Fish Pie for Supper

IMG_3879

Armed with cod, salmon, prawns, a monkfish tail, a nice piece of smoked haddock that I’d been saving in the freezer for just this purpose (as rare as hens teeth in these parts of France) I felt that it was time for fish pie.

I’m sure that we’ve all got our own recipes for fish pie, and I’m no exception.

It changes depending on what fish I’ve got, but the basics remain the same.

Fish cut into generous chunks, scattered with fat prawns, a lemony white-wine based sauce, mashed potatoes blended with butter, cream and chopped chives, and a final topping of parmesan and breadcrumbs.

I convince myself that because fish is so good for us that the butter, cream and mashed potatoes don’t count. Of course they don’t.

Probably because we live so far from the sea, good fish is a luxury here, and when I find it I snap it up and freeze it until my stash is large and varied enough for this. When the event horizon is reached, it’s time for a cook-up.

And because we don’t have it often, it feels like a real treat.

Fish pie for supper with a nice glass of chilled Sancerre. Luxury!

A Pudding in the Pantry

IMG_0577.JPG

The weekend dawned warm and humid, and as the day progressed the temperature rapidly climbed into the thirties.

This on a date in late October when it would normally be struggling to hit ten degrees centigrade. People locally had started lighting their fires and knitting socks for the winter. I was starting to worry that the wood stash hadn’t arrived.

So I’ve done it again. I’ve chosen the hottest October day in this part of France since 1954 to boil the hell out of three Christmas puddings.

It’s a gift. Clearly.

Having said that, I have to admit that there are certain compensations.

I am smug, smug, smug at having three plump puddings sitting in my pantry looking luscious, all ready for Christmas. Full of sultanas, figs, apricot, apple, sugared orange peel, nutmeg and orange-scented brandy.

You can’t beat a homemade Christmas pudding.

Pickled for England

IMG_0517.JPG

October is well underway and with it comes the time for putting up the foodstuffs for the festive season.

For the Luffy household this means time to make the Christmas Puddings and pickles so that they have time to mature nicely over the next few months ready for December opening.

Today has been pickling day, and I’ve spent the morning peeling little silver skin onions until my fingers smart. This is the tedious bit. They’re now sitting, salted in a bowl, ready for the spiced vinegar to be added.

French folks don’t do pickled onions, but thankfully I can get all the individual components here even though they wouldn’t dream of combining them. Everything that is except malt vinegar, which I suspect my neighbours wouldn’t clean their floors with. I remember once trying to explain malt vinegar to a neighbour and the look of horror that passed over her face was an education.

So I use apple cider vinegar with peppercorns, ginger, mustard seeds and bay leaves, and a very nice jar of pickled onions it makes too.

And if the French neighbours won’t eat them, well, that’s all the more for us.

I like to think that there is a small corner of the Gers that is pickled for England :-)

A sticky chicken dinner

IMG_0508.JPG

Sometimes when it’s cold, blustery and raining here in London of an early evening, only comfort food will do.

And it’s certainly been cold and rainy here for the past two nights.

In the absence of being able to whip up bowfuls of mashed potatoes with cheese- being in a hotel during the week as I am- the next best thing is sweet and sour chicken and rice from Kam Fung, my new favourite Chinese restaurant in Holborn.

With the rain drizzling down, a quick dash into this welcoming, slightly shabby restaurant with its pink polyester tablecloths and bottles of soy sauce on the tables is curiously comforting.

I’m sure that there’s absolutely zero about this meal that’s healthy.

Much as I’ve tried, I’ve not been able to convince myself that this deep fried, sugar and starch laden plateful rings any bells with the vitamin brigade.

I can’t see that the sauce is glistening with anything other than sweetly sour wickedness, and probably more MSG than it’s sensible to think about.

But oh, it does taste good.

The Funky Parrot

photo-27

Wine is an important part of life here in the Luffy household, and over the years partner and I have tried many ways of opening it.

We’ve tried butterfly openers, waiters friends, vacuum devices and implements that seem more suited to a life as instruments of torture.

Some didn’t work well at all, some fell apart after a few uses, most were okay but not great, and all-in-all we’d never found that opener with that special something.

Until now.

Enter stage left the Funky Parrot.

In essence a waiters friend, this Alessi-designed device works excellently, is formed of a wonderfully rubbery material that sits comfortably in the hand, and looks like a parrot with a cunningly curved foil cutter as it’s crest. And last but not least it’s hand-painted all over with psychedelic dots like an explosion in a paint factory.

At last an opener that works excellently and that expresses so vividly the “joie de vivre” of opening a bottle of good wine as well as the excellent good taste of it’s buyer.

Should I be worried that a device such as this tells you everything you need to know about it’s owner?

Don’t diss the funky parrot :-)

Walnut Production

IMG_0497

I managed to get down to the old tree at the bottom of our garden at last this morning to pick a few walnuts.

Not a bad haul for ten minutes picking, I thought. My back won’t thank me later but it’s but once a year.

Elegantly attired with plastic bags over each hand – I couldn’t find any rubber gloves in the house – I then spent an hour in glorious sunshine pulling the husks off the nuts and spreading them out on trays to dry off.

Organic – definitely. This tree has never been treated or sprayed and the nuts are straight from the branches as nature intended.

Delicious – absolutely. Whilst still fresh they are milky and quite sweet compared to the slightly bitter dried nuts you buy in the shops.

Autumnal – super-seasonal. What could possibly be more autumnal than picking and eating your own nuts.

Versatile – you bet. These will be used on ice cream, in cakes and in salads.

I used to be a bit blasé and uninterested, but as the years march on I’m feeling more and more lucky to have a productive walnut tree :-)

IMG_0502

Potimarron Season

IMG_0492

Potimarron (also called red kuri squash in Japan and other parts of the world) is a small, orange-fleshed squash with a hint of the flavour and nutty sweetness of chestnuts.

As September progresses, the local markets fill with these little orange jewels and they are prized by the locals for their taste and versatility.

And whereas partner won’t touch pumpkin – potimarron’s big rather overblown cousin – he does like these. Which is a big win-win for Luffy who would roast, bake and puree these like a dervish whilst they’re available given half the chance.

Today I’m going to scoop out the seeds and slice the flesh into chunks which I’ll lay out on a parchment-covered baking tin ready for roasting.

I’ll then add peeled chestnuts, garlic cloves and red onions, season generously, drizzle the lot with olive oil and bake for 30-40 minutes until faintly charred and soft.

I love this time of the year with all it’s orange-fleshed bounty and the return of the oven.