Friday, February 27, 2009


When we think of Wales and all things Welsh, what comes to mind?

The Queen’s Welsh corgis?


A funny language and a bonnie Prince with large ears?

And Rugby! (again)

Ooops! That’s Chabal of Les Bleus…my mistake!

Friday night France vs Wales. I know that I keep talking about the Rugby 6 Nations Tournament, but this may very well be an exciting match! And, of course, this calls for a special traditional Welsh treat.

These are not quite as light and airy as scones, but dense and spicy, redolent of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger with the fruity sweetness of raisins or currents in every bite. JP loved them hot off the griddle, smeared with butter and jam. I can see them, avec ou sans the currents, eaten with a sharp cheese. Perfect!


8 oz (225 g) flour + flour for kneading
4 oz (125 g) butter
3 oz (75 g) sugar + sugar for dusting
2 oz (50 g) currents
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 large egg + milk to bind if needed

(This recipe can be doubled. As is, I made 11 cakes.)

Place the flour, sugar, currents, baking powder and the spices into a large bowl. Whisk or stir to combine.

Cut the butter into cubes and toss in the dry ingredients. Then rub the butter and flour together until the mixture resembles sand or cornmeal.

Beat the egg lightly in a small bowl, then stir quickly into the flour/butter mixture until it all pulls together into a ball of dough. If there are clumps of dry left that don’t cling to the dough, then add milk, a little at a time onto the dry and stir again, until you have moistened all of the ingredients.

Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead very quickly until you have a smooth, homogeneous dough.

Roll the dough out to a thickness of about ¼ - to a slight ½-inch (½ - a slight 1 cm). Cut out circles (I used a 2 inch / 5 cm cutter).

Heat a griddle or a heavy-bottom frying pan over medium heat – if you have the heat too high, the cakes will cook too quickly on the outside leaving you with an undercooked center.

Using a paper towel or a brush and soft butter or margarine, quickly and lightly butter the surface once the griddle or pan has heated up. Place several Welsh cakes on the hot surface and allow to cook for 2 minutes. You will see the bottom cook, and when you take a peak underneath, you will see them golden brown.

Flip the cakes and cook on the other side for another 2 minutes. They will be a deep golden color on both sides.

Remove the cooked Welsh cakes onto a plate, sprinkle with sugar and serve hot. With butter and jelly.

Now sit back, enjoy your Welsh cakes with a cuppa and watch France win! Allez les Bleus!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Who doesn’t love a lovely bit of cheese? Wensleydale? Gorgonzola? "I could just fancy some cheese, Gromit. What do you say? Cheddar?"

"Hmmm, how can we improve on this cheddar, Gromit?"

Ah, cheddar…. And with the next 3 Six Nations Rugby matches looming on the horizon, we close our eyes and think of … cheddar. But a piece of cheddar lying on a plate next to a pile of crackers picked up at the grocery store on the run just won’t make the cut (“Off to the sin bin with ye, mate!”). And then there is the other scenario …

"No crackers, Gromit! We've forgotten the crackers!"

What’s a cheese-lover to do?

How about a bit of lovely baking instead? Cheddar Muffins with the bite of good French Dijon mustard warm from the oven sounds, oh, very cheeky!

Easy, scrumptious, flavorful, these muffins are the ideal snack to nibble on, washed down with a can of stout, while watching the rugby on the telly Saturday afternoon, or the best accompaniment to that bowl of Irish Potato Soup, Welsh Rarebit or French Poule au Pot while cheering on Les Bleus during the Friday night match.

"I don't know... it's like no cheese I've ever tasted..."


2 cups (260 g) flour
1 Tbs baking powder
1 Tbs sugar
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp paprika
2 large eggs
¾ cup (175 ml) milk
¼ cup (4 Tbs, 60 g) butter, melted
3 Tbs Dijon or Dijon-style mustard
1 ½ cups (about 6 oz, 180 g) grated sharp or extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
a few green onions/scallions, green part only, or chives, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin either by lining the cups with cupcake papers or grease or spray generously.

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and a generous grinding of black pepper .

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, melted butter, mustard, grated cheese, paprika and chopped greens. Whisk until well blended.

Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients in the larger bowl and, using a rubber or silicone spatula, fold just until well combined. Do not over mix!

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, dividing evenly.

Bake for 20 minutes or until puffed, golden and set in the centers.

Remove from oven, turn out of the tins and serve warm.

"Cracking good job, Gromit!"

(credit where credit is due : images of Wallace and Gromit from Aardman Studios and their great stop-motion animated films about our favorite heroes)

Monday, February 23, 2009


Le Plat du Jour with Chef Stéphane

I first met Stéphane and Johey when, about 5 years ago, I took my visiting mom to their lovely, elegant bistrot, Le Pressoir. We had read very good things about it, and, since Johey the owner was American, knew that it would be better for my mom to have someone who could explain the menu in English.

The rest, as they say, is history. Johey invited me to pop by again for coffee, and we quickly became fast and best friends, two crazy Americans in Nantes.

I asked Chef Steph, as he laughingly asked to be called, if he would prepare a recipe with me for my blog and he was on board in a flash. Loved the idea! We threw recipe ideas around and back and forth at each other, weighing out the options, French or not, easy and homey or fancy and restaurant-y, doable in any kitchen or impressively French Chef?

After the first weekend of 6 Nations rugby, I was telling Steph how I had planned on making a few specialties of all of the countries represented in the tournament : scones, rabbit, Welsh cakes, etc and his face lit up! Steph worked in a restaurant in Ireland for 3 years and had the best recipe : Irish Lamb with Guinness! “And,” he threw in to tempt me, “I thicken the sauce with sea urchins, which gives it a uniquely French twist!” And we had our recipe.

As an added bonus, I learned not only how to prepare sea urchins, but as we were cooking, Stéphane’s fishmonger dropped off his day’s order and with it a load of local sea scallops in their shells. He taught me how to open them, remove and clean/prepare the scallops. What luck as I had just bought myself a wonderful St. Jacques (scallops) cookbook, which contains only recipes using this beautiful local ingredient by local chefs. Wonderful!

And as we finished up for the day and Steph handed me a container of the Lamb with Guinness to share with JP for dinner that night, he agreed to make our cooking together a monthly event. So the plat du jour will actually be a plat du mois – look for it here!

Stéphane in his kitchen

AGNEAU AVEC GUINNESS et SAUCE AUX OURSINS : Lamb with Guinness and Sea Urchin Sauce

For 10 people :

4.5 - 5 lbs (2 kg) lamb shoulder *
6.5 lbs (3 kg) sea urchins; about 8 – 10 pieces/kg (if you can’t get fresh, you can find them in cans)
3 or 4 pints (4 – 6 cans x 33 cl) Guinness or other stout, enough to cover the lamb
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 – 3.5 oz ( 80 – 100 g) flour for tossing the lamb pieces
Paprika if desired
Vegetable oil for sautéing (grape seed oil or sunflower oil is recommended, although not olive oil)
1 parsnip
1 carrot
1 onion
5 cloves garlic
3 ½ Tbs (1.8 oz, 50 g) butter

For 4 people :

1 lb 9 oz – 1 lb 12 oz (700 – 800 g) lamb shoulder *
2.2 lbs (1 kg) sea urchins; about 8 – 10 pieces/kg (if you can’t get fresh, you can find them in cans)
1 or 2 pints (2 large cans x 33 cl) Guinness or other stout, enough to cover the lamb
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1.5 – 2 oz ( 40 g) flour for tossing the lamb pieces
Paprika if desired
Vegetable oil for sautéing (grape seed oil or sunflower oil is recommended, although not olive oil)
1 parsnip
1 carrot
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 Tbs (.9 oz, 25 g) butter

* when buying meat and calculating the quantity needed, a lot comes into play. Americans usually eat more meat per person than, say, Italians. A construction worker taking a lunch break will eat more than an office worker. Will there be a first course or not, will it be served with side dishes, breads and rolls and followed by a heavy dessert, or is it a simple meal of meat with one side and fruit or sorbet after wards. Dinner or lunch? But you can usually count on about 6 – 6.5 oz / 170 – 180 grams of lamb per person.

Prepare the lamb :

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Cut the parsnip, peeled carrot and onion into chunks. Peel the garlic cloves, slice in two lengthwise and remove the center. Set aside.

The lamb shoulder should be trimmed of excess fat and cut into large chunks.

Salt and pepper the lamb generously.

Sprinkle the flour (or flour and paprika, if using) over the lamb and toss until the lamb chunks are evenly coated.

Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large oven-safe skillet or pot. Add the lamb and cook over medium-high heat until a nice, deep color on all sides. This helps keep the juices inside the lamb and will keep the meat juicy. Do not overcrowd, as overcrowded meat tends to release a lot of liquid and the lamb will not brown.

Sautée and brown the lamb pieces in batches then remove them to a colander set over a bowl. This will allow the meat to “degrease”, drain off all of the excess fat as well as juices.

Once the each batch of lamb is well browned and the lamb is removed to the colander, pour off any excess fat in the pan (“The fat adds flavor, but too much is too much,” as Stéphane explains. “You don’t want a greasy sauce.”). Add a swirl of vegetable oil again to the pan and add the next batch of lamb chunks to brown.

Once all the the lamb chunks have browned and are draining in the colander, pour off any fat from the pan (you should have beautiful brown crusty residue stuck to the bottom of the pan), add the vegetables and allow them to sweat until they are shiny.

Without removing the vegetables from the pan, deglaze with a can or two of Guinness or stout : pour the liquid in and scrape up the burned, crusty bits on the bottom stirring until they dissolve into the liquid.


Once the pan is deglazed, add the drained lamb chunks back into the pan with the vegetables. Add more cans of stout until the lamb is just covered with liquid.

Bring to a boil, then cover the pot tightly and carefully place in the preheated oven. Allow to cook for 1 hour 30 minutes. This will gently braise the meat, leaving it much more tender than if it was simmered on top of the stove, which is much more aggressive to the meat.

Although this dish can be simmered on top of the stove if you prefer.

Prepare the sea urchins if using fresh :

Cup an urchin in the palm of your hand. With sharp kitchen scissors, stick one blade in the hole in the center and snip outwards to the edge. Turn the scissors and cut off the top, like removing a cap.

Place a strainer over a bowl. As you open each urchin, pour the liquid into the strainer. With a teaspoon and avoiding any and all thorns from the outside of the urchin, push the black stuff (for lack of a better word!) carefully off of the orange coral (or “langues”, “tongues” as Stéphane calls them) and gently scrape up the coral – there are about 5 in each urchin – out of the shell and place them in the bowl under the strainer.

You will be collecting both the coral and the juice from the urchins.

This goes faster than you think once you get the hang of it, just be very careful not to catch any thorns in your juice or corals. And make sure that, like any seafood, you buy live sea urchins.

Finish the dish :

After an hour and a half in the oven, remove the pan to the stovetop.

Carefully remove the meat and set aside. Place the juice in the pan over medium to medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Skim off the foam with a slotted spoon – this is very important as this foam, if left, adds a bitter flavor to the sauce.

Skim off any fat that has accumulated in the drained off meat juices, then add the meat juice to the sauce.

Strain the juice from the sea urchins into the meat sauce, reserving the urchin coral.

Taste and add more salt if needed.

Add about ¾ of the sea urchin corals to the sauce and whisk until dissolved. This will not only add a fresh, vibrant, earthy flavor to the sauce but will help thicken it as well.

Reserve the remaining corals for serving.

Now, once the sauce is at a rolling simmer, allow it to reduce until desired thickness. This should only take a few minutes. Don’t overdo it! You just want to reduce it by about a quarter or half.

Skim off the foam once again so the sauce doesn’t become bitter.

Now, whisk in the butter just a small bit at a time. This will add a richness to your sauce.

Place the lamb chunks back into the sauce in the pot. Heat through.

Boil some potatoes! This is an Irish dish, after all!

Ready to serve!

Place a few boiled, peeled potatoes on each plate. Arrange chunks of lamb around or in the center of the potatoes. Spoon sauce over the meat. If you like, slice a red onion into thin slivers and place around the potatoes and meat. Carefully decorate with the reserved sea urchin corals.


Ideally, this dish should be served with Guinness or the stout used in the recipe.

But if you want something a little fancier or more upscale, a dry, white wine is beautiful with this dish.

We did eat leftovers warmed up and served over mashed potatoes. This was exquisite!


Chef’s hat off to you, Chef Steph and we will see you next month!


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