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July is French month at our place. Always has been. The main reason is Bastille Day on July 14, which we always celebrate whether we are away on the boat or back home on land. Festivities have taken may shapes over the years. When lucky enough to be in France (or French territories) we would partake in the local events: fireworks over the bay of Benodet in 2006, military parade in La Rochelle in 2011, Polynesian Show in Bora Bora in 2014. Any other years, it means a big feast and though we’re talking about a single event, it is the lead up and the aftermath that make the whole month of July a festival of French food. From the planning, produce sourcing and prepping prior, to the cleaning up and accomodating of left overs afterwards…our home feels like a little corner of France.This year was no different.

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We always try to host a big family meal at least once a month, and as you may know by now, everyone in our clan not only likes to eat but cook as well. In a typical Aussie fashion, no guests like to come empty handed and generally the first question I am asked after sending an invite is “What can I bring?” For many years, I would play the perfect French hostess, replying “nothing at all, just the pleasure of your company”. And I meant it, as I took great pleasure in planning the meal, choosing the wines to match the menu and the flowers to dress the table. Admittedly it was easy since our boats have often been the largest in any anchorage, and on land our house is comfortable enough to accomodate a crowd. However, years of cruising and sharing potluck dinners in parks or on beaches, discovering other’s culinary prowess created a shift of mindset and I now find it much more fun when each participants comes along with his or her own creation. Be it a potato bake or a bottle of wine. Keep people engaged, as they say…

This month dinner theme being French, is think it fair to say the challenge was on. Our guests were Terry’s children (Craig, Mal, Shelley and Tania) and partners (Danielle and Kathy), grand-children (Harry, Hannah, Cooper and Jessie), and the boys mum, Rosalie, and her partner, Ian. Rosalie immediately offered to cook Coq au Vin and I suggested that the others take care of starters as I had a couple of desserts in mind. Just as well the invites went out 3 weeks ahead, it gave everyone plenty of time to do some research…myself included! The kids were over the moon when on Bastille Day itself, I decided to test a batch of crepes for dinner. While quite common in France, a crepe dinner is a treat in Australia. I served a savoury main of mushroom and bacon pancakes followed by lemon and sugar crepes for dessert, to the delight of Anne who reminded me “I” had missed pancake Day in February this year, so this was only a catch up !

2 days later, I drove to meet a girlfriend, Elaine, in North Sydney, who wanted to show me her neighbourhood farmer’s market. She had asked me to come early, as stalls often sell out by 8am. That meant I was on the road at 7am on a Saturday, not something I do often. Luckily the traffic was light and being school holidays, it turns out the Northside Produce Market, was only moderately busy. As Elaine took me thru her favourite stalls, I could not help being reminded of the open air fresh markets in France, with the artisan breadmakers, green grocers, fresh flowers, and cheese mongers!!! Oh, never mind the early drive, it was so worth it, especially when I found Steph’s Gourmet Food and its french saucisson and pates! We instantly broke into French and babbled away, taking all of poor Elaine’s patience to pry me away…for we had a lot to catch up with over coffee and my friend was on a schedule as tight as I was, hosting a lunch of her own the next day. The rest of the morning was spent discussing world issues, upcoming holidays, the menus of our respective Sunday lunches and the latest Pokemon Go craze taking over! We have very diverse topics of interest as you can see …

This brings us to our French inspired lunch. Being in charge of desserts, I chose to make a chocolate tart and an apple cake. The former, I knew would be a favourite with the children (young and old), the latter is an old family favourite and a rustic take on the traditional apple pound cake. Unlike other years, I found myself with enough time on my hands to get organised in advance, and with a lot of the prep done the day before, it was merely a matter of putting things together and let the oven do the work for 1 hour or so. Which allowed me to prepare a main of beef stew with carrots, to complement Rosalie’s coq au vin, as well as a big batch of garlic mashed potatoes to mop up the delicious juices from both courses. And because I had last minute concerns that the grandchildren may not fancy all these wine laden stews, I cooked some mac and cheese as a back up! All we needed now were our starters…

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Apple cake and chocolate tart in the waiting. For the tart recipe please visit this blog 

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Clockwise from bottom left: Beef and carrot stew, garlic mashed potatoes and Rosalie’s coq au vin

Shelley and Tania brought some vol au vents, with a choice of 2 delicious fillings of curried prawns and chicken and leek. Craig produced an amazing plate of salmon tartare garnished with dill and green sisho (courtesy of Darling Mills Herbs, one of my market’s finds!), while Danielle put together the most wonderful beef carpaccio with parmesan and rocket. My starters’ contribution was a plate of snails in a burgundy sauce of garlic and parsley butter, served in tiny pastries instead of shells as the French do. Not that we needed another dish, but I had promised to cook snails! With such an abundance of food, Terry suggested that we should end lunch right there and then, but hey, who was in a hurry…the beauty of long lazy lunches is that nobody is rushing to go home and it was well into the evening before our guests departed. One could say that no dinner was necessary.

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Vol au vents served piping hot. Photo bomb from the can of soft drink!

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Craig’s salmon tartare

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Danielle’s beef carpaccio with rocket and parmesan

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Escargots in parsley and garlic butter sauce

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Escargots (Snails) in garlic butter sauce

In France, you can purchase frozen pre-seasoned snails in the shell, ready to bake. Believe it or not, it used to be one of my kids favourite food, owing a lot to the garlic butter sauce which they used to mop with chunks of fresh bread. We used to always have a packet handy in the freezer, ready to pop in the oven for 15 minutes and voila! No such thing here in Sydney, so I have had to come up with my own way. You can buy canned snails as well as clean empty shells, but at $1 a shell I find it an expensive proposition. I substitute shortcrust mini-pastry cases instead, which is not only more economical but turns this starter into a perfect finger food (one bite and it’s gone!)
You can also use vol au vent cases, another ideal vehicle to soak up the butter.

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Makes 30

Ingredients:

1 can of escargots (2 1/2 dozens)
30 pre-cooked mini pastry or vol au vent cases
For the butter:
100g butter at room temperature
1 tsp salt
1 pinch white pepper
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 garlic clove crushed (or more to taste!)
1 small french shallot finely chopped
1 tsp brandy (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 160 C.
  2. Prepare the butter sauce: blend together all the ingredients, cover and allow to sit for a few hours for flavours to develop.
  3. Drain the content of the can, and place each snail in a pastry case ( or shell if using). Cover with the butter mixture prepared as above. Bake in the oven until the butter sauce sizzles and the pastry cases are warm.
  4. Serve immediately.

Beef and carrot stew

A favourite in our family, this meat stew uses white wine and mustard, instead of the traditional red wine and mushroom combination. I also like to include lots of carrots and peas, to make it a one-pot dish (though some kids have been known to pick the vegetables out…) This dish is best to prepare the day before as the flavours improve if left overnight. All you need is to reheat slowly before dinner.

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Serves 6, as a main

Ingredients:

Olive oil
1.2 kg chuck steak, cut in 5cm pieces
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 celery sticks, trimmed and chopped
750 ml dry white wine
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 bouquet garni
Sprigs of thyme
4 carrots, peeled and sliced in coins
200g frozen peas
A handful of parsley for garnish
Salt and pepper

  1. Heat oil in a large pot or dutch oven on high heat. Brown the meat in batches, set aside.
  2. In the same pot, add 1 tbsp of olive oil. Reduce the heat to medium and sweat the onion and celery, until soft and translucent ( careful not to let it burn). Add the meat and its juices, the dijon mustard and stir until combined. Pour in the white wine and enough water to cover the meat. Add the bouquet garni, bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to the minimum and simmer for at least 2 hours or until meat is tender, checking occasionally that the liquid has not reduced too much.
    At that stage you can turn off the heat and let the dish cool and rest in the fridge overnight.
  3. The next day, about 1 hour before serving, reheat the mix, adding the carrots after 30 minutes or so. Once carrots are cooked thru, check for the sauce consistency: if too much liquid, take the lid off and let it reduce. If too dry, add hot water. Add the frozen peas in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
  4. When ready to serve, season to taste and sprinkle parsley over the top. Serve hot, with garlic mashed potatoes.

Garlic mashed potatoes

Do we need a recipe for this? Ok, let’s see:

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1 kg of potatoes, peeled and quartered
100g butter, softened
1/2 cup of lukewarm milk
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper

  1. In a large pot, place the potatoes in enough cold water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain the water out.
  2. Add the butter, milk and garlic and mash the potatoes with a potato masher or a fork (NOT a blender or it will turn the potatoes into a gluey mess!)
  3. Serve immediately or keep warm on minimum heat until ready to serve.

Apple cake

This recipe is not mine, I first discovered it 25 years ago in a book written by French chef Gabriel Gate “Great cakes and Desserts”. It has been a favourite for years, more rustic than an Apple tart and more transportable than a pound cake, it is terrific served warm with a dollop of cream or as a treat in the kids lunch box.

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Serves 8

Ingredients:

150g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs
150 self raising flour
1/4 cup sultanas, softened in hot water
2 large apples (the original recipe says Granny Smith, but I used Jazz)
A sprinkling of cinnamon
1 tbsp caster sugar for dusting
Apricot jam ( I used redcurrant jelly ) for glazing

  1. Line a 20cm round cake tin with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 200 C/400F
  2. In a food mixer, cream butter and sugar for a few minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time and lastly fold in the self raising flour. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, tapping it a little to distribute the mixture evenly (the batter is quite thick, similar to a muffin batter).
  3. Drain the sultanas and sprinkle them on top of the batter.
  4. Peel, halve and core the apples. Cut into 5 mm slices and arrange over the cake mixture in a circular pattern, with the slices overlapping.
  5. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and the extra sugar. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 1 hour or until a metal skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and unfold onto a cake rack. Allow to cool.
  6. Just before serving, brush the top with warmed redcurrant jelly

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Today is a blustery, cold and miserable day. Not that you would know sitting inside: the sun is out, the sky is cloudless and a beautiful shade of pale blue. Stick your nose out the door though, and the near freezing temperature will make you retreat back in no time. Yep, cold snap all right! Ok I will admit it may not be so miserable for some, in fact, I saw a young girl walking around the Cronulla main street wearing nothing but a summer dress and a pair of sandals. She was skipping though, I suspect if I did the same (or jogged!) I’d warm up too…

For now, I will blame my lethargic mood on a dreadful flu that I have not been able to shake out for 2 weeks and making me feel like every day is miserable. Which of course is not the case, with so many other horrible things happening in the world ( too much news watching, I know!!), one would argue that what I feel is merely slight discomfort. So how do I deal with discomfort? By cooking of course, and the more “comfortable” the food the better. So, let me see. We’ve tried, Swedish meat balls (inspired by a recent visit to Ikea, I decided to make my own),

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beetroot and sweet potato soup (I read somewhere it was good for you),

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seafood chowder ( to go with corn bread a girlfriend had brought along one night ),

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even a big steak (after Terry said I needed to up my iron intake)

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and the mother of all comfort food: mac and cheese!

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They say you need to feed a cold, well let me tell you, mine is so well fed it does not want to go away.

Today is Bastille Day, so tradition would dictate that I cook a French feast to celebrate. This will happen later this weekend. In the meantime, I have been sorting thru some old photos of our past sailing trips and came across memories not only of our stay in La Rochelle, France, 5 years ago but also in Benodet, France, 10 years ago. Back then, the focus was on the boat and preparing for our big cruises ahead, food blogging was not even something I thought of, so focused was I on sailing and homeschooling 2 young children on board…( I started documenting our adventure on our sailing blog around that time, with more details here ) Very few pictures of meals were shot back in these days, which makes the rare ones I find  priceless. So when I re-discovered photos of a Bastille Day dinner from 2011 I knew I had to share them.

I remember that day so vividly. We were docked at in the Vieux Port of La Rochelle, only meters away from the public esplanade. That morning, we woke up early to the sound of motorbikes and heavy traffic setting up for the annual military parade. Amazingly our back deck was prime seating to watch the line-up of politicians and local dignitaries gendarmes, police officers and their dog companions ( a great hit with the kids!).

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The rest of the day was spent pottering on the boat and as was our usual ritual, we joined the crowd of tourists in the evening looking for somewhere to enjoy a sundowner and possibly find a nice place for dinner. Being Bastille Day and peak summer season, the streets of La Rochelle were busy and most restaurants pumping, so spotting a free table on the footpath was a bit like sport.

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That’s when we ended up at Baitona, grabbed by the prospect of a “Hambur-Gers”. And we were not disappointed! To this day, I have not had anything like this: duck meat patty, topped with a thick slice of freshly seared foie gras, caramelised onions, a slice of sheep cheese, handful of rocket, in a bun and served with a generous amount of frites! That was Terry’s choice.

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Marc went for a classic duck magret and frites (his favourite food in the whole world, still today!)

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Anne opted for safe option of beef patty and chips (this is standard French kid’s meal, she was 8 years old back then )

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while I picked pork steaks with braised capsicums ( I remember it was very tasty but in hindsight, a little boring considering the other dishes on offer!)

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I am pretty sure we finished the night at the local ice cream joint watching the fireworks over the harbour, though I can’t find photos of that. But it is this kind of memories that sustain and inspire me on blue days…

 

Off the couch, into the kitchen and prepare a batch of pancakes. If we can’t have Hambur-Gers tonight, we will have crepes for dinner instead!

 

 

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Instead of family dinners, let’s do Sunday lunch for a change. There is something so much more convivial about a long lunch: guests are more relaxed, daylight to enjoy your surroundings, plenty of time to linger,…ok, it is a way to write off the whole day too, but in a very enjoyable way!
As usual, I asked for ideas for a theme, the only requisite being for comfort food to warm our bones since the weather had suddenly turned wintery on us.

That’s when Shelley ( Terry’s older daughter) suggested German food. Now what should come to mind when thinking of Germany but sauerkraut and sausages! There is no shortage of Bavarian-style restaurants in Sydney and we’ve tried our fair share in the past 12 months, be it at the Lowenbrau in the Rocks (now revamped as the Munich Bauhaus) or the Bavarian Cafe closer to home. But when it comes to cook your own, finding a german butcher can become a challenge. Except if you leave in the Shire, where Rudi’s Continental Butchery is located. Rudi’s has been around in Kirrawee for as long as I have been in Australia (28 years!) and has been our go-to butcher for authentic anything German like smoked meats and sausages, sauerkraut, mustards, cheeses and even German sodas!

So here I go, met Stefan and told him I was planning a Sauerkraut for dinner for 9 people in 5 days time. “How are you going to cook it?” he asked. “Is it going to be the main meal or served on the side?” I didn’t even know there was a difference! But there is. The main course is slowly cooked with the sausages and cured meats heaped on top. The side course is also slowly cooked, but the meat is roasted separately and the whole dish is served very much like a “roast and vegetables” style. Needless to say I was confused, especially as my plan included serving crispy pork knuckle and I had no idea how to fit that in. Fortunately Stefan (who must deal with these sort of queries every week) made it easy for me, offering to prepare the knuckles ( i.e cut them in half, score and season them ready for the oven), 1 kilo of freshly made sauerkraut and providing all the instructions necessary. As for which sausages to choose, that’s when the fun started: with a choice of over 15 types, the only way to narrow down the selection was to get samples. So a few days before the big lunch, I took home some cheese kransky, stuttgarter, weisswurst and thuringer bratwurst for a sausage tasting. The smile on Terry and the kids faces: priceless!

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From left to right: Stuttgarter (smoked pork), Cheese Kransky (smoked and everyone’s favourite), Thuringer (bratwurst of chunky pork with marjoram), Weisswurst (pork and veal with lemon parsley seasoning)

Fast forward to Sunday and armed all with the pre-ordered sauerkraut, knuckles, speck, myriad of sausages, spices, white wine and Stefan’s directives, I set out to prepare the dish. It is not as complicated as it sounds, and if anything, I would say the main “ingredient” is time, to let the whole dish cook properly. In the end, it took the same amount of time to roast the 6 kilos of pork as it did to simmer the cabbage.
In the meantime, looking for a starter to have with our beer, I came across a recipe for Obazda which is a Bavarian cheese spread, consisting of Camembert, butter, paprika and beer. Since these ingredients are always in my fridge, it was fate and only took a few minutes to put together…only thing was, I had to dash out at the last minute to buy the pretzels to serve with, as Stefan warned me only the freshest of pretzels would do to keep the crunchiness of the rock salt! Lucky we have a Luneburger german bakery nearby in Miranda.

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Sampling Cheese spread, enough beer in ?

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Hope my guests are hungry!

So by the time our guests arrived, the kitchen smelled of fermented cabbage, freshly baked pretzels, strong cheese, and crispy pork! Tania presented us with dessert: a home made chocolate and salted pretzels cake, which was greeted with many “Oohs” and “Wows” and that was the cue to open the beers (German of course!) Prost!!

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Chocolate and pretzel cake by Tania.

Obazda (bavarian Cheese spread)
Adapted from an original recipe on germanfoods.org

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Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:

250g Camembert or Brie ( preferably ripe)
250g cream cheese
25g butter, softened
6-8 tbsp of dark german beer (to taste)
2 tsp mild paprika
salt and pepper
White onion, peeled and thinly sliced

  1. Trim off the skin of the Camembert if too ripe. In a bowl, mash together the Camembert and the cream cheese until well mixed. Add the soft butter, salt, pepper and paprika. Pour over the beer and stir well. Cover with climgwrap and let rest in the fridge for 2 hours, to allow the flavours to develop.
  2. Serve with sliced onions and fresh pretzels. Enjoy!

 

Sauerkraut my way

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Serves 12-15

Ingredients:

1.5 kg fresh sauerkraut
2 1/4 cups dry white wine
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
350g speck, coarsely diced
6 juniper berries
1 tsp caraway seeds
6 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

1 kg each of stuttgarter, cheese cranky, thueringer sausages
5 pork knuckles, cut in half and scored ( ask your butcher to do it for you)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

2 kgs of potatoes

  1. In a large pot/dutch oven, heat the olive oil and brown the chopped onion slowly, until near caramelised (it can take up to 15 minutes!), add the speck, stir and let sweat for another 5 minutes to render some of the fat. Mix in the juniper berries, caraway seeds, peppercorns and bay leaves and finally add the sauerkraut, stirring to combine. Pour the wine over the mixture, bring it to there boil, cover, reduce the heat to as low as possible and let simmer for at least 2 hours.
  2. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 220 C. Pat dry the pork knuckles, rub with olive oil, plenty of coarse salt and spread on a baking rack, over a tray. Pour a little water in the tray, enough to stop the meat from drying out but not so much that it will boil. Place in the oven and roast for 2 hours. Check for doneness, maybe it will take longer depending on your oven. When cooked thru, turn the oven to grill and leave the pork in for another 10-15 minutes to get it crispy skinned. Watch it does not burn (see photos!)
  3. While all this happens, wash the potatoes, place in a large pot and boil or steam until tender. When cool enough, peel off the skin ( or leave it if you prefer ). Keep warm.
  4. In the last 30 minutes of cooking, separate the sausages in 2 lots. Place the first lot on top of the sauerkraut ( most of the liquid should have evaporated by now and the cabbage should be nice and moist ), cover and let steam. Pan fry the rest of the sausages in a little olive oil and keep aside. Why do it 2 ways? Because we like both textures and could not decide which was best, so we decided to have it all.
  5. When ready, place some of the sauerkraut on a large serving plate. Surround with the potatoes and some of the sausages cut in serving portions. Place the knuckles in the centre the plate.
  6. Serve with german mustard, curried ketchup, a salad of lettuce, apple and radishes (just so you can say you had greens!).
  7. Enjoy with a nice German riesling, plenty of beer or even Krauterlimonade!
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As you know, I was born and bred in France. But did I ever mention that my family is from Madagascar? My parents moved from this Indian ocean island off the coast of South Africa to Paris over 50 years ago. At the time, Madagascar had recently regained its independence from the French, but strong ties remained between the two countries with strong trade relations or exchange programs.

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Mum and Dad came separately to study and met in Paris. As the story goes, they fell in love, had children, completed their studies, got jobs and what was intended as a temporary stay turned into a permanent move. I am sure it was a challenging time for them, juggling many balls and making the decision of a lifetime…My early childhood memories are of my brothers and I spending week days “a la creche” (daycare), collected by my parents in the evening. Weekends were a blur of family activities, often revolving around people gathering at our place. The Madagascan community was (and still is) quite tight knit and I remember many visits from newly arrived relatives or family friends, celebrations in halls or organised sports events…As a young child I seemed to have a myriad of cousins spread all over Paris, Dijon, Nancy, Tours…and for a while, many long weekends were devoted to meet this extended family.

My strongest recollection of these gatherings is the amount of food laid on the table. Abundance is the key to a Malagasy feast. It is good form for the host to have plenty to offer to guests and if variety may not matter so much, quantity certainly does.
Rice is the main staple in the madagascan diet, just like pasta is to Italy and potato to Ireland!
It is usually accompanied by beef, chicken, fish or pork dishes. These can be boiled, braised, fried or grilled. Vegetables are rarely served as a stand alone dish but rather used to add flavour and complement the rice: green leafy broth, tomato “rougail” (similar to Mexican tomato salsa) or “achard” (an assortment of julienned vegetables, pickled with ginger, chili and garlic) are standard features in a malagasy kitchen. As far as snacks go, you can’t go past small cakes and fritters called “mofo” made of rice flour batter and fried or the delicious “sambos” ( meat version of fried samosas).

The funny thing is that growing up, I ate “french” during the day: baguette and hot chocolate for breakfast, roast chicken and vegetable at the school canteen, small cake for “le gouter” (afterschool treat)…and madagascan for dinner: always. always, always rice with a small serving of protein and salad on the side. The malagasy connection slowly faded however as the years went by: my mother learnt to cook “proper” french and would only serve traditional malagasy on special occasions, I moved out of home and discovered other cuisines during my travels…For the past 30 years or so, there was always something new to taste.

Then, my parents came to visit us in Sydney last month. While I thought they’d be keen on hitting the road and tour around the country, it turned out that they were just as happy taking over my kitchen and spoil us with good food. I, for once, didn’t mind and enjoyed the opportunity to sit on the other side of the bench watching and taking notes! That’s when I realised that no matter how many gourmet meals I concocted, light and healthy options I experimented with, there is nothing like a dish made with love by your mum (and dad!) Even my kids know the difference between their nan’s cooking and mine: they say the kitchen smells better ( of baked apple cake, or garlic beef stew!). I guess I still have a long way to go!

 

For 6 weeks, I went back to being the daughter, enjoying and sharing some of my favourite childhood meals with my own kids, listening to old family stories and rediscovering the comfort of malagasy food…life is a big circle: from Madagascar to Paris to Sydney…where to next?

Mofo sakay

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Mofo satay (right) served with a chili dipping sauce

This is a savoury fritter, you can spice up with extra chili, or chopped tomatoes if desired.

Makes about 30

Ingredients

2 cups rice flour
2 cups plain flour
warm water (enough to make a smooth batter)
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
3 spring onions, sliced
1/2 tsp each of ground coriander and ground cumin
Oil for frying

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes, you can leave it overnight in the fridge if you wish.
Heat the oil in a deep saucepan. Scoop out a tablespoon of batter and deep fry for a few minutes until golden. Drain on absorbent paper.
Serve hot

Achard de legumes

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This mix of pickled vegetables is commonly served with rice, but is also delicious on sandwiches or even with cheese! A word of warning: there is a lot of vegetable slicing, so allow for time…A food processor comes in handy, though my father reckons the veggies taste better if sliced by hand. Considering the work involved, we always make a big batch and keep in sealed jars in the fridge!

Makes lots!

Ingredients

500g green beans
1kg carrots
1 white cabbage
1/2 celery
1 green capsicum
1 red capsicum
1 cauliflower
1 onion
1 piece of ginger (approx 15g)
3 garlic cloves
1 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
some chili, (optional)
Salt and pepper

Peel and grate the carrots (I use a food processor). Trim the vegetables. Julienne the green beans, celery, capsicums. Slice the cabbage thinly, cut the cauliflower into small florets.
Blanch the vegetables in boiling water, drain and set aside in a large mixing bowl.
Peel and slice the onion and ginger. Peel and crush the garlic cloves.
In a saucepan, heat a little oil, saute the onions and garlic until golden (careful not to burn them), add spices and stir for a few minutes until fragrant, add in vinegar and stir well ( stand back as mixture will spit and bubble up!) Immediately pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cover and let it cool down. The achard can be eaten the same day, but tastes better after a few days, once the flavours have developed.

 

Rougail de tomates

This dish is dead simple to make, very similar to the tomato salsa we used to find in Mexico. My mum often serves it with plain rice, she says it’s the easiest vegetable dish to cook!

Serves 4 as a side

Ingredients

3 tomatoes
1 white onion
1 tbsp white vinegar
salt
chili (optional)

Chop the tomatoes and onion finely by hand ( do not use a food processor as it will turn them into a puree!).
Mix in a bowl with the vinegar and add salt to taste.
Set aside for 30 minutes to allow for flavours to develop. Serve with rice as an accompaniment to grilled or stewed meat.

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Ample supplies of Achard and Rougail!

Vary amin’anana

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This version of vary amin’anana has extra meat and sausages added, it is traditionally less meaty.

My kids call this dish madagascan risotto: a porridge-like mix of rice, green leaves and diced meat. This is my idea of comfort food, when you want something satisfying minus the fat and sugar. In fact, vary amin’anana is typically served to the sick or the elderly and I can attest to its restoring virtues as breakfast food for the morning after…

Serves 4-6 as a main course

Ingredients

1 bunch each of radish leaves, spinach leaves, green shallots, watercress ( a single type of leaves is Ok , if you can’t find the variety )
500g stewing beef meat (like chuck or short ribs), diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 knob of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tomato, diced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 cups of long grain rice

Clean and cut the leaves in fine shreds. Set aside.
Heat a little oil in a large saucepan, add the meat and saute until browned on all sides. Add chopped onion, ginger and stir, let the meat cook in its own juice/fat until tender ( add a little water if it sticks to the bottom of the pan).
Then stir in the shredded green leaves, rice, garlic and add enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer until the rice is cooked.
Serve hot.

Hena ritrå

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The technique for this dish is comparable to making confit: the meat is simmered in just enough water to cover it, and as the liquid evaporates it cooks in its own rendered fat, until turning crispy and delicious. You will need a relatively fatty piece of meat, I commonly use beef chuck or pork belly, but duck legs and chicken thighs work equally well.

Serves 4-6 as a main course

Ingredients

1 kg stewing meat like beef chuck
1 tsp salt
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 knob of ginger (25g), peeled and grated
1 cup of water

Cut the meat into medium sized pieces. Place in a large casserole and cook over low heat, covered, with the garlic and ginger for about 15 minutes until the fat is rendered.
Once the fat has melted, add salt and water, cover again and let the meat cook until all the liquid is evaporated. approx 1 1/2 hour.
Uncover and allow the meat to fry in its own fat for a few minutes until well browned and caramelised.
Serve hot (the fat will solidify if left to cool down)

Cheese and grape pie

How do you like your cheese?

My first choice is fresh and unadorned, served on a platter with nothing more than fresh bread or crackers, the French way. Sometimes we add elements of sweetness like fig paste or quince jam, to cut thru a pungent blue cheese.
These cheese platters nearly always feature on our dinner table, though in typical australian fashion, they are served before dinner as an accompaniment to drinks ( I am still to convince any of my australian relatives and friends to have cheese for dessert!). You can’t find an easier way to entertain, in my books and I always have a reserve of delicious cheeses sitting in my fridge at the ready. Don’t feel like cooking tonight? Having impromptu visitors? Just put a platter together, open a nice bottle of wine (red or white, no rules here!) and enjoy a fuss free evening…

We’ve had many visitors in the past few weeks, joining us for several celebrations and I can’t tell you how many cheese platters have been served! The funny thing though is that after a while we all looked for variety in our offering of “aperitifs” and started to switch to different options, some lighter than others ( think bowls of nuts vs savoury fritters!). No complaints from the writer, it was a culinary feast all along.

But that has meant a fridge full of cheeses, some leftovers from a previous party, others still waiting to be opened. And with our guests now gone, I find myself faced with the dilemma of disposing of of some of these goodies ( yes, a horrifying thought even if my kids point to how stinky some of the parcels are!) or incorporating them in every single dish until we’re thru them all. Needless to say that I rejected the former option and have embarked on a mission to come up with ways to enjoy cheese daily, other than on a platter.

Here is a picture of what is in my fridge today: parmesan, blue cheese, double brie, double cream, greek sheep’s cheese, cheddar, jarslberg, flavoured cream cheese and more blue cheese. All awaiting transformation once my imagination kicks in.

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In the meantime, last night was the fist challenge, when I dealt with a container full of left over cheese, which had been begging for attention for days (ok, weeks). The selection was: Meredith Ash goat cheese (VIC), South Cape Gouda (VIC), King Island Smoked Cheddar and King Island Roaring Forties Blue cheese (TAS). There is no “before” photo as I don’t want to gross anyone out with the aged appearance of the cheeses. Suffice to say that when my daughter queried my scraping of the rind, I replied “just in case you’re allergic to penicillin”. It was a joke of course!!!
Since I had no hope of anyone tasting cheese “that old” I decided to cook it and turn it into a cheese pie with the help of some grapes which also happened to be on their way out ( my tip: cut off the soft parts!). Add the usual eggs and sour cream mixture, pour into a pastry shell as for a quiche, bake and voila!

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The overall flavour of the dish will depend on the cheese ratio: the gouda and blue make it smooth, while the goat cheese lends a certain tanginess and the cheddar brings a hint of smokiness. But don’t take my word for it, feel free to experiment with whatever you have on hand, and create your own left over cheese pie. The final words go to my son who upon seeing the grapes could not tell if the pie was for main course or dessert, but later said “ I am so glad you followed your instincts mum, that was a brilliant idea!” Feeling happy.

Cheese and Grape Pie

Serves 6 as a starter

Ingredients

1 frozen sheet of store-bought shortcrust pastry, thawed out at room temperature until pliable
3-4 cups of mixed left over cheeses (smoked cheddar, edam, blue cheese and goat cheese), roughly chopped, rind removed

1 cup mixed grapes, washed and trimmed
1 tub (250g) sour cream
3 large eggs

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C
  2. Roll out the thawed out pastry until it forms a rough circle and place in a 28cm pie dish.
  3. Scatter the chopped cheese in the dish, mixing the flavours evenly. Add the grapes and arrange them so they are also spread throughout.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and the sour cream together, add pepper to taste ( no need for salt, the cheese is already salty). Pour the mixture over the cheese and grapes. Trim the edges of the pastry if needed.DSCN5708
  5. Place the pie in the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until golden.DSCN5711
  6. Serve warm with a green salad for a light lunch or at room temperature on its own as a snack. Enjoy! DSCN5715
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