Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Recipe: A Traditional French Pissaladière

So, I promised everyone sitting around the dinner table on Saturday night, a fair few of our friends who'd seen the photos on social media, plus a fair few of you online that I'd share the recipe for the Pissaladière onion and anchovy tart I served up as the main event at my Provincial themed dinner party. I was stupidly proud of it and happy with the way the recipe turned out at practically every stage of the cooking on Saturday morning, so luckily I snapped a few more snaps of it while it was a work in progress, and just before everyone arrived for pre-dinner pink bubbles and a bit of catch up gossip before descending on the dinner table.
Pissaladière 1 Pissaladière 2
I was recently asked what my desert island cookbook would be, and after some deliberation I landed on the French classic Larousse Gastronomique. I think this demonstrates how much French techniques is at the cornerstone of my cooking. Therefore, you can imagine that I have enough Pissaladière recipes kicking about. In the end, I went for the simplest one I had most of the ingredients for, in true French fashion. This recipe is not adapted at all, it is just shared outright with love and affection from Joanne Harris and Fran Warde's The French Kitchen, which is a lovely book I could cook forever from. A second desert island pick, if you will. 
Pissaladière 3 Pissaladière 4

  • 6 tbsp Olive Oil, plus a little bit extra for brushing on the tray & dough
  • 25g (2 scant tbsp) Unsalted (preferably French) Butter
  • Bunch of Thyme
  • 175g (6 oz) White Onions, very finely sliced (use a mandolin if you have one!)
  • Sea Salt
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper 
  • 15g (1 tbsp) Dried Yeast (I use Allisons)
  • 120ml (4 floz) Tepid (not warm, but not cold either) Water
  • 1 tsp Golden Caster Sugar
  • 250g (9 oz) Strong Bread Flour
  • Sea Salt
  • Jar of Anchovies (I like Waitrose)
  • Jar of Pitted Black Olives (I like Crespo) 

First, get the onions cooking while you make the dough base. Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil and the butter in a very large, heavy bottomed frying pan and add roughly half the time. When it is frothy, add the onions and stir to make sure they are all coated with oil and butter. Leave to cook down to caramelisation, but not browning over a medium to low heat for about an hour. Once they're cooked, season with salt and pepper and then set aside to cool. 

To make the dough, mix the yeast with the tepid water and sugar, and leave in a warm place for five minutes until the yeast goes frothy. Add to the flour and salt, and remaining 4 tbsp olive oil, and combine to form a dough. Knead on a floured surface for ten minutes to build up the gluten until the dough is elastic. Cover with cling film, or a wet tea towel to prevent a skin forming on the dough and leave to prove in a warm place until it has doubled in size. This usually takes about an hour, but I've been finding my bread dough has been going much quicker in this heat. 

Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees celsius (430 degrees fahrenheit). Knock the dough back a little (you can read more about bread making techniques here) on a lightly floured surface and roll out to a square that will reach with about half an inch around the edges of a non stick baking tray. Brush the tray with oil before placing the dough on it, and brush oil over the top of the dough, too. Spread over the onions, then decorate with anchovies, sliced down the middle with a sharp knife into thin strips made into a lattice pattern, and olives dropped into each diamond shape. Sprinkle over the remaining thyme and bake for 20 minutes until the dough is crisp and the onions have started to crisp up too. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Pisalde 10Enjoy with a crisp, ice cold glass of French rose and a healthy dose of the fantastic sunshine we've been having in England at the moment. But please in the early evening, because the days are just too hot at the moment, and this is coming from me, the give who craves the West Coast weather and sunshine almost constantly. It is a different type of heat, which is bad in the countryside. Add the District Line into the mix, and it is unbearable! 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Provincial Style Dinner Party For Friends

On Saturday night I turned my conservatory into a Provence for my annual dinner party I throw for my best school friends. Basically, you have to have either sat with us for lunch or dinner in the school dining room, or be dating someone who did in order to get an invite! Every year I like to throw it with a theme (two years ago Southern California, last year Ottolenghi) and I was in the mood for a whole load of food that goes perfectly with a nice chilled glass of rose. Or four. It was a great excuse to get sunflowers for the table, too! 
Provence Dinner Party 1 Provence Dinner Party 2 Sunflowers 3 Sunflowers 4 Provence Dinner Party 5 Potato Salad 7
Shall we talk about the food? I swear I have been getting progressively lazy every single year; this year nothing was hot and it could all be served at room temperature. This meant that I could work ahead and be totally ready, and dressed just before the first of my guests arrived! This potato salad may look a little different, but it is actually my Simple Potato Salad, just made with floury potatoes so they broke up into the sauce a little. You can see the Quiche Lorraine in the above picture, which I posted the recipe for quite recently.
Egg & Bean Salad 8
This Egg and White Bean Salad was something new I tried out of a really old book of my Mother's on regional French cooking. A little retro, but totally delicious. It is pretty easy to throw together, actually. Mix together two drained tins of white beans, a orange and a yellow pepper chopped and two cloves of garlic to a large bowl. Whisk together 2 tbsp red wine vinegar and 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil with some salt and pepper, and mix into the beans. Boil 4 large eggs for 8 mins then plunge in cold water to stop them cooking and set aside. Leave for a few hours for the flavours to meld. When you're ready to eat, chop 4 large tomatoes and add to the bowl, and check the seasoning. Top with the eggs, sliced. 
Tomato Salad 9
I do plan to blog this tomato salad eventually, so I won't give you the recipe now, but it is super simple with spring onions and a jam jar dressing you can make ahead and store in the fridge. You can actually find it in Rick Stein's French Odyssey book, though I play around with it a bit depending on what I happen to have growing in the herb pots by the kitchen door at any given moment. 
Pisalde 10
Finally in the main course, and the star of the show, the Pissaladière. A traditional French tart topped with caramelised onions, anchovies, black olives and thyme. It was a joy to make, so simple and delicious and everyone snapped it up pretty quick, and it was the most popular thing for seconds! The sweetness of the onions and the saltiness of the anchovies balance each other out perfectly, and the base is the most amazing dough. You can serve it warm or like I did at room temperature, and the recipe should be up here on the blog soon! 
Provence Dinner Party 11 Provence Dinner Party 12 Provence Dinner Party 13 Cheese Board 14
Now, those of you who have clicked that I've served up a cheese board, and I can't eat cheese, yes I cheated. If I were in London and wanted to serve up a cheese board (I was not originally planning on it, but it kind of went with the theme!) I would head to my favourite dairy, Neal's Yard and ask them to put something together for me. However, in the countryside as I was, I crossed my fingers and headed to Waitrose. And do you know what? Their £6 cheese board selection is not too shabby
Tart Aux Fraise 15
I did not have to use my imagination for the desserts, because Edward requested both of them. First, he'd spied the last time I'd made a classic Tarte Au Fraise on Instagram, and put in his request. Sorry there are not many more photos, but while it tasted amazing, the creme patisserie did not quite set this time. Totally not my fault, it was pushing near 30 degrees the end of last week, if you remember! Also, we had my (and my Mothers) signature Hazelnut Meringue Gateaux with Strawberry Sauce (I was so obsessed with it as a kid I used to drink it straight from the jug). Sorry, this is one recipe I'll never be sharing. I might be persuaded, but it is my Mother's secret too. Edward is literally the only person we've ever given it to! 
Hazelnut Meringe Gateaux 16
It was a lovely evening all around, and I really wish that I had the time to entertain more, though I think I might try and make it a new years resolution. I know this post, while food related is something a bit different, so I hope you all enjoyed it; when I've mentioned to people over the last few weeks that I was planning another dinner party, they all hoped that I would be posting about it here. But seriously for more of a take away from this post, rather than it just being a sneak peek into my weekend (we went for a pub lunch then watched Bridesmades over at Kathryn's house the next day) here it is: a Summer dinner party, family style where everything is room temperature is one of the easiest entertaining set ups I've ever done. I'd recommend it wholeheartedly! I've got some more entertaining ideas in last years post too, if you're interested

Friday, 18 July 2014

Bathing In The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

So, I thought I'd kick off my trio of posts about my Iceland trip with my absolute highlight; bathing in the famous Blue Lagoon, one of the best experiences of my life. Quite close to the airport, approximately a 40 minute drive through the etherial lava fields where they practiced for the moon landings, away from the capitol of Reykjavik, sits the most beautiful body of silica and sulphur rich water. What was originally a man made waste water pool from the next door geothermal energy plant has been turned into one of the most awesome natural (recreational, medicinal and research) health spas in the world.   
Blue Lagoon 3
It is not as cold as you'd expect around the water, because of the steam and the sheer natural warmth coming off of the lagoon. I know I keep on saying this about my trip, but these photos, or my words could never do the amazing, dazzling milky blue colour of the pool justice. You step down into the water, and the only comparison I can make is stepping into a nice warm, but so much more nourishing bath, just slightly cooler than a hot tub. Well, that is the temperature by the steps. Due to geothermal heat spots different parts of the lagoon are warmer than others. The real heat is in the bit around behind the bar (yes, there is a bar in the lagoon, more on that in a moment!), but what really blew my mind was a bit near that. You could be walking along, and suddenly step forward into a patch that is much, much hotter than where you were just standing. Too hot really. Then you take another step forward, and you're back to the original temperature.  
Blue Lagoon Bar
So, the bar. The little wristbands everyone in the spa wears to get into their lockers double up for payment to get drinks at the bar in the middle of the lagoon. You can get wine, beer, green juice, slushies and Skyr smoothies, as well as some additional mud mineral mud masks (again, more on those in a moment!) Skyr is a pretty beloved yogurt type product in Iceland, which we'll explore later in my Reykjavik food post. It is a by-product of local cheese making, and tastes a lot like low fat greek yogurt. Now, Southern Californian living has basically ingrained the green juice gene into me, but I was to tempted by the idea (as long as I did not think too much about all the additives!) of a ice cold slushie consumed in the hot water. It is to be recommended! 
Blue Lagoon 2 Blue Lagoon 4
You might notice white stuff all over the faces of some of the people in the photos I snapped once I'd got out of the lagoon. Dotted around the far edges of the lagoon are buckets of lagoon algae rich mud, designed to use as a face mask. Honestly, that mud is the only mask that has ever worked on me, and really cleared my skin, which was lovely over the next few days. Part of me wishes I had picked up a tube in the shop on the way out (or in their store on the main street in Reykjavik), but the other part of me things that it was a great part of the experience, and it probably would not be as effective without the wonderful lagoon water (that needs no chemicals because of its anti-bacterial algae) which made my skin perfectly smooth and soft all over. Into The Gloss has recently featured a great piece on Icelandic natural beauty and skincare, which includes the lagoon
Blue Lagoon Panorama Blue Lagoon
Aside from the water, there are also some other great spa options at the lagoon. You can pay to have extra massages and spa treatments in the water, but my two favourite free options were the steam room (geothermal heated with spa water on the steamer, self explanatory, really!) and the waterfall. Just outside the steam rooms and sauna there is a massive great waterfall, which at first glance looks just like a cascade of water, but is actually weighted to provide a powerful and loosing massage. I've always had back problems stemming from an old rowing injury, and I can tell you that the waterfall was utter bliss. 
Blue Lagoon 5
The lagoon is the number one thing I'd recommend anyone on a trip to this part of Iceland, but I do have a few hints and tips for you if you're visiting. First, don't take a towel you care about. Everyone hangs them on a peg next to the lagoon for use when you get out. It did not bother me as much as I was not cold, an hour and a half in the water had lifted my core body temperature right up, but mine got stolen while I was bathing. Luckily the girls in the locker rooms lent me one of the lagoons own for after my shower (which you have to do when you get in and out, without swimwear. Don't worry if you don't like nudity, there are cubicles!) Speaking of the shower, the silica in the lagoon water will wreck your hair. You can wear a swim or shower cap (a fair few people do), but drenching your hair in conditioner and putting it up in a top knot to keep it away from the water should do the trick. They provide great vats of the lagoons own natural conditioner in the showers, which I used on the way in and the way out of the water. Their algae shower gel they also provide also makes for an okay shampoo. However, one thing that is not free and your skin will be screaming for when you get out is a good, deep moisturiser, so take that with you. 

How many of you have had the chance to head to the lagoon, beloved of tourists and locals alike? You can check out the 360 tour on their website if you'd like a closer look. I fell totally in love with Iceland, so I will be back soon, and I will be going in the lagoon yet again, probably on the way to the airport, as I'd love to be able to recreate the experience as often as possible, and try their fantastic looking spa restaurant, too. I did not eat nearly enough local food on the island!