Friday, 28 March 2014

A Little French Soup

Pistou, a condiment from the Provence region of France was introduced by the Italians in the 19th century. 'Pistou' is really the French equivalent of a 'Pesto' and consists of a mix of fresh basil, garlic, oil and a little parmesan cheese. Generally the ingredients are pounded together in a mortar and pestle and added to a broth to enhance the flavour.

Soup au Pistou is my all time favourite French soup although one which I haven't made for a fair time. 

When I lived and worked in Paris, I was introduced to this soup au pistou by an elderly French woman who could dress a chicken, chop it into piece and turn it into an amazing cassoulet, even though she was completely blind. She stunned me with what she could do just by the feel and she never seemed to make a mistake.
I shared a kitchen occasionally with this woman and when we cooked she told me stories about her childhood in the country and how making a 'pistou' reminded her of her so much of her family who used to grow all their own vegetables, keep chickens and pigs and the odd horse to work the fields.

I was reminded of this relationship a couple of weeks ago when I was rummaging through my old postcards and I found one that I had received from a friend who had visited the picturesque town of Sauve. This is the town where my elderly friend had lived as a child.  This sent me on a long hunt through an old trunk, finding a few dolls, some odd magazines (not sure why I kept those) and a heap of old exercise books to try and find the recipe that she had given me many years ago. I am delighted that I found it and can share it with you.

Madame Leroux, ici c'est votre recette. Merci beaucoup.

Soup au Pistou

Ingredients - Serves 8 - 10 people

500g white dried haricot beans
1 large leek sliced
300g French green beans
300g carrots diced
3 zucchinis diced
3 large tomatoes chopped
300g potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper
2 litres of vegetable stock (see below)
100g pasta (I use Risoni)

For the Pistou

5 cloves garlic crushed
bunch fresh basil
Olive oil
Grated parmesan

Vegetable Stock

Making your own vegetable stock is very easy and so much better than using commercial ones, however if you are short on time then do what you have to and use a ready made stock.
2 carrots chopped
1 onion chopped
1 zucchini diced
a few stalks of celery or tops of celery chopped
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
2 litres of water
Olive oil
Knob of butter

In a large saucepan heat olive oil and a knob of butter.
Throw in all the vegetables, parsley and caramelise for 5 mins, stirring continually. Add, water, bay leaves, salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook for approximately 1 hour. Strain the stock, and it is ready to use.

Soak the haricot beans overnight with enough water to completely cover. Strain the following day and they are ready to use.


  • In a large saucepan bring your stock to the boil, add drained haricot beans, potatoes and carrots and bring back to the boil.
  • Add French green beans, leek and zucchini and bring back to the boil. Add tomatoes and continue to cook on a low heat until the vegetables are almost soft and add pasta. If you use Risoni it will only take a few minutes to cook.
  • Adjust seasoning.
Serve the soup with a spoonful of 'Pistou', a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and a good chunk of baguette!


You can put all the ingredients into a mortar and pound with your pestle or put into a blender and blend together. Add as much oil as you need to make a nice paste, but try and keep some texture to it.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Stocking up for Winter

It is so very European to take stock of your pantry and build up your stores before the winter snow arrives. Maybe it is inherent, because I still do it, although Adelaide doesn't get any snow and our winters are mild compared to Europe and the USA.

We are well into March and so far I have had a bumper time filling up my shelves for the coming year. In December I bought some fabulous cherries and made a batch of Cherry and Vanilla Conserve. January saw an abundance of tomatoes so out came my big pot for Tomato Sauce and Chilli Jam. Then I found that my red cabbage was ready for picking so I  decided I should make some Pickled Red Cabbage. In February, I was given a mass of lemons, so I preserved these in salt. 

Now I feel very smug because my shelves are filled up with any array of goodies. I am hoarding Green Pepper Pickle, Sweet Pickled Cucumbers and Tomato and Tamarind Chutney from my last efforts. So all in all I should be ready for the winter, just in case the snow arrives.

You can find my Cherry and Vanilla Jam and Chilli Jam Recipes in my previous posts. Here are the recipes for Pickled Red Cabbage and Preserved Lemons.
If you don't grow either lemons or cabbages yourself, you may find some of your friends will be only too happy to share their produce if you offer a pickle or a preserve in return. There's only so much cabbage one person can eat if you want to keep your friends.

Here's the recipes I used.
Pickled Red Cabbage

1/2 Red cabbage, finely sliced
3 tsp pickling spices
1 litre of white vinegar/Cider vinegar
Sea Salt

Spread the finely sliced red cabbage onto a tray and sprinkle with a good helping of rock salt. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave overnight. Wash all the salt off the cabbage and place in a colander to drain.

Measure the pickling spices and vinegar and place these in a large sauce pan over a low heat and bring to the boil. Turn off and let the spices infuse for a 5 minutes or so.

Pack the red cabbage into clean warm jars and fill the jars with warm pickling spices and vinegar. Seal immediately. Leave for around 6 weeks before eating.

Preserved Lemons


Wash and dry lemons and cut into 1/4rs
Sea salt
White Mustard seeds
Dried bay leaves
Whole Cloves
Black peppercorns
Mason Preserving jars with a rubber seal

In the bottom of each jar that you want to fill with lemons add 2 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed, 2 whole cloves, 6 black peppercorns and a sprinkling of salt.
Pack the lemon pieces into your jar, layering with salt as you go. For each layer of lemons, cover with salt. Continue until the jar is completely full. Seal.

Store jars in a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks, giving them a turn upside down and a good shake to distribute the spices and keep the salt and lemon juice flowing. Once the lemons have gone soft and squishy they are ready to use.
Some people put them in the fridge at this point. So far I have left them on a shelf in the kitchen and they seem to be doing OK.

You can use them finely chopped in rice, Quinoa, tagines or other vegetables dishes.

Last week I saw that plums were at such a good price, it was time to get cracking on some jam. So the kitchen has been awash with Plum and Cinnamon Jam.

I also decided to try my hand at Plum and Cardamom Jam,because I like these flavours together, but not made them into jam before. First I roasted the plums. I would not have thought about roasting plums but I came upon a recipe for ice cream made from roasted plums and wondered how good they would be in jam. 

The colour and flavour of the plums was so intensified that it made the jam absolutely sensational. I am sharing my recipe now so you can go and buy some plums before the season ends and make your own.

Roasted Plum and Cardamom Jam

1.5kg Plums
1 kg sugar
1/2 cup water
Juice of 1 lemon
10 green cardamom pods

  • Put the oven on to 170 degrees/fan forced.
  • Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  • Cut the plums in half and lay them cut side up on the tray. You can leave the stones in because they are easier to remove when they are cooked.
  • Bake in the oven for around 20 - 30 minutes until the plums are soft. This depends on how ripe your plums are.
  • Remove from the oven and take out the plum stones.
  • Lightly crush the cardamom pods and tie up in some muslin.
  • Put the plums, all the juices, water, lemon juice and cardamom in muslin into a large pan and slowly bring to the boil. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook until setting point is reached. My jam took only about 15 minutes to reach setting point, but this will depend on the type of plums you use. Remove the muslin and discard.
  • Take off the heat, remove any scum and spoon into hot clean jars and seal.

Checking for Setting Point
To check if jam has reached setting point. Take jam off heat and spoon a little onto a cold plate. Allow the 'jam' to cool. If you push your finger through it and it wrinkles then it has reached setting point.

Saturday, 15 March 2014


Most people have somewhere to call home, whatever their concept of it is. It can be constantly changing or never changing. It can be two places or three or just one favourite Home Sweet Home.
For me, I have a dilemma! Born in UK and living many years in Australia I get confused. When I head to UK I say I am going 'home' and when I am in the UK I head 'home' to Australia. See my problem?
Right now I am really home sick! I have no idea why but I long to walk in long grass without fear of treading on a snake! I want to see a beech forest in spring with a carpet of bluebells, I want to drink warm beer in a local pub. I want to hear the blackbirds singing, listen to the hundreds of English accents from around the country and watch the TV weather forecast showing the British Isles and the North Sea, instead of the Australia continent. I am desperate to hear Dogger Bank, Fair Isle, Gascon and all the other places in the shipping forecast.

In June I am heading back to the UK for a visit, but it seems such a long time to wait. I am impatient, I am so itching to smell England, itching to get a sense of identity, where I really belong. There is a side to UK that many first time visitors miss. It isn't the Castles, Cathedrals, Palaces and Shakespeare, it's the everyday things you take for granted. So I am going to share a few of my favourite places with you, throw in a few recipes that remind me of home and add in a little bit of nostalgia. I hope it will feel like you are having a holiday too.

  • French was the official language spoken in England for 300 years from 1066 to 1362
  • Oxford University used to have a rule that fore bade students from bringing bows and arrows into class.
  • Windsor Castle is the oldest Royal residence in the world that is still in use. It was built in 1070.
  •  There is nowhere in Britain that is more than 74.5 miles from the sea.
  • Shoelaces were invented in Britain in 1790.
  • Worcestershire Sauce, HP Sauce and the humble sandwich were all invented in England.
That's enough to fry your brains, lets eat!

Victoria Sandwich or Victoria Sponge

This cake was named in honour of Queen Victoria as it was one of her favourite 'teatime' cakes. It is usually spread with jam and cream, but I like mine with strawberries too and I made it just in time for afternoon tea! Nothing can be more English than this - yet another cake! So it must be my last! (For a while anyway)
225g self raising flour
225g unsalted butter
170g caster sugar
4 free range eggs
200g thick cream for whipping
2 tsps vanilla essence
A few tablespoons of milk
Strawberries, hulled and sliced
Icing sugar for decorating

  • Grease and line two cake tins about 20 cms each.
  • Beat sugar and butter really well until light and creamy(should be almost white when you have finished) and add the eggs, a little at a time. 
  • Fold in the flour, keep it as light as possible and add the vanilla. If the mixture seems a little stiff, add a tablespoon or two of milk until you reach a dropping consistency.
  • Fill the prepared cake tins, levelling the tops with a spatula.
  • Cook in a preheated oven 170c degrees for 20 - 25 minutes until brown on the top.
  • Cool in the tins for 5 minutes and then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.
  • Spread the base of one with jam, strawberries and whipped cream. Then add the second sponge.
  • Place a couple of strawberries on the top and a dusting of icing sugar, before serving.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Carrot Cake Arabian Style

It feels like it is time for cake. You will have noticed from my previous posts that I don't often include cakes. That is because if I make them, I eat them and then I have to double the amount of exercise I do to try and maintain a healthy weight. As I am very reticent about increasing my exercise level, then I have to forego the cakes. But, I have a spicy recipe that I wanted to share.

This recipe 'Arabian Carrot Cake' is inspired by Tamara Milstein's recipe 'Sephardi Carrot Cake' from her book 'Bake your Cake & Eat it Too'. It is a book I have had for many years and just occasionally I pick it up to check out her lovely photos and drool over the recipes. I have made this cake a few times and each time it has turned out perfectly.

According to Tamara, the Sephardi were Jews who lived in and around the Middle Eastern Arab countries and Europe since late 15th century after they were expelled from Spain, when Spain was a Muslim country. The Sephardi have taken these flavours and adopted them into their diet. The flavours of this cake are very Middle Eastern, a cuisine I like very much and use in my cooking on a regular basis.

My recipe includes a good mixture of fruit and nuts, eggs and spices and just a very small piece with a Turkish coffee will keep you going for the rest of the day.

Arabian Carrot Cake

Ingredients - oven temps 180 degrees fan forced

250g caster sugar
6 eggs separated
zest of 2 lemons
2 cups grated carrot
3 cups ground almonds
1 cup self raising flour
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 cup toasted pistachio nuts
1/2 cup sultanas
8 dried apricots chopped
10 dried prunes chopped
1/4 cup toasted flaked almonds
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbls apricot jam or similar
1 tbls boiling water
sprinkling of icing sugar
  • Grease a round springform cake tin or a fluted cake tin, with butter.
  • Beat egg yolks, lemon zest and sugar until light and creamy. 
  • Fold in grated carrot, chopped prunes, apricots, sultanas, ground almonds and mix well. 
  • Add flour, cinnamon and 3/4's of the nuts that have been slightly crushed. (I usually put them in a tea towel and give them a few bashes with a rolling pin). The mixture will look a little heavy at this stage but the addition of the egg whites will perk it up.
  • Beat egg whites with salt until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the mixture. Be thorough but gentle and keep as much air in as possible.
  • Spoon the mix into the cake tin. Sprinkle a few more nuts over the top.
  • Bake in the oven for around 40 minutes until nicely brown on top and when a skewer is inserted in the centre and comes out clean.
  • Turn the cake out and cool. 
  • Mix jam with boiling water and glaze the top of the cake with a pastry brush. Add a dusting of icing sugar before serving.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Spicy Condiments

As promised in my last post, here are my favourite condiments for Moroccan food. If you are familiar with using both Harissa and Chermoula, then please skip over the next paragraphs to the recipes, if not read on........

Harissa; Found mainly in North African dishes; In Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco this spice paste is served on everything from bread to meat and fish. The recipe varies from country to country but the basics are garlic, salt, hot pepper, olive oil, coriander, cumin etc. Many recipes call for dried peppers and hot dried chillies but I prefer to use fresh ones and roast them.

Chermoula; Moroccan's use this marinade to flavour fish and meat. Often it is use to coat fish or chicken prior to making a tajine. Again, it is a wonderful blend of herbs and spices and will transform any ordinary dish into something special. This marinade can certainly work very well with vegetables or soy products too, so vegetarians like me don't miss out! You can add more chilli if you like it very hot, but this is fine for most people.

Harissa Paste

2 red capsicums (red peppers)
4 hot red chillies
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 bunch fresh coriander
1 tbls olive oil

This makes a small jar of paste. I like to make it on a regular basis so I only make a small amount at a time.
Brush the red peppers with olive oil and roast them in the oven 200c fan forced,  turning once, until they are soft. This will take around 40 minutes. Take out of the oven and immediately place on a board and cover with a plastic bowl, to steam them. This makes peeling them a whole lot easier. Peel and deseed.

While the peppers are roasting, chop garlic and add to a frypan with a little oil and gently saute. Add all the spices and stir with the garlic for a few minutes, if it gets too hot and smoky, add 1 tablespoon of water. Tip into a dish and allow to cool.

Take the peppers, chillies, garlic and spices, fresh coriander and put them into a blender. Pulse these until you are happy with the blend. I like mine to have a good texture, but to be well blended. Add 1 tablespoon of oil an put into a jar and refrigerate. Use it up within a month.


3 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 red chilli deseeded and sliced
1 tsp saffron
2tbls chopped parsley
4 tbls chopped coriander
salt and pepper
juice 1/2 lemon
4 tbls olive oil

Blend all of the ingredients, except olive oil and lemon juice,  in a blender until well combined. Stir in the oil and lemon juice until you have a rough paste. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. As a marinade apply to meat, fish, soy etc for at least 20 -30 minutes before using.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Moroccan Delights

We have all embraced Morocco! Famous for its tajines (or tagines) and spicy, aromatic foods. It's culture a blend of Arabic, Berber and African influences existing over many centuries. But what do we really know about this exotic country other than how it is portrayed in the 1942 movie 'Casablanca'? 
This film, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman was made entirely in film studios of America, with left over props and stage settings from other movies. Any reference to Morocco was in name only!

Did you know that Casablanca has over 3 million people and it is the largest city in Morocco, but Rabat is the capital. The currency is called Moroccan Dirham and is often abbreviated to Dh or MAD!

But let's concentrate on the food, because that's what we are here for, isn't it?
As part of the spice trade, Morocco has been blessed with an array of aromatic spices. This leads to dishes and enhancements such as 'chermoula' , 'harissa' and that wonderful spice blend 'ras el hanoult'. Preserved lemons added to couscous, honey, cinnamon and almond pastries and thick stews of dried fruit and vegetables are just a few of my most favourite tastes. And, all this leaves the most superb aroma in the house, better and cheaper than any room freshener.

My request to family members for a ceramic Tajine has so far fallen on deaf ears, (hint, hint) so when making tajines I use a mixture of 'Le Crueset and large stainless steel pots, depending on how many people I am cooking for. I have a small slow cooker, which is perfect for making smaller batches and experimenting with different spices. While this is not authentic, the tastes are pretty damn good.
(All the photographs of Morocco are by Victoria Hannan. They were taken in the markets and souks around Marrakech and Rabat in 2013.)

I have Morocco on my bucket list, but I think it will be 2016 before I can even think about a visit because my 2014 and 2015 trips are already spoken for.
Marrakech has a huge spice market and I think a visit just for this alone would be well worth it.

For something a little bit exotic I am sharing with you the perfect recipe for a Vegetable Tajine. It has all the ingredients to give you that wonderful taste of Morocco, without leaving your dining room. Put on some arabic music, and imagine you are in a dusty market somewhere in Morocco. "Here's lookin' at you kid"
Vegetable Tajine


Serves 6 people

2 cloves garlic crushed
1 large onion thinly sliced
300g prepared pumpkin
100g green beans
400g tin chick peas
2 large tomatoes chopped
3 potatoes peeled and chopped into wedges
pinch saffron
2 tsps sweet paprika
2 tsps turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbls cumin seed
handful of dried apricots sliced
handful of prunes sliced
1/2 cup sultanas or raisins
salt and pepper
2 carrots chopped into batons
1/2 bunch coriander chopped
Few sprigs mint chopped
2 small eggplants sliced
10 black olives
1 or 2 small red chillies
1/4 - 1/2 preserved lemon chopped
plain yoghurt

This does look like a lot of ingredients, but you really need all of these to get the balance of flavours right. Here's my photo of some of the ingredients as I was gathering everything together.

  • In a large pan, preferably what you want to cook the whole dish in, add oil and heat slowly.
  • Take the chopped onion and garlic and fry off until they start to soften. Add the spices; paprika, turmeric, cinnamon and stir for a couple of minutes, if it gets too hot and dry, add a tablespoon of water. Add 3 tablespoons hot water to the saffron and leave for a couple of minutes before adding to the pan. Break the chillis in half a place in the pan.
  • Add tomatoes, 1/4 bunch coriander, all the fruit, eggplants, pumpkin, olives, green beans, potatoes, carrots, any other vegetables you have chosen and stir well. Cook this very slowly, either in the oven, cooktop, slow cooker or a Tajine!
  • When everything seems to be cooked, approximately 1 hr or more depending on your cooking method, take out the chillies.
  • Adjust seasoning, add the rest of the coriander, chopped mint and the chopped preserved lemon and serve with a dollop of yoghurt. You can also serve this with some spiced couscous, but I like it by itself.
Later this week I will post my recipes for Chermoula because I need to make some tomorrow for a fish dish I am cooking for family members.  I will also post a quick and easy Harissa Paste recipe. If I have time to whip up a dessert, I will post that too because I have a great one in mind.  Besseha!