A French Dinner and a Twice Baked Goats Cheese Soufflé.


When I was very young I had a terrible aversion to learning to ride a bicycle. In fact, once I finally mastered it I had reached the grand old age of eight. The problem was that I was terrified of falling off and scraping my knees on our gravel drive, and it was only, one day in deepest winter, when the thinnest smattering of snow scarcely hid the worst of the sharp gravel edges that I finally got my bike out of the garage, clearly believing that the couple of millimètres of snow would cushion me from a nasty fall.

Last week we headed off to the Alps to ski. Now, as ever, I take my time about things and had never tried skiing until I was 46. While my husband and children scream down the slopes at speed, my kind of skiing is rather more gentle, but I love it all the same.

Just before we left I joked to my friends that if I arrived back home with all my arms and legs intact that I would invite them all to dinner to celebrate. Our first day on the mountain was one of exceptional beauty with vivid blue skies and crystal clear air,  the type you can only find up a mountain, and coupled with a temperature ranging between 16 and 18 degrees. What I didn’t expect to happen was to be struck by terror in front of the first slope with an irrational fear of crashing headlong of the edge of the piste, especially when the slope in question was before getting to the first télésiège. The clarity of the view brought into focus the pitch of the slopes and momentarily I was paralyzed by them. Ultimately I fell back on skiing down an alternative slope and then removing my skis in order to reclimb the incline to have another go. By the end of the day I was exhausted though happier about my slaloming skills and determined to take myself to task the next day.The mountains of course have a mind of their own, and the next day dawned with even the lowest pistes shrouded in dense mist. It was however my eureka moment. No sooner on the slopes than I réalised that, much like with the smattering of snow when learning to ride my bike, I could no longer see the source of my fear. In fact the piste running down to the télésiège seemed to blanketed and softened, and definitely shallowed by the mist. So much so that I threw myself off the brow of the slope with abandon, up the télésiège moments later and never looked back. By the end of the week I had mastered all sorts of slopes that I hadn’t tried before and more importantly, I arrived home all my arms and legs intact. Dinner  with friends was the logical conclusion.I decided, as you do when flying the crest of the wave , to set myself yet another challenge. This time to cook something out of my comfort zone. After a week in the Swiss Alps thoughts naturally turned to melted cheese and mountain goats and I decided to tackle the dreaded cheese soufflé.

I found a wonderful recipe for Twice Baked Goats Cheese Soufflé. And what particularly attracted me to it was that by doing the first bake in advance you would actually know if it souffled effectively before doing the second bake when the hungry guests were eagerly gathered round the table.

I am pleased to say that making a souffle really isn’t as difficult as people make out, although I attribute a certain amount of my success to Arnaud, the excellent pâtisserie chef that I worked with all last season who gave me a good training on the various principles behind beating eggs, egg age and temperature when it comes to giving things “lift”.

For the recipe click here!

The recipe is simple enough. If you can make a decent smooth white sauce, crumble goats cheese and gently fold in soft whipped egg white then you shouldn’t have any problem making a cheese soufflé.

First simmer milk with bay, fresh nutmeg, onions and peppercorns.Next select a strong tasting goats cheese. I added some mature cheddar and some grated Parmesan for good measure.Have old eggs at room temperature.Weigh out all ingredients in advance, lots of fresh chives are perfect for this recipe.Simmer the milk and then strain out all the bay, onion and peppercorns before  adding to a roux of butter and flour. Simmer stirring all the time until a thick creamy sauce is produced.Let cool slightly before adding the chives and beat in the egg yolks on at a time.Then add the cheese and stir thoroughly. The warmth of the sauce will begin to melt the cheese. As the cheese mixture cools, whip the eggs to soft fairly firm peaks. If the egg white are whisked into too hard peaks they impede the raising process. Fold very gently a spoonful of the egg whites into the cheese mixture, and then fold in the rest making sure to not lose the air.Place into ramekins which have been buttered with an upwards motion and ensure there are no dribbles. Both glass and ceramic ramekins work equally well. I used a mixture. Place in the oven at 180 degrees for 15 minutes. Both fan ovens and standard ovens work equally well.And watch them rise!And start to fall – they only hold their shape for a minute or so out of the oven!I hope you remembered to lay the table!

Once the soufflés are cooked you can eat them after the first bake, a light and fluffy goats cheese fork full of heaven. Or you can let them cool, and gently turn them upside down out of their pots onto a sheet of baking paper covering a metal tray. These can be kept covered in the fridge a day in advance of when you want to serve them.

15 minutes before the guests come to the table, bake for a second time for 15 minutes at 180 degrees, or until nicely risen  and golden, with a slightly crispy shell.

Delicious served with a crown of tender lettuce leaves, a few slices of fresh fig, parmesan shavings and a salad dressing of fig vinaigrette.

Enjoy!

For the recipe click here!

It all went rapidly downhill after Christmas!


On Boxing-Day, the grey and dismal skies of Rouen precipitated us to ditch camp in search of new adventures; and so it was that we made a last minute decision to go skiing. ‘Husband à l’etranger’ may be experienced, but for the rest of us this was our first time on the slopes.

We set off for Les Diablerets in Switzerland in the early afternoon after lengthy attempts to reduce luggage to a minimum and squeeze all six of us in the car. Early into the journey it was blatently obvious that we wouldn’t make our ETA of 6pm and the closure of the Swiss post office who were holding  the key for the chalet apartment. Like all small villages though, a general spirit of ‘can do’ meant that the person behind the voice on the phone was happy to drop off the key at the restaurant next door to the post office, and when we finally arrived late in the evening we were more than happy not to be sleeping ‘knees under chin’ in the car!


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The following morning after a quick fit-out of skis, we took ourselves to the nursery slopes for our first lesson.

WELL! It didn’t take long to see who had had the ice-skating lessons, and who was the ‘old dog’…

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On day one I mastered the teleski without ripping my arm out of its socket. I quite liked being referred to as ‘La dame en Blanche’ (The woman in White) by the teleski attendant. It had a nice sound to it. However, I began to wonder if the  name referred to the Wilkie Collins character and might have been more reference to my slightly psycotic attempts to mow down, on several occasions, my ski instructor. Didn’t the Collins’s ‘Woman in White’ come from a mental asylum?

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On days three and four, I ‘took out’ my ski-instructor, and it wasn’t for a drink! Paralysed by fear at the top of a spectacularly steep slope, our instructor told us the story of the day he fell, lost his ski, and hurtled down a stope backwards, before wrapping himself around a fence at the bottom. It took him three seconds to realise he was paralysed, he said. It wasn’t an encouraging story for an ‘old dog’ that hadn’t mastered turning, let alone stopping, even when facing forwards.  Apparently, after three years in a wheel chair, he taught himself to walk again, and then to ski. Perhaps the moral of the story is that there is hope when you have carreered into the only obstacle on the horizon, rather than – ‘this is what can happen if you don’t learn to stop!’ Nevertheless my skis did appear to have taken on the mantle of target seeking missiles.

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The end of day four saw me finally getting my skis under control. I finally mastered a slalom descent of about twelve turns, culminating in a controled stop right beside the teleski. Sadly the teleski attendant had gone off for a coffee and missed my great achievement.

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So having gone very rapidly downhill several times after christmas, I left the mountain in an upbeat mood, ready to book for next time.

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Did I tell you about the euphoria of ‘l’aprés ski’? Mulled wine on a snowy mountain top, and cheese fondu in front of a roaring log fire and warm glowing faces……

That’s for another day!

Happy Christmas!


Goodbye rainy Rouen et bonjour les montagnes!

lesdiablerets

 

Snow, mulled wine, cheese fondue and a roaring log fire

– oh, and a little skiing thrown in!

Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful and prosperous new year.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday.