Thursday, November 17, 2016

Eliza, The Lost Kitten

Eliza's tiny tabby form dashing across a heavily trafficked street was spotted by me during my morning walk this past Saturday. Unless you are familiar with the ways of a kitten, you may not realise that a kitten is essentially a baby on amphetamines. Therefore this post will be short and sweet because I hear a hungry mewling OR there's a rapid series of pinpricks up my legs which are clothed in two thicknesses of pants OR the strap dangling from my camera obviously exists only as a kitten plaything OR all three events are happening at the same time.

Embarrassingly pretty, she is probably about 3 months old, has a partial classic tabby bullseye pattern, and hazel eyes

As of yet we have been unable to find her owners. But at present she is snug and safe chez nous. Weekends is when I changed our bed linens so Eliza admirably assumed a supervisory role.

Those sheet corners are done well!

Dirac the Cat is slowly becoming accustomed to yet even more new fur following his introduction to Ernest the Stray Cat. After hissing and smacking her with his paw since her arrival, today he gently sniffed her nose while I held her which is a very good sign. They are still being kept in separate rooms until their meeting becomes more consistently amicable.

You haven't stuffed the duvet in its cover yet!

She found the first day with us fairly tough but she is adjusting well to her new surroundings and routine.

I prefer kitten food but this pillowcase will do.

The Calm One had made a large batch of his special macaroni and cheese awhile ago and there was some still in the freezer. Out it came, resplendent with its three different pasta shapes and cheeses. Not to mention frankfurter chunks. It got further adorned with a cheese topping and put under the broiler for a few minutes till a lovely crust formed.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Italian Pasta & Beans

The recipes of Rachel Roddy, a Rome-based food blogger and cookbook author, are noteworthy for their sheer doability. In this particular case, a simple technique of simmering pasta directly in a stew consisting of beans, garlic, rosemary, and tomatoes instead of just stirring in already cooked pasta made all the difference. However to do that enough flavoursome liquid is needed. She used the water from cooking dried beans. Since our larder only had canned ones, they along with dried porcini and the liquid in which the mushrooms were rehydrated went in the pot. Both crème fraîche  and Grana Padano were in our fridge so those were added also as finishing touches.

serves four

  • White beans, canned, about 660g (400 g drained) 
  • Olive oil, virgin, 5 T
  • Garlic, 2 fat cloves
  • Fresh rosemary, a few sprigs
  • Tomatoes, crushed/pulp (choose the best available, I used the brand, Cirio), 400 to 600g depending on desired consistency
  • Egg pasta, dried, small shapes (I used short, wide noodles), 220g
  • Porcini, dried, a small handful, and the water in which they were reconstituted
  • Crème fraîche, 2 T
  • Grana Padano, a large handful of shavings
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cover the porcini with hot water and let steep about ten minutes. Strain into a jug and repeat several times. Reserve the water. Coarsely chop the porcini.

Peel the garlic cloves and gently crush (I used a metal skimmer). In a medium-sized pot, warm the olive oil over a low flame and add the cloves. Stir for a couple of minutes or until fragrant and translucent.

Add the tomatoes, the rosemary, and the porcini. Simmer covered for ten minutes.

Add the rinsed, drained beans and several sloshes of the mushroom liquid and cook covered for another ten minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Toss in the pasta and add mushroom liquid until . . .

. . . all is well covered.

Cook until pasta is tender, about ten minutes. Mix in the crème fraîche.

Top with the Grana Padano shavings.

Taking a little over thirty minutes to do, this dish was delicious, comforting, and satisfying. I loved the luscious chunks of tender garlic.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ambling Towards Winter Solstice . . . and Ernest the stray cat

How is it possible to be so chilled out while working in our garden during chilly days? Snug cap, leather work gloves, flannel shirt, and fleece jacket help for sure, not to mention cups of hot cocoa, but mostly it is the calming nature of autumnal garden chores. Planting a cover crop of mustard seed is such a task. The annual veggie beds will benefit from living mulch by being protected against soil erosion during winter. Either the first hard frost or the battery-operated string trimmer eventually will fell the plants. The foliage then will be dug into the soil to enrich it. The incongruous sight of bright green popping up causes me to grin widely making my face resemble a crazed, carved pumpkin. Not that I wear orange pancake makeup. I swear I don't. Honest.

The middle bed along with the one in the upper right soon will be planted with overwintering onions/shallots/garlic

Fall colours sooth with their muted tones.

The bed filled with green is a mustard planting done about a month ago: it's a fast grower!

Abelia, a bush loved by bees, is holding some of its delicate, pink flowers, but their maroon sepals are even more of a visual treat.

Several remaining figs are ripening even as leaves yellow and fall from the tree.

There's enough to make a clafoutis with them. The recipe is here, just substitute ripe figs (halving or quartering them depending on size) for the blackberries.

Dirac the Cat is staying close by me these days because of his experiencing some emotional stress as he is no longer the only grey fur chez nous.

Dirac the Cat trying to photobomb the shot of the figs in the pan

Ernest the Stray Cat
started to hang around our garden about a month ago. Short-legged, bull-bodied, dog-eared, he has come a long way from being in a super-stressed statehe spent the summer darting into homes poaching food from resident felinesto my being able to pat his head. He is still too jittery for a trip to a veterinary clinic, so the main focus besides feeding him and keeping his crate situated under the pergola cozy with clean linen and blankets, is coaxing him into the sous sol which is where he is fed. However as soon as the door is closed, he stops eating and cries to go out. Hopefully he will become socialised soon enough to spend the night indoors if forecasted freezing temperatures do occur next week. For the most part, Ernest and Dirac are accepting of each other, usually touching noses when meeting, but at times, they both become unsettled during the slow process of Ernest adapting to his new home.

Sneaking a shot through a pot of zinnias

The foliage of the trumpet vine has turned a wonderful shade of gold.

It and some ivy cover one side of the pergola

Dahlias will flower right until the first killing frost.

That's a yucca in the foreground

Of all the different dahlias, my favourite form is the single one whose bonus is that they usually don't need staking.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Cinnamon Apple Almond Custard Tart

Apple. Almond. Autumn. And the soothing comfort of custard along with a bit of spice. This layered tart appeals to both the eye and tastebuds: a buttery crust with plucky, steep edges filled with ground almonds and apples slices, topped with a creamy garniture, and dusted with cinnamon.

For a 23 cm tart which gives 6 servings

  • Apple, large, 1 (a Granny Smith apple worked well in mine)
  • Almond meal (I prefer non-blanched for its texture, robust flavour, and its colour, but blanched will do), 75 g
  • Eggs, 2
  • Sugar, 5 T
  • Cornstarch, 1 T
  • Crème fraîche, 200 ml
  • Cinnamon to dust
  • Shortcrust pastry, all-butter, for a 9-inch tart pan, either homemade (see below) or store-bought

Ingredients for shortcrust pastry

  • Flour, white, 215 g
  • Salt 1/4 tsp
  • Butter, sweet, cold, 108 g
  • Water, ice-cold, 3 to 6 T depending on age of flour

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. If making the pastry, cut the butter in small pieces and add to the flour and salt. Work with your fingertips until you get the texture of coarse sand which takes several minutes. Add tablespoon by tablespoon of water until you can press the dough into a ball. Knead lightly about five times. Reserve in fridge while making the garniture. Whisk well the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, and crème fraîche.

Roll out the dough and carefully fit inside the tart pan.

With a knife scrape the lip of the pan clean of dough. The scraps can be frozen for future use.

Spread almond meal on the pastry.

Slice the apple in quarters. Core, peel, and slice thinly. Arrange a single layer on the almond meal.

Pour the liquid mixture over the apples.

Bake for thirty minutes. Dust with cinnamon. Let cool for ten minutes. Slice into six portions and reassemble them on a serving platter.

It's best served either warm or at room temperature.

Each bite was scrumptious!

À la prochaine!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cheesy Roasted Sweet Red Peppers & Tomatoes with Brown Rice

Rachel Roddy writes about Italian cooking beautifully. Her style caresses as it is easy to imagine yourself in her Roman kitchen with all those delicious smells wafting around you, like a comforting aura. And she knows her peppers. Slowly roasted, they are redolent with basil, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. My serving them over a bed of brown rice and topping with Grana Padano shavings provided a delicious supper.

Peppers, tomatoes & basil are from our potager

Despite our splendid Corno di Toro Rosso (bull horn) sweet red peppers having been sowed indoors February to get an early start, there is a good number which yet have not turned completely red. As nightly temperatures are cool though the days are still sunny and warm, the plants have been covered in horticultural fleece for protection against the cold. Hopefully all of them will have time to mature.

Basic information and ingredients are in bold. Preheat oven to 205 degrees C/400 degrees F. For two ample servings, rinse six medium Corno di Toro Rosso (or 3 large red bell peppers) and 6 small tomatoes.

For a decorative touch, the green stems can be left on. Split each pepper in half. Remove seeds and white membranes.

In September, a pot of basil was brought in from the patio to reside on a sunny windowsill

Simmer the tomatoes for a couple minutes and then dunk them in cold water. Lightly core and slip off the skins.

Put the peppers cut-side-up in a baking dish lightly coated with olive oil. Peel and thinly slice two fat garlic cloves. Cut the tomatoes in half. Pluck about 36 small leaves from a bunch of basil. Salt the halves, distribute equally the basil, garlic, and the tomatoes. Salt again. Pour a total of 50 ml/2 fluid oz of olive oil into the hollows of the peppers.

Roast for about thirty minutes. Lower temperature to 170 degrees C/335 degrees F for another 30 minutes. If peppers are thick, then more time may be needed. Lift peppers onto a plate and arrange several Grana Padano shavings in each half.

Stir in two cups (total of 473 ml/16 fluid oz) of cooked rice in the roasting pan. Mix the rice well with the drippings.

Mound the rice and cover with the peppers.

The peppers delighted with their gooeyness, jam-like sweetness, and charred edges.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Mash 'o' Nine Sorts

As the end of harvesting nears, nothing is better than a warming dish of Mash 'o' Nine Sorts for celebrating seasonal abundance. Nine refers to the number of ingredients (the seasoning is counted as one), of which five are autumnal vegetables, and sorts refer to the chance of getting a portion that had a ring secreted in it. Cheddar, butter, and cream bind it together. Salt and freshly ground black pepper is all that is needed to accentuate its earthiness. Sporting a surface speckled with green, orange, yellow, and tiny bursts of red, my version, made from what recently has been harvested from our potager, could stand on its own decoratively, but two carrots shaped from their mash brightens it further.

Shallots, beet greens, potatoes & pumpkin came from our potager

Some of our harvested pumpkins had streaks of green so they were left out during the day in the sunshine to turn fully orange.

Hard stalks and skin are signs that they are ready to be harvested

Scrub well. Slicing off the stem end enables easier quartering. Scrape away the seeds and peel the quarters.

Ingredients and basic information are in bold. Put a medium-large pot of water on the boil. Chop into chunks 1 large carrot, 3 large potatoes, and a small pumpkin (the size of a cantaloupe). Add the carrots first for about five minutes, then the pumpkin for another five minutes, and finally the potatoes. Simmer till all are tender. Drain and return to pot. Over low heat, while gently shaking the pan, carefully dry out the veggies which takes a few minutes. Put them temporarily in a 23 cm/9-inch pie plate. Preheat oven to 177 degrees C/350 degrees F. Finely chop a small handful of trimmed beet leaves and five shallots. Saute them, using the same pot in which the veggies were cooked, in 2 T of butter for a few minutes. Return the other veggies, reserving about ten carrot chunks and a few bits of beet greens for the decoration, to the same pot. Wipe clean the pie plate and butter it.

Oh, the wonderful smell these veggies emitted when being mashed! I wanted to dive into the bowl head first. I went the lumpy route but if a smoother texture is desired, then a ricer would work.

Add 2 T of cream and 10 heaping tablespoons of grated cheddar. Mix well and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Mash the reserved carrots and shape on a plate. Add the reserved beet greens. Play around till you get the design you want.

Put the mash in the buttered pie plate. Tuck in a ring if you wish. Smooth the surface. Using a small spoon, transfer the carrot mash in portions. Perfect the shape by making the ends pointy and the tops thicker and rounded. Add the green leaves. Bake from thirty to forty minutes or till well browned. I didn't budge too far from the kitchen while it was baking, because my nose was so regaled by the comforting fragrance being emitted, that it told me to stay put.

It is delicious served hot, tepid, and cold. In the last case, some thin ham slices would be a perfect accompaniment.

In the garden, potted zinnias are providing a vivid flash of colour.

À la prochaine!