Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bean and Feta Fritters

When a meat-loving son is his twenties was not only complimentary about these fritters but polished off most of the batch, this cook had to have a little lie down!  The inclusion of the herbs and feta add zing to these tasty fritters. Serve them casually or give them a lift by nestling atop a mesclun salad and serving with a chutney such as Puliyini, a tamarind prune chutney,  and scalloped potatoes.  Use a firm-textured feta, as small dice in these fritters is preferable to grated or crumbled.  Pinto beans look very like kidney beans but are lighter in colour and not as strong in flavour.  Almost any bean can be used for this recipe, though of course the flavour will vary slightly.Makes 6-8 medium-sized fritters. Serves 4.  May be frozen, Recipe doubles well.

3 cups cooked pinto (or other) beans, roughly mashed
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
2 Tbsp fresh pizza thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
120g feta, diced small
1 large egg
oil  to shallow fry
Combine all ingredients except the oil in a medium-sized bowl.
Form into fritters or patties with your hands, according to the size you want and the number of people you are serving.
Heat about 3 Tbsp oil in a heavy-based frying pan (an electric pan is excellent for this).  You will need to add more oil for the next batch.
Fry over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden and cooked through.  Remove from the pan and drain on a kitchen towel. Keep warm until all fritters are cooked.


Monday, 27 June 2011

Feeling the pulse

I've been thinking about pulses quite a lot recently, as the French value them and use them a lot. I sometimes think New Zealand, along with quite a number of English speaking/Western countries are out of step with the rest of the world in that (apart from baked beans in tomato sauce), pulses are not regarded highly at all - either as a cheap source of protein or as a delicious, versatile and nutritious addition to meals. Throughout France the cassoulet is a traditional dish, and French green lentils - especially Puy lentils, are highly prized. (More on Puy lentils here).

The other day I bought an 800g tin of green flageolate beans - not well known outside France, but regarded as the king of beans here and  very cheap. I tossed some prepared onions (2) and eggplant strips (300g eggplant) in some oil, and started them roasting together while I finely chopped lots of garlic, (6-8 large cloves) which I added to the roasting onion/eggplant with about 350g sliced courgettes and two sliced red capsicums. Salt, lots of pepper, roast until cooked then add about 1/3 cup of tomato paste mixed with about  2 cups water,  plus some mustard mayonnaise (1/4 cup). Add 4 chopped tomatoes and the drained, rinsed beans  and bake, covered, at 180 C for 30-40 minutes until heated through. Adjust seasonings.  Very tasty! (And if you have to have some meat, chop a small amount of some tasty and good quality sausage into it - chorizo, for example).

Don't overlook other pulses such as beans and split peas  in your cooking either, like lentils they are cheap, versatile, sustaining and nutritious.  They have a high protein content, especially when eaten with grains.  They also contain carbohydrates and fibre, but are low in fat, and are important sources of some ‘B’ vitamins. They are available tinned, but these seem outrageously expensive compared to buying in bulk and cooking them yourself.  You don’t need a pressure cooker, but if you’re likely to forget to soak them overnight, a pressure cooker certainly makes life a lot simpler as there’s no need to soak and cooking time is usually more than halved.  Cook in 3-4 times water to beans.  Don’t add salt until after pulses are cooked, as this can toughen the skins.

If cooking in a slow cooker, pulses must be soaked overnight and boiled for 10 minutes as slow cooking does not reach the temperatures required to destroy some toxins.  Cook more than you need at one time, as all pulses freeze well and defrost quickly.  Pinto beans are not quite so ‘earthy’ as kidney beans but either can be used in dishes such as chilli beans, refried beans or fritters for tasty, nutritious and inexpensive meals that can be prepared very quickly.  Baby lima beans are great for adding to stews and soups, and of course we need chickpeas for making falafel, hummus and various salads as well as curry dishes etc.

                                   Soak/Boil                              Pressure Cook
Chick peas                  2 1/2 hours                           30 minutes
Pinto beans                 1 1/2 hours                           30 minutes
Lima beans                 1 hour                                   25 minutes
Kidney beans              1 1/4 hours                           25 minutes
Split peas                   30 minutes                            10-12 minutes
Soya beans                3 hours                                 50-55 minutes

Image credits:   Put lentils from wikipedia, jar of pulses from Microsoft clip art collection

Friday, 24 June 2011

Music Festival, Briam and real eggs

June 21st is the longest day in the northern hemisphere, (of course!) and also the day that music is celebrated in larger centres, right throughout France. We drove into Auxerre on a balmy night of 22-23 C about 8pm to find the central city cordoned off and the only car parks quite some distance away.  The streets were literally heaving with people, and musicians were on almost every corner. Individual musicians and groups of all genres and varying degrees of accomplishment, it has to be said - but the crowds were loving it all. From grannys to tots, everyone from miles around was there and having a good time listening and dancing in the streets to African/Latin American, blues, rock, heavy metal, country & western or classical.

21st June - the celebration of music in the streets, right throughout France
Much to our surprise, there was even a large group line dancing! It's everywhere!

Line dancing in the streets of Auxerre
We should have got there earlier, as we missed most of the classical acts, which was a shame - but there was plenty of listening choice in any case.
Anticipating a late night, we'd decided to eat before going in, so we tackled the briam (yes, I do use my own recipes) again, after being rather disappointed in it the night before - the problem was that I'd left my organising a bit late and the village supermarket doesn't really 'do' fresh herbs - probably because most people here have quite extensive gardens and grow their own. In any case, I'd had to make do with just a bit of parsley and some dried basil - definitely not as good as lots of fresh basil/dill etc.

It was, however, greatly improved by the next day. I heated the leftovers, made some 'hollows' in it with a spoon and popped the fresh free range eggs from our landlords into the hollows. Back in the oven it went, just til the eggs were cooked but the yolks still runny, a great way to make a different but easy meal. Served with hot crusty bread, it was sooo delicious. I make a point of buying free range eggs, but these were straight from the hens and I have to say they were the best I've tasted for a long time.
Lots of villagers have hens and although they're generally contained in runs, they're fed all the vegetable scraps and in our lovely landlords' case, their feed is supplemented with grain as well.

Very happy hens
Living here is like taking a step back in time on occasions - we always had hens and free range eggs  on the family farm, but how could I possibly not have appreciated the eggs more at the time?
Speaking of a step back in time, on our early morning walk (or frog march in my case, Russ is congenitally unable to walk at a leisurely pace! - Get the heart rate up, yadee yada), we saw a poissonerie, a mobile fish market, selling his wares at one of the houses we pass on the way. Mobile charcouteries (butcher shops) are also common in the rural areas - now how good is that?

I observed in another post that when buying fruit and vegetables, the question you're asked is 'do you want to eat it today, tomorrow or in so many days?', but also we notice that the fruit never rots before it ripens, which happens for too often at home. Is it that our farmers and retailers don't know how to manage ripening properly? Do the farmers pick fruit too under-ripe? I don't want to over - generalise here, it's not always the case, but it does happen much more than is reasonable. Rotting from the core out before the fruit itself ripens is shocking. I'm sure I'm not the only one to have found this thoroughly annoying.

While I'm showing you around some of our "backyard' here are some photos of the interior of our gite.

It's beginning to feel a bit like home now, and a lot less tidy than when we first arrived!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Pick your own fruit and veg - a great idea

I think the idea of  going to a farm on the outskirts of a town, armed with a knife and a list to pick fruit and vegetables is a brilliant idea. At Laborde, a suburb of Auxerre, is the Jardin de Laborde, a family- owned business that started small and has expanded hugely over the last decade or so. They supply the baskets, they grow the fruit and veg - all you have to do is go and choose what you want and gather it up - fantastic.

Claire, our host, picking strawberries

Not just fruit and vegetables, but herbs, too. I'd love to see this happening in New Zealand, to supplement our great Farmer's markets.

Fresh goat's cheese, cherries and pleurottes (oyster mushrooms)
When you've got all you need from the fields and hot houses, you return to their 'shop' to puchase - and you can also purchase locally made products from all around Auxerre, such as honey, cheeses of course, wine and liqueurs, cured and fresh meats, breads, cakes, nougat and so much more.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A birthday in Borgogne

14/6/11 The 14th is Russ's (husband's) birthday and voila! of all coincidences, some good friends from New Zealand (six of them) were due to cruise past our gite the day before, but were delayed because one of their party had an accident on their boat. Such bad luck, but it did mean they were moored outside our place for dinner the next night, after he'd spent a night in hospital. 

We set up a table near their boat, on the banks of the river on a wonderfully warm and balmy night  - great company, a night like that, good food and something to celebrate - what more could you want?

I baked wild salmon, and served it with a Florence fennel and bean salad marinated in white balsamic and extra good olive oil, and a combo of piperade (slow sauteed capsicum strips in olive oil and garlic), sauteed courgettes, and some oyster mushrooms - all cooked separately, then layered  onto a serving dish. Potatoes cooked simply, garnished with parsley and a little olive oil completed the main menu. Of course it didn't hurt that it was washed down with locally produced chablis and cremant (champagne).

As for dessert, the summer fruits here are so wonderful at the moment. Our host took us to a very large organic farm a few days ago which was all pick your own* - you just take a knife with you, borrow a basket, and pick while you wander - a fantastic idea, and very popular here. Fields of redcurrants, for example.

I saw several people with big baskets of redcurrants, taking them home to make jelly.

Anyway, so redcurrants and raspberries were on my mind as I was thinking about what to do for this dinner, and I finally settled on a raspberry tart. Only thing was that I didn't have time to make one, so I have to confess it was bought from the supermarche. Our friends bought a raspberry, red and blackcurrant tart as well, and both were delicious, served with creme fraiche. 

It doesn't get dark here til well after 10 pm these days, and we were blessed with a full moon.  Goodness knows what our neighbours thought of the crazy foreigners dining al fresco on the banks of the Nivernais, singing and getting a bit teary at the odd speech, all the girls wearing berets and hooting with laughter.

One of those nights we won't easily forget.

*A post on the 'pick your own' organic farm coming soon!   

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Settling in to Life in Burgundy

13/06/11 Our tenth day, and I'm sleeping through the night again, thank goodness. Our host/landlady, Claire, says the rule is that it takes one day  for every hour travelled from the other side of the world, and that observation has been absolutely right in my case; husband, however, was back to normal after 3 days, so obviously practise helps.

We've tried out a number of the local baguettes of course, and have found a 5-grain one which we prefer, on balance, to the plain everyday one - the only problem is that although I requested une cinque grain baguette (as it said on the label), Madame Boulangerie just looked at me blankly (sigh). Correct pronunciation does help.  The locals are very good humoured, however, in the main, they just laugh with us, shrug and go out of their way to be helpful.

We really enjoy exploring the villages, there's one over every hill, it seems, possible remnants of past practices of farm subsidies that enabled them to keep functioning - unlike in NZ. The streets are scrupulously clean but scarily narrow! and like taking a step back in time, especially in places like Auxerre, where the original foundations of medieval houses remain.

Auxerre has been a port since Roman times, and is where Joan of Arc stopped to pray on her way to Orleans, in the magnificent cathedral of St Etienne

It didn't take me long to realise that although I've got all the basics in the gite (cottage) as far as cooking is concerned, I don't have any means of weighing or measuring, so am pretty much cooking ad hoc at the moment. I've pre-written columns  for most of the time I'm out of NZ, so feel fairly relaxed about that in the meantime. We've also got where-to-go-for-what sorted, and are relieved we leased a car, an important consideration in rural France.

As far is cooking is concerned, there is such great produce, not just fresh but of course the limitless range of cheeses, preserved salami-style meats in all sizes and shapes, and irresistable desserts, and I realise it's just as well we've been walking or biking for at least an hour a day! Every market showcases their own regional, boutique produce - there are so many different kinds of goats cheese, for example. I really like the way food is valued here. Fruit is sold on the basis of 'do you want to eat it now, tomorrow, or in a week's time?', and I haven't yet bought anything that rots from the core before it ripens!

A patisserie window is full of works of art, each tart or biscuit individually presented, so much so that it seems a shame to eat it (not that that stopped me).

As for the cheeses. . .

I had planned to photograph my favourite cheese, if you really can have a favourite here. We have visited the town of Epoisse in the past, a very modest factory considering it produces one of the most famous French cheeses. In any case, unfortunately, I had to photograph just the box, as it was (I swear) quite  impossible to stop eating the last third once I'd started. Anybody who knows this cheese will understand. And I have what is said to be the top Epoisse cheese in the frig, but don't dare open it in case I can't stop -Epoisses Berthaut - mind you, I do have about eight others to be going on with, so I shouldn't feel deprived.

Back to the kitchen; everyone has things they have to take when travelling - lipstick, marmite, hairstylists for example - but not this girl.  I absolutely needed a kitchen whizz/wand to replace my processor, so this beauty was purchased in Auxerre and it was courgette soup with garlic, herbs, mascarpone and gorgonzola in no time at all.

What is she doing on a river bank with a kitchen wand in her hand? Well, just to show a little bit of the Nivernais canal, really, outside our gite.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Mexican Chowder

This is the first of a series of a few sample recipes from my new book Rowan Bishop's Vegetarian Kitchen that I'll post over the coming weeks. It's an all-time favourite that captures attention and lingers in the memory. 

The chilli should make it's presence felt but not be overwhelming.

It works well as a main course accompanied by wholemeal bread or hot crusty rolls, cheeses and fresh fruits.   Serves 6.  May be frozen.

4 Tbsp oil
3 medium-sized onions, peeled and finely chopped
2-21/2 Tbsp minced fresh green chillies, with seeds*
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp ground cumin
4 cups diced potatoes (if thin-skinned don't peel)
2 cups peeled and diced kumara or pumpkin
3 cups water
3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 large red capsicum, seeded and diced
2 medium-sized tomatoes, diced
1 cup whole-kernel corn; frozen, fresh or tinned (drained)
4 Tbsp cream cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 cup grated tasty cheese
finely chopped coriander or parsley for garnish

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a low-medium heat.  Saute the onions, chillies, garlic and cumin until the onions soften.  Add the diced potatoes and kumara (or pumpkin) to the sauteed onions with the water, basil and salt.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the capsicum, tomatoes and corn.  Simmer, covered, for a further 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.  Transfer 4 cups of the mixture to a food processor and add the cream cheese and the milk.  Process until smooth then return to the saucepan with the grated cheese.  Stir to combine and check the seasoning balance.

Reheat gently and garnish with coriander or parsley before serving in heated bowls.

* Discard some or all of the seeds if your chillies are small and especially fiery, but keep in mind that this soup should have a bit of 'bite'.

Image from 'Rowan Bishop's Vegetarian Kitchen'

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Pike Place Market, Seattle, USA

A few photos from our visit to the Pike Place Market in Seattle where we spent a few days before travelling on to France.

Click here to visit their website.

photos copyright Rowan Bishop

Monday, 6 June 2011

Hello from France!!

We arrived here at our gite in Burgundy 3 days ago - it's just south of Auxerre, a large town within striking distance of Paris by rail.  The village is called La Cour Barree, just lovely, and the gite is right on the Nivernais canal and the Yonne river.  It's an 18th century cottage that's been done up, not flash but quite delightful and perfectly adequate.  Temperatures have been sitting at 25C- 30C since we arrived, and for many weeks apparently.  I'm loving the heat after British Columbia especially where we were driving through snow over the mountains.

We've been to this area before, loved it then and have already fallen in love with it again; really looking forward to exploring it in more depth.  It's peaceful, people are friendly and our landlords (English) are really nice and very helpful - they've lived here for almost 30 years, so they are a mine of local knowledge - and can help with our abject attempts at pronunciation! The landscape here is rolling hills, lots of which are covered in forest but it also produces grain, is the centre of the cherry growing industry and of course the biggest industry is wine.  The town of Chablis is only 20 km away from where we are (we have a lease car) so we visited there on Sunday - market day.  Cherries! Red currants! and almost any fresh produce you can think of, including barrow loads of globe artichokes.  Vezelay (very famous and gorgeous town, starting point for the Crusades and also for the pilgrim trail to Santiago del Compostella, etc... ) is about 50 km away.

We also managed to fit in a visit to another market in the village next to ours, just across the bridge.  It was an Empty Your Attic' market and stretched for at least 2 km along the river bank and through the streets.  Fascinating, full of gorgeous antiques and outdoor furniture and just about anything else you can imagine.  We bought two bikes there, 12 and 30 Euro respectively, and couldn't believe our luck.  We also visited Bailly and Vermenton, places we've been to before - the Cave de Bailly is so interesting, built into limestone cliffs (blocks of which were used to build Paris) and was used to hide planes during the war.  Then it grew mushrooms and now it is a huge wine storage area, mainly for one of the local specialties - Crement, a champagne in all but name and price as only champagne from Champagne can use that description, and it's strictly controlled.

I hope to have photos available soon, I'm having problems with the internet connection at the moment, hopefully it will be sorted soon.

Map source credit -

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A note from Canada

We’ve been whisked around Vancouver and some of BC over the last week, north of Whistler to Mt Currie, Lillooet and on to Kamloops. In other words, through banks of snow on the mountains to rolling wild west horse land around Kamloops, complete with tumbleweeds. This country is huge! and spectacular! It was a great week, and we were lucky enough to  be served wild salmon, caught and cooked for us by First Nations people at Mt Currie – such a different flavour from farmed salmon, and it was served with a sweet/sour sauce along with rice and lots of veges and salads. I wanted to try some of their wind-dried salmon, too, (sts’wan)  but in the end didn’t have time to track some down. Long days and lots of kilometres, but fascinating.  We really needed the weekend in Vancouver to catch up though!

I do find that trying to get a quick bite that’s savoury is problematic, both in Canada and the US – even a savoury muffin! So much fast food is sweet or fat-laden, and servings are BIG. Coffee with cream is the default setting, and cream doesn't taste good in a cup of tea if you can find one. It is good to see sushi restaurants springing up, however, they're ubiquitous these days, cheap and savoury!

Really healthy food is available - at a price, though, which is more than a little ironic. By healthy in this context I mean unprocessed, organic, and with no additives. At a very popular vegan restaurant/cafe in Vancouver I was fascinated to find that all food there is served raw, or at least produced at temperatures low enough not to destroy vitamins. Intriguing! My friend and someone eating a pizza, so ordered one too, so half each. This came with a two small caesar salads, and a vegetable smoothy each (beetroot, carrot, ginger and orange - delicious). The 'pizza' base was produced by dehydrating vegetables into a pizza shape - a thin, crisp base onto which was piled a tempting array of chopped and sliced vegetables such as capsicums, shredded carrots, celery etc in a tasty dressing. It was a lunch that made you feel as if you'd had a vitamin shot, a set- up for the day (we won't mention the self-righteous bit). It was good, but the surprise for me was the cost - $33.00 Canadian, which is about $42.00 NZ. It seems to me that it's ironic that you have to be well off to eat healthily these days - we could have bought enough fast food to feed a whole family for that!

On a totally different note, Viji's Indian restaurant has won an award for the best curry house in the world, and I loved it - you can't book, you have to queue up, and people do, every night at least 30 minutes before it opens.