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Vive la France!

Time for a quick hop across the Channel to France for today’s cooking task. Without even realising that it was Bastille Day today until about 10 minutes ago, I’d decided to make macarons and even wore this snazzy, on-theme tee. –

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Therefore proving that I am indeed psychic, nothing at all to do with watching Ratatouille or the last episode of Sex and the City to get my Paris fix. That is all purely coincidental. I adore Paris, and even though there is a touch of hostility between the ‘Frogs Legs’ and ‘Le Rosbifs’, I secretly (until now that is) love the French. Yes, on our first trip to Paris we experienced some seriously rude waiters and had many French people cut us up in queues, but this is part of the English person in Paris package deal right? They just do what they want, don’t give a toss and their food is outstanding. They’ve given us baguettes, croissants, duck confit, creme brulee, tart tatin, moules mariniere, to name but a few, so how can I stay angry at them? Plus Paris is beautiful, so if I have to put up with a bit of rudeness then fair deal. If it bothers you, fear not for when the French are in the UK, we give them a dose of their own medicine. While queuing at a petrol garage, a French man tried to cut in at the front of the queue, and there was uproar. Good old Brits, we put up with a lot of crap at times (Cameron, Osbourne, I’m talking about you), but mess with our queues and you’re for it. Suffice to say, Frenchie shuffled to the back of the queue looking thoroughly ashamed of himself (quite right too). Anyway, it’s a happy accident that I chose to make macarons on Bastille Day, and justifies the need to bake should The Boyfriend go “tut tut, more baking eh?”.

The recipe came from Marian Keyes book Saved By Cake, which is a delightful and cheery cookbook, which is a testament to her writing skills as she touches on depression and suicidal thoughts quite a lot in the intro. Don’t let this put you off, the recipes are great and covered in glitter, which definitely brightens my mood on a bad day. These macarons are different and incorporate the ingredients of the Italian dessert tiramisu, so the filling is made with mascarpone, coffee and Marsala wine. I’ve always thought its the case that when you enjoy sweet things that have coffee and/or wine in them, it means you’re grown up and sophisticated. Ergo, I must be a proper adult and sophisticated too. Don’t hate me, I didn’t make up the rules. Oh wait, that’s right, I just did. In reality, I’m far from sophisticated (I spilt coffee all down my nice French t shirt while making these. Proof if any were needed that I am not sophisticated) and have liked coffee chocolates and cakes since childhood. The macarons (or macaroons depending on how authentic you want to sound) are a piece of cake to make, and the mascarpone filling goes a lovely latte colour once the coffee and wine are mixed in. Once assembled they don’t look like the picture perfect ones you see in patisserie windows, but unless you’re planning on selling them to Laduree or Harrods, there really is no need to worry about symmetry. Marian calls them ‘bockety’ and I think this is the perfect description of mine. To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure I actually like macarons. I’ve only ever eaten home made ones, so maybe it’s just my cooking, but I find them too chewy and bitter. My teeth actually hurt after eating them, and I then ask myself why I didn’t just make some cupcakes instead. These macarons do really taste like tiramisu, and are a real grown up treat, but it makes me crave the pillowy softness of an actual tiramisu instead. No disrespect to Marian though, I imagine for fans of macarons these are a delight, but I think when it ones to a sweet treat, I’m more of a softy than a crunchy. Think cakes, crumbles drowning in custard, tiramisu and you are speaking my language! I’ll leave the crunchy macarons to the sophisticated French, who have done a great service to the world of good food. For this, Happy Bastille Day, and Vive la France!

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Posted by on July 14, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking, Food, French

 

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Raspberry Macarons, Lamb Cutlets and Chinese Chicken

Brace yourself readers, this could be a long entry. I’ve been slacking this week, not in cooking but in writing, so here is an update on this weeks cooking adventures (adventures may be stretching it a bit). So what have I been cooking, you ask? Well Thursday after slogging it out in the gym I decided to make the most of the lamb cutlets (which is really just a fancy name for teeny tiny chops) that had been sitting in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Now, I’m not a big fan of lamb really but they needed eating and the recipe was on the list which meant it had to be cooked sooner or later. If I’m going to do this then I’m going to do it right, whether I want to eat it or not. The recipe was from Rachel Allens Home Cooking, which is a perfectly reasonable cookbook with good, solid recipes, but I find Rachel rather bland and quite patronising when I see her on the TV, and feel this is reflected in her recipes. Good basics, but if you want something with more flavour or a little bit different, she is not the cook for you. So I cooked the recipe lamb cutlets with chickpea and caramelised onion mash, and I was actually pleasantly surprised. It was a bit of effort just for me, but sometimes I quite enjoy taking a bit of time and effort for solo meals, if I just lived off ready meals or pasta when the boyfriend was away I would soon be very miserable. You deserve to treat yourself to good food whether you are alone or in good company. The mash felt like a healthier but still filling alternative to potatoes, the sauce was rich and delicious, and the lamb was, well still lamb, but credit where credit is due, I’d cooked it pretty well! But there was not a great deal of meat, which is why I have beef with lamb, its all fat and bones. Still, check out my presentation, its a step up from my usual style of chuck it on a plate and hope for the best.

 

 

Then today I decided to do a little bit of baking and decided to tackle the tricky art of macaron making. I needed to do something that would cheer me up after getting told off by a mechanic today for the state of my tyres, especially as he advised me not to do much driving until Monday when they are getting replaced, meaning I’m housebound now until then. I hate, absolutely hate spending money on fixing cars even though I know its a necessity, it doesn’t bring me any joy in the way cookbooks and clothes do. So to raise my spirits I decided to have a go at raspberry macarons from The Skinny French Kitchen by Harry Eastwood. When I first saw this book I really, really, really wanted it (it’s very pretty) and once I inevitably caved in and got it home, I didn’t really bother with it. This is why: French food is so good mainly because it is indulgent, rich and full of cream, butter and lots of other deliciously bad ingredients.The Skinny French Kitchen is full of very good looking recipes, but it focuses so much on how to reduce fat content and calories that it lost me. I don’t eat French food very often, but when I do I don’t want to be worrying about how much butter I’m using. Its a treat for me and treats mean calories, lots of ’em! I appreciate that there are some people who do want everything to be healthy all the time, but I’m not one of them. You may be wondering why bother making these when you can buy them quite easily nowadays but they are really expensive and I can’t work out why. It genuinely is cheaper to buy all the ingredients and make them from scratch, plus you get a great deal more. They were easy to make plus I got to try my hand at using a piping bag for the first time and it actually went OK. They didn’t look as neat and tidy as the ones you can buy, but thats the fun of home baking. Some were a lot bigger than others, but like I’ve said before, you’re not cooking on Masterchef so take pride in your wonky, lopsided cakes/biscuits/whatever! Traditionally macarons are sandwiched together with buttercream, but as this is low fat baking, they were sandwiched together with raspberry jam. Not as tasty and quite sharp, but the actual biscuits were just as they should be, meringue-y and chewy, a nice little snack. But I am still suspicious of anyone trying to make delicious unhealthy food healthy – it tastes so good for a reason, don’t bother changing it because you won’t improve upon the taste.

 

 

Then for dinner tonight I cooked garlic and ginger chicken from Chinese Cooking Class by Australian Womans Weekly. It wasn’t too bad, had a nice salty but garlicky taste and had lots of greens in it but it wasn’t really anything special. It would be a good healthy standby to have after work on a weekday as it’s quick and easy to throw together, but for a Saturday night in it was just a bit so-so. Must try harder next time!

So all in all a fairly successful few days of cooking, have tried more recipes I wouldn’t normally go for and also tried my hand at healthy (ish) baking. Which is really what this challenge is all about, trying new things and going outside of my comfort zone.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Baking, Books, Chinese, Cooking, French

 

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