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Saturday, 29 September 2007

But I still haven't found the squash I'm looking for

Back in my native Australia, one of my favourite vegetables, the squash, takes the form of a little UFO shaped disc that would sit in the palm of your hand with lots of room to spare. It cooks and tastes much like a bitter courgette and it always brightens up your plate nicely.

Last Sunday at the farmer's market I got very excited when I saw something that resembled the squash from my homeland. When I got it back to the kitchen and cut it open I discovered it was more like a small pumpkin.
Goddamn mutton dressed as lamb!
Oh well, time for a change of plan.

This is a fantastic side dish for autumn as it reflects the colours of the season.

What you need
beans - I used three different varieties, green, purple and yellow
2 hand-sized squash or 1 butternut pumpkin/squash
a small handful of walnuts
1 tablespoon of honey dissolved in a tiny bit of boiling water
olive oil

The do
De-seed and chop the squash into chunks - if you are using the normal squash you will need to remove the skin (when roasting butternut squash I always leave the skin on). Throw into a baking tray with some olive oil and bake in a medium oven until soft.
Cut the beans into thirds. Don't get precious about top and tailing the beens. I leave them all on, mostly because I like how the ends look like little elves shoes.
Boil a kettle.
Place the beans into a big bowl. Cover the beans in boiling water and cover with a plate. Allow to sit until they are cooked to your liking. I like them a little raw so you may want to leave them for longer or even boil them over the stove for a bit.
Once you are happy with the beans, flush them with cold water and throw them into the baking tray with the pumpkin. Add walnuts and pour the honey mixture over the top and drizzle a little more oil into the tray, toss and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and serve.

France: they hate vegetarians Part 2

After spending a week in drizzly Paris, we high-tailed it out of there in style with first class train seats to the picturesque, but touristy, seaside town of La Rochelle.
In terms of eating out, we experienced more of the same disappointment. But it's hard to be grumpy when the sun is shining. After perusing a popular strip of restaurants looking at each menu board - not a single one had a vegetarian dish on it - we asked a man setting up tables outside a tapas place if he knew of any restaurants that might be vegetarian friendly. His reply was "not in this town".
After some wandering around, we found a cute little restaurant near the market serving simple fare such as galettes, tarts and salads. Holding a menu and being able to choose a range of things from it was quite a refreshing change.

We decided to stop off at the market the next day and gather some provisions for a day trip to Ile d'aix.

What greeted us was every food lover's fantasy: a bustling market full of fresh seasonal produce. The stallholders were friendly, chirpy and above all, helpful. Considering that the only greenery that we had laid eyes upon was the mould on cheese that was given to us at Aux Lyonnais, oh, and the 'salad' (a.k.a bowl of dandelion leaves), we went a little crazy and by the time our tasting and buying frenzy was over, our shopping bag was full delicious goodies which included:

from the fruit and veg stall:
strawberries fragrant and sweeeeeeeeet
cherry tomatoes on the vine
butter lettuce
flat white peaches
the shape of a Breton beret and possibly my favourite fruit. Fleshy, juicy and sweet - and very, very ergonomic.

from the cheese man:
2-year-old Comte cheese
an outstanding cheese. It has an Emmental vibe with a waxy texture and a hint of sweetness and nuttiness. I hadn't tried one this old before.
a small wheel of goat's cheese mild with a delicate soft texture and a very slight sour edge.

from the baker:
brioche buttery, crumbly and soft
paprika and Parmesan biscuits like a cross between a Carr's cheesy melt cracker and a scone. Full of buttery cheesy goodness
grainy baguette

We took the boat to Ile d'Aix, via Fort Boyard, and hired bikes to find a nice beach to sit on and chow down on our very successful market haul.


Back in London it's easy to write off bought sandwiches as a lunchtime option because, well...they're horrible. Nasty preservative-packed stale bread buttered within an inch of its life bracketing some sort of filling which is unrecognisable because of all the sandwich filler they have slapped on it.
Remember the good old lettuce, tomato and cheese combination? Sounds boring - but with quality ingredients it's a taste sensation. Wherever you are - picnic, work or Ile d'Aix, it's dead simple and takes two seconds to prepare.

What you need
Swiss army knife
cherry tomatoes

The do
Split the baguette lengthways. Fill with lettuce, halved cherry tomatoes and Comte. Grind some black pepper if you have it.
Tip If you are making this for later, lay the lettuce and cheese on the outer layers so the tomato doesn't touch the bread and make it soggy.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

(I wish) everyday was like Sunday

These are a few of my favourite things...


I purchased this little friendly-faced gadget in France. It crushes nuts so efficiently it's enough to make a bloke squeamish. Easy to clean AND comes in my favourite colour.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

France: they hate vegetarians Part 1

Ahhhh Paris. The veritable no-man's land for the vegetarian that doesn't eat fish.
I Eurostar-ed there with some sort of naive optimism (ohhhh the cheese, the pastries, the wine) only to return to England; fat. bloated. bitter.
Oh well, no one said it would be easy, but it wasn't all bad...

We choose Aux Lyonnais because it looked great. A beautiful restaurant with lots of etched glass and chandelier action.
After deciphering the menu with our phrase books, we figured out that the entire menu consisted of meat, except for the desserts and a plate of boiled vegetables.
I refused to eat the boiled vegetables on principle as they were clearly there as a joke. So I went straight to dessert and ordered a Saint-Marcellin cheese, and asked if the kitchen could fix a salad.

The salad turned out to be a massive bowl of bitter dandelion leaves. It was palatable to begin with, but a quarter of the way in my tongue started to feel like I'd been chewing on a battery. The cheese however was amazing. As soon as I liberated it from its cute little terracotta pot and cut in, it all oozed out in a deliciously gooey way, waiting to be scooped up with some rye bread that arrived on the table in a miniature sack.

Dessert was a more straight forward affair - with no dandelion leaves in sight. A souffle with cherry liqueur flavoured cream spooned into the middle. Yum yum.
I would also like to mention that the wines we had in this restaurant were amazing, thanks to Ellen, our on-table wine expert.

Strolling around the streets of Paris, it is impossible to go hungry. There are yummy cakes and pastries at every turn. On this particular occasion The LCs enjoyed a very nice lemon tart.

We stumbled across this Jewish cafe which had some excellent boreks, jam packed with heaps of vegetarian-friendly ingredients.

Then it was on to the world-famous falafel place, to see what the fuss was about.

...and the fuss was certainly justified. Soft pita bread with freshly-cooked light, crunchy falafel balls on a bed of grilled eggplant and salad with a healthy dollop of hommus on top. We all got amongst it whilst on the go. Douglas got particularly excited with it and after the falafel was long gone, he continued to march through the streets of Paris with hommus all over his face (we tried to tell him, but we were laughing too hard).

For more info on St Marcellin cheese

L'As du Fallafel Located in the Jewish Quarter (Marais) at 34 Rue de Rosiers
Aux Lyonnais 2nd Arrondissement (La Bourse) at 32 rue St-Marc be continued in France: they hate vegetarians Part 2