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I did intend to post this on 16th, but have ended up back posting.  It has been a busy week…

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, or so the saying goes…  This presumably means you should make the very best of life’s ‘sour’ situations: but definitely no metaphorical lemons here today! This should really have been a day for writing about ‘bubbly’ (rather than lemonade) as the vicar and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage, but the fizzy stuff is being saved for the celebrations with friends and family in a week or so.  As for lemons, our market has been full of them recently and I absolutely love home made lemonade, with just enough sugar to take away the excessive sourness … and topped up with sparkling rather than still water we can still have fizz – life is sweet!

Lemonade is easy to make and definitely a good recipe for the novice cook: it was one of the first I was taught at Domestic Science in school (DS – definitely before the days of Food Technology).  With the advent of the microwave oven the method has become simpler and I have given both methods below.  Herb, spice or other fruit flavours can be incorporated into the the basic lemon (or orange, or lime, or mixed citrus fruit) syrup.  For a long hot summer, whatever that might be (!), or as a time saver, prepare a larger quantity and keep a ready supply of undiluted blocks of sugared zesty lemon in freeze.  Dissolve, as required, in the correct quantity of water.  Simply strain once defrosted before serving.   It will cool the water as it melts – simple!

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Traditional Style Lemonade

4-6 tbsp granulated sugar (according to personal preference)
(fructose or another sweetener can be substituted)
2 large/3 small lemons – zested & freshly squeezed
1 litre/1¾pints water – still or sparkling.

1.  Using a little detergent wash the lemons to remove waxy coating and rinse well

2.  Put the lemons in a microwave for about 20 seconds on full power.  This burst of heat releases a little extra juice.  I understand a similar effect can be had by apply light pressure with the hand and rolling the lemon backwards and forwards on the work surface, although I have not tried it.

3. Zest the lemons into a microwaveproof bowl, avoiding the white pith which will make the drink bitter. (Use a saucepan for the stovetop method).  Add the squeezed lemon juice and the sugar.

4.  Heat in the microwave, stirring from time to time … alternatively, heat on the stove top, stirring.  Remove from the microwave or heat once the sugar has dissolved. Taste and add more sugar if needed.  This takes around two minutes.

5.  Leave to cool and to allow the zest to fully infuse.

6.  Strain and dilute with still or sparkling water.  Serve over ice decorated with slices of fresh lemon.

7.   If this recipe is doubled – or more –  the portions should be frozen preferably unstrained and definitely undiluted.

Alternatives: (suggested quantities to substitute)
Traditional Style Orangeade – 2 small oranges
Traditional Style Limeade – 3-4 limes
Traditional Style Lemon & Limeade – 1 lemon & 2 limes
Traditional Style Mixed Citrus-ade – 1 orange, 1 lemon, 1 lime
Traditional Style Grapefruit-ade – 1-2 grapefruit (preferably sweet pink variety) – may need extra sugar and water if using two grapefruit

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Out and about in Kent this last Monday, a bank holiday, we couldn’t fail to enjoy the late Spring beauty of the country lanes – nothing makes me feel as if Summer is really on the way than when the frothy elderflower blossoms appear.  We have a small bush in our garden which yields just enough flowers each year to make a small batch of elderflower syrup: if the flowers are a herald of Summer then the syrup is definitely its flavour.  If you want to make this Syrup you have to act immediately: the elder is already in flower here in London and the South East: I think it may already be too late for some parts of the country.  This picture is actually last Summer’s batch. By the time I was ready to post the Elderflowers were over so I determined I would save it for this year. It is certainly a popular drink at the moment, probably because it is very seasonal: I have spotted at least three (different) variations from fellow food bloggers in the past few days.

I first made Elderflower Syrup, or Cordial, many years ago.  I remember it was orange and lemon flavoured but with the elderflowers adding a delicious scent.  I have no idea of the whereabouts of my original recipe, but after some research I based my version on this quick Elderflower Syrup recipe, which seemed familiar, at joannasfood.  Many recipes add Citric Acid (there is one giving this method on the same site) but it can be difficult to find and quite expensive for a relatively small amount.  This quick recipe uses just citrus juice (lemon but not orange) and was certainly successful.  It lasted for a week or two in the fridge in plastic bottles but was quickly drunk so I have no idea how long it would have lasted.  Some recipes suggest it will last about a month at most in the fridge.  I gather that to be sure of keeping the syrup for longer it can be frozen in plastic containers or even frozen in ice cube trays, drunk topped up with still or sparkling water or even wine.  Try adding a a few tablespoonfuls of this syrup to a fruit salad for its wonderful perfumed taste.  One warning though: flowers should be picked while they are still young and white, discarding the brown ones which will taint the flavour of the drink.  Picking the flowers early in the day and using them as quickly as possible afterwards is also recommended.  This recipe uses lemon as the citrus content but it would be interesting to do a lemon and orange version, as with my old original recipe, or even substitute lime juice.  I have seen bottles of commercially produced elderflower and lime drink so it could be worth a try.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Elderflower Syrup

1 litre water
500g sugar
2 lemons, juiced
10 large elderflower heads – about 30g (young & pale colour – no browning)

1.  Add the lemon juice to the water and stir in the sugar.

2.  Put onto the heat and boil for about a minute until the sugar is dissolved.

3.  Put in the elderflower heads and remove from the heat.  Cover and leave to cool.

4.  When it’s completely cold strain the liquid well.  I used the clean cut off foot from a pair of tights, which can then be discarded.

5.  Bottle into plastic rather than glass bottles as occasionally the liquid can start to ferment. I think it is best to store this in the fridge as I am not sure about the shelf life.  Some recipes imply this will only keep for around a 1month.

6.  Dilute to taste.

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I was reminded today that this coming weekend it is just eight weeks until we go on holiday.  We are off to France again, but will also spend time in Spain, hence this month’s Spanish style theme.  Apart from a few days in Barcelona as a special birthday gift some years ago, I have only made day trips across the border into Spain from France.  One vivid memory I have from my first day trip into Spain on a family holiday in the 1970’s were the huge piles of melons by the roadside.  In particular I remember the golden Rugby ball shaped Honeydews and enormous green and cream striped Watermelons.  I also remember that we ate melon every day for most of the rest of the holiday!  When watermelons start to appear on our local market it really feels as if summer has arrived, so as a foretaste of our travels it seemed appropriate to start with this simply made drink.

One of my favourite ways of enjoying watermelon is as a drink, usually the thick mostly seed free but unstrained version for breakfast or as an everyday liquid dessert.  Strained it can be served as an alcohol free drink on a hot afternoon in the garden or at a dinner party.  I cannot remember where I got the idea of adding the mint, with which I am usually generous, but it makes a really refreshing addition.  The finished drink is an attractive rosy pink colour, flecked with green.  I was not surprised to find other recipes for melon based drinks including one in the July/August 2010 edition the free Tesco instore magazine.  The recipe below is my own method but I have added the helpful information from the Tesco magazine as well.  A melon will last for several days in the fridge once it is cut: I usually juice either a half or a whole melon at one go, depending on size and number of drinkers.  In a lidded jug container it will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days although the flavour does begin to deteriorate after the first day.  I have seen suggestions for drinks using other types of melon too: honeydew, Charentais or Cantaloupe with either strawberries or with ginger ale also sound delicious.  (A slice of melon topped with chopped preserved ginger and a little ginger syrup is an easy and popular dessert in our house.)  See recipe for further serving information.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Minted Melonade
(This recipe is a rough guide as it depends on melon size but a large melon will provide drinks for 6-8 people, maybe more especially if diluted)

1 large watermelon
4 stems mint, more for a stronger taste – some recipes say 8 leaves, which is hardly enough
To serve
Ice (optional)
Small sprigs of mint to garnish
Ginger ale, Lemonade, Sparkling water or Sparkling wine (optional)
   or
Gin (optional)

1.  Wash the surface of the melon well, place on a large plate which will collect the juices as it is cut.  Depending on the quantity of juice needed cut the melon in half.  (If only using half a melon the remainder should be stored cut edge downwards on a plate in the fridge, but the remainder should be used up in around 3 days.)

2.  As they collect, pour the juices from the plate into the liquidiser.  Using a spoon scoop out spoonfuls of melon (alternatively cut the half into wedges and remove chunks with a knife).  Place separately in a bowl, discarding the large black seeds.  There may be small whitish seeds as well but as they are softer they usually disappear when liquidised.  These can be discarded as well if wished.

3.  Thoroughly liquidise the melon in several batches, including a little mint with each.  Pour the thick liquid into a large jug or fridge storage container.

4.  Taste the melonade and adjust the mint flavour by returning a cupful of liquid to the liquidiser with extra mint.  Thoroughly mix into the whole batch of melonade to make sure the mint is evenly distributed.  The melon is usually sweet so no additional sweetener should be necessary.

5.  For a lighter thinner drink the liquidised melonade should be poured through a sieve.  (It may be possible to use the remaining pulp to make minted melon sorbet, but I have not tried it – I will update this post if I do!)

6.  Serve chilled in tall glasses or poured over ice.  Garnish with a small sprig of mint.

7.  Alternatively serve Minted Melonade as a mixer.  I researched a little further and I discovered several recipes where melon juice (with or without the mint) is served with gin.  Tesco has a recipe for Watermelon Cooler, a version of the drink served with ginger ale, a squeeze of lemon or lime and an optional measure of gin.  The July/August 2010 issue of the free instore Tesco magazine has a recipe for Melonade with mint where the basic juice is topped up with the sparkling Italian white wine Prosecco, one of my favourite sparkling tipples with a squeeze of lime juice to give ‘extra tang’.

8.  The juice can also be simply diluted with ginger ale, lemonade, or sparkling water but take care not to dilute too much as the delicate flavour could quickly be lost.

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After 2 days sugar not fully mixed in but already rosy coloured.... 'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook .wordpress.com

Sloe Gin is one of the tastes I associate with Christmas.  This delicious plummy flavoured liqueur is easy to make.  Sloes can be found in hedgerows during Autumn and are easy to pick, though the bushes are rather spiky and the fruits are inclined to hide themselves away under the leaves!  It is worth freezing a batch as they are not always easy to find: if you find a good source then make a note so you can go back another year! Ideally you should start making your Christmas Sloe Gin around the end of September/start of October as recipe books recommend that it should mature for three months before drinking.  We find this gives a rather intense drink, so if like us you prefer a lighter flavoured gin, then it can be left for a shorter time.  Made three or so weeks before Christmas gives a pretty rose coloured drink which continues to mature to a rich burgundy colour over the following weeks: I made ours two days ago and I am hoping it will be ready. 

This simple recipe is used by both my parents and my father-in-law.  I used sloes which had been frozen a year or so ago.  A similar drink can be made by substituting damsons and I have also heard of versions using raspberries or blackberries.

... and after 2 months - 'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

  
Sloe Gin
(Makes 75cl – 1 litre, depending on size of bottle used)

8ozs sloes (freshly picked or frozen
8ozs white sugar
Gin, brand not important – about ½bottle (enough to top up the Sloe Gin bottle)

1.  Choose a 75cl-1litre bottle with a good screw lid.  One that has been previously used to store spirits is ideal.  Wash well and dry.

2.  Pick the sloes over, removing bits of leaf and stalks.  Prick well all over with a fork – a laborious but necessary job as it allows the alcohol to fully penetrate the fruit.  Post the sloes into the bottle.

3.  Using a kitchen funnel, put the sugar into the bottle on top of the sloes.

4.  Top the bottle up with gin and continue to add a little more as the bubbles rise until the level of liquid is about 1inch/2.5cm from the top. 

5.  Screw the lid on well and invert the bottle 2 or 3 times to mix. Leave in a dark place to infuse.  It will be several days before the sugar dissolves. 

6.  Every day invert the bottle 2 or 3 times, until the sugar has all dissolved. A little more gin can be added if required to top up the bottle.

7.  Once the sugar has dissolved the Sloe Gin is ready to drink as a pale version, but will not be fully ready until it has steeped for about 3 months.  It is worth straining with a tea strainer to remove any stray pieces of sloe from the drink.

8.  After three months the bottle should be emptied, the sloe gin strained to remove the sloes and bits of fruit.  The liqueur can now be bottled – if there is any left!

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During our holiday in the Languedoc, we managed to sample just a few of the regional specialities and I wanted to record them here. The excellent book ‘Hot Sun, Cool Shadow’ by Angela Murrills, which I have already reviewed, was a great help and without it we probably would have missed some of these treats.

map-south-france-languedoc-crop-occitaniafrance-provincenetMap of Region – occitania.france-province

One memorable meal out was at Sète on a very hot day. We found a very attractive square in deep shade just away from the Grand Canal and a restaurant which served only salads. A wonderfully cool and peaceful lunch followed. My husband enjoyed Carpaccio of Beef (thin slices of meat, usually raw) with fresh lime juice and slivers of parmesan, served with a green salad and Parmesan Ice Cream – unusual, but very tasty. My salad included Magret (sliced duck breast) and Tapenade (a paste made from olives spread on slices of French bread) – see below for further information.

Tielle Setoise (Recipe from Sète Tourist Office)
tielle-setoiseThe Tielle is a round pastry filled with a mixture of octopus and tomato, although we sometimes saw packaging where it was mixed with other seafood, notably squid or mackerel. The traditional Tielle is sized as an individual portion but are quite generous. You can also buy a larger pie for several people, though not usually called Tielle, which has more filling of the same type to less pastry. The crust is pinched together in a distinctive style and the tomato sauce seeps through giving the pastry an orange colouring. It is said that Tielles were introduced to this region by Italian immigrants who settled in Sète and similar pies can be found in parts of the Italian coast. Unsurprisingly the pies had a strong fishy flavour – if you like pilchards or mackerel in tomato sauce you would certainly like these. I had not been sure what to expect but these were tasty enough for us to eat several during our holiday, sometimes as part of a picnic lunch and at other times as part of an evening salad meal with the local wine Picpoul de Pinot (see below).

Les Petits pâtés de Pézenas/Pézenas pies (Recipe from Wikipedia)
pezenas-les-petits-pates-pezenas-pies-beziersPézenas is a interesting and well preserved medieval town. We spent a fascinating morning wandering round its old streets, looking in shops and galleries and enjoying its quiet corners. We had heard about the famous Petits pâtés de Pézenas or Pézenas pies and were eager to try them. These small pies in the shape of a bobbin or cotton reel are a speciality of the region, supposedly introduced in the mid-18th century by Robert Clive of India (who came from near Market Drayton in Shropshire) when he stopped over in the town. His Indian cook invented the pies from the available local ingredients giving the recipe to a local pastrycook called Roucairol, although the exact details vary from one account to another, some telling that Clive invented the pies himself. The Très Noble et Très Gourmande Confrérie du Petit Pâté de Pézenas have a ceremony every Ascension Day and dress in extravagant robes and control the quality of the product. The pies contain a filling of minced lamb, brown sugar, candied lemon rind and mixed spice which is rolled up in hot water crust pastry. They are available from the numerous Patisseries in town, some with informative websites, but the pies seemed quite expensive for their size. Ideally the pies should be eaten hot and served as a starter with a glass of wine (either dry or sweet) but this was impossible for us as we bought them as an extra for our picnic so just had one each as a taster. They were delicious lemony sweet mouthfuls with a sticky surface and just a hint that they might contain meat, but I am not sure I would have guessed. One pie was not really enough but sadly we didnt get a chance to try them again.

Tapenade (recipe from Guardian weekend)
tapenadeI enjoyed Tapenade spread on toasted French bread as part of the salad I ate on our visit to Sète. The classic version of this Mediterranean favourite is a grey/black paste and looks fairly uninviting but tastes great, providing you are a lover of olives. Tapenade can be purchased in the local supermarkets but is very easy to make. Variations include tapenade made with anchovies (BBC – James Martin) and Sundried Tomatoes and basil (Delia Smith online).

Squid with Setoise sauce (Rouille)
I had this local speciality as part of another favourite restaurant dinner. I was determined to try squid and was delighted with this dish of dark strips in a creamy golden sauce, served with rice and french beans. I had not been sure what to expect but the taste was quite strong, both meaty and fishy in a sauce the waiter told us was Rouille, the recipe for which varies. There are other recipes for Rouille using red peppers (capsicum), saffron or mayonnaise.

Tiny marinaded tuna stuffed peppers (Similar recipe from ‘whatdidyoueat’)
marinaded-tuna-stuffed-peppersWe tried tiny red peppers similar to these (no bigger than a horse chestnut conker) in several restaurants. They were stuffed with tuna paste and dripping in the olive oil in which they had been preserved. We found them in the supermarket as well, either pre packed in jars or on the counter which served marinaded olives to order. Does anyone have the French name for them please?

Picpoul de Pinet (map)
picpoul-de-pinet-map-bassin-de-thau-languedocThe Picpoul vineyards overlook the oyster and mussel farms of the Étang de Thau and the grapes are grown on the limestone plateau. The light, dry white wine comes from a single grape, the Piquepoul or Picpoul (also various other names), which has a fresh and fragrant smell which we felt was similar to wines we had enjoyed on previous holidays, such as Muscadet. As with Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet is recommended to be drunk with seafood but we enjoyed it with other food and brought a number of bottles home.

Sète is located at one end of the Bassin de Thau, a large inland lagoon famous for its oysters and mussels, which are raised on table type metal structures. On a circuit of the lake we enjoyed in particular the colourful restaurant lined harbour at Mèze and Marseillan, where the famous Noilly Prat Vermouth is made.

Cantal Cheese  cantal-cheeseEach year we enjoy trying the cheeses on the regions we travel through and in the past we have made some great discoveries. Not a speciality of the Languedoc about which I have mostly been writing, Cantal Cheese comes from the Departement of Cantal in the Auvergne, part of the French French Massif Central and was this year’s favourite. It is a hard cheese with a creamy slightly acidic taste and we ate rather too much at lunchtimes with our French bread. We were pleased to find that Super-U did a pre-packed own branded version though it would be interesting to try cheese brought from a specialist shop.

(Most of the information here was first posted on 11 October 2007 at my original blog Meanderings along the narrow way)

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