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Food for free – what’s not to love? Foraging is one of life’s great pleasures and now we live in rural France, I’ve been taking full advantage of the numerous hedgerows. When we first arrived in June, there were elderflowers to gather and cordial to make. For the recipe, see here.

elderflower champagne elderflower cordial 2013

elderflower

Throughout the summer, we enjoyed wild mint in salads, raitas and cous cous.

But now autumn is on our doorstep it’s blackberry and rosehip time…

blackberries, rosehips and mint*disclaimer – the flowers are merely a bit of added pretty, I have no idea whether they are in fact suitable for use as a garnish.

Smushi Royal Cafe Copenhagen

‘Smushi’ at Royal Cafe Copenhagen

I think I’ve bored everyone silly mentioned in the past a) how much I LOVE my job and b) how much I ADORE absolutely everything Danish.

An all-expenses-paid trip to Copenhagen you say? Did I mention I LOVE my job?

Relae Copenhagen restaurant michelin star

Relae, Jaegersborggade, Copenhagen
http://www.restaurant-relae.dk/en/

I flirted briefly with the idea of reading Scandinavian studies at university but alas it was not to be. Mistake. Big Mistake. Huge. Why? Well, I spent years of my life learning Italian but no matter how immaculate my accent or how many colloquialisms I mastered, no one ever, not even once mistook me for an Italian.

Thanks to my blonde hair and English-rose complexion, for the year I spent in Florence, I was given English menus in restaurants, greeted in English in shops and cafes and even catcalled in English. It got a bit annoying to be honest. I just wanted to be able to blend in. I would have made the world’s worst spy.

However, if MI5 has an imminent posting to fill in Copenhagen, may I humbly suggest that I am the girl for the job? Everywhere I went in Copenhagen, people addressed me in Danish. A little awkward as I don’t speak any Danish – but refreshing. Here, I belong.

liquorice

Learning how to make liquorice at the Liquorice Festival, part of Wondercool Copenhagen http://www.wondercoolcopenhagen.com/

pork marinated in liquorice

Pork marinated in liquorice, at the liquorice festival – part of Wondercool Copenhagen, http://www.wondercoolcopenhagen.com/

The food is incredible, the interiors delicious. It’s all just so damn cool (and not just because it was snowing during my visit in February).

Mussels, gastro cruise Copenhagen

Mussels from Brussels on the Gastro Cruise, part of Wondercool Copenhagen http://www.wondercoolcopenhagen.com/

Gastro cruise Copenhagen

A chic stop on the Gastro Cruise
http://www.wondercoolcopenhagen.com/

The minute we get a new house, I am straight back on a plane with an empty suitcase – the shopping is out of this world. Special mention has to go to Illum (http://www.illum.dk/) and Hay (http://hay.dk/) where if I hadn’t been on the damn budget, I would have seriously abused my debit card.

Extra special thanks to Visit Copenhagen for inviting me – I had such a ball. Now, when do I move in? http://www.visitcopenhagen.com

Copenhagen Royal Copenhagen

Lust objects at Royal Copenhagen’s concept store http://www.royalcopenhagen.com/en

Copenhagen

Hygge in action at the Royal Copenhagen concept store

Room set up in the Royal Copenhagen flagship store

Copenhagen Danish pastries in the covered market

Danish pastries in the covered food market, (Torvehallerne), Israels Plads, Copenhagen

Copenhagen Nyhavn

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Our landlord’s peach tree simply couldn’t bear its own weight any longer. A single crack, the unmistakable sounds of birds in sudden flight and it was all over for the poor tree. I’m typing to the strains of chain saw on peach tree.

peach and thyme jam

Still, something had to be done with the fruit, and I was more than happy to oblige. These sudden gluts remind me of one of my favourite childhood books: Ruth Orbach’s Apple Pigs. We’ve had peaches for breakfast, peaches for lunch and still we have peaches. Time to realise my long held ambition to make jam.

I’m warning you now, this is a non-WI approved recipe. I took the easy route and just bought a pack of jam sugar from the supermarket, ready loaded with pectin and printed with simple instructions that even a novice like me can follow. Plus, I don’t have my sugar thermometer or any fancy equipment out here.

peach jam

So here we go, peach and thyme jam.

Makes three jars

1 kg ripe peaches, peeled, destoned and chopped into small pieces. As a guide, that was equivalent to 27 small whole peaches for me

3 sprigs of thyme, leaves only

One 500g pack jam sugar

Pop the fruit, thyme and sugar into a large saucepan and bring to the boil on a high heat. Let it bubble away for a good five minutes until the fruit is soft – the packet suggested three minutes, but I was unconvinced after three. If you’re unconvinced, take a teaspoonful and leave to cool. If it starts to set, it’s ready to go.

Pour into sterilised jars and screw on the lids. Leave to stand, flipping the jars after three minutes so the fruit sets evenly throughout the jar.

danish pastries: apple, blackberry and bay pastry with maple glaze

The Third series of The Killing has started and that can only mean one thing: I am back in the grip of my obsession with all things Scandinavian. I would love to go to Copenhagen, but that is not likely to happen any time soon, so instead I am swooshing my decidedly Scandinavian hair around (seriously I’ve been told on three separate occasions this week that I have Scandinavian hair?!) and eating all things Danish.

First up, Danish pastries. As per my general aversion to baking, these barely qualify as patisserie as I didn’t make my own pastry or my own jam. Jam making is one of those things that I yearn to do and one of the many things spurring me on to complete my saving mission. For where would I store a jam cauldron and half a dozen jam jars in my flat, not to mention the finished product? I already have a strict one in one out policy with tinned tomatoes. Still, if I did make jam, I would make blackberry and bay – for a start blackberries are free; easily plucked from plentiful brambles even in the city and a gentle flavouring of bay leaf cuts through the sharp-sweetness beautifully for extra warmth and depth.

At any rate, this is a deliciously simple recipe that can be knocked up in 20 minutes – perfect for last minute guests as there’s next to no mess involved, so you can whip these up without messing up the kitchen and, as long as you have a couple of apples knocking around, some jam in the cupboard and a roll of pastry in the freezer, you won’t even have to nip to the shops. They also fill the house with the scent of hot jam as they bake. If that’s not a welcome, I don’t know what is.

Serves: 5 (2 each)
One roll of puff pastry (I keep a stash in the freezer. It defrosts at room temperature in less than half an hour)

2 apples

Half a pot blackberry and bay jam

Maple syrup for glazing

Icing sugar for dusting
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Grease a couple of baking trays and set aside. Roll out your pastry and cut into 10 squares. Dollop a globule of jam into the centre of each square, making sure to leave the edges clear.

Fill a large bowl with cold water, then core and finely slice the apples – try to keep the slices as thin as you can get them. Pop each slice into the water as you go to stop them from turning brown (if you have a lemon, squeeze a little juice in the water for good measure).

When you are ready to assemble, scoop up four or five apple slices, dab dry and arrange into a fan, then pop them on top of the jam.

Bake in the oven for approx 15 minutes until the pastry has risen and turned golden brown. With a pastry brush, slap some maple syrup over each pastry so they gleam and glisten in the light. Finally, dust with icing sugar and serve lukewarm.

daube

The clocks have gone back, last night’s wind has blown the last of the leaves off the trees and sent them skidding and skating across the pavements, so I make it officially casserole time. There’s nothing quite like the soft comfort of a stew to banish the winter blues. My big sister hates them – it’s her worst nightmare. But for me, a stew is food heaven: add some mash and broccoli and I’m on cloud nine.

This baby is a recipe I associate with Belgium, but it’s just as popular in north-east France. This is a dish designed to bubble away all day in a marmite over the fire while madame tends to her chores (and that’s exactly what I did). A bowl of this will warm the cockles all right.

1 twirl of dried orange peel – simply dry on a baking tray in the oven at a low heat until hard and completely dry

500g stewing steak

2 carrots, sliced

A handful chopped celery

2 onions, chopped

A pack of lardons

1 large bottled of dark ale (Belgian of course)

500ml beef stock

A sprig of thyme

Oil for frying

Season the beef and brown on all sides in a large casserole, then set aside. In the same pan, fry the onions and lardons, then pop the beef back in, pour over the stock and the wine and throw in the carrots, celery, dried orange peel and thyme.

Leave to simmer for two-three hours or pop in the oven at 160C for the same amount of time. That sounds like a lot of expensive electricity (or gas) but I usually double or even triple up on oven time, cooking several dishes at once, then re-heat during the week on the hob or in the microwave.

Serve with mash and a lousy beer as you watch the rain batter against the windows.

Top tip: if you have any orange peel left, pop it in a bottle of olive oil and hey presto, you have orange oil! Great for gifting if you have a nice enough bottle to hand.

croque madame

There’s nothing quite like a lazy Sunday brunch. The husband and I *ahem* overindulged on Saturday so Sunday was all about feeding our craving for comfort food and watching comfort TV: it took two episodes of The Darling Buds of May and a bit of a Lovejoy before I could even muster up the energy to put a wash on.

Luckily I had some excess béchamel in the freezer, making this a cinch to make even with a bit of a head.

Serves: 2

For the béchamel (make a batch and keep in the freezer for lasagne, croque madames, cannelloni, macaroni cheese or mousakka)

50g butter

A heaped tbsp flour

1 bay leaf

1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

100g grated cheese (I usually use cheddar but any hard cheese will work)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

500ml milk (I use semi-skimmed)

1 egg

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat then stir in the flour to make a paste. Gradually add the milk, a splash at a time, and stir constantly until you’ve poured in all the milk. Throw in the bay leaf and nutmeg, grind over a twist of pepper and add the cheese. Stir constantly in a figure of eight, never letting the sauce boil until it thickens – this could take up to 10 minutes. If it still seems a little too runny, take off the heat and beat in an egg. Even it’s lovely and thick, an egg will add some scrumptious richness.

For the croque:

2 eggs

4 slices brown bread (well, brown is my preference anyway)

2 slices smoked ham

100g grated emmenthal cheese

Approx 100ml béchamel

A sprinkle of chopped chives if you have some to hand

Toast the bread, then spread all four slices with béchamel on one side. Make two ham sandwiches with your yummy béchamel-laden bread, then spoon the rest of the béchamel over the top of each sandwich. Sprinkle with cheese, then pop under a hot grill for 2-3 minutes, until the cheese has melted and browned.

Meanwhile, poach two eggs – I just crack the eggs straight into a saucepan of gently boiling water and fish them out with a slotted spoon after exactly two minutes. Then pat dry on a piece of kitchen towel, season, and pop on top of your bubbling crisp croque. Voila!

I can’t promise this will cure a hangover, but it will certainly help!

lamb stifado

I wanted to try something a little different for Bonfire Night this year; usually I make a chilli con carne—but it’s time for a change. Still, there are some fundamental rules when it comes to a winter party dish: it should always be something hot, of course—that’s a given—but it also needs to be able to look after itself, quietly simmering away as you greet your guests and furnish them with drinks. You can then dole it out as and when required, safe in the knowledge that it won’t spoil and latecomers won’t have to make do with a chilled, slightly congealed supper.

This is all conjecture – I had the flu this year, so no party for me, much less standing in the freezing cold watching fireworks, however much I may have wanted to. Instead, I am celebrating Diwali, that joyous festival that lights up our life as the days grow shorter.

A curry would be the obvious choice for a Hindu celebration, but instead I chose this warming stew, inspired by a dish I once tried in a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill. Sadly, the place no longer exists. Luckily, the flavour is still fresh in my mind: rich, velvety sauce spiked with warm spices with an aniseedy tang. Traditionally, of course, a stifado is made with beef, but somehow lamb feels more ‘Greek’ to me – plus the butcher was doing a special: I got a kilo of stewing lamb for just £6. I know, quel surprise!

Serves: 6

500g stewing lamb (ask your butcher what would be best)

12 shallots, peeled

A handful chopped celery

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 stick cinnamon

Half a bottle red wine

1 star anise

2 cloves

1 tsp oregano

A sprig rosemary

Half a tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

200ml stock (I used lamb, but use whatever you have)

2 tbsp tomato purée

In a large casserole, brown the lamb on all sides and set aside. Then brown the shallots and celery. Pop the lamb back in and quickly add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well, bring to the boil, then turn the heat down low and leave to simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Simples!

Top tip: to peel the shallots, drop them into a bowl of boiling water, cover and leave for five minutes – drain and rinse in cold water and the skin should just slide off.

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