Dauphinoise potatoes


Does a recipe need much more introduction than that video…? Probably not, but I’ll give you one anyway. Back in June I mentioned that I was going to France for a couple of weeks, and that I would be attempting to eat and drink all the cheese and wine that the country had to offer. Well, we put in a good effort and ate like kings (or queens) for two weeks. We had delicious homemade meals expertly cooked by my Grandpa, dined on fresh local seafood on the island of Houat, tried regional specialties like gallettes and cidre royal in Normandy and had the most simple lunch picnics by the side of the road that were turned gourmet due to the amazing quality of the ingredients – fresh baguette, perfectly ripe tomatoes and soft, melty cheese (thanks to the heat!).

By far the best meal we had out was in a small town in Normandy called Sainte-Mère-Église. Although it’s small, Sainte-Mère-Église is well-known and gets a lot of day visitors. This is partly because it was the first village to be liberated on D-Day, but also thanks to the incident involving the American paratrooper John Steele. In the very early hours of the morning on D-Day about 13,000 paratroopers of the Airborne Division of the US Army dropped into Normandy. The parachute of one particular paratrooper, 31-year-old John Steele, became tangled in one of the church spires, leaving him dangling on the side of the church. Despite playing dead, he was cut down and take prisoner by German soldiers, but he managed to escape a few days later and re-join his division to continue fighting through France. John survived the war and regularly went back to visit Sainte-Mère-Église during his life. He was made an honorary citizen of the town and had a statue erected in his honour – a model of a man, parachute attached, hanging from the church steeple. On our last night in Sainte-Mère-Église we ate at the Auberge John Steele, which is named after the soldier and was recommended to us by my parents. And so this is all a very long way round of saying that I had the best dauphinoise potatoes of my life at this restaurant! They were just the side to my main dish of steak and mushrooms, but I decided right then that I had to recreate them when I got home. So here we are: my version of the most indulgent, rich, creamy side dish you could ever ask for…

One year ago:
Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse
Ingredients for dauphinoise potatoes
Ingredients (serves 2-4, depending on your appetite!)
Butter for greasing
400g (about 2 large) floury potatoes e.g. Maris Piper, Red Rooster or King Edward
150ml double cream
100ml milk
1 garlic clove
Fresh nutmeg
Salt and pepper
15g parmesan, grated

Method
1. Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas Mark 5. Grease an ovenproof dish well with a little butter.
Greasing the ovenproof dish with butter
2. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes to roughly the width of a £1 coin, or thinner if your knife skills allows. You could also use a mandolin or a food processor with a slicer attachment. Don’t wash the slices potatoes as you want them to retain all their starch to help thicken the cream sauce.
Peeled and thinly sliced Maris Piper potatoes
3. Pour the cream and milk into a large saucepan and add the whole garlic clove, lightly crushed with the back of a knife. Season with salt, pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Double cream, milk, garlic, nutmeg and seasoning
4. Add the potatoes to the cream and stir well to coat. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your slices, until the potatoes are just cooked. Give the pan a gentle shake as the potatoes cook so that they don’t stick together or catch on the bottom of the pan. The sauce will begin to thicken from the starch in the potatoes.
Adding the sliced potatoes to the cream sauce
5. Remove the potatoes with a slotted or wide spoon and carefully place in layers in your dish. Pour over any remaining cream sauce (remembering to discard the garlic clove!).
Ready to layer the dauphinoise potatoes
Layered potato slices and cream sauce
6. Sprinkle over the cheese and bake for 30 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through and browned on top – increase the heat for another 5 minutes until the top is crispy enough to your liking.
Sprinkling parmesan cheese on the dauphinoise potatoes
Homemade dauphinoise potatoes 2
Leave the dish to stand for at least 5-10 minutes after baking, while you get the rest of your meal prepared. Don’t worry – the dish will stay piping hot, but this allows the hot, bubbling potatoes to settle and makes it easier to slice and spoon out portions.
Homemade dauphinoise potatoes 4
Serve with any meat of your choice, though I’d recommend steering clear of any cream sauces, since this is such a rich, indulgent side dish! We had ours with this BBC Good Food recipe for chicken with mushrooms and peas, and a glass of crisp white wine. Perfect Sunday evening comfort food. Santé!
Homemade dauphinoise potatoes served with chicken with mushrooms and peas
Homemade dauphinoise potatoes for Sunday dinner

Fennel and Courgette Salad

Courgette and fennel salad  topped with fennel fronds and red chilli
We’re finishing off Salad Week with a vegetable that is very much in the love-hate category for most people. If you love fennel, then you are definitely going to love this salad and will take no convincing to try making it. However, even if you think you dislike fennel, I’m going to try to persuade you to give this recipe a go anyway. I used to despise fennel – I found the flavour of cooked fennel overwhelming and just couldn’t understand how anyone could enjoy it. Then I discovered Jamie Oliver’s raw fennel and radish salad and suddenly I saw the light. Raw fennel is crisp, sweet and juicy. It still has a strong aniseed flavour, but somehow this worked for me in its fresh, raw form. After a few years of enjoying raw fennel in salads, I now find myself liking cooked fennel in certain dishes – particularly with white fish. I’m on the path to fennel enlightenment.

In my mind, this is a perfect way to get on board with fennel. The intense vegetable can stand up to the chilli heat and zesty lemon, and the courgette adds a sweet mellow flavour. If you really can’t stand fennel, but want a similar salad then substitute it for a bunch of raw asparagus sliced into thin shavings with a speed peeler. Or just double up on the courgette quantities, especially if you can get your hands on both green and yellow courgettes for a burst of colour.
Ingredients for courgette and fennel salad
Ingredients
1 medium courgette
2 small fennel bulbs
A few sprigs of mint
1 red chilli
1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Slice the courgette into thin ribbons. You can do this with a sharp knife if you have the patience and don’t want the thinnest possible slices, but the easiest way to achieve ribbons is with a speed peeler. You can also use a mandolin or the slicer attachment on a food processor, if you have those. Place in a large bowl.
Thinly slicing the courgette with a speed peeler
Thin ribbons of courgette for a courgette and fennel salad
2. Remove the fennel tops (keeping the fronds for decoration) and the bases. Thinly slice with a knife (or again with a mandolin or food processor if you wish) and add to the courgette.
Thinly slicing the fennel for a raw salad
3. Finely chop the leaves from the mint sprigs. Slice the chilli thinly on the diagonal. It’s a good idea to try a small piece of your chilli first to find out how hot it is – I used about half of the chilli shown.
Chilli and mint for a courgette and fennel salad
4. Add the chilli and mint to the vegetables along with the zest from one lemon. Mix thoroughly, adding the juice from half the lemon and the olive oil. Season to taste and place in the fridge to chill for half an hour or more.
Seasoning the courgette and fennel salad with lemon zest, chilli and mint
Mixing the ingredients for courgette and fennel salad
5. Once chilled give the salad another mix up and transfer to your serving bowl. Top with some of the delicate fennel tops and some extra sliced chilli.
Courgette and fennel salad topped with fennel fronds and sliced red chilli
This salad is very versatile. We had it with steak, chips and a large glass of red wine, but it would be perfect served with some grilled chicken or fish and chilled white wine.
Courgette and fennel salad served with steak, chips and red wine
How do you feel about fennel? Have you always loved it, grown to like it or is it firmly on the hate list? Might this recipe change your mind….?

Refreshing Watermelon Salad

Fresh watermelon and mint salad
Ok so this one might take some convincing. In fact, when I served it up last Friday night there were initially some suspicious glances and tentative prods with forks. But once everyone had tucked in and tried some, the conclusion was that this salad was a resounding success.

This recipe comes from a family friend of many years (Thanks Valerie!) and I absolutely adore it. I cannot get enough of watermelon, so I guess it’s an easy sell, and I’m sure lots of you love it too, as a sweet snack or dessert. However, you might not ever have had it in a savoury dish and right now you may be shaking your head at the computer screen, with an eyebrow sardonically raised. But, believe me, the addition of sharp onion, aromatic mint and tangy vinegar creates an unbelievable salad. It’s fresh, it’s sweet and savoury (the best combination to ever exist) and it’s super-summery. This is a refreshing, unusual side dish to serve up at a summer dinner or barbecue, and eat in the warm evening sunshine.
Ingredients for refreshing watermelon salad
Ingredients
1 medium watermelon
1 small red onion
4-6 sprigs of mint
4 tbsp rice vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Method
1. Remove the rind from the melon and chop into bite-size chunks. If your watermelon is full of black seeds you probably want to remove these, but the smaller, thinner white ones aren’t a problem.
Chopped watermelon for a watermelon and mint salad
2. Dice the red onion and finely chop the mint leaves.
Chopped red onion and mint for watermelon salad
3. Mix the red onion and mint with the water melon chunks and sprinkle over the rice vinegar. Season generously with black pepper and toss thoroughly.
Refreshing watermelon salad
Chill in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. This salad is best eaten on the day you make it, as the watermelon doesn’t keep for long once it’s cut up.

Watermelon salad? Be brave and give it a go!

Sweetcorn Salsa Salad

Sweetcorn salsa salad served with lime wedges
This week we’re all about salads. But never fear, these are not limp salad leaves topped with a sad halved cherry tomato and slice of cucumber, nor an uninspiring pile of shredded iceberg lettuce. These are fresh, vibrant, interesting salads that are bursting with flavour and made for summer eating.

Today’s recipe is a sweetcorn salad. It’s sweet from corn and cherry tomatoes, savoury from onion and pepper, fragrant from coriander and zingy from lime juice. The dish can take on different guises, as the name suggests: keep the ingredients chunky as I did in order to serve it as a salad, or finely chop everything to turn it into a delicious salsa which could be served with tortilla chips. If you feel like something spicier then some finely chopped red chilli would be an excellent addition.
Ingredients for sweetcorn salsa (minus the red pepper I forgot!)
Ingredients
250g frozen sweetcorn
150g cherry tomatoes
6 spring onions
Small bunch of coriander
1 red bell pepper
1 lime
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Remove the sweetcorn from the freezer and allow to defrost at room temperature for a few hours. Quarter the tomatoes, chop the spring onion into small pieces and finely chop the coriander. If you forget about the red pepper (read: I forgot to buy a red pepper) then just chop it into squares and add to the salad later!
Chopped ingredients for sweetcorn salsa (minus the red pepper I forgot!)
2. Place all the vegetables and the coriander into a bowl and mix well.
Vegetables for sweetcorn salsa salad
Mixing the ingredients for homemade sweet corn salsa salad
3. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime over the salad and drizzle with olive oil. Season to taste and pile into a serving bowl. Top with some extra lime wedges if it takes your fancy.

This dish is the ideal side dish for a barbecue. The first time I made it we had it with chicken marinated in my homemade barbecue sauce and sticky glazed sausages, and the second was as part of a Spanish meal alongside barbecued paella and some small tapas dishes. It would transport well in a tupperware tub for a picnic, or, as I suggested above, chop it finely and serve as a starter. I think this just might be my new favourite summer salad!

Braised Spring Vegetables (La Vignarola)

La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
For the last few weeks I have been craving…vegetables. Now, before we fall out, I just want to reassure you that I’m not a total freak and also crave things like pizza, blue cheese, chocolate and salt and vinegar crisps (not all at the same time…probably). But right now, my current craving is for fresh, crisp, colourful veggies. I think it’s because I’m aware that summer is just around the corner, ready to bring with it such glorious presents as lettuce, peas in the pod, asparagus stalks, courgettes and globe artichokes.

One of my absolute favourite food blogs is Manger, written by the exquisite Mimi Thorisson. Literally, exquisite. I haven’t yet made nearly enough of her incredible looking recipes, but each one that I have made has been perfect: rustic, indulgent and utterly scrumptious. I’ve had her spring vegetable stew (La Vignarola) bookmarked for well over 6 months now, and finally had the chance to cook it last week. Unfortunately, in my impatience to make it, I was a little early for the Scottish artichoke and pea season, so I had to improvise with the fresh vegetables that I could get my hands on. Luckily asparagus is already available in abundance here, and our local market store had a large basket of broad beans. It was exciting to cook with lettuce for the first ever time and I completely adored the result. I have to confess that Ross wasn’t convinced, but I’ll put that down to his inferior taste buds…
Ingredients for La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
Ingredients (serves 2-3 as a side dish)
Large bag of fresh broad beans in the pod (about 300g podded beans)
1 little gem lettuce
2 spring onions
200g asparagus
1 tsp olive oil
100g pancetta or smoked bacon
½ lemon
Small bunch parsley, finely chopped
Small bunch mint, finely chopped

Method
1. Pod the broad beans and set aside for later. I find podding beans and peas truly relaxing. It’s a slow, methodical task that should be savoured and, ideally, done outside perched on the back-door step. As we don’t have a garden I threw open the windows and put the radio on. To my surprise, as I snapped open some of the pods, inside the velvet cocoons were lilac and deep purple beans. I have no idea why this is –the variety of bean, the stage of picking, or something else altogether…if anyone can enlighten me I would love to know!…
Quarter the gem lettuce, slice the spring onions and chop the asparagus into chunks.
Prepared spring vegetables for La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
2. Sauté the pancetta in a little olive oil until starting to crisp.
Frying the smoked pancetta for La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
3. Add the spring onions and continue to fry for 30 seconds.
Frying smoked pancetta and spring onions for La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
4. Add the asparagus and broad beans to the pan with 4-6 tbsp water and cook for a few minutes.
Adding the asparagus to La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
5. Nestle the lettuce amongst the other vegetables, cut side down, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are all tender. You can turn the lettuce half way through if you wish.
Adding the little gem lettuce to La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew)
6. Sprinkle a little lemon juice over the vegetables and stir through the chopped herbs and some seasoning to taste.
La Vignarola (spring vegetable stew) served with rosemary and garlic lamb shanks and mint sauce
We served this dish as an accompaniment to our lamb shanks with mint sauce. It is the ideal side dish for a spring roast, but is actually generous and tasty enough to be the main event, perhaps served with some soft goats cheese and crusty bread. I think that in the original recipe Mimi served it as a starter, which would be a lovely idea for a special summer meal.

I was blown away by this recipe. The vegetables take centre stage and the last minute addition of lemon juice and herbs brings the dish to life with a zesty, aromatic flavour. I’m hoping to make this recipe many more times this summer, and am especially looking forward to using fresh peas, broad beans and artichokes from dad’s allotment, as the dish was supposed to include. If you’re going to make this recipe yourself, I wouldn’t worry if you can’t find the same vegetables as myself or Mimi – just use the best seasonal vegetables available to you and it will be stunning.