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Cooking with Freddie: Making the Christmas Pudding

Cooking is a family affair for me: we talk food; we talk recipes; we cook together when we can. My parents introduced me to good food very early in life and my son started cooking at such a young age he had to stand on a stool to reach the worktop. Now he’s one of the best home cooks I know, as is my daughter. My son’s eldest son Freddie is a budding cook at 4¾. If he sees me cooking in the kitchen he’ll dash to get ‘his’ stool, bring it through, stand on it and ask what he can do.

When I picked Freddie up from school in the week, I told him I was planning to make the Christmas pudding at the weekend. He said he wanted to help. So I picked him up from his home this afternoon and brought him back to my house. ‘Where’s my stool?’ was his first query before rushing off to get it.

I think cooking with children has many benefits. I believe that if they become involved they’re more likely to want to eat the finished dish. They also learn to recognise different foods and ingredients; start to understand how a meal comes together. Today, as Freddie has recently started school, a certain amount of number recognition came into play as we weighed out ingredients: I pointed to the window displaying the amount on the scales and said things like, ‘We need to keep putting more in until we see the number four.’ When we moved from 4oz of sultanas, followed by 4oz of raisins to 10oz of currants, Freddie exclaimed, ‘That’s a lot!’ As our large mixing bowl filled with ingredients and Freddie noted that we were making a very big pudding, we counted off who was going to be eating Christmas dinner on our fingers. Cooking + numbers = fun!

I also got Freddie to smell some of the ingredients as we went, like the spices. He wasn’t impressed by the nutmeg but liked the cinnamon. He wanted to taste each of the dried fruit and noted the difference between sultanas, raisins and currants. Then he tasted the candied peel (and liked it) and the lemon zest. Putting the pudding together was like an exciting journey of discovery.

Freddie is still very young, of course, and needs supervision and a lot of help. Thus I always like to cook something with him that I’ve made before; I like to do it at a time when I won’t feel rushed so we can go slowly and I can let him do as much as he’s able. Of course, there are bits like chopping ingredients with sharp knives that I have to say I must do; safety is particularly important with a young one but just explain gently why you have to do this bit. As long as you think things through first and take your time, then it’s all quite easy really. And there’s so much joy to be gained from sharing a time like this with a precious child. A couple of years ago Freddie and I made gingerbread men together for Christmas for the first time and repeated it last year, so it’s about building family traditions too. And I can attest to the fact that cooking with my own children when they were young has paid off dividends – I now enjoy great meals they cook for me!

I chose to make Delia Smith’s Christmas pudding recipe this year. I’ve been making it for years but tried a different one last year and wasn’t so happy, so it’s back to Delia this year. Maybe it’s because it’s so traditional; but then Christmas is all about tradition. I used the recipe as it appears in Delia Smith’s Christmas, first published in 1990 and stuck to Imperial measurements rather than metric, but most scales have an Imperial option to switch to. I changed a couple of things, like rum to brandy but it’s pretty much as Delia makes it.

Christmas Pudding – Serves 8 – 10

  • 4oz shredded suet
  • 2oz self-raising flour
  • 4oz white breadcrumbs
  • 1 level teaspoon ground mixed spice
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 8oz soft dark brown sugar
  • 4oz sultanas
  • 4oz raisins
  • 10oz currants
  • 1oz mixed candied peel
  • 1oz almonds, skinned and chopped
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped finely
  • zest of ½ large orange
  • zest of ½ large lemon
  • 150ml stout (dark ale)
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 2 eggs

You’ll need a 2-pint pudding basin.

 

I gathered all the ingredients together with a large mixing bowl before we began. Then we started weighing things out as they appeared in the recipe. [Add all the ingredients to the bowl except the eggs, stout and brandy.]

First we weighed the suet (I used a vegetable suet as one of my daughters-in-law is vegetarian) and I let Freddie tip it into the mixing bowl.

‘Can I stir?’ he asked, picking up the wooden spoon I’d got out. ‘Well, shall we put something else in first so you can mix them together?’ And we weighed the flour next.

  

When we got to the nutmeg we did it almost together, but then I was a bit worried about grated little fingers and persuaded Freddie to let me finish that bit. I let Freddie spoon the sugar from the packet into the bowl on the scales.

 

As we went on and the mixing bowl got fuller and fuller and the ingredients heavier and heavier to stir. Freddie told me you had to be strong to make Christmas pudding. So I told him it was a good job I had him to help me! Praise is important but I was truly thankful to be doing it with him – it made it all the more fun for me.

 

Once everything was in except the wet ingredients, I found a measuring jug to measure out the stout. We added the brandy and eggs. Then with a small whisk, we mixed it together well. Although a little help was needed, Freddie managed most of this on his own. I then got him to pour the liquid in while I started mixing with the wooden spoon. The mixture was heavy by this time and I changed to a strong spatula to more easily mix it well and gather bits from the side of the bowl. Freddie wanted to go on mixing for some time! At this point I told him about how I used to make Christmas puddings with my own grandmother and that one had to make a wish – for something you wanted or wanted to happen – while you stirred. I explained it was a secret so he mustn’t tell me. Freddie’s eyes closed shut tightly and I could see his little face change into deep-thinking mode. He suddenly opened his eyes and told me he’d made his wish – but he wasn’t going to tell me what it was!

The bowl then had to be covered with some clingfilm (or a tea towel) and the mixture left to mature overnight before being transferred into a pudding basin.

The next morning (Freddie now back at his home), I transferred the mixture to a lightly greased 2-pint pudding basin.

   

Cover it in a double layer of greaseproof paper, then some foil. Tie it securely with string. Put the basin in a steamer with simmering water and steam for 6-8 hours. You’ll need to check the water regularly and top it up with boiling water from time to time.

When the steaming is finished, remove from the steamer and let the pudding get completely cold. Remove the foil and greaseproof paper and replace with fresh ones. Keep in a cool place until Christmas Day. Then steam again for 2¼ hours before serving. We traditionally serve our Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.

Manicomio Cafe, Chelsea

I booked to go to the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery today. I missed the last one in 1972! And it’s said this is the final chance to see the treasures outside Egypt as a new museum is being built to house them permanently there.

Of course, for Travel Gourmet, a day out always means a chance to find a new place to eat. The Saatchi Gallery is in Duke of York’s Square in Chelsea, just off the King’s Road and thus in an area awash with eateries of all kinds – from posh to cheap and of course many chains. I’ve eaten at Polpo in the square a couple of times after visiting the Chelsea Flower Show but wanted to try somewhere different today. I also wanted to avoid the chains and so settled on an Italian cafe right next to Polpo – Manicomio. They have a restaurant and cafe side by side.

My Manicomio experience began with morning coffee as I’d arrived in plenty of time for my 11.30am entry to the exhibition. There were a few people sitting at tables on the terrace outside but it was far too cold for me so I went inside.

It was attractive inside and I received a warm and friendly welcome. A menu was soon put before me. Looking at the prices I was immediately reminded that going off-piste (i.e. eschewing the chains in favour of an independent) in a place like Chelsea meant that the prices were high. My flat white was £3.75 and a plain croissant £2.95. However, they were good – the coffee particularly excellent, though quite a small cup – and it was a great place to sit and relax for a while.

I read the i paper while I ate and there was a review of the exhibition. It wasn’t a particularly good one so I was a bit disappointed. However, I had a ticket and I’d just go and see. The gallery is almost next door to the cafe so wonderfully convenient. People were being strictly let in according to the time on their ticket so I joined a long queue for a while. Once inside I was soon awed by the beautiful treasures. I didn’t agree with the i paper at all! It was crowded but not as crowded as many big exhibitions I’ve been to so the timed entry was working. And people were polite and patient about waiting their turn to get close to an exhibit. I was so pleased I went and it was amazing to know these beautiful artefacts were over 3,000 years old.

I came out a little after 1pm and went back to Manicomio for lunch. I chose the cafe again rather than the more expensive restaurant because I only wanted a light lunch. I ended up at pretty much the same table as earlier! Again inside. There’s also a large conservatory at the back.

I thought I’d celebrate my ‘day out’ with a glass of prosecco (£8.50) and asked for some tap water too. That came in a carafe, which I always appreciate, rather than just a glass of water.

 

There were some tempting things on the menu: a swordfish burger, a ‘buttermilk chicken & truffle remoulade brioche’, lasagna (meat and vegetable), but I opted for ‘Smoked salmon, Avocado, Jalapeño, Coriander, Creme Fraiche & Tomato Piadina’ (£12.50).

A piadina is an Italian flatbread which is filled and rolled. Inside this one the avocado was mixed much like guacamole with the spices and herb; the smoked salmon and creme fraiche on top. It was very tasty and I enjoyed it.

I ordered a slice of Bakewell tart (£3.50) and a Macchiato (£2.75) to finish. The cake was nice, though not exceptional; the coffee was excellent – a perfect macchiato!

What a lovely day out. Tutankhamun was stunning and wonderful. And Manicomio was a good find. The food was good though not exceptional enough to make a special journey to eat there (maybe the restaurant might be?) but I liked the ambiance, the friendly and very efficient service, and it’s definitely somewhere to return to when in the area.

Manicomio Poco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Treviso, Richmond upon Thames

Richmond is one of the loveliest places to live in London with its leafy green parks and gardens, the Thames running through it, taking you one way into central London, the other south towards Hampton Court Palace and beyond. It’s easy to find nature and beauty and good places to walk; it’s not quite so easy to find a simple, cosy place to meet up with a friend for a bit of supper and a long chat. Richmond is full of chains: Côte, Carluccio’s, Pizza Express, Byron and even the more upmarket Ivy Cafe; they all have a place in a foodie world but their inevitable sameness, while letting you know exactly what you can expect, can be a little boring. Liz and I often opt for the wonderful independent Indian, Tangawizi, just across Richmond bridge into East Twickenham, but we like Italian too and decided to give Treviso ‘a go’ last night and see what it was like.

Situated on a corner on Kew Road, which takes you from Richmond up to the famous botanical gardens of Kew, it offers its own touch of greenery as you pass through its well-planted front and into the restaurant.

Inside it has a traditional trattoria feel and the menu offers Italian staples in the form of Primi, Pasta & Risotto and I Nostri Secondi.

It was empty when I arrived but a few tables gradually filled up through the evening; it was a Monday evening so fairly quiet. The welcome was warm and friendly. Where in Italy do you come from? I asked the waiter. Verona, he told me. And we discussed northern Italy for a while and a mutual love of Venice and Turin. Then Liz arrived and it was time for glasses of prosecco (£6.25) and deciding what to eat.

A basket of bread came with a dish of olive oil and balsamic.

The starter choices sounded good but quite substantial. We considered sharing one but then settled on having just a main dish each. However, as I often do in Italian restaurants I chose a pasta dish rather than a secondi. I dithered between a seafood risotto (£13.95) or having the pasta version which was a special of the day. I decided on pasta.

A plate of linguine wrapped round a gorgeous mix of mussels, clams and prawns with tomato and chilli was very delicious and I really enjoyed it.

Liz opted for tagliatelle with salmon, courgettes, tomatoes and cream (£10.95) which she also enjoyed.

We had just coffee to follow – a macchiato for me – and fresh mint tea (served nicely in a teapot) for Liz.

I usually like to have two or three courses when reviewing a restaurant for the blog, and we only had one. But we liked it a lot and when we came out, Liz remarked it was a place to return to. So we’ll definitely go again and count it as a great local find.

Treviso Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Nutshell

I’ve passed Nutshell a few times since it opened in August. Situated at the bottom end of St Martin’s Lane it’s right in the heart of Theatreland and as a regular theatregoer, I’m often in the area. It’s also very close to the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s-in-the-Fields and the London Coliseum, so potentially a very useful find.

I love middle eastern food and the prospect of some good Iranian food was irresistibly tempting and thus when I unexpectedly found myself with a free day today due to a change of plans, I decided to head to the National Gallery to see the Gauguin exhibition that’s just opened, and take the opportunity to try out Nutshell. To make sure I got a table, I even booked!

Nutshell is owned by a husband and wife team – Mohammed Paknejad (who was born in Tehran) and Marwa Alkhalaf (formerly a chef at The Greenhouse). Head Chef is Jeremy Borrow, ex-The Palomar. So a fine pedigree!

I went in slightly early to escape the rain outside and received a warm welcome. A carafe of water came almost immediately with the menu. The decor was nicely intimate; simple but sophisticated with its soft colours.

I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Burgundy (£6 for 125ml), which was very good. (I only wanted a small glass at lunchtime so 125ml was fine, but there wasn’t a larger glass option; only bottles instead.)

My plan had been to have two or three mezze as a light lunch but then I wasn’t quite so sure once I looked at the menu, and with the inclement weather outside, my decision turned towards something hot as a main. I ordered some bread to have first – Bazaar Bread (£3.50) – instead of a starter. I’d read it was unmissable and comes freshly baked to order. The waitress suggested I ordered a dip to go with it and as it turned out, that was a good plan.

There are just a couple of dips to choose from and I had Caspian Olive Tapenade with rainbow radish, walnut and pomegranate (£4.50). When the bread and dip were put before me, it was a ‘wow’ moment for they looked really good.

The bread was hot as it was freshly baked, slightly crispy at its thinner centre, nicely doughy at the end. Scattered with black and white sesame seeds, it was a lovely thing to scoop up the tapenade with. This had a glorious topping of the radishes, walnuts, pomegranate seeds, mint and some pomegranate molasses.

If the starter was an impressive ‘wow’, the main was a rather disappointed ‘oh’. I’d ordered Kofte Tabrizi – lamb meatball, dried fruit, walnut (£12.50). Just one – albeit very large – kofta in the middle of a bowl wasn’t what I’d expected. It also didn’t look a lot of food for £12.50 and I was glad I still had some bread left to go with it.

I think of kofte as being delicious spicy, meaty morsels but this one contained a lot of fruit and nuts, making it a coarse mix. It was OK but a little bland.

I didn’t have dessert or coffee. In the end it was a mixed experience. I liked the ambiance, the service was excellent and friendly; my ‘starter’ was gorgeous … but my main was disappointing. I also thought it expensive for what I had. The final bill with a tip included was £29.81; not quite in line with the light lunch I’d planned – although it was light in terms of quantity. I liked Nutshell enough to feel I’ll give it another try sometime, especially given its location, but I won’t necessarily be rushing back. It’s certainly not in the same league as the wonderful Palomar.

Nutshell Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

GPSmyCity Travel App – Seasonal Giveaway

It’s time for another seasonal giveaway with GPSmyCity. This brilliant travel app has just published 4 more of my travel articles, this time from my trip to Tuscany in the summer. I’m excited to now have 54 articles published on the app from trips to Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, France, Austria, Greece and also guides in the UK.

GPSmyCity has been successfully publishing travel articles and self-guided tours since 2009. With more than 6,500 articles and tours exploring over 1,000 cities worldwide, the app allows you, as they say, ‘to lose yourself without getting lost’. It will act as your personal guide and you’ll always know where you are and how to get to where you want to go. It’s full of inspirational tips for what to do, where to eat and what to see in the city you’re visiting.

The beauty of GPSmyCity is that it allows you to go at your own pace and follow the route you want to take. All you have to do is search for articles on the city you’re travelling to and download them onto your smartphone or tablet and they’ll always be with you. No more carrying heavy guidebooks around or struggling to open out a map to find your way. Nor do you have to rely on WiFi or using valuable GPS data on your phone: you can download articles for free and read them offline – even on a plane or the beach.

On top of all this, GPSmyCity offers you the chance to upgrade for a small fee (US$1.99) and receive a city map and GPS navigation to all the sights and places mentioned in the article, which you can access offline. If you want to get the most out of your holiday or if you travel a lot, you might want to buy a subscription: US$12.99/year to access all travel articles for 900+ cities worldwide; US$18.99/year buys access to all travel articles + walking tours for 1,000+ cities worldwide. You will get the upgraded full benefit of GPS and city maps right across the app, in whichever city you’re visiting, for a whole year. Click here to find out more on their website.

To celebrate the publication of my 4 articles on Tuscany, a free upgrade is being offered on the firstTuscany: An Old Pharmacy, Ferragamo Museo and Morefor a week. Why don’t you upload it onto your phone – especially if you’re planning a trip to Florence – and see how great the app is? Here are links to the 4 new articles on the app:

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Tuscany: An Old Pharmacy, Ferragamo Museo & Mercato Centrale in Florence

Click here for free upgrade.

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The following are also available to read and download:

Return to Florence

Click here for link.

 

24 Hours in Lucca

Click here for link.

 

A Walk Through Florence at Night

Click here for link.

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Next time you’re travelling to a city for a holiday or city break, why don’t you take a look at GPSmyCity and all it has to offer to make your trip great? Click here.

Glorious Grains & Roasted Vegetables – Three Ways

This is one of my regular midweek supper dishes, especially now autumn is here with its cooler evenings and I crave something comforting and warming in the evening once the night has drawn in and the temperature dropped. I’ve taken to using it for three meals as there’s far too much for one. Food shopping for the single diner isn’t always easy. Things come packaged in 2s, 4s or in quantities far too big for one meal. Of course you can wait at the meat counter and buy just one chicken breast; you can pick loose fruit and veg – though in supermarkets generally they’re not organic, which I prefer to buy. More and more I’m tending to buy salads and veg in my local Wholefoods where loose organic is an option. And sometimes I’ll go to the local fishmonger to buy fish for one meal. But other times life is too busy and a quick dash to the supermarket is all I have time for. And sometimes, lovely packets like these grains come in packs with more than enough for one but are irresistible and make the base of a quick but tasty and nutritious supper.

I’ve been buying Merchant Gourmet’s pre-cooked, vacuum-packed Puy lentils for years and the basis for today’s recipe uses them in a similar dish which has been one of the top-viewing posts on my blog over all time – more than 8 years now! I discovered the Glorious Grains recently and love them; they make a nice alternative to the Puy lentils (which I still buy). The Glorious Grains are a mix of quinoa and red rice and now there’s always a pack waiting in my cupboard.

In all honesty it’s not really a ‘recipe’ as such: it’s more a ‘put together something from what’s lurking in the fridge and needs using up’ in the vegetable compartment. Yesterday I gathered one solitary courgette, a Romano pepper, 2 small red onions, 1 celery stick and some small tomatoes on the vine. I took the grains from my cupboard – and then I got cooking!

 

Glorious Grains & Roasted Vegetables – 1st Way (and base)

  • selection of veg – see above
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence (or thyme or oregano)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pack Merchant Gourmet’s Glorious Grains (or Puy lentils)
  • balsamic vinegar

 

 

Trim and chop the courgette and pepper into small dice – about 1·5cm. Peel and chop the onions and slice the celery stick into similar-sized pieces. Quarter the tomatoes. Put them all together in a large ovenproof pan. Drizzle over a good amount of olive oil. Sprinkle with the herbs and season with salt and pepper.

Mix it together gently with your hands (getting messy hands really is the best way!). Put into a 200C/Fan 180/Gas 6 oven for about 40 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked and starting to caramelise a little. It’s a good idea to give it all a stir once or twice during the cooking.

Tip in the grains and give them a thorough – but gentle – mix in. Drizzle over a little more olive oil and I like to add a drizzle of balsamic too – but that’s optional. Put back in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the grains are heated through.

Your 1st meal! Spoon a portion onto a serving plate. I grated over some Parmesan and drizzled on a little more olive oil. One perfect supper.

 

2nd Way

I’d transferred the leftover grains and vegetables into a smaller dish and kept in the fridge. The second evening I spooned a portion into a small, shallow ovenproof dish. I covered it in foil and put in the oven (200C/Fan 180/Gas 6) for about 30 minutes or until the mix is nicely heated through and hot.

Make 2 holes in the mix with a spoon. Then break 2 eggs – one into each hole. Return to the oven for 10 minutes.

 

I like my yolks runny and this timing seems perfect, but leave it in a little longer if you like your egg yolks well cooked.

This is my favourite version! You get all the lovely, rich and warming grain and vegetable mix but with the eggs. When you break the yolk and it runs into the mix it’s just a little piece of foodie heaven. Gorgeous! I eat it straight from the dish. No point in trying to transfer it – and you’d probably ruin the egg!

 

3rd Way

There was only a small portion left over so I did what I usually do and used it as part of a salad for lunch on the 3rd day. It’s just as delicious cold and partnered with some raw salad vegetables – cucumber, tomatoes, avocado, grated carrot, whatever you have and fancy using – and perhaps some hummus or cheese, it makes a fabulous lunch.

I cooked the vegetables specially for the meal but I often roast a similar mix of vegetables when feeding the family a roast dinner on Sunday – usually a chicken – and there’s often leftovers of the veg. I use these in the same way, heating them the next day and adding the grains. It’s a wonderfully versatile recipe. Enjoy!

Simple Apple Tart

It was a lovely family weekend. My aunt Arleen was visiting from Kent for the weekend and my son and family coming over on Sunday for a meal. I didn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen so prepared a Boeuf Daube on Saturday morning before my aunt arrived, so it could just be reheated the next day for the family meal. Dishes like this seem to benefit from being made ahead anyway.

I had in mind a provençale meal to recreate my recent Nice experience. To start I’d just offer some little pieces of toast with tapenade to have with our aperitif as I’d had in Nice. What could be simpler?

For dessert I decided to make a simple tarte aux pommes. I bought some all-butter puff pastry and basically made it in the way I made the tomato tart last week – but this time with apples rather than tomatoes.

 

Simple Apple Tart

  • 1 pack (about 350g) ready-made all-butter puff pastry
  • 3-4 medium-sized eating apples (I used Cox’s Orange Pippin)
  • 30g butter, melted
  • a little flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon ground almonds
  • 2 dessertspoons caster sugar

 

 

Peel 3 apples, cut into quarters and remove the core. Slice thinly into segments. Have another apple to hand in case this isn’t enough once you start laying the apple on the pastry. I prefer to use eating apples to cut down on the sugar needed and Cox’s Orange Pippins cook well.

 

Grease a baking sheet with a little of the melted butter. Dust with a little flour to ensure the cooked tart doesn’t stick to the bottom. Unroll the pastry onto the baking sheet. Cut strips of about 1cm from each side. Brush the strips with a little beaten egg and lay along the edge; then brush the top with more egg. This is to make a little ‘wall’ to the edge of the tart. Sprinkle the ground almonds over the base to help keep the pastry crisp under the apples (I did this because I’d done the same with polenta when making the tomato tart and it worked well.)

Neatly lay the apple slices in rows on the pastry (or however you fancy decorating it!). Brush the apple with the melted butter. Sprinkle over 1 dessertspoon caster sugar.

Put into a preheated oven at 200C/Fan 180/Gas 6 for about 20-25 minutes, until the pastry has risen round the edge and browned nicely. However, your apples probably won’t have browned and caramelised at the edge!

It was at this point I realised I should have replaced my broken blowtorch. So I had to improvise. I turned the grill on. Then I covered the pastry on the edge of the tart with strips of foil. I sprinkled over another dessertspoon of caster sugar (you’d need to with a blowtorch too) and put under the hot grill.

Watch carefully. The apple caramelised quite quickly – so don’t take your eyes off it. When it looks nicely browned, remove from the grill. Carefully transfer to a serving plate or, if like me you don’t have the right size and shape large plate, a wooden board. Of course you could eat it straight away, but I made it earlier in the day to eat cold.

There was little left to do come dinner time. I’d peeled a mix of white and sweet potatoes for a mash to go with the daube. I toasted little slices of a baguette for the tapenade just before eating while my son got glasses out and opened some champagne. We were ‘doing’ French so it was a wonderful excuse for champagne rather than our usual prosecco. And I had a bottle of gorgeous Pol Roger in the fridge – a gift from some time ago – that definitely required drinking!

I decided to also offer some smoked salmon pâté (bought) with the toast and some hummus. The hummus was for 22-month-old Benjamin’s benefit. Benjamin would live on hummus and olives if we let him. We had our aperitif in the sitting room so the boys (4½ year old Freddie as well) could run around. Then we all sat down for the main course. It was just so rich and gorgeous, we all loved it. I had a large green salad on the side too.

Then it was dessert time and the apple tart was carried through with a choice of crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream to go with it.

We ate nearly all of it! It looked large at about 32cm x 24cm and you’d think it would serve 12. Well not when feeding my family! But of course it’s a thin layer of pastry with just a thin layer of apples on top so we weren’t really being greedy when seconds were asked for. And it’s always wonderful to feed enthusiastic and appreciative guests.

It really is a quick and easy dessert – but not any less wonderful for being simple. And it was a perfect end to our provençale meal.

Tomato & Goats’ Cheese Tart

Travelling to beautiful places like Nice, as I did last weekend, where there’s the most wonderful food to be enjoyed, just has to be an inspiration once you’re back home in your own kitchen.  I thus decided to cook a Niçois meal for the family this evening.

Tarte à la Tomate, along with pissaladière (onion tart), are common on menus in Nice. They’re also found in bakeries or on street-food stalls to have as a snack. I had a tomato tart as a starter for lunch in La Merenda on my last day. That had a kind of bread base and was very nice but I thought I’d prefer to make one with a lighter pastry base, and which is perhaps more common in Nice. I found pretty much what I was looking for in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday! I used Hugh’s recipe as a base but added some goats’ cheese and olives; instead of fresh thyme, I used the Herbes de Provence I brought back from Nice.

Like Hugh, I used ready-made all-butter puff pastry. This shortcut means it’s a really simple and quick dish to put together. It’s also fantastically delicious!

 

Tomato & Goats’ Cheese Tart

  • 1 pack (about 350g) ready-made, all-butter puff pastry
  • olive oil
  • a little fine polenta
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • about 350g tomatoes (I chose a mix of colours)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • dried herbes de Provence (or thyme)
  • 100g wheel of goats’ cheese, with rind, but into thin slices
  • a handful of small black olives

 

The pastry was ready rolled. Grease a baking tray and lightly oil with the olive oil. Sprinkle over a little polenta – this helps make the base of the tart nice and crisp. Cut away strips of about 1cm from each side. Brush with the egg and put back on to the edge. Brush the top of the strips with more egg. This makes a little ‘wall’ round the edge of the tart.

Cut the tomatoes into roughly 2-3mm slices; the smaller plum tomatoes I cut in half lengthwise.

Sprinkle the chopped garlic over the pastry base then lay the tomato pieces on top so the pastry is well covered. Season a little with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over a little of the dried herbs. Drizzle with a little olive oil.

Put into a preheated oven at 190C/Fan 170/Gas 5 for about 15-20 minutes, or until the edge of the pastry is light golden brown and the tomatoes noticeably softening.

Remove from the oven and lay the cheese slices on top. Scatter over the olives and a little more of the dried herbs. Drizzle over a little more olive oil and put back in the oven for about another 10-15 minutes.

Remove when the tart is nicely brown and the cheese starting the melt.

It looked wonderful and smelled gorgeous. It’s best served warm rather than hot, but I actually made mine in advance – an hour or two before eating – so it had cooled. I considered reheating but decided not to. It was going to be fine just as it was.

We had it as a starter and cut it into 16 smallish pieces – mainly because we had 4½ year old Freddie and 22 month Benjamin eating with us. It was really fantastic and just as I’d hoped, really did taste of Nice. I was transported back – despite the cold, wet autumnal weather outside. Freddie liked it so much he ate 4 slices!

I’d made a Salade Niçoise as a ‘main’ which we had with fougasse bread (Provençal bread) from Paul Bakery.

I was really delighted with how the tomato tart turned out. I thought we’d eat just half of it as a starter but we finished it. Everyone loved it.

It would make a great midweek light supper with a nice green salad, and of course is a great dish for vegetarians. It would even be good for picnics.

It may be cold and grey outside but you can bring a little Provençal sun into your home with this sunny and gorgeous tomato tart.

The Food of Nice and Where to Eat

One of the great pleasures of visiting Nice is sampling its wonderful cuisine. With a lifelong interest in food that goes beyond simply eating, from cooking in my family’s pub restaurant in my teens, editing cookery books in my 20s and now writing a food & travel blog, I have to confess that I have no interest in travelling to places where I can’t find good food and good wine to go with it. Thus Nice is an ideal destination for me and a place I find myself wanting to go to again and again. Its food is as colourful and vibrant as the city itself. Nestling in the beautiful Baie des Anges, Nice has a view over the Mediterranean that offers the most stunning sensory delight with its incredible blue sea that’s drawn artists like Matisse, Picasso, Chagall and Dufy to its shores. The French call it the Côte d’Azur – the blue coast.

Just off the seafront by Vieux Nice (Old Town) in the Cours Saleya the sensory delight continues as you walk through the food market (Tues-Sun) where bunches of fresh flowers, lavender, rosemary, thyme and other herbs fill the air.

 

 

Plump tomatoes ripened in the sun are sold in different shapes, colours and sizes – no supermarket uniformity here. There’s the fragrant perfume of ripe figs, peaches and other fruits. Even if you’re staying in a hotel, you can buy fruit to take back to your room and enjoy.

 

You’ll find great street food to snack on: pan bagnet, a Niçois speciality sandwich filled with tuna and/or anchovies, boiled egg, tomatoes and other vegetables; socca – a local speciality pancake made from chickpea flour; slices of pissaladière – open onion tart with onions cooked down to a sweet delight and topped with anchovies and olives.

 

Olives grow easily in the mild climate and I was often served the gorgeous little taggiasca olives you also find in Liguria in Italy with a drink or in food. There’s local olive oil in abundance and great local wine too.

You’ll find lots of tempting food shops all round the city, but going up rue Marche in Vieux Nice is a great place to look. I found this wonderful shop selling Herbes de Provence, olive oil, preserves, white truffles and lots of other foods. Olio Donato has been producing and selling traditional Mediterranean delicacies since 1939. Now run by Fabio Donato he sells olives and olive oil from trees planted by his ancestors.

I bought some herbs which make great presents – and can also go in a hand luggage bag if you’re travelling lightly.

 

Breakfast & Morning Coffee

If you’re staying in a hotel then breakfast might well be part of your package. For me it was extra and I did take it one morning, but then decided I’d prefer to go out. There are lots of breakfast deals advertised on blackboards outside cafés – usually a base of freshly squeezed orange, croissant and a hot drink, but with all kinds of extras and variations, and on average about €10. I liked to go to Pain e Cie (a former Pain Quotidien and much the same) in rue Louis Gassin right by the Cours Saleya market. It was great to be able to watch the stallholders setting up the morning market outside while I ate. The basic Niçois breakfast was €7.50.

 

I also went to Chez Maître Pierre in rue Massena. It had been widely recommended in guides online and I’d noted they supplied bread to a couple of my favourite restaurants in Nice so they were bound to be good.

 

There’s an endless choice of cafés to choose from, of course. What I did find was that it was quite hard to find really good coffee. The French aren’t ‘in’ to their coffee like the Italians and many still use (horror!) long-life milk when you have a café au lait. However, if good pastries are your thing for breakfast or with morning coffee, then you’ll be in luck, for of course French patisserie is wonderful!

 

Lunch

I’m a light lunch person and prefer my main meal in the evening so am always on the lookout for a good snack around midday. Of course you can buy great street food from the market, boulangerie (baker’s) or charcuterie (deli). I like to sit down though as I’ve usually been on the go and walking most of the morning.

I had a good lunch in La Femme Du Boulanger in rue du Commandant Raffali, off rue Massena. As the name suggests it’s a baker’s and offers a choice of open sandwiches, salads and hot dishes too. I had an excellent Niçois Tartine – an open sandwich with ratatouille.

I also had a good salad lunch at Bar de la Degustation in rue de la Préfecture.

Another option is to just have some starters in a restaurant or one small plate – at Peixes they serve small plates for sharing but on my own I had just one for lunch and it was perfect. It was my first day and the food so amazing I had to go back for dinner another night (see below).

 

Ice Cream

I’m a great gelato fan and usually want an ice cream a day on holiday, but I only went to one gelateria during my stay in Nice because I was saving my sweet treat of the day for the evening meal and having dessert instead. However, I had an excellent gelato at Azzurro in rue Ste-Réparate. They make the waffle cones themselves at the front. Nearby in Place Rossetti is Fenocchio, one of Nice’s most famous gelaterias. I had ice cream there on my last trip and it is very good. Another good place is Roberto 1er in rue Marché. There are also branches of Grom and Amorino in rue Massena.

 

Aperitif

I found the Bar de la Degustation by chance on the first night. I was in the busy Place du Palais de Justice in Vieux Nice and it just looked like a good place for an early evening drink – an aperitif. It was a fun place to be and they always brought a complimentary plate of little toasts with tapenade (a great speciality here) with my €4 glass of Provence rosé. The staff were friendly and seemed happy for me to hang about for quite a while, watching the Nice world go by, before heading to whichever restaurant I’d planned to eat my evening meal. One day I had a good salad lunch here too.

There are lots of places to stop for a drink and quite a few along the seafront if you’re looking for a sea view. One evening I chose a bar in Cours Saleya and I was brought a dish of nice olives with my drink, but the Degustation bar became a favourite.

 

Dinner – Traditional Niçois Cuisine

If you’re a foodie of any kind then you’re going to want to sample some of Nice’s traditional food and there are plenty of places to do so. While you’ll find a lot of the classic and familiar Provençale dishes like ratatouille, daube de boeuf, etc., you’ll also find a strong Italian influence for back in the 19th century Nice was governed by the House of Savoy who were based in what is now Piedmont, Italy. It’s interesting that there are many Italian restaurants here and I’ve even heard Italian spoken in the market.

Look out for Petits Farcis (stuffed small vegetables), Salade Niçoise and Ravioli Niçois (which I had on my first night at Lou Pistou – ravioli with beef and daube gravy).

You’ll find lots of dishes contain pistou, the Niçois version of pesto.  Pasta is often served with pistou and look out for Soupe au Pistou, a bean soup enriched with pistou.

I actually had lunch in La Merenda (photo above) on the last day, but it was the kind of meal I’d usually have in the evening – however as my next meal would be at the airport, I made the most of what Nice had to offer and this restaurant has made a big name for itself. It’s a tiny, modest place where the owner was once a 2-star Michelin chef (for more click here) and now prefers to cook more simply in a small open kitchen at the back. I had a lovely tomato tart but a great Daube de Boeuf with panisse (chips made from chickpea flour).

My dessert was another local speciality, Tourte aux Blettes – a sweet pie made with Swiss chard.

I also had good meals at Lou Pistou (almost next door to La Merenda in rue Raoul Bosio) where I’d eaten 4 years ago, and at La P’tite Cocotte (click here).

 

Dinner – Modern Niçois Cuisine

If you enjoy good food then you’re bound to be on the lookout for the best Salade Niçoise or a great Daube de Boeuf and other traditional dishes, but Nice is also home to some wonderful newer restaurants serving a more modern cuisine. I just loved Peixes which has been making a big name for itself serving extraordinarily good fish dishes with often an Asian touch. The Michelin Guide even says eating there is ‘the stuff of great memories’. They do pretty much only serve fish so don’t go there if you don’t eat fish at all. (Click for full review.)

A sister restaurant, also owned by much-respected restaurateur Armand Crespo, is Bar des Oiseaux. I had a great lunch there but it’s a good place for dinner too. Their food is a little more classic than Peixes and isn’t just a fish restaurant so serves meat too – although I ate a gorgeous prawn risotto.

I love the traditional Niçois cuisine but although it has some wonderful vegetable dishes – think, ratatouille, pissaladère – many dishes are quite meat heavy and rich. I found it great to be able to sometimes go for something just a bit lighter and more modern.

 

Wine

Think of wine in Provence and the first thought is a chilled, pale pink rosé. There are some lovely rosé wines to be enjoyed and I liked having one as an aperitif or at lunchtime. But there are some great red wines too. I know a reasonable amount about wine but I’m always happy to ask the restaurant what they recommend, and I prefer to drink local wines if I’m in a wine-growing area. I like to learn by asking and the chances are you’ll end up with something a bit more special by having a conversation, and a wine that complements your meal well.

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Wherever you eat in Nice, and whatever kind of food you enjoy, there’s a fantastic choice of gorgeous food at all prices, from markets and cafés, to smart restaurants.

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This article is now available on the GPSmyCity app. Why not download it and take it with you on your smartphone or tablet? Click here. You’ll also find lots of other great guides to Nice.

 

Nice 2019: Last Morning & Lunch at La Merenda

My flight home wasn’t until 19:50 so I had most of the day in Nice to continue holidaying. The damp weather of the previous day still hung lightly in the air and I put up my umbrella when leaving the hotel to go out for some breakfast. Breakfast wasn’t included in my deal and the hotel – Best Western Plus Hotel Massena – offered me a reduced rate of €13 a day instead of €17 if I had it the 4 mornings. I said ‘yes’ on arrival but after one morning changed my mind. I don’t eat a lot first thing and although the buffet was fine, the breakfast room was far too busy and noisy for me to deal with first thing. I found the morning peace I sought in Pain e Cie by the Cours Saleya market again, as I’d done the day before. A simple and good Niçois breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, croissant and coffee for €7.50. The staff were friendly and the few people there were talking quietly and I could look out on the market. It was perfect. But I did notice everywhere that breakfast deals were round about the €10 mark, so the hotel’s wasn’t particularly expensive and if you eat a lot in the morning, you could certainly fill yourself up for the day on their buffet and it’s great value.

Outside I discovered that the Monday market is a flea market rather than a food market. There were lots of stalls and it was quite fun seeing them being set up.

I wandered down to the seafront through one of the arches leading off the market. It was grey still as I wandered to the eastern edge of the bay but pleasant to be out by the sea and with the promenade still relatively quiet in the early part of the day. I looked up at Tour Bellanda.

It was too early to take the lift (which opens at 9am) to the top but I’d walked up before so I started climbing the steps. It’s not really that far and in fact you can get higher for an even better view from another point. But it was fun to be up there when it was virtually empty.

Even with the dark clouds it offers a great view over Nice.

Just below a fishing boat was making it way in. Had it had a good catch? I wondered.

By late morning the sky was clearing to a gorgeous blue which was reflected in the water below. The sea here really is the most wonderful and extraordinary colour and you can easily see why artists like Matisse and Dufy fell in love with Nice.

I had to check out of my hotel by 12.00 so went back around 11.00 to do my final packing, pay the city tax, and store my suitcase in their storage room. Then I made my way back to the Old Town where I’d booked a table for lunch at La Merenda at 12.00. My friend Miriam had recommended the restaurant to me when I bumped into her a couple of weeks ago and told her I was going to Nice. She said she and her husband always head straight there. She said you couldn’t book but they must have changed their policy for when I passed it in the morning a note in the window said phone reservations only (I’d read they once didn’t even own a phone; they still don’t take card payment). They were opening up (they’re closed Saturday and Sunday) and I could see people inside getting everything ready for later so I stuck my head through the beaded curtain across the front door. The guy I spoke to hesitated when I asked if I could reserve a table for lunch but then offered one for 12 o’clock. When I said it was for just one, he asked if I’d mind sharing. No, that’s fine, I assured him. Miriam had told me there’s always a long queue so a table shared and certain for my last day was better than none at all, and at least he’d asked at the time of booking, which I appreciated. (In the end, I didn’t have to share and had the little table all to myself.)

La Merenda has an interesting history that explains its popularity. Owner/chef Dominique Le Stanc was once a 2 Michelin starred chef at the famous Negresco hotel on the Promenade des Anglais. He gave up the gastronomic high life to return to his love of cooking rather running a large prestigious kitchen. At La Merenda he prepares simple classic local dishes in a tiny open kitchen at the back of the small restaurant (officially 20 covers but they squeezed in a couple extra yesterday).

It really is remarkably tiny and simple; on entry more like a workman’s cafe but then you find there are thick linen napkins on the table adding just a little touch of luxury.

 

Everything was run with great efficiency but always a smile and friendliness. The restaurant filled up quickly and I hadn’t been there long before I saw lots of people being turned away. I heard some English voices in all the coming and going but in the main I was surrounded by French people, so the locals haven’t been pushed out by the tourists.

There’s just one blackboard which does the rounds, so I had to wait until it was my turn. Everything was explained to me. A lot of the dishes were full-on meat-heavy French classics: andouillette sausages (made from pork intestines – and really quite smelly!); Tête de Veau – (calf’s head); tripe (animal stomach lining). I was however very happy to choose a Daube de Boeuf à la Provençale et Panisse (€17). The starters were lighter and more vegetable based: stuffed courgette flowers; ratatouille; rocket with ricotta, figs and olives. I chose Tarte à la Tomate (€12).

This was so simple but absolutely delicious. The roasted tomatoes on top of a bread-like base were full of flavour; a little pistou (French version of pesto) and olives were strewn over it. Nearly always In Nice I was served little black taggiasca olives which I’ve enjoyed in Liguria in Italy. They are grown in this area too and are lovely olives.

I’d been having a modest small glass of wine with my lunches each day but as this was my last meal before the airport and a flight home, then I decided to have a glass of cool Provence rosé with my starter and a glass of local red with my beef (€6.50 a glass).

The daube was heavenly; the beef cooked so beautifully it fell apart. The taste of the thick gravy was rich and gorgeous and I liked the panisse chips with it, made from chickpea flour and much like the Sicilian street food panelle.

Well for a ‘last meal’ I had to have dessert too – or there was a cheese option. I was told the choices: chocolate mousse, a fresh peach dish … but I was tempted by the Tourte aux Blettes (€6), which I was told was a Niçois speciality – a sweet Swiss chard pie with raisins, pine nuts, apples and a little icing sugar sprinkled on top.

When I say ‘tempted’ it was more to be a bit adventurous and in the name of food research, to be honest. I was a little uncertain about Swiss chard as a dessert, even though I buy it and often cook it. And as for the pie, it was certainly different and while I didn’t actually dislike it, I couldn’t help wishing I’d gone for the less adventurous chocolate mousse instead.

I had an espresso (€2) to finish and I’d had some Evian (€3) with the meal. The total bill was €53.

It was a great ‘last meal’ though and a great place to eat. It was buzzing with happy diners. The tables were so close there was only about 6cm between each; tables had to be pulled out for anyone to get up. But the simple, slightly cramped surroundings took away none of the pleasure of the eating; of the watching M. Le Stanc just a few metres away in his little kitchen, cooking, supervising and arranging plates. The two waiting staff were rushed off their feet but always polite and helpful. For a bit of true Niçois cooking, it has to be a must if you’re in Nice.

Outside it was a bit grey again, a slightly chilly wind blew, but then the wind always gets up in the afternoon at the sea. I walked for a while as I’d a couple of hours to spare. I looked across the walls surrounding the Cours Saleya and could see the house where Matisse had lived, which I wrote about yesterday. Up at the viewpoint on Quai Rauba Capeu it was less grey than it had been in the morning and the sea, despite the clouds above, was a beautiful turquoise colour.

What a delight Nice is. It has so much to offer and I think is rather unique. Back home, I’m already thinking about when I can go back.

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This article is now available on the GPSmyCity app. Why not download it and take it with you on your smartphone or tablet? You’ll also find lots of other great guides to Nice. Click here.