Pecan Apple Croissant Wreath

Pecan Apple Croissant Tart

I don’t really do desserts. It’s not that I don’t like them, in fact I really do. The problem I have, is that being small in stature, I only have to sniff anything naughty and I gain a few more pounds. So I know, I know, it’s really really bad that I’m posting this. And yes, I am also guilty of eating it!

Pecan Apple

It wasn’t my fault. I had to make something when we had guests for dinner last week and buying something was not an option as they made a French delicacy of plum and Rum tart, which is local to the area, when we went to them. Now this is really easy, and, importantly decadently sinful. You’ve got to give it a go!

I have to hold my hands up and admit that the croissant wreath is an idea from Pampered Chef: http://pamperedchef.comI often make up my own savoury fillings but, as croissant dough is quite sweet, I thought it would go well with a sweet filling too.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 2 tins of croissant dough
  • 6 apples, peeled, segmented and cut into three
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • lemon juice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated is better!)
  • 50g packet pecans or walnuts, chopped
  • beaten egg to glaze

Directions:

  • Lay 1 packet of croissant triangles around a pizza stone with pointy ends out.
  • Lay the other packet opposite with pointy ends in. You might want to visit the site! (I’m not trying to sell anything but it’s not my idea!)
  • Put the butter, sugar, apples (squirt lemon on the apples while you are preparing to stop them going brown), and spice in a microwavable bowl and cook on full power for 4 minutes.

Pecan Apple (3)

Pecan

  • Spoon the mixture evenly around the dough ring. It doesn’t matter if it looks messy at this stage. It’s supposed to ooze out!

Pecan (3)

  • Take an outside piece of dough and wrap it over at an angle and tuck in on the inside. Next take an inside piece. Repeat.

Pecan (4)

  • Glaze with beaten egg and stick in the oven at 190 C or Gas 5 for about 25 minutes or until crisp and golden.
  • You could add a few chopped nuts to the top for extra crunch but be careful it doesn’t burn.

Pecan Apple (2)

You can serve this hot or cold but I like it warm,  served with vanilla ice-cream and the whole dirty lot drizzled with salted caramel sauce! Yes I know I could make it but it’s one thing that is easy to buy here so it would be rude to make my own!

Pecan (2)

I hope you like this and give it a go. It’s a great change from apple pie or crumble. Best of all, it always gets an ‘ahhh’ when it comes to the table. I guarantee that this is a plate clearer!

Please let me know what you are doing with apples this year as I have a tree full of them.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda

xxx

Champignons à La Crème

We had our lovely French neighbours over for a meal at the weekend. Last week had been crazy with all the visitors and then a change of guests on Saturday. Alex, my eldest and his girlfriend Jenn left on Saturday too, after we all spent a fabulous day at Futuroscope with my nephew and younger son. I have to say I’d  started to reach burn out  so we decided on a barbecue. Ok, so it wasn’t me doing the actual cooking, it was barbecue after all, so my husband did the cooking (in the rain..). I’d made the salad and the wedges and prepped the meat but I wanted to try them with something French too to see what they thought.

Champignons (3)

I discovered this salad of Champignons  à La Crème at the deli section a year ago. We love it but it’s around 3 Euros for a really tiny pot, so I perused the ingredients and added a bit here and there until it tasted right. The original doesn’t have tarragon but I often add tarragon to fried mushrooms so I couldn’t resist adding it. It’s a really different change to coleslaw and easy to do. There were eight of us but I reckon it would serve six comfortably.

Here’s what you need:

  •  10 wiped white button mushrooms, halved then sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 shallot finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp dry white wine
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp chopped chives
  • 1 tbsp dried tarragon
  • 3 heaped tbsp reduced fat creme fraiche

It takes about 15 mins to prepare and there’s no cooking!

Here’s what you do:

Champignons (4)

  • Combine everything in a large bowl except the creme fraiche and half the chives.
  • Cover and stick it in the fridge for 2-3 hours.
  • Give it a good stir every hour.
  • Stir in the creme fraiche and seasoning and top with the remaining chives before serving.

The mushrooms are ‘cooked’ by all the acid in the vinegar, lemon and wine, so should be softened with a little bite. You could add different herbs such as parsley or thyme or oregano. My French neighbours loved it!

Champignons (5)

This would also go really well on a jacket potato or served with a chicken salad or sandwich. You could always use the green part of spring onions if you didn’t have chives.

Simple Saucey Steaks

My family love steak. We don’t have it often as it is expensive in France, as it is in the UK, so we reserve it for special occasions. When my son went back to the UK last week part of his last meal here was steak. We managed to get some tender entrecôte steaks from Lidl which were good value and some samphire, or salicorne  in French, just because I love it. Now Will, like many teenagers doesn’t really do mushrooms, so we decided on a pepper sauce, which to be honest I hadn’t made before. I looked up a few recipes online and it was far too complicated when I was making the mussel starter. All the recipes seem to involve reducing stock and far too much faff, and as I said before, I prefer to cheat so here is my version of a steak au poivre.

Here’s what you need for 4 people:

  •  4 rib-eye steaks or your choice of cut
  • 2 finely chopped shallots
  • 1 clove of garlic crushed
  • 1 tsp Bovril or I beef stock cube dissolved in 250ml boiling water (if you don’t want to measure this is the equivalent of just under a mug)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 capful of brandy
  • butter and oil for frying
  • 2 heaped tbsp low fat creme fraiche

Here’s what I did:

  • Cook the steaks to your liking and leave to rest while you make the sauce.
  • Melt about a tbsp of butter in a frying pan and soften the shallots for a few minutes.Keep stirring so they don’t brown.
  • Add the garlic for 1 minute then tip in the brandy.
  • Add the stock and creme fraiche.

steak (2)

  • Stick in as much pepper as you like.

Steak au poivre

I served this with chips cooked in the oven and the samphire simply fried in butter for a couple of minutes. No salt required.

steak au poivre (2)This week we were able to have a few meals on our own, which might have been romantic if  our two Weimaraners weren’t salivating at the table! Whilst shopping a few backs we found some tournedos, which are the smaller part of the fillet. Often meat is sold covered in a protective layer of fat which I just take off after cooking. They were half price so we paid 3.50 in Euros for both, an absolute bargain. They were begging for a blue cheese sauce.

steak

Here’s what you need for 4 people:

  •  4 steaks
  • 2 tbsp low fat creme fraiche
  • 1 small packet (150 g) of Roquefort cheese roughly cut

Here’s what I did:

  • Cook your steak and leave to rest. I fried these in butter for a couple of minutes each side and then put them in the oven for a few minutes for medium rare.
  • Using the same pan, add the cheese, creme fraiche and pepper to taste. There is enough salt in the cheese.

Steak with RoquefortThis is almost a non recipe, it’s so simple. This time we had large sliced mushrooms with loads of tarragon and garlic which worked well too. Of course, even though I’ve used low-fat creme fraiche, both these dishes are decadent due to the amount of fat used.

Oh well, back on the diet then!

Delicious Ducky Noodles

Duck has got to be my favourite meat. I nearly always pick duck if we go to a restaurant nearby (a rarity saved for birthdays!). I love it roasted, confit, curried,  in a salad or whatever else, I’m a huge fan. Unfortunately, it’s still an expensive meal so I’ve devised this dish which gives me the dirty, naughty taste of duck without costing a fortune which is light enough for hot summer nights and won’t wreck my diet! It’s really easy and even my meat mad husband doesn’t complain as I can fill him up with noodles.

Here’s what you need for 4 people:

Duck (2)

  • 2 duck breasts
  • 4 nests of noodles (I used rice noodles but egg noodles are fine)
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 red pepper cut into chunks
  • few spring onions sliced
  • sliced red chilli (optional)
  • 3 tsp 5 spice powder
  • sesame oil
  • 2 tsp garlic and ginger purée (or 2 cloves garlic and nub of grated ginger)

Here’s what I did:

  • First marinate the duck by slicing diagonally into the skin and massaging in the oil, ginger and garlic and 5 spice. Cover and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Duck

  • Take the duck out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking and place skin down in a cold frying pan. Turn the heat on to medium and sear the duck for a few minutes until the fat oozes out and the skin is golden.
  • Stick it in the oven at 200 degrees, gas 6 for about 10 minutes, depending on how rare you like the duck .
  • Meanwhile pop the noodles in boiled water from the kettle and leave to stand.
  • Heat a tbsp oil in a wok and stir-fry the onions and peppers for a few minutes then add the spring onion sand finally the chillies if using.

Duck (5)

  • Let the duck rest for about 10 minutes before slicing thinly.

Ducky and Prawny Stir-Fry (2)

  • Drain the noodles and combine with the vegetables and extra sesame oil if you like.
  • Arrange the sliced duck on top and serve.

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Tips:

  • Add a few raw prawns or small cooked ones (whatever you have in the freezer) to make it a special meal.
  • Use mangetout, baby sweetcorn, mushrooms, pineapple…whatever you have!

Ducky and Prawny Stir-FryDucky and Prawny Stir-Fry (3)

  • Drizzle the duck with runny honey and sesame seeds for extra oomph and, of course, calories!

So here is my easy duck dish, full of flavour and the most time consuming bit is cutting up the vegetables. You could be really naughty and just use frozen ones!

Let me know how you cook your duck in the summer.

Moules Marinière

My son is flying back to the UK today to spend some time with his brother for a couple of weeks. We are always looking for any excuse for good food so I asked him what he would like for a farewell dinner last night. Bearing in mind we are trying to be healthy I was ecstatic when he said that he would like oysters to start with followed by mussels!

Alas, it was not to be. I sent husband and son off shopping and they came back without oysters; they were being delivered today. Instead they came back with some mussels and very naughty bread to be followed by steak and chips! Oh well…

moules (4)

People have told me that they love mussels but are frightened of poisoning themselves by not preparing them correctly but trust me, it’s easy.

How to prepare the mussels:

  • Fill a bowl with cold water and tip in the mussels.
  • Under the cold tap remove the stringy, beardy bits and check each mussel. If it’s cracked or won’t shut when you tap it then chuck it.
  • Discard any that float in the water.
  • After cooking, advise your guests to chuck any that have not opened.

Just follow the rule of: before cooking mussel shut, if not open after chuck.

Here’s what you need for 4 people:

  • 300g per person for a starter or 500g for a main course, washed and checked
  • 2 finely chopped shallots (or 1 onion)
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • glass of dry white wine ( I used a Muscadet)
  • I glass of water
  • chopped fresh parsley or coriander
  • knob of butter or oil

Here’s what I did:

moules (2)

  • Heat the butter in a large saucepan ( I used a stockpot), and add the shallots.
  • Fry gently until they soften and add the garlic for 1 minute.
  • Tip in the wine and water, herbs and mussels.
  • Pop on the lid and the mussels should start to open within a few minutes.
  • Give them a stir round to make sure the ones at the top are cooked or shake the pan.
  • Sprinkle with more herbs and serve.

moules (3)Don’t they look gorgeous! This is my lazy version so there is no faff with measuring apart from buying the mussels! You can add some cream but done this way it’s a virtuous dish and, to be honest, they don’t really need it. Add more wine or water if you like more juices.

Tips:

  • I like to bring the steaming pot to the table and let everyone help themselves. It’s much more impressive and they stay nice and warm.
  • You can serve them simply with bread or be really good and just have a salad.Salad

Or, you could be naughty and have dirty chips and bread! This was from another night.

Moules...or mussels, whichever, they taste fantastic!

  • Rather than messing about with a fork simply use a mussel as your tool to pinch the mussels from the shells.
  • You probably won’t have any leftovers but sometimes I keep a few cooked ones back and pop them in the freezer, still in their shells. I find it’s great to chuck them onto a paella last minute if you are can’t get to the shops. Use within a month.

‘Moules frites’ are sold in most restaurants where I live at lunchtimes so it seems a staple diet for the French people. If you’ve never tried them give it a go. The sweetness of the mussels and the saltiness of the sea is a great combination. The bread is great for soaking up all the delicious juices.

How do you cook your mussels?

Seasonal Vegetable Frittata

Sometimes I plan a meal and feel sure that I will have enough left over for the following night. Unfortunately, each time I am disappointed and find myself raiding the fridge for possibilities. Of course, here in France, there always seems to be a Bank Holiday too and, of course, shorter opening hours so here is my  low-carb solution. It’s a sort of crustless quiche or Spanish omelette and of course, it’s easy and virtuous.

Here’s what you need for 4 people:

  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 1 pepper, chopped
  • 1 tomato, deseeded and chopped
  • a few spring onions or shallot or onion, chopped
  • chopped fresh parsley or 1 tsp dried

Here’s what I did:

Seasonal Vegetable Frittata

  • Whisk the eggs with salt and pepper.
  • If using onion, heat a tsp of oil and soften the onion for a few minutes without browning.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and pour into a greased flan dish.
  • Cook at 180 or Gas 4-5 for about 20 minutes.

Seasonal Vegetable Frittata (3)

Top tips:

  • Use any vegetables you have, for example, leftover peas or sweetcorn, mushrooms, cooked potatoes or green beans. If there is nothing in the fridge there must be some peas in the freezer!
  • To make it more substantial fry some lardons or chopped bacon and drain the fat and add to the mix. You could also use prawns, ham, leftover chicken or tinned salmon.
  • Add  some naughty grated cheese if you like.

So here is an easy, virtuous dish you can make from leftovers in the fridge or freezer. I serve it with a salad but it could be served with any meat dish too. A pretty dish, it could be adapted to suit a vegetarian and would also work well sliced for a buffet or party food.

Seasonal Vegetable Frittata (2)

Easy Spring Rolls

Who doesn’t love a spring roll? I have to say they were never really one of my favourite take-away foods as more often than not they were always oozing, and I mean ‘ooozzingg’ with grease! Luckily, the lovely French people seem to love the old ‘printemps’ and sell them everywhere in all flavours, including crab, prawn, pork and chicken, but still they are desperately greasy. So yes, chez le rêve, we are trying to be healthy, and the poor deep fat fryer has been cleaned and consigned to the cellar for a while, (sob..) but I still have urges! I now feel quietly smug that I may have found a solution to this using a few cheats along the way.

Here’s what you need for 8 rather large spring rolls!

  • 8 sheets Brique pastry or 16 of filo.
  • 50g (1 nest) mung bean vermicelli noodles (any glass noodle type thingy will do).
  • 1 small jar Chinese veg drained (usually beansprouts and carrots etc).
  • tin of cheapo crab.
  • finely chopped red chilli (optional) .
  • I finely chopped spring onion.

Easy Baked Spring Rolls (3) Easy Baked Spring Rolls (4) Easy Baked Spring Rolls (2)

Here’s what I did:

  • Cook your noodles. Normally shove them in boiled water and wait about 3 minutes.
  • Drain noodles and combine with other ingredients.
  • Take a sheet of brique (or 2 sheets filo, lightly oiled between) and dollop an 1/8th of the mixture as shown on the picture.
  • Roll up and bring in the sides carefully and stick on a baking tray.
  •  Lightly brush the top with oil and bake about 10 mins gas 6, or 200 degrees.

Easy Baked Spring Rolls

Serve it with a bit of shop bought or homemade chilli sauce and enjoy the delicious crunch of pastry and veggies without piling on the pounds! Perfect as a starter or side in a Chinese banquet or when you are just feeling naughty. Give ’em a go and tell me how easy it was – I promise it will be!

Top tips:

  • If you have cooked shredded meat like pork, chicken or duck you could use this instead.
  • Use defrosted budget prawns or chopped squid lightly cooked. Be sure not to freeze if you have used defrosted ingredients.
  • If you  can’t get hold of Chinese veggies in a jar – hard luck! Some supermarkets sell fresh mung beans but I’ve not seen them in France. I would suggest finely sliced spring onion, grated carrot, peppers and mangetout. In fact, add what you like!
  • We ate 4 and froze the rest in an old takeaway plastic container. They are best cooked from frozen or will go soggy. If you are doing this add a few minutes more.

So please have a go. It looks difficult but it’s really easy. Your family will think you are marvelous and you will know it’s as healthy as you can make it at a fraction of the price. Another Virtuous dish.

Tuscan Roast Pork

We are still in the grip of some seriously hot weather here. Yesterday it was 36 degrees! Now, I love the sun but it’s not ‘doing’ weather is it? My poor doggies only get up when they need a drink or to find a different cold spot on the tiles, so I really can’t be bothered with cooking much. The thing is, despite moving to France, I still think of Sunday lunch as a  a special occasion, and more importantly, my family expect it! So this dish is a bit of a compromise, especially if you’ve already peaked on barbecue food too. I first did this dish many years ago and did it spit-roast on the barbecue but this is the lazy version for all you cheaters out there.

This is a Decadent dish. What I mean is that this dish has a fair bit of fat in it. More importantly it’s easy, so if you need to sneak outside with a glass of wine there’s no guilt because dinner is doing itself.

Here’s what you need for 4 people:    

  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or 1 tbsp chopped fresh
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 heaped tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • Piece of pork shoulder about 1kg with the skin removed
  • Potatoes for 4 cut roughly in 1 inch chunks
  • 2 Onions/Shallots cut in wedges
  • 2 apples, cored and wedged

Tuscan Roast Pork

Here’s what I did:

  • Mix all the oil and spices together and slather onto the pork.
  • Cover loosely with foil and stick it in the oven at Gas 3/4  or 170 degrees for a good 3 hours.
  • Add the potatoes and onions and leave for an hour.
  • Finally add the apples, making sure to turn everything in the juices.
  • Keep the foil off for the last 20 minutes and wack the heat up to Gas 6 or 200.
  • Let it rest for 15 minutes before attempting to carve.

Tuscan Roast Pork (2)

Et voilà!  The meat will be falling apart so just slice thickly and pile on the veg in the delicious juices.  Serve this with a mixed salad and enjoy a day off! Great for a posh barbecue or when you fancy a change. I would love to know what you think about this recipe, especially as it is definitely a cheap dinner!

Top tips:

  • Don’t ditch the skin, score it, pour loads of table salt on it, wait 30 minutes and wash off. Dry with kitchen towel, and add vegetable oil to coat. Sprinkle with salt and place on a tray. Stick in the oven until crisp (probably the last 2 hours).
  • You can use leg or loin cuts but reduce the cooking time and only remove foil at the end.
  • Do this on the barbecue spit roast for about 1 and 1/2 hours.
  • Add wedged fennel to the pan with the apples.

Spicy Stuffed Squid

This is another Virtuous dish. Can you guess that I am on a diet yet? It’s been hot for weeks here, regularly in the 30’s, so the good thing is that we haven’t wanted to eat much.  I absolutely love squid and have seen similar recipes on the television but they looked a bit complicated so I just thought about what I already had in the house .  This is what I came up with.

Here’s what you need for 4 people:

  • 12 small squid bodies (they were frozen)
  • 1  160g tin cheapo crab, well drained
  • 1 chopped birds-eye chilli or a few flakes
  • 1 finely chopped spring onion
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped or half an onion
  • 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander or 1 tsp dried
  • 1 tsp fish sauce optional

What I did:

  • Mix crab, fish sauce, chilli, coriander and spring onion in a bowl.
  • Heat about 1 tsp vegetable oil in a small pan and add the shallot to soften.
  • Add the garlic and ginger for 1 minute stirring constantly.
  • Combine the crab and garlic mixture and use a teaspoon to stuff the squid, leaving enough room to secure with a cocktail stick.
  • Heat a griddle pan or bbq and cook for about a minute each side to get some sear marks but take care not to overcook.

Stuffed Squid

We had this as a starter on our weekly curry night. Serve them with a little chilli sauce or just a squeeze of lemon. I put a little salad garnish of cucumber and sliced radish, cucumber and spring onion. It tasted amazing! Great for a dinner party or romantic dinner for two. Give it a go – I’d love to know what you think.

Top tips: 

  • If you don’t want to shell out for crab chop up some budget prawns or use a mixture of the two.
  • To save time make a garlic and ginger mix.  Peel 3 whole bulbs of garlic and 1/3  their weight in ginger. Roughly chop ginger then add to a food processor piece by piece then garlic. Add some vegetable oil until a paste is made. You might need to scrape the sides a few times. Stick it in a container and pour over extra oil to seal, cover and store in fridge. It save grating your fingers if you like a lot of curry dishes. I got this  tip from having a day cooking with Reza Mohammad who has a home in the Charente. Of course, you could buy a little jar of crushed ginger!

  

Quick Raisukaree

This is one of my  Virtuous dishes!

It’s been a year since we moved to France and this year is the first season of the vegetable plot. I’ve tried to focus on the produce that costs the most so one of the ‘must haves’ was mangetout. It always seems to be imported and lasts a day or so in the fridge before going rather manky. Now I’m no gardener but I like to have a go so I got the seeds and  now I have nearly six feet of pea plants! It must be a combination of the ‘canicule’ or heatwave, and the brown water we use to water them, but through no effort we have hundreds of peas.

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I don’t know what it is but eating mangetout always makes me feel virtuous, and as I’m trying to be good and it’s too hot to cook much this is a quick and easy recipe. Already I have been picking and chucking them in boiling water for one minute then into ice water for a minute. Then just chuck a handful in a bag and pop onto the freezer. Then when you have a curry, stir-fry, or fish dish it’s easy to add it frozen to the pan. In fact you can substitute much of this recipe so it can be whipped up in 10 minutes. You could also use prawns or squid straight from the freezer. It also works well with a piece of salmon. Let me know what you think!

The inspiration for this dish is the fact that living in rural France you just can’t pop out to  a favourite Asian restaurant but you can make a low fat dinner which is pretty close to the restaurant version, tasty and quick. It’s perfect after a hard  days work and is great for a dinner ‘do’ as it looks impressive if you put the rice in individual pudding basins to serve.

Here’s what you need for 4 people.

  • 4 chicken breast or thigh meat, about 600g sliced thinly
  • 1 red onion/a few shallots/spring onions/any old onion you have – wedged/sliced
  • 1 red pepper sliced/frozen sliced peppers
  • Handful mangetout/frozen green beans/ asparagus/ peas/baby sweetcorn/mushrooms
  • I can coconut milk light (I buy bulk Maggi Powder as cheaper)
  • Handful fresh coriander/frozen/dried
  • 1 or 2 red chillies sliced/ birds eyes or flakes
  • 1 lime quartered
  • Glug of fish sauce (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed (or cheat from paste)
  • 10g or size 2 stock cubes grated ginger (or cheat)

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How to do it  :

  • Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok/large frying pan and add the chicken stirring constantly then add the curry powder, garlic and ginger for 1 minute.
  • Add the onion/peppers for 2/3 minutes.
  • Chuck in coconut milk then rest of veg, chillies and fish sauce and simmer until chicken is cooked.
  • Chop the coriander stalks and stir through and scatter the leaves on the top.
  • Serve with 200g basmati rice with black sesame seeds stirred through or noodles in the middle of a large bowl garnished with the lime.

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