresh vegetables

More Chutney recipes
 
 
*survey : Researchers from Pukka Pies polled 2000 workers
**Love food hate waste & Mumsnet research

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Soya Yogurt 5 Ways

If Maison Cupcake first soya experience was in the 80's in the form of "bean feast" a recurring dish at her mum's table, ours at Pebble Soup happened about at the same time while trekking in the Golden Triangle.
 
We camped outside villages. In the evening we used people's open fire to cook our meals. One night our Burmese guide magicked tofu, that night, we went to bed persuaded to have eaten a delicious wild animal. That's what happens when you taste blind something you never had before.
 
Soya has keep a little magic, I am very partial to "soya and horseradish cheese", Alpro Soya Yogurt are not far behind. The texture is much lighted than conventional yogurt and the scientific blurb tells us that they are:
  • Naturally low in saturated fat, low in sugars: 50cal, 2.3g fat. 2.5sugar per 100g
  • Naturally lactose free 'n gluten free
  • Contains calcium, vitamins B12 and D

  • Alpro is running an Inspiration Campaign which is bloggers led and opened to all to participate, have a peep at #Alprotops and see what you can magic.

    In the meantime here are my suggestions:

    Intrigued by the many Alpro tops
    I made a beeline for goji berries which were known, until the naughties, as wolfberries, when marketing hooked on their nutrient value and rebranded them as super-fruit. Don't they look attractive? on the top of this Lemon 'n Lime Soya Yogurt Milkshake
    Next day happened to be the week-end and that often means cocktail time. His face was a picture when presented with Vanilla 'n Whirl Maple Syrup Whirl topped with chocolate shavings
    Next came Muffins - Strawberry soya yogurt, chia seeds a new one on me. Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia Hispanica, another one with  nutrients galore.

     Left with Alpro simply plain and now well in my stride, breakfast muesli got the treatment


    and how nice it was and last but not least, armed myself with a large spoon and polished the pot.
     disclaimer: my thanks to Alpro for including Pebble Soup in their campaign
    more information on the products used on Alpro Website

    Monday, 10 November 2014

    Challenges and Fochabers Gingerbread recipe


    Food blogging is many things. It's likely that there are as many reasons to write a food blog as there are food bloggers. Primarily it's a record, an electronic diary but even that differs from a blog to another. The question is "what are we recording"?
     
    In the complex tapestry of the food blogosphere, challenges have a prime place. they started mainly as a way of creating dishes around a theme, of having a big "party" and some challenges are still doing just that.
     
    Sadly, other food challenges exist only to provide backlinks for the hosting blogs. The focus disappeared, rules and regulation got longer, three sometimes four links are requested with the addition of as many badges and god knows what else. Honestly, these challenges are rubbish.
     
    Which is not the case for Belleau Kitchen's Random Recipe that has remained true to its starting principle: pick a recipe at random and cook it without cheating. This month, the theme is magazine clippings.

    A opportunity for me to display (once more but I am so proud of it) the small bookcase, I built from scratch in order to keep handy all most cookbooks
    When building it, no provision was made for magazines. So a year later, a magazine rack was added and hidden in the pantry with the tall books. Time to get it out.
    There was a little bit of cheating in the process, only on grounds of strong dislikes and out of season recipes. On the second attempt, BBC Good Food October 2000 came to the fore (things we keep, it's unbelievable). Page 41 offered two possibilities, parsnips pancake or Fochabers gingerbread.
     
    No prize for guessing which one won. This gingerbread is a traditional recipe from Scotland. It incorporates mixed peel which is unusual, beer and black treacle. A bit of research reveal that gingerbread recipes varies according to the regions as explained in The Curious Tale of the Gingerbread.
     
    Fochabers Gingerbread
     
    Ingredients
    100g butter
    100g sugar 
    100g black treacle (molasses), slightly warmed 
    2tsp ground ginger 
    pinch of ground cloves  
    2tsp mixed spice
    1/2tsp cinnamon 
    1 eggs  
    250g plain flour  
    50g currants  
    50g sultanas 
    1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda   
    25g mixed peel chopped 
    150ml beer (which I replaced with water)
     
    Method
    1- Preheat the oven to 160C/Gas 3/fan 140C. Grease a (2 pint) loaf tin. Using a food processor or an electric whisk, beat the butter together with the sugar and treacle until light and creamy. beat in the egg
     
    2- Measure the bicarbonate of soda into the beer, stir it and set aside. Stir all the remaining ingredients into the creamed mixture. Stir the beer mixture then pour it into the cake mixture, beating well until thoroughly incorporated.
     
    3- Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour. When the cake is cooked, a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes then turn out on to a cooling rack and leave until completely cold.

    Friday, 7 November 2014

    Give-Away #28 : A beautiful Hotel Chocolat Advent Calendar

    Last minute announcement: the winner is Nia Wyn Dunn
     
    Some cultures are luckier than others when it comes to Christmas traditions. Growing up in France the only calendar we  looked forward to was l'Almanach des Postes. A piece of cardboard with an old-fashion picture in the center.
     
     
    Children have the privilege to choose which picture will adorn the wall in the kitchen or the loo. The choice is limited, sweating donkeys with heavy loads on their back, young 19th century lady in négligée, that was my dad's choice if I happened to be at school when the postman pop in for his annual tip and the sale of the horrid calendar.
     
    First time I heard about an advent calendar was through a friend from Lille. Allegedly the advent tradition was strong in the north. Almost enough to make me pack my baby rucksack and move.
     
    I have since made up  for lost time and it's with glee that this year, I am sharing the advent calendar good fortune with one Pebble Soup reader.  The countdown to Christmas begins with this beautiful Hotel Chocolat advent calendar. Featuring 24 fabulous Christmas sculptures, including reindeer, snowmen, penguins and enchanted Christmas trees, to name just a few.
    The winner will have the choice of one milk, dark or white chocolates.
     
    Three ways to win
     
     1 – Comment on the blog Leave a comment below, sharing your favourite Christmas chocolates. Mine is definitely orange peel.
     
    2 – Twitter Follow @solangeweb on Twitter. If you already follow, it goes without saying that you are welcome too. Then tweet the following:
    I've entered @HotelChocolat Advent Calendars #giveaway from Pebble Soup http://goo.gl/l8CAuW #PebbleSoupAdvent

    Cut and paste is safer. I'll track your entry with the Twitter handle   

    3- Facebook Like Pebble Soup page   

    Entries will close on Tuesday 17th November at midday (12.00GMT). Hotel Chocolat will dispatch the calendar to the winner shortly after the 21st so that it can be enjoyed on the 1st of December

    Terms and conditions:
    One Winner will be selected via digital Randomiser shortly after closing date and announced on Twitter and on this page.
    Only one entry per category per person, (1 comment, 1 twitter, 1 facebook) all entries will be verified.
    This give-away is open to UK residents only.
    There is no cash alternative. 
    The prize will have to be claimed within 3 days so please make sure you check your account for notification.
     
    HC calendar retail at £12.50, my thanks to Hotel Chocolat for providing one complementary for the purpose of this post.
     

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