Thursday, 30 July 2009

Food Stamps

What's happened to post offices? I remember getting a choice of stamps or having a first day cover stamped. Now if you can find the post office tucked into the back of some totally unrelated store usually a pharmacy, you are lucky to even see a stamp. We all just accept the printed sticker indicating the postage paid. I say, "bring back stamps" if we are paying that much to send a letter at least we can have a stamp. Some countries still have interesting stamps and pictured is a wonderful effort from the French post office. Each stamp depicts a square of chocolate and together the sheet of ten stamps represents a block of chocolate sitting in its wrapper. Best of all the sheet is impregnated with the scent of chocolate. No scratch and sniff, the smell of chocolate, admittedly a chocolate one associates with cheap Easter eggs, wafts out all by itself.
Maybe these stamps are too interesting to stick on an envelope?

Saturday, 25 July 2009


For three weeks I've been picking raspberries. There is just a small patch of canes in our garden and each time I pick, often twice a day, I have at least 6 cups of berries, so my refrigerator is filling up fast. I am eating them plain, with delicious sheep's milk yogurt and I’ve made two summer puddings, more about them later. Today I've decided to make a fool. This is perfect dessert when you have an excess of fresh berries and it doesn't matter if they are squished or very ripe as you just crush the fruit and mix it with sugar and cream.

Many people believe that the word fool came from the French fouler meaning to crush or press, but it's not true. Fools are a very English dessert and name is a nonsense name like trifle. Fool suggests a light, frivolous dessert, perfect for a summer evening. Whatever the origin of its name, fool is simple and delicious.
I started with two generous cups of very ripe berries that I mixed with some sugar and let them macerate for an hour or so. Then I put the berries through the finest grill of my moulin (French food mill). You could push them through a fine sieve or just mash them but I like to remove most of the seeds. While edible, the seeds always end up stuck in my teeth, just like poppy seeds. Check the sweetness of your purée and add some icing/confectioner's sugar to sweeten to your taste. The icing sugar has cornflour so it helps thicken the purée. Now add a squeeze of lemon, or a pinch of salt, just to intensify the flavour and chill again. Meanwhile, whip about 325ml (1 1/2 cups) of whipping cream and then gently fold the two together but not too much, you want to a marbled effect. Now spoon the mixture into individual dishes or a serving bowl and chill until ready to serve.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Red Currants

The red currants in my garden are ripening fast so I've been picking regularly for the last few days and carefully storing them in my refrigerator. I am waiting until I have enough raspberries that are ripening very slowly, to make a summer pudding. In the meantime I've added a handful of currants to a bowl of strawberries, their acidity enhances the strawberry flavour. Now that I am running out of bowls I decided to make a red currant ice. I followed the method outlined in Harold McGee's The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore.
He has a very good chapter explaining fruit ices with tables giving the proportions of sugar and water to add to your fruit. It is an excellent place to start when making ices.I blended about 2 1/4 pounds/1 kg of fruit, stems and all, and ended up with just over 2 cups/500 ml of strained juice. I let the strained juice stand so any debris settled to the bottom and then poured off the clear juice into a clean measuring cup. Then I added 1 cup/200g of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water stirring until the sugar dissolved. I left this mixture in the refrigerator overnight and churned it this morning.
It is exactly the sort of ice I like, tart, refreshing and can be scooped straight from the freezer.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Ne Touchez pas mes dimanches Sarko

I just read this post by Charles Bremner of the London Times. Will France follow us into the destruction of Sundays? Let’s hope not, or else I may have to consider Italy or Spain.
Although there are some advantages to the way of life on this side of the Atlantic there are also disadvantages. M. Sarkozy might want to seriously reconsider his love of all things American and look at what is happening to the health of the younger generation in France as they adopt a North American eating habits.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Ice cream

It was my husband who suggested gooseberry ice cream. Can't think why I hadn't thought of it before, I am always looking for other ways to use my gooseberries. Not enough to bother with jam, plus I don't eat much jam only marmalade so I end up freezing my excess berries and then forgetting about them.
I cooked up about 900 g/2 lbs of berries with about 100g / 1/2 cup sugar and when they were soft I pushed them through a sieve and let it cool.
I made a custard base yesterday
250 ml each of whole milk and whipping cream just bought to a boil.
I whisked together 4 egg yolks, 65 g / 1/3 cup sugar and a pinch of sea salt until light. Whisk in the cream mixture and return to a clean pan and cook over medium heat stirring until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Then strained the custard into bowl set in a larger bowl filled with ice and a little water to cool the custard quickly. As I stirred the custard to cool it I added the chilled gooseberry purée and checked the sweetness. I always refrigerate my ice cream mixtures overnight so the flavours can blend. This morning I poured it into my ice cream maker and churned it while checking out the scenery on this stage of Le Tour de France.Then I put into my freezer to firm up. Here it is -

It was delicious.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

More Gooseberries

There were lots of gooseberries at the market this morning and at $5 a small box I should have opened my own stand! Perhaps gooseberries are finally catching on here, but I am not sure. Most people, even expert foodies, don’t know what to do with them. However,  one of the great things about food is that there is always something new to learn. I topped and tailed my first harvest while watching the BBC news although 30 minutes it wasn’t long enough and I found myself working right through the French news too. So be warned, it will take you a good hour to do 1 kg of gooseberries.
Gooseberries keep well in the refrigerator and also freeze well. I found some in the bottom of my freezer that I’d frozen last year, about 450 g so I put them in a frying pan added 50 g (1/4 cup) of sugar and cooked them gently and till they became very soft. Then I rubbed them through a sieve, I’d been lazy last year and frozen them straight from the bush. This yielded about 250 ml of smooth puree that I'll turn into gooseberry fool by mixing it with about 175 ml of whipping cream, whipped. Check the tartness of your fruit, mine need a little more sweetness so I added some icing sugar, which thickened the puree too. Next on the gooseberry recipe list is ice cream.

Anton Chekhov also loved gooseberries -
“And he would dream of garden-walls, flowers, fruits, nests, carp in the pond, don't you know, and all the rest of it. These fantasies of his used to vary according to the advertisements he found, but somehow there was always a gooseberry-bush in every one. Not a house, not a romantic spot could he imagine without its gooseberry-bush”.