The man of the house is currently brushing up on his French skills and this means getting me to help him with his homework. Once upon a time, this would have been easy, but the passing of time means my brain doesn’t operate in French as well as it used to (or, indeed, as I imagined it once did). I’ve been feeling quite depressed about this, but am consoling myself with the fact that my menu French is still better than his. And when I looked up the Larousse to get a proper dictionary definition of ‘pate’, I didn’t need another dictionary to explain the answer. So I can’t be too badly off, can I?
Smoked salmon and wasabi pate
For the record, Larousse defines ‘pate’ as ‘preparation de charcuterie de texture tres variable et composee de viandes et d’abats en morceaux ou en pate fine et de differents ingredients’ and you don’t need to know much French to figure out that there are (mercifully) no ‘viandes’ (or ‘abats’ – organs) in a smoked salmon version. But I had to call it something other than ‘a sort of spread-y thing you can have on toast or crackers or on little bits of cucumber like an 80s canape’, didn’t I?
This is inspired by something in Jamie Oliver’s book on British food – he makes something similar with smoked trout and horseradish and serves it with baby Yorkshire puddings. And cor blimey, guv’nor, it is bloomin’ lovely. Or c’est absolument delicieux, as our French friends would say.
150g cream cheese, softened
1/4 – 1 tsp wasabi paste
150g hot smoked salmon
finely grated zest of a lemon, plus its juice
a couple of teaspoons of finely chopped dill or mint
Put the cream cheese, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon of wasabi in a small bowl and beat with a fork until smooth. Taste it for hotness – the wasabi should be present, but not overpowering. Keep adding it until you think it’s about right. Flake in the hot smoked salmon and dill or mint. Fold it into the cream cheese, adding a little lemon juice if it seems a bit stiff. Taste again for seasoning – add some salt and freshly cracked black pepper until the balance is right. Scrape into a little bowl and cover, then store in the fridge. Makes enough for six people as a canape, with enough for one lucky person to have on toast the next morning.
Bonne semaine, tout le monde!
Of all the festive season leftovers, half-drunk bottles of wine are probably the hardest to deal with. Drinking them is the obvious solution, but there’s only so much of that you can do before things get a bit messy. Freezing them in neat containers to add to risotto is another option that only works if your freezer isn’t full of containers of stock you made from the ham bone. But in a bid to make some space in the fridge I devised this handy syrup that uses up the remains of a bottle of pinot noir and some strawberry jam. Even better, it can be poured over leftover icecream.
Red wine and strawberry syrup
This is really good poured over vanilla icecream and strawberries for a grown-up sundae, but you could also try it over pancakes or any kind of plain cake. I used strawberry jam because that’s what we had, but another good fruity variety would work well. Not sure about raspberry though, unless you don’t mind the pips. I’m quite keen to try one with white wine and marmalade, but we never seem to have any white wine left over…
250ml red wine
1/2 cup strawberry or raspberry jam
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
Put the wine, jam and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes, until syrupy (stirring occasionally). Remove from the heat and let cool, then taste. Add the vinegar (or a few drops of lemon juice) if it seems too sweet. Pour into a clean jar and store in the fridge.
Have a great weekend, everyone x
One of the things I love about the Boy Wonder is his gregariousness. In his gung-ho reporter days he’d winkle stories out of anyone – if they were bad eggs it was often to their regret – and I used to give him a stern talking-to before we went anywhere so he wouldn’t accidentally-on-purpose interrogate my friends.
“I can’t help it,” he’d say. “People just tell me things.”
If he’s not making people divulge their life story, he’s probably telling them to come over for a drink. At times last summer I felt like we were running a bar and I was a short order canape maker. I came across these photos the other day and remembered churning out lots of these little cheesy puffs. I think I’m just about ready to make them again.
I’ve made these for years in all sorts of places, some better equipped than others. While beating the mixture in a food processor does make it a bit easier, I think the hassle of washing all the parts afterwards is hardly worth it. Equip yourself with a sturdy wooden spoon and go to it. Line the tray with baking paper and you’ll only have one pot to wash.
Gougeres are orginally from Burgundy and if you’re doing them the proper French way you should use gruyere. But I say, use whatever cheese comes to hand. No one will complain, trust me.
1 cup (250ml) water
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (155g) flour
3/4 cup grated cheese
Heat the oven to 210C and line a tray with nonstick baking paper.
Put the butter, water and salt in a large pot and bring to the boil. When the butter has melted, tip in the flour and stir well. Turn down the heat and keep stirring until the dough forms a ball. Keep stirring this ball around the pot for about another minute, then remove from the heat and add one of the eggs. Beat like fury until it is all amalgamated, then repeat with the remaining eggs, one at a time. When the mixture is smooth and shiny, beat in the cheese.
Scrape spoonful-sized heaps onto the baking tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the gougeres are golden and puffed up. Eat immediately with a glass of something cold.
Do you have a favourite recipe for what Nigella calls ‘unhappy hour’?
I’m not in the habit of cocktails on a Monday morning, so let me assure you I made this last night. I’m not in the habit of drinking cocktails on a Sunday night either, but it seemed a fitting thing to do after a very good weekend. The sun shone, I got an unexpected windfall from the tax man, I got an unexpected VIP ticket to WOW and – most exciting of all – the dishwasher man finally turned up.
From where I am sitting (even with a slight pounding in my head), the glass is most definitely half full.
Cocktails were the theme for September’s We Should Cocoa and I have been watching cocktail-themed recipes pop up all over the blog world, unable to come up with anything clever myself. So, rather late in the piece, I have gone back to basics with a chocolate martini. I’ve based the recipe on something an old friend used to make when I was a beginner journalist (with a far greater tolerance for alcohol), but substituted vanilla syrup for creme de cacao.
90ml (2 shots) good quality vodka, ice cold
45 ml (1 shot) good quality vodka syrup (I like this one or this one)
1 chocolate – or square of dark chocolate
Shake the vodka and vanilla syrup together over ice (a jam jar will do, if your cocktail shaking days are behind you). Put the chocolate into a chilled martini glass and pour the vodka and vanilla mix on top. Drink slowly, remembering the words of Dorothy Parker:
“I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
after four I’m under my host.”
Have a great Monday, everyone. Cheers!
… three tequila, floor. Right? Well, not necessarily. At least, not when it’s Sunday afternoon and you are mindful of driving home. But it turns out that there’s mucho mucho more to tequila than those bottles of Jose Cuervo you see in recycling bins outside student flats. Real tequila, which has the same sort of ‘terroir’ status as Parma ham or roquefort, is smooth and smoky and eminently drinkable.
You can learn more about my local Mexican joint and the tequila they serve here, but the best way to learn more about tequila is to go there and try them for yourself. Go on, it’ll be fun. Just don’t ask me to drive you home.
My tequila tasting was followed by a quick lesson in tortilla making. Now, I think I am pretty good at flatbreads, but these were something else, thanks mainly to the white masa harina (corn flour) they were made from. Watching the chef make them was also fascinating, not least because he had a cast iron tortilla press. It was a thing of beauty, a perfect example of a piece of kitchen kit designed to do a specific job. The person I was sitting next to turned to me and said: “you want one, don’t you?” I nodded, starry-eyed and we laughed as only two strangers who have been tasting tequila together can.
“Tortilla presses: the new pasta machines,” she said.
Now, I don’t have a pasta machine, but it did make me think. What bits of job-specific kitchen kit could you not live without, and what bits just take up space in your cupboards? (Not that a tortilla press would take up much room, right?)