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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.

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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.

‘Windfall’ – what a wonderful word; unexpected riches. In this case it happened quite literally. An almighty storm, where lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and rain dashed against the windows.

unripe plum and apple chutney The husband and I looked on in glee – oohing and aahing at nature’s fireworks from the shelter of the porch.

The next morning, we woke to calm and a crisp freshness, as if the world had been through the washing machine and was now gently flapping on the line.

A neighbour’s plum tree, its boughs heavy with fruit, had not withstood the battering, and spilled its bounty prematurely all over the road. ‘Chutney,’ thought I, and duly headed out with a colander.

green plums, unripe plums

The two kilos I purloined have barely made an impact on the piles still lining the roadside, but I like to think I have at least saved some of these beauties from going to waste.

Chutney is an exercise in delayed gratification – never my strong point – as you are supposed to leave it to mature for a few months. Hence, I can’t in truth tell you whether this adapted recipe – my first ever chutney – is any good. Roll on the grand unveiling at Christmas.

Spiced green plum and apple chutney

2 kilos unripe plums, stoned and diced

1.2 kilos apples, peeled, cored and diced

150g sultanas

6 small onions, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

A good knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp mustard seeds

A healthy sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg

Ditto black pepper

1.5 tsp salt

1 tsp mixed spice

0.25 tsp ground cloves

3 dried chillies, crushed

1.5 cups cider vinegar

0.5 cup red wine vinegar

3 cups dark brown soft sugar

In a huge pan, soften the onions, ginger and garlic in a teaspoon of water for a couple of minutes, and add the mustard seeds. Once the onions are translucent, pile in the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil.

Simmer, stirring occasionally for a good two hours until the fruit is soft and sticky, thick and gloopy.

In another enormous pan, boil about an inch of water with the lid on, then pop all your jars and lids in to sterilise. Fish them out with tongs, lay them out on a clean teatowel, then fill with chutney, topping with a layer of baking paper before screwing the lids on tight.

Leave to mature in a cool place for three-four months before enjoying with cold meats and cheese.

smoked salmon pate

So part two of my Scandinavian series (don’t worry it’s pretty short as seasons go) is one of my all time favourites: smoked salmon pâté.

As regular readers will know, there’s nothing I like more over here on LoveRichCashPoor than a little ‘dodge’ that makes something expensive go that little bit further, yet still feels indulgent and tastes delicious. This is one such recipe.

You could make this with the smoked salmon ‘off cuts’ you can pick up for a song in Sainsbury’s. I didn’t because the real deal was on offer and I needed some for another dish.

Of course, if I was being properly Scandinavian, I would serve this with Rye Bread, but I had a white loaf waiting to be used up and I’m not one for unnecessary purchases.
Serves: 4

2 slices of smoked salmon

Half a tub of crème fraîche

1 squeeze of lemon

2 tsps grated horseradish

Chopped chives

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Pop the salmon, crème fraîche, lemon and horseradish in a blender and whizz until smooth. Garnish this perfectly pink paste with chives and, if you’re as addicted to horseradish as I am, a sprinkling of extra fire.

Serve with bread and pickles or spread on blinis.

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!

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