Moyaux than meets the eye…

Travel broadens the mind. Travel provides us with the opportunity to see, hear and most importantly eat things that we wouldn’t be able to experience at home, making it as far as I’m concerned a very important part of life. So why is it then that I have not been abroad since I was 12? The simple answer being I am terrified of flying and cannot bare the thought of getting on one of those tubular winged terror machines.

Luckily France is not too far away and a ferry can get me there in no more than a few hours dependent on which port you arrive at. Huzzah! And I must say that driving off the ferry and onto the somewhat alien road system was an interesting experience but one that now seems like easy work after staying there for just shy of two weeks. We stayed in a small town called Moyaux, not too far from Lisieux in Normandy, on a a site called Le Colombier which was situated on an old apple orchard. The French countryside provides a really lovely base of operations for an exploration of the north western part of the country and Normandy provides a brilliant source of local produce to explore. Moyaux is a small town or even a village that doesn’t seem to have a lot going on in it but provides a true look into how French people really live, as opposed to a place that is hopped up and bloated to keep up with a bloated feeling tourism demand that pushes it’s inherent “Frenchness” onto the back burner to conform to what people want to see. It represents quintessential Normandy life and is a place build around its Church where everything closes from around 12pm until at least 2pm. For help with the mental image see the village in the film ‘Chocolat’ but without the pouting, pony tailed and guitar brandishing Johnny Depp and replaced with a fairly average looking food blogger in a Vauxhall Astra.

There were a few things that really stood out to me that seemed to represent the produce of the area that included but were not limited to; apples, which they used to create tarts, ciders and a distilled cider brandy called Calvados.  The local cheese’s and dairy produce such as the thick and rich creme fraiche, camembert which is said to have originated in Normandy in 1791, Pont-l’Eveque which is very much like a squared brie which I find slightly firmer and Neufchâtel which boasts a smooth, creamy texture with a flavour that lands somewhere between a young and fairly well aged taste. It is certainly a region worth visiting for the cheese-o-philes among us, great with fresh bread and a selection of cured meats that are not so good for the waistline but extraordinarily super for the soul!

Lisieux offers a market on a Saturday that really doesn’t seem to hold anything that special when walking into it from the side of the Basilique where we parked, as it seemed to just be full of clothing and cheap watches which tend to not really interest me if I am really honest. However when you turn the corner just to the left of the library you see just what you need to see in France. Wall to wall food. Vegetables, fruit, seafood (Not a cloudy fish eye in sight) including some lovely Moule/mussels that we enjoyed that night in a paella, fresh crepes, bread, some awesome fresh, cured and very living meats, preserves and pretty much anything you could think of that you would want to see in France when looking for a feed.

I wandered around for a few hours in awe of just how good it was and feeling very lucky to be able to see it frankly as at the time we visited the farmers of France were on strike in relation to the price of meat and milk being paid to them by the large supermarket chains. I had heard about the French supermarkets as something to behold in comparison to what we have in the UK and unfortunately it took a few days for us to get to the closest one due to the roads being closed due to farmers parking their tractors all around the hypermarket. We got around to it somehow one day before the strike moved on to Le Havre and found burning piles of cow feces, agricultural waste strewn all over the place and angry farm workers waving us off the exits which led to the store. An interesting experience to be in but if I am honest I totally support their cause and wish them luck in their endeavor’s, farms work damn hard to keep up with supply in countries all over the world and they deserve to be fairly reimbursed for their incredible amount of hard work.

Drink. Something that you need to cover when giving a run down of Normandy it seems as they are famous for their production of Calvados brandy, which is a really smooth drink for even me who is not in any way shape or form a Brandy drinker. It is actually very good when added to fried onions and put on top of a heftily loaded burger, however that is an expensive and wasteful practice to a true connoisseur! I basically lived off Grimbergen while I stayed there which seems to be a staple beer in France, It is available in some really tasty varieties such as poire/pear, kriek/berry, ruby, blonde and white to name a few that I can remember.

In summary, France offered some incredible experiences and I can’t wait to go back again. While there we visited the Bayaux tapestry, the landing beaches, Monet’s garden and the camp site was a wonderful place to relax offering a lovely little creperie just past the pool that offered take away food which I have to be honest, wasn’t perfect but it certainly filled a void if needed (heres to you Croque monsieur). Normandy is somewhere that I would recommend visiting to any person who loves food, drink and culture to visit as it has all three categories covered in droves, just don’t be scared to run off the beaten track and go somewhere other than the hypermarkets as Normandy in particular has so much to offer to reward your exploration. So if travel really does broaden the mind, consider my mind broadened.

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Simple cod burger with gnocchi sardi salad

So, its now April apparently and it very much seems like March was one of those months that disappeared faster than a horse running at the national. The months seem to fly now that the clocks have changed and even though it is incredible to be having some lighter evenings to relax outside, it just seems like time goes a little bit faster when your enjoying yourself in pub gardens and having barbeques at home.

All the more reason to make the most of all this sunshine were currently having! The bank holiday was an absolute beauty weather wise and there certainly was no shortage of people taking their chance to have a pint by the canal at my local, the Fox and Anchor near Coven.

It is not very often I rave about a chain pub but I do love the Fox as it has a great ambiance in the winter when they light the log fires and even more so when they are buzzing with summer beer garden seekers. I even got a little bit sunburned. Which is not exactly hard as I burn like an ant under a blow torch.

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Now that we have all emerged from our wintery cocoons its time for some lighter food to compliment the bottles of Corona on the lawn (slice of lime optional but advised). White fish comes to mind as its quick, fresh and light on the pallet while being full of protein and really satisfying, paired up with this pasta salad which is the true star of this dish,makes a great meal. Enhanced further by the fact that its full of all the good stuff you can fit in without it becoming unbalanced, you’ll be feeling very pleased with yourself afterwards. No guilt. No hastle.

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Try this recipe on for size next time your feeling lazy on one of these warmer evenings.

Serves 4

For the burger:

  • 2 cod loins. Both halved.
  • 4 wholemeal buns.
  • Tartar sauce.
  • Soy sauce.
  • Pepper.
  • Few salad leaves of your choice.
  • Olive oil.

Pasta salad:

  • 400g gnocchi sardi.
  • 1 small box of cherry or small variety of tomatoes, all halved.
  • 1 courgette, diced.
  • 1 red and 1 orange pepper, diced.
  • 1 small can of sweetcorn.
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped.
  • handful fresh parsley, finely chopped.
  • 5 tablespoons of zero fat Greek yoghurt.
  • 5 tablespoons light mayonnaise.
  • 1 tablespoons dijon mustard.
  • salt and pepper to taste.

Method:

  1. Cook the pasta to pack instructions.
  2. Add the pasta to a large mixing bowl and stir in all of the other ingredients apart from the courgette.
  3. Preheat a frying pan on a medium heat, add a tiny bit of oil and fry the courgette until it starts to brown a little, then remove and mix into the salad.
  4. Give a good few turns on a salt and pepper mill.
  5. Chill for 20 minutes.
  6. Use the preheated pan and add a little more oil.
  7. Add the cod loin halves and fry on a medium heat for around 4 minutes. Turn over and repeat.
  8. Turn the heat up to high and add a tablespoon of soy sauce, give the pan a shake so it reaches all of the fish, do this for around 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  9. Cut the rolls and put around a teaspoon of tartar sauce on both halves. Lay a few leaves on the bottom half, followed by the soy fried fish, along with anything else you want to add. (Go crazy, its a blank canvas).
  10. Finish with one big sprinkle of black pepper, cap it off with the top half of the bread and serve with a big spoon full of the pasta.

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Its another very simple but very effective recipe to fill a void after a hard day at work when the evening is best spent enjoying the sunshine outside!

Chicken and chorizo stew.

Over the course of 2014, I had found myself doing a lot of new things and being inspired to create new recipes, make dishes that can take me away from the everyday trudge of mealtime and keep eating after work just as enjoyable as eating at the weekend. Monday blues are no excuse to stick to beans on toast (not that there’s anything wrong with beans on toast!) purely through a lack of inspiration.

I have a few stalwart recipes that come to mind that tend to remedy this, however, This one in particular is fast becoming a favourite for me and my family! I have cooked this for a fair few people now and its always met with the same positive reaction, which makes me feel pretty confident that its something you guys will love.  Its hearty, its healthy, and its full of ingredients that when put together, create a great ‘feel good’ kind of meal that is quite suitable for battling Monday blues, getting over the Wednesday hump or any day of the week you need a bit of a pick me up. Oh and don’t worry about not having time. It doesn’t take more than 5o minutes in total, So get somebody to help with the prep or chop your ingredients in advance to save time.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbspn rapeseed oil.
  • 4 Chicken breasts. Diced.
  • 1 Chorizo ring.
  • 200g Diced butternut squash.
  • 100ml Red wine.
  • 1 Tin chopped tomatoes.
  • 300ml Good chicken stock.
  • 1 tbspn Dijon mustard.
  • 1 tbspn Paprika.
  • 1 tbspn Turmeric.
  • 2 Chopped sticks of celery.
  • 2 tbspn Worcester sauce.
  • 1 Can butter beans.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Method:

  1. Add oil to a large cast iron dish or saucepan on a low heat, add the oil, chorizo and celery. Fry for a few minutes until the chorizo releases its own oil and starts to brown.
  2. Add the chicken a move around the pan until the chicken starts to also take on the reddish brown colour from the chorizo. (About 3-4 minutes).
  3. Splash in the red wine, followed by the squash, tomatoes and chicken stock. Stir and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Next pop in the Dijon mustard along with the paprika and turmeric. Leave on a medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring regularly.
  5. A few minutes before serving add the butter beans and give them a good stir around. Put the lid on if you have one and leave them to warm through for a couple of minutes, turn the heat up if you wish to finish it off nicely. (Putting them in at the end retains their form better as they seem to escape their outer casings and disintegrate into the abyss otherwise)
  6. Serve with rice and enjoy being hugged from the inside. I use the easy micro bags of rice to save time and as a bit of a cheat.

 

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There you have it! Its as easy as that to make and its worth every second. Packed full of all the good stuff you need to feel full and satisfied without neglecting your vegetables. The chorizo is just an added bonus to reward your obvious dedication to giving yourself something healthy to eat!

 

Give it a try, get creative and add your own twist to it and add fresh chilies or olives. Go crazy!

Winter warmer – Wild boar sausage casserole

I tend to eat relatively healthy for the most part of the year, but when the winter slowly slides its cold, harsh, grasp around us I do crave something that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I love a good soup or stew, especially when it’s on a lazy snowy weekend and its left in the slow cooker or the hob bobbing away like a tasty molten treasure chest waiting for me to discover it in all its bubbling loveliness. This time I’m using a different kind of meat, in the form of wild boar sausage, to give it a little bit of something different.

There are nearly an endless amount of possibilities when it comes down to stews and soups, you can put anything in them! Any vegetable you can think of can be paired with all sorts of meats and pulses that can create some really hearty, cockle warming fare to keep your lunches interesting throughout the week or feed the whole family on a chilly December night.

This week as always I’m bringing you a recipe that can be cooked and enjoyed by anybody. The essence of real home cooking is keeping it simple, enjoying what you’re doing and being happy with the end result when you create something fantastic! The recipe is adaptable enough, so if you fancy giving it an extra dimension drop some chopped chillies in there or add some diced chorizo for a little Spanish flare, but here’s the recipe for my ideal winter sausage casserole.

Ingredients:

  • 6 wild boar and apple sausages or good quality sausage of your choice                                                           (Try www.supremesausages.co.uk they are amazing!)
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 300ml good chicken stock
  • 150g butter beans
  • 2 medium sticks of celery (finely chopped)
  • 4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon (cut into small chunks)
  • 200g diced butternut squash
  • 1 whole diced white onion
  • 4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • 2 tbsp. tomato puree
  • 3 tbsp. red wine
  • 3 tbsp. Worcester sauce
  • 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp. rape seed oil
  • 1 heaped tbsp. brown sugar
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper

Method:

In a large saucepan add the rapeseed oil on a medium heat and add the sausages.

Lightly fry the sausages until browned on all sides, remove the sausage and add the garlic, bacon and onions, fry until it softens, around 2-3 minutes.

  1. When the garlic becomes aromatic and the bacon starts to brown (don’t let the garlic brown, keep it moving), add the red wine, Worcester sauce, tomatoes, tomato puree, paprika, brown sugar, beans, celery, squash, seasoning and the stock and stir well.
  2. Slice the sausage into even chunks and stir back into the mixture, keep the pan on the heat and partially cover. Leave to simmer for 30 minutes stirring regularly.
  3. Serve in a bowl with some toasted crusty bread, and a good helping of rice or pasta, topped with a few sliced black olives to make this crowd pleasing dish even more pleasing. Its good for the soul in these winter months to feed yourself some simple, fantastic food that makes you smile, with minimal effort to keep you in front of the TV watching your greys anatomy box set, sitting near the fire with the dog at your feet and the rain lashing the windows outside of your house. Whether your life runs at 500 miles per hour or you just want a quick fix, the recipe is perfect for you. Hope you enjoy it!

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Burgathon edition #3 The maple steak burger

This week brings a whole different kind of animal to the burgathon table to finish the series. It brings together two sides of the spectrum and mashes them together to create something so moreish, I struggle to not eat it every day. This is easily my favourite burger so far. The Maple bagel burger is a congregation of sweet and savoury flavours joining forces to excite the taste buds and whip your senses into frenzy.

This one is inspired, just like the mardi gras burger, by the cultural melting pot that is the USA. The blend of flavours and culinary diversity that comes together to create some truly unique food. The soft bagel, the sweet, warm, spiced burger and the mellow, mustardy undertones of the dressing complete the package and create something truly fantastic.

 

So to get us started youll need:

For the burger

600g lean steak mince
3 tablespoons maple syrup
large pinch cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon mild chili flakes
pinch fine sea salt
4 fresh white bagels
8 slices pastrami
8 slices good Swiss cheese
chopped salad leaves of your choice, sliced tomato and a splash of olive oil.

For the dressing

1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon good quality mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcester sauce
1 teaspoon English mustard
pinch white pepper.

Method:

  1. Combine the mince, chili flakes, maple syrup, salt and pepper in a bowl. With clean hands mix well until all seasoning and the maple syrup is evenly distributed.
  2. split into 4 evenly sized balls and pat down into discs around an inch thick.
  3. Cover and leave in the fridge for 10-20 minutes to firm up.
  4. preheat a griddle pan on a medium heat and add a little oil to each side of the burgers.
  5. Add the burgers to the griddle 2 at a time and cook for 7 minutes on each side. Preheat your grill on high.
  6. Grill the bagels on both sides until they start to brown.
  7. cut up 2 pieces of pastrami per burger, top with a few pieces of cheese and slide under the grill for a few minutes. then remove and rest for a few moments.
  8. Mix all of the dressing ingredients together and add it right the way around the base of the bagels, followed by the salad, the burger with the pastrami and now soft Swiss cheese, capped off with the top half of the bagel and press down a little to push it all together.
  9. Then enjoy it! it really is a show stopper!

that completes my trio of simple but effective burger recipes for you to try, I hope you enjoyed them! Keep your eyes peeled for new burger recipes and more on food gecko!

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Introducing our new contributor!

Hello Gecko readers, I would like to firstly thank Phil for asking me to be a guest blogger and secondly I’d like to introduce myself.

My names Naomi and I have had a passion for food ever since I can remember; my dad often tells me that as a little girl I’d be asking what was for dinner whilst eating my lunch.

I grew up spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my grandma, who is from Jamaica, cooking was always based on using fresh ingredients and putting love and care into the food, not just throwing something in the oven or microwave. Cooking wasn’t about just about filling the hunger; it was about getting together as a family and sharing the love put into the food. The pleasure I got from watching my grandma put wonderful food together and the enjoyment I had from tasting the food and sharing the experience with my family was what really drove my passion for food in general.

My passion for baking (especially cakes) came when I was in primary school and I entered a Halloween cake competition; I made a cake that looked like Medusa, even down to the snake hair and I guess this is when I figured that baking was my thing.

The Skittles cake

The Skittles cake

What do I love about baking? EVERYTHING! I especially love cupcakes, maybe because I’m a girly girl and they can be made to look very cute. To me baking cakes is firstly about the taste, but they also have to look good, as they say we eat with our eyes first. The main thing I enjoy about baking is the enjoyment it gives to others. I love the reaction I get when people see something I have made then I wait for the reaction on their face when they bite into it.

I would like to share some of my work with you and hope that you enjoy it. I would like to show you how easy it can be baking for yourselves, its much more satisfying that buying from the supermarket and trust me, it will taste much better.

One of the first recipes I will be sharing is one of my favourites for this time of the year. Gingerbread and Nutmeg Cupcakes! The warmness of Ginger and Nutmeg is perfect for these colder days. Keep an eye out for the recipe… coming soon.

Naomi