La Chatte Gitane (or The Gypsy Cat) was the name we chose for our cottage in France. We chose it while on the road, moving home, from Ireland to France with 2 dogs and 7 cats in the car.
This blog began its insignificant life as a recipe book for friends and family who would ask me repeatedly for a recipe of this, that and the other.
Since then it has taken many different directions, like gypsies tend to do. Sometimes making a U-turn and revisiting familiar roads and taking a break when necessary.
You'll find recipes here, but also musings about the places we've called home, the gardens that we've established, not always successfully, the homes we've improved and the environments we've lived in. Currently, that is back in Ireland.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pond Life...

What pond life ?
The water has been crystal clear over the last 5 days or so.  The flittering of  blossom leaves and pollen from the trees have all but disappeared from the water surface. Somehow it looks like the salamander and dragon fly larvae have gone too. :(
I haven't encountered any frog spawn at all, even though I can hear the croaking of frogs at night when I'm lying in bed.  Lovely and peaceful sound.
Last year when we didn't have the pond there were thousands of baby and mature frogs in that area.  Have we disturbed the life that was already there by digging to put in a proper frog pond ? I sure hope not.
Let's hope it will all fall back into place in the coming months and years.

Maybe most larvae are hiding near the water plants and that could be the reason why I don't see many.
We've got plenty of water skaters and some water beetles, also water boatman.

And when the sun comes out a lot of dragon flies are whizzing hither thither over the pond.  Difficult enough they are to photograph.
Here is a broad-bodied chaser that I captured a few days ago.

My family of Kitchy (with capital K) ducks are doing great.  I tied them together and then on a brick that I placed carefully (read threw) in the middle of the pond. 
Had to because we have a predator on the loose.
Millie would take the ducklings out, maul them and leave them in the copse for me to find and do the autopsy.

The creeping jenny   is going well and will hopefully cover the pond liner in a satisfactory manner.

Hostas, been gnarled at by slugs.  Frogs, toads ! Dinner is ready !


My favourite corner of the pond
I did sow some wild flowers but we'll have to wait and see what's to become of them.

Look at me ! Look at me !
Indeed. Look at her lovely face. Butter wouldn't melt....

Thanks for visiting.
Patricia xxx...x

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Homemade Pizza


My pizza making skills have evolved in the right direction over the years.  Luckily !
I was in my teens, about 30 something years ago, that I got into making pizzas.  They where very tasty as far as I can remember...... but oh so soggy. 
I now know that my tomato sauce was too wet and ... I put too much of it on the base.
Still, I try to cram an awful lot on my pizza, because that's the way I like it (and Bert never complained) but I try to keep the ingredients as close to Italian-ish as possible concerning flavours.
Also, my base will always be rather thick (almost bread like)-it's a matter of taste - is it not ?



How do I avoid a soggy base ?

  • Set your oven on the highest setting (mine is 250°C) and forget about the fan. The base will crisp up better with the heat from the bottom element.
  • Use a dark (black !) coloured baking tray, it will atract the heat better. Any grey or lighter colour won't work as well.
  • Roll out the dough and spread onto the tray only just before you add your toppings.
  • Only add the toppings just before the pizza is about to go into the oven. If you leave it sitting around it will be soggy.


So now over to the recipe.
For the base
Ingredients (that is for 2 (yes, two) oven trays)
  • 1 kg plain white flour
  • 20 grs fast acting dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Cold water (quantity depending on the moisture level in the flour)
Preparation
  • In the bowl of your food processor (haha ! if you don't have one, you'll have to knead by hand. I however, use my trusty old Kenwood) mix the flower and yeast together.
  • Put the salt and sugar near the edge of the bowl and add the oil. Pour in some water.
  • Start the food processer with the bread hook. Add more water as you go, until all the flour has been incorporated.  You need the consistency of bread dough.
  • Keep on kneading till you get a pliable elastic dough.
  • Set aside, covered with a (clean) tea towel.
  • Leave to proof until the dough has doubled in size.
  • Get your baking trays ready. Dust with flour.
  • Divide dough into however many portions you need. I divide in 2.
  • Roll out on a floured surface and stretch onto the tray.
For the toppings
Ingredients
  • Green olive tapenade (recipe here)
  • 1 tin of peeled tomatoes (430 gr)
  • 1 small tin tomato concentrate (140 gr)
  • Dried oregano and basil, pinch of salt and pinch of sugar
  • 400 gr grated cheese (I use gouda, but cheddar is ok to use, pecorino is better still, if you don't have to watch the pennies)
  • Smoked dry cured ham (thinly sliced), sliced peperoni or chorizo (didn't I say, Italian-ish ?) enough to spread out later over the pizza.
  • Onions peeled and sliced
  • pepper red or mixed colours,sliced
  • Mozzarella, broken into pieces
Preparation
  • Blend tomatoes and tomato concentrate in a jug or bowl with a handheld blender (or any other blender actualy). Add oregano, basil, salt and sugar.
  • Spread some of the tapenade over the pizza base.
  • On top of that tomato mix.
  • Then sprinkle with as much grated cheese as you fancy.
  • Layer the cured meats, onions and peppers to your heart's content.
  • Finish off with the mozzarella.
  • Bake in your really hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Take out of the oven and let the pizza rest for 5/7 minutes to help it set.
  • Slice and overindulge.
I sometimes add sliced cougettes or aubergines that I have roasted on the griddle pan.  Artichoke hearts are also a favourite of mine.
Do you like blue cheese ? Well you can crumble that on top and all.

Thumbs up from my brother.

Did you notice the scissors in the last photo ? Yeah, that's right. That's how pizza is cut in our house. ;-)

Patricia xxx...x

Friday, May 25, 2012

Such a Beautiful Day.

Perfect weather.  Sunny, a bit of a breeze which made the air dry and so enjoyable.

I could even go near the pond without being eaten alive by mosquitos.










May your weekend be just as glorious !

Patricia xxx...x

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Bouquet of Roses - Twice the Pleasure


Whenever I do the grocery shopping, I usually bring a (cheapo) bouquet of roses.  I brightens up the sitting room and my day.
They don't last very long, about a week or so and then their heads start to droop. 

That's when the second pleasure comes. I sever their little heads from their scrawny bodies (read : I cut the flowers off the stems)
Place them in a bowl, sprinkle some rose essential oil over them and you have fresh and natural potpourri.

They will dry out further and when the time comes and they are covered with dust, I already have another bouquet on the go and the old ones can go on the compost heap.
Still, you can get a few weeks out of them and top up with more roses and essential oil. Sometimes I use lavender oil, very confusing for the passers by. ;)

Patricia xxx...x

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thank You Chooks - Egg Salad



I  love prawns very much. Trouble is that Bert does not do prawns. Oh well, a piece of cod for him then. The star here however is the egg salad (or egg mayonnaise)


Seeing our lovely chooks are very productive and egg salad is just the thing to bulk out any plate of food....and the tummy.



Ingredients

  • eggs (obviously) 8 or so - quantity depending on how many times you want to eat egg salad in the next couple of days (morning, noon and night)
  • mayonnaise - also depending on the quantity of eggs - for 8, about 2 tbsp mayo
  • 1tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1tbsp tomato ketchup
  • cayenne powder - to taste
  • 1tbsp capers (I use the ones in brine)
  • 1 chunky or 2 tiny spring onions, sliced.
  • black pepper, freshly ground
Preparation
  • Put the eggs in a cooking pot, so that they sit snuggly next to each other. Cover with water and add a splash of white vinegar.
  • Bring to the boil. From that point cook the eggs for another 8 minutes. Drain and run cold water over them.
  • Leave to cool and peel.
  • In a bowl, bring together the mayo, mustard, ketchup, cayenne and capers.
  • Chop up the eggs in a rustic style (ie. not small)
  • Fold into the mayo mix with the sliced spring onions, keeping some of the green to garnish.
  • Sprinkle wit black pepper.

I bet you weren't looking for an egg salad or egg mayo recipe, but here you have it anyway.

Patricia xxx...x

Monday, May 21, 2012

Buttercups

Not too far from where we live is this meadow full of buttercups. Well, there are more, but this is the most stunning.
Unfortunately the photos I take don't do it any justice, so you have to dig deep into your imagination to picture in your mind how beautiful it really is.  It helps if you also imagine the sunlight bouncing of the bright yellow flowers. 


Patricia xxx...x

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flemish Beef Stew, but not exactly.

Not exactly, because I didn't use beer and I used beef shin instead of stewing steak.
Why ? Well it's what I still had in the freezer and I love to suck the bone marrow - do I need to blush?

Ingredients
  • 1 kg beef suitable for stewing (I had 3 cuts of shin)
  • 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 3 onions, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • vegetable oil and a knob of butter
  • a couple of sprigs of thyme
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 500 ml beef stock (can be from a stock cube - I used Kallo organic)
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 slices of stale bread, smeared with Dijon mustard
  • handful of raisins
  • a splash of shoyu
Preparation
  • Dust the meat with the flour.
  • Heat the oil and butter and brown the meat.

  • Take the meat out and set aside.
  • Then sautee the onions and garlic.
  • Bring the meat back to the pan and add the thyme and bay.
  • Pour over the stock, the vinegar and sugar.
  • Put the slices of bread on top and cover.

  • Leave to simmer on the hob or (if you have a casserole type dish, put it in the oven - 170°C) until meat is coming off the bone and is tender.
  • The bread should have disolved somewhat, stir it through properly. It helps to thicken the sauce
  • Add the raisins near the end of the cooking time and the splash of soy sauce.
  • Season to taste with black pepper and salt (if necessary)
I'll tell you this, if you have a good quality beer in the house, please do make use of it in this stew. It will taste devine.

Thank you again for visiting. Don't be a stranger and come again.
Patricia xxx...x

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spontaneity in the Garden

I always let some vegetables go to seed.  Not always to collect the seeds, no. I often let nature take it's course.
That's when you get this (usually the following year).
Swiss Chard

Lettuce

Wild Rocket
Leeks

It is a very nice surprise, come springtime to discover what'll pop up .

I was however a little 'shocked' when I found out the pasnips I had sown last year in spring and never appeared,  that somehow some of them have now germinated. Look !



And then there is the lone beetroot

 
Strawberries spreading their wings.
 
I still want to show you what plants I bought, but unfortunately BLOGGER feels the need to turn my photos on their side and it's pissing me right off.  Let's see if tomorrow is a better day for posting. ;-)
 
Bedtime
Patricia xxx...x

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Penne Rigate with Fennel and Chicken


I love fennel me. Even more so when I can go to the garden and pick them myself. Okay, they are not the fattest bulbs, but when I chopped them up the wonderful mild anise aroma just filled me with joy.
(and I don't even like anise very much ).  Fennel is more subtle and sofisticated, anyway ;-) .


So here is a simple tasty meal I made. Did I tell you ? They're straight from the garden.

Ingredients
  • olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 fennel bulbs, roughly chopped
  • 50 grs (or more) lardons (or pancetta if you're richer)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 glass (25cl) chicken stock
  • 150 to 200 grs cooked chicken pieces
  • seasoning
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • fennel green, chopped
  • 4oo grs penne rigate, cooked al dente
  • morsels to taste of Roquefort or any other blue cheese you might fancy, but grated parmesan works too.
Preparation
  • In a pan, fry off the lardons and set aside.
  • Pour olive oil in same pan and sautee the garlic - without burning !
  • Add the fennel and sautee some more, you can add a little of the stock to prevent it from burning.  Lid on.
  • When fennel has reached the al dente stage, pour in the rest of the stock and the lemon juice.
  • Add the chicken pieces and heat through thoroughly.
  • Season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  • Stir in the freshly cooked penne, lemon zest, spring onions, fennel green and of course the lardons.
  • Serve and sprinkle (or bomb) with morsels of Roquefort.
 I was contemplating to add cream but then thought  "Nah ! Don't be a pig !"

Thank you for visiting.
Patricia xxx...x

 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

One Bright Spark !

Yes, one bright spark in the garden.  And it is this lovely peony.


It certainly makes up for the lack of flowers in this year's spring garden with it's diameter of 25 cm.
This star takes no prisoners. It doesn't stand for competition of plebeian flowers.  It stands proud and in solitude, if you don't take into account the million forget-me-nots that have surrounded this beauty like groupies in awe of their pop idol. 





Aye, this year's spring was not like previous years.  Whilst last spring the weather was like a very hot and dry summer with all the problems that come with it - uhuh, problems - this spring has been 'april showers' all the way, without much sunshine and a bit nippy.  So everything is much later to germinate, flower... What does grow like nobody's business is the grass and everything 'green' (hedges, shrubs, nettles, ground elder, chickweed, ...)



At least with all this unsuitable weather to work in the garden, we had time to bring the house in order to put it on the market.  The estate agent came last Friday and we signed the contract.  It will take a couple of weeks before it will appear on the main Belgian property website, but I will keep you posted, of course. 
In the meantime you can visit the album House for Sale on Facebook .

Today was a glorious day and we managed to do a bit of gardening.  Bert worked in the greenhouse. He made a climbing frame for the cucumbers. All the other beds are prepared and on Tuesday my mother and I will go and buy some much needed tomato plants, cucumber, peppers, aubergines, courgettes, etc. 
I'll buy some more hostas and creeping jenny too, to plant next to the pond.  I've potted out my primulas that where finished flowering, lady's mantle (bought a while ago), loosestrife.  They all found a place near the pond's edge. 
And I'll tell you something else. We spotted plenty of salamander babies in the water !!
Mum came and helped with weeding some in the herbacious border and she planted seedlings of delphiniums, zinnia and China aster.

So, we keep busy....
...while the cat melts away in the sun.

Thank you for dropping by.
Hugs
Patricia xxx...x
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