Huskies, ski de fond and discovering local goat's cheese

Friday, 20 January 2012

During our recent trip to the Alps, we visited a goat's farm - nestled above the ski de fond pistes in Confin - to buy some cheese. The walk from the car park is pretty spectacular in itself. In the summer, you pass through verdant green grazing pastures with a backing song of distant cow bells. And in the Winter, you traverse the cross country pistes and then trek through the snow to climb up to the farm.

A winding path to get our cheese

Waiting for a ride...

The goats live outside in the Summer and indoors in the Winter and they are milked each and every morning. Happy goats. We came home with two cheeses - a fresh crumbly one with herbs and pink peppercorns (that had been made that afternoon with the morning's milk) and a runny one that had been matured for about three weeks.

Perfect for a Salad de Chevre Chaud...

Or just on fresh bread, bought that morning from Le Bellier - the best artisan boulangerie in La Clusaz

Blood oranges... Ruby red orbs and a host of tarts

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Blood oranges are in season right now and the lovely Stirling at South Lambeth Market got hold of a few kilos of the ruby red citrus fruit for me last weekend.

There's something about the taste of blood oranges... they remind me of a trip I made to Florence in February about five years ago. Each morning we'd eat these tartly sweet red globes as we planned our day exploring the city.

Sweet, slightly tart and with a beautiful delicate fragrace, these fruit are perfect for pastry... And jelly. And salad. And soup.

First on my list of things to try was a fresh and fragrant king prawn, carrot and szechuan pepper salad... reminiscent of springtime. Light and refreshing.

When life gives you blood oranges... make a blood orange tart... or a host of tarts.

The first I made was a twist on a classic lemon meringue pie, replacing the traditional lemon curd filling with blood oranges (and a squeeze of lime for sharpness)...

I also used the blood orange curd to make a more traditional tart with icing sugar and blood orange zest...

And then topped a couple with caramelised blood oranges soaked in Grand Marnier.

Finally, a blood orange and chilli jelly. Tiny cubes of cool, smooth, tart and sweet jelly contrasting with a fiery chilli burn.

I also made a blood orange, carrot and ginger soup and still have half a dozen blood oranges to use, which will be juiced, segmented, and savoured....

Time to breathe... lazy days in the French Alps

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Days, weeks and months go by slowly in the Alps. Lazy days curled up by the fire reading, snow shoe walking at dusk on the top of the Beauregard mountain, drinking coffee, eating, skiing.  It's a home from home. Somewhere to relax, to contemplate, and to plan for the year ahead.

I always leave the mountains feeling refreshed, energised and well fed. The time I spend at the beginning of each year in La Clusaz gives me time to focus, breathe, and prioritise. Gives me perspective.

Mist creeping up the valley - Snowshoe walking at dusk
La Clusaz is a rare, traditional gem that stands out from larger, concrete ski towns. It has character.

And it's renowned for its Alpine fare. Mountain-side meals of raclette, fondue and tartiflette, eaten with a chill in the air and wind-chaffed cheeks. Vin chaud and pain perdu (caramelised french toast) at the end of a hard days skiing. Diot (local pork sausages, cooked in white wine), pierrade (an indoor BBQ, cooked on a hot stone) and gratin dauphinoise to round off the day.

There are too many favourite restaurants to list. If you visit, and I recommend you do - Summer or Winter - try the tartiflette (and view) at Le Relais de L'Aiguille, the coffee and an always wholesome plat du jour at Le Bercail or the Plat Pisteurs at Le Telemark.

Just what's needed to reinvigorate the senses and reevaluate what's important in 2012 - family, friends and perspective.

Lunch with a view - at Relais De L'Aiguille
Watching the snow clouds roll in

Soho Lunch Sessions #2 - Foxcroft & Ginger, 3 Berwick Street

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

January for many means detox, drizzle and diets (Atkins, Dukan or cabbage soup anyone?). Not for me. Especially because in 2012, according to the Mayans, the world is going to end. It must be true, I read it in the Daily Mail...

Yes, that's right, on 21st December 2012, Earth will be no more. There are conflicting theories as to what will happen - alien invasion, nuclear catastrophe, black hole, asteroid, solar flare or (my personal favourite and the one I'm voting for) the planet Nibiru - a rogue piece of rock, currently hanging out behind the sun - will collide with Earth.... poof, that's it. The End.

So this year there will be no January diet and no detox for me. 2012 will be my year of exploration and discovery of the World's bounty... while I still can.

The first step towards this is reinstatement of the Soho Lunch Sessions. These were supposed to happen every week. But you know what it's like - life gets in the way. Seeing as life will soon be no more, I thought I had better get back on to these straight away (before exploring the rest of the World). It's easier to explore my doorstep in Soho right now, rather than jetting off somewhere, although hopefully that will happen too... before the World comes to an end.

Sitting in Foxcoft and Ginger at lunchtime today, I got to thinking that this is the kind of place I would like to be sat in if (when) that asteroid/ planet finally does strike. This cool, quirky cafe has comfortable cushions, amazing coffee from Climpson and Sons, proper, pretty cappuccinos and ham and cheese french toast sandwiches to die for (pun intended), drizzled with honey and mustard - the only kind of drizzle I appreciate in January. This is not the lunch to order if you are in fact dieting/ detoxing/ respecting your arteries.

There are some seemingly healthier options available though if you are so inclined, including a garden pea humous sandwich with lemon and thyme roasted veg, or an English apsaragus salad with basil and pumpkin seed salad - all served up on rustic wooden boards.

Downstairs there's also (randomly), a couple of old gym horses which are used as tables and the open pipes on the ceiling give this place a bit of an industrial, slightly unfinished look. Try and grab a cosy table upstairs (there are three) at the back by the coffee machine. I could sit there for hours.

Check it out - seriously- it will help you forget the end of the world is nigh.

Oh, and to finish it all off nicely, they do pretty awesome cakes too...

Indulgent (but simple) Bailey's chocolate truffles

Monday, 2 January 2012

These chocolates are so simple and make such a great gift for chocolate (and Bailey's) lovers. I made them as a thank you present for my Mother-in-law, post-Christmas dinner petit fours and as a pressie for my chocolate-loving husband.

The great thing about these truffles is that they are so adaptable - replace the Bailey's with rum, whisky or a spirit of your choice, substitute the dark chocolate with white, replace the dusted cocoa powder with grated white chocolate, crushed hazelnuts or dip in chocolate for a hard solid shell. I think the vibrant green of crushed pistachios could look particularly dazzling too.

Makes around 30 truffles
5oz (150g) good quality dark chocolate 
5 fl oz thick double cream
1 oz (25g) unsalted butter
2 tbsp Bailey's 
1 tbsp Greek yoghurt 
Cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate!) for dusting 

Break the chocolate into small pieces and grind in a food processor until it resembles a fine powder.Then put the cream, butter and Bailey's into a small saucepan an bring to simmering point. Once melted, add the liquid to the chocolate - with the food processor turned on - until you have a smooth, blended mixture. Mix in the Greek yoghurt and transfer to a bowl to cool. Put in the fridge to set overnight. (p.s. make sure you leave some mixture out of the fridge - chef's perks).

The next day, dust your hands with cocoa powder and roll the mixture into balls, rolling in cocoa powder when finished. Place the truffles in mini paper cases (he kind you buy in the supermarket for miniature cupcakes) and place in a pretty box.

TIP: One thing to note with these truffles is that it can become quite messy, especially if you have warm hands. I always run my hands under the cold tap before starting (and as I go along) to keep the chocolate as cool as possible.

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