sweet potato croquettes

Boys will be boys. We’ve all heard it before, usually from an emotionally exhausted parent in our youth, but some of us may have even uttered the words ourselves. I found myself in a bit of a ‘boys-will-be-boys’ situation recently; a phone call from my frazzle mother – my little brother had toppled off his skateboard as he raced down a rather speed hill, breaking his jaw in three places. Typical.

Gone are the days when doctors would wire a broken jaw closed like the monster from a B-grade horror film, but he is still restricted in what he was allowed to eat. Sympathetic of a diet of tired mashed potatoes and tomato soup, I graciously took on the task of inventing some delicious, yet soft and smooth meal ideas.

French cuisine is so much more expansive than many of us imagine, boeuf bourguignon and foie gras are not quotidian meals as any French-cooking themed film would lead us to believe. Au contraire, they are traditional – time-consuming and expensive to make, and like the variety of French wines, are very regionally specific. I have decided that I needed to increase my knowledge on the larger umbrella that is the way that French people actually cook. I have been flicking through my newly acquired copy of 100 Styles of French Cooking by Karl Wurzer, marking recipes to try in my own variation of Julie Powell’s homage to Julia Child in The Julie/Julia Project – the story behind Julie & Julia for those who have no idea what I’m talking about.

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Sweet potato is something that I grew up eating a lot of, I could never pass up a huge pile of deep-fried sweet potato fries, crisp and salty – the perfect picnic dinner while sitting on the beach. They are basically a more interesting version of a standard potato and when I stumbled upon Karl’s recipe for croquettes à l’algerienne – Algerian croquettes, I knew I had to try them out!

Like most delicious things, these crunchy globes of mustard coloured mash are best finished off in the deep fryer, but because I 1) don’t have a deep fryer and 2) am not using that much oil in one go, I decided to pan fry them and finish them off in the oven – kind of like my churros.

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Peel and dice one sweet potato per person and boil until cooked through and tender. Drain through a colander and leave so as much of the water as possible can drip through. Sauté ¼ of an onion per person in olive oil or lard – I used chicken fat from a roast the night before, it gives it a nice meaty flavour without making it seem too heavy. Mash the potato and stir the onions through once they are soft and syrupy, along with 2 tablespoons of ground almonds or cashews per person, ½ a teaspoon of cumin, ¼ a teaspoon of nutmeg, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a big grind of salt and pepper. I added a pinch of dried herbs too.

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Based on your skill and patience, there are two ways to shape the croquettes – you can either shape them into flat rugby ball shaped spheres with your hands, or into quenelles using two tablespoons. Either way, you’ll get the same result. If you are organised enough, I would recommend doing this much of the process the day before and refrigerating the quenelles so they hold their shape better. If that’s not possible then I guess that’s fine too.

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Fry your croquettes in as much oil or melted butter as you want – the more you use, the easier it will be, but as you increase the oil, you increase the un-healthiness – a lose-lose situation. I lightly fried mine on either side before baking them for a further 10 minutes to get an even crisp and to heat them the whole way through.

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I served mine with a yogurt and tahini dip and sprinkled over some more herbs, salt and pepper, just in time for my brother to tell me he couldn’t make it. More for me I guess!

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ode to julia child

As I sit here on my balcony looking out at the beautiful sunny, Southern-French weather, it occurred to me that I have been here for almost a month. How time flies!

Marseille is a lot different to Paris, although in some ways, also very similar. Like Paris, the food is also amazing and the sightseeing is great. People here also ignore the traffic lights and pedestrian crossing and don’t seem to really mind when people walk out in front of their cars. But what I have found to be so different is the complete lack of anything English. I don’t think I have seen a sign in English since I got here apart from at a very cafés that are aimed at tourists… which means they are terribly overpriced.

So, basically since I have arrived in Marseille I have filled my time with sightseeing; mainly a lot of old churches and palatial buildings, which I have enjoyed a lot. I have yet to get over the amazement I feel every time I see how old some of these buildings are. There is a fort here and parts of it are 1000 years old. Crazy times. Marseille is also the European Culture Capital for 2013 so there are lots of cool and quirky events scattered throughout the year; there was a fire  festival the other week which was really exciting, but unfortunately it didn’t photograph well.marseille collage

As a sort of initiation into French life, I dared myself to try a traditional French dish; and what better inspiration than Meryl Streep and Amy Adam’s Movie Julie and Julia? So I set out to make Bœuf Bourguignon (it’s the one that Amy Adams makes for the food writer who never turns up, the one that she ruins in her first attempt).

Luckily for me, my attempt went nothing like the character’s first attempt. it went off without a hitch and it was delicious! Now, I must confess, I did not use Julia Child’s recipe, as I am on a budget, I used Rachel Khoo’s recipe (@rkhooks on Twitter or rachelkhoo.com) but I assure you that most of the recipes are rather similar.

Anyway, what you will need is:
900grams of stewing beef, cut into about 6 or 8 chunks and coated in plain flour
150grams of lardons (smoked bacon or prosciutto will also work)
10 shallots
a couple of crushed garlic clovesSAM_0229
a bay leaf (if you have them)
the stalks of a bunch of fresh parsley
a sprig of thyme and/or rosemary (I used thyme)
3 cloves (once again, if you have them)
10 crushed peppercorns
500mls of red wine (about 3/4 of a bottle)
tomato puree
a teaspoon of salt and another of sugar
10 button mushrooms
chopped parsley for presentation

STEP ONE (well my step one anyway): Go out and buy a nice bottle of olive oil, a cute bottle of bay leaves and a bottle of French wine. Firstly, wine in France is so, so cheap! Secondly, when buying wine to cook with, don’t think that you have to go for an expensive bottle, I always use cheap wine in cooking because it is all about the flavours the wine has in it; the quality doesn’t matter when it gets cooked. To avoid any unneeded stress in the middle of cooking, I suggest that you open the wine before you start. Back home, wine bottle have screw-tops, I didn’t even think that French bottles aren’t the same and my lack of knowledge on uncorking a bottle  caused me to have a little bit of a breakdown and I may have contemplated smashing to top of the bottle, I didn’t, but I was tempted.

SAM_0232STEP TWO (or actual step one): Turn the oven to 150°C and heat a bit of olive oil in a casserole dish or a pot that can go in the oven. Brown the meat on each side and set aside  but keep the oil. Add the lardons, the shalloSAM_0233ts and the garlic and cook until the lardons are brown and slightly crispy.

STEP THREE: Add the herbs (the thyme, rosemary, parsley stems, peppercorns and cloves) and return the meat to the pot. Add the salt and sugar, 300mls of water and the wine. I also added a couple to diced carrots because I had a craving for carrots, it wasn’t in the original recipe but it did no harm. Scrape any bits that are stuck to the bottom off the pan to add extra flavour.

STEP FOUR: Cover the pot and put it in the oven. Leave it to cook for about 3 hours, the meat should be falling apart a little bit and really tender. Add the mushrooms about 30minutes before you take it out of the oven.

STEP FIVE: Serving suggestions. I served mine with mash potatoes because I thought that would be the best for absorbing up all of the delicious juices. You could also use plain boiled potatoes, dumplings or just a nice loaf of crusty bread (which I did as well). Serve with a nice bottle of red wine, or just drink the leftovers from the bottle you cooked with.

Voilà! A delicious, tradational French feast in only five steps, Julia would be proud!

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