This is a very overdue post, but as it was part written you’re going to get it anyway.
France like the UK had a very doubtful summer with wet weather and cool temperatures, as a consequence the local tomato crop was a bit of a disaster attacked relentlessly by Odium (mildew) therefore when out local supermarket was selling tomatoes for 1 euro a kilo I fell on them like a rabid dog. They weren’t going to stay at that price for long.
It’s all very well buying 7 or 8 kilos of something because they are cheap but what are you going to do with them? Well my plan was eat some as per usual, make a batch of roast tomato soup and the rest would be dried.
I love sun-dried tomatoes, you can add them to nearly anything to get an intense tomatoey kick, and they transform a pizza, make a tomato sauce and help create a lip-smacking Bloody Mary. I also like them because I will get a taste of summer in the depths of winter, I’m fussy about what I will eat on one level I’ll eat anything but on another level I prize seasonality and quality. I do compromise, I will begrudgingly eat tomatoes out of season but you won’t catch me eating strawberries or asparagus anytime soon. Drying tomatoes just extends the season for my purist myopia.
Liking sun-dried tomatoes is one thing, but making them in the late summer sun in mid France is another, I think a little helping hand is required. Fortunately making them in a cool oven is simplicity itself.
Take some tomatoes and place on a baking tray. If you are using cherry tomatoes simply put cross I the top and add a pinch of salt and finely chopped garlic. If your using large tomatoes cut in half scoop out the seeds, flatten slightly and sprinkle with salt and finely chopped garlic. Sprinkle the tray of tomatoes with thyme and place in a cool oven at about 80C – 90C until dried. I know that’s a bit vague, to get semi-dried tomatoes which I prefer takes about 8 hours but you must store them covered in oil. This is not really a hardship as the oil is delicious sprinkled over pasta, pizza etc.
Completely dried tomatoes take about 12 to 16 hours but if dry enough can be stored as they are, but they will need soaking in warm water for about 20 minutes.
That’s it, as you can see from the photographs they look good in a suitable jar, I’ll spread the love and the season by giving some away as presents.
Hello, Sandra here again for a guest spot. It’s been ages since I blogged and a lot has happened in the meantime. One major change is that Jim and I are now spending lots of time in Kent, it does have some drawbacks (e.g it’s not France!) but we are lucky enough to be on the very edge of some beautiful countryside and I’ve been going out walking every day (mostly) spotting lots of lovely free bounty as I go.
A couple of weeks ago, taking full advantage of some late summer sunshine,I went out armed with a backpack, secateurs, gloves and my Mum and her friend, Cherrill (left). We were a sociable little group of three but it’s quite amazing how many people stop on those windy country lanes, to ask what you’re picking. Some are just intrigued; others have foraging tales to share. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours.
Messing about in the kitchen is one of my favourite things so two days later, I treated myself as it also happened to be my birthday, and set about transforming my harvest into yummy things to eat and drink. Mum helped me strip elderberries, prick sloes and chop rosehips all jobs which can be tedious and time consuming but we chatted and she told me tales of jam making in her mother’s kitchen (I know it’s now starting to sound very sugary but on this occasion I’m not going to apologise, it was my birthday after all!)
For me, one of the pleasures of cooking is the anticipation, reading recipes and planning. There are some great food blogs out there (including yours of course, Colin.) Whilst searching for recipes I found myself wandering along the Folsom Way down by the American River where one such happy blogger found his elderberries. Now I have never been there but I could just imagine it. And then of course Johnny Cash popped into my head to provide the soundtrack to my little adventure. Who ever knew how exciting foraging could be!
Several hours later I had sloes steeping in gin, elderberry cordial, rosehip syrup and four blackberry and apple pies, one to eat straightway, the rest for the freezer.
The recipe for sloe gin is dead easy and can be found at
The only thing I would say, is double the amounts given; it is so delicious and makes fab Christmas presents – if you can bear to give it away. Most people drink sloe gin as a liqueur but I like mine as an aperitif, long, with tonic and ice.
Blackberry and apple pie, you’ll have your own favourite recipe so I won’t go into one here only to say that I add an egg to my shortcrust pastry to make it that bit richer and I favour the deep-fill option. It looks so impressive and you get so much more of those lovely autumn fruits.
Elderberry cordial….hmmm. It’s the first time I’ve made it and I have to say I’m not convinced. So far I’ve only tried it as a soft drink, I haven’t yet got round to drizzling over pancakes or the like but I am disappointed, particularly as the elderflower is one of my absolute favourites. The jury is out on that one.
Rose bush laden with hips
Finally to the rosehips. For the recipe I turned to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and although I made it slightly differently to him, the end results are amazing. The syrup looks beautiful and has the most amazing subtle but distinctive flowery/fruity taste. I’m planning on jealously guarding the syrup until December when I shall transform it into a sorbet – literally just pour the syrup into an ice cream maker and churn – and we’ll savour it between courses on Christmas Day.
Rosehip Syrup Recipe
1 Kg Rosehips
1 Kg Castor Sugar
Wash and chop the rosehips (after battling with a knife and chopping board, I threw mine into a food processor and pulsed until they were randomly chopped, much easier).
Bring 2 litres of water to boil in a large pan, throw in the rosehips and bring back to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for an hour. Strain the rosehips through muslin or a clean cloth, squeezing out as much flavour as you can. Reserve the liquid.
Transfer the rosehip pulp back to the pan with another litre of water and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse overnight. Strain the rosehips as above. Add the liquid to your reserved amount and discard the pulp.
Bring the liquid to the boil and continue boiling until it has reduced by half. Add the sugar, stir until dissolved and boil hard for 5 minutes. Bottle into sterilised jars or bottles.
Coming up soon: Damsons and Retro Puds!
Julie asked me to make some Chorizo’s the Spanish spiced sausage and as my beloved she must be obeyed. Complying with her request did present some problems. The first problem is learning the correct pronunciation so that I don’t look like a total idiot, apparently the correct pronunciation is (ch-rz, -s) I hope that’s clear.
The second problem is sourcing a recipe and ingredients; the distinguishing ingredient of Chorizo is Spanish smoked chilli – Pimenton and though available outside of Spain finding a good quality source can still be tricky. The easiest solution is ebay and a quick search produced a tin of ‘El Avion Pimenton Picante Ahumado’ a good quality spicy pimenton.
Next is sorting a recipe, it doesn’t take much internet research to realise that there are nearly as many recipes as there are websites. In any event the web would only represent the tip of all the variations in making Chorizo, many recipes would be unique to individual villages or even families. A key decision is whether to us a cure or not. A cure is seen as being safe as it would prevent nasty bacteria such as botulism from forming as well as having some benefits in preserving the colour of the meat. Personally I think that if care is taken with hygiene and the correct ratio of salt is used the dangers of bacterial infection is very small, the importance of using a chemical cure as opposed to a salt cure is something that is given a modern priority and though desirable in some preserving it is not a universal necessity. The rest of the ingredients are fairly straightforward Pork belly, pimento as already discussed, ordinary paprika mostly for colour, chilli powder for colour and heat, some garlic and a herb such as thyme for an aromatic taste.
Freshly stuffed Chorizo's
So armed with my insights what to do, well after a little think I decided to get into the spirit of things I decided to go a little free hand. To make my Chorizo you need;
- 2 Kilos of pork belly do make sure that you use good quality pork; you don’t want to use just any old rubbish from the supermarket.
- 55 gms salt, this is not free hand the salt must be a minimum of 25 gms per kilo of meat.
- A couple of tablespoons of Paprika
- A couple of tablespoons of pimenton
- A tablespoon of chilli powder
- A dessert spoon of thyme
- 2 Cloves of finely chopped garlic
- A 1.5 metres of beef middle sausage skin cut into 33 – 35 cm lengths
Chill then grind the pork belly using the rough plate on a meat grinder, add all the other ingredients. Mix very well for about 5 minutes, you have to really get your hands in at this point. Prepare your sausage casing as necessary and knot one end. The knotting should be done correctly because the knots have to withstand a fair bit of weight and buffeting under the sausage has dried. The correct method is a doubly tie, first tie one end of the sausage skin about 2 cm from the end with a simple tie, then flick the 2 cm tail over the tie that you have just and tie of this section once more with a reef knot. Do try and get this right or risk your chorizo falling in the wind. Stuff your chorizo with the meat mixture, I just did it by hand because the gape of the sausage skin is so wide.
Dried and ready to eat, can't wait!
Leave the chorizo to hang indoors for 24 hours to dry slightly then hang out somewhere dry to cure in the wind.
My chorizo’s were ready in 2 months and had lost just under 40% of their weight
We once you have your perfect and economic Chorizo what to do with it? Well one possibility is a simple Chorizo hash, ideal for a weekend brunch when you fancy a bit of pep. Even better if you have some potato’s from the previous night’s dinner to use up; to make Chorizo hash for two people you will need
- Enough chopped cooked potatoes for 2 people, firm potatoes rather than floury is best but just go with whatever you have got.
- 1 Small onion thinly sliced
- About 50 gms of chorizo finely sliced then cut into thin strips
- A slick of olive oil
- Some parsley
- Salt and Pepper
- 2 fresh eggs
Chorizo Hash perfect for a Sunday brunch
Brown the onion in the olive oil, add the potatoes and fry in the hot oil. As the potatoes begin to colour add the chopped chorizo and parsley and continue cooking for 2 or 3 minutes then stir in some chopped parsley. While you are doing this poach the eggs for 3 minutes, I prefer to poach them at 80C for about 3 – 4 minutes as it keeps the egg whites very tender and the egg compact (or fry the eggs in olive oil if you find that poaching eggs is a bit of a faff). Split the potatoes between two plates and pop the eggs on top.
Delicious worth making with shop bought Chorizo, even better when you use your Chorizo maison.
One of the most useful spices in the kitchen is Vanilla, it adds a fragrant spicy note to sweet and savoury dishes and I use it extensively in my cooking. An early post of this blog gives a recipe for vanilla and honey glazed pork and a scoop of homemade vanilla ice-cream flecked with vanilla’s tiny seeds is never plain but is always a little gourmet treat.
I use vanilla as whole pods which I store in sugar and as vanilla extract which is convenient to use in a myriad of ways. Vanilla is supposedly the second most expensive spice after Saffron and I can believe that when I look at the price of a pod or a little bottle of extract in the supermarket. A little research for this post shows that Tesco’s sell a 118 ml bottle of Vanilla extract for £5.51 that is a whopping £46.70 a litre, and Vanilla pods are £1.68 each, a bargain!
Of course as the frugal gourmet the last thing I am going to do is handover wedges of my hard earned cash in a reverse supermarket sweep. Buying pods from a reliable source on ebay is frankly common sense, currently you can buy 80 grade A Madagascan Pods for £10.48 and that includes postage. This Christmas I bought a bunch of vanilla pods to distribute as presents to friends and family and some extract grade vanilla to make into vanilla extract.
The whole thing about vanilla quality, origin, essence and extract is quite confusing; most people have a sense that some products are better than others but can be a bit confused as to why. So here is a bit of an overview; Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, which was called tlilxochitl by the Aztecs. The Spanish conquistador Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s along with a shed load of gold after his genocidal conquests of parts of what is now Latin America
The majority of the world’s vanilla is vanilla planifolia known as Bourbon vanilla named after the former name of Réunion, Île Bourbon. This variety of vanilla is also now known as Madagascan vanilla because its principal centre of production is Madagascar and neighbouring islands in the Indian Ocean, and Indonesia.
Vanilla is graded using a couple of systems but a simplified and most relevant system for a cook is below.
Length and Weight
|Grade A – also called Gourmet or Prime
||15 cm and longer, 100 – 120 beans per pound
||30 – 35% moisture content
|Grade B – also called Extract
||10 – 15 cm, 120 – 160 beans per pound
||15 – 25% moisture content
||Less than 10cm
It is worth noting that an estimated 95% of “vanilla” products actually contain artificial vanillin, which is produced from lignin a natural polymer found in wood pulp. The vanillin is extracted from the by-product of paper making when lignin is broken down using sulphur compounds. Vanillin is only one of over 170 aromatic chemical found in real vanilla so at best it is a very pale imitation of vanilla.
You can also get vanilla flavouring from non-plant sources, in America, Castoreum, the exudate from the castor sacs of mature beavers, which in English is the smelly bits of a beavers arse! Yummy, but at least the American Food and Drug Administration are correct in permitting the label natural flavouring in a product’s list of ingredients.
As I mentioned earlier I bought some extract grade vanilla off ebay, 25 pods for about £3.50 with a view to making my own extract as was getting a bit low on my Costco bargain bottle. It’s not a bad idea to make your own extract, the savings are substantial and just as importantly you know what’s in it. Commercial varies can contain sugar, colouring or other adulterants (Beaver arse alert!).
Making vanilla extract is easy but you do need some patience or a forgetful nature.
- 25 (or thereabouts) Extract grade vanilla pods
- A bottle of vodka or base spirit
Drink some vodka:-) Split open your vanilla pods and scrape out the seeds and add them to the vodka. Add the beans. Stopper and shake, store somewhere dark for about two or three months shaking occasionally. It’s ready when you cannot smell the alcohol.
Splitting the vanilla pod is an indicator of how vanilla got its name…. Vanilla comes from the Spanish Vainilla meaning little pod (remember Cortes the homicidal maniac was the first importer of vanilla) which is a diminutive of the latin vaina, from the latin vagina (sheath) which describes the way the pod must be split open to expose the seeds. Which came as a suprise to me, though not as a big a suprise as vanilla flavouring from a beavers arse.
A lovely fat saucisson drying nicely
Although I have not posted much for a while I have not been inactive on the cooking front. It’s the season for making Saucisson, something which I blogged about in an earlier post that can be found here.
This year I got hold of some beef middle sausage casing, which means that the casing are much fatter than the ordinary hog casings which I used last year. The resulting Saucisson will be tastier and much less prone to drying out before they are consumed. They will take longer to be ready, I think about two months as opposed to one month for the hog casing variety. But as you can see from the photograph they are mottling up well with some white mould and are firming up nicely. I will let you know what they are like at the end of February or early March. Can’t wait!
Salted anchovies are Manna from heaven, at least to me. To the Romans anchovies made the base for Garum sauce a staple of their cuisine. All over the world Anchovies are consumed with enthusiasm, in Worcester Sauce in the UK, as Kozhuva in Kerala, or as n??c m?m in Vietnam.
Eaten fresh, dried, preserved in oil, brine or salt and used in a million and one ways, from a simple apero, on pizza (natch), and to enrich meat stews a supply of anchovies, nam pla, or Worcester sauce is an essential in any serious cook’s kitchen.
However a ready supply of anchovies doesn’t come cheap and the quality can be dodgy if you are not careful. The answer is to source and preserve your own anchovies, a frugal approach that will be a step up from anything you could buy from a supermarket.
Anchovies waiting for salt
Wandering through Super U are local supermarket last week I found fresh anchovies , in good condition for 5.95 Euro’s a kilo, OK if you want to give these little silver jewels away at that price I’m your man.
Back home a couple of hours late, no point in hanging around when it comes to fish, I am well underway in salting the lot.
To salt anchovies you need a couple of large glass jars, or any other container which is non-reactive with salt. Behead the anchovies, split and remove the guts, you can look up on the internet some fancy way of removing the heads to leave a nice finish, personally I just wield a sharp kitchen knife. Put some coarse sea salt in the bottom of your container, then snugly add a layer of anchovies, then more salt, then more anchovies until the jar is full. Simples
A jar of salted anchovies
Leave the lot with a weight on top, a piece of wood is ideal, or at least press down regularly to ensure the fish stay in contact with the preserving salt. After a minimum of 3 weeks, longer if you can wait they are ready to eat. They need soaking in fresh water for 20 minutes, and you need to take the backbone out but you will rewarded with a meaty fish that will taste stronger and more robust than their anaemic cousins swimming in oil from the local supermarket.
It’s not a lot of fuss to give it ago yourself; the hard part is sourcing the fresh anchovies. Will it make much difference to your cooking? I think so, you know when you go on holiday to somewhere Mediterranean and the stew, ragouts and sauces taste much better than at home, well one likely reason is the chef is adding in a couple of spoonful of mashed salted anchovies.
Back at the start of the year I started to make some Jambon Sec the post for that can be found here. I was planning on leaving the ham to hang for 6 months but with the recent warm weather and a ham feeling very firm to the touch I decided it was time for a little taste test.
This is not a problem with air dried ham as it is quite normal to eat what you want and rehang the meat, so it was with some excitement that I unhooked the ham which was now 4 months old. The ham unwrapped had no sign of any black mould, a good thing, and cut beautifully in to thin pink slices.
It ate very well, a little salty but still very acceptable and with a moreish taste! But after the initial saveur the purpose of the sampling came back to mind and after a bit more lip-smacking I realised that despite the warm weather the ham still needed another couple of months to bring it on to a perfect texture.
Still it was great to check how it was doing, Julie enjoyed a couple of small slices but didn’t eat a lot as she claimed she didn’t want to eat to much fat. I think the real reason was that she wanted to check that I didn’t drop down dead! As I am still around that is another little test duly passed.
Roll on July
As regular readers of this blog are aware, just before Christmas I bought half a Perigord pig from my butcher in Loches and I have been enjoying the meat ever since. Just after Christmas I thought I would try my hand at making Jambon Sec or air dried ham. It is something that I have wanted to try for a while but expense or opportunity has eluded me.
Making an air dried ham is a long term commitment as it will take a minimum of 6 months to be ready, ideally longer, but I know that there is no way I would be able to keep my hands off it for longer than 6 months!
A saltbox of Ham
I did some digging around on methodology, I knew it would be straightforward but I want to check salting times, cures etc. The research through up a range of possibilities; bone in or out? Keeping it in seemed to increase the likelihood of rot. How long to cure in salt? 3 days, 5 days per kilo, more? Get it wrong and the ham will be too salty. The use of sugar, aromatics, wine and vinegar washes? I was like a rabbit caught in headlights, all I want is to make a bloody ham, what to do…..
Well, I decided to lower the risk of rot by asking Sebastian my butcher to bone the leg, that left approximately 7 kilos of of meat. I decided to keep my first go simple and opted for a lightish cure with out additional aromatics or flavourings. I commandeered a plastic draw from the boiler room, a few strategically placed drill holes and I was ready.
Jambon drying in the wind
Super U our local supermarket was selling 10 kilo bags of sea salt so getting the salt together was a breeze. The meat nestled perfectly on to a bed of salt and 10 kilos was a just right. The whole lot was weighed down with a concrete block and the top of a sledgehammer and left for just under 4 weeks, and I just kept a watchful eye in case I needed to top up the salt level. A surprisingly large amount of liquid drained from the set up, but fortunately I had stored the ham in my workshop, one less hassle for Julie.
After 4 weeks I exhumed the ham from the salt, simply gave the whole joint a rinse under the tap and wrapped the joint in a single layer of muslin, as you can see it is now suspended in the rafters of my porch where safe from rain but exposed to a cooling breeze it will stay for at least the next 6 months. I will have to be patient but unfortunately I have reached the age where 6 months seems to flash by, in the meantime I will try not to drool to much
Jambon and Saucisson
Finally got round to making some Saucisson a couple of weeks ago and I have now got it together to do a post about it having been prevented by pressure of work and good old fashioned inertia.
Saucissons are air dried sausages, more commonly referred to in the UK as Salami. The process of making Saucisson is very similar to sausage making. Essentially you use good quality pork which is processed and stuffed into hog casings. An excellent how to is available here on the Guardian website.
Making your own Saucissons have two big advantages, one is price, the total cost per kilo is approximately 6 – 8 euros per kilo allowing compared to a quality shop bought product which is 12 – 15 euros per Kilo and an artisan saucisson considerable more. The second advantage is the fact that you have complete control over the quality of the meat being used, the flavouring and finishing of the product. The two advantages combined are frugal and gourmet, win-win
I didn’t follow the Guardian recipe exactly, I decided to make a double quantity based on about 2.5 Kilos of meat and fat but having two different flavours. It didn’t take me long to workout that life is too short to chop 2.5 kilos of meat into incy wincy pieces, the internal vision of some noble peasant earnestly chopping up their pork in to some beardy Guardian style Salami failed to resolve. Everything was going to go through the rough cut on the mincer.
Secondly I went to see my butcher…….”2 Kilo’s epaule du pork et 400gms du gras s’il tu plait” “quo” (why), so I explained making Saucisson …. recette … Guardian….
“Bonne idea” but you don’t want those cuts, this is what you need…….
So armed with the new cuts of meat, no fat, these cuts are “correct and have enough fat which has the right texture and flavour” and I was off.
Making and stuffing the Saucisson was straightforward the important thing is to get the quantity of salt correct at least 25gms to every Kilo.
So I have got on the go approximately 1.2 Kilos of Fennel and Black Pepper and 1.2 Kilos of Orange and Coriander.
Saucisson hanging in the porch
They are currently hanging to dry in my porch, it is important that they are exposed to the elements as drying action is caused by the wind rather than temperature. Drying will take about 3 to 4 weeks, they are ready when they have lost a third of their starting weight.
They are doing well, they have firmed up and are in the process of acquire a white bloom. Heres a picture showing progress at I think is week 3, as you can see white mould is developing nicely and they are noticeably skinner.
Mould developing on my Saucissons
The plan is to give about half of them away as Christmas presents to a select group of friends that could be described as Guinea Pigs and keep the rest for ourselves. I think a second batch will be needed to see us over the summer, I’ll get that organised in January or February.
Julie my partner has been busy making some Bresola in preparation for Christmas, I wanted to do it myself but just didn’t have time. I’ll try and persuade her to do a post, watch this space.
Other breaking news is that my butcher is selling forest reared pigs for 4 euro’s a kilo, I think a frugal approach is to buy half a pig and we are currently freeing up space in our freezer. One obvious thing to make is air dried ham, if I start it off around Christmas it should be ready for Easter, hmmm can’t wait.
Mushroom season has arrived and is now about to depart so I recently went hunting with my old friend Mrs McNeil and her Mum.
Cep Mushroom - L. Boletus Edulis
I have always had an interest in Mushrooms and have collected mushrooms since my late teens. When I had finished growing up in my late 20′s I even began to collect Mushrooms for culinary purposes. Something that I now do throughout the year. The highlight of the mushroom year is of course the Autumn and my principal target is the noble Cep or L. Boletus Edulis and other family members, around here that is commonly the Bay Bolete or L. Boletus Badius.
I’m very luck as my home is next to the Foret de Brouard a massive private forest owned by the Comte or some other noble titled person from St Aignan. Strictly speaking mushroom picking is not allowed but as I live next door and because I couldn’t give a damn whether a member of the aristocracy allows me to do something or not, I pick a modest amount anyway.
This year Mrs McNeil and my self where out and about quite late so we only caught the tail end of the season. I was pleased to go out with Mrs McNeil it is something that we agreed to do last season, she lacks confidence in recognising edible species but by targeting just a couple of gastronomic treats it was easy to demonstrate the distinct features of each mushroom.
In the space of a pleasant hour or so we managed to find a basket full and returned to chez nous.
The remaining decisions where what do we do with our prize? It didn’t take long to agree a lunch of wild mushroom risotto.
A basket of Ceps and Bays
I thought about posting a wild mushroom risotto recipe as part of this post but honestly,
I can not see the point there’s a wealth of decent Risotto recipes on the net, a decent one can be found here. But my tips for success are;
- Keep stirring.
- Use good quality stock
- A frugal approach is to use a Gran Padano cheese rather than Parmesan, tastes great and most people can not tell the difference.
- Use Carnoli rice rather than Arborio, Carnoli rice has a better taste but you have to watch it closely the doneness window is very small.
Perhaps you have your own tips, if so let me know as, I’m truth be told, I’m a bit of a beginner when it comes to making Risotto.
The rest we dried, simple enough to slice and to string up in the boiler room, a week later voila a supply of dried Ceps, tasty and frugal all year through and just as importantly I got to spend a lovely day with some close friends
Home Dried Ceps