Hello, Feasters, and welcome to a fantastique Friday Feast. It’s my turn again this week because what better way to celebrate the release of my romantic adventure The French Prize than with a delicious dose of French food? Champagne I suppose, but I’ve already done that!
Before we get down to foodie fun, let’s talk footy. After a very wobbly start to the year and a rather uninspired (and losing – argh!) performance in Saturday night, my darling Sydney Swans managed to finish the season as minor premiers. Brilliant! But now we need to take it all the way, which means much nail biting and fretting in the Hein house as finals play out.
If you’re wondering what happened to Us Heins Weren’t Meant To Play Golf news, remember the quote “Golf is a good walk spoiled” from Mark Twain? I’m seriously beginning to think it’s true. Yeah, things have been that bad. Stuffit.
Enough of that and on to Feasty business. The French Prize officially hit the shelves this week – rah! – and I’m racing along writing the next romantic adventure and having a ball. These books are such FUN!
Take a look at The French Prize. I’m so excited and proud.
Australian-born Dr. Olivia Walker is an Oxford academic with a reputation as one of the world’s leading Crusade historians and she’s risked everything on finding one of the most famous swords in history – Durendal. Shrouded in myth and mystery, the sword is fabled to have belonged to the warrior Roland, a champion of Charlemagne’s court, and Olivia is determined to prove to her detractors that the legend is real. Her dream is almost within reach when she discovers the long-lost key to its location in Provence, but her benefactor – Raimund Blancard – has other ideas.
For more than a millennium, the Blancard family have protected the sword. When his brother is tortured and killed by a man who believes he is Roland’s rightful heir, Raimund vows to end the bloodshed forever. He will find Durendal and destroy it, but to do that he needs Olivia’s help.
Now Olivia is torn between finding the treasure for which she has hunted all her life and helping the man she has fallen in love with destroy her dream. And all the while, Raimund’s murderous nemesis is on their trail, and he will stop at nothing to claim his birthright.
Out now at your favourite book shop or chain store. Or you can buy from these excellent retailers: Booktopia, Bookworld, Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, and JB Hi-Fi. For more stores, or to read an extract (or the entire first chapter), check out The French Prize page on my website.
And now for some French foody fun!
I couldn’t help it. I had to include food in The French Prize. The book is set in Provence where the produce, markets and cuisine are utterly divine. How could I possibly leave it out?
Plus I had the perfect character to indulge myself with in Christiane, the hero Raimund’s godmother. This is a lady who rules her kitchen ruthlessly and woe betide anyone who dares arrive late to dine and spoils one of her meals.
Here’s a snippet to explain…
‘Where’s Raimund?’ asked Olivia, sitting at the table and accepting a glass of wine from a still grinning Edouard.
The kitchen smelled delicious, filled with the distinctive aroma of tomato and basil. Olivia’s stomach let out a hearty grumble. Without asking, Edouard cut a slice of baguette and handed it to her.
‘He hasn’t returned,’ came the huffy retort from the stove.
‘He has special business today,’ said Edouard.
‘That boy always has special business. He should be here with his girlfriend. I made petit farci especially.’ Christiane smiled beatifically at Olivia, as though she’d spent the afternoon martyring herself for her godson. Given the smell of the kitchen, she probably had. ‘It’s his favourite.’
Olivia returned her smile and then focused on Edouard. ‘What special business?’
But Edouard simply puffed up his cheeks, blew air over his pouty bottom lip, and shrugged. The French equivalent of ‘who knows?’.
Although she hadn’t ventured outside that day, Olivia could feel the heat emanating from the terrace. Every now and then, the breeze would curl its way inside, swirling delicious aromas and adding to the overwhelming warmth. After the cool of the archives, the kitchen began to feel uncomfortably hot.
A dribble of sweat snaked down her back and Olivia became aware that, despite her heavy-duty deodorant, she might not smell as fresh as she would like. She cleared her throat, unsure if she should ask, but desperate for a shower and some clean clothes.
‘As Raimund is late, perhaps I have time for a shower?’ she asked gamely.
Christiane considered her request as though she was an haute cuisine chef and this a Michelin-starred restaurant. She gave her pot of tomato sauce a stir and taste, then opened her oven door and inspected the contents, her nose scrunching as she inhaled. A poke of the stuffed vegetables, some more contemplation and the decision was made.
Olivia did it in ten.
One of the dishes Christiane makes for Raimund and Olivia is hachis parmentier. This is one of my favourite simple meals to have with a green salad or wilted spinach. It’s very much like cottage pie and another of those dishes where everyone has their own recipe. Some include tomato puree, some don’t. Traditional versions appear to have only onions in the mix and no other veg besides potato. A few have wine. Most use only stock.
Frankly, all I care is that it tastes good. And this, my own version, does (if I do say so myself)!
2 tablespoons olive oil
100g finely chopped pancetta, speck or bacon
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 kg beef mince
1 tablespoon tomato paste
300ml dry red wine
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 litre beef stock
2 large thyme sprigs, leaves picked
3 bay leaves
1.25kg floury potatoes, peeled, roughly chopped
Heat oil in a large heavy-based pan over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and fry for 1-2 minutes until lightly golden. Add onion, celery, and carrot, reduce heat to medium and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring, until soft and lightly browned. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, then add mince and cook until lightly browned and all the mince is broken up. Add the tomato paste, wine, cloves, stock, thyme and bay leaves. Stir to combine. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has almost evaporated but mixture is still nicely moist.
Meanwhile, place potatoes in a large saucepan of cold salted water over high heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain well, cool slightly, then mash or pass through a ricer or mouli. Stir in butter and enough milk to create a nice creamy mash. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 200C. Remove the bay leaves from the mince. Season to taste. Spoon mixture into a large baking dish. Spread potato over beef and run a fork over the top to give it a rough surface, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.
This makes enough to feed 6 people easily with sides. If you don’t need that much the recipe halves well. It also freezes without problem. I make the full batch but cook it in two smaller trays, cool it in the fridge overnight, then slice it into individual portions. I wrap each portion in cling film, bag them up and freeze. Perfect for emergencies. A defrost and heat in the microwave, and dinner is done.
And now, because it’s release week and cause for celebration, let’s have a…
Would you like to win a signed copy of The French Prize? Here’s your chance. I’m looking for freezer meals. You know, those recipes that are perfect for making extra and freezing the rest. Hachis parmentier is one of mine, but I also make big batches of casseroles and soups, as well as pasta sauces. Oh, and moussaka. That works a treat.
What about you? What’s your freezer speciality? It can be sweet or savoury, I don’t mind. Reveal all and I’ll pop you into the draw.
Giveaway closes midnight Tuesday AEST, 9th September 2014. Australian postal addresses only.
If you’d like to read more about The French Prize or my rural romances, simply explore the website. There’s plenty to see. And while you’re there sign up to my newsletter. Subscribers get special things because they’re special people.
This giveaway has now closed. Congratulations to Nicole who has won a signed copy of The French Prize. Thanks to everyone who joined in the Friday Feast fun. A delight as always.