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Oh my, what a successful festive season. As if feeding family and friends weren’t reward enough, along came the snowstorms forcing us to subsist on remnants and remainders while awaiting the thaw.   But all that idle time made for some goodly innovations and as a result I hereby declare the Stilton and walnut dumpling fare fit for a king.   I had snapped up Marks and Spencer’s irresistible offer before Christmas but never thought we’d get through a whole kilo of Stilton – even of Tuxford & Tebbutt creamery”s sumptuous standard for a ridiculous £4.99 – but we did!

Having bought in a battalion’s worth of supplies the cold spell caused us quite the opposite of hardship; sheer semi-hibernational bliss rather.  Broccoli and Stilton soup having become a bit of a cliché, albeit delicious, with a cheeseboard theme in mind we swung with celery bisque, not entirely successfully I might add.   Next time I’ll use a more concentrated stock, celeriac and celery salt to boost the flavour and I won’t add cream either.  That’s if I make a celery soup at all: following Ed Baines‘ flavour lead I rather fancy making a beef consommé and letting these feather-light cheese’n’nut nuggets grab the limelight, they’re fabulous.  And meaningful employment for a couple of the usual suspects in the leftovers league.

For the dumplings

250g self-raising flour (or same amount of plain with a tablespoon or so of baking powder)
125g suet, shredded (I use vegetarian)
a pinch of salt
150g Stilton cheese, crumbled
50g finely chopped walnuts (do it yourself with a knife)

Sift the flour with the salt (and baking powder if using).  Add the suet, Stilton and walnuts and toss gently to distribute evenly.  Using fingertips, start to work this into a dough by adding a tablespoon of cold water at a time (2or 3 maximum): stop before you think you need to and form the dumplings into balls by lightly pressing the mixture together. Add them to your soup hot in its pot, replace lid and cook for 20-30 minutes, either at a very gentle stove-top simmer or in a low-medium oven.

Ed Baines original recipe in The Independent newspaper.

Once upon a time hill farmers would bring down a flock or two to Nice for a mini Christmas transhumance: the Journée du Haut-Pays Niçois, when the Jardin Albert 1er on the Promenade des Anglais would host a mini-festival of produce from the high hinterland behind Nice, the southwestern foothills of the Alps, indeed.   This mini-vid was taken in December 2007.  I really dig the feisty mini black and white goat.

We were lucky enough to be staying at our apartment – just a short stroll through Vieux Nice to the Promenade des Anglais where we found horses, donkeys, pigs, goats and sheep. It was a delight to see, hear and smell them all up close – and taste all the wonderful products on sale: sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses, charcuterie, honey, vin chaud; so much on offer I forget but we had a lovely time despite the chilly weather and bought half a kilo of aged farmhouse tomme (de savoie-type), which we nibbled all the following week.

baby donkey down from the hills to the big city
And who couldn’t fall in love with these little guys, just look at that beautiful coat!

Not much porchetta left on this one!

I’m sure Valentine had a good life but I haven’t yet taken the plunge into Nice-style porchetta so couldn’t tell you how well she tasted:  this is no dainty Tuscan arista shoulder stuffed with fragrant herbs but an entire pig stuffed with its meat, tripe and liver, and each slice weighs about 200g,  an awful lot to get through if I decide I don’t like it.   Maybe next time…

spicy spanish tomato sauce

For a posh purveyor M&S has come a long way – discounting foods like there’s no tomorrow, which for 12 lamb meatballs on their sell-by date is quite true.   That’s where I came in and gave them a future as the stars of a southern Spanish-style spectacular supper.  Not quite P.T. Barnum but darned tasty all the same:

1 onion, chopped

garlic smashed in mortar with pinch or two of rough sea salt, 3 tsp cumin seeds & 2 dried chillis

Soften onion in olive oil; add garlic, cumin & chillis and sautee until fragrant.

Add 1 TBS paprika picante and 2 tsp chestnut honey, caramelise then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, an inch of cinnamon stick and 1 TBS PX sherry vinegar.

Season lightly;  simmer to thicken slightly then cover and pop in a low oven.

Lightly brown a pack of M&S lamb meatballs then place these in the sauce to cook through gently over about an hour: they will be beautifully tender & moist and the sauce subtly savoury and sweet,  with less a hint of Morocco than Andalucia.  Serve with rice or bread.

postcard from Nice

Sorry for not being in touch lately – been hanging out and about in Nice.  Here’s my photo to prove it!

bluebeach

After a long, hot and frustrating trudge west along the Promenade des Anglais checking out various beachside establishments we descended on the Blue Beach Bar & Restaurant and were more than pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome.  Although our waiter resembled Peter Stringfellow‘s simple cousin he was adequately dressed (thank God) and brought us our reasonably priced, reasonably tasty food and wine in reasonable time: amazing, and in stark contrast to Lido Plage.  For me, the filets de rouget (red mullet) au thym:

rougets

et pour lui, les tagliatelles au basilic (do you really need a translation?), toothsome albeit tepid, which was actually ok on such a warm afternoon:

tagliatelle

plus, of course, the de rigeur bottle of Côtes de Provence rosé.  All at not-so-shocking-after-all prices, at least for the Côte d’Azur….

… and that old devil Nicolas Sarkozy lurking in the underground area only added to the charm of the afternoon.

sarkozyBlue Beach bar & restaurant, 31 Promenade des Anglais, Nice 06000 – opposite the Negresco

website

menu

spinny

Am I nuts? This short clip was taken over a year ago, and in the depths of winter, yet it still reminds me of sunnier climes. I’m just getting excited about getting back to Vieux Nice: next trip I’ll try to snap some sultry summertime footage.

Might be an idea to turn down the sound thanks to the blustery Mistral…or Tramontana…not sure which wind was blowing at the time but either way it made a horrible noise!

sanguine And then I tried the Maltese sanguines: smaller and cheaper by 50p, sharper and less fragrant.  A much milder thrill than the stunning Sicilian Tarocco, but a welcome dose of sunshine all the same.

Bloody Taroccos

Treat time at Waitrose: Tarocco “blush” oranges are on the shelves again, it’s Blood Orange season!tarocco

Much as I disapprove in theory, I do understand blood oranges’ rebranding to something a little less daunting; I remember as a child when presented with a carefully peeled and segmented Blood Orange I used to wonder if it really might be blood I was eating, and if so, whose, and how did it get there and how did they die – and then losing my appetite.  It’s a hard sell to the impressionable.

Blush might not be original nor evoke the sunshine blazing from the heart of each fruit, but if it means we can still get hold of these sparkling gems of the citrus world then I’m all for it, and as wrote Shakespeare for Juliet,

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

And the Tarocco is certainly sweet:   it’s one of the world’s most popular oranges, apparently, thanks to its sweetness, juciness AND glorious subtleties of flavour.    I’m told it also happens to contain the highest Vitamin C content of any orange variety grown in the world, PLUS a bucketful of anthocyanin antioxidants (thanks to the red bits).  As if that weren’t temptation enough the wonderful Tarocco is seedless and its thin skin is easy to peel – very little pith too.

It’s also pretty right-on, what with having its own AOC – or is that IGT – or DOP?  Not sure, but it’s EU protected, its production having been under threat from the ubiquitous and frankly dull in comparison Navel and Valencia oranges (of no fixed abode).  BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme about blood/blush orange growing in Sicily is excellent, full of information and an aural evocation of sunny Sicily, most welcome with our bleak British winter as yet unwilling to relinquish its icy grip: listen again and again…

I don’t advocate doing anything with a Tarocco during its short season of availability other than devouring it raw and alone (the orange, that is).  You could admire its rosy beauty in a salad with chicory or fennel with a strew of black olives, but don’t waste the exuberance of its flavour and fragrance by cooking a Tarocco – better buy a Seville for that.