Saturday, 9 May 2015

Faux pas ou pas faux pas?

France is so close geographically to the UK and Ireland that we often forget those little cultural differences which may cause our host embarrassment or show us up as a little uncout around the dining table. It can all start at the front door so here are a few tips to get you off to a good start as a dinner guest in France.

By all means bring your host a beautiful bouquet of flowers but never ever carnations as they are exclusively used for funerals in France!  Never bring wine unless specifically requested as this is often taken as an insult. Most good hosts will have already chosen the wine when deciding the menu. Having said that chilled champagne is always appreciated and home made personal gifts are on the up.

It goes without saying if going for a fine dinner to always dress smart casual and I mean never in shorts sandals and T shirts!! Jackets are usually required for restaurants. 

Be late but not too late. If invited for dinner at 7.30pm it will usually start 30 minutes later. However more than 30 minutes late and you are in serious trouble! Today if delayed you must call you host as quickly as possible if you find yourself arriving any later than the 30 minute rule!

Smoking is fine in most homes but not at the table. Most hosts are happy to let you hang out the window, step out to the garden or balcony. Cigars may still be smoked at the table however but check just in case with your host! 

During the various courses you should wait for guidance from your host in regard to handling back your cutlery. The same may be used for a number of courses. Always break your bread by hand not your knife and if adding butter, take it using the butter dish knife, from the butter dish to your plate, and then from your plate to your bread using your own personal knife! 

Never serve yourself twice from the cheese board as that is interpretated that the other courses were deficient! When cutting cheeses ensure you don't rob the best bits! Always cut from the top down vertically and never horizontally as that is often where the most tasty parts of the cheese can be found.

Never get drunk and don't go on about how good the food was! A discreet c'est délicieux aimed directly at the cook will suffice. 

There are always some people who never want to leave a good host. If you are served orange juice after your third coffee this is a direct signal to leave at once. A bit like being served oranges in a Chinese restaurant. Depart immediately! 

Aīoli for everyone

I first tasted aīoli In Kensington Gardens. I was on a posh picnic outing and the main dish was prawns. Simply served with bread and lots of aoìli! It was delicious and nothing like anything I had tasted before! The secret is make it at home a few hours before serving and keep it cool. It is so easy to make. Here is my recipe:

Ingredients (6 servings)

10 garlic cloves
2 egg yokes
Juice of 1 lemon
250 ml olive oil
1 Teaspoon of Dijon mustard.


Peel the garlic and blend in a blender or mortar. Slowly add all the other ingredients. Aìoli goes great with prawns and other seafood but you can include it with so many dishes and salads. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Celeriac and Watercress Soup

Celeriac is in vogue at present. It's as if it never existed before but now it is rare not to find it popping up in all types of restaurants. I first discovered celeriac when I was a student in search of healthy chips (or crisps as they are called in the UK). I love celeriac roasted or pan fried but today I wanted something extra healthy and very tasty. It is hard to beat this soup for both purposes.

I guess some people can be put off by the very sight of a whole celeriac. To be honest it does look a little intimidating with its rough skin and its wrinkled appearance. Knowing how to cut and prepare it is so important. I will come to that bit later.

3 cups of home made chicken stock
1 celeriac
1 bunch of fresh watercress (keep a little over to dress your soup later)
3 shallots cut small
1 onion cut small
1 leek cut small
2 garlic segments  (roasted if you can)
15g grated Parmesan
Kettle of boiling water
Sea salt and black pepper to season

In a large soup sauspan add a little oil and fry all the onions, leek and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the chicken stock to the saucepan. While the onions are cooking, cut up the celeriac. The best way to do this is first cut the celeriac in half and then place the cut side down on the cutting board and using a large vegetable knife, slowly remove the skin as you move the vegetable around as in the photo below:

Once the skin is removed, cut the celeriac into single segments and then again into cross segments which leave you with celeriac fingers! When you have both halves cut, add the celeriac to the large soup sauspan with the onions, garlic and leek and add boiling water to cover the vegetables whilst bringing to the boil. The celeriac will cook in 10 minutes so when soft, remove from heat. Add the watercress at the last minute and mix into the soup. Using a portable food blender, blend the soup until  all the ingredients are soft and soup like. You will be left with a very beautiful green soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Dress each serving bowl with a few sprigs of watercress and/or a teaspoon of fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Can you live without dining?

We may live without poetry, music and art;
We may live without conscience, and live without heart;
We may live without friends; we may live without books;
But civilised man cannot live without cooks.

He may live without books, - what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope, -  what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love, - what is passion but pining?
But where is the man who can live without dining?

Edward Robert Bulwer 
Earl of Lytton 1860

Monday, 9 February 2015

A taste of Asia

If you like me are wishing you were in sunny Thailand rather than cold Dublin right now well you have three options! Jump on a plane and head East; head down to your local food market and get some tasty eastern ingredients to fuse together. The third option of course is to get to a suitable Thai restaurant but them you miss out on all the cooking fun and the opportunity to experiment and create just the taste your looking for. I adore a good Tom Kha Gai soup with noodles and have travelled far and wide to acquire the best dish. Sadly many restaurants fail to deliver to standard. It is a relatively easy dish to produce but there are a few ingredients you need to ensure the best outcome. Here is my version of this famous soup using Japanese Udon noodles so that it becomes a main dish. 

1 can coconut milk
3 kafir lime leaves
1 galanga
1 garlic 
500 g fresh prawns peeled (use the shells for stock)
1 fresh chili
150 g fresh button mushrooms
1 fresh lime
1 fresh lemon grass
Bunch of spring onions
1 Charlotte onion
1 red pepper
1 litre water
1 pack of udon noodles (Japanese noodles)
1 pack fresh coriander


Peel the prawns removing the intestines and saving the shells. Chop up the galanga, lemon grass, lime leaves , garlic and Charlotte onion. Toss the peeled prawns with crushed garlic and fry quickly in a pan for one minute. Set aside in a bowl. In same pan, fry the shells with the chopped vegetables adding the chilli for five minutes. All the water. Let it boil for ten minutes. Strain the stock and reduce to taste. Add the coconut and season to taste with salt, pepper and lime juice. Boil up the udon noodles and heat two bowls. Add the non stock vegetables (spring onions, red pepper, mushrooms) to the soup. Strain the noodles once cooked. Place the noodles in the warm bowls, add the prawns and pour the soup over. Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve immediately.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Du Danemark à l’Espagne, à chacun son Noël

Noël d’ici et d’ailleurs. Au village de Kerrouet, le Danois Poul Jensen applique à la lettre les traditions de son pays. Décorations, ambiance ou encore repas, tout l’esprit de Noël est là.

Il fait nuit noire dans le village de Kerrouet. À travers les fenêtres de la longère de Poul Jensen et Niall O’Reilly, de petites flammes éclairent le salon. Les bougies sont posées un peu partout dans la pièce. Il ne manque que le Père Noël. Chez Poul et Niall, la tradition de Noël est respectée à la lettre. Et c’est un sacré challenge ! Poul est Danois et là-bas, on ne plaisante pas avec la tradition de Noël.« C’est important, mais pas pour son aspect religieux », raconte Poul Jansen. Tout commence le 23 décembre,« on décore le sapin le soir quand les enfants sont partis se coucher. » Pas question pour eux de voir le sapin avant le jour J.« Dans le temps, on mettait même le sapin dans une pièce différente de la maison. » Justement, parlons-en de la maison ! Celle de Poul et Niall est remplie de bougies.« Oui, le Danemark est le plus grand utilisateur de bougies au monde. Elles sont allumées matin, midi et soir pendant la période des fêtes. » Et on les comprend… À cette période de l’année, il fait nuit à 15 h au Danemark.

Les quatre dimanches avant Noël 

Au centre de la table, quatre bougies symbolisent les quatre dimanches avant Noël.« Nous les allumons au fur et à mesure. » Comme un calendrier de l’Avent fait maison. C’est aussi l’une des particularités des Danois.« Nous faisons beaucoup de décorations nous-même. » Pommes de pin, bougies, houx, branchages… Tout sert à parfaire le décor. Côté repas, c’est plus complexe.« À la maison, nous pratiquons plus la tradition danoise, exceptée pour le repas du 25 décembre. Niall qui est Irlandais tient à son repas. » Dommage, pour la traditionnelle amande cachée dans la crème fouettée du dessert (Lire ci-dessous).« Toutes les amandes sont coupées en deux sauf une et celui qui la trouve a un cadeau supplémentaire. » Une fois le repas du réveillon terminé, on passe aux choses sérieuses : les cadeaux.« Le sapin est déplacé au milieu de la pièce pour qu’on puisse danser et chanter autour. Les cadeaux sont distribués à ce moment-là. S’il y en a trop, une personne est chargée de les donner. » Au Danemark, on aime faire durer la magie de Noël. Le 25 décembre, un autre grand repas est organisé avec« le reste de la famille et tous ceux qui ne pouvaient pas venir le soir. » Le 26 décembre ? Rebelote !« Comme le 24 et 25, c’est un jour férié qui permet d’organiser un autre grand repas avec les amis. » Pour le Jour de l’An, on met les petits plats dans les grands.« C’est très formel et important. » Mais après tous ces grands repas,« Celui-ci est plus léger », rigole Poul Jensen. Huîtres, cabillaud… Tout le monde se met à la diète.

Mélanie BÉCOGNÉE. 

Article issu de l'édition de Loudéac-Rostrenen du Wednesday 24 December 2014

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Monday, 17 November 2014

Carrot ginger and coconut soup


With the evenings drawing in and winter fast approaching, I thought I would introduce you to one of my favourite soups. I was first introduced to this soup over a year ago by a lady called Dorothy who runs the Cobalt Cafe in Great George St in Dublin, Ireland. It was the glowing log fire which had attracted me into the cafe and the unusual antiques within which are for sale. But I was struck by the powerful combination of tastes and textures this soup offers. After a year of persistent questioning and interrogation, Dorothy finally gave in and let me have her secret recipe. It was well worth the wait as I am sure you will agree once you have tasted it yourself.

You will need:

3 tbsp of coconut oil
3 onions peeled and chopped
4 small potatoes peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic peeled and grated
800g carrots peeled and grated
4 tbsp of peeled and grated fresh ginger
Chicken/vegetable stock (1000ml)
400ml tin of coconut milk
200g cooked chick peas
Fresh juice from 1 lemon
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 tbsp of curry powder (mild)
1 tbsp of ground cumin
Fresh chives or parsley  (optional)


Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan and once hot add the onions and garlic. Mix and allow to soften up then add the curry powder and the cumin. Keep mixing and then add the grated carrots and ginger. Add the stock and keep mixing. Add the finely chopped potatoes and allow to cook for around five minutes. Add the chick peas and the coconut and mix well for three minutes. Remove from heat and liquidise the soup using a hand blender. Dress with fresh chives or parsley as you wish and serve.