Chapter 108: Bringing it all home to me

tortilla_de_patata_y_cebollaIt came natural to me, whenever I returned from some foreign trip and, having been introduced to some new food, that I should try to replicate the experience in our own kitchen. This I did at every opportunity. Whenever possible, I would ask the staff in a foreign restaurant for a recipe of something that I had been served for the first time. Sometimes, they refused, but on other occasions, they were only to pleased to tell me.

We are a family of cooks and we are willing to try anything new. Invariably our experiments have been successful.

Over many years, we have sampled almost every fare that is on offer. We changed our menus many times to include some favourite exotic recipe. Although it is not always possible to duplicate a dish appreciated overseas, we have come pretty close to the original, enough to enjoy what we have cooked.

We have devised recipes to suit ourselves, not so much the choice of ingredients, but the way ingredients are cooked. An example is the dish that is prepared in a fashion that enabled us all to go out on a Sunday morning to visit a Vide Grenier, or boot sale, and return home to a cooked Sunday dinner.

The joint is placed in the centre of a baking tray, whether it be a joint of beef, pork, lamb or a chicken. Two onions are chopped up and cooked for three minutes in the microwave. If no microwave, then fry them until they are soft but not brown. Cut carrots and parsnips into large sticks, slice two courgettes and pre-cook them for several minutes.

Peel and cut potatoes to shape and size of choice. According to size, parboil them and place all the vegetables in the pan surrounding the meat. Sprinkle herbs of your choice over the contents of the pan.

Put the pan in the oven and set the oven, on the timer, to cook at 220 C degrees for an hour and twenty minutes.

Make sure to arrive home a half an hour before the dinner is cooked to add sausages to the pan or to cook the Yorkshire Pudding.

tomato-1207570_640One dish I prepared at home was a Tomato Salad. I cannot remember where I had seen it. However, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

Two beef tomatoes (as ripe as possible)

One red onion (or Spanish onion)

One lemon, salt and ground pepper.

Method:

Thinly slice the tomatoes and place the slices of one of the tomatoes in the bottom of a deep dish. Thinly slice the red onion so as to produce onion rings. Sprinkle half the onion on top of the tomatoes. Season with salt and then some freshly ground pepper.

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice from one half on to the tomato and onion mix.

Now cover with the remaining tomato and onion and then season with salt and pepper and the juice of the other half lemon.

If possible, this should be prepare two days before being required.

I have a favourite spice mix which is suitable for use with almost any meat. It is an Arabic mixture called “baharat” which simply means spices.

Here are the basic ingredients that can be varied according to taste:

6 tablespoons of ground peppercorns.

6 tablespoons of paprika,

3 tablespoons of ground nutmeg,

3 tablespoons of ground coriander seeds,

3 tablespoons of cinnamon

3 tablespoons of ground cumin seeds

2 teaspoons of ground cardamom,

3 tablespoons of ground cloves.

Mix thoroughly and store in a jar. A teaspoon of the mix will go a long way. It is specially effective sprinkled on lamb prior to roasting.

Upon returning from holidays in Spain, we would cook ourselves some Spanish omelette.

Here’s a recipe:

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons of olive oil

1 medium onion finely sliced,

A small pepper (red or yellow) seeded and finely sliced.

A large potato, boiled and diced.

115 grams of sliced Chorizo sausage.

4 eggs.

Seasoning.

Using half the olive oil, cook the onions and peppers in a frying pan until they are softened.

Add the rest of the oil, the Chorizo and the potatoes and cook for several minutes. Turn down the heat.

Beat the eggs, well seasoned, in a bowl and then pour the eggs over the vegetable and sausage mixture. Rotate the pan to spread the egg mix evenly.

Cook for 6 minutes until the egg mix starts to set.

Place a suitably sized plate upside down on top of the omelette and turn the pan to allow the omelette to drop on to the plate.

Now slide the omelette back into the pan to cook the other side for three minutes.

Serve immediately.

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For some years, an Arabic friend of mine would, occasionally, cook a Moroccan Chicken Couscous for us. He would deliver the parcel to our office in London and I would take it home, almost 100 miles away.

We would re-heat the couscous and then thoroughly enjoy it.

Here’s a recipe:

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon of butter

1 tablespoon of cooking oil

Four Chicken thighs.

2 onions finely chopped

2 cloves of crushed garlic,

Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon

A quarter teaspoon of ground ginger

A quarter teaspoon of turmeric

2 tablespoons of orange juice.

One and a half pints of water.

Salt and pepper.

Heat the oil and butter in a deep pan.

Add the chicken pieces placing the skin down in the pan. Fry for 4 minutes, turn over the chicken pieces.

Add the onions, spices and garlic with a pinch of salt and pour on the water and the orange juice. Cover the pot and bring to the boil. When it starts to boil, lower the heat and allow to simmer for half and hour.

Now to prepare the Couscous:

Ingredients:

350 grams of Couscous.

1 teaspoon of salt

2 tablespoons of cooking oil

Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon,

A pinch of grated nutmeg,

2 tablespoons of sultanas,

50 grams of chopped, blanched, almonds.

3 Tablespoons of finely chopped pistachio nuts.

350 ml of water.

Put the Couscous, salted, into a bowl and pour over the water. Stir and leave for five minutes Then add one tablespoon of the oil, the cinnamon, nutmeg and sultanas and mix thoroughly.

Heat the other tablespoon of oil in a pan fry the almonds until they are golden. Add these to the couscous together with the pistachio nuts.

Now, line a steamer with greaseproof paper and fill with the couscous mix. Place over boiling water for ten minutes.

Transfer the couscous to a serving dish and place the chicken pieces on top. Pour over the some of the sauce

My father had a bookmark which he kept for many years. On it was a recipe that dates from 1900. It was for Scotch Collops. I think it might have been his reminder of home.

Here it is:

Ingredients:

Half a pound (227 grams) of buttock steak,

1 ounce (28 grams) of butter

1 onion chopped

half an ounce (14 grams) of flour

1 gill (14 centilitres) of stock or water

Pepper and salt

Half a teaspoon of chopped parsley.

Chop the meat finely, melt the butter in a saucepan, when hot, fry the onion slightly, then add the meat and stir over a hot fire till all are brown together. Sprinkle in the flour, stir again for a few minutes, then add the stock, and stir till boiling. Simmer all gently together for three-quarters of an hour. Season thoroughly, and add the parsley. Pour on to a hot dish, and garnish with little triangles of fried bread.

I think we have come a long way since then.

We now live in France, and have done for seven years (Terry wrote this in 2014). What is so surprising to us is that, although divided by only twenty-two miles of water, there is a considerable difference in what is available by way of food.

British products are only to be found in the supermarket where they allocate a shelf for the convenience the British Ex-patriot community. On these shelves can be found Marmite, Heinz Baked Beans, Crawford’s Cream Crackers and Worcester Sauce. I can, and do, survive without any of these, but the French seems to be able to survive without English cheese, bacon or Pork Pies. Of course, they have an enormous range of cheeses which I thoroughly enjoy, but there is nothing quite like our county hard cheeses, and Stilton, of course, is in a class of its own.

We have been unable to discover cream that is the equivalent of English single, double and clotted cream. Everything here seems to be labelled Crème Fraiche, whatever form it takes. However we have found Crème Cru, which is true cream and quite solid, a bit thicker than Yoghurt.

We grow our own herbs. In the herb garden, we have rosemary, thyme, marjoram, basil, chives, parsley and tarragon. We have a whole bed dedicated to the growing of garlic.

With a large crop of garlic, we have peeled a large part of the crop, minced the cloves with a small amount of salt and olive oil and have placed them in a large sealed jar. This will see us through the whole winter.

The green herbs, we chop as if to use them in a recipe and then pour olive oil over them. This mixture is then poured into a ice-cube tray and put in the freezer. When required, we pop out an ice plug of herbs and use it in our cooking.

However, what makes up for all these problems, in France, is the rich variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, a large variety of fresh meat and, of course, a wonderful collection of affordable wines. The neighbours are nice too, more on them in the next chapter.

© Terence Gallacher 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and terryseatingplaces.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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