Saturday, July 30, 2011

No skirting the bavette!

It's the number one traditional bistro dish. The one you find on just about every menu of every little cafe and restaurant in France, whether in Paris or any of the regions. It's beloved of both adults and kids, locals and foreigners. It's simple, delicious, satisfying and inexpensive. It's bavette et frites, the most common way that the universally beloved classic, steak and chips, is presented in France.
Bavette refers to the cut of beef—known as 'skirt steak' in Australia (it also goes by the name of 'flank steak' in some other countries) Hence the atrociously punning title (sorry!) But despite the cut's huge popularity in France, it's hardly used here, except in mince. And that's really quite weird, because skirt steak is tender, flavourful, very non-fatty, and very much cheaper than other kinds of steak, despite the fact there's not much of it on a beast(only a few kilos). I bought a 350 g piece of it at the butcher's the other day(enough for two good steaks) for only four dollars—it is only about 12 dollars a kilo, and sometimes even less, about half the price of fillet steak but with just as much juicy taste. Because it's not usually displayed in butchers' display cabinets but kept out the back for making into high-grade mince, you have to ask specifically for it.
Skirt steak or bavette has a very characteristic look, with striations in the meat and a somewhat bulky look. It needs to be pounded with a mallet to flatten it out a little and tenderise it. It should then be cooked like any other steak, how you like it(though NOT well-done, no steak should ever be well-done, in my opinion, and juicy bavette even less!) It can be served with a nice garlicky herby butter, or with Bearnaise sauce, or with the traditional 'echalotte' (shallot) sauce of shallots cut up small, simmered in butter, with a little white wine added, salt, pepper, and a little splash of white wine vinegar. Or with any other kind of sauce you fancy, and of course it should be accompanied by some good home-made thick cut chips sprinkled with garlic and parsley, and a green salad with vinaigrette. Perfect!
Bavette can also be used in all kinds of other steak dishes where you need a good, tender cut, such as beef Stroganoff. In my opinion it is the most ridiculously under-rated and best-value cut of beef around. Sample some before more people cotton on to it and it goes up in price!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And the winner of the Mrs de Salis vintage cookbook is..

As I found it hard to choose between these two, I've decided that we should have a joint winner, and will be donating another Mrs de Salis book to this end.

First, Sheila Pegum, with
Mrs McGregor’s Fricassee of Rabbit
First catch your rabbit (Mr McGregor finds the vegetable garden a good place to start). Carefully remove waistcoats, shoes, dresses and other sundry anthropomorphic accessories from the rabbit. Set aside for the grandchildren’s dolls. (Note to self: ask the young woman at Hill Top Farm to stop dressing up the wildlife – it can’t be comfortable for the creatures and it puts Mr McGregor off his game). If the rabbit is white, it may have strayed in from the mad-house next door. Gently turn it upside down and shake, to dislodge the fob watch.
To prepare for the table:
Marinate rabbit pieces with a bouquet garni in a red wine marinade overnight.
Strain marinade and save.
Pat the rabbit pieces dry, coat in flour and brown in a frypan. Remove to one side. Gently fry one chopped onion, minced garlic to taste and two blanched, chopped rashers of bacon.
Place the rabbit pieces, onion and bacon mixture in a clean pan, pour over the strained marinade, season well and simmer for 1 hour.
Gently incorporate a flour-and-butter roux, seasoned with Dijon mustard if desired.
Serve with fresh garden vegetables and lashings of red wine, to quell the last vestiges of cloying sentimentality and debilitating guilt.

Congratulations, Sheila, for a wonderfully apt and clever literary recipe that also works well as a dish! Positively delicious in every way. Entrees a la Mode by Mrs de Salis will be on her way to you soon!

Second joint winner, is Karen S.Elliott, with:
Ishmael’s Whale Blubber Stew

Ingredients –
3 large strips whale blubber (does not have to be from a white whale)
1 lb. lard
2 onions, diced
5 cups sea water
5 lbs. potatoes, diced
12 carrots, diced
5 lbs. tomatoes, diced
Salt and Pepper
Kill whale. Slice off three strips of blubber (about the length of a peg leg). Chop into bite-sized bits. Melt lard in large skillet. Add whale meat to lard – cook until browned. Add onions - cook until onions are translucent. Set aside. In large pot, boil potatoes and carrots in sea water for 10 minutes. Dump whale meat, onions, and tomatoes into vegetable pot. Simmer for two hours. Salt and pepper to taste.

Feeds 10 hungry seamen and a bitter captain.

Great work, Karen! A suitably extreme recipe, to the big measure of Moby Dick! A copy of Mrs de Salis' Savouries A la Mode will be on its way to you shortly.

And thank you to everyone who entered, in comments and by email, and thanks too to those who posted about the comp online.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

In praise of paupiettes

I love paupiettes, those lovely little stuffed meat or fish parcels so popular in France, but which you rarely see here, so that the only way you can get them is to make them yourself! But in France you can get them pre-prepared in the markets, at the butcher's and at the traiteur (literally 'caterer', those quintessential French shops where you can buy all kinds of delicious, fresh pre-prepared dishes made on the premises by the traiteur, everything from paupiettes to pates, salads to savouries). When we were living in Paris last year, we tried out all sorts of different paupiettes from all sorts of places—sampling not only the classic veal ones but rabbit and fish and duck and guinea fowl, and featuring all kinds of stuffings from the traditional savoury pork forcemeat to leek or mushroom or seafood. And they were all absolutely delicious!
Paupiettes, for those of you who aren't clear, consist of a long thin piece of meat or fish wrapped around a central stuffing and then tied with string into a little parcel. Meat paupiettes are made with thin strips of meat, for instance veal meant for schnitzel, thinly cut chicken fillet, pork or lamb fillet etc(and I think strips of kangaroo fillet would work well too) stuffed either with mincemeat made with the same kind of meat, with herbs and seasonings added, or with a contrasting minced meat, or with a combination of minced meat and vegetable—You often see veal paupiettes, for instance, stuffed with veal or pork mince, with in the centre, leeks or mushrooms. Fish paupiettes are made with thin fish fillets(or fillets cut in half lengthways) and then stuffed with either minced fish or seafood with herbs, or with vegetables, such as leek, asparagus, spinach, etc, or a mix. You could also theoretically(though I've never tried it) make vegetarian paupiettes with long strips of roast capsicum or eggplant surrounding a stuffing of say rice, ground nuts, herbs, etc.

Though they can be fried, steamed or baked, mostly they are browned in a pan then simmered slowly in stock. They can also be cooked in special individual paupiette dishes which seal the juices right in. They are then served either with a sauce made from the cooking juices, or whatever you fancy, really, depending on what the base of your paupiette is—a hollandaise or bearnaise for white meat or fish, a 'sauce chasseur' (hunter's sauce, rich with red wine and tangy with vinegar) for game meats, a cream and mustard and lemon sauce for veal, and so on. And though they make an excellent main course(which is how they are mostly presented) they can also be excellent served cold, in slices. This looks particularly nice if you have different colours in the paupiette—for instance, if you have say spinach or leek in the middle of the forcemeat.
Paupiettes are not hard to make, and though a little fiddly in the preparation, they are fun to make as you can try out all sorts of different combinations. Here's a recipe for the great classic, paupiette de veau, which you can use as a base for all other types of paupiette:
(Proportions for 2 people) two thin veal steaks, pounded; 100 g pork or veal mince, salt, pepper, herbs(I use thyme and sage, but any combination you like is fine); 1 egg, one slice white bread soaked in milk, 50 g small fresh field mushrooms; a little butter, a little white wine, some good stock(I used French veal stock but chicken can also be used.) You will also need some plain white string. Mix the mince with the chopped herbs, salt, pepper, egg, milk-soaked bread, and some thinly chopped mushrooms(reserve the rest for sauce), work well till all incorporated. Put half of the mixture on each steak, lengthwise, and then carefully roll up the steak and tie it into a parcel with string. Some of the stuffing will burst out, just push it back in. Melt some butter in a pan, add the paupiettes, brown on each side then splash in a little white wine and then stock to go about halfway up the paupiettes. Cook for about an hour on low heat. When nearly done, slice the rest of the mushrooms, fry quickly in a little butter, and add a splash of crème de cassis or similar(you could add port or tokay or similar fortified wine instead if you like.) Add the cooking juices to the mushroom sauce and serve it on top of the paupiettes. Serve with your choice of vegs--in the one pictures, I served this dish with our own steamed Tasmanian pinkeye potatoes and romanesco(like a green cauliflower) puree.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Vegetable gems from Central France: Le Puy lentils

These are the best lentils in the world bar none, the beautiful little grey-green lentils originating in Le Puy en Velay, a gorgeous ancient town in the highlands of central France. With their nutty texture and delicious flavour, they leave every other lentil for dead, in my opinion! They were the first vegetable in France to get an AOC, or Appellation d'Origine Controlee, which means that if you grow the lentils anywhere but at Le Puy, they can't be called Le Puy lentils. (Australian-grown ones for instance are called 'Australian green lentils'--you'd think they might have been more imaginative!)
We've grown these lentils here in our garden in the Northern Tablelands of NSW(some from Le Puy lentils, some from 'Australian green lentils' from Victoria)and they've done pretty well, generally, and we've been able to get a few kilos off a not very large patch of ground. Last year however they grew beautifully at first but there was too much rain and they got waterlogged and only produced enough for a few meals as well as some seed for next year. Lentils are pretty fiddly to harvest as the pods are small and grow close to the ground and even when you are being very careful, inevitably little stones get caught up with them—because the stones are often the same slatey colour as the lentils, even when you sieve 'em several times, you don't always find them before you cook them and someone crunches down on one!
Last August we visited Le Puy itself for the first time to see the heart of lentil country, and realised that one of the reasons these little green gems grow so well in our area is that there are similar conditions climactically—with high-altitude, lots of frosts, pure air(and the Le Puy growers swear that it's not just a matter of soil but of the very air, the micro-climate, which makes these little beauties what they are.) It's a gorgeous spot, with beautiful countryside and ancient architecture, and though it guards its traditions(lentils and lace and liqueur!) jealously, it is not in the least a pretentious place.
The green lentil has been grown in Le Puy for at least 2,000 years and as you can imagine there is a very strong grower tradition in the region. Amusingly, there's also a 'Confrererie Verte' or 'Green Brotherhood' whose 'Knights' defend and maintain the tradition of Le Puy lentils. Some of France's greatest chefs, like Paul Bocuse, are 'Knights of the Green Brotherhood', complete with ceremonial costumes!
You can read more about the Confrererie and the Le Puy lentil generally at the official Le Puy growers' website: (there's an English translation on the site).
The green gems are lovely cooked in all sorts of ways, whether purely vegetarian or to accompany pork or lamb(as it's usually served in France.) As they cook, their colour changes from green to brown, but the nutty texture remains(as long as you don't overcook of course) Cooked and cooled, with a vinaigrette and plenty of chopped fresh herbs, they also make a great salad. You can also use them for soups if you want. They are more expensive than brown or red lentils but just so worth it—we simply don't bother with any other type of lentils these days. And because there's a fair few green lentil growers in Australia now, they're easy to find—I've even seen some recently in Coles!
Here's a simple basic recipe for cooking delicious Le Puy style lentils(proportions are for two people).Ingredients: half cup green lentils(they do not need soaking), half a chopped onion, clove garlic, olive oil, wine(red, white or rose, it's up to you), herbs(thyme, parsley), pepper, salt, stock—chicken or vegetable, up to you.
Fry the onion and garlic in some olive oil, add the lentils, stir for a few seconds, then add splash wine(any style is fine), then some pepper and salt, let simmer for a few more seconds, then add half the herbs, and then the stock to cover well. Simmer till lentils are cooked but not soft, for about 20-25 minutes(taste—they should be still nutty but not hard, and the liquid should have been almost all absorbed.) Drain, add a little extra garlic, and the rest of chopped herbs. Serve on its own for a vegetarian meal, with some plain stock-cooked Basmati rice, or with grilled sausage, roast pork, pickled pork, or lamb shanks. Last time, I also served it with a braised cabbage side—chopped cabbages cooked in a little olive oil, red wine, herbs, a little stock and a half teaspoon of tomato paste, and simmered for as long as the lentils—the cabbage does need to be very soft and to have totally absorbed its cooking juices.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 14 special: Bastille Day memories

Last year, on Bastille Day, we were in Paris, watching(for the first time ever) the traditional, massive military parade that on July 14 goes up the Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. It started out as a grey and overcast day that soon turned into tipping rain but nothing deterred, the military and para-military forces(such as the police and fire services, which in France have para-military status) in their array of spectacularly traditional or modern businesslike uniforms, some on foot, some on motorbikes, some in tanks and armoured cars, and some on horseback, went slowly by the huge festive crowds that were taking shelter under trees and eaves and cafe umbrellas and trying to bag photos over the thousands of heads by standing on signs or on top of bus-stops or perched on each other's shoulders.
We sat for hours over a succession of coffees and hot chocolates at the table we'd bagged in a plush velvet cafe just off the Champs Elysees, from which we could see not only the parade on the ground, but the flyover of speedy fighter jets and lumbering transport planes above our heads. It wasn't a ringside seat exactly but not a bad vantage point to catch a glimpse of the splendid mounted Garde Republicaine soldiers going by in their braided tunics with gold epaulets and beautiful feathered helmets; the Foreign Legionaires with their pure white hats, the Navy men in perfect sailor suits and white gloves, the top brass of the police with their red white and blue sashes and many many others, including tanker crews in their big lumbering vehicles, smartly-turned out military bandsmen playing trumpets and drums, and a whole contingent of that year's invited guest paraders, soldiers from various countries in French-speaking Africa. The French are real sons and daughters of Mars still and this big display of France's military might is is unblushingly accepted as the right and proper centrepiece of Bastille Day, along with the traditional firemen's balls that proliferate all over Paris in every district fire station the night before. Tickets to those Bastille Eve balls are hotly contested and crowds queue up for hours and hours before to get into the fire stations where they'll eat and dance till dawn. That Bastille Eve after dinner in the flat(a traditional Parisian meal of grated carrot and celeriac salad as entree, bavette et frites –skirt steak and chips--for main course, followed by cheese and then eclairs from the local patisserie for dessert)we moseyed along to the fire-station in the district where we'd been living, the 4th arrondissement, and saw the fire station decorated with pulsating pink and blue and yellow and green lights, and featuring a big video screen showing the firemen at their jobs. But the massive queues and the huge pounding electronic music put us off and instead we went for a long walk first up to the Bastille area itself where a big free loud rock concert was going on, and then along the Seine watching all the impromptu parties that were going on along its banks(which we'd nicknamed the 'penguin rookeries' because they were so popular as picnic spots in the warm months) for kilometres on end. Picnic tableclothes were spread with feasts of all kinds of goodies, and with bottles of wine and champagne and beer, and the smell and smoke from several barbecues tantalised your nose. The river sparkled under the lights, the boats passed on their stately way, the road traffic was halted and people, locals and tourists, were spilling out all over the roads as well as the footpaths, shouting, singing, enjoying themselves, making pests of themselves! and at one bridge at nearly midnight, we found two old guys on accordeon and fiddle playing traditional Parisian tunes, and mingled locals and tourists dancing, some awkwardly, some drunkenly, some gracefully, but all with great good cheer. Pure magic!
When I was a kid my parents used to go sometimes to the big Bastille Day ball in Sydney, held at one of the big posh hotels in the centre, and organised by the French Consulate. It's a funny thing because firstly in fact my parents are royalists at heart, but also because normally they wouldn't go near the official jollifications run by the Consulate, and found the crowd that hung about it to be 'perfect snobs' best avoided, but they still went to the Bastille Day ball several years in a row. We kids had to stay at home with a baby-sitter because it was only for adults, and I used to love watching my mother getting ready, doing her makeup and setting her hair and putting on her beautiful evening dress of elegant deep blue chiffon with the top panels encrusted with sequins as thickly as stars in the Milky Way. With shiny evening shoes and her shimmering green and gold gauze wrap over the dress, and sparkly earrings at her ears, she looked to me like a queen out of a fairytale or a film. My father in his elegant 'smoking', as that style of evening dress is known in French: (an elegant white jacket with black bow tie and black trousers)and his hair brushed smartly back, looked like he could also have stepped out of a film or out of one of my very glamorous grandfather's photographic portfolio from the 1920's and 30's. I imagined the glamorous acene in the posh hotel ballroom, a shimmering, giddy whirl of beautiful ladies and elegant men and an orchestra playing and flowers and tables laid with white tablecloths and silver cutlery. I fell asleep dreaming of such scenes even though every year my parents talked of how bored they'd been hobnobbing with the huiles ('oils') as my father sarcastically called them(the 'anointed ones' if you like, or the 'upper crust'). And in the morning we would mill around my sleepy-eyed parents, hoping they'd remembered the thing we all looked forward to.
For every year the centrepiece of the tables at the ball was a big spun-sugar model of the Bastille fortress, complete with iced turrets and windows and long high caramel walls. And every year, my parents(and other kids' parents, no doubt) would bravely storm the sugar Bastille and bring back the teeth-grindingly sweet trophies of slab of wall or point of turret or pane of sugar glass, to be shared out and devoured by their excited brood.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stop Press re vintage cookbook competition

I've decided to extend the closing date for entries to my competition to win a vintage(1890) cookbook by Mrs de Salis(below.) It's now Monday July 25.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An easy cassoulet a la frangourou

Cassoulet country--the triangle of Toulouse, Castelnaudary, Carcassonne--is home territory for us Massons and over the years I've eaten this quintessential south-western French dish pretty often, mostly in France, and mostly home-made too, though also in restaurants and occasionally from tins(the best of these, to my way of thinking are the Maison Samatan ones sold in the wonderful Victor Hugo markets in Toulouse, and the famous La Belle Chaurienne ones from Castelnaudary).
My father's sister, my late aunt Betty, used to make a legendary cassoulet so tasty and hearty that you felt it would have seen Napoleon's army through a Russian winter forced march; my mother used to make confit, for cassoulet and other dishes, if we were back at Empeaux for a European winter, and for quite a few years here too when David and I kept ducks(Muscovy ducks, actually, which are more related to geese in fact)here in our Northern Tablelands home, we also made duck confit in the winter, and had wonderful magrets and cassoulets. Though the Muscovies have gone--we got sick of their messy ways and tired of the work involved in keeping them--we still make cassoulet occasionally--and have also branched out into pork confit which is also pretty nice(you need good free range pork for this. Our way of doing it is quite easy, if time-comsuming, but then you can't make a good cassoulet in too much of a hurry! I've included here the recipe for confit which needs to be made at least a few days in advance and in fact improves if you can leave it for a few weeks. If you don't want to include confit, simply follow the rest of the recipe for a cut-down version.
To make the confit: You need duck pieces(breast and legs are best), a fair bit of coarse salt, duck fat, sprinkle dried thyme and bay leaf. Put the dry duck pieces in a glass dish, rub all over with the coarse salt(needs to be pretty thickly crusted). Add the herbs, cover and leave in fridge(or a cold pantry) for about 36 hours. After that, melt the duck fat--if you don't have enough, you can add melted pork lard to it too. Take out the duck pieces, drain the liquid, wipe off the salt completely. Heat the fat in a saucepan, cook the duck pieces in it. It needs to simmer for about an hour—if it's properly cooked, the juice will run yellow(test with a skewer.) Cool the duck, put in a jar with the fat on to-it must cover all the duck and a bit more-then cover jar with lid or greaseproof paper. The fat solidifies and preserves the meat. It can be preserved in the fridge or a cold pantry(only in the winter) for a few weeks or used within a day or two if you're in a hurry! You can also make pork, goose or even chicken confit in the same way.
Pieces of the confit are then used in the cassoulet itself.
For the cassoulet, you need the confit, haricot beans, Toulouse sausage(if none available use Italian sausages)olive oil, onions, garlic, herbs(rosemary, thyme, parsley), tomatoes(fresh or tinned), breadcrumbs, salt, pepper. You can also add some unsmoked bacon(such as pancetta) or pork belly pieces if you like. And in some recipes even more meat, such as mutton pieces, are also included, but we don't do it, or you feel like you're going to expire from protein overload! Proportions depend on how many you're cooking for, but for 6 people you'd need about 500 g beans, 2 garlic cloves, 2 onions, 2 or 3 tomatoes depending on size, ½-2/3 sausage per person, and if using pancetta or pork belly, a little for each person. If you don't use duck confit, add more sausage and pork belly/pancetta. To prepare the beans, either soak them overnight in cold water, or to do it more quickly, put them in a pan with cold water, without adding salt. Bring this to the boil and cook for 15 minutes. Do not salt the beans until at least half-way through this cooking time(salting them too early makes them harder to cook quickly). Drain the beans. Fry half the onion and garlic in the olive oil, add the beans, pepper, half the herbs, and if you like a little white wine, cover with a little stock or water, simmer till beans are tender. In a different pan fry the rest of onion and garlic, the sausage, pancetta or pork belly, rest of herbs, pepper, a little salt, and tomatoes. When beans are cooked, drain and add sausage mixture to it. Now take out the confit from its jar, heat through in a little of its own fat. Lay it in the bottom of a casserole dish, put the bean/sausage mixture on top. Cover with breadcrumbs, and sprinkle them with olive oil. Cook in oven or under grill till top has gone golden brown.
Serve with salad and a good red wine.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Win a vintage(1890) Mrs de Salis cookbook!

As a bit of a midwinter celebration(or midsummer if you live in the Northern Hemisphere!), I'm offering readers of A la mode frangourou a chance to win a vintage cookbook by 19th century celebrity cookbook writer, Mrs de Salis(see previous post). I have one copy of the 1890 edition of Entrees a la Mode(pictured), to give away, in perfect condition, bright, clean and attractive with its pale green hardback cover and crisp font.

The title says 'Entrees', but you have to think of 'entree' in Victorian terms, rather than in ours-rather than being a lightish course at the beginning of a meal, it was seen more as an introductory dish and could be quite substantial. It could be seen perhaps as more in the Italian tradition of 'first plate' as opposed to 'antipasti', which is more like a French-style entree. So it was served before the main course(or 'second plate' Italian-style)and could consist of either fairly light dishes, such as stuffed tomatoes or lobster souffle, to substantial dishes such as fillets of beef a la bearnaise or savoury pork cutlets or blanquette of veal . There are also some fascinatingly arcane dishes such as lamb cutlets sauteed with cockscombs and truffles, boudin of rabbit a la Richelieu, fillets of teal(duck) and anchovies, and croustades of larks! Those ones are all very Victorian and extravagant and lots of fun to read about if not to cook! But there are lots of good recipes in this book which are very easy for a modern cook to follow and very tasty--even if you decide, as I've done, to actually make them as a main course rather than as a so-called 'entree'!

And as I mentioned in my previous post on Mrs de Salis, these books are a goldmine for anyone interested in the history of food, and for writers of historical fiction--short stories, novels and film or TV screenplays. They offer a unique glimpse into the kind of food you might have seen on a comfortable middle-class table in Victorian and Edwardian days. With that in mind, that's how I'm structuring the competition: take your favourite Victorian novel(whether actually written then or a modern one set in Victorian times) and invent a recipe for a Victorian-style 'entree' that might convey the atmosphere of the book. For instance, in a Trollope novel, you might have something rich and fancy; in a Bronte novel, something more austere; in a Dickens novel, something flamboyant and unusual--and so on! Simply post your entry as a comment on this post--I'll be choosing my personal favourite from them.

Entries close on Monday July 25.

A la mode Mrs De Salis

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I love browsing in second-hand bookshops and the Internet has greatly added to that enjoyment through where I can go on a real treasure-hunt amongst the thousands of second-hand bookshops worldwide listed on that site. I've unearthed some real finds on abebooks, everything from gorgeous old fairytale books to books about Australia to some fantastic old cookery books, many discovered by sheer serendipity and keywords on abebooks' Advanced Search button.

That's how I discovered Harriet Anne de Salis(1829-1908), or Mrs de Salis as she signed herself. (Salis was her married name; born Harriet Bainbridge, she had married William Salis at the age of 43 and added the noble 'de' no doubt to look good on the titles of her books!) In the late 19th and early 20th century Mrs de Salis was an enormously best-selling author of very popular cookbooks all having 'A la mode' in the title: in this case meaning 'fashionable' or 'modern' rather than 'in the style of'. Her first book, Savouries A la Mode', was published in 1886 and was a big hit, going through many editions, and she soon followed it up with many more titles, such as Entrees a la Mode, Sweet and Supper Dishes a la Mode, Dressed Vegetables a la Mode, Cakes and Confections a la Mode, Oysters a la Mode, and many more. Later she also diversified into other kinds of household tips books, such as Gardening a la Mode!

The A la Mode cookbooks were snappily presented as small hardbacks, with simple recipes(though with often expensive ingredients like lobster)and were aimed at middle-class though not upper-class households. They offer not only recipes which can be used today(though many are rather heavier and meat-rich than we tend to go for these days) but also give a fascinating glimpse into the food habits and fashions of late Victorian England, very much influenced by French cuisine and focussing on presentation as well as taste. They are a fantastic resource for food historians and for writers creating historical fiction, both in books and screenplays(I love to include description of food in my books, for instance). And they have a brisk, unpretentious and pleasant atmosphere which explain some of the success of the books, for readers must have felt Mrs de Salis wasn't some snobby pontificator but one of them, understanding their desire to produce fashionable food for dinner parties whilst not torturing them with food science or jawbreakingly difficult recipes.

Mrs de Salis also wrote other food books, including one on the history and art of cookery through the ages, and a good many newspaper columns, but it is these which made her name and her fortune and which I've very much enjoyed collecting and browsing through. In the next post, I'll be offering readers a chance to win one of these cookbooks, the 1890 edition of 'Entrees a la Mode.'

Sweet delicacies from Bordeaux--canneles

The stately south-western French city of Bordeaux is of course renowned for its magnificent regional wines, including what are, as far as I'm concerned, the finest and most agreeable red wines in the world. But it's also renowned for the quality of its food, amongst which are such things as rare roast beef with Bordelaise sauce(ie based on Bordeaux red wine); lamb with mushrooms and garlic; scallops in a butter and shallot sauce; herring in Bordelaise sauce; cep mushrooms in a lemon and garlic sauce--and some delightful cakes and sweets, with perhaps the most famous and distinctive being the 'canneles de Bordeaux' (there should be an acute accent over that last e, incidentally--my computer refuses to do it right now!). This is a batter-based dessert which is 'fermented' (or rested) and then baked to produce lovely little cakes which are caramel-golden and crispy on the outside and meltingly tender inside. They are easy enough to prepare(though time-consuming because of the time the batter has to rest) but are not all that easy to get just right.

A few years ago in France my sister gave us some silicone cannele moulds which are a very particular shape(though you can experiment with making canneles in, say, small muffin moulds, it's good if you can get hold of either metal or silicone cannele moulds with their specific shape and pattern). Over the years we've experimented with quite a few cannele recipes, both in French and English, and now we're got them close to right, using a slightly adapted recipe in Stephanie Alexander's Cooking in South West France--and they turn out not quite as good as you might get them warm and crispy and sweet from a Bordeaux patisserie, but not bad at all for a home version. We had some the other day and they were pretty delicious, warm with whipped cream on the side!

To make 12 cakes:125 g plain flour, 250 g caster sugar, 1 egg, 2 egg yolks, 1 and a half tablespoons armagnac, cognac or rum, 500 ml milk,drop vanilla extract, 60 g unsalted butter. Mix the flour and sugar together in one bowl(you can do this by hand or with a food processor). In another, whisk the egg and egg yolks, sugar, milk, vanilla and alcohol. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and mix till you have a good smooth batter. Cover and let it rest for 24 hours(some people say longer works well, and even leaving the batter two or three days makes for a good result.)Butter your moulds with some of the butter, chill them(without any batter inside) for half an hour, then grease with rest of the butter, pour in the batter mix and bake at 180C for about an hour or an hour and a quarter. Serve warm or cool.