Left-field History From WWII

2168491288_4c3b78f44b_oSo, I’m re-writing the in-house brochure telling people what to recycle and how to use the wi-fi, et al, and thought I’d stick some history in. I know most of it pretty well, the 11th century chateau up the road that the Bretons built to keep the Norman/English out (they failed, which is why I’m now in Normandy). The house being built in around 1680 (yes, Americans, I’m in a house that is about 100 years older than your country), the farm stopping production in 1911, but continuing being a cider and Calvados orchard until the 1980s. The various family ownerships ever since. All the things we’ve done to it since 1992.

However, I was slightly hazy about WWII. I knew it had been a billet for German troops during the occupation and battle of Normandy. I also knew the unit, the 90th Division of the US Army, which led the liberation of the local area. What I have just discovered, however, is that the bridges nearby were specifically liberated by an armoured spearhead led by a Lt-Colonel Randolph. Coincidoncally (sic), that happens to be a family name. The Randolphs of West Virginia are quite close cousins of mine, at least they are if you go back about 200 years. I might have to investigate at some point – it’d be much more interesting than the complete kitchen rebuild I have to complete inside the 11 days I have left before the season starts…

[pic: the view from the hospital in Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouet after the Allied bombings in July 1944]

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Harden up!

I seem to quite regularly see motivational posters and slogans, usually posted by Crossfit fanatics, that tell you that you need to harden up those slack, loose bits of your body.

My arteries were feeling slack, so I decided I needed them to harden.

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Full English, French-style. Toulouse sausage, streaky bacon, butter fried field mushrooms, bakes beans, plum tomatoes, roast potato pieces and a fried duck egg. It’s been one of those weeks.

Posh Fish Fingers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome foods evoke memories of youth, fish fingers are definitely one of these for me. I had some gorgeous fresh sashimi-quality tuna that needed eating up. I figured “why not?” and made posh fish fingers for a fish finger sandwich – each is a fat rectangular sliver of pure tuna fillet, breaded with a slightly ginger crumb.

 

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish Tacos

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The fact that my fishmonger’s new assistant looks slightly like Amber Heard has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I’ve been mucking about with fish an awful lot recently.

So, today, since my adventures in tasting menu heaven were sadly curtailed due to the guest of honour’s ill-health, I took another look at one of my fishy standbys:  tacos with mojito salsa.

So, by way of a starting point, make a fish chilli, just like you would a beef one, but substitute a tender white flaky fish. I’m using flounder, and since it is fresh, pale and tender (rather like the fishmonger’s assistant), it doesn’t need to be over-cooked, so I’ll add it last. Lightly fry some garlic, onions & chopped chilli peppers, before adding red kidney beans, and finally chopped tomatoes (I’m using fresh chopped cherry tomatoes and a bit of passata today) and a little tabasco, maybe a tiny bit of coriander (though there is plenty elsewhere, so maybe not). Simmer and stir for 8 minutes or so, then add the fish, chopped into small chunks (it’ll break apart anyway). About another ten minutes on a medium heat should probably do it. An alternative to a white flaky fish would be fresh sardines as they hold up to these flavours pretty well too.

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Now it’s time for the salsa, and this is the bit that makes this dish. Lots of yummy fresh, sparkly ingredients. As you can see, I’ve got garlic, onion, radishes, green apples, celery, peppers and fresh coriander, and it gets blitzed, along with one mojito. Yes, a mojito. The cocktail. Mix white rum, mint and lime in a tall glass and pour it into the salsa. Actually, I used vodka in place of the white rum, just because I had some to hand. My radishes are super hot, but kick in some tabasco or chilli peppers if yours aren’t, and maybe another half a lime’s juice to really make it crackle.

Finally, layer hard taco shells with some rocket & coriander salad, the fish chilli, and the salsa. Blows your head off, but in a very very good way.

Pastry Loopy, Nuts Are We

Lunch beckons. Having been playing with pastry a lot this weekend (small things…), I’ve gone for a savoury tart (which is sooooo unlike me…), an experimental tart in fact (ditto…)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s ham, a couple of different types of mushroom, and softened, roasted walnut, with a fair bit of walnut paste in the cream sauce too.

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You may have heard or read that walnuts are an aphrodisiac, but whoever said this needs to get themselves a dictionary. Walnuts are a male potency enhancer (as in so many cases, only in industrial quantities), and these so-called ‘potency’ foods aren’t in the least bit seductive. If anything they’re just a bit ‘rapey’, and of course the vast majority of them are just superstition anyway. When my ‘Horny Chef Around The World’ show gets commissioned, I’ll be sure to visit some rhino poachers, shark fin fishermen and tiger hunters to disavow them of their utterly preposterous ideas.

Anyway, I digress, this works, really really works. Actually, might work even better without the ham as a (god forbid, spits off to the side) vegetarian dish.

Clap along if…

Yesterday (20/03) was World Happiness Day, in case you didn’t notice. It led me into wondering not what my favourite food is (the list is long), but what makes me happiest – the two do not necessarily overlap. Now for most, I suspect, sweets and desserts probably bring the biggest smiles. Sadly, never having been blessed with anything even slightly akin to a sweet tooth, I’ll just have to believe you.

I’m a weird case, because as with most cooks, I’m a people-pleaser. Add to that a slightly unhinged perfectionist streak, and I find very little enjoyment from my own food (an actual note from one of my journals: ‘this dish needed two, perhaps three, more strands of saffron’). Most of my pleasure comes from giving, rather than receiving (a trait that I’ve found to be very useful in other strands of life).

So for that reason, the food that makes me happiest most often is simple – a full-English breakfast with everything (the Smiths of Smithfield No.3, with scrambled), or something like tonight’s fare.

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Simple, indulgent, and on a busy day, easy-peasy. Slow-roasted pork belly (4 hours at 150 degrees) in a Viognier, garlic & mustard stock. The moist, tender meat just falls apart into a burger bun, over the Atlantic they would call this ‘pulled pork’, because Americans generally don’t understand the concept of the double entendre.

Served with chips and a hot & spicy coleslaw – red onion, beetroot, red cabbage, white cabbage and carrots with several splashes of tabasco. With a glass of the aforementioned Viognier, and a chunk of the pork crackling, salted and grilled to perfection,  the perfect wind-down to a hectic day, and happy because there was barely any effort.