Is it time to turn the Christmas lights on already? 12 November 2010

Bonjour chers lecteurs! As I am writing these lines the wind and rain are raging against the windows of my tiny home office and banging so loudly on our flat roof I can barely hear myself type. Now there are two ways to face this situation. 1. Feel as miserable as these clouds pouring over our head (which I briefly considered two days ago after my umbrella folded backward with the wind¬†and got stuck into an old lady’s hair), or 2. embrace fast coming Winter and get into hot wine, yummy soups and the festive spirit faster than those nasty raindrops can get to our underwear. I chose option number two and seized the opportunity we had friends over last weekend to bake my first christmassy cake, a gorgeous pain d’√©pices richly spiced with heaps of cinnamon, cloves, anis seeds and ginger. I was tempted to serve it to the tune of my favourite¬†seasonal CD “Christmas with the Rat Pack“but prudently refrained from doing so after noticing big O’s eyes rolling at the mere suggestion of it. After six Decembers of Sinatra and his gang blasting “Rudolph the Reindeer”¬†non-stop in our house, Olivier kind of moved on while I got stuck in the delightful corniness of this album, the suave voices, bell ringing sounds and their immediate feel good effect. I intend to have these intense sing along¬†moments with Frank soon enough again, but in the interest of our marriage I thought I might be better holding off a couple more weeks… Now everyone, get ready for this week’s simple and warming soups, a gorgeous pain d’√©pices recipe and a quick, colourful and delicious edible building work. Don’t forget to check out the list of seasonal ingredients to inspire your shopping and have a read at the section on beef before buying our next roast. Have a great fortnight and see you in two weeks! Anne-Laure xx

QUICK week treats
Carrot and lime crecy soup

Busy: 10 min, Total time: 50 min

Carrots and limes are a great pair together, limes adding a discrete acidulated touch to the sweet flavour of the carrots. This simple four ingredient potage is family cooking as I like it most. A no brainer to prepare and a deliciously rewarding and wholesome dinner, eaten with thick slices of bread and cheese on a cold evening. The carrots will tan your skin too, a most appropriate antidote to this week's ghastly weather...
Quick assembly Parmentier of pea and cauliflower purée with curried beef

Busy: 25 min, Total time: 25 min

I made this dish earlier this week on one of those grey and cold days that have recently befallen upon us. In my world, these days call for serious colour therapy. I turned to my ever life-saving frozen peas and whipped up this delightful mix, as flamboyant in flavours as it is in colours. My children looked at it first with circumspection, then forked the whole thing in without further comments. A true compliment.
Weekend THERAPY
Jerusalem artichoke velouté with curry and a touch of honey

Busy: 10 min, Total time: 40 min

Don’t mix Jerusalem artichokes with artichokes. The stars of this velouté are sweet tasting, oblong root vegetables with a skin similar to that of ginger. Their nutty taste and starchy flesh make them the ideal ingredient for thick and creamy veloutés. Try this simple recipe which produces a succulent, unctuous soup with the same warming effect as a hot water bottle, albeit from inside out!
Pain d’√©pices fait-maison

Busy: 15 min, Total time: 1 hour

Pain d'épices is a wonderful Winter cake my brother and I used to eat on Sunday afternoons by the warmth of our crackling fireplace. I revisited my childhood last weekend by baking one and I don't know whether it was the magical Christmas scent bathing the house while it baked, its richly spiced flavour or the sweetness of the honey or but all five children in the house kept coming back for more, making me the happiest baker in the world.
IN SEASON
Starting this month:

brussel sprouts, cranberries, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, red cabbage, sloes

In full swing:‚Ä®
beetroot, broccoli, cabbage (savoy, spring, white) carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, chestnuts, chillies, courgettes, elderberries, fennel, garlic, hazelnuts, kale, leeks, lettuces, maincrop potatoes, marrow, onions, potatoes, radishes, rocket, peppers, pumpkin, salsify, shallots, spinach, sweetcorn, swede, turnip, walnuts, watercress, wild mushrooms, goose, partridge, pheasant, rabbit, venison, wood pigeon, apples, blackberries, damsons, figs, pears, quince

Last chance to buy:‚Ä®
artichoke, aubergine, butternut squash, courgette, fennel, fine beans, raspberries
KITCHEN TALK
In season:: Jerusalem artichokes

Time to try something new this weekend! Have a go at cooking lovely Jerusalem artichokes, which have appeared on the vegetable stalls this month. Despite its name the Jerusalem artichoke is confusingly neither a type of artichoke nor connected to Jerusalem as its name would suggest. It originally hails from North America and its white flesh has a deliciously sweet and nutty mild flavour. Its taste has been likened to that of a globe artichoke, which is likely to be responsible for this part of its name. TheJerusalem part is thought to be derived from girasole, the Italian for sunflower to which they are related. In appearance the[...] read more .. >

The Conscious Cook: The environmental impact and ethics of beef production and what we can do about it

Did you know that producing 1 Kg (2.2lb) of beef releases as much carbon dioxide as driving a car for three hours? Global demand for beef has exploded in recent years and huge, confined animal feeding operations have proliferated around the world. These consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains. Eating meat is indeed much less energy-efficient than having a vegetarian diet, as about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumpt[...]

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Ask Anne-Laure:Is whole, crushed, or chopped garlic all the same?

Did you notice some recipes call for whole garlic, some for crushed garlic, while others require chopped garlic? Do you think it is all the same? Well, not really. Garlic is made of thousands of tiny cells containing a compound called alliin. When the walls of these cells are ruptured by cutting into a clove for instance, alliin reacts with oxygen in the air and enzymes located outside the cells to produce the pungent taste and aroma so characteristic of garlic. The more ruptured cell walls, the more reactions are triggered and the stronger the taste. For this reason the strength spectrum of garlic follows this order, from subtle t[...]

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