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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Spain - under my skin

Spain has a way of getting under my skin, it's a country I can't get out of my head once back home. We've just returned from a dream two weeks. Rediscovering Barcelona and Port Andratx on Mallorca and getting to know Valencia and doing the tapas trail in Logrono. As always - not enough time but enough to feel enthusiastic to recreate and evoke the tastes and flavours in my own kitchen here in France. Some of the most remarkable food was the simplest. Isn't it always? My favourite from this trip: sepia (cuttlefish) on the plancha. I'm hooked. In Valencia black paella was new for me as was suckling lamb done in a wood fired oven in Logrono. Absolutely no complaints.

Trouble is getting the ingredients. Here in south west France the local (fantastic) produce is very regional so finding 'proper' Spanish ingredients comes as a challenge. However, I've made a start with a well known dish from where in Spain it comes I'm not sure but it's a safe bet for me. Black pudding is easy to find here and very delicious it is from the town of Vic-en-Bigorre at our local Saturday market.  Black pudding is not everyone's cup of tea but if you have the chance to taste a really good one you'll soon be converted.  The best black pudding I have ever had comes from Burgos in Spain and includes rice and for my money nothing else touches it.

This is not really a recipe as such it's just a case of putting all these splendid ingredients together. I doubt scallops are traditional in Spain but I've married them here with the morcilla (black pudding) as a flavour experiment. The texture of the scallops and the creaminess of the black pudding feel right in the mouth heightened by the succulent beans and the fresh, tangy mint.  It feels good. Essential ingredient next is the sea salt.

I first made this dish about thirty years ago. Spurred on by the loveable English cook, Keith Floyd, whose love of Spain matched my own and whose love of slapping up great simple ingredients with a glass of wine in his hand and a great amount of gusto enthused us all. He made us feel happy, not just about his cooking but about life and living and sharing. I can't quite remember off the top of my head how he made his broad bean dish but ever since then I've been putting together one version or another. The following is how I made it last night. Next time might be different. I might add some jamon Serrano and a splash of white wine or not as the case may be.

Serves: 2 as a main course

1 x 500g small black pudding, sliced into even 2cm slices
500g frozen broad beans
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet white onion, finely sliced
6 scallops with or without coral
Sea salt and ground black pepper
Handful of fresh mint leaves


Transfer the frozen broad beans to a bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Leave for a few minutes to cool then pod each bean of its tough outer shell. Discard the shells and set the podded beans aside.

In a medium sized frying pan heat the oil and sear the scallops for two to three minutes on each side until they are cooked through and lightly browned. Remove and keep warm.

Add the onion to the pan and gently cook until soft and translucent. Remove and keep warm.

Add the black pudding to the pan and cook until it is cooked through - about two to three minutes on each side.

Return the onion to the pan with the black pudding and add the beans. Cook a further few minutes, gently turning the ingredients around to mix together but without breaking up the delicate slices of meat.

Place the scallops on top, scatter over the mint and liberally sprinkle with sea salt and ground black pepper. An extra splash of extra virgin olive oil will help loosen the ingredients and given an extra sheen. Serve immediately.

Monday, May 13, 2013

taking a break!

autumn sunset at Binbilla, our home in the Hunter

Regular posting on the foodvine has suffered since the beginning of 2013 while I sat back to write another cookbook, the Recipe Tin. Now the book is finished, published and for sale (see opposite) I feel I can take a well deserved break from food writing. I apologise to my regular readers but I will make amends in the months to come.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Turkish bread

Don't go on a diet and then decide you can't live without Turkish bread – it's not Moorish for nothing. When you're all back to your slicey self bake a batch and never mind the calories. It's a bit messy forming into ovals so you might curse me at this stage but otherwise it's a simple bread with no kneading involved. You will need an electric mixer - don't attempt it otherwise.


375ml warm water
2 teaspoons dried active yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
125ml extra virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons plain yoghurt (at room temperature)
562g plain white flour
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1tsp sea salt
1 teaspoon nigella seeds or black sesame seeds


Use the bowl of a mixer like a Kitchen Aid or Kenwood or similar. Place the water in the bowl of the machine and stir in the sugar then sprinkle the yeast over the top. Leave to activate for five minutes. When it starts to foam and you see a little movement on the surface it will be ready.

Add the flour, yoghurt, oil and salt (in this order). Mix on a low speed for six minutes.

Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave it in a warm place for two hours to double in size.

Preheat the oven to 190C.

Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Turn the dough out onto a floored board and punch down. Divide in two portions. Smooth a portion onto each tray to form ovals approximately of 33cm x 13 cm. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle over the seeds and salt.

Bake the bread in the oven for 23 minutes. Remove (from the oven) the bread tray from the top shelf. Swap the bottom shelf bread tray up to the top shelf. Bake for a further two minutes. Return the first tray to the oven, to the lower shelf and bake both for a further five minutes.

Remove both trays from the oven and slip them off the paper onto a wire rack to cool.

I find two loaves is too much for us so I cut and freeze one as soon as it is cold enough. I love it split and toasted for lunch and it's excellent sliced very thin and used to serve with dips – especially ones like broad bead, carrot and chick pea.


Three things kill yeast: cold, heat and salt.

Make sure the water is warm and not hot or cold.

The salt is added last during the mixing stage so it does not come into direct contact with the yeast.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

the recipe tin

check out my latest cookbook, released today, 21st march 2013

 click on links for a preview and to

purchase printed version and/or ebook at..... 


146 pages of recipes, photographs, short stories and travel notes -
many not previously published on The Food Vine

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ahu Ahu - a black diamond by a blue sea

I'd heard about the black sand on New Zealand's west coast but I couldn't quite imagine what it would be like in real life. Not my cup of tea I'd thought to myself, being biased. I lived and love the chalk white sand of Jervis Bay on Australia's eastern seashore. It's my kind of sand. Dazzling, pure and whiter than white.

So I wasn't expecting real sand and I wasn't expecting it to be black black and I wasn't expecting it to be diamond bright, or to sparkle and glint at me, with or without the sun. It took my breath away. It's beautiful, it's a shock to all the senses.

Fresh water streams from nearby Mt Egmont lose momentum as they meet the beach, spreading out in ripples across the smooth, untouched, black surface into the sea. Fat seagulls squawk from little and large rocks that litter the water's edge. No-one else is here. I think of Longfellow's “I hope to join your seaside walk, saddened and mostly silent with emotion, not interrupting with intrusive talk, the grand majestic symphonies of ocean”.

Our villa, one of five – the Ahu Ahu Beach Villas. It's thoughtfully designed, under-stated, private and provides everything we need. We meet up with the owners, three nights running. David & Nuala. They generously offer freshly caught tuna and crayfish with homemade marinades and sauces. David even cooks our cray. We're speechless. Words don't come to extoll their virtues.

Ahu Ahu is roughly five hours drive south of Auckland and five minutes from Oakura near New Plymouth. Mt Egmont's viewing platform and climbing station is thirty minutes away. Ahu Ahu Beach Villas are a magic place to stay. Three days was not long enough. Check their website for more details

David's marinade for (luminous pink) seared tuna

sesame seed oil
sweet chilli sauce
soy sauce
lemon infused rice bran oil
lemon juice

David's aioli sauce for the tuna and crayfish

crushed garlic
sour cream
chopped basil
lemon juice
lemon infused rice bran oil

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I love the shape, the shine, the texture, the taste, the flavour and the 'Frenchness' of brioche..

Brioche making is a two to three day affair because very little yeast is used and the dough is usually given three risings, one of which is in a cold place, and this process takes a long time. 

I decided to by- pass all this and kept my dough in the fridge for two hours and gave it no 'warm room' rising at all. I didn't knock it back after the first hour either. It is far too sticky to even contemplate touching. The net result was my brioche was excellent so this way of making it is really worth trying.

Serve brioche thickly sliced and toasted: plain or with any jam or marmalade or a mixture of cinnamon and sugar sprinkled over the top.

Brioche also makes excellent French toast: take 4 thick slices and dip them, one at a time, into a mixture of 4 eggs, 100ml cream and 100ml milk. Make sure each slice is well saturated. Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan and cook each slice about 2 minutes on each side until they are golden brown. Combine 50g castor sugar with 1teaspoon cinnamon powder and sprinkle over the cooked bread. Serve the French toast with a compote of berries and some yoghurt or ice cream.

Ingredients for Brioche:

190g plain organic white flour
2 teaspoons dried yeast
2 teaspoons castor sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
125g unsalted butter cut into small cubes, at room temperature
1 egg and 1tablespoon milk for glazing


Mix all the ingredients together except the butter cubes and the glaze. Stir well. Using electric beaters mix on a low speed for 4 minutes then high speed for 4 minutes. Lower speed to medium and add butter cubes, a few at a time, until the butter is incorporated into the mixture and it's smooth and soft and very sticky.

Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly greased bowl and cover. Place in the refrigerator and leave there  for two hours.

Grease a fluted brioche tin, line with non-stick baking paper. Spoon the dough into the tin and brush lightly with the glaze.

Bake at 180C for 40 minutes. The brioche is cooked when a skewer inserted into it comes out clean. Leave to cool for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire cake rack and let cool completely.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

walnut and sultana bread

200ml milk (at body temperature)
1 egg yolk
3 eggs
30g soft brown sugar
3 teaspoons dried yeast
300g organic plain four (sifted)
190g walnut halves
2 teaspoons salt
Glaze: 1 egg white, 1 tablespoon milk)
2 handfuls sultanas soaked in warm water for 30 minutes

Set oven to 200C

Line a 25cm (10 inch) loaf tin, I used a collapsable one, with non-stick baking paper and set the tin on a (round) baking sheet for ease in and out of the oven.

In a large bowl, mix:

milk, eggs, sugar and yeast. Leave in a warm place for ten minutes or until the mixture looks like it is fermenting on the top (bubbling up).

Sieve the flour into the mixture. Mix well. Add the nuts and fruit if you are using it, then the salt. Mix well.

Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and stand in a warm place to prove for 30-45 minutes or until the mixture has risen to within 1cm or ½ inch of the top of the tin. My mixture took nearly 50 minutes to rise. Brush with the glaze, gently and place in the oven.

Bake the bread for 5 minutes then turn the heat down to 170C and bake another 25 minutes and check it. I cooked mine a further ten minutes. All ovens vary so it's important to keep checking.

It is also important to check the bread is not burning on top. Place a piece of foil on it if necessary.

The bread is cooked when a knife is inserted into it and it comes out clean or when it makes a hollow sound when tapped.

Allow to cool in the tin then turn out onto a wire rack. Remove the paper. Leave to cool completely.

Notes: I cooked my bread in a small convection oven which has a round turntable in it which is why I had to use a round baking sheet. It was a very hot day and I didn't want the house getting all hot from the big oven. I let the bread dough prove outside, covered, on a table in the shade as the inside temperature of the house was a bit too cold for the dough to rise. The heat of outside air proved a perfect proving place.

The above recipe is my adaptation of a Peter Gordon recipe.

PG used 1 egg and 3 yolks while I used 3 eggs and 1 yolk. He used ½ teaspoon salt while I used 2 teaspoons salt. He used 2 tablespoons milk for the glaze while I used 1 tablespoon. He used 250gm walnut halves while I used 190gm. I think the walnuts should be roughly chopped so I will do this next time. He didn't use sultanas. I did but I should have put another handful in the mixture. He baked his loaf for 30 minutes while I baked my mine for 40 minutes.

I have to say my loaf was absolutely perfect as my bread expert husband will vouch for but I think if the walnuts were roughly chopped it would result in a better distribution of them throughout the loaf. Next time I'll use more walnuts, either 250gm as PG suggested or even more than that. After all this is walnut bread.

The bread is heaven with cheese, especially goat's cheese and when it's a bit stale it's almost better. Sublime toasted, too.