Thursday, 28 October 2010

A sweet taste from my childhood

This a very simple sweet treat, ideal for birthday parties. In Brazil, no birthday party for children is complete without it. When we went to Brazil in 1994, our children were little and our elder son, who was around 10 years old, couldn't have enough of them. They are called "Brigadeiro."

More recently, I introduced the guests to Peter's birthday lunch party to these delights and I must say, they didn't last very long...


1 can of sweetened condensed milk (400g/14oz)
4 soupspoons of cocoa. (I used half a 200g/8oz bar of dark chocolate, i.e. 100g/4oz).
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
Chocolated strands/ granulated chocolate


Pour the condensed milk into a pan, mix the chocolate (straight if powder, melted in the microwave or bain marie if using the other option), add the butter. Cook it on low heat, mixing all the time until it comes off the bottom of the pan.

Spread the mix onto a plate and wait for it to be cool enough to be handled. Rub some butter onto hands, get a small portion of the mix with a teaspoon, roll into a ball, roll it into the chocolate strands and place it in a small paper cup. Do it until the mixture is finished. A more "grown-up" alternative is to roll the little balls into some cocoa instead of the chocolate strands.

You may have to wash your hands a few times during the rolling because your hands will become sticky and it will be difficult to roll the little balls properly.

Unless you're not a fan of chocolate, it's impossible to have only one of these...

I found a youtube demo, but the children use sweetened chocolate powder. I prefer it a bit less sweet...

Friday, 22 October 2010

Potato, leek and watercress soup

The chill in the weather has inspired me to make soups! This one turned out incredibly delicious although the ingredients are very simple.


8 medium potatoes
3 medium leeks, trimmed
A generous handful of watercress
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
Some parsley
Chicken bouillon (I used a very nice bouillon they sell in cubes over here)
Salt & pepper to taste


Scrub and chop the potatoes into chunks, slice the leeks, dice the onions, chop the garlic. Fry the onions in a large pan with some olive oil. Add potatoes and leeks, mix well, add garlic, mix and add the bouillon. Add more water to nearly fill the pan. Season with salt & pepper to taste, reduce to a moderate simmer and cook for about 45 minutes. Add the watercress and parsley, just long enough to wilt, then put the lot into a blender (I had to do it in two batches), whizz it well, return to the pan to reheat it a little bit, taste and adjust seasoning and serve with crackers or French bread.

We had seven bowls of soup between the two of us (not all at once!).

Nutrition tip

Watercress is very good for cleansing the lungs and it's a rich source of vitamin C, calcium, folic acid, potassium and beta-carotene.

Leeks are rich in minerals: iron, potassium, magnesium, copper and calcium. They are low in calories and also contain a lot of different vitamins: A, B1, B2, B3, B9 (folic acid) and C.

Potatoes are rich in potassium (concentrated in the skin), vitamins A, B and flavonoids (good antioxidants). Without lashings of butter, potatoes are not fattening, as they are 70/80% water.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Not Cordon Bleu

Regina & Peter, still slim after all these years

If anybody thinks I'm some cordon-bleu chef, let me dispel the misconception. All the recipes that I describe as having cooked myself were borrowed from friends and family, collected from magazines or invented over 30-odd years of trial and error.

When I got married to my first husband in 1977, we were on a very tight budget (story of my life!) and we took in a lodger, who happened to be one of his old schoolmates doing a PhD in organic chemistry at University College London. Geoff paid for full board and arrived from UCL very hungry, eager for some culinary delights. Poor thing... After a few weeks of suffering in silence, he gave me a lovely present, which I still have to this day: a basic cookery book! Martin the husband had very numb tastebuds (his mother was a lousy cook), or else he chose to suffer in silence forever.

The improved cooking skills, sponsored by good old Geoff, didn't save that marriage, but at least Peter managed to marry a person capable of much more than boiling an egg. That book Geoff gave me is the only proper cookery book I own, apart from a recent one I was given at our local supermarket, a notebook where I write things down and put magazine cuttings, and a fundraising recipe booklet from our sons' school.

The recipes on this blog are simple, everyday fare. Blog is short for weblog. Well, since I started it, I've been photographing everything as it happens, what an appropriate term!

I found out that a limited budget can work wonders for the imagination. When I married Peter in 1984, money was extremely limited. We used to buy very economical cuts of meat, heaps of vegetables and I would invent all sorts of variations with the ingredients available. Nothing was wasted and what wasn't eaten on one occasion would be turned into soup. The years when we were a bit more affluent were the worst in terms of eating a balanced diet and I was less adventurous in the kitchen.

As they say, "necessity is the mother of invention."

Strange looking banana dessert

I promised the recipe for the gross looking banana dessert. It's quick, simple and very yummy. I thought it would be better to have the main photo of "before" bananas, as the "after" doesn't look terribly appealing...


1 1/2 ripe bananas per person
Fortified wine or liqueur (marsala, madeira, port, sherry, etc)


The bananas have to be spotty. Bananas that are not ripe enough give very disappointing results. The starch turns into sugar as the bananas ripen and starchy bananas would have a "wooly" consistencyas opposed to soft and smooth. The taste is not that great either.

Cut the bananas in half, then halve again lengthwise. Place the pieces in a frying pan, sprinkle generously with sugar and a bit less generously with cinnamon. Add a bit of water and cook it on medium heat until the sugar has caramelized. Turn the bananas carefully to keep the pieces intact. When the whole thing looks brown, splash it with your preferred booze, sprinkle some more cinnamon over it, cover for a couple of minutes and serve.

I used something called Mandorla, which is Marsala wine flavoured with almonds, because it was all I had in the cupboard.

If you arrange the bananas carefully on a plate, they'll look far less disgusting than mine. A scoop of vanilla ice cream or a bit of cream would also help the appearance...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Thrifty chicken soup

The weather decided to cool down considerably, which calls for... soup!

When I cooked Caroline's Chicken about 10 days ago, I ended up with 12 thigh bones, still with some meat attached to them, so into the freezer they went, waiting for last night. Peter loves soup and was a happy bunny when offered a large bowl (or two) of turbo-charged chicken soup.

I used the veggies I had in the fridge. If I had more, I would have used them too. Leeks spring to mind...


Chicken bones (I used the 12 I saved, but you can use a lot less or it can be a saved chicken carcass from the Sunday roast, for example. You may also use a couple of thighs, not just the bones)
2 medium potatoes
2 carrots
2 medium turnips
1 large onion
2 small beetroots
Some tomato juice or purée (not much, just enough to add some tang and colour)
2 cloves of garlic
A generous dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 or 2 glasses of dry wine, white or rosé ( I used rosé because that's what I had in the fridge)
Herbs: I chose tarragon, but you may prefer parsley, oregano, basil, whatever tickles your tastebuds.
A sprinkling of ground cinnamon
Some sweet paprika
Salt & pepper to taste

1 cup of rice (more or less, depending on how much soup you're making. You want the grains swimming in the liquid, not a mushy mess)


Chop the garlic and dice the onion. Dice all the vegetables. Fry the onions in some olive oil in a large pan until golden. Add the chicken and mix well. Add the garlic, the herbs, spices, salt, the Worcestershire sauce, stir some more. Add the wine to deglaze, add sufficient water, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Taste, adjust and cook for around 1 hour.

Take the bones out, saving as much meat as possible. Discard the bones, then put everything in the blender, whizz very well and return to the pan (if you blender is powerful, don't worry about leaving some cartilage, it all disappears and it's good for you). Bring the soup back to a gentle boil, add the rice. Wait for a bit, reduce to a simmer and make sure there's no rice stuck to the bottom of the pan. It's a good idea to stir it occasionaly, so the rice doesn't stick to the bottom. When the rice is cooked, taste again, adjust seasoning and serve with French bread or crackers. You may use those tiny pasta shapes for soups as a variation.

The strange looking thing in the small bowl may look disgusting, but it's a very tasty banana dessert. I'll post the recipe later.

As I had all those bones, I ended up making a large pan of soup, but Peter had two large bowls last night (I had the one you see in the skewy photo above, not filled to the brim like Peter's) and we had the rest for lunch today, with crispy bacon, rye bread and some St Agur cheese on the side.

(One day I'll learn to photograph food like they do in the recipe books... but they cheat and spray all sorts of things on the food to make it look good.)

Monday, 18 October 2010

Crème Caramel (cheat's version)

This is a quick way to produce a very tasty and smooth crème caramel. You may wish to make a big one in a round tin (with hole or not) or individual portions. Bear in mind that it's cooked in bain marie, so you'll need another pan to accommodate whatever you're using.

Ingredients for pudding

1 tin of sweetened condensed milk (400g/14oz)
1 + 1/2 tins of ordinary milk (measured in the above tin once you've emptied it)
1 level teaspoon of cornstarch (cornflour)
3 eggs

Ingredients for sauce

1 generous cup of sugar
3 tbspoons of water to start


I start with the sauce so it can rest and dissolve properly while I'm faffing with the rest of the recipe.

If using a large tin, you can melt the sugar directly in the same tin. Put the sugar and water in the tin and place on high heat until the sugar melts and colours ( be careful not to burn it, it tastes very bitter!), stirring all the time. Add more (boiling) water, keep stirring and adjust quantities. Add more sugar if you think you don't have enough sauce and so on. Leave it to rest and dissolve while you make the pudding mix. If using individual dishes, make sauce in a separate pan, then put some sauce into each dish.

Put all the ingredients in a blender, starting with the condensed milk so you can use the tin to measure the milk. Let it whizz for a couple of minutes, pour the mixture carefully and slowly into whatever dishes you're using, on top of the sauce. Cook it in bain marie until it looks firm (about 1 hour). It doesn't matter if it's a bit soft in the middle if making a big one, as long as the edges look firm, it will set when cool.

Bain marie can be done on the cooker top: one pan inside the other. Start with boiling water, then reduce the heat to just above a simmer. I cover my pan (mine is a special pan for this purpose). Individual portions will require a very large pan or perhaps two pans? It can also be made in the oven, but I'm not 100% sure about temperatures and cooking time. I looked up the recipe on a French website and they recommend 140C/285F for 1 hour. Again, one pan in another pan of boiling water, but in this case you can use a roasting tin. Make sure the water can't spill into the dishes if making individual portions, whichever method you use.

Leave it to cool completely, run a knife around the edges and carefully turn it into a round and lipped serving dish or individual bowls. If at this point you think you don't have enough sauce, make some more and pour over it.

I collected some photos of crème caramel so you can see the variety of presentations, which would be a handy guide on what type of dishes can be used to make it.


Examples of bain marie in the oven:

(Peter just had a look at the draft for the post, saw the photos and is salivating again!)

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Eating habits in rural France and some other places

We live in a village in the Correze, in the heart of rural France. We have observed the locals for the past 4 years and their eating habits are very different from those of urban Brits. If you live and work in London, your lunch hour is more likely to be a half hour or a quick snack at your desk. Some people "do" lunch as part of their business, feeding and watering their clients, but as a rule, lunch is a very short, hurried affair and could not be called a proper meal.

Across the the channel, a few hundred miles down the A20, it's a very different story. At 12pm on the dot a very loud siren, which the French call klaxon, screams in each village. The French down their tools and go for a two-hour lunch. Some go home, but those working more than a certain distance from home eat at the nearest decent restaurant, courtesy of their bosses. Menus range from 7 euros (US$9.45) to 12 euros (US$16.20).

The cheaper menus consist of the plat du jour, dessert or cheese and a small black coffeee. One of the nearby villages has two restaurants offering a veritable feast for 11 euros.

Auberge du Rochefort, Le Lonzac

Typical menus for 11€:

1. Potage (soup) or assiette de charcuterie (cold meats with salad)
2. Plat du jour (could be anything: entrecôte et frites, confit de canard, tête de veau, moules et frites...)
3. Assiette de fromages - a generous cheese board, with an odd number of different cheeses, usually 5 or 7 (for some reason, they don't place an even number on the board).
4. Dessert du jour - Mousse au chocolat, crème caramel, îles-flotantes, tarte aux pommes (recipes will follow in future posts).
5. Small black coffee.
6. You also get at least 1 glass of wine, which the drivers mix with water.

When moules et frites are featured, the restaurants are booked solid. The French adore their mussels and so do I, but not Peter, who asks for a steak instead.

Some of the main courses are delicious, but some are an acquired taste, if you ever acquire it. Tête de veau is a good example. I know people who would not touch the "nasty" bits of any animal and would never entertain the idea of having any of it. I have no problem eating the head of a beef calf, the problem is the sauce. There are two traditional recipes, one where the meat comes swimming in vinegar and another, more subtle, mustard based. I once ordered the vinegar version by mistake and it repeated on me for three days! Never again. Peter had confit de canard (duck), and now he takes great pleasure saying how delicious it was whenever I tell my tale of woe.

Tête de veau

Confit de canard

The French finish work between 5:30 and 7pm. We noticed that our neighbours across the road have soup for dinner everyday and nicknamed them Monsieur & Madame Soupe. We've been told it's a very Correzien habit. Monsieur Soupe has a very nice vegetable garden which we can see from the kitchen window. We can see at least 6 such gardens from our window!

Another French peculiarity is that they use veggies to make soup and stock but aren't very enthusiastic about actually eating the stuff.

The Brits eat their veg, but tend to have a heavy meal later in the day (The old fashioned still have meat, potatoes and two veg, boiled). In Brazil, eating habits are similar to the French and in Spain they take it to extremes, taking most of the day off for a heavy lunch and siesta followed by some work and a heavy meal from 10pm onwards.

If you have any stories about eating habits from other places, drop me an email and we could have a series of posts on this theme.


Here are some photos of the region... it's really beautiful around here.







Caroline's Chicken

As I didn't photograph my own dish, here it is, served with asparagus, just to illustrate it

I have posted the starter for my Peter's birthday party. Now let's move on to the main course. I've learned this recipe a long time ago, from an Irish friend called Caroline and reinvented it over the years. This is the latest version, but still bearing her name.

Ingredients for the meaty bits

2 or 3 pieces of chicken per person (breast or thigh off the bone, depending on personal preferences. I'm a thigh enthusiast and don't do breast)
1 or 2 rashers of smoked bacon per portion of chicken
Finely chopped garlic. (A little or a lot, depending on how much you like it)
A good sprinkling of dried oregano and parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients for sauce

3/4 of a pint of milk (adjust depending on number of guests. You want a decent amount of sauce)
Generous amounts of grated cheese. I used Emmenthal, Comté and Parmesan, but it also works with Cheddar instead of the first two.
Dry white wine - 1 or 2 glasses, you decide
3 heaped teaspoons of cornflour (known in the US as cornstarch - it's the fine white stuff, not the gritty, yellow stuff used to make tortillas)
A knob of butter.
Salt and white pepper to taste (bear in mind that the cheeses and the bacon are already salty, so keep tasting and adjusting it as you go)


Season the chicken pieces with the garlic, herbs, salt (not too much, remember the bacon!) and pepper, drizzle with some olive oil, then massage all the pieces really well and leave to stand for a while (15 minutes or a bit longer will do). Shape the pieces into neat roundish shapes, arranging them artistically in an ovenproof dish, then wrap each piece with the bacon. Cook in a pre-heated oven at 180C/350F for approximately 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked and bacon is crispy. Transfer the pieces of chicken to another ovenproof dish (why did I bother to do it artistically the first time?) and return to the oven. Skim the oil from the resulting juices and proceed to make the sauce.

To make the sauce, dissolve the cornstarch with some of the milk, add the rest of the milk, the knob of butter, wine, the skimmed juices from above and the cheeses. Cook it gently stirring the sauce all the time. If too thin add more dissolved cornstarch, if too thick, add more milk or wine. Taste, adjust seasoning and pour over the chicken. Leave it in the oven for a few more minutes, sprinkle with some chopped parsley or chives (for colour) and serve.

I served this dish with roast potatoes, Julienne carrots and garlic mushrooms (sliced and gently fried in butter with lashings of finely chopped garlic and fresh parsley).

Whilst I enjoy cooking, I'm not a purist and cut corners by using cornstarch instead of making a proper roux with proper flour for sauces. If you're less lazy and more of a foodie, do it that way and you'll be happier with the results...

You will notice that all quantities are approximate. I have great difficulty following recipes and tend to cook by ear - whatever looks, tastes and feels right as I go along is just fine! Do experiment and adjust here and there until you're happy.

Our friends loved it and talked about it for days, so I'm not as chaotic as it seems...

The next installment will bring you the dessert, a cheat's version of Crème Caramel.


I cooked Caroline's Chicken tonight and took a photo:

What's in a name?

The name of the blog may seem strange, coming from a food enthusiast, but there is an explanation.

We live in an apartment on two floors. On the first level we have only the kitchen and a storage room, everything else is upstairs, including serious distractions such as my computer and the TV.

Our cooker is electric, so I can't see a flame. Being an absent minded and easily distracted "masterchef," I have on occasions reduced to a gentle heat only to find out sometime later that I turned the wrong knob to mark 1, leaving my food boiling away on mark 6. While I'm happily surfing the internet or watching the TV, things are rapidly developing down in the kitchen.

The mad dash downstairs happens when Peter asks "Do I smell burning?"

Then we have omelette for dinner...

(I have also left one of the rings on mark 1 all night!)

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Prawn Bisque

I served this yummy bisque for my husband's birthday and it was a success! The beauty of this recipe is that nothing is wasted and the results are delicious.


Allow 3 or 4 large prawns per person. (I used pre-cooked)
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot
1 leek (white bits only)
1 pint fish stock (I didn't have any, so used a chicken stock cube!)
2 glasses of dry white wine
4 heaped tbspoons of double cream
1 or 2 tbspoons of sweet paprika (you may add more later, for colour)
salt and pepper to taste


Remove heads and shells of prawns, leaving the tail. Place all the debris in the pan, together with the chopped carrot and leek, the garlic and all the rest. Adjust the quantity of water according to the number of guests. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing to extract all the juices. Return to pan, add the cream (you can vary the quantity for thickness and colour, as you wish), heat gently, taste, adjust seasoning and serve with French bread.


I seasoned the prawns with lemon, pepper, garlic, parsley and olive oil after I finished beheading and shelling them, then hooked them to the rim of the soup bowls. A sprig of dill or parsley completes the presentation.


My friend posted a photo of our group with the prawn bisque on Facebook. It doesn't look as glamorous as the one from the recipe book, but hey, it was nice enough...


I would like to welcome my palingater friends to this peaceful, tasty corner. I hope we can share recipes, food trivia and cooking tips.

The blog has a search facility and instead of The Palingates, the sidebar will have The Recipes, grouped as starters, main courses, desserts, treats and other stuff. This feature will be activated when I have enough recipes...

I look forward to our virtual dinner parties in this Palin-free zone.

Bon appétit!