Almond cherry cake made with olive oil

The other day Chica Andaluza posted her recipe for olive oil pastry, having discovered as I have how easy and tasty it is. I commented that I used olive oil for cakes too and she asked me to post a recipe. I rarely make cakes and when I do I usually make it up as I go along but here, especially for Chica and for this blog, is a measured, tried and tested recipe, successfully made and tasted today. I used some jam that hadn’t set very well but you could use any fruit in syrup.

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Almond cherry cake

150 grams ground almonds

100 grams plain flour

125 grams sugar

3 eggs

100 ml olive oil

a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

150 ml cherry jam (or other fruit in syrup)

Put all the ingredients except the jam in the food processor and whizz until mixed. Pour the mixture into a 25 cm cake tin. I lined mine with greaseproof paper which makes it much easier to take the cake out once it is baked. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 200°C. Test it with a skewer to check that it has cooked all the way through. If you don’t want a sticky, syrupy cake you could leave it to cool at this stage and eat it as it is.

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But, then, who doesn’t want a sticky, syrupy cake? While the cake is still hot and in the tin, pour over the syrup, leaving the fruit to add later. When it has cooled remove it from the tin and put the cherries (or other fruit) on top. Serve with cream or ice cream. We happened to have some chocolate ice cream which went very well with it.

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I think I’ll be making this again!

Mussels, and cherries too

Two treats today, one seasonal and one we often enjoy at all times of the year.  We bought a kilo of cherries from a stall in the centre of Magalas.  The cherry season is so short – the man whose tree they came from said he would be there again tomorrow but then his crop would be finished.

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Sometimes I make clafoutis with cherries – almost exactly a year ago I put a recipe on the Food from the Mediterranean blog – but usually they’re so delicious that we eat them all raw, just as they are.

Mussels are an all-year-round delight and today we ate them cooked in one of our favourite ways – with chorizo, tomato and red wine sauce, and with one of our first red onions from the garden this year chopped raw on top once they were cooked.

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For this dish, the mussels are cooked with a glass of red, rather than white, wine until the shells have all opened.  Meanwhile we prepare a tomato sauce with onions, garlic, chopped chorizo and another glass of red wine to pour over the shells once they have been drained.  All this needs is some chopped sweet (or red) onion if available, some crusty bread and another glass (or two) of red wine.

Spring festival

The tradition here in the Languedoc on Easter Monday is to go out into the garrigue to pick wild asparagus then light a fire to cook an omelette with it out of doors.  Like other traditions at this time of year it must have pagan origins and it is one that I’m very happy to observe.  We find wild asparagus in our garden, so it’s quite easy to collect enough for an omelette, which we did at lunchtime today.

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The mangetout pea plants are growing well and I put up their supporting netting this morning.  There are small broad beans coming now, but I’ll leave them for a few days longer.  And the haricot bean plants I sowed on 19 March are coming up too.  Other signs of spring in the garden today were: the Rose banksiae flowers

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the apple blossom

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and the cherry blossom

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I love this time of year!

Just an ordinary Monday

In the garden, with the air filled with the scent of apricot blossom and the sound of bees around the tree, the wild cherry buds are beginning to appear on our sapling, planted just a couple of years ago.

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Leaf and flower buds are appearing on the Rose banksiae. I was worried about it because it began to flower in January (much too early) and those buds were killed by the cold weather, but it seems now to be recovering and flourishing after its pruning last autumn.

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The jasmine is flowering:

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And there were wonderful shadows on the olive leaves:

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It’s St Joseph’s Day today, the date when it’s traditional here for haricot beans to  be sown, and we sowed our first row.  Although the instructions on the packet suggest the end of April as the earliest sowing date, this is for more northern climates and here all the gardeners sow them at the end of March.  We’ll sow several more rows later in the spring to ensure a steady supply.

Back home after our morning’s work, we started our lunch with some leftover foie gras on toasts and then ate Lo Jardinièr’s adaptation of a recipe for pumpkin and chickpea salad from Sam and Sam Clark’s Casa Moro, adding feta cheese to the pumpkin and arranging it all on a green salad with parsley and sorrel from the garden.

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Beginnings and a very good ending

Everything is growing so fast in the garden after all the rain we’ve had and this morning there were some exciting signs: the first tiny olives developing on our trees, a couple of small aubergines and some cucumbers.

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These olives will be ready to harvest, we hope, green in October or ripe and black in November or December.

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One of our first cucumbers of the season….

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…and a tiny aubergine.

Once again we were invited to pick cherries from our friends’ tree and this time we decided to preserve some of them in eau de vie, brandy made from the grape skins after wine-making, as we did with some of the wild cherries we picked the other day.  It’s very simple: just pack the cherries into sterilised jars, adding a tablespoonful of sugar to each layer and then cover the cherries with eau de vie, Armagnac or some other brandy.  Close the jars and leave for at least 4 months, turning occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves.  By Christmas these will make a very good digestif.

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And an excellent ending to our trip to the Gers in March, which I described here.  In March we made confit with the duck legs we bought in the market in Samatan, by covering the pieces of duck with duck fat in a pan and simmering them for 2 hours then storing them in the fat – they will keep for months like this.  Today we took the legs out of the fat and put them in a hot oven (200 C) to heat through and crisp the skin – about 25 minutes – and we ate them with potatoes and sweet onions roasted in duck fat and haricot beans straight from the garden.

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The duck legs as they came out of the fat in which they were stored…..

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…and after they’d been in the oven – ready to eat and absolutely delicious!

Today’s harvest

It has suddenly turned cold and windy and after some rain yesterday we didn’t need to water the garden.  We’d intended to eat our lunch there, but it was too chilly for that so we just did some work with the tomato plants – tying them and pinching out sideshoots because they are growing so quickly now – and picked vegetables.

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A basket full of lettuce and chard ….

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the chard again, some haricot beans and some last stragglers of mangetout peas, which are nearly over now.

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And in just five minutes or so we picked nearly a kilo of griottes (sour cherries) from our neighbour’s tree, at his invitation.  I’ve put a few in a jar with sugar and Armagnac to leave in the cupboard for at least six months until they make a delicious fruit-filled liqueur which makes a good digestif.  We ate a few of the cherries for lunch, but although they have a good flavour they are quite tart.   Most of them went into a pan, stoned first, with the same weight in jam-making sugar to make three pots of jam.

Global food justice

Today Oxfam UK launched a campaign for global food justice.  I was alerted to it by Blipfoto, the photo journal site on which I post a daily image, when it was suggested that we should have a virtual global picnic to help promote the Oxfam campaign.  This was my contribution (and a very good lunch too):

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All the food and wine in this photo except the slice of lemon (from Spain) comes from the village where I live or the nearby sea.  The global food and environmental crisis is something I think about a lot, and have written about on my food and gardening blogs for several years. In order to help change the world, we in western countries have to accept that our lives must change and that we cannot continue to exploit developing countries for our needs. As my small contribution to this, I try to eat only food that comes from within 100 kilometres of where I live and I grow as much of my own as I can.

We shouldn’t expect developing countries to grow the products which make our lives easier or more pleasant, at the expense of those people’s needs. An article in yesterday’s Guardian by Felicity Lawrence highlighted the problems of people in Guatemala who grow palm oil for biofuels so that people in rich countries can feel less guilty about driving their cars while the workers themselves are unable to feed their families properly.

Apart from concern about my carbon footprint, sustainability and my share of the earth’s resources, I have selfish reasons for eating local food – it tastes so much better if it hasn’t travelled long distances and especially so if it’s been grown in our own garden!

>Marché fermier

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It was a sunny, hot day yesterday for the farmers’ market at Mas Rolland and the streets of the tiny old hamlet were filled with stalls, music, visitors and tables where people could eat. One of the nice things about this event is that it takes place before the holiday high season starts – it’s for people from the villages and towns around to enjoy before all the events which are put on for tourists in the summer.

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We ate kid meat (from the Mas Rolland goat farm) stuffed with herbs from the garrigue, followed by a selection of goats’ cheeses, of course, and some friends had brought some of their own peaches, the first of this year’s crop, for our group to eat for dessert. The tables in the narrow street (above, right) were full by lunch time.

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We bought cherries, goats’ cheeses and flour from a mill near Clérmont l’Hérault, and many other stallholders were offering their own produce for sale.

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The confrerie of local winemakers walked through the village dressed in their wine-purple robes accompanied by jazz musicians.

Our first few cherries

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As well as the delicious cherries we bought at the market, we also tasted our own wild cherries for the first time, picked yesterday morning – of the six cherries on our tiny tree, four were ripe, slightly tart but with a good flavour.

>Apples and cherries

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We’ve never before had so many apples as there are on our tree this year.  It almost makes up for the poor apricot crop (I can see two fruits on that tree), but I’d much prefer to have apricots instead.  It’s exciting that our small wild cherry tree, planted as a sucker given to us by our neighbour about two and a half years ago, is bearing its first fruit (below, right).

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And those irises again, framing some orange poppies:

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>Last days of the year

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The weather has become much milder than it was a couple of weeks ago and the days are getting longer. This evening it was just about light until about 5.30 p.m. There’s a chance that the plants in the garden, which have been in a kind of suspended animation for the past few weeks, will begin to grow again. We still have work to do – clearing the last remaining pepper plants and getting the ground ready for the goat manure we hope to collect during January.

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Even in the very cold weather we’ve been picking leeks and salad leaves, and this cauliflower.




The sea

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On Saturday at Le Grau d’Agde the sea was grey and cold. The statue of a woman represents the women who wait and watch for the fishermen to come back to port. She had no need to worry this time because all the boats were in the harbour. Going through Roujan we were amused to see this large olive tree on the back of a lorry ahead of us. A nice late Christmas present for someone?

Sunday sunset

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From near Roujan we could see as far as the Pyrenees and Mont Canigou (above), which is 2,784 metres high, and the sunlit trees looked golden against the dark sky.






And our Christmas day lunch …

We’ve had to postpone our family mid-winter festivities because of travel problems last week, but even though we were on our own on the 25th, Lo Jardinièr and I had a good lunch!

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Apéritifs in the garden, with some of the olives from our own tree.

DSC00746 DSC00745 Lo Jardinièr opening oysters (left) and beating the chocolate fondant mix (above)

DSC00750 Foie gras with salt, red and black peppercorns and a glass of Cartagène. DSC00752 Oysters gratinées
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Potatoes dauphinoises
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Chocolate fondant.
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And, finally, cherries in Armagnac with our coffee.

We didn’t eat anything else until the next day!

>Market day / Le jour du marché

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As usual we went to the market this morning.  This is what we bought – and it’s not all to eat today, of course!  / Comme d’habitude on est allé au marché ce matin.  On a acheté:

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Sheeps’ cheese from Lacaune, strawberries from Fouzilhon, sausage from Lacaune, mackerel from Valras-plage, morcillas from Spain, onions, aubergines, lemons, .  /  Fromage de brebis de Lacaune, des fraises de Fouzilhon, la saucisse fraiche de Lacaune, des mackeraux de Valras-plage, morcillas de l’Espagne, ognions, aubergines, citrons.

Cherries

We’ve picked cherries from the tree in the garden of some friends – they’ve gone away and told us we can pick them.  For the second year running this tree has a huge crop.  We picked about 10 kilos and hardly touched the total.  I’ve bottled some in Armagnac – 6 jars which should be ready to eat in a few months’ time.  Here they are served after the dessert with the coffee.  Lo Jardinièr has made jam.  And we’ve eaten them fresh, of course.

Nous avons ramasser les cerises dans le jardin de nos amis qui sont partis.  J’ai mis quelques uns à l’Armagnac – 6 bocaux qui seront prêts à manger dans quelques mois.  Lo Jardinièr a fait de la confiture.  Et nous les avons mangé fraiches.

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watering_1_1 The weather has turned dry, sunny and hot so we’re having to water the garden every day. Luckily there is still plenty of water in the stream. / Il fait chaud donc on doit arroser le jardin chaque jour.  Heureusement il y a beaucoup d’eau dans le ruisseau.

Another way of cooking artichokes / Une autre façon de cuire les artichauts

The barbecue was alight at lunchtime today to cook the mackerel, so I tried cooking the artichokes on it.  I took off most of the outer leaves and cut them in half, brushed them with olive oil and put them on the grill with some slices of aubergine.  They tasted very good.  / J’ai essayé de cuire des artichauts sur la grillade.  J’ai enlevé la plupart des feuilles externes et je les ai coupé en deux.  J’ai mis de l’huile d’olive et je les ai mis sur la grillade avec des tranches d’aubergine.  Le gout était très bon.

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