I’m back in France at my mum’s just now, and had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Le Mans at the beginning of the week. Yes, we all know it’s where the 24-hour car race takes place, but really, there is so much more to this beautiful medieval city.

On my last morning there, I had just enough time to nip down to the marché des Jacobins (every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, from 7.30am to 12.30pm) to see what the local stall-holders had to offer. Located under the gaze of the stunning St Julien cathedral, it has to be one of the most beautifully located markets ever.

In other respects, it’s a fairly typical market, but, of course, typical rarely means boring when it comes to French produce. This is a funny time of year for fresh fruit and veg – the last of the winter stuff well and truly over, and the delights of spring not quite kicking in. But, still, the market was pretty much busting at the seams with lovely looking food.

Radishes being one of my favourite nibbles, I couldn’t resist buying a large bunch of the crunchy gems, pictured below. Just behind them is a kind of salad called mâche, something you don’t see very often in the UK. It’s one of my mum’s favourites, so a large bag of that was purchased, too. We also bought some dandelion leaves, which were dotted with tiny buds of the flower and had a surprisingly sweet flavour.

As well as the fresh stuff, there were inevitably a number of stalls selling bread. I noticed that a lot of places in Le Mans sold what was called traditional baguette, and when I tried some, I realised it was a kind of levain baguette. And delicious it was, too.

Despite being pretty restrained with our purchases, once Mum and I got home, we realised we did have rather a large amount of lettuce-y type things to munch through. So, for lunch today, I made a large salad of mâche, dandelion leaves, radishes, chicory, celery and cherry tomatoes.

I rustled up smoked salmon omelettes, with herbs from Mum’s garden, to eat alongside the salad, and, with the sun shining and temperatures heading towards 20 degrees, we sat outside for what felt like the first summer lunch of the year. Lovely.

Good mornings…

February 5, 2011

My boyfriend is a barman. Which means most evenings I have to amuse myself in the kitchen. And, although we get to have breakfast together every day, there’s only so much you can do with an egg and a slice of toast – what with me not being much of a cornflake girl.

So, when Süleyman arrived back from his early-morning gym session the other day with a box of quails’ eggs, I was a little more excited than perhaps I ought to have been at the sight of a foodstuff. (One of his workout buddies gave them to him – a slightly odd gift, maybe, but one that was much appreciated, nonetheless.)

While looking online for ideas of how to incorporate them into our morning meal, I found a very pretty picture of poached quails’ eggs, so thought I’d give it a go too. And, as you can see from the photo below, I had some success… as well as some squidgy disasters.

I served them on toast with a good splash of olive oil, some pul biber, and a few of the usual Turkish breakfast accoutrements – olives, cheese, tomatoes and parsely. Simple enough, yes, but what really surprised me was just how tasty the wee things were – a flavour that was completely unproportional to their size.

Süleyman’s off the the gym again on Monday – and I’m just looking forward to what he’ll bring back next time!

Unfortunately, due to Süleyman’s working hours, we don’t get to eat together in the evenings very often. So, although we’ve been having fabulous breakfasts and hearty salad-filled lunches, yesterday, it was great to have the opportunity to cook something a bit more elaborate for someone.

That someone was my friend Mireille, who brought her delightful little one-year-old son Cebriel over to my flat in the afternoon. The afternoon drifted into the early evening, when I rustled up a light meal for us all.

That morning, I’d realised I had some very soft-looking peaches and apples in the fridge, and decided I needed to do something with them quick, or they’d end up in the bin (a complete anathema to me, as I’m sure you’re well aware).

I am without oven at the moment, so had to cook the fruit on the top of the cooker – and, it struck me, the perfect thing to do with them was to make a compote. The Turkish word for compote is ‘komposto’, which rather sounds like something you throw on your vegetable patch – but luckily, the compote I made was far too good for that!

I simmered the peeled, cored and chopped fruit in a syrup of water, lemon juice and sugar, until the peaches and apples were deliciously falling apart. Then I just left the sweet, slightly tart mixture to cool.

Although the weather isn’t anywhere near as hot and humid as it was when I first arrived, it’s still fairly baking – not weather you’d immediately associate with bowls of steaming soup. But, spotting a full bag of carrots at the bottom of the fridge, I knew that was exactly what I fancied eating yesterday.

And, with perfect serendipity, I found in one of the few cookery books I managed to drag over to Istanbul (Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food, natch) a recipe for Turkish carrot soup, or havuç çorbasi.

After softening the carrots in lots of butter, then simmering in stock until it all turns into a deliciously sweet purée, something rather special is added. After making a basic roux with butter, flour and milk, three egg yolks are added, making it a stunning yellow colour. Then, just before serving the soup, I stirred in the eggy roux, and served.

This incredibly tasty soup manages to be rich and hearty, yet, thanks to the sweetness of the carrots, really quite refreshing for a hot summer’s evening. I’m sure it’s going to be one of my future favourites.

For pudding, we had spoonfuls of chilled compote alongside Turkish yoghurt. Now, I think I’ve talked about this before, but Turkish yoghurt is something else. Even thicker, if it’s possible, than Greek yoghurt, it is perhaps a little more tangy. But the reason is has the edge for me is that it comes with a yummy skin on top. I know that’s something not to everyone’s taste, but, like the skin on rice pudding, you either love it or hate it. And I love it.

A feast for friends

July 25, 2010

It’s reached that point in my plans for leaving London where I’ve had to start saying goodbye to friends. Although I’m having a big party next week, it’s inevitable that, thanks to the summer holidays, some people won’t be able to come.

Last week, I invited my friends Lea and Nicky over for dinner, because they decided that going to Camp Bestival was more important than waving off their dear friend who’s going to a far and distant land and may never return… Okay, I’ll drop the drama queen act. It’s fine that they’re going away for my last weekend in London, really, it is.

Anyway, back to the point of all this – the food. I decided to cook my favourite saffron poached chicken for the meat-eaters, some grilled whiting sprinkled with pul biber for the pescatarians, plus a Moroccan vegetable stew (which included baby turnips, courgettes, carrots, red onions, chickpeas, turmeric, cumin, and lots of garlic) and couscous for all of us to eat.

This is a dish my mum made regularly when I was a child, and I would always eat far far too much of it. What is it about couscous that allows you to stuff your stomach so full of it? Well, this meal was no exception, and I was left groaning by the end of the evening.

For pudding, I made Dan Lepard’s chocolate honey meringues, which was in last week’s Guardian magazine. In his instructions, Dan said not to make one big one as it would collapse. However, I wanted to slather it with mascarpone and fresh figs, in the manner of a Pavlova, so decided to ignore Mr Lepard and make it whole.

The result was a rather soft, incredibly chewy, almost brownie-like meringue, which, in my humble opinion, was delicious. And the creamy, fruity topping made it extra special.

All in all, it was a pretty indulgent evening, and hopefully I have left Lea and Nicky with some happy foodie memories of me until we see each other again.

Well, I have packed, moved, cleaned and had a little cry. And now I am homeless. Homeless, but very excited about what the future holds.

However, I do feel like I need some time to get both my mental and physical energy levels back up again, so I’m going to give myself a bit of a break from blogging.

Luckily, my little sister (whose spare room I’m kipping in at the moment) has a beautiful, big, well-equipped kitchen, so I’m sure I won’t be able to resist for too long the temptation to roll up my sleeves and grab a wooden spoon.

In the meantime, appropriately for the mood I’m currently in for reminiscing, I thought I’d have a look back at what I’ve written so far on And The Cupboard Was Bare, and remind both you and myself of some of my favourite posts.

One of the first dishes I wrote about – an anchovy and cherry tomato risotto – was a perfect example of the philosophy of this blog… that it’s so easy to make a tasty meal out of very ordinary ingredients that are sitting around in your cupboard and fridge.

Another recipe of mine that came about thanks to some random ingredients was one of my most successful cakes – a pear, almond and vanilla sponge. I’ve made this many times since my original post, and it just seems to get better and better.

The vanilla for this cake came from one of my many trips to Istanbul – which, of course, can’t be missed from this mini round-up of blog posts.

As well as vanilla, the most regular purchase of mine from Istanbul’s Spice Market is pul biber, a red pepper spice that comes in flakes or paste, and in varying degrees of saltiness and heat.

I have discovered innumerable uses for this unusual and tasty spice, from tomato and cauliflower soup to carrot and sesame guacomole and it has definitely become a store-cupboard essential for me.

Unfortunately, not all my foodie purchases in Istanbul have been as successful as pul biber, as I realised when I was, um, ‘persuaded’ to buy something that was described to me as lemon salt. It turned out to be little more than citric acid. As determined as I was not to waste the stuff, I couldn’t find any good use for it, so in the bin it went.

One of my most avid readers and commenters is my mum (thanks Mum!). And it really is because of her that I’m so passionate about food and cooking. She is a great cook herself, and from a very early age, taught me to eat and cook well – which is why the above photograph of my sister and me eating artichokes in about 1973 is such a treasure to me.

But I don’t only have photos to remind me of my foodie childhood – I also have a number of kitchen utensils that used to belong to my mum to bring back memories.

From an ancient Tala measuring cone to an equally well-used and well-loved chicken brick, these are my ‘madeleines’ – the things that instantly bring back a memory of a certain time or place.

And soon they will be providing me with a set of very different memories, when they are transported to my new kitchen – and my new life – in Istanbul.

A spring-loaded salad

April 20, 2010

I recently read a news story about how the long, cold winter we’ve just had has affected the English asparagus crop. And, although you’d usually expect it to start making an appearance about now, this year we wouldn’t be seeing anything until May.

So, as a big fan of this vegetable, I was more than a little pleased to see a great basketful of lovely, fresh green asparagus at the Secretts Farm stall at last Saturday’s Borough Market.

I eagerly grabbed a small handful of spears, and although it wasn’t cheap (it came to nearly £4 for about ten spears), I just couldn’t resist. They found their way into yesterday’s lunch – a salad with, among other things, oak leaf lettuce, and topped off with a nice, soft boiled egg.

Spring, as far as I’m concerned, has properly arrived!

I’ve been out to eat quite a lot this week, so last night found myself with a relatively full fridge. I thought I’d better try and use as many things as possible in my supper, and, what started out in my mind as a simple meal of omelette, salad and fried potatoes, ended up with a great long list of ingredients worthy of one of Ottolenghi’s finest!

Here’s what I used:

For the omelette: two beaten eggs, spoonful of pul biber/tomato paste, tablespoon of chopped parsley, one grated courgettes, two finely sliced spring onions, olive oil for frying.

For the salad: two tablespoons of frozen peas boiled, half a head of chicory sliced, two or three mint leaves torn up, dressing made with red wine vinegar, olive oil, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper.

For the potatoes: er, potatoes. Useful tip though, I slice a raw potato, boil it until nearly cooked, then fry in an almost dry non-stick frying pan. Much healthier!

Anyway, the upshot of my very tasty supper was that I will no longer moan about recipes that have lots and lots of ingredients and several different cooking methods involved. Because I really can’t talk, can I!

Baked eggs with leeks

March 13, 2010

The end of the week found my fridge in possession of a couple of eggs, a leek and some rather wrinkly cherry tomatoes.

Two eggs are not enough to make a tortilla, and I didn’t really fancy an omelette, so, after a few minutes of pondering, I came up with another of my childhood favourites – baked eggs.

It really is the perfect way to deal with leftover vegetables, because you can use pretty much anything as the basis of this dish.

I sautéed the leeks with some garlic until soft, then added a couple of spoonfuls of frozen peas. When they were cooked through, I mixed in the halved cherry tomatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, and put the veg in an oiled, ovenproof dish.

Making a couple of little wells in the mixture, I broke the eggs into the leeks, and baked for about 10 minutes, so the yolks were still nice and runny. And a big hunk of crusty bread was the only addition needed to make the meal a particularly satisfying supper.

Last night, I wanted one of those super-quick suppers that involve very little thought or effort. Of course, omelettes fit that bill perfectly, and with a leek and some mushrooms in the fridge, I decided that would be my filling.

Until recently, it had never occurred to me to add spices to egg dishes, but they seem to go very well together. I also like adding soy sauce and sesame oil to the beaten eggs to make a Chinese-flavoured omelette, and I thought the leeks and mushrooms would work particularly well with this.

So, I gently fried the sliced leeks and mushrooms in a little vegetable oil, and added some grated ginger and garlic and a chopped red chilli. To two beaten eggs, I added about a dessertspoon of soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil, and when the vegetables were nice and soft, I poured over the eggs.

My intention was to let it cook through, rather like a tortilla, but it became clear very quickly that I would need more eggs to do this. And I’d just used my last ones. So, instead, I flipped it over into an omelette – which is why it looks a bit rough around the edges!

Anyway, it was a quick, filling, tasty supper – and that, really, was the point.

And the cupboard is full…

February 13, 2010

I have that wonderful Saturday morning feeling. I’ve been to Borough Market, my fridge is full of fresh, tasty delights and a whole weekend of culinary adventures is ahead of me. Oh, and I’ve just had breakfast.

Today it was chicken livers and a fried egg on soft white bread. Yes, it’s shop-bought sliced white, but come on, even the most dedicated foodie has to have some kind of guilty pleasure! (Although I did wait until I’d taken the photo before slopping tomato ketchup all over it…)