christmas countdown: stollen

The meaning of Christmas varies depending on where you are in the world. I’m not just talking about the way you celebrate it, or what it means to you – spiritually or otherwise. In every corner of the world, Christmas varies on all sensory levels; the way to looks, tastes and sounds, and the way it smells.

In New Zealand, a typical Christmas is a barbeque of sizzling sausages and an ice cold beer in the evening sun. On the flipside, my Christmases in France revolved around roasted goose and mulled wine, Christmas sweaters and staring out the window at the dreary, grey gloom. I know which one I prefer but here is something about a winter Christmas that is leaps and bounds ahead of the antipodes in festivity.

And that is the Christmas smells.

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This year I have found myself craving those warm, comforting smells; cinnamon, cloves, pine needles and ginger. Instead of brewing up a batch of mulled wine – which I didn’t think would go well with the temperature in the mid-twenties, I decided to try my hand at making stollen.

Stollen is a dense, festive bread from Germany, it is full of nuggets of sweetness and all of the flavours, textures and emotions associated with Christmas. Traditionally made with almonds, candied fruit and lemon zest, I decided to mix things up a bit by substituting in cashews, crystalized ginger and dried citrus peel.

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First things first, you need to get your dried fruit nice and drunk. I mixed a cup of raisins and a cup of candied ginger and fruit peel, chopped, with three tablespoons of Pimm’s – or orange juice if you’re not one for baking with booze. You could also use rum but I like the rich, fruity undertones of Pimm’s and use it in cooking often.

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Next up is the yeasty sponge; combine a tablespoon of yeast powder with ¼ cup of warm water, ¾ cup of warm milk, a teaspoon of clover honey and a cup of flour. Mix into a thick paste, cover with cling film and leave the yeast to do its thing. If your house isn’t too warm, then sit the bowl next to a heater for 30 minutes or until the surface of the mixture is speckled with bubbles.

In a separate bowl, whisk one egg and combine with ¼ cup of honey, ½ cup of butter and a pinch of salt. Toast ½ cup of chopped cashew nuts and add to the mixture, along with ½ teaspoon of nutmeg and 2 cups of flour.

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Add the yeast mixture and the boozy fruit and combine into a thick, wet dough. Slowly add another 1 ½ cup of flour until the dough isn’t so sticky. Knead for five minutes of a floured surface.

Once the dough has come together, roll it in a little vegetable oil and leave to rise. What I hate about so many bread recipes is that it always says the dough will double in size; mine never does and it makes me nervous for the end product. Nervous without cause, in fact.

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Divide the dough in half and roll into flat ovals. Brush the surfaces with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. I used granulated sugar, but you could use icing sugar or even a layer of marzipan. Fold the ovals over on themselves and knit the edges together, making sure no air is trapped inside and the seams are tightly secured so they don’t rip open in the oven like one of mine did!

Leave to rise for another 45minutes before baking at 190°C for 25 minutes.

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As soon as you take the loaves out of the oven, baste them again in melted butter and dust with a thick layer of icing sugar which will melt and be absorbed into the breads outer crust. Delicious!

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Serve it hot as it is, or cold next to a steaming cup of coffee. On the rare chance you have anything left past a day or two, smear each side of a thick slice in butter and pan-fry until crisp and golden. A decadent, toasty holiday treat!

virtual walking tours

Easing back into real life after a holiday is always tough, especially after an extended vacation of endless summer days in a sunny daze. What I find is a healthy alternative to pining for white-sanded beaches while curled up in a ball in a dark room is going on virtual tours of my favourite places on Google Maps.

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Portovenere

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Rugged and rocky beaches, twisting cobble roads and gelato stores on every corner; Portovenere is my favourite hidden Italian gem. It sits on a shagged outcrop, nestled high above the Mediterranean in Northern Italy – just down the road from the picturesque (and tourist-saturated) Cinque Terre. As the coast continues from Riomaggiore, the railway veers into La Spezia, taking the tourists with it, making a cramped bus trip the easiest way of reaching Portovenere. Snack on focaccia and breathe in the warm, salty air – if you’re lucky, you might even see a wedding in the shady piazza.

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Lisbon

Lisbon is a city of great variety; flat coastal promenades and buildings perched on hilltops, wide open plazas and windy little side streets. Essentially there is something for everyone. I love walking along Avenida Ribeira das Naus; watching the ferries crossing the harbour, revelling at the Praça do Comércio and visiting the markets. The best thing about visiting the city on street view is that you avoid all of the throngs of tourists!

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Vienna

One day in Vienna and you are without a doubt that that this city was once the centre of Europe; the opulence and elegance of each buildings’ façade is unlike anything I have ever seen. Even though it’s not as easy to virtually walk about the city as most other places, it is one of the easiest places in the world to just sit and stare at the chalk-white buildings and watch the world go by.

how to be a kiwi

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed from my barrage of sunny, beach-time photos that I spent the weekend at a friend’s wedding.

The setting was idyllic; sunshine and sand, a driftwood alter and rustic décor, a warm breeze carrying the salty air, and a beautiful bride to boot.

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It was a real international affair; visitors from all over the globe settling into this sleepy little beach town. And with some many of the guests having recently returned from their lives abroad, it was a perfect occasion for an overload of Kiwiana.

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Here are some of the things we did that sum up what it’s like to be a Kiwi.

Hokey pokey ice cream

I think it’s safe to say that New Zealanders class hokey pokey as its own food group. These tiny, amber coloured droplets of golden syrup are worth their weight in (actual) gold in my eyes. Not only are they excellent in keeping my constant sugar cravings at bay, but they offer a satisfying crunch to accompany the smooth velvetiness of almost-melting vanilla ice cream. As kids, we would pick the little sugary globes out of our ice cream as we went and save them till last, the winner was the person whose ice cream had the most hokey pokey balls. The prize was never more than bragging rights, but that’s the best part of winning anyway.

Steak and cheese pies

I can understand how the idea of a mince pie sitting in a warming oven could sound all kinds of horrible. And I partially agree. It’s not something that I have often; less than once in a blue moon, but when I do indulge, it’s one of the most nostalgic experiences that exist – it just tastes like home. Gooey cheese on top of a mountain of steak chunks, drowned in an ocean of thick, rich gravy, all encased in a petite parcel of warm pastry. It is by no means gourmet, but it is definitely an ideal meal for enjoying as you walk along the boardwalk, cradled between two icy cold hands to help warm up after a dip in the not-quite-warm-enough ocean.

Beach cricket

Speaking of activities that are well complemented by swims in the “refreshing” surf; beach cricket. I wasn’t much of a sporty child; I wasn’t blessed with much in the form of hand-eye coordination, so I’m not well versed in the rules of actual cricket but that’s never stopped me from enjoying a round of beach cricket where the rules are far simpler. Someone bowls the ball (underarm of course), you thwack it as hard as you can and run to a stick poked in the ground and back as many times as you can. If someone catches the ball, you’re out, if not, the cycle continues until they do, or until someone gets mad and hurls the bat at someone else or into the ocean. But that only happens if you’re playing with my family.

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Don’t even get me started on fish and chips, that’s a story for a whole other post!

speculoos – belgian spice cookies

What I love about travelling is how easy it is to carry on dreaming about the holiday long after it has finished; flicking through an album of photos on a rainy day, recreating dishes in your own home, or getting really desperate and taking a tour through a city on street view on Google Maps.

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My first trip when I arrived in Europe was to Brussels, where I discovered the magic that is speculoos – a bronze coloured treasure that I was delighted to find, accompanied almost any cup of coffee ever served in France. They were so readily available that it never occurred to me that I was more than capable of giving them a whirl in my own kitchen.

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I am happy to announce that I have since remedied this problem.

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Speculoos, also known as Belgian Spice Cookies, are dark caramel in colour, sweet and gingery in flavour and brittle in texture. Describing them almost as a crunchy piece of gingerbread may not be the most glamourous of definitions, but it is certainly the most accurate. The perfect consistency for dunking into a cup of coffee or steaming hot chocolate, they are also decorated with the cutest little pictures.

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon of ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon of allspice (or you could use ground cloves)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 cup of butter
  • ½ cup of white sugar
  • ¼ cup of raw sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla

I know it sounds like a bucket load of ingredients but that’s all part of the punch of flavour that comes hand in hand with these biscuits!

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Begin by sifting the flour with the spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a larger bowl cream the butter with the two sugars and vanilla extract. Even though I have used raw sugar here, you can use brown sugar if you wanted; it will give it a smoother finish but I like them a little granulated for extra crunch.

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Gradually combine the dry ingredients with the creamed butter until you have dough that is soft, yet firm. As with any dough mixture; if it’s too dry, add a bit of water; and if it’s too wet, add a bit more flour. You shouldn’t have this problem because it is almost saturated with butter, keeping it smooth and silky.

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Form into a ball, wrap in Clingfilm and refrigerate from at least an hour.

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On a layer of baking parchment, roll your dough into a thin, flat rectangle. For a nice finishing touch, roll over the layer with a patterned rolling pin (aren’t these so cool?!)

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Baking at 175°C for 25 minutes, the dough will still be soft and spongey when it comes out – don’t continue baking it! It will harden as it cools down, and it’s at a perfect consistency to slice into squares with a pizza cutter (or a knife, should that be easier).

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Enjoy with a cup of coffee at break, or after lunch, or as an afternoon pick-me-up. Perfect for a bit of happiness when the weather is grey and dreary.

a taste of south america – tamarillo salsa

I can’t sit still for long, I try to stay in one place for an extended period of time and it just makes me feel anxious. I am always thinking of future holiday destinations and daydreaming about where I want to go next.

My current obsession is South America, in particularly, Argentina. I went to an incredible Argentinian barbeque recently and while I was being rolled out the front door, my mind started swirling around ideas of how I could recreate many of the brightly coloured, punchy dishes in my own kitchen.

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As you can imagine, a barbeque joint is going to be packed to them brim with meat so I wanted to dream up something a little lighter but still with that South American kick. Taking inspiration from the vibrant buildings and streets of downtown Buenos Aires, the tropical flavours that come with year round sunshine, and what I could find scrounging around the kitchen cupboards, I whipped up a quick tamarillo salsa.

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Tamarillos are such a wonderful fruit; tart and oozing with dark orange blood, hands stained purple from scraping the soft flesh out of its casing is a sensation that fills me with childhood nostalgia. Their flavour is also a perfect contrast to the sweetness of salsa’s primary ingredient; tomatoes.

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Dice three small tomatoes, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, if the seeds are quite watery then discard them. Dice the flesh of one tamarillo, and ¼ of a red onion for a sharp flavour and an added pop of colour. Add them to the tomatoes. Dice one red chilli or ¼ of a red bell pepper; which you choose depends on how spicy you want it – if you’re not a spice fiend then use the bell pepper as it possessed a similar flavour to the chilli without the fieriness.

Add the juice of ½ a lemon or lime, a drizzle of olive oil, a tablespoon of rock salt and another of raw sugar, add a teaspoon of smoked paprika for an optional extra kick if you so desire.

Combine well and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour – the longer you leave it, the more time the flavours have to combine and meld together – after a day you can hardly distinguish between the tiny cubes of pepper, tamarillo and tomato.

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This is a wonderful accompaniment to steak, lamb or chicken, or even heaped onto a piece of toasted ciabatta for a tropical bruschetta fusion.

les différences entre nous

There are many aspects of life that we all take for granted, and I’m not talking about the usual things; having a roof over our heads, running water and food on the table. I’m looking at this from a more day-to-day level, like knowing what shop to go to when you need to buy blu-tac. Moving to a new country, even when you’re not faced with the language barrier (even if there isn’t a direct colloquial understanding – a topic for another post, on another day), you will always find yourself earning for the familiarities of the way things work back home.

France may take the cake when it comes to sweets and pastries, but trying to get your banking done is far from a breeze – no matter how buttery and soft that pain au chocolat is, stepping into a bank branch will have you dreaming of home. Like much of France, from supermarkets to boulangeries, banks are never open on Sundays, and often closed Mondays too, they are usually closed for Saturday afternoons and sometimes even after lunch on Wednesdays. If you do manage to get into the branch while it’s open, you better hope that it’s the branch you’re registered with. With today’s technology, I was used to walking into any branch, anywhere in the country and being able to open a new savings account or set up my internet banking – sadly that’s not the case. Speaking of internet banking, I had to register my phone number, get sent two different codes by post and register my overseas account (also by post) just to transfer anything in or out of the account. Le sigh.

Brigitte Bardot in “Vie privée”
Brigitte Bardot in “Vie privée”

 Once you have found a way of accessing your money, you might want to go and do something fun with it. You may even want to do it with some friends. If you do manage to find someone who can leap over the language barrier, you may still find yourself sitting alone at the bar. Don’t worry, it’s not that you’re boring, its jus that everyone is outside taking a cigarette break. New Zealand isn’t a nation teeming with smokers, quite the opposite in that many smokers find themselves looking through the window of the bar, stamping their feet to ward off the cold as their friends all sit inside having fun and enjoying the warmth. France is the opposite; there have been many a time that I have found myself alone at a table of six, or even lounging over four barstools as all of my friends stand in the cold, smoking and enjoying each other’s company.

The differences are not all bad, European bars and restaurants always seem to have somewhere to hang your coat. I have often found in New Zealand, much to my infuriation, that the only place to leave your coat is hanging off the back of your chair, or in a crumpled mess next to the dance floor. In Europe, it’s different. Bars, restaurants and nightclubs all have hooks under bar benches and free coat checks at the door. It’s the ideal student job – working as a vestiare at a nightclub; all of the hustle and bustle of a bartender without ever spilling beer all over your feet.

You win some you lose some, the grass is always greener somewhere else and all the rest of those sayings. No one said it was easy; settling into a new way of life always takes time but it always works out in the end.

how to not get mugged

They say that it happens to every traveller at least once as they meander across Europe; getting mugged is almost seen as a rite of passage, an event that upon surviving means that you have transcended the threshold of tourist and become something bigger.

Garnering some real travel nouse may seem great, but getting mugged isn’t too fun. While I managed to make it in and around the continent without getting swindled of anything valuable, I did witness one or two criminal encounters along the way and have come up with a couple of pointers to avoid any unwarranted visits to the police station.

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  • This goes without saying, but I am going to say it anyway – don’t be flashy with your brand new iPhone. Keep it in your front pocket when you’re not using it, not waving about in your hand as the sunlight reflects off the screen, attracting unwanted eyes. And don’t use it as you walk down that derelict, yet picturesque side street, especially at night and especially if you’re alone. Better still, just don’t have an iPhone. No-one was ever interested in stealing my phone, probably because it looked like it came straight out of 2004.

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  • Invest in a sturdy bag. I’m not saying you should walk about with a fanny pack everywhere you go; that will probably just draw more attention to you as a tourist. A friend of mine once had a little bag that she would throw over her shoulder by a thin little strap, one strong tug and the strap snapped and the bag was whisked down the street by un voleur, never to be seen again.
  • Another one that should go without saying is not to carry your passport with you unless you’re actually going to another country. This rule won’t really stop you from getting mugged but it will save you a lot of hassle and peace of mind if you do. Hostels have lockers and getting a new passport is a rather difficult, expensive and time-consuming ordeal from what I’ve heard.

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  • If you’re visiting a non-English speaking country, chances are the locals won’t like you. It’s a bold statement but it’s true; maybe because often tourists are annoying or maybe because there is still a bit more xenophobia in the world than we would like. To avoid sticking out as a monolingual foreigner, don’t speak loudly in English amongst yourselves and don’t flail about as you do it. A gaggle of excitable young English speakers can make for an easy target – so if possible, refrain from having any fun in public.

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A lot of this is easier said than done, so I think the sagest piece of advice is to have your wits about you, look out for your friends and hope for the best. And if it happens, you’ll come away with an interesting tale for years to come about police officers making the culprit apologise to you before leading him off in cuffs, or chasing someone through the windy streets of a little port town while the locals gawked at you.

ten steps to moussaka

Fun fact: Every time I talk about Greek food, I always mention my love of moussaka, yet I have never actually written a post dedicated to this hearty Hellenic feast. Until now.

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Moussaka is something that I can only make when I am home alone, and when I know that the house will remain empty for at least three hours. There are several reasons for this; it’s a long process, while the components are not entirely difficult, they are plentiful, I also manage to use every pot and pan we have and spread myself over every surface in the kitchen and a large portion of the dining table too. I don’t like people getting in my way while I’m in the kitchen and I find it even more infuriating when people think they’re being helpful by starting to tidy up for me before I’m done.

So, I had a few hours to myself the other day and wanted to take advantage for it. When I say you need a few hours I really mean it, minimum of two, or at least the ability start in the early evening, unless you want dinner around midnight.

For those who don’t know, moussaka is essentially a Greek lasagne. It uses eggplant in place of the pasta sheets and should be made with lamb mince. It is cheesy and warm, the aubergine is soft and salty, the sauce packed with flavour – the Valhalla of comfort food!

You will need:
2 eggplants
1 large egg
1 cup of breadcrumbs
2 potatoes (optional)
500grams of minced lamb or beef
1 large onion
a teaspoon of garlic paste
a large can of tomatoes or jar of tomato sauce
1 ½ cup of milk
1 cup of grated cheese
a pinch of nutmeg

Step one:
Slice our eggplants into round slices, salt them and set aside for about ten minutes. By adding salt to the eggplant’s flesh, the bitterness is removed – otherwise the whole balance of your dish could be upset.

Step two:
If you are going to use potatoes, now is the time to peel and parboil them. They will be used as the base of the dish, I don’t always bother with them, but that’s not to say you should completely ignore them.

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Step three:
Rinse the salt from the eggplants, whisk an egg and coat the eggplant in egg before bathing them in breadcrumbs. Experimenting as usual, I coated mine in a mixture of breadcrumbs and ground almonds, just to get another flavour in there. Drizzle the eggplant slices with a dash of oil and bake at 150°C for 30 minutes, flip them over at the 15 minute mark.

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Step four:
While the aubergines roast away, try and concentrate on something other than the beautiful smell escaping from the oven. There will soon be equally delicious aromas coming from your stove – it’s time to start working on your sauce. I use follow a simple tomato sauce recipe; garlic and onion sweated down in oil, a bay leaf and a dash of wine if I’m feeling fancy, salt, pepper, a can of tomatoes and a bit of tomato paste. Simmer on a low heat for about 30 minutes while you’re preparing the final components
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Step five:
Fry your mincemeat in a fry pan, drain the fat and reserve for later. Add the meat to the sauce once it has reduced nicely. It should be time to take your eggplant out of the oven.

Step six:
Now for the béchamel. As part of my zero waste policy, I use the fat from my mince to make my sauce. Butter can add a nice sweetness to a dish, but I like my béchamel on the savoury side. I know that using lard is not something most people are too keen on – so the choice is up to you. Melt two tablespoons of whichever fat you prefer and whisk in two tablespoons of flour and a pinch of nutmeg until it forms a thick dough-like paste. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking to combine until it thickens to the consistency of custard. Add ¾ of the cheese and we are ready to assemble!

Step seven:
Start with a smear of tomato sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish, follow with a layer of potatoes, continue with the pattern of eggplant, béchamel, mince and back to eggplant until you run out – try and end with eggplant, you may have to do a mock run with eggplant first so you know how many slices make a layer and work out how many layers you can make from that. Pour any remaining cheesy béchamel overtop and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

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Step eight:
Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes, the top should be golden with a cheesy crunch – cover with tin foil if it looks like it might start burning.

Step nine:
Instead of staring through the oven door waiting for the dish to bake, I suggest you get a start on the dishes because there will be a lot of them. I ended up with two frying pans, 1 large and very dirty pot, 2 chopping boards, a mixing bowl and several plates, wooden spoons and ladles. But in saying that – I am a bit of a messy cook!

Step ten:
By far the easiest and most enjoyable – eat it! Serve with salad or nothing at all, just enjoy the rainbow of flavours and textures; the crunch of the cheesy top, the gooey béchamel as it mixes through the mince and the aubergines; the pièce-de-résistance, soaking up the juices of the tomato sauce while keeping the slightest crunch from the breadcrumbs. Smoky and soft, they will fall apart at the touch. Heaven.
 

the smallest kitchen in paris

My approach to learning the French language was slightly alternative to most; I didn’t take French at school, in fact, my school didn’t even offer French until I was 16. I studied Japanese at university then decided, in a rather spontaneous decision, to move to France instead of heading to Japan as originally planned.

Armed with a My-First-French-Words book, I set off on a whirlwind attempt at conquering this difficult little language. It turned out that my greatest tool would actually be a cookbook.

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La pétite cuisine à Paris by Rachel Khoo was first published in 2012 and details the recipes Rachel finds closest to her heart from her time in Paris. Like me, Rachel moved to France with basically no knowledge of the French language, unlike me, she has become hugely successful. Her love of food, cooking and entertaining is prevalent in this book, and that is what I love about it, it’s not pretentious, like French cuisine can easily become, the food is uncomplicated and gives a modern spin on many French classics without being too ‘modern’.

When I was given this book (as part of the French-est Christmas present ever) I was under the impression that Rachel had written the book in French, or translated it herself from the English version, but I am not quite sure I can confirm this as a true fact. But at the time I liked if for that very reason; it made me believe that it wasn’t impossible to master the language, even though so many irregular verbs should be illegal; if she could do it, and write a book to prove it, then so could I!

The language the book uses is relatively basic – the majority of it is recipes; they all follow a similar structure and repeat many of the same verbs and nouns. Reading it and cooking from it was an excellent way of improving my reading ability, practicing verb conjugation in a practical and delicious way while learning verbs and nouns that would eventually come in very handy! Faire fondu, préchauffer, and la recette are all phrases that anyone who has to cook anything in French needs to know.

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As well as teaching me how to say whisk in French and the words for a bunch of vegetables, it also provided me with a crash course on the French classics. We have all heard of coq-au-vin and macarons, but my favourite new encounter was her mini tartiflettes – a sinfully delicious Savoyard take on potato bake, filled with smoky lardons and gooey melted cheese; relatively unheard of anywhere else and one of France’s best kept secrets!

chocolate chipotle chicken

I need a holiday. The only time that I’m not thinking about lying on a gleaming beach of white sand, the sun in my eyes and a cocktail in my hand is when I am having nightmares about all the things that could go wrong at work in the foreseeable future. I definitely need a holiday.

To get me though the dreary weather that is just around the corner, I am going to start planning my escape. Planning, in this scenario has a rather liberal meaning as it will no doubt entail looking at brochures for resorts I cannot afford and private islands I have no superyacht to get to. But my imagination and bank account have agreed on the general destination: Mexico.

I love Mexican food, the creativity and vibrancy, combined with the loud flavours and subtle textures is something that I am desperate to explore further. And I’m not talking about soggy nachos and over-spiced chilli con carne here, I am talking the real deal; sweet and spicy, flashes of colour and hearty as ever. To begin my planning, I had to get my stomach in the mood; so I whipped up this little number, my interpretation of a chipotle mole negro.

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Like I have said on multiple occasions previously; France doesn’t do spicy – I once witnessed a gentleman describe salt and vinegar crisps as piquant and I couldn’t contain my laughter. Keeping this in mind, I had to be a little interpretive with my recipe. Many recipes I found called for a combination of guajillo, habanero, mulato and chipotle chillies. How do you think I went about finding these, short of ordering them in from Mexico? It is impossible to find them at an ordinary supermarché so I settled for a small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – smoky jalapeño peppers in a dark, salty sauce.

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The slow cooker is fast becoming my favourite kitchen appliance (sorry coffee machine!); it takes so much of the work out of cooking – you can put it on before heading out for the day and return to a house brimming with the comforting smell of dinner.

Begin by dicing an onion and half a head of garlic cloves, yes, that many because even though your pores will be leaking garlic for days, it is well worth it. If you have the time I suggest you roast them first, but it’s not at all essential. Add to the pot, along with a teaspoon each of cinnamon, toasted cumin seeds, coriander seeds, a tablespoon of cocoa powder or a couple of pieces of chocolate and a bay leaf. I also stumbled across a recipe on Gourmet Traveller which used hibiscus flowers – another ingredient I had no time to try and source, so I used some of my dried orange peel for a subtle fruity hint of flavour. I also added a handful of cashews for the hell of it! Mix through a can of kidney or refried beans, a can of diced tomatoes and as much of a can of chipotle peppers as you wish – I used the whole lot!

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Brown a kilogram of boneless chicken thighs (or any part of the chicken) in a really hot pan on both sides; no more than 30 seconds per side, and add to the pot. Submerge the chicken in the sauce, turn the slow cooker onto low and leave for 6 to 8 hours.

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By the time you get home from work, the chicken will be falling apart and the contents of the sauce will have melted into each other. Shred the chicken with a fork and serve over hot rice, or use to make enchiladas or burritos. These are all perfect meals for day dreaming about taking a trip to Mexico, ideal for eating while flicking through a Lonely Planet guide or looking at beautiful beaches on Pinterest.

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If anyone has any insider tips on things to do in Mexico, I would love to hear them!