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When it comes to food, the french love over-complicating things… luckily for us, they usually turn out delicious, even if its just a glorified toasted sandwich….

Prepare your toast. We were making these for guests, so they were bite sized pieces, but you can use exactly the same technique for regular slices of bread.   Whilst you’re making the toast, prepare the following: (quantities are more or less enough for 3 small baguettes)

2 cups milk, heated

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

4 cups grated Gruyere (you can also get away with Edam, or even Cheddar)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan (not really french, but it works!)

a pinch of nutmeg

freshly ground pepper

some french mustard

sliced ham

Spread some mustard and ham on half the pieces, and cover with another piece of toast.

In a small pan, melt the butter and then mix in the flour. We used spelt, hence the slightly darker colour.

Slowly add the hot milk and nutmeg, stirring continuously.

As soon as you notice the mixture starting to thicken, reduce the heat to minimum, and add the gruyere. Stir until the cheese melts.

Spoon the mix over the toast, sprinkle with the Parmesan and a little pepper, and place under the grill for a couple of minutes.

Voila! Oh, and in case you’re wondering, there IS a croque Madame… it’s exactly the same as the croque monsieur, only covered with a fried egg!

Photos by Matthew Farrugia (link on blogroll)

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… or for the francophobes: Pan fried duck breast

This was the first time I cooked duck, and whilst there are a myriad of sauces and dressings to use, I opted for the plain and simple version, to reduce the risk of overcooking the meat, and to enjoy its natural flavour.

Since duck is water-borne, there is a thick layer of fat in between the skin and the meat which acts as insulation from the cold water. Most of this fat melts during cooking, so don’t be put off by the meat when you first handle it.

Scoring the skin with a sharp knife also helps the fat to leave the meat as it cooks.

Place the breast, skin side down, in a dry, pre-heated pan.   You can use quite a high flame, but beware of the fat sputtering if it gets too hot.

Depending on the size of the breast, cook for around 5 minutes before turning over.  Cook for another 5 minutes, whilst preheating your grill simultaneously.

Remove the duck from the pan and place on a baking tray, skin side up. Sprinkle a little salt on the skin and place under a hot grill for 2 minutes to crisp up the skin.

Leave the meat to rest for 5 minutes, then carve and serve immediately. The meat should have a slightly pink tinge to it but the juices should run clear.

More adventurous recipes to follow…  😉

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Candied peel is used very often in cakes and sweets, or can be eaten on its own. Traditionally, citrus fruit peel is used, mainly oranges and lemons. Whilst you can find this off the shelf at most supermarkets, it’s really easy to make, and the home-made variety always tastes better  🙂

Choose fruit with a thick peel and pith. Wash and remove the peel.  Place the peel in a pot of cold water and bring to the boil.

Once the water reaches the boil, take the pot off the heat, drain, and rinse the peel in cold water.   This procedure helps remove the bitterness of the white pith.  Taste the peel and if it is still bitter, repeat the procedure again. Don’t forget to start with cold water!

Let the peel drip dry for a few minutes on a rack or tissue paper.

In the meantime, prepare a pot with equal amounts of water and sugar. 1 cup of each is enough for the peel from 2 oranges. You can use brown or white sugar.

Gently drop in the pieces of peel, and bring to the boil.

Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook the peel, stirring regularly.  As the water evaporates, you need to be very careful not to let the syrup burn.  Keep stirring and lower the heat further if necessary, until all the syrup has been absorbed by the pieces of peel.

Remove the peel and leave to cool on a baking sheet.

Once cooled, the peel will still be a little sticky. Dust them with icing sugar and store in an airtight container.  We dipped the pieces in molten chocolate for a simple but delicious sweet.

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