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I absolutely love hot cross buns and Easter without them just isn’t complete. A few years ago I managed to buy some gluten free ones in the English food shop in Lyon but they were a bit crumbly and just weren’t worth the expense.

I’d kind of put hot cross buns behind me, what with Little Miss Piglet and work keeping me extra busy. That was until I watched the Great British Bake Off on BBC last week!

They made the hot cross buns look so easy to make and I was virtually drooling over the television screen. I decided there and then that I was going to make them and two days later I found the recipe and decided to make them during my lunch break!

I don’t know about you but when I look at a recipe I often think to myself “wooah, that’s way too complicate, I’ll never manage”, which is probably what I would have usually thought about the hot cross bun recipe. But this time I didn’t, and I just dove straight in…

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After relentless kneeding I made a sausage

After gatherting together all of the ingredients and trying to decide what the closest French equivalent was to some of the items, my dough had risen and I started making the buns. By this time my lunch break had finished and I was on borrowed time!

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Ready for the oven

It was a proud moment when the buns were finally ready to go into the over, but also an unsettling one. My oven is temperamental and cooks far too quickly even at low heat.

So, instead of leaving them to cook, I kept a beady eye over them and they only burnt a little bit.

The finished results were delicious and we really enjoyed them as did our French friends with whom we shared them.

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A bit burnt but still delicious

If you want to try and make these yourself here is the recipe I followed: Great British Bake Off Hot Cross Bun Recipe. Do let me know how you get on!

Happy Easter!

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Despite the horrendous weather we’ve had (who stole the summer?), we’ve been enjoying settling into the new house and the company of having friends over even though entertaining has become rather more complicated since the arrival of Baby Piglet.

Before, I was known for extravagant feasts and for spending hours in the kitchen slaving away to make the perfect Thai dish or a 6 course meal with different flavoured palate cleansers. I thought nothing of trawling Lyon for the right ingredients and then making rice powder from scratch so to make authentic foreign cuisine for my guests (I never cooked French).

But lately I’ve been looking for easiness. Mr Piglet and I lived on ready meals and frozen pizza for two weeks when we moved into the house with Baby Piglet and since we’ve been grabbing a bite to eat here and there. Not exactly what you want when you’re nursing a baby.

So I’ve been looking for quick and easy healthy options which will allow us to eat better and also impress our guests with something they haven’t tried before, without the need for me to spend hours in the kitchen.

Zero points for presentation!


Lazy Melon Starter
I have borrowed this recipe from a friend who did it for us and I have already done it twice for two separate lots of guests in the last week and each time they adored it! It is cheap, seasonal and a spin on the original melon parma ham combo.

For 4:

2 x melons
1 chorizo
Balsamic vinegar
Porto (optional)

Chop the chorizo sausage into small cubes and gently fry in the balsamic vinegar. Add a splash of Porto if you wish. Leave to simmer for the sauce to reduce and become syrupy.

Cut the melon in half and de-seed the centre.

Serving options: Either pour the sauce mixture into the centre of the melon and serve the half melons as they are with the sauce, or cut the melon into smaller portions (with skin removed) as drizzle sauce over (as shown in picture). I served the melon as shown in the picture as we were 5 in total and not huge eaters!

Do you have any quick and easy recipes that I can try? Do share!

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I’ve been a bit quiet over the last week both here and on the blogosphere in general as I decided to take some me time in honour of the French holiday season.

Last weekend we went back to Lac du Bourget and spent a great weekend in the rain, constantly hoping for it to stop so that we could get out on the lake and wakeboard. After hours of watching the drizzle and storms, the clouds finally dispersed so we made a mad dash down to the lake, jumped on the boat and went out. Five minutes later, the clouds started to gather again and we just made it back to shore before the mother of all storms rained down upon us. No wakeboarding took place :(

So quite a disappointing weekend really.

View from the house - how I would love to have a view like this

Our next trip was on the Monday back to Aix les Bains and was more promising. We spent the first afternoon baking cookies with Hubby’s Godson and the little cousins. Cookie making with a 2 year old, 6 year old and 9 year old is an interesting experience. Once they were finished I had to keep reminding myself not to eat them as I had watched the dough go all over the floor, in and out of the kid’s mouths, behind their ears, in their hair…

Hubby monkeying around

After a while the sun decided to come out and we went up the mountain to a monkey park. I say monkey park as it is an activity park where kids and adults swing from trees like monkeys. The French call this accrobranche (accro for acrobatic and branche for the tree branches). For ages I thought it was called aquabranche and had something to do with water. How very wrong was I! Needless to say I was not equipped: heels and palazzo pants aren’t quite the right the right attire for walking on a tightrope or swinging amongst the trees and nobody could care less that I had a swimming cossie and towel in my bag.

Not being able to do anything and faced with waiting in the cold for hours (14 degrees!) whilst everyone perfected their monkey swings (how appropriate!) I was relegated to looking after the two year old and helping him around the kiddies course.

It was not easy as I had to keep hooking him up and I think the other parents considered that I was a Mere Indigne (not a good mother) as after all, who would take their kid to a park dressed like I was? I must have been a funny sight as I tried to scramble up through the trees so that I could unhook and rehook him all whilst he was wailing or looking at me as if I was an idiot.

On one part I got stuck and couldn’t get down, so there I was with a two year old stood 3 metres off the ground hanging by a rope and me, stuck. Thankfully a parent came to my rescue (or more so to the child’s) and helped me out, all whilst I was trying to explain that he wasn’t my kid and I had no idea what an accrobranche was! Thankfully we were able to complete the course unscathed and the little boy enjoyed it so much that he he looked up at me expectantly and asked if we could do it again. I told him that no doubt his Daddy would take him another time… I was not going to risk his or my safety anymore than required in one day!

It was 14 degrees at the Monkey Park!

After that we went down to the Beaux-Parents for a few days where the temperatures were stifling (39 degrees, what??) and I convinced my Mother-in-Law to teach me to make legumes farcies (one of my fave French dishes). She was very patient and spent a whole morning talking me through the family recipe – I didn’t realize it would take so long to make! You can see the recipe in my latest Expat Focus article here.

So quite a funny week and oh yes… how could I forget? I quit smoking! Desperate not to pile on the pounds I have taken up a new hobby to keep me from nibbling or becoming anxious – fly swatting! Seriously, at the BP’s I spent hours swatting flies. It’s like keep fit. Keeps your mind off the ciggies, off  food (essential) and gives you a full body work out at the same time! So far, the scales have stayed the same and I’ve managed to stay off the weed so to speak so all’s good.

Fly Swatting Results! Yuck!

Happy Fly Swatting Day everyone! (because I decided that today is fly swatting day)

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Coming back from Corsica I decided to have a “clear the freezer” week. Having checked my bank balance upon my return, I ws sent into a state of shock to see we’d spent far, far too much money and that Hubby and I were going to have to live much more frugally for the rest of the summer. How we managed to spend so much I don’t know, I didn’t even think Corsica was expensive compared to the South of France or even some places in Lyon! I think maybe mischievous TomTom had got hold of our Carte Bleue too?

So clearing the freezer seemed like a good idea, a better option than bread and pasta in any case. We have one of those American style fridge-freezers (do the Americans call them American fridges too? Anyone?) and the freezer is always bursting full of frozen goodies from Picard, home cooking, frozen veggies and other bits and pieces including 3 bottles of vodka!

After much reflexion, I decided the vodka could stay as I’m sure it’s not very healthy living on vodka for a week and started to attack the rest of the contents vigorously in order to make some type of meal plan. A freezer week normally means for some weird and wonderful meals and sees me having quite an ad hoc approach to cooking.

Unfortunately on this occasion we had some bad family news and my Beaux-Parents came to stay unexpectedly. As I was still trying to live off the freezer I had a route around to see what I could find. I have already spoken of the Belle-Mere’s excellent cooking here so I had to be careful not to disappoint and to ensure that everyone was fed correctly as they needed it.

Some puff pastry, beef burgers and chicken pieces were found so along with the tomatoes in the garden and some mustard from the fridge, I was able to make a bizarre, but tasty meal of tomato tart served with either beef burger or chicken. I think the tart would make a better dish on its own with some fresh salad but that wasn’t an option I had.

So, if you have some tomatoes, some pastry and some mustard here’s something really easy you can try your hand at:

Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart
Serves 4 – 6 people

What you need:
6 tomatoes (enough to cover the pastry) or enough of any type of fresh t’s you can get your hands on
1 Roll of pastry (shortcrust or puff, its the pastry that you buy already rolled out in a circle)
French mustard
Salt & Pepper
Herbes de Provence or other to taste.

What you need to do:
1. Place the pastry on a tray or in a quiche dish. Roll up the edges slightly to form a crust when cooking it.
2. Slice the tomatoes removing any excess juice and pips as you go along.
3. Paste a thin spread of mustard over the pastry.
4. Cover the pastry base with the sliced tomatoes.
5. Season to taste.
6. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees (or as per pastry instruction) for approx 30 minutes or until pastry is golden

You can also add some goats cheese on top but I’m not sure how traditional that is.

Do you have any frugal, fridge/freezer clearing recipes?

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Last weekend, whilst melting in extreme temperatures of 39 degrees, I ate a yummy courgette salad at my Beaux-Parents house. Unfortunately I didn’t think to get the recipe and finding myself with an abundance of courgettes today, I thought I’d try my hand at making my own version of it. Without knowing the original recipe I combined some of the ingredients that I’d remembered tasting along with some that I thought would taste nice; notably basil as I’d bought a huge bouquet of basil leaves for just 75 Cents!

Courgette & Feta Salad
Serves 4

Not very well presented but very tasty!


3 courgettes
2 spring onions
120 grams feta or brebis cheese, crumbled
Bunch of basil leaves
Black olives, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar

What to do:
1. Peel the courgettes as the skin can be quite bitter, not quite what you want in a salad!
2. Then grate the courgettes finely, like you would cheddar.
3. Finely slice the spring onions and add to the courgettes.
4. Finely slice the basil leaves and add to the courgettes.
5. Crumble the feta cheese and add.
6. Remove the stones and then finely slice the black olives adding as well.
7. Drizzle everything with olive oil, add a splash (or two!) of vinegar and then season to taste.

Et voila! A different type of salad which you can enjoy on its own (maybe with parma ham?) or as an accompaniment to a summer Barbeque. Bon appetit!

What you need to do

Jardinage Jeudi
Tonight I’m going to have a tomato and runner bean salad with some tomatoes from my garden! After months of waiting and anticipating, I’m finally getting a regular (if not small) crop. I’m only getting a handful at a time and as you can see they’re coming in all sizes. Who else is getting their tomatoes right now?

Tomatoes at last!

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Photo Credit: Andrew Dunn

Do you remember the dodgem cars? Driving in Lyon today was exactly the same experience! In the past I’ve posted about driving in France, and really I don’t have any authority on the subject as I passed my test here, but still.

I was driving down Cours Vuitton, which is a three lane road lined with swish shops and lush trees. The lovely variety of boutique stores and the best chocolate shop Lyon has to offer (IMHO) mean that double parking is a common occurrence. People literally ditch there cars, double parked with the warning lights on and then go shopping! Heaven! Only, when you’re trying to drive down the street in order to reach an alternative destination it turns an ordinary driving experience into dodgems.

Cars whip in and out, switching lanes constantly; you need four sets of eyes to see where traffic was coming from not forgetting to give way to the right! Not to mention the pedestrians blindly crossing the street in an attempt to reach the next shop. Seriously, it was like being in a game of Mario Karts!

It was actually quite fun after a while and I had to remind myself that it wasn’t a game and these were actually moving vehicles, all traveling over 50km’s (no speed cameras here) and that someone could get hurt if a move was miscalculated. Not only that, but I really didn’t fancy telling Hubby I’d damaged the car. Again.

I was so stressed out by the constant dodging of moving vehicles that I totally forgot to stop at Carrefour to buy ingredients for the dinner. So back home I had a rummage through the fridge to see what healthy meal I could possibly come up with – and rather shockingly, it was actually quite delicious!

What’s in the fridge chicken & courgettes
Serves 2

Chicken
What you’ll need to find:
Two chicken breasts (so these weren’t in the fridge, but in the freezer. Always useful!).
Roquette
Cherry tomatoes (these will soon be growing, so won’t be in the fridge but on the tomato plant)
Garlic

What to do:
Make a pocket on the side of the chicken breast and then stuff with as much roquette and cherry t’s that you can get in. Season to taste. Close the pocket with a pick. Place in a tray greased with olive oil. Add a clove of garlic to the tray (in the oil) to flavour whilst cooking. Cook in over 180 degrees celsius for 30 – 40 minutes or until cooked.

Courgettes:
What you need:
2 Courgettes
Garlic
Lemon Juice
Low Fat St Moret cheese

What to do:
Slice the courgettes, then heat some oil, add chopped garlic, a dash of lemon juice, seasoning and then the courgettes. Cover and cook for a while until courgettes are cooked through. Once cooked, add a teaspoon of St Moret cheese and stir round carefully over a low heat so that the cheese melts and turns creamy.

I didn’t take a photo as I wasn’t expecting it to be tasty (and also my presentation skills have a lot to be desired).

Enjoy!

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I’ve always been fascinated as to why French women wear so much black. If you take the tube in Lyon you’ll be surrounded by women wearing head to toe black or grey. Many consider the French to be the epitome of chic and whilst its true that they very rarely display their love handles (because most don’t have them!) French fashion can be quite dull.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like black as it’s so easy to wear but something about being in France makes me feel rebellious. It’s as if I have an overpowering urge to break the trend. I’ll wear a red coat or something colourful just to colour the all black surroundings.

Image from Artvex.com


But all that has changed. Seriously, how do people stay slim in France? With all the wonderful and often cheap restaurants, pastries and traditional recipes, not to mention cheese! After spending the last two weekends skiing and eating huge amounts of cheese cooked in every which way, I finally had the courage to weigh myself and the scales tipped a whole kilo heavier than a week ago.

I tried to tell myself that it was all muscle but trying to hike my jeans up over my tummy even I couldn’t kid myself.

With all the sport I’d done what with the energetic hiking up the hill in my ski boots and all the stops and starts I’d done whilst skiing, surely I’d burned off more than I’d eaten?

So, its back to black for me until I loose some weight which isn’t going to happen this coming weekend as I’m back to the slopes! I can’t fit in my more colourful clothes anyway and its just so easy to slip on black trousers, black top, black jacket and black coat and then accessorise. I may just fall in love with black as it has never taken me so little time to get dressed in the morning!

My current favourite mountain recipe is Croziflette which is a take on the traditional tartiflette. It may not be authentic as it was given to me by a friend and I’ve probably forgotten some of it, but it’s still delicious:

Croziflette

Serves 4 – 6 (depending on how much you have!)
400 grams packet of Crozets (small traditional Savoyard pasta like squares made from buckwheat)
1 + ½ reblochon cheese cut in half so you have half skin half the inside of the cheese.
2 onions, finely sliced
1 large packet of bacon bits (lardons)
Crème fraiche
Mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Fry the onions until soft and the lardons until cooked.
Cook the Crozets 20 minutes in some lightly salted water. Once cooked, mix in the crème fraiche (quantity should be enough so that the Crozet’s are lightly covered), a spoon of mustard (or to taste), lardons and onions.
Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish (like a lasagna dish) and then place the cheese skin side up to cover the mixture.
Bake in the oven at about 180 degrees for 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted into the mixture. Finish under the grill to give the cheese skin a crusty taste.

Serve with a traditional Savoyard wine.

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